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Notes from Calvin’s Commentary upon The Book of Psalms 50-66

Psalm 50

“There is in all men by nature a strong and ineffaceable conviction that they ought to worship God. Indisposed to worship him in a pure and spiritual manner, it becomes necessary that they should invent some specious appearance as a substitute; and however clearly they may be persuaded of the vanity of such conduct, they persist in it to the last, because they shrink from a total renunciation of the service of God. Men have always, accordingly, been found addicted to ceremonies until they have been brought to the knowledge of that which constitutes true and acceptable religion. . . .Prayer and praise are set in opposition to ceremones and mere external observances of religion, to teach us, that the worship of God is spiritual.” (vv. 14,15)

“When God has withdrawn the outward marks of his favour, a doubt is apt to steal into our minds whether he really cares for our salvation. So far is this from being well founded, that adversity is sent to us by God, just to stir us up to seek him and to call upon his name. Nor should we overlook the fact, that our prayers are only acceptable when we offer them in compliance with the commandment of God, and are animated to them by a consideration of the promise which he has extended.” (v. 15)

“We have a sufficient proof in the supine security which hypocrites display, that they must have formed such false conceptions of God. They not only exclude from their thoughts his judicial character, but think of him as the patron and approver of their sins. The Psalmist reprehends them for abusing the goodness and clemency of God, in the way of cherishing a vain hope that they may transgress with impunity.” (v. 21)

“There must be an experience of the goodness of the Lord before our mouths can be opened to praise him for it, and this goodness can only be experienced by faith. Hence it follows, that the whole of spiritual worship is comprehended under what is either presupposed in the exercise of praise, or flows from it.” (v. 23)

Psalm 51

“Not as if God could experience any difficulty in cleansing the worst sinner, but the more aggravated a man’s sin is, the more earnest naturally are his desires to be delivered from the terrors of conscience.” (v. 1)

“David does not simply say that he will confess his sins to man, but declares that he has a deep inward feeling of them, such a feeling of them as filled him with the keenest anguish. His was a very different spirit from that of the hypocrite, who displays a complete indifference upon this subject, or when it intrudes upon him, endeavours to bury the recollection of it. He speaks of his sins in the plural number.” (v. 3)

“David, then, is here brought, by reflecting on one particular transgression, to cast a retrospective glance upon his whole past life, and to discover nothing but sin in it. And let us not imagine that he speaks of the corruption of his nature, merely as hypocrites will occasionally do, to excuse their faults, saying ‘I have sinned it may be, but what could I do? We are men, and prone by nature to everything which is evil.’ David has recourse to no such stratagems for evading the sentence of God, and refers to original sin with the view of aggravating his guilt, acknowledging that he had not contracted this or that sin for the first time lately, but had been born into the world with the seed of every iniquity.” (v. 5)

“The truth on which we are now insisting is an important one, as many learned men have been inconsiderately drawn into the opinion that the elect, by falling into mortal sin, may lose the Spirit altogether, and be alienated from God. The contrary is clearlly declared by Peter, who tells us that the word by which we are born again is an incorruptible seed, (1 Pet. 1:23); and John is equally explicit in informing us that the elect are preserved from falling away altogether (1 John 3:9). However much they may appear for a time to have been cast off by God, it is afterwards seen that grace must have been alive in their breast, even during that interval when it seemed to be extinct. . . .This is the spirit displayed by David. Reflecting upon his offense, he is agitated with fears, and yet rests in the persuasion that, being a child of God, he would not be deprived of what indeed he had justly forfeited.” (v. 11)

“David is not speaking at this time of the meritorious condition by which pardon is procured, but, on the contrary, asserting our absolute destitution of merit by enjoining humiliation and contrition of spirit, in opposition to everything like an attempt to render a compensation to God.” (v. 17)

Psalm 52

“The wicked are incapable of profiting by the judgments of God, being blind to the plainest manifestations which he has made of himself in his works, and it was only the righteous therefore who could see it. Besides, the great end which God has in view, when he prostrates the pride of the ungodly, is the comfort of his own people, that he may show to them the care with which he watches over their safety. It is they, therefore, whom David represents as witnessing this spectacle of Divine justice.” (v. 6)

“So long as men imagine that they have something of their own in which they can boast, they will never resort to God: just in proportion as we arrogate to ourselves do we derogate from him; and it is not only wealth, but any other earthly possession, which, by engrossing our confidence, may prevent us from inquiring after the Lord.” (v. 7)

“And here let us engrave the useful lesson upon our hearts, that we should consider it the great end of our existence to be found numbered amongst the worshippers of God; and that we should avail ourselves of the inestimable privilege of the stated assemblies of the Church, which are necessary helps to our infirmity, and means of mutual excitement and encouragement.” (v. 8)

Psalm 53 (See Psalm 14)

Psalm 54

“The whole psalm, it is true, must have been written after his [David’s] deliverance; but up to this point it is to be considered as recording the form of prayer which he used when yet exposed to the danger. We are now to suppose him relieved from his anxieties, and subjoining a fresh expression of his gratitude: nor is it improbable that he refers to mercies which he had experienced at other periods of his history, and which were recalled to his memory by the one more immediately brought under our notice in the preceding verses; so that he is to be understood as declaring, in a more general sense, that the name of God was good, and that he had been delivered out of all trouble.” (v. 6)

Psalm 55

“We may learn…not only that the sufferings which David endured at this time were heavy, but that the fortitude of the greatest servants of God fails them in the hour of severe trial. We are all good soldiers so long as things go well with us, but when brought to close combat, our weakness is soon apparent. Satan avails himself of the advantage, suggests that God has withdrawn the supports of his Spirit, and instigates us to despair.” (v. 4)

Psalm 56

“It is our duty, when rescued from any peril, to retain in our recollection the circumstances of it, and all which rendered it peculiarly formidable. During the time that we are exposed to it, we are apt to err through an excessive apprehension; but when it is over, we too readily forget both our fears and the Divine goodness manifested in our deliverance.” (v. 13)

Psalm 57

“When it is said, he shall send from heaven, some consider the expression as elliptical, meaning that he would send his angels; but it seems rather to be an indefinite form of speech, signifying that the deliverance which David expected was one not of a common, but a signal and miraculous description. . . .The deliverance which David anticipated was signal and miraculous; and he adds, that he looked for it entirely from the mercy and truth of God, which he represents here as the hands, so to speak, by which his assistance is extended to his people.” (v. 3)

Psalm 58

“Should the whole world refuse to hear us, we must learn, by the example of David, to rest satisfied with the testimony of a good conscience, and with appealing to the tribunal of God.” (v. 1)

“We all come into the world stained with sin, possessed, as Adam’s posterity, of a nature essentially depraved, and incapable, in ourselves, of aiming at anything which is good; but there is a secret restraint upon most men which prevents them from proceeding all lengths in iniquity. The stain of original sin cleaves to the whole human family without exception; but experience proves that some are characterized by modesty and decency of outward deportment; that others are wicked, yet, at the same time, within bounds of moderation; while a third class are so depraved in disposition as to be intolerable members of society. Now, it is this excessive wickedness–too marked to escape detestation even amidst the general corruption of mankind–which David ascribes to his enemies. He stigmatizes them as monsters of iniquity.” (v. 3)

Psalm 59

“…Augustine…has repeatedly quoted the passage against the Pelagians, in proof that the grace of God is antecedent to all human merit. In the same manner, he has again and again cited the preceding verse, to refute the arrogancy of those who boast in the power of free-will. ‘I will put in trust my strength with thee,’ he says; ‘that is, men must subject themselves with all modesty and humility to God, as having no strength but that with which he supplies them.'” (v. 10)

Psalm 60

“Why is it almost universally the case with men that they are either staggered in their resolution, or busy themselves up with confidences, vain, because not derived from God, but just because they have no apprehension of that salvation which he can extend, which is of itself sufficient, and without which, any earthly succour is entirely ineffectual?  In contrasting the help of God with that of man, he employs language not strictly correct, for, in reality, there is no such thing as a power in man to deliver at all.”  (v. 11)

“Two things are implied in the expression, through God we shall do valiantly; first, that if God withdraw his favour, any supposed strength which is in man will soon fail; and, on the other hand, that those whose sufficiency is derived from God only are we armed with courage to overcome every difficulty.”  (v. 11)

Psalm 61

“Living, as he did, under the shadows of a legal dispensation, he did not cease to pray because removed to a distance from the temple; and how inexcusable must our conduct be, privileged as we are of God, and called to draw near by the way which has been opened through the blood of Christ, if we break not through every hinderance which Satan presents to our communications with heaven?”  (v. 1)

“…[T]he series of  years, and even ages, of which he speaks extends prospectively to the coming of Christ, it being the verycondition of the kingdom…that God maintained them as one people under one head, or, when scattered, united them again.  The same succession still subsists in reference to ourselves.  Christ must be viewed as living in his members to the end of the world.”  (v. 6)

“[T]he true security for a happy life lies in being persuaded that we are under divine government.”  (v. 7)

Psalm 62

“We know that the Lord’s people cannot always reach such a measure of composure as to be wholly exempt from distraction.  They would wish to receive the word of the Lord with submission, and to be dumb under his correcting hand; but inordinate affections will take possession of their minds, and break in upon that peace which they might otherwise attain to in the exercise of faith and resignation.  Hence the impatience we find in many; an impatience which they give vent to in the presence of God, and which is an occasion to themselves of much rouble and disquietude.”  (v. 1)

“Having denounced, in the first place, those desires which are plainly evil and positively wicked, he proceeds immediately afterwards to guard against an inordinate attachment even to such riches as may have been honestly acquired.  To set the heart upon riches, means more than simply to covet the possession of them.  It implies being carried away by them into a false confidence, or, to use an expression of Paul, ‘being high-minded.’  The admonition here given is one which daily observation teaches us to be necessary.  It is uniformly seen that prosperity and abundance engender a haughty spirit, leading men at once to be presumptuous in their carriage before God, and reckless in inflicting injury upon their fellow-creatures.”  (v. 10)

Psalm 63

“When we think ourselves well provided otherwise, we feel no disposition to have recourse to the mercy of God. That being (to speak so) which we have of our own, prevents us from seeing that we live through the mere grace of God.  As we are too much disposed to trust in aids of a carnal kind, and to forget God, the Psalmist here affirms that we should have more reliance upon the divine mercy in the midst of death, than upon what we are disposed to call, or what may appear to be, life.”  (v. 3)

“If we would evidence a strong faith, we must anticipate the divine favour before it has been actually manifested, and when there is no present appearance of its forthcoming.”  (v. 5)

Psalm 64

“It is just that Heaven should make the mischiefs which they had devised against innocent and upright men to recoil upon their own heads.  The judgment is one which we see repeatedly and daily exemplified before our eyes, and yet we find much difficulty in believing that it can take place.  We should feel ourselves bound the more to impress the truth upon our hearts, that God is ever watching, as it were, his opportunity of converting the stratagems of the wicked into means just as completely effective of their destruction, as if they had intentionally employed them for that end.”  (v. 8)

Psalm 65

“…God never disappoints his worshippers, but crowns their prayers with a favourable answer.  Thus, what is stated last, is first in the natural order of consideration.  The title here given to God carries with it a truth of great importance, that the answer of our prayers is secured by the fact, that in rejecting them he would in a certain sense deny his own nature.  The Psalmist does not say that God has heard prayer in this or that instance, but gives him the name of the hearer of prayer, as what constitutes an abiding part of his glory, so that he might as soon deny himself as shut his ear to our petitions.  Could we oly impress this upon our minds, that it is something peculiar to God, and inseparable from him, to hear prayer, it would inspire us with unfailing confidence.”  (v. 1)

Psalm 66

“But while believers make an unreserved confession of guilt before god, by this very thing they cease to be sinners, for God pardons them in answer to their supplications.  We are not to forget the words of Paul, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity,’ (2 Timothy 2:19).  Besides, to regard iniquity in the heart, does not mean to be conscious of sin,–for all the Lord’s people must see their sins and be grieved for them, and this is rather praiseworthy than condemnable;–but to be bent upon the practice of iniquity. . . .When the heart does not correspond to the outward conduct, and harbours any secret evil intent, the fair exterior appearance may deceive men; but it is an abomination in the sight of God.”  (v. 18)

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