Subject. It would be idle to enquire into the particular period when this delightful poem was composed, for their is nothing in its title or subject to assist us in the enquiry. The heading, “To the Chief Musician, a Psalm of David, “informs us that David wrote it, and that it was committed to the Master of the service of song in the sanctuary for the use of the assembled worshippers. In his earliest days the psalmist, while keeping his father’s flock, had devoted himself to the study of God’s two great books—nature and Scripture; and he had so thoroughly entered into the spirit of these two only volumes in his library that he was able with a devout criticism to compare and contrast them, magnifying the excellency of the Author as seen in both. How foolish and wicked are those who instead of accepting the two sacred tomes, and delighting to behold the same divine hand in each, spend all their wits in endeavouring to find discrepancies and contradictions. We may rest assured that the true “Vestiges of Creation” will never contradict Genesis, nor will a correct “Cosmos” be found at variance with the narrative of Moses. He is wisest who reads both the world book, and the Word book as two volumes of the same work, and feels concerning them, “My Father wrote them both.”
Division. This song very distinctly divides itself into three parts, very well described by the translators in the ordinary heading of our version. The creatures show God’s glory, Psalms 19:1-6. The word showeth his grace, Psalms 19:7-11. David prayeth for grace, Psalms 19:12-14. Thus praise and prayer are mingled, and he who here sings the work of God in the world without, pleads for a work of grace in himself within.
The Treasury of David.
In the three following Psalms 19:7-9 we have a brief but instructive hexapla containing six descriptive titles of the word, six characteristic qualities mentioned and six divine effects declared. Names, nature, and effect are well set forth.
The law of the Lord is perfect; by which he means not merely the law of Moses but the doctrine of God, the whole run and rule of sacred Writ. The doctrine revealed by God he declares to be perfect, and yet David had but a very small part of the Scriptures, and if a fragment, and that the darkest and most historical portion, be perfect, what must the entire volume be? How more than perfect is the book which contains the clearest possible display of divine love, and gives us an open vision of redeeming grace. The gospel is a complete scheme or law of gracious salvation, presenting to the needy sinner everything that his terrible necessities can possibly demand. There are no redundancies and no omissions in the Word of God, and in the plan of grace; why then do men try to paint this lily and gild this refined gold? The gospel is perfect in all its parts, and perfect as a whole: it is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it.
Converting the soul. Making the man to be returned or restored to the place from which sin had cast him. The practical effect of the Word of God is to turn the man to himself, to his God, and to holiness; and the turn or conversion is not outward alone, “the soul” is moved and renewed. The great means of the conversion of sinners is the Word of God, and the more closely we keep to it in our ministry the more likely we are to be successful. It is God’s Word rather than man’s comment on God’s Word which is made mighty with souls. When the law drives and the gospel draws, the action is different but the end is one, for by God’s Spirit the soul is made to yield, and cries, “Turn me, and I shall be turned.” Try men’s depraved nature with philosophy and reasoning, and it laughs your efforts to scorn, but the Word of God soon works a transformation.
The testimony of the Lord is sure. God bears his testimony against sin, and on behalf of righteousness; he testifies of our fall and of our restoration; this testimony is plain, decided, and infallible, and is to be accepted as sure. God’s witness in his Word is so sure that we may draw solid comfort from it both for time and eternity, and so sure that no attacks made upon it however fierce or subtle can ever weaken its force. What a blessing that in a world of uncertainties we have something sure to rest upon! We hasten from the quicksands of human speculations to the terra firma of Divine Revelation.
Making wise the simple. Humble, candid, teachable minds receive the word, and are made wise unto salvation. Things hidden from the wise and prudent are revealed unto babes. The persuadable grow wise, but the cavillers continue fools. As a law or plan the Word of God converts, and then as a testimony it instructs; it is not enough for us to be converts, we must continue to be disciples; and if we have felt the power of truth, we must go on to prove its certainty by experience. The perfection of the gospel converts, but its sureness edifies; if we would be edified it becomes us not to stagger at the promise through unbelief, for a doubted gospel cannot make us wise, but truth of which we are assured will be our establishment.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. To man fallen, the law only convinceth of sin, and bindeth over to death, it is nothing but a killing letter; but the gospel, accompanied by the power of the Spirit, bringeth life. Again, it is said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; “therefore it seems the law may also be a word of salvation to the creature. I answer; by the law there, is not meant only that part of the word which we call the covenant of works, but there it is put for the whole word, for the whole doctrine of the covenant of life and salvation; as Psalms 1:2: “His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” And if you take it in that stricter sense, then it converteth the soul but by accident, as it is joined with the gospel, which is the misery of life and righteousness, but in itself it is the law of sin and death. Look, as a thing taken simply, would be poison and deadly in itself, yet mixed with other wholesome medicines, it is of great use, is an excellent physical ingredient; so the law is of great use as joined with the gospel, to awaken and startle the sinner, to show him his duty, to convince him of sin and judgment; but it is the gospel properly that pulls in the heart. Thomas Manton.
The law, or doctrine, an orderly manner of instruction, an institution or disposition, called in Hebrew torah, which implies both doctrine and an orderly disposition of the same. Therefore where one prophet, relating David’s words, saith the law of man (2 Samuel 7:19), another saith, the orderly estate, or course of man. 1 Chronicles 17:17. The Holy Ghost, in Greek, calls it Nomos, a law (Hebrews 8:10), from Jeremiah 31:33. This name is most commonly ascribed to the precepts given by Moses at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 32:4; Malachi 4:4 John 1:17, 7:19); it is also largely used for all his writings. For the history of Genesis is called law (Galatians 4:21), from Genesis 16. And though sometimes the law be distinguished from the Psalms and Prophets (Luke 16:16, and Luke 24:24), yet the other prophets’ books are called law (1 Corinthians 14:21), from Isaiah 28:11; the Psalms are also thus named (John 10:24 and John 15:25), from Psalms 82:6, 35:19. Yea, one Psalm is called a law (Psalms 78:1); and the many branches of Moses’ doctrine as the law of the sin offering, etc. Leviticus 6:25. And generally it is used for any doctrine, as the law of works, the law of faith, etc. Romans 3:27. Henry Ainsworth.
Converting the soul. This version conveys a sense good and true in itself, but is not in accordance with the design of the psalmist, which is, to express the divine law on the feelings and affections of good men. The Hebrew terms properly mean, “bringing back the spirit, “when it is depressed by adversity, by refreshing and consoling it; like food, it restores the faint, and communicates “vigour to the disconsolate.” William Walford, 1837.
Converting the soul. The heart of man is the most free and hard of anything to work upon, and to make an impression and stamp upon this hard heart, this heart that is so stony, adamantine, “harder than the nether millstones, “as the Scripture teacheth. To compel this free will, this Domina sui actus, the queen in the soul, the empress, it cannot be without a divine power, without a hand that is omnipotent; but the ministers do this by the Word—they mollify, and wound, and break this heart, they incline, and bow, and draw this free will whither the spirit listeth. And Clemens Alexandrinus is not afraid to say, that if the fables of Orpheus and Amphion were true—that they drew birds, beasts, and stones, with their ravishing melody—yet the harmony of the Word is greater, which translates men from Hellicon to Zion, which softens the hard heart of man obdurate against the truth, that “raises up children to Abraham of stones, “that is (as he interprets), of unbelievers, which he calls stocks and stones, that put their trust in stones and stocks; which metamorphoses men that are beast like, wild birds for their lightness and vanity, serpents for their craft and subtlety, lions for their wrath and cruelty, swine for voluptuousness and luxury, etc.; and charms them so that of wild beasts they become tame men; that makes living stones (as he did others) come of their own accord to the building of the walls of Jerusalem (as he of Thebes), to the building of a living temple to the everlasting God. This must needs be a truly persuasive charm, as he speaks. John Stoughton’s “Choice Sermons, “1640.
Making wise the simple. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 1:8, expresses conversion, and the whole work inherently wrought in us, by the making of a man wise. It is usual in the Scriptures, and you may ofttimes meet with it; converting the soul, “making wise the simple.” The beginning of conversion, and so all along, the increase of all grace to the end, is expressed by wisdom entering into a man’s heart, “If wisdom enter into thy heart, “and so goes on to do more and more; not unto thy head only—a man may have all that, and be a fool in the end, but when it entereth into the heart, and draws all the affections after it, and along with it, “when knowledge is pleasant to thy soul, “then a man is converted; when God breaks open a man’s heart, and makes wisdom fall in, enter in, and make a man wise.—Thomas Goodwin.
This verse, and the two next following, which treat of God’s law, are in Hebrew, written each of them with ten words, according to the number of the ten commandments, which are called the ten words. Exodus 34:28. Henry Ainsworth.
Ver. 7-8. The testimony of the Lord is sure, enlightening the eyes, revealing the object, ennobling the organ. Richard Stock.
Ver. 7-11. All of us are by nature the children of wrath; our souls are like the porches of Bethesda (John 5:2), in which are lodged a great many “sick folk, blind, halt, withered; “and the Scriptures are like the pool of Bethesda, into which whoever entereth, after God’s Holy Spirit hath a little stirred the water, is “made whole of whatsoever disease he hath.” He that hath anger’s frenzy, being as furious as a lion, by stepping into this pool shall in good time become as gentle as a lamb; he that hath the blindness of intemperance, by washing in this pool shall easily see his folly; he that hath envy’s rust, avarice’s leprosy, luxury’s palsy, shall have means and medicines here for the curing of his maladies. The word of God is like the drug catholicon, that is instead of all purges; and like the herb panaces, that is good for all diseases. Is any man heavy? the statutes of the Lord rejoice the heart: is any man in want? the judgments of the Lord are more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold, and by keeping of them there is great reward: is any man ignorant? the testimonies of the Lord give wisdom to the simple, that is, to little ones, both in standing and understanding. In standing, as unto little Daniel, little John the evangelist, little Timothy: to little ones in understanding; for the great philosophers who were the wizards of the world, because they were not acquainted with God’s law became fools while they professed themselves wise. Romans 1:22. But our prophet saith, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, because thy testimonies are my meditation, “and my study. Psalms 119:99. To conclude, whatsoever we are by corruption of nature, God’s law converteth us, and maketh us to speak with new tongues, and to sing new songs unto the Lord, and to become new men and new creatures in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17. J. Boys.
(first clause). Holy Scripture.
Ver. 7-9. The Hexapla. See notes.
(last clause). The wisdom of a simple faith.
The Treasury of David.
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