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Notes from Calvin’s Commentary upon The Book of Psalms 1-18

Psalm 1

“…it shall be always well with God’s devout servants, whose constant endeavour it is to make progress in the study of his law.”  (v.1)

“From his characterizing the godly as delighting in the law of the Lord, we may learn that forced or servile obedience is not at all acceptable to God, and that those only are worthy students of the law who come to it with a cheerful mind, and are so delighted with its instructions, as to account nothing more desirable or delicious than to make progress therein.  From this love of the law proceeds constant meditation upon it…for all who are truly actuated by love to the law must feel pleasure in the diligent study of it.” (v. 2)

Psalm 2

“It is of great importance to hold fast this inseparable connection, that as the majesty of God hath shone forth in his only begotten Son, so the Father will not be feared and worshipped but in his person.” (v. 2)

“When God permits the reign of his Son to be troubled, he does not cease from interfereing because he is employed elsewhere, or unable to afford assistance, or because he is neglectful of the honour of his Son; but he purposely delays the inflictions of his wrath to the proper time, namely until he has exposed their infatuated rage to general derision.” (v. 4)

“In these words there is set before us the unchangeable and eternal purpose of God effectually to defend, even to the end, the kingdom of his Son, of which he is the founder; and this may well support our faith amidst the troublous storms of the world.” (v. 5)

“He who shows himself a loving shepherd to his gentle sheep, must treat the wild beasts with a degree of severity, either to convert them from their cruelty, or effectually to restrain it.” (v. 9)

“By trusting to their elevated station, [kings] flatter themselves that they are loosed from the laws which bind the rest of mankind; and the pride of this so greatly blinds them as to make them think it beneath them to submit even to God. The Psalmist, therefore, tells them, that until they have learned to fear him, they are destitute of all right understanding.” (v. 10)

Psalm 3

“Nothing is more unbecoming than sullenly to gnaw the bit with which we are bridled, and to withhold our groaning from God, if, indeed, we have any faith in his promise.” (v. 4)

Psalm 4

“Let this truth obtain a fixed place in our minds, that god will never withhold his assistance from those who go on sincerely in their course.  Without this comfort, the faithful must inevitably sink into despondency every moment.” (v. 3)

“The reason why the ungodly are troublesome to the good and the simple, and cause so much confusion, is because they are too much at peace with themselves.” (v. 4)

“In contending with the corruptors of true religion, who may have the name of God continually in their mouth, and vaunt themselves on account of their observance of his outward worship, we may safely rebuke their boasting, because they do not offer the right sacrifices.  But, we must beware lest a vain pretence of godliness foster in us  perverse and ill founded confidence, in place of true hope.” (v. 5)

“David, therefore, intimates, in the first place, that all those are fools, who, wishing to enjoy prosperity, do not begin with seeking the favour of God; for, by neglecting to do this, they are carried about by the various false opinions which are abroad.  In the second place, he rebukes another vice, namely, that of gross and earthly men in giving themselves wholly to the ease and comforts of the flesh, and the settling down in, or contenting themselves with, the enjoyment of these alone, without thinking of any thing higher.” (v. 6)

“And although the faithful also desire and seek after their wordly comforts, yet they do not pursue them with immoderate and irregular ardour; but can patiently bear to be deprived of them, provided they know themselves to be the objects of the divine care.” (v. 7)

Psalm 5

“[David] prays to God to punish them as they deserved, because, in wrongfully and wickedly making war against an innocent person, they rebelled against God. The proud, indeed, never think of this, that the poor, whom they afflict and despise, are of such estimation in the sight of God, that he feels himself insulted and injured in their persons:  for they do not imagine that the blows aimed at them are struck against heaven, any more than if they trampled a little dust or clay under their feet.  But God bestows upon his servants the inestimable reward of taking their cause into his own hand.  Whoever, therefore, has an approving conscience, and does not turn aside from his uprightness, although troubled wrongfully, has no reason to doubt of his warrant to improve God as a buckler against his enemies.”  (v. 10)

“This passage teaches us, that we are ungrateful to God if we do not take encouragement and comfort from whatever blessings he confers upon our neighbours, since by these he testifies that he will always be ready to bestow his goodness upon all the godly in common.  Accordingly, the reason of this joy is added, because the Lord will cover or protect them.  As often as God bestows any blessings upon any of the faithful, the rest, as I have said before, ought to conclude that he will show himself beneficent towards them.  Again, this passage teaches us, that true joy proceeds from no other source than from the protection of God.”  (v. 11)

Psalm 6

“This passage teaches us, that the grace of God is the only light of life to the godly; and that, as soon as He has manifested some token of his anger, they are not only greatly afraid, but also, as it were, plunged into the darkness of death; while, on the other hand, as soon as they discover anew that God is merciful to them, they are immediately restored to life.  David, it is to be noticed, repeats three times that his prayers were heard, by which he testifies that he ascribes his deliverance to God, and confirms himself in this confidence, that he had not betaken himself to God in vain.”  (vv. 8-10)

Psalm 7

The righteousness of God is here to be understood of his faithfulness, which he makes good to his servants in defending and preserving their lives.  God does not shut up or conceal his righteousness from our view in the secret recesses of his own mind, but manifests it for our advantage when he defends us against all wrongful violence, delivers us from oppression, and preserves us in safety, although wicked men make war upon us and persecute us.”  (v. 17)

Psalm 8

“The name of God, as I explain it, is here to be understood of the knowledge of the character and perfection of God, in so far as he makes himself known to us.” (v. 1)

“A desire of revenge reigns in all unbelievers, while, on the other hand, God governs his own children by the spirit of meekness and benignity: but, according to the scope of the present passage, the prophet applies this epithet, the avenger, to the despisers of God, who are not only cruel towards man, but who also burn with frantic rage to make war even against God himself.”  (v. 2)

“Whatever estimable quality we see in ourselves, let it stir us up to celebrate the free and undeserved goodness of God in bestowing it upon us.”  (v. 4)

“David here confines his attention to God’s temporal benefits, but it is our duty to rise higher, and to contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which [God] has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love to God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not suffer ourselves to become slothful and remiss in celebrating his praises.”  (v. 9)

Psalm 9

“He who begins his prayer by affirming that God is the great source and object of his joy, fortifies himself before-hand with the strongest confidence, in presenting his supplications to the hearer of prayer.” (v. 2)

Psalm 10

“The ungodly man says, I shall not be moved, or I shall not shake for ever; because he thinks himself sufficiently strong and powerful to bear up against all the assaults which shall be made upon him.  The faithful man says, What although I may happen to be moved, yea, even fall and sink into the lowest depths? my fall will not be fatal, for God will put his hand under me to sustain me.  By this, in like manner, we are furnished with an explanation of the different effects which an apprehension of danger has upon the good and the bad.”  (v. 6)

“Since it is the peculiar province of God to take cognisance of all wrongs, David concludes that it is impossible for God to shut his eyes when the ungodly are wrecklessly and without restraint committing their outrages.  Moreover, he descends from the general to the particular, which ought to be attentively marked: for nothing is easier than to acknowledge in general terms that God exercises a care about the world, and the affairs of men; but it is very difficult to apply this doctrine to its various uses in every-day life.  And yet, all that the Scripture says concerning the power and righteousness of God will be of no advantage to us, and, as it were, only matter of meagre speculation, unless every one apply these statements to himself, as his necessity may require.”  (v. 14)

Psalm 11

“It is a signal proof of faith…to take and to borrow, so to speak, light from heaven to guide us to the hope of salvation, when we are surrounded in this world with darkness on every side.  All men acknowledge that the world is governed by the providence of God; but when there comes some sad confusion of things, which disturbs their ease, and involves them in difficulty, there are few who retain in their minds the firm persuasion of this truth.”  (v. 4)


“If the guardianship which God exercises over the faithful is sometimes hidden, and is not manifest in its effects, let them wait in patience until he arise; and the greater the flood of calamities which overflows them, let them keep themselves so much the more in the exercise of godly fear and solicitude.”  (v. 7)

Psalm 13

“To acknowledge in the midst of our afflictions that God has really a care about us, is not the usual way with men, or what the feelings of nature would prompt; but by faith we apprehend his invisible providence.” (v. 1)

“David, in hastening with promptitude of soul to sing of God’s benefits before he had received them, places the deliverance, which was then apparently at a distance, immediately before his eyes.” (v. 5)

Psalm 14

“Religion is the best mistress for teacing us mutually to maintain equity and uprightness towards each other; and where a concern for religion is extinguished, then all regard for justice perishes along with it. With respect to the phrase, calling upon God, as it constitutes the principal exercise of godliness, it includes by synecdoche, not only here but in many other passages of Scripture, the whole of the service of God.” (v. 4)

Psalm 15

“According to the care which every man takes to practice righteousness and equity towards his neighbors, so does he actually show that he fears God….David describes the approved servants of God, as distinguished and known by the fruits of righteousness which they produce. In the first place, he requires sincerity; in other words, that men should conduct themselves in all their affairs with singleness of heart, and without sinful craft or cunning. Secondly, he requires justice; that is to say, that they should study to do good to their neighbors, hurt nobody, and abstain from all wrong. Thirdly, he requires truth in their speech, so that they may speak nothing falsely or deceitfully. To speak in the heart is a strong figurative expression, but it expresses more forcibly David’s meaning than if he had said from the heart. It denotes such agreement and harmony between the heart and tongue, as that the speech is, as it were, a vivid representation of the hidden affection or feeling within.” (v. 2)

“This conclusion warns us again, that all who thrust themselves into the sanctuary of God are not permanent citizens of ‘the holy Jerusalem which is above;’ but that hypocrites, and all who falsely assume the title of saints, shall at length be ‘cast out’ with Ishmael whom they resemble….God dwells in the midst of Jerusalem. On the contrary, we know that he is far from the perfidious and the wicked, who approach him only with the mouth, and with feigned lips.” (v. 5)

Psalm 16

“Fulness of joy is contrasted with the evanescent allurements and pleasures of this transitory world, which, after having diverted their miserable votaries for a time, leave them at length unsatisfied, famished, and disappointed. They may intoxicate and glut themselves with pleasures to the greatest excess, but, instead of being satisfied, they rather become wearied of them through loathing; and, besides, the pleasures of this world vanish away like dreams. David, therefore, testifies that true and solid joy in which the minds of men may rest will never be found any where else but in God; and that, therefore, none but the faithful, who are contented with his grace alone, can be truly and perfectly happy.” (v. 11)

Psalm 17

“God, whose prerogative it is to search the secret recesses of the heart, cannot be deceived by the external appearance.  The time when he declares God to have visited him is during the night, because, when a man is withdrawn from the presence of his fellow-creatures, he sees more clearly his sins, which otherwise would be hidden from his view; just as, on the contrary, the sight of men affects us with shame, and this is, as it were, a veil before our eyes, which prevents us from deliberately examining our faults.”  (v. 3)

Psalm 18

“It is as if he had said, I am not a king of my own creation, but have been chosen by God to fill that high station.  At the same time, we ought particularly to notice the humility of David, who, although distinguished by so many victories, and the conaqueror of so many nations, and possessed of so great dignity and wealth, honours himself with no other title than this, ‘The servant of God’; as if he meant to show that he accounted it more honourable to have faithfully performed the duties of the office with which God had invested him, than to possess all the honours and excellence of the world.”  (from the Introduction)

“As Satan is daily making new assaults upon us, it is necessary for us to have recourse to arms, and it is meditation upon the Divine Law which furnishes us with armour to resist.  Whoever, therefore, would desire to persevere in uprightness and integrity of life, let them learn to exercise themselves daily in the study of the word of God; for, whenever a man despises or neglects instruction, he easily falls into carelessness and stupidity, and all fear of God vanishes from his mind.”  (v. 22)

“Although Christ can only obtain a tranquil kingdom by fighting, let us not on that account be troubled, but let it be enough to satisfy us, that the hand of God is always ready to be stretched forth for its preservation.”  (vv. 37-40)

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