Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 73
on the Whole Bible
This psalm, and the ten that next follow it, carry the name of Asaph in
the titles of them. If he was the penman of them (as many think), we
rightly call them psalms of Asaph. If he was only the chief musician,
to whom they were delivered, our marginal reading is right, which calls
them psalms for Asaph. It is probable that he penned them; for we read
of the words of David and of Asaph the seer, which were used in
praising God in Hezekiah's time,
2 Chronicles 29:30.
Though the Spirit of prophecy by sacred songs descended chiefly on
David, who is therefore styled "the sweet psalmist of Israel," yet God
put some of that Spirit upon those about him. This is a psalm of great
use; it gives us an account of the conflict which the psalmist had with
a strong temptation to envy the prosperity of wicked people. He begins
his account with a sacred principle, which he held fast, and by the
help of which he kept his ground and carried his point,
He then tells us,
I. How he got into the temptation,
II. How he got out of the temptation and gained a victory over it,
III. How he got by the temptation and was the better for it,
If, in singing this psalm, we fortify ourselves against the life
temptation, we do not use it in vain. The experiences of others should
be our instructions.
|God's Goodness to His People; Unsanctified Prosperity.
A psalm of Asaph.
1 Truly God is good to Israel, even
to such as are of a clean heart.
2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well
3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity
of the wicked.
4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength
5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they
plagued like other men.
6 Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence
covereth them as a garment.
7 Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart
8 They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression:
they speak loftily.
9 They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue
walketh through the earth.
10 Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full
cup are wrung out to them.
11 And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in
the most High?
12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world;
they increase in riches.
13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my
hands in innocency.
14 For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened
This psalm begins somewhat abruptly: Yet God is good to Israel
(so the margin reads it); he had been thinking of the prosperity of the
wicked; while he was thus musing the fire burned, and at last he spoke
by way of check to himself for what he had been thinking of. "However
it be, yet God is good." Though wicked people receive many of the gifts
of his providential bounty, yet we must own that he is, in a peculiar
manner, good to Israel; they have favours from him which others have
The psalmist designs an account of a temptation he was strongly
assaulted with--to envy the prosperity of the wicked, a common
temptation, which has tried the graces of many of the saints. Now in
I. He lays down, in the first place, that great principle which he is
resolved to abide by and not to quit while he was parleying with this
Job, when he was entering into such a temptation, fixed for his
principle the omniscience of God: Times are not hidden from the
Jeremiah's principle is the justice of God: Righteous art thou, O
God! when I plead with thee,
Habakkuk's principle is the holiness of God: Thou art of purer eyes
than to behold iniquity,
The psalmist's, here, is the goodness of God. These are truths which
cannot be shaken and which we must resolve to live and die by. Though
we may not be able to reconcile all the disposals of Providence with
them, we must believe they are reconcilable. Note, Good thoughts of God
will fortify us against many of Satan's temptations. Truly God is
good; he had had many thoughts in his mind concerning the
providences of God, but this word, at last, settled him: "For all this,
God is good, good to Israel, even to those that are of a clean
1. Those are the Israel of God that are of a clean heart, purified by
the blood of Christ, cleansed from the pollutions of sin, and entirely
devoted to the glory of God. An upright heart is a clean heart;
cleanness is truth in the inward part.
2. God, who is good to all, is in a special manner good to his church
and people, as he was to Israel of old. God was good to Israel in
redeeming them out of Egypt, taking them into covenant with himself,
giving them his laws and ordinances, and in the various providences
that related to them; he is, in like manner, good to all those that are
of a clean heart, and, whatever happens, we must not think
II. He comes now to relate the shock that was given to his faith in
God's distinguishing goodness to Israel by a strong temptation to envy
the prosperity of the wicked, and therefore to think that the Israel of
God are no happier than other people and that God is no kinder to them
than to others.
1. He speaks of it as a very narrow escape that he had not been quite
foiled and overthrown by this temptation
"But as for me, though I was so well satisfied in the goodness
of God to Israel, yet my feet were almost gone (the tempter had
almost tripped up my heels), my steps had well-nigh slipped (I
had like to have quitted my religion, and given up all my expectations
of benefit by it); for I was envious at the foolish." Note,
1. The faith even of strong believers may sometimes be sorely shaken
and ready to fail them. There are storms that will try the firmest
2. Those that shall never be quite undone are sometimes very near it,
and, in their own apprehension, as good as gone. Many a precious soul,
that shall live for ever, had once a very narrow turn for its life;
almost and well-nigh ruined, but a step between it and fatal apostasy,
and yet snatched as a brand out of the burning, which will for ever
magnify the riches of divine grace in the nations of those that are
2. Let us take notice of the process of the psalmist's temptation, what
he was tempted with and tempted to.
(1.) He observed that foolish wicked people have sometimes a very great
share of outward prosperity. He saw, with grief, the
prosperity of the wicked,
Wicked people are really foolish people, and act against reason and
their true interest, and yet every stander-by sees their prosperity.
[1.] They seem to have the least share of the troubles and calamities
of this life
They are not in the troubles of other men, even of wise and good
men, neither are they plagued like other men, but seem as if by
some special privilege they were exempted from the common lot of
sorrows. If they meet with some little trouble, it is nothing to what
others endure that are less sinners and yet greater sufferers.
[2.] They seem to have the greatest share of the comforts of this life.
They live at ease, and bathe themselves in pleasures, so that their
eyes stand out with fatness,
See what the excess of pleasure is; the moderate use of it enlightens
the eyes, but those that indulge themselves inordinately in the
delights of sense have their eyes ready to start out of their heads.
Epicures are really their own tormentors, by putting a force upon
nature, while they pretend to gratify it. And well may those feed
themselves to the full who have more than heart could wish, more
than they themselves ever thought of or expected to be masters of. They
have, at least, more than a humble, quiet, contented heart could wish,
yet not so much as they themselves wish for. There are many who have a
great deal of this life in their hands, but nothing of the other life
in their hearts. They are ungodly, live without the fear and worship
of God, and yet they prosper and get on in the world, and not only are
rich, but increase in riches,
They are looked upon as thriving men; while others have much ado to
keep what they have, they are still adding more, more honour, power,
pleasure, by increasing in riches. They are the prosperous of the
age, so some read it.
[3.] Their end seems to be peace. This is mentioned first, as the most
strange of all, for peace in death was every thought to be the peculiar
privilege of the godly
yet, to outward appearance, it is often the lot of the ungodly
There are no bands in their death. They are not taken off by a
violent death; they are foolish, and yet die not as fools die; for
their hands are not bound nor their feet put into fetters,
2 Samuel 3:33,34.
They are not taken off by an untimely death, like the fruit forced from
the tree before it is ripe, but are left to hang on, till, through old
age, they gently drop of themselves. They do not die of sore and
painful diseases: There are no pangs, no agonies, in their
death, but their strength is firm to the last, so that they
scarcely feel themselves die. They are of those who die in their
full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet, not of those that
die in the bitterness of their souls and never eat with
Nay, they are not bound by the terrors of conscience in their dying
moments; they are not frightened either with the remembrance of their
sins or the prospect of their misery, but die securely. We cannot judge
of men's state on the other side death either by the manner of their
death or the frame of their spirits in dying. Men may die like lambs,
and yet have their place with the goats.
(2.) He observed that they made a very bad use of their outward
prosperity and were hardened by it in their wickedness, which very much
strengthened the temptation he was in to fret at it. If it had done
them any good, if it had made them less provoking to God or less
oppressive to man, it would never have vexed him; but it had quite a
contrary effect upon them.
[1.] It made them very proud and haughty. Because they live at ease,
pride compasses them as a chain,
They show themselves (to all that see them) to be puffed up with their
prosperity, as men show their ornaments. The pride of Israel
testifies to his face,
Pride ties on their chain, or necklace; so Dr. Hammond reads
it. It is no harm to wear a chain or necklace; but when pride ties it
on, when it is worn to gratify a vain mind, it ceases to be an
ornament. It is not so much what the dress or apparel is (though we
have rules for that,
1 Timothy 2:9)
as what principle ties it on and with what spirit it is worn. And, as
the pride of sinners appears in their dress, so it does in their talk:
They speak loftily
they affect great swelling words of vanity
(2 Peter 2:18),
bragging of themselves and disdaining all about them. Out of the
abundance of the pride that is in their heart they speak big.
[1.] It made them oppressive to their poor neighbours
Violence covers them as a garment. What they have got by fraud
and oppression they keep and increase by the same wicked methods, and
care not what injury they do to others, nor what violence they use, so
they may but enrich and aggrandize themselves. They are
corrupt, like the giants, the sinners of the old world, when the
earth was filled with violence,
They care not what mischief they do, either for mischief-sake or for
their own advantage-sake. They speak wickedly concerning
oppression; they oppress, and justify themselves in it. Those that
speak well of sin speak wickedly of it. They are corrupt, that
is, dissolved in pleasures and every thing that is luxurious (so some),
and then they deride and speak maliciously; they care not whom they
wound with the poisoned darts of calumny; from on high they speak
[3.] It made them very insolent in their demeanour towards both God and
They set their mouth against the heavens, putting contempt upon
God himself and his honour, bidding defiance to him and his power and
justice. They cannot reach the heavens with their hands, to shake God's
throne, else they would; but they show their ill-will by setting their
mouth against the heavens. Their tongue also walks through
the earth, and they take liberty to abuse all that come in their
way. No man's greatness or goodness can secure him from the scourge of
the virulent tongue. They take a pride and pleasure in bantering all
mankind; they are pests of the country, for they neither fear God nor
[4.] In all this they were very atheistical and profane. They could
not have been thus wicked if they had not learned to say
How doth God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High? So
far were they from desiring the knowledge of God, who gave them all the
good things they had and would have taught them to use them well, that
they were not willing to believe God had any knowledge of them, that he
took any notice of their wickedness or would ever call them to an
account. As if, because he is Most High, he could not or would
not see them,
Whereas because he is Most High therefore he can, and will, take
cognizance of all the children of men and of all they do, or say, or
think. What an affront is it to the God of infinite knowledge, from
whom all knowledge is, to ask, Is there knowledge in him? Well
may he say
Behold, these are the ungodly.
(3.) He observed that while wicked men thus prospered in their impiety,
and were made more impious by their prosperity, good people were in
great affliction, and he himself in particular, which very much
strengthened the temptation he was in to quarrel with Providence.
[1.] He looked abroad and saw many of God's people greatly at a loss
"Because the wicked are so very daring therefore his people return
hither; they are at the same pause, the same plunge, that I am at;
they know not what to say to it any more than I do, and the rather
because waters of a full cup are wrung out to them; they are not
only made to drink, and to drink deeply, of the bitter cup of
affliction, but to drink all. Care is taken that they lose not a drop
of that unpleasant potion; the waters are wrung out unto them, that
they may have the dregs of the cup. They pour out abundance of tears
when they hear wicked people blaspheme God and speak profanely," as
These are the waters wrung out to them.
[2.] He looked at home, and felt himself under the continual frowns of
Providence, while the wicked were sunning themselves in its smiles
"For my part," says he, "all the day long have I been plagued
with one affliction or another, and chastened every morning, as
duly as the morning comes." His afflictions were great--he was
chastened and plagued; the returns of them were constant, every
morning with the morning, and they continued, without intermission,
all the day long. This he thought was very hard, that, when
those who blasphemed God were in prosperity, he that worshipped God was
under such great affliction. He spoke feelingly when he spoke of his
own troubles; there is no disputing against sense, except by faith.
(4.) From all this arose a very strong temptation to cast off his
[1.] Some that observed the prosperity of the wicked, especially
comparing it with the afflictions of the righteous, were tempted to
deny a providence and to think that God had forsaken the earth. In this
sense some take
There are those, even among God's professing people, that say, "How
does God know? Surely all things are left to blind fortune, and not
disposed of by an all-seeing God." Some of the heathen, upon such a
remark as this, have asked, Quis putet esse deos?--Who will believe
that there are gods?
[2.] Though the psalmist's feet were not so far gone as to question
God's omniscience, yet he was tempted to question the benefit of
religion, and to say
Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and have, to no
purpose, washed my hands in innocency. See here what it is to be
religious; it is to cleanse our hearts, in the first place, by
repentance and regeneration, and then to wash our hands in innocency by
a universal reformation of our lives. It is not in vain to do this, not
in vain to serve God and keep his ordinances; but good men have been
sometimes tempted to say, "It is in vain," and "Religion is a thing
that there is nothing to be got by," because they see wicked people in
prosperity. But, however the thing may appear now, when the pure in
heart, those blessed ones, shall see God
they will not say that they cleansed their hearts in vain.
15 If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend
against the generation of thy children.
16 When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I
18 Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst
them down into destruction.
19 How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they
are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou
awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
We have seen what a strong temptation the psalmist was in to envy
prospering profaneness; now here we are told how he kept his footing
and got the victory.
I. He kept up a respect for God's people, and with that he restrained
himself from speaking what he had thought amiss,
He got the victory by degrees, and this was the first point he gained;
he was ready to say, Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain,
and thought he had reason to say it, but he kept his mouth with this
consideration, "If I say, I will speak thus, behold, I should
myself revolt and apostatize from, and so give the greatest offence
imaginable to, the generation of thy children." Observe here,
1. Though he thought amiss, he took care not to utter that evil
thought which he had conceived. Note, It is bad to think ill, but it is
worse to speak it, for that is giving the evil thought an
imprimatur--a sanction; it is allowing it, giving consent to it,
and publishing it for the infection of others. But it is a good sign
that we repent of the evil imagination of the heart if we suppress it,
and the error remains with ourselves. If therefore thou hast been so
foolish as to think evil, be so wise as to lay thy hand upon thy
mouth, and let it go no further,
If I say, I will speak thus. Observe, Though his corrupt heart
made this inference from the prosperity of the wicked, yet he did not
mention it to those whether it were fit to be mentioned or no. Note, We
must think twice before we speak once, both because some things may be
thought which yet may not be spoken and because the second thoughts may
correct the mistakes of the first.
2. The reason why he would not speak it was for fear of giving offence
to those whom God owned for his children. Note,
(1.) There are a people in the world that are the generation of God's
children, a set of men that hear and love God as their Father.
(2.) We must be very careful not to say or do any thing which may
justly offend any of these little ones
especially which may offend the generation of them, may sadden
their hearts, or weaken their hands, or shake their interest.
(3.) There is nothing that can give more general offence to the
generation of God's children than to say that we have cleansed our
heart in vain or that it is vain to serve God; for there is nothing
more contrary to their universal sentiment and experience nor any thing
that grieves them more than to hear God thus reflected on.
(4.) Those that wish themselves in the condition of the wicked do in
effect quit the tents of God's children.
II. He foresaw the ruin of wicked people. By this he baffled the
temptation, as by the former he gave some check to it. Because he durst
not speak what he had thought, for fear of giving offence, he began to
consider whether he had any good reason for that thought
"I endeavoured to understand the meaning of this unaccountable
dispensation of Providence; but it was too painful for me. I
could not conquer it by the strength of my own reasoning." It is a
problem, not to be solved by the mere light of nature, for, if there
were not another life after this, we could not fully reconcile the
prosperity of the wicked with the justice of God. But
he went into the sanctuary of God; he applied to his devotions,
meditated upon the attributes of God, and the things revealed, which
belong to us and to our children; he consulted the scriptures, and
the lips of the priests who attended the sanctuary; he prayed to God to
make this matter plain to him and to help him over this difficulty;
and, at length, he understood the wretched end of wicked people, which
he plainly foresaw to be such that even in the height of their
prosperity they were rather to be pitied than envied, for they were but
ripening for ruin. Note, There are many great things, and things
needful to be known, which will not be known otherwise than by going
into the sanctuary of God, by the word and prayer. The sanctuary must
therefore be the resort of a tempted soul. Note, further, We must judge
of persons and things as they appear by the light of divine revelation,
and then we shall judge righteous judgment; particularly we must judge
by the end. All is well that ends well, everlastingly well; but nothing
well that ends ill, everlastingly ill. The righteous man's afflictions
end in peace, and therefore he is happy; the wicked man's enjoyments
end in destruction, and therefore he is miserable.
1. The prosperity of the wicked is short and uncertain. The high places
in which Providence sets them are slippery places
where they cannot long keep footing; but, when they offer to climb
higher, that very attempt will be the occasion of their sliding and
falling. Their prosperity has no firm ground; it is not built upon
God's favour or his promise; and they have not the satisfaction of
feeling that it rests on firm ground.
2. Their destruction is sure, and sudden, and very great. This cannot
be meant of any temporal destruction; for they were supposed to
spend all their days in wealth and their death itself had no
bands in it: In a moment they go down to the grace, so that even
that could scarcely be called their destruction; it must
therefore be meant of eternal destruction on the other side death--hell
and destruction. They flourish for a time, but are undone for ever.
(1.) Their ruin is sure and inevitable. He speaks of it as a thing
done--They are cast down; for their destruction is as certain as
if it were already accomplished. He speaks of it as God's doing, and
therefore it cannot be resisted: Thou castest them down. It is
destruction from the Almighty
from the glory of his power,
2 Thessalonians 1:9.
Who can support those whom God will cast down, on whom God will lay
(2.) It is swift and sudden; their damnation slumbers not; for how
are they brought into desolation as in a moment!
It is easily effected, and will be a great surprise to themselves and
all about them.
(3.) It is severe and very dreadful. It is a total and final ruin:
They are utterly consumed with terrors, It is the misery of the
damned that the terrors of the Almighty, whom they have made their
enemy, fasten upon their guilty consciences, which can neither shelter
themselves from them nor strengthen themselves under them; and
therefore not their being, but their bliss, must needs be utterly
consumed by them; not the least degree of comfort or hope remains to
them; the higher they were lifted up in their prosperity the sorer will
their fall be when they are cast down into destructions (for the
word is plural) and suddenly brought into desolation.
3. Their prosperity is therefore not to be envied at all, but despised
rather, quod erat demonstrandum--which was the point to be
As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord! when thou awakest, or
when they awake (as some read it), thou shalt despise their
image, their shadow, and make it to vanish. In the day of the
great judgment (so the Chaldee paraphrase reads it), when they are
awaked out of their graves, thou shalt, in wrath, despise their image;
for they shall rise to shame and everlasting contempt. See here,
(1.) What their prosperity now is; it is but an image, a vain show, a
fashion of the world that passes away; it is not real, but imaginary,
and it is only a corrupt imagination that makes it a happiness; it is
not substance, but a mere shadow; it is not what it seems to be, nor
will it prove what we promise ourselves from it; it is as a dream,
which may please us a little, while we are asleep, yet even then it
disturbs our repose; but, how pleasing soever it is, it is all but a
cheat, all false; when we awake we find it so. A hungry man dreams
that he eats, but he awakes and his soul is empty,
A man is never the more rich or honourable for dreaming he is so. Who
therefore will envy a man the pleasure of a dream?
(2.) What will be the issue of it; God will awake to judgment, to plead
his own and his people's injured cause; they shall be made to awake out
of the sleep of their carnal security, and then God shall despise their
image; he shall make it appear to all the world how despicable it is;
so that the righteous shall laugh at them,
How did God despise that rich man's image when he said, Thou fool,
this night thy soul shall be required of thee!
We ought to be of God's mind, for his judgment is according to truth,
and not to admire and envy that which he despises and will despise;
for, sooner or later, he will bring all the world to be of his
21 Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
22 So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden
me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive
me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon
earth that I desire beside thee.
26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength
of my heart, and my portion for ever.
27 For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast
destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my
trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
Behold Samson's riddle again unriddled, Out of the eater came forth
meat, and out of the strong sweetness; for we have here an account
of the good improvement which the psalmist made of that sore temptation
with which he had been assaulted and by which he was almost overcome.
He that stumbles and does not fall, by recovering himself takes so much
the longer steps forward. It was so with the psalmist here; many good
lessons he learned from his temptation, his struggles with it, and his
victories over it. Nor would God suffer his people to be tempted if his
grace were not sufficient for them, not only to save them from harm,
but to make them gainers by it; even this shall work for good.
I. He learned to think very humbly of himself and to abase and accuse
himself before God
he reflects with shame upon the disorder and danger he was in, and the
vexation he gave himself by entertaining the temptation and parleying
with it: My heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins, as
one afflicted with the acute pain of the stone in the region of the
kidneys. If evil thoughts at any time enter into the mind of a good
man, he does not roll them under his tongue as a sweet morsel, but they
are grievous and painful to him; temptation was to Paul as a thorn in
2 Corinthians 12:7.
This particular temptation, the working of envy and discontent, is as
painful as any; where it constantly rests it is the rottenness of
where it does but occasionally come it is the pricking of the reins.
Fretfulness is a corruption that is its own correction. Now in the
reflection upon it,
1. He owns it was his folly thus to vex himself: "So foolish was
I to be my own tormentor." Let peevish people thus reproach
themselves for, and shame themselves out of, their discontents. "What a
fool am I thus to make myself uneasy without a cause?"
2. He owns it was his ignorance to vex himself at this: "So ignorant
was I of that which I might have known, and which, if I had known it
aright, would have been sufficient to silence my murmurs. I was as a
beast (Behemoth--a great beast) before thee. Beasts mind present
things only, and never look before at what is to come; and so did I. If
I had not been a great fool, I should never have suffered such a
senseless temptation to prevail over me so far. What! to envy wicked
men upon account of their prosperity! To be ready to wish myself one of
them, and to think of changing conditions with them! So foolish was
I." Note, If good men do at any time, through the surprise and
strength of temptation, think, or speak, or act amiss, when they see
their error they will reflect upon it with sorrow, and shame, and
self-abhorrence, will call themselves fools for it. Surely I
am more brutish than any man,
2 Samuel 24:10.
II. He took occasion hence to own his dependence on and obligations to
the grace of God
"Nevertheless, foolish as I am, I am continually with
thee and in thy favour; thou hast holden me by my right
hand." This may refer either,
1. To the care God had taken of him, and the kindness he had shown him,
all along from his beginning hitherto. He had said, in the hour of
All the day long have I been plagued; but here he corrects
himself for that passionate complaint: "Though God has chastened me, he
has not cast me off; notwithstanding all the crosses of my life, I
have been continually with thee; I have had thy presence with me,
and thou hast been nigh unto me in all that which I have called upon
thee for; and therefore, though perplexed, yet not in despair. Though
God has sometimes written bitter things against me, yet he has still
holden me by my right hand, both to keep me, that I should not
desert him or fly off from him, and to prevent my sinking and fainting
under my burdens, or losing my way in the wildernesses through which I
have walked." If we have been kept in the way with God, kept closely in
our duty and upheld in our integrity, we must own ourselves indebted to
the free grace of God for our preservation: Having obtained help of
God, I continue hitherto. And, if he has thus maintained the
spiritual life, the earnest of eternal life, we ought not to complain,
whatever calamities of this present time we have met with. Or,
2. To the late experience he had had of the power of divine grace in
carrying him through this strong temptation and bringing him off a
conqueror: "I was foolish and ignorant, and yet thou hast had
compassion on me and taught me
and kept me under thy protection;" for the unworthiness of man is no
bar to the free grace of God. We must ascribe our safety in temptation,
and our victory over it, not to our own wisdom, for we are foolish and
ignorant, but to the gracious presence of God with us and the
prevalency of Christ's intercession for us, that our faith may not
fail: "My feet were almost gone, and they would have quite gone,
past recovery, but that thou hast holden me by my right hand and so
kept me from falling."
III. He encouraged himself to hope that the same God who had delivered
him from this evil work would preserve him to his heavenly
kingdom, as St. Paul does
(2 Timothy 4:18):
"I am now upheld by thee, therefore thou shalt guide me with thy
counsel, leading me, as thou hast done hitherto, many a difficult
step; and, since I am now continually with thee, thou shalt
afterwards receive me to glory"
This completes the happiness of the saints, so that they have no reason
to envy the worldly prosperity of sinners. Note,
1. All those who commit themselves to God shall be guided with his
counsel, with the counsel both of his word and of his Spirit, the best
counsellors. The psalmist had like to have paid dearly for following
his own counsels in this temptation and therefore resolves for the
future to take God's advice, which shall never be wanting to those that
duly seek it with a resolution to follow it.
2. All those who are guided and led by the counsel of God in this world
shall be received to his glory in another world. If we make God's glory
in us the end we aim at, he will make our glory with him the end we
shall for ever be happy in. Upon this consideration, let us never envy
sinners, but rather bless ourselves in our own blessedness. If God
direct us in the way of our duty, and prevent our turning aside out of
it, he will afterwards, when our state of trial and preparation is
over, receive us to his kingdom and glory, the believing hopes and
prospects of which will reconcile us to all the dark providences that
now puzzle and perplex us, and ease us of the pain we have been put
into by some threatening temptations.
IV. He was hereby quickened to cleave the more closely to God, and very
much confirmed and comforted in the choice he had made of him,
His thoughts here dwell with delight upon his own happiness in God, as
much greater then the happiness of the ungodly that prospered in the
world. He saw little reason to envy them what they had in the creature
when he found how much more and better, surer and sweeter, comforts he
had in the Creator, and what cause he had to congratulate himself on
this account. He had complained of his afflictions
but this makes them very light and easy, All is well if God be
mine. We have here the breathings of a sanctified soul towards God,
and its repose in him, as that to a godly man really which the
prosperity of a worldly man is to him in conceit and imagination:
Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is scarcely a verse in all
the psalms more expressive than this of the pious and devout affections
of a soul to God; here it soars up towards him, follows hard after him,
and yet, at the same time, has an entire satisfaction and complacency
1. It is here supposed that God alone is the felicity and chief good of
man. He, and he only, that made the soul, can make it happy; there is
none in heaven, none in earth, that can pretend to do it besides.
2. Here are expressed the workings and breathings of a soul towards God
accordingly. If God be our felicity,
(1.) Then we must have him (Whom have I but thee?), we must
choose him, and make sure to ourselves an interest in him. What will it
avail us that he is the felicity of souls if he be not the felicity of
our souls, and if we do not by a lively faith make him ours, by joining
ourselves to him in an everlasting covenant?
(2.) Then our desire must be towards him and our delight in him (the
word signifies both); we must delight in what we have of God and desire
what we yet further hope for. Our desires must not only be offered up
to God, but they must all terminate in him, desiring nothing more than
God, but still more and more of him. This includes all our prayers,
Lord, give us thyself; as that includes all the promises, I
will be to them a God. The desire of our souls is to thy name.
(3.) We must prefer him in our choice and desire before any other.
[1.] "There is none in heaven but thee, none to seek to or trust
in, none to court or covet acquaintance with, but thee." God is in
himself more glorious than any celestial being
and must be, in our eyes, infinitely more desirable. Excellent beings
there are in heaven, but God alone can make us happy. His favour is
infinitely more to us than the refreshment of the dews of heaven or the
benign influence of the stars of heaven, more than the friendship of
the saints in heaven or the good offices of the angels there.
[2.] I desire none on earth besides thee; not only none in
heaven, a place at a distance, which we have but little acquaintance
with, but none on earth neither, where we have many friends and where
much of our present interest and concern lie. "Earth carries away the
desires of most men, and yet I have none on earth, no persons, no
things, no possessions, no delights, that I desire besides thee or with
thee, in comparison or competition with thee." We must desire nothing
besides God but what we desire for him (nil præter te nisi
propter te--nothing besides thee except for thy sake), nothing but
what we desire from him, and can be content without so that it be made
up in him. We must desire nothing besides God as needful to be a
partner with him in making us happy.
(4.) Then we must repose ourselves in God with an entire satisfaction,
[1.] Great distress and trouble supposed: My flesh and my heart
fail. Note, Others have experienced and we must expect, the failing
both of flesh and heart. The body will fail by sickness, age, and
death; and that which touches the bone and the flesh touches us in a
tender part, that part of ourselves which we have been but too fond of;
when the flesh fails the heart is ready to fail too; the conduct,
courage, and comfort fail.
[2.] Sovereign relief provided in this distress: But God is the
strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Note, Gracious souls,
in their greatest distresses, rest upon God as their spiritual strength
and their eternal portion. First, "He is the strength of my
heart, the rock of my heart, a firm foundation, which will bear my
weight and not sink under it. God is the strength of my heart; I
have found him so; I do so still, and hope ever to find him so." In the
distress supposed, he had put the case of a double failure, both
flesh and heart fail; but, in the relief, he fastens on a single
support: he leaves out the flesh and the consideration of that, it is
enough that God is the strength of his heart. He speaks as one
careless of the body (let that fail, there is no remedy), but as one
concerned about the soul, to be strengthened in the inner man.
Secondly, "He is my portion for ever; he will not only
support me while I am here, but make me happy when I go hence." The
saints choose God for their portion, they have him for their portion,
and it is their happiness that he will be their portion, a portion that
will last as long as the immortal soul lasts.
V. He was fully convinced of the miserable condition of all wicked
people. This he learned in the sanctuary upon this occasion, and he
would never forget it
"Lo, those that are far from thee, in a state of distance and
estrangement, that desire the Almighty to depart from them,
shall certainly perish; so shall their doom be; they
choose to be far from God, and they shall be far from him for ever.
Thou wilt justly destroy all those that go a whoring from
thee, that is, all apostates, that in profession have been
betrothed to God, but forsake him, their duty to him and their
communion with him, to embrace the bosom of a stranger." The doom is
sever, no less than perishing and being destroyed. It is universal:
"They shall all be destroyed without exception." It is certain:
"Thou hast destroyed; it is as sure to be done as if done
already; and the destruction of some ungodly men is an earnest of the
perdition of all." God himself undertakes to do it, into whose hands it
is a fearful thing to fall: "Thou, though infinite in goodness, wilt
reckon for thy injured honour and abused patience, and wilt destroy
those that go a whoring from thee."
VI. He was greatly encouraged to cleave to God and to confide in him,
If those that are far from God shall perish, then,
1. Let this constrain us to live in communion with God; "if it fare so
ill with those that live at a distance from him, then it is good, very
good, the chief good, that good for a man, in this life, which he
should most carefully pursue and secure, it is best for me to draw near
to God, and to have God draw near to me;" the original may take in
both. But for my part (so I would read it) the approach of
God is good for me. Our drawing near to God takes rise from his
drawing near to us, and it is the happy meeting that makes the bliss.
Here is a great truth laid down, That it is good to draw near to God;
but the life of it lies in the application, "It is good for me."
Those are the wise who know what is good for themselves: "It is
good, says he (and every good man agrees with him in it), it is
good for me to draw near to God; it is my duty; it is my interest."
2. Let us therefore live in a continual dependence upon him: "I have
put my trust in the Lord God, and will never go a whoring from him
after any creature confidences." If wicked men, notwithstanding all
their prosperity, shall perish and be destroyed, then let us trust in
the Lord God, in him, not in them (see
in him, and not in our worldly prosperity; let us trust in God, and
neither fret at them nor be afraid of them; let us trust in him for a
better portion than theirs is.
3. While we do so, let us not doubt but that we shall have occasion to
praise his name. Let us trust in the Lord, that we may declare all his
works. Note, Those that with an upright heart put their trust in God
shall never want matter for thanksgiving to him.