TITLE.–This Psalm may be regarded as THE PREFACE PSALM, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmist’s desire to teach us the way to blessedness, and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon.
DIVISION.–This Psalm consists of two parts: in the first (from verse #1-3|) David sets out wherein the felicity and blessedness of a godly man consisteth, what his exercises are, and what blessings he shall receive from the Lord. In the second part (from verse #4-6|) he contrasts the state and character of the ungodly, reveals the future, and describes, in telling language, his ultimate doom.
“BLESSED”–see how this Book of Psalms opens with a benediction, even as did the famous Sermon of our Lord upon the Mount! The word translated “blessed” is a very expressive one. The original word is plural, and it is a controverted matter whether it is an adjective or a substantive. Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, “Oh, the blessednesses!” and we may well regard it (as Ainsworth does) as a joyful acclamation of the gracious man’s felicity. May the like benediction rest on us!
Here the gracious man is described both negatively (verse #1|) and positively (verse #2|). He is a man _who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly_. He takes wiser counsel, and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men. It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed, and when ungodliness is put far from our actions. Note next, _he standeth not in the way of sinners_. His company is of a choicer sort than it was. Although a sinner himself, he is now a blood-washed sinner, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and renewed in heart. Standing by the rich grace of God in the congregation of the righteous, he dares not herd with the multitude that do evil. Again it is said, “_nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful_.” He finds no rest in the atheist’s scoffings. Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God’s presence to endure to hear his name blasphemed. The seat of the scorner may be very lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell; let us flee from it, for it shall soon be empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein. Mark the gradation in the first verse: He walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor _standeth_ in _the way_ of _sinners_. Nor SITTETH in the SEAT of SCORNFUL. When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At
first they merely _walk_ in the counsel of the careless and _ungodly_, who forget God–the evil is rather practical than habitual–but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they _stand_ in the way of open _sinners_ who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they _sit in the seat of the scornful_. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial. But the blessed man, the man to whom all the blessings of God belong, can hold no communion with such characters as these. He keeps himself pure from these lepers; he puts away evil things from him as garments spotted by the flesh; he comes out from among the wicked, and goes without the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. O for grace to be thus separate from sinners.
And now mark his positive character. “_His delight is in the law of the Lord_.” He is not _under_ the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is _in_ it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to _meditate_ in it, to read it _by day_, and think upon it _by night_. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God. In the _day_ of his prosperity he sings _psalms_ out of the Word of God, and in the _night_ of his affliction he comforts himself with _promises_ out of the same book. “The law of the Lord” is the daily bread of the true believer. And yet, in David’s day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything save the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill-treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures. How few among us can lay claim to the benediction of the text! Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you– Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God’s Word? Do you make it the man of your right hand–your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongeth not to you.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS.
_Whole Psalm.–As the book of the Canticles is Called the Song of Songs by a Hebraism, it being the most excellent, so this Psalm may not unfitly be entitled, the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity. What Jerome saith on St. Paul’s epistles, the same may I say of this Psalm; it is short as to the composure, but full of length and strength as to the matter. This Psalm carries blessedness in the frontispiece; it begins where we all hope to end: it may well be called a Christian’s Guide, for it discovers the quicksands where the wicked sink down in perdition, and the firm ground on which the saints tread to glory.–^Thomas Watson’s Saints’ Spiritual Delight, 1660.
This whole Psalm offers itself to be drawn into these two opposite propositions: a godly man is blessed, a wicked man is miserable; which seem to stand as two challenges, made by the prophet: one, that he will maintain a godly man against all comers, to be the only Jason for winning the golden fleece of blessedness; the other, that albeit the ungodly make a show in the world of being happy, yet they of all men are most miserable.–^Sir Richard Baker, 1640.
I have been induced to embrace the opinion of some among the ancient interpreters (Augustine, Jerome, etc.), who conceive that the first Psalm is intended to be descriptive of the character and reward of the JUST ONE, i.e. the Lord Jesus. –^John Fry, B.A., 1842.
Verse 1.–The psalmist saith more to the point about true happiness in this short Psalm than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together; they did but beat the bush, God hath here put the bird into our hand.–^John Trapp, 1660.
Verse 1.–Where the word _blessed_ is hung out as a sign, we may be sure that we shall find a godly man within.–^Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1.–The seat of the drunkard is the seat of the scornful.–^Matthew Henry, 1662–1714.
Verse 1.– _Walketh_ NOT … NOR _standeth_ … NOR _sitteth_,’ etc. Negative precepts are in some cases more absolute and peremptory than affirmatives; for to say, “that hath walked in the counsel of the godly,” might not be sufficient; for, he might walk in the counsel of the godly, and yet walk in the counsel of the ungodly too; not both indeed at once, but both at several times; where now, this negative clears him at all times.–^Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 1.–The word _haish_ is emphatic, _that_ man; that one among a _thousand_ who lives for the accomplishment of the end for which God created him.–^Adam Clarke, 1844.
Verse 1.–“_That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly_.” Mark certain circumstances of their differing characters and conduct. I. The _ungodly man_ has his _counsel_. II. The _sinner_ has his _way_; and III. The _scorner_ has his _seat_. The _ungodly man_ is unconcerned about religion; he is neither zealous for his own salvation nor for that of others; and he _counsels_ and _advises_ those with whom he converses to adopt his plan, and not trouble themselves about praying, reading, repentance, etc., etc.; “there is no need for such things; live an honest life, make no fuss about religion, and you will fare well enough at last.” Now, “blessed is the man who walks not in this man’s counsel,” who does not come into his measures, nor act according to his plan.
The _sinner_ has his particular _way_ of transgressing; one is a _drunkard_, another _dishonest_, another _unclean_. Few are given to every species of vice. There are many _covetous_ men who abhor _drunkenness_, many _drunkards_ who abhor _covetousness_, and so of others. _Each has his easily besetting sin_; therefore, says the prophet, “_Let the wicked_ forsake HIS WAY.” Now, _blessed is he who stands not in such a man’s_ WAY. The _scorner_ has brought, in reference to himself, all religion and moral feeling to an end. He has _sat down_–is utterly confirmed in impiety, and makes a mock at sin. His conscience is seared, and he is a believer in all unbelief. Now, _blessed is the man who sits not down in his_ SEAT.–^Adam Clarke.
Verse 1.–In the Hebrew, the word “_blessed_” is a plural noun, _ashrey_ (_blessednesses_), that is, all blessednesses are the portion of that man who has not gone away, etc.; as though it were said, “All things are well with that man who,” etc. Why do you hold any dispute? Why draw vain conclusions? If a man has found that pearl of great price, to love the law of God and to be separate from the ungodly, all blessednesses belong to that man; but, if he does not find this jewel, he will seek for all blessednesses but will never find one! For as all things are pure unto the pure, so all things are lovely unto the loving, all things good unto the good; and, universally, such as thou art thyself, such is God himself unto thee, though he is not a creature. He is perverse unto the perverse, and holy unto the holy. Hence nothing can be good or saving unto him who is evil; nothing sweet unto him unto whom the law of God is not sweet. The word “_counsel_” is without doubt here to be received as signifying decrees and doctrines, seeing that no society of men exists without being formed and preserved by decrees and laws. David, however, by this term strikes at the pride and reprobate temerity of the ungodly. First, because they will not humble themselves so far as to walk in the law of the Lord, but rule themselves by their own counsel. And then he calls it their “counsel,” because it is their prudence, and the way that seems to them to be without error. For this is the destruction of the ungodly–their being prudent in their own eyes and in their own esteem, and clothing their errors in the garb of prudence and of the right way. For if they came to men in the open garb of error, it would not be so distinguishing a mark of blessedness not to walk with them. But David does not here say, “in the folly of the ungodly,” or “in the error of the ungodly;” and therefore he admonishes us to guard with all diligence against the appearance of what is right, that the devil transformed into an angel of light do not seduce us by his craftiness. And he contrasts the counsel of the wicked with the law of the Lord, that we may learn to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, who are always ready to give counsel to all, to teach all, and to offer assistance unto all, when they are of all men the least qualified to do so. The term “_stood_” descriptively represents their obstinacy, and stiff-neckedness, wherein they harden themselves and make their excuses in words of malice, having become incorrigible in their ungodliness. For “to stand,” in the figurative manner of Scripture expression, signifies to be firm and fixed: as in #Ro 14:4|, “To his own master he standeth or falleth: yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand.” Hence the word “column” is by the Hebrew derived from their verb “to stand,” as is the word statue among the Latins. For this is the very self-excuse and self-hardening of the ungodly–their appearing to themselves to live rightly, and to shine in the eternal show of works above all others. With respect to the term “_seat_,” to sit in the seat, is to teach, to act the instructor and teacher; as in #Mt 23:2|, “The scribes sit in Moses’ chair.” _They_ sit in the seat of pestilence, who fill the church with the opinions of philosophers, with the traditions of men, and with the counsels of their own brain, and oppress miserable consciences, setting aside, all the while, the word of God, by which alone the soul is fed, lives, and is preserved.–^Martin Luther, 1536–1546.
Verse 1.–“_The scornful_.” _Peccator cum in profundum venerit contemnet_– when a wicked man comes to the depth and worst of sin, he despiseth. Then the Hebrew will despise Moses (#Ex 2:14|), “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” Then Ahab will quarrel with Micaiah (#1Ki 22:18|), because he doth not prophesy good unto him. Every child in Bethel will mock Elisha (#2Ki 2:23|), and be bold to call him “bald pate.” Here is an original drop of venom swollen to a main ocean of poison: as one drop of some serpents’ poison, lighting on the hand, gets into the veins, and so spreads itself over all the body till it hath stifled the vital spirits. God shall “laugh you to scorn,” (#Ps 2:4|), for laughing him to scorn; and at last despise you that have despised him in us. That which a man spits against heaven, shall fall back on his own face. Your indignities done to your spiritual physicians shall sleep in the dust with your ashes, but stand up against your souls in judgment.–^Thomas Adams, 1614.
Verse 2.–“_But his will is in the law of the Lord_.” The “will,” which is here signified, is that (delight of heart, and that certain pleasure, in the law, which does not look at what the law promises, nor at What it threatens, but at this only; that “the law is holy, and just, and good.” Hence it is not only a love of the law, but that loving delight in the law which no prosperity, nor adversity, nor the world, nor the prince of it, can either take away or destroy; for it victoriously bursts its way through poverty, evil report, the cross, death, and hell, and in the midst of adversities, shines the brightest.–^Martin Luther.
Verse 2.–“_His delight is in the law of the Lord_.”–This _delight_ which the prophet here speaks of is the only delight that neither blushes nor looks pale; the only delight that gives a repast without an after reckoning; the only delight that stands in construction with all tenses; and like Aeneas Anchyses, carries his parents upon his back.–^Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 2.–“_In his law doth he meditate_.” In the plainest text there is a world of holiness and spirituality; and if we in prayer and dependence upon God did sit down and study it, we should behold much more than appears to us. It may be, at once reading or looking, we see little or nothing; as Elijah’s servant went once, and saw nothing; therefore he was commanded to look seven times. What now? says the prophet, “I see a cloud rising, like a man’s hand;” and by-and-by, the whole surface of the heavens was covered with clouds. So you may look lightly upon a Scripture and see nothing; meditate often upon it, and there you shall see a light, like the light of the sun.”–^Joseph Caryl, 1647.
Verse 2.–“_In his law doth he meditate day and night_.”–The good man doth meditate on the law of God day and night. The pontificians beat off the common people from this common treasury, by objecting this supposed difficulty. Oh, the Scriptures are hard to be understood, do not you trouble your heads about them; we will tell you the meaning of them. They might as well say, heaven is a blessed place, but it is a hard way to it; do not trouble yourselves, we will go thither for you. Thus in the great day of trial, when they should be saved by their book, alas! they have no book to save them. Instead of the Scriptures they can present images; these are the laymen’s books; as if they were to be tried by a jury of carvers and painters, and not by the twelve apostles. Be not you so cheated; but study the gospel as you look for comfort by the gospel. He that hopes for the inheritance, will make much of the conveyance.–^Thomas Adams.
Verse 2.–To “_meditate_,” as it is generally understood, signifies to discuss, to dispute; and its meaning is always confined to a being employed in words, as in #Ps 32:30|, “The mouth of the righteous shall meditate wisdom.” Hence Augustine has, in his translation, “chatter”; and a beautiful metaphor it is–as chattering is the employment of birds, so a continual conversing in the law of the Lord (for talking is peculiar to man), ought to be the employment of man. But I cannot worthily and fully set forth the gracious meaning and force of this word; for this “meditating” consists first in all intent observing of the words of the law, and then in a comparing of the different Scriptures; which is a certain delightful hunting, nay, rather a playing with stags in a forest, where the Lord furnishes us with the stags, and opens to us their secret coverts. And from this kind of employment, there comes forth at length a man well instructed in the law of the Lord to speak unto the people.–^Martin Luther.
Verse 2.–“_In his law doth he meditate day and night_.” The godly man will read the Word by _day_, that men, seeing his good works, may glorify his Father who is in heaven; he will do it in the _night_, that he may not be seen of men: by _day_, to show that he is not one of those who dread the light; by _night_, to show that he is one who can shine in the shade: by _day_, for that is the time for working–work whilst it is day; by _night_, lest his Master should come as a thief, and find him idle. –^Sir Richard Baker.
Verse 2.–I have no rest, but in a nook, with _the book_.–Thomas a Kempis, 1380–1471.
Verse 2.–“_Meditate_.” Meditation doth discriminate and characterise a man; by this he may take a measure of his heart, whether it be good or bad; let me allude to that; “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” #Pr 23:7|. As the meditation is, such is the man. Meditation is the touchstone of a Christian; it shows what metal he is made of. It is a spiritual index; the index shows what is in the book, so meditation shoes what is in the heart.–^Thomas Watson’s Saints’ Spiritual Delight.
Meditation chews the cud, and gets the sweetness and nutritive virtue of the Word into the heart and life: this is the way the godly bring forth much fruit. –^Bartholomew Ashwood’s Heavenly Trade, 1688.
The naturalists observe that to uphold and accommodate bodily life, there are divers sorts of faculties communicated, and these among the rest: 1. An attractive faculty, to assume and draw in the food; 2. A retentive faculty, to retain it when taken in; 3. An assimilating faculty, to concoct the nourishment; 4. An augmenting faculty, for drawing to perfection. Meditation is all these. It helps judgment, wisdom, and faith to ponder, discern, and credit the things which reading and hearing supply and furnish. It assists the memory to lock up the jewels of divine truth in her sure treasury. It has a digesting power, and turns special truth into spiritual nourishment; and lastly, it helps the renewed heart to grow upward and increase its power to know the things which are freely given to us of God.–^Condensed from Nathaniel Ranew, 1670.
HINTS TO PREACHERS.
Verse 1.–May furnish an excellent text upon “Progress in sin,” of “The Purity of the Christian,” or “The Blessedness of the Righteous.” Upon the last subject speak of the believer as BLESSED–1. By God; 2. In Christ; 3. With all blessings; 4. In all circumstances; 5. Through time and eternity; 6. To the highest degree.
Verse 1.–Teaches a godly man to beware, (1) of the opinions, (2) of the practical life, and (3) of the company and association of sinful men. Show how meditation upon the Word will assist us in keeping aloof from these three evils.
The insinuating and progressive nature of sin.–^J. Morison.
Verse 1, _in connection with the whole Psalm_. The wide difference between the righteous and the wicked.
Verse 2.–THE WORD OF GOD. 1. The believer’s delight in it. 2. The believer’s acquaintance with it. We long to be in the company of those we love.
Verse 2.–I. What is meant by “the law of the Lord.” II. What there is in it for the believer to delight in. III. How he shows his delight, thinks of it, reads much, speaks of it, obeys it, does not delight in evil.
Verse 2 (last clause).–The benefits, helps, and hindrances of meditation.