Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 103
on the Whole Bible
This psalm calls more for devotion than exposition; it is a most
excellent psalm of praise, and of general use. The psalmist,
I. Stirs up himself and his own soul to praise God
for his favour to him in particular
to the church in general, and to all good men, to whom he is, and will
be, just, and kind, and constant
and for his government of the world,
II. He desires the assistance of the holy angels, and all the works of
God, in praising him,
In singing this psalm we must in a special manner get our hearts
affected with the goodness of God and enlarged in love and
A psalm of David.
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all
that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee
with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy
youth is renewed like the eagle's.
David is here communing with his own heart, and he is no fool that thus
talks to himself and excites his own soul to that which is good.
I. How he stirs up himself to the duty of praise,
1. It is the Lord that is to be blessed and spoken well of; for he is
the fountain of all good, whatever are the channels or cisterns; it is
to his name, his holy name, that we are to consecrate our praise,
giving thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
2. It is the soul that is to be employed in blessing God, and all
that is within us. We make nothing of our religious performances if
we do not make heart-work of them, if that which is within us, nay, if
all that is within us, be not engaged in them. The work requires
the inward man, the whole man, and all little enough.
3. In order to our return of praises to God, there must be a grateful
remembrance of the mercies we have received from him: Forget not all
his benefits. If we do not give thanks for them, we do forget them;
and that is unjust as well as unkind, since in all God's favours there
is so much that is memorable. "O my soul! to thy shame be it spoken,
thou hast forgotten many of his benefits; but surely thou wilt not
forget them all, for thou shouldst not have forgotten any."
II. How he furnishes himself with abundant matter for praise, and that
which is very affecting: "Come, my soul, consider what God has done for
1. "He has pardoned thy sins
he has forgiven, and does forgive, all thy iniquities." This is
mentioned first because by the pardon of sin that is taken away which
kept good things from us, and we are restored to the favour of God,
which bestows good things on us. Think what the provocation was; it was
iniquity, and yet pardoned; how many the provocations were, and yet all
pardoned. He has forgiven all our trespasses. It is a continued
act; he is still forgiving, as we are still sinning and repenting.
2. "He has cured thy sickness." The corruption of nature is the
sickness of the soul; it is its disorder, and threatens its death. This
is cured in sanctification; when sin is mortified, the disease is
healed; though complicated, it is all healed. Our crimes were capital,
but God saves our lives by pardoning them; our diseases were mortal,
but God saves our lives by healing them. These two go together; for, as
for God, his work is perfect and not done by halves; if God take away
the guilt of sin by pardoning mercy, he will break the power of it by
renewing grace. Where Christ is made righteousness to any soul he is
1 Corinthians 1:30.
3. "He has rescued thee from danger." A man may be in peril of life,
not only by his crimes, or his diseases, but by the power of his
enemies; and therefore here also we experience the divine goodness:
Who redeemed thy life from destruction
from the destroyer, from hell (so the Chaldee), from the second
death. The redemption of the soul is precious; we cannot
compass it, and therefore are the more indebted to divine grace that
has wrought it out, to him who has obtained eternal redemption for
4. "He has not only saved thee from death and ruin, but has made thee
truly and completely happy, with honour, pleasure, and long life."
(1.) "He has given thee true honour and great honour, no less than a
crown: He crowns thee with his lovingkindness and tender
mercies;" and what greater dignity is a poor soul capable of than
to be advanced into the love and favour of God? This honour have all
his saints. What is the crown of glory but God's favour?
(2.) "He has given thee true pleasure: He satisfies thy mouth with
it is only the favour and grace of God that can give satisfaction to a
soul, can suit its capacities, supply its needs, and answer to its
desires. Nothing but divine wisdom can undertake to fill its
other things will surfeit, but not satiate,
(3.) "He has given thee a prospect and pledge of long life: Thy
youth is renewed like the eagle's." The eagle is long-lived, and,
as naturalists say, when she is nearly 100 years old, casts all her
feathers (as indeed she changes them in a great measure every year at
moulting time), and fresh ones come, so that she becomes young again.
When God, by the graces and comforts of his Spirit, recovers his people
from their decays, and fills them with new life and joy, which is to
them an earnest of eternal life and joy, then they may be said to
return to the days of their youth,
|Goodness and Compassion of God.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that
7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and
plenteous in mercy.
9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger
10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us
according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his
mercy toward them that fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he
removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD
pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the
field, so he flourisheth.
16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place
thereof shall know it no more.
17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to
everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto
18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his
commandments to do them.
Hitherto the psalmist had only looked back upon his own experiences and
thence fetched matter for praise; here he looks abroad and takes notice
of his favour to others also; for in them we should rejoice and give
thanks for them, all the saints being fed at a common table and sharing
in the same blessings.
I. Truly God is good to all
He executes righteousness and judgment, not only for his own
people, but for all that are oppressed; for even in common
providence he is the patron of wronged innocency, and, one way or
other, will plead the cause of those that are injured against their
oppressors. It is his honour to humble the proud and help the
II. He is in a special manner good to Israel, to every Israelite
indeed, that is of a clean and upright heart.
1. He has revealed himself and his grace to us
He made known his ways unto Moses, and by him his acts to the
children of Israel, not only by his rod to those who then lived,
but by his pen to succeeding ages. Note, Divine revelation is one of
the first and greatest of divine favours with which the church is
blessed; for God restores us to himself by revealing himself to us, and
gives us all good by giving us knowledge. He has made known his acts
and his ways (that is, his nature, and the methods of his dealing
with the children of men), that they may know both what to conceive of
him and what to expect from him; so Dr. Hammond. Or by his ways
we may understand his precepts, the way which he requires us to walk
in; and by his acts, or designs (as the word signifies),
his promises and purposes as to what he will do with us. Thus fairly
does God deal with us.
2. He has never been rigorous and severe with us, but always tender,
full of compassion, and ready to forgive.
(1.) It is in his nature to be so
The Lord is merciful and gracious; this was his way which he
made known unto Moses at Mount Horeb, when he thus proclaimed his name
in answer to Moses's request
I beseech thee, show me thy way, that I may know thee. It is my
way, says God, to pardon sin.
[1.] He is not soon angry,
He is slow to anger, not extreme to mark what we do amiss nor
ready to take advantage against us. He bears long with those that are
very provoking, defers punishing, that he may give space to repent, and
does not speedily execute the sentence of his law; and he could not be
thus slow to anger if he were not plenteous in mercy, the
very Father of mercies.
[2.] He is not long angry; for
he will not always chide, though we always offend and deserve
chiding. Though he signify his displeasure against us for our sins by
the rebukes of Providence, and the reproaches of our own consciences,
and thus cause grief, yet he will have compassion, and will not always
keep us in pain and terror, no, not for our sins, but, after the spirit
of bondage, will give the spirit of adoption. How unlike are those to
God who always chide, who take every occasion to chide, and never know
when to cease! What would become of us if God should deal so with us?
He will not keep his anger for ever against his own people, but
will gather them with everlasting mercies,
(2.) We have found him so; we, for our parts, must own that he has
not dealt with us after our sins,
The scripture says a great deal of the mercy of God, and we may all set
to our seal that it is true, that we have experienced it. If he had not
been a God of patience, we should have been in hell long ago; but he
has not rewarded us after our iniquities; so those will say who
know what sin deserves. He has not inflicted the judgments which we
have merited, nor deprived us of the comforts which we have forfeited,
which should make us think the worse, and not the better, of sin; for
God's patience should lead us to repentance,
3. He has pardoned our sins, not only my iniquity
but our transgressions,
Though it is of our own benefit, by the pardoning mercy of God, that we
are to take the comfort, yet of the benefit others have by it we must
give him the glory. Observe,
(1.) The transcendent riches of God's mercy
As the heaven is high above the earth (so high that the earth is
but a point to the vast expanse), so God's mercy is above the merits of
those that fear him most, so much above and beyond them that there is
no proportion at all between them; the greatest performances of man's
duty cannot demand the least tokens of God's favour as a debt, and
therefore all the seed of Jacob will join with him in owning themselves
less than the least of all God's mercies,
Observe, God's mercy is thus great towards those that fear him,
not towards those that trifle with him. We must fear the Lord and his
(2.) The fulness of his pardons, an evidence of the riches of his mercy
As far as the east is from the west (which two quarters of the
world are of greatest extent, because all known and inhabited, and
therefore geographers that way reckon their longitudes) so far has
he removed our transgressions from us, so that they shall never be
laid to our charge, nor rise up in judgment against us. The sins of
believers shall be remembered no more, shall not be mentioned unto
them; they shall be sought for, and not found. If we thoroughly forsake
them, God will thoroughly forgive them.
4. He has pitied our sorrows,
(1.) Whom he pities--those that fear him, that is, all good
people, who in this world may become objects of pity on account of the
grievances to which they are not only born, but born again. Or it may
be understood of those who have not yet received the spirit of
adoption, but are yet trembling at his word; those he
(2.) How he pities--as a father pities his children, and does
them good as there is occasion. God is a Father to those that fear him
and owns them for his children, and he is tender of them as a father.
The father pities his children that are weak in knowledge and instructs
them, pities them when they are froward and bears with them, pities
them when they are sick and comforts them
pities them when they have fallen and helps them up again, pities them
when they have offended, and, upon their submission, forgives them,
pities them when they are wronged and gives them redress; thus the
Lord pities those that fear him.
(3.) Why he pities--for he knows our frame. He has reason to
know our frame, for he framed us; and, having himself made man of the
dust, he remembers that he is dust, not only by constitution,
but by sentence. Dust thou art. He considers the frailty of our
bodies and the folly of our souls, how little we can do, and expects
accordingly from us, how little we can bear, and lays accordingly upon
us, in all which appears the tenderness of his compassion.
5. He has perpetuated his covenant-mercy and thereby provided relief
for our frailty,
(1.) How short man's life is and of what uncertain continuance. The
lives even of great men and good men are so, and neither their
greatness nor their goodness can alter the property of them: As for
man, his days are as grass, which grows out of the earth, rises but
a little way above it, and soon withers and returns to it again. See
Man, in his best estate, seems somewhat more than grass; he flourishes
and looks gay; yet then he is but like a flower of the field,
which, though distinguished a little from the grass, will wither with
it. The flower of the garden is commonly more choice and valuable, and,
though in its own nature withering, will last the longer for its being
sheltered by the garden wall and the gardener's care; but the flower of
the field (to which life is here compared) is not only withering in
itself, but exposed to the cold blasts, and liable to be cropped and
trodden on by the beasts of the field. Man's life is not only wasting
of itself, but its period may be anticipated by a thousand accidents.
When the flower is in its perfection a blasting wind, unseen, unlooked
for, passes over it, and it is gone; it hangs the head, drops
the leaves, dwindles into the ground again, and the place
thereof, which was proud of it, now knows it no more. Such a
thing is man: God considers this, and pities him; let him consider it
himself, and be humble, dead to this world and thoughtful of another.
(2.) How long and lasting God's mercy is to his people
it will continue longer than their lives, and will survive their
present state. Observe,
[1.] The description of those to whom this mercy belongs. They are such
as fear God, such as are truly religious, from principle. First,
They live a life of faith; for they keep God's covenant; having
taken hold of it, they keep hold of it, fast hold, and will not let it
go. They keep it as a treasure, keep it as their portion, and would
not for all the world part with it, for it is their life.
Secondly, They live a life of obedience; they remember his
commandments to do them, else they do not keep his covenant.
Those only shall have the benefit of God's promises that make
conscience of his precepts. See who those are that have a good memory,
as well as a good understanding
those that remember God's commandments, not to talk of them, but
to do them, and to be ruled by them.
[2.] The continuance of the mercy which belongs to such as these; it
will last them longer than their lives on earth, and therefore they
need not be troubled though their lives be short, since death itself
will be no abridgment, no infringement, of their bliss. God's mercy is
better than life, for it will out-live it. First, To their
souls, which are immortal; to them the mercy of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting; from everlasting in the councils of it
to everlasting in the consequences of it, in their election before the
world was and their glorification when this world shall be no more; for
they are predestinated to the inheritance
and look for the mercy of the Lord, the Lord Jesus, unto eternal
life. Secondly, To their seed, which shall be kept up to the
end of time
His righteousness, the truth of his promise, shall be unto
children's children; provided they tread in the steps of their
predecessors' piety, and keep his covenant, as they did, then
shall mercy be preserved to them, even to a thousand
19 The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his
kingdom ruleth over all.
20 Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that
do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
21 Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of
his, that do his pleasure.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works in all places of his dominion:
bless the LORD, O my soul.
I. The doctrine of universal providence laid down,
He has secured the happiness of his peculiar people by promise and
covenant, but the order of mankind, and the world in general, he
secures by common providence. The Lord has a throne of his own,
a throne of glory, a throne of government. He that made all rules all,
and both by a word of power: He has prepared his throne, has
fixed and established it that it cannot be shaken; he has
afore-ordained all the measures of his government and does all
according to the counsel of his own will. He has prepared it
in the heavens, above us, and out of sight; for he holds back
the face of his throne, and spreads a cloud upon it
yet he can himself judge through the dark cloud,
Hence the heavens are said to rule
and we are led to consider this by the influence which even the visible
heavens have upon this earth, their dominion,
But though God's throne is in heaven, and there he keeps his court, and
thither we are to direct to him (Our Father who art in heaven),
yet his kingdom rules over all. He takes cognizance of all the
inhabitants, and all the affairs, of this lower world, and disposes all
persons and things according to the counsel of his will, to his own
His kingdom rules over all kings and all kingdoms, and from it
there is no exempt jurisdiction.
II. The duty of universal praise inferred from it: if all are under
God's dominion, all must do him homage.
1. Let the holy angels praise him
Bless the Lord, you his angels; and again, Bless the Lord,
all you his hosts, you ministers of his. David had been stirring up
himself and others to praise God, and here, in the close, he calls upon
the angels to do it; not as if they needed any excitement of ours to
praise God, they do it continually; but thus he expresses his high
thoughts of God as worthy of the adorations of the holy angels, thus he
quickens himself and others to the duty with this consideration, That
it is the work of angels, and comforts himself in reference to his own
weakness and defect in the performance of this duty with this
consideration, That there is a world of holy angels who dwell in God's
house and are still praising him. In short, the blessed angels are
glorious attendants upon the blessed God. Observe,
(1.) How well qualified they are for the post they are in. They are
able; for they excel in strength; they are mighty in
strength (so the word is); they are able to bring great things to
pass, and to abide in their work without weariness. And they are as
willing as they are able; they are willing to know their work; for they
hearken to the voice of his word; they stand expecting
commission and instructions from their great Lord, and always behold
that they may take the first intimation of his mind. They are willing
to do their work: They do his commandments
they do his pleasure
they dispute not any divine commands, but readily address themselves to
the execution of them. Nor do they delay, but fly swiftly: They do
his commandments at hearing, or as soon as they hear the voice
of his word; so Dr. Hammond. To obey is better than
sacrifice; for angels obey, but do not sacrifice.
(2.) What their service is. They are his angels, and
ministers of his--his, for he made them, and made them for
himself--his, for he employs them, though he does not need them--his,
for he is their owner and Lord; they belong to him and he has them at
his beck. All the creatures are his servants, but not as the angels
that attend the presence of his glory. Soldiers, and seamen, and all
good subjects, serve the king, but not as the courtiers do, the
ministers of state and those of the household.
[1.] The angels occasionally serve God in this lower world; they do
his commandments, go on his errands
fight his battles
(2 Kings 6:17),
and minister for the good of his people,
[2.] They continually praise him in the upper world; they began
betimes to do it
and it is still their business, from which they rest not day nor
It is God's glory that he has such attendants, but more his glory that
he neither needs them nor is benefited by them.
2. Let all his works praise him
all in all places of his dominion; for, because they are his
works, they are under his dominion, and they were made and are ruled
that they may be unto him for a name and a praise. All his
works, that is, all the children of men, in all parts of the world,
let them all praise God; yea, and the inferior creatures too, which are
God's works also; let them praise him objectively, though they cannot
praise him actually,
Yet all this shall not excuse David from praising God, but rather
excite him to do it the more cheerfully, that he may bear a part in
this concert; for he concludes, Bless the Lord, O my soul! as he
Blessing God and giving him glory must be the alpha and the omega of
all our services. He began with Bless the Lord, O my soul! and,
when he had penned and sung this excellent hymn to his honour, he does
not say, Now, O my soul! thou hast blessed the Lord, sit down, and rest
thee, but, Bless the Lord, O my soul! yet more and more. When we
have done ever so much in the service of God, yet still we must stir up
ourselves to do more. God's praise is a subject that will never be
exhausted, and therefore we must never think this work done till we
come to heaven, where it will be for ever in the doing.