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Notes from Calvin’s Commentary upon The Book of Psalms 19-35

Psalm 19

“While the heavens bear witness concerning God, their testimony does not lead men so far as that thereby they learn truly to fear him, and acquire a well-grounded knowledge of him; it serves only to render them inexcusable.  It is doubtless true, that if we were not very dull and stupid, the signatures and proofs of Deity which are to be found in the theatre of the world, are abundant enough to incite us to acknowledge and reverence God; but as, although surrounded with so clear a light, we are nevertheless blind, this splendid representation of the glory of God, without the aid of the word, would profit us nothing, although it should be to us as a loud and distinct proclamaiton sounding in our ears.”  (v. 1)

“Understanding is the most excellent endowment of the soul; and David teaches us that it is to be derived from the law, for we are naturally destitute of it.”  (v. 7)

Psalm 20

“As the Holy Spirit here sets the assistance of God in opposition to human strength, it ought to be particularly noticed, that whenever our minds come to be occupied by carnal confidence, they fall at the same time into a forgetfulness of God.  It is impossible for him, who promises himself victory by confiding in his own strength, to have his eyes turned towards God.  The inspired writer, therefore, uses the word remember, to show, that when the saints betake themselves to God, they must cast off every thing which would hinder them from placing an exclusive trust in him.”  (v. 7)

“In the present day, when Christ is now manifested to us, let us learn to yield him this honour–to renounce all hope of salvation from any other quarter, and to trust to that salvation only which he shall bring to us from God his Father.  And of this we shall then only become partakers when, being all gathered together into one body, under the same Head, we shall have mutual care one of another, and when none of us will have his attention so engrossed with his own advantage and individual interest, as to be indifferent to the welfare and happiness of others.”  (v. 9)

Psalm 21

“The psalm is at length concluded with a prayer, which again confirms that the kingdom which is spoken of is so connected with the glory of God, that his power is reflected from it.  This was no doubt true with respect to the kingdom of David; for God in old time displayed his power in exalting him to the throne.  But what is here stated was only fully accomplished in Christ, who was appointed by the heavenly Father to be King over us, and who is at the same time God manifest in the flesh.”  (v. 13)

Psalm 22

“Faith does not gain the victory at the first encounter, but after receiving many blows, and after being exercised with many tossings, she at length comes forth victorious.” (v. 1)

“Whenever the minds of the saints are surrounded and oppressed with this darkness, there is always some unbelief mixed with their exercise, which prevents them from all at once emerging from it to the light of a new life. But in Christ these two things were wonderfully conjoined, namely, terror, proceeding from a sense of the curse of God; and patience, arising from faith, which tranquillized all the mental emotions, so that they continued in complete and willing subjection to the authority of God.” (v. 15)

The perpetuity of the Church is here abundantly proved, and in very clear terms: not that it always flourishes or continues in the same uniform course through successive ages, but because God, unwillng that his name should be extinguished in the world, will always raise up some sincerely to devote themselves to his service. We ought to remember that this seed, in which the service of God was to be preserved, is the fruit of the incorruptible seed; for God begets and multiplies his Church only by means of his word.” (v. 30)

Psalm 23

“David, who excelled both in power and riches, nevertheless frankly confessed himself to be a poor sheep, that he might have God for his shepherd. Who is there, then, amongst us, who would exempt himself from this necessity, seeing our own weakness sufficiently shows that we are more than miserable if we do not live under the protection of this shepherd? We ought to bear in mind, that our happiness consists in this, that his hand is stretched forth to govern us, that we live under his shadow, and that his providence keeps watch and ward over our welfare.” (v. 1)

“Since God tries faith by adversity, it follows that no one truly confides in God, but he who is armed with invincible constancy for resisting all the fears with which he may be assailed. Yet David did not mean to say that he was devoid of all fear, but only that he would surmount it so as to go without fear wherever his shepherd should lead him.” (v. 4)

Psalm 24

“It is not to be expected that the fruit or reward of righteousness will be bestowed on those who unrighteously profane God’s sacred worship; and on the other hand, that it is impossible for God to disappoint his true worshippers; for it is his peculiar office to give evidence of his righteousness by doing them good.” (v. 5)

Psalm 25

“In order that we may pray aright to God, let us be directed by this rule–not to distract our minds by various and uncertain hopes, nor to depend on worldly aid but to yield to God the honour of lifting up our hearts to him in sincere and earnest prayer.” (v. 1)

“…I, nevertheless, still hold this as a settled point, that in the language of the Psalmist there is an allusion to those sudden and irregular emotions which arise in our minds when we are tossed by adversity, and by which we are precipitated into the devious and deceitful paths of error, till they are in due time subdued or allayed by the word of God. Thus the meaning is, Whatever may happen, suffer me not, O Lord, to fall from thy ways, or to be carried away by a wilful disobedience to thy authoirty, or any other sinful desire; but rather let thy truth preserve me in a state of quiet repose and peace, by an humble submission to it.” (v. 4)

Psalm 26

“Let us, therefore, learn from the example of David, even when an opportunity of injuring our enemies is offered us, and when by various methods they force and provoke us, to remain firm in our course, and not suffer ourselves to be diverted in any manner from persevering in the path of our integrity.” (v. 1)

“And this we must especially bear in mind, if we would desire to obtain the approbation of God, that when unjustly persecuted, we must not only abstain from retaliation, but also persevere in a right spirit.” (v. 2)

“In short, David was steady in preserving his uprightness, because he had resolved that God should be his guide. In the first place, therefore, he mentions his goodness, and afterwards he adds, his truth, because his goodness, which enables us to walk with unyielding courage in the midst of all temptations, is only known to us by his promises.” (v. 3)

“Thus faith, which steadily looks to God’s promises, is aptly opposed to all the crooked and iniquitous counsels in which unbelief involves us as often as we ascribe not proper honour to the guardianship of God.” (v. 4)

Psalm 27

“Many may be seen spurring on with great inpetuosity at first, whose ardour, in process of time, not only languishes, but is almost immediately extinguished. By declaring, therefore, that he would persevere in this wish during his whole life, he thereby distinguishes between himself and hypocrites.” (v. 4)

“We basely undervalue the grace of God, if our faith rise not above all the affections of nature; for sooner shall the laws of nature be overturned a hundred times, than God shall fail his people.” (v. 10)

“But as nothing is more difficult than to give God the honour of relying upon him, when he hides himself from us, or delays his assistance, David stirs himself up to collect strength; as if he had said, If fearfulness steal upon thee; if temptation shake thy faith; if the feelings of the flesh rise in tumult, do not faint; but rather endeavour to rise above them by an invincible resolution of mind. From this we may learn, that the children of God overcome, not by sullenness, but by patience, when they commit their souls quietly to God; as Isaiah says, ‘In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).” (v. 14)

Psalm 28

“By calling God his strength, David more fully shows that he confided in God’s assistance, not only when he was in the shade and in peace, but also when he was exposed to the severest temptations.  In comparing himself to the dead, too, he intimates how great his straits were, although his object was not merely to point out the magnitude of his danger, but also to show that when he needed succour, he looked not here and there for it, but relied on God alone, without whose favour there remained no hope for him.”  (v. 1)

“It is unquestionable, that if the flesh move us to seek revenge, the desire is wicked in the sight of God.  He not only forbids us to imprecate evil upon our enemies in revenge for private injuries, but it cannot be otherwise than that all those desires which spring from hatred must be disordered.  David’s example, therefore, must not be alleged by those who are driven by their own intemperate passion to seek vengeance.  The holy prophet is not inflamed here by his own private sorrow to devote his enemies to destruction; but laying aside the desire of the flesh, he gives judgment concerning the matter itself.  Before a man can, therefore, denounce vengeance against the wicked, he must first shake himself free from all improper feelings in his own mind.”  (v. 4)

“David employs salvations or deliverances in the plural number, because he had been often and in various ways preserved.   The meaning, therefore, is, that from the time when God had anointed him by the hand of Samuel, he never ceased to help him, but delivered him in innumerable ways, until he had accomplished the work of his grace in him.”  (v. 8)

Psalm 29

“It is base ingratitude, indeed, in men not to perceive his providence and government in the whole course of nature; but it is a detestable insensibility that at least his unusual and extraordinary works, which compel even wild beasts to obey him, will not teach them wisdom.”  (v. 9)

“God’s voice fills the whole world, and spreads itself to its farthest limits; but the prophet declares that his glory is celebrated only in his church, because God not only speaks intelligibly and distinctly there, but also there gently allures the faithful to himself.”  (v. 9)

Psalm 30

“If we are prosperous, we devour God’s blessings without feeling that they are his, or, at least, we indolently allow them to slip away; but if any thing sorrowful or adverse befall us, we immediately complain of his severity, as if he had never dealt kindly and mercifully with us.  In short, our own fretfulness and impatience under affliction makes every minute an age; while, on the other hand, our repining and ingratitude lead us to imagine that God’s favour, however long it may be exercised towards us, is but for a moment.  It is our own perversity, therefore, in reality, which hinders us from perceiving that God’s anger is but of short duration, while his favour is continued towards us during the whole course of our life.”  (v. 5)

Psalm 31

“It is easy to see from the frequent use of the term in The Psalms, that God’s righteousness means his faithfulness, in the exercise of which he defends all his people who commit themselves to his guardianship and protection.  David, therefore, confirms his hope from the consideration of the nature of God, who cannot deny himsef, and who always continues like himself.”  (v. 1)

“When the Spirit of God puts us in mind of our duty, he examines not what each man’s ability is, nor does he measure men’s services by their own strength, but stimulates us rather to pray and beseech God to correct our defects, as it is he alone who can do this.”  (v. 24)

Psalm 32

“But how does he call those righteous, whose whole happiness consists in the free mercy of God not imputing their sins to them?  I answer, that none others are received into favour but those who are dissatisfied with themselves for their sins, and repent with their whole heart; not that this repentance merits pardon, but because faith can never be separated from the spirit of regeneration. . . .[F]or faith not only reconciles a man to God, but also sanctifies whatever is imperfect in him, so that by the free grace of God, he becomes righteous who could never have obtained so great a blessing by any merit of his own.”  (v. 11)

Psalm 33

“…it is too obvious how wickedly a great part of the world shut their eyes to God’s righteousness, while they either carelessly overlook innumerable proofs of his providence, or imagine that they happen by chance.  But there is often a worse fault than this; namely, that if our wishes are not gratified, we instantly murmur against God’s righteousness; and although the maxim, ‘God doeth all things righteously,’ is in every man’s mouth, yet scarcely one in a hundred firmly believes it in his heart; otherwise, as soon as it is pronounced, ‘Thus it pleaseth God,’ every man would obediently submit himself to God’s will.”  (v. 5)

“The righteousness of God ought justly to incite us to praise him, but his goodness is a more powerful motive; because, the more experience which any man has of his beneficence and mercy, the more strongly is he influenced to worship him.” (v. 5)

Psalm 34

“He teaches us not merely that we ought to seek peace, but if at any time it shall seem to flee from us, he bids us use our every effort without ceasing in pursuing it.  This, however, mut be understood with some limitation….David means only that in our own personal affairs we should be meek and condescending, and endeavour, as far as in us lies, to maintain peace, though its maintenance should prove to us a source of much trouble and inconvenience.”  (v. 14)

Psalm 35

“When troubles and dangers arise, when terrors assail us on every side, when even death presents itself to our view, it is difficult to realise the secret and invisible power of God, which is able to deliver us from all anxiety and fear; for our understandings, which are gross and earthly, and tend downward to the earth.  That our faith, therefore, may ascend by degrees to the heavenly power of God, he is here introduced armed, after the manner of men, with sword and shield.”  (v. 2)

“In old times, it was a common proverb among the heathen, ‘There is no theatre more beautiful than a good conscience;’ and in this they uttered a noble sentiment; but no man can be sustained and supported by the purity of his conscience unless he has recourse to God.”  (v. 11)

“If, therefore, we would frame our requests aright, a clear conviction and persuasion of the providence of God must first shine into our hearts; nor is it necessary only that this should precede, in point of order, all our desires; it must also restrain and govern them.”  (v. 22)

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