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Notes from Calvin’s Commentary upon The Book of Psalms 87-102

Psalm 87

“What we are taught in this psalm may be summed up in this, That the Church of God far excels all the kingdoms and polities of the world, inasmuch as she is watched over, and protected by Him in all her interests, and placed under his government; that, in the first place, amidst the violent commotions and dreadful storms with which the whole world is often shaken, she may continue safe; and, in the second place, and principally, that being wonderfully preserved by the protection of the same God, she may at length, after the toil and struggle of a protracted warfare, be crowned with the triumphant laurels of her high calling. It is in truth a singular benefit of God, and at the same time, a signal miracle, that, amidst the great and various revolutions of the kingdoms of this world, he enlarges her continually from age to age, and preserves her from destruction; so that in the whole world that whilst the wicked abound in riches, and have lavished upon them worldly possessions and authority, the afflicted Church is tossed amidst many dangers, or rather, is so overwhelmed with impetuous floods as to seem to be entirely shipwrescked, her happiness must be considered as consisting principally in this, that she has reserved for her an everlasting state in heaven.” (from the introduction)

Psalm 88

“Although faith in the truth that God extends his care both to the living and the dead is deeply rooted in the hearts of all his genuine servants, yet sorrow often so overclouds their minds as to exclude from them for the time all remembrance of his providence. . . .This it will be highly useful particularly to observe, that, should we be at any time weakened by temptation, we may, nevertheless, be kept from falling into despondency or despair.” (v. 5)

“The Psalmist now acknowledges more distinctly, that whatever adversities he endured proceeded from the Divine hand. Nor indeed will any man sincerely betake himself to God to seek relief without a previous persuasion that it is the Divine hand which smites him, and that nothing happens by chance.” (v. 6)

Psalm 89

“What follows in the end of the verse, I will not suffer my faithfulness to fail, is more emphatic than if it had been said that God will be true to what he has said.  It is possible that God’s promise may fail of taking effect, and yet he may continue faithful.  For example, the law is true and holy, and yet of what advantage is it to us that salvation is promised in the law, when no human being can ever obtain salvation by it?  God then in this passage leads us farther; promising that his covenant shall be steadfast and effectual, not only because he will be faithful on his part, but also because he will keep his people from falling away through their own inconstancy.”  (v. 33)

Psalm 90

“By this example we are taught, that in our prayers we ought to extend our care to those who are to come after us. As God has promised that the Church will be perpetuated even to the end of the world, — a subject which was brought under our notice in the preceding psalm, — this ought, in a special manner, to lead us in all the prayers by which we commend the welfare of the Church to him, to include, at the same time, our posterity who are yet unborn. Farther, the words glory and beauty are to be particularly noticed: from which we learn that the love which God bears towards us is unparalleled. Although, in enriching us with his gifts he gains nothing for himself; yet he would have the splendor and beauty of his character manifested in dealing bountifully with us, as if his beauty were obscured when he ceases to do us good.” (v.16)

Psalm 91
“It may seem strange that length of days should be mentioned in the last verse as promised to them, since many of the Lord’s people are soon taken out of the world. But I may repeat an observation which has been elsewhere made, that those Divine blessings which are promised in relation to the present perishing world, are not to be considered as made good in a universal and absolute sense, or fulfilled in all according to one set and equal rule. Wealth and other worldly comforts must be looked upon as affording some experience of the Divine favor or goodness, but it does not follow that the poor are objects of the Divine displeasure; soundness of body and good health are blessings from God, but we must not conceive on this account that he regards with disapprobation the weak and the infirm. Long life is to be classed among benefits of this kind, and would be bestowed by God upon all his children, were it not for their advantage that they should be taken early out of the world.” (v. 15)

Psalm 92

“We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people, as yet weak and rude in knowledge, in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the Church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation.”  (v. 1)

Psalm 93

“God manifests his power in the sound of the floods, and in the tempestuous waves of the sea, in a way calculated to excite our reverential awe. ” (v. 3)

“The Divine goodness is displayed in every part of the world, but the Psalmist justly considers it as of all others the most inestimable blessing, that God should have deposited in his Church the covenant of eternal life, and made his glory principally to shine out of it.” (v. 5)

Psalm 94

 “It is as if the Psalmist had said — You think to elude God through the confidence which you have in your acute understandings, and would pretend to dispute the knowledge of the Almighty, when, in truth, all the knowledge which is in the world is but as a drop from his own inexhaustible fullness.”  (v. 10)

 

“But should we through weakness of the flesh be vexed and tormented by anxious cares, we must be satisfied with the remedy which the Psalmist here speaks of in such high terms. Believers are conscious of two very different states of mind. On the one hand, they are afflicted and distressed with various fears and anxieties; on the other, there is a secret joy communicated to them from above, and this in accommodation to their necessity, so as to preserve them from being swallowed up by any complication or force of calamity which may assail them.” (v. 19)

 

 

 Psalm 95

 “It is an inbred pravity; still it is voluntary; we are not insensible in the same manner that stones are, and the man who will not suffer himself to be ruled by God’s word, makes that heart, which was hard before, harder still, and is convinced as to his own sense and feeling of obstinacy. The consequence by no means follows from this, that softness of heart – a heart flexible indifferently in either direction, is at our command. The will of man, through natural corruption, is wholly bent to evil; or, to speak more properly, is carried headlong into the commission of it. And yet every man, who disobeys God therein, hardens himself; for the blame of his wrong doing rests with none but himself.” (v. 8)

 

Psalm 96

 

“To declare his glory and strength, is the same with declaring the glory of his strength.  And to show that man can boast nothing of his own, and in refusing to celebrate God, impiously despoils him of his just honors, he subjoins, Give unto the Lord the glory of his name; an expression which denotes that God borrows nothing from without, but comprehends all that is worthy of praise in himself.”  (v. 7)

 

Psalm 97

 

The Psalmist intimates that those who should despise God in the person of his only-begotten Son, will feel in due time and certainly the awful weight of his majesty. So much is implied in the expression used — The earth Shall See. For the wicked, when they find that their attempts are vain in fighting against God, resort to subterfuge and concealment. The Psalmist declares that they would not succeed by any such vain artifice in hiding themselves from God.”  (v. 4)

 

By light is meant joy, or a prosperous issue, (according to a phraseology which is common in Scripture,) as darkness denotes adversity. The latter metaphor of sowing is rather more difficult to understand. Some think that gladness is sown for the just, as seed which, when cast into the ground, dies or lies buried in the earth a considerable time before it germinates. This idea may be a good one; but, perhaps, the simplest meaning of the words is the following, that though the righteous may be almost banished out of the world, and unable to venture themselves forth in public, and hidden from view, God will spread abroad their joy like seed, or bring forth to notice the light of their joy which had been shut up. The second clause of the verse is an exegesis of the first — light being interpreted to mean joy, and the righteous such as are upright in heart This definition of righteousness is worthy of notice, That it does not consist in a mere outward appearance, but comprehends integrity of heart, more being required to constitute us righteous in God’s sight than that we simply keep our tongue, hands, or feet, from wickedness. In the concluding verse he exhorts the Lord’s people to gratitude, that looking upon God as their Redeemer, they should lead a life corresponding to the mercy they have received, and rest contented under all the evils they encounter, with the consciousness that they enjoy his protection.  (v. 11) 

 

Psalm 98

 

In both passages the arm of God stands opposed to ordinary means, which although when employed they derogate nothing from the glory of God, yet prevent us from so fully discovering his presence as we might otherwise do. The language of the Psalmist amounts to a declaration that God would not save the world by means of an ordinary kind, but would come forth himself and show that he was the author of a salvation in every respect so singular. He reasonably infers that mercy of such a wonderful, and, to us, incomprehensible kind, should be celebrated by no ordinary measures of praise.”  (v. 1)

 

Psalm 99

 

For there is nothing that more animates and encourages the faithful to render obedience to God, or inspires them with greater zeal to observe his law, than to find in this course of action that they are the objects of his paternal care, and that the righteousness, which he requires from his own people in words, is on his part reciprocated by kind deeds.”  (v. 4)

 

Psalm 100

 

[T]he true worship of God cannot be preserved in all its integrity until the base profanation of his glory, which is the inseparable attendant of superstition, be completely reformed.”  (v. 3)

 

Psalm 101

 

David here lays down another virtue of a wise prince, when he affirms that it will be his care to make all the faithful of the land his intimate friends, — that he will avail himself of their good offices, and have as domestic servants such only as are distinguished for personal worth. Some understand the words, that they may dwell with me, in a general sense thus: I will not neglect the good and inoffensive, nor will I suffer them to be unjustly molested; but I will secure, that under my administration, they shall live in a state of peace and tranquillity. But his meaning rather is, that he will exercise discretion and care, that, instead of taking persons into his service indiscriminately, he may wisely determine each man’s character, so as to have those who live a life of strict integrity as his most intimate friends, and that he may intrust them with the offices of state. He speaks of the faithful in the first place, because, although a man may possess talents of a high order, yet if he is not devoted to fidelity and integrity, he will never rightly execute the office of a judge. This is worthy of special notice; for although a prince may be the best of men, yet if his servants and officers are not of a corresponding character his subjects will experience hardly any advantage from his uncorrupted integrity.”  (v. 6)

 

 “Now as the kingdom of David was only a faint image of the kingdom of Christ, we, ought to set Christ before our view; who, although he may bear with many hypocrites, yet as he will be the judge of the world, will at length call them all to an account, and separate the sheep from the goats. And if it seems to us that he tarries too long, we should think of that morning which will suddenly dawn, that all filthiness being purged away, true purity may shine forth.”  (v. 8) 

 

 Psalm 102

‘Having elsewhere spoken more fully of these forms of expression, it may suffice, at present, briefly to observe, that when God permits us to lay open before him our infirmities without reserve, and patiently bears with our foolishness, he deals in a way of great tenderness towards us. To pour out our complaints before him after the manner of little children would certainly be to treat his Majesty with very little reverence, were it not that he has been pleased to allow us such freedom. I purposely make use of this illustration, that the weak, who are afraid to draw near to God, may understand that they are invited to him with such gentleness as that nothing may hinder them from familiarly and confidently approaching him.’  (v. 2)
 
“[S]urely there is nothing which ought to wound our hearts more deeply, than when we feel that God is angry with us. The meaning then amounts to this — O Lord! I do not confine my attention to those things which would engage the mind of worldly men; but I rather turn my thoughts to thy wrath; for were it not that thou art angry with us, we would have been still enjoying the inheritance given us by thee, from which we have justly been expelled by thy displeasure. When God then strikes us with his hand, we should not merely groan under the strokes inflicted upon us, as foolish men usually do, but should chiefly look to the cause that we may be truly humbled. This is a lesson which it would be of great advantage to us to learn.”  (v. 10) 

 

 

 

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