Category Archives: Book of Psalms

“The most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ” by Scott Swain

“It is striking how many times in Psalm 119—an extended meditation on God’s written Word, the Torah—the psalmist begs for divine assistance in order that he might understand and obey God’s word.

The following list is merely representative, not exhaustive:

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes (Psalm 119:5).
  • Let me not wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:10).
  • Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes (Psalm 119:12).
  • Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word (Psalm 119:17).
  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18).
  • Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).
  • I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32).
  • Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end (Psalm 119:33).

The psalmist prays for an obedience that is steadfast (Psalm 119:5) and consistent (Psalm 119:10), that excels (Psalm 119:32) and perseveres (Psalm 119:33).

He also acknowledges his dependence upon divine grace for spiritual perception (Psalm 119:18), receptivity (Psalm 119:32), and understanding (Psalm 119:12, 29, 33).

Prayer is the most rational possible course of action for the Christian reader of Holy Scripture. After all, in Holy Scripture we face a grand and glorious terrain of revealed truth, so wonderful that the possibility of taking it all in is immediately ruled out.

And yet, we are called to meditate on this Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2), to walk in it (Ps. 119:1), and to praise it (Ps. 56:4, 10). The sheer magnitude of scriptural teaching alone makes our calling impossible apart from divine assistance.

Add to this our innate blindness, our fallen will and passions, and our tendency toward sloth in this calling and the desperate nature of our situation as readers becomes quite clear.

If there is to be any possibility of success in reading Holy Scripture, the Spirit of truth and light must shine upon us: opening our eyes, renewing our wills, and awakening us to action.

The good news is that God has promised to bless our reading. Thus Paul encourages Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).

This is perhaps the most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ. We may confidently apply ourselves to this otherwise impossible task because God has promised to grant us success—“the Lord will give you understanding.”

According to Whitaker:

“He that shall be content to make such a use of these means, and will lay aside his prejudices and party zeal, which many bring with them to every question, will be enabled to gain an understanding of the scriptures, if not in all places, yet in most; if not immediately, yet ultimately.”

In prayer, exegetical reason takes its proper place and, like Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:39). And because it is confident in God’s fatherly generosity, exegetical reason asks, seeks, knocks—and finds (Lk. 11:10–13).”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 125–127.

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“His works preach His existence all the time and in every place” by William Plumer

“Everything God has made and everything God has spoken, with all the relations and uses of each, may teach us some valuable lesson, (Psalm 19:1–6).

His works declare, preach, show, publish His existence all the time and in every place.

Tholuck: “Though all the preachers on earth should grow silent, and every human mouth cease from publishing the glory of God, the heavens above will never cease to declare and proclaim his majesty.”

The smallest piece of granite or of old red sandstone, the least shell or insect as truly requires a Creator as the heavens above us.

Morison: “It is impossible to direct even a cursory glance to the greater and lesser lights which rule by day and night, without being compelled to think with reverential awe of that incomprehensible Being who kindles up all their fires, directs all their courses, and impresses upon them all laws, which contribute alike to the order, beauty and happiness of the universe.”

Well did the apostle say that all men, even the heathen, are without excuse. Even one day or one night proves that there is a God, as there is but one being that could cause either.

Everett: “I had occasion, a few weeks since, to take the early train from Providence to Boston; and for this purpose rose at two o’clock in the morning. Everything around was wrapt in darkness and hushed in silence, broken only by what seemed at that hour the unearthly clank and rush of the train.

It was a mild, serene, midsummer’s night—the sky was without a cloud—the winds were whist. The moon, then in the last quarter, had just risen, and the stars shone with a spectral lustre but little affected by her presence.

Jupiter, two hours high, was the herald of the day; the Pleiades just above the horizon shed their sweet influence in the east; Lyra sparkled near the zenith; Andromeda veiled her newly-discovered glories from the naked eye in the South; the steady pointers far beneath the pole looked meekly up from the depths of the north to their sovereign.

Such was the glorious spectacle as I entered the train. As we proceeded, the timid approach of twilight became more perceptible; the intense blue of the sky began to soften; the smaller stars, like little children went first to rest; the sister-beams of the Pleiades soon melted together; but the bright constellations of the west and north remained unchanged.

Steadily the wondrous transfiguration went on. Hands of angels hidden from mortal eyes shifted the scenery of the heavens; the glories of night dissolved into the glories of the dawn. The blue sky now turned more softly gray; the great watch-stars shut up their holy eyes; the east began to kindle.

Faint streaks of purple soon blushed along the sky; the whole celestial concave was filled with the inflowing tides of the morning light, which came pouring down from above in one great ocean of radiance: till at length as we reached the Blue Hills, a flash of purple fire blazed out from above the horizon, and turned the dewy tear-drops of flower and leaf into rubies and diamonds. In a few seconds, the everlasting gates of the morning were thrown wide open, and the lord of day, arrayed in glories too severe for the gaze of man, began his state…

I am filled with amazement, when I am told that in this enlightened age, and in the heart of the Christian world, there are persons who can witness this daily manifestation of the power and wisdom of the Creator, and yet say in their hearts, ‘there is no God.’ (Psalm 14:1)”

–William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary With Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1867/2016), 262–263. Plumer is commenting on Psalm 19:1-6.

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“Merciful, gracious, and tender” by William Plumer

“A cold, harsh, severe, untender character is no part of the product of Christianity.

Godliness is God-likeness. If we would be God’s children, we must be merciful, gracious, tender, pitiful.

He who is harsh to the unfortunate, and cruel to the needy, who never forgives the wayward, nor seeks to recover the prodigal, is not like God.”

–William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary With Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1867/2016), 986. Plumer is commenting on Psalm 112:4-5.

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“The LORD’s my shepherd, I’ll not want” – Psalm 23 (The Scottish Psalter, 1650)

Psalm 23
Scottish Psalter Version

1 The LORD’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.
2 He makes me down to lie
In pastures green: He leadeth me
the quiet waters by.

3 My soul He doth restore again;
and me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
ev’n for His own name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
yet will I fear none ill:
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
and staff me comfort still.

5 My table Thou hast furnished
in presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
and my cup overflows.

6 Goodness and mercy all my life
shall surely follow me:
And in God’s house forevermore
my dwelling-place shall be.

–“Psalm 23,” in Sing Psalms: New Metrical Versions Of The Book Of Psalms With The Scottish Psalter (1650) (Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland, 2003).

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“Blessed is the one who truly looks for help to Jacob’s God” – Psalm 146 (The Scottish Psalter, 1650)

Psalm 146
Scottish Psalter Version

1 Praise the LORD, my soul! O praise Him!
2 I’ll extol Him all my days.
While I live, to God my Saviour
from my heart I will sing praise.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
mortal men who cannot save.
4 All their plans will come to nothing
when they perish in the grave.

5 Blessed is the one who truly
looks for help to Jacob’s God;
Blessed is the one who places
all his hope upon the LORD–

6 He who made the earth and heaven
and the seas, with all their store;
He who keeps His every promise,
who is faithful evermore.

7 He delivers from oppression
and relieves the hungry’s plight.
He releases those in prison;
8 to the blind the LORD gives sight.

Those who are bowed down He raises.
God delights in righteousness.
9 He protects and cares for strangers,
widows and the fatherless.

He frustrates the wicked’s purpose.
10 So the LORD through endless days
Reigns to every generation.
Praise your God, O Zion, praise!

–“Psalm 146,” in Sing Psalms: New Metrical Versions Of The Book Of Psalms With The Scottish Psalter (1650) (Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland, 2003).

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“Bible delight is the heartbeat of this psalm” by Christopher Ash

“As we read and pray through Psalm 119 we keep company with one who delighted in his Bible. Bible delight is the heartbeat of this psalm.

We might even say that he plays with Bible words, as he turns from one word to another in an elaborate poetic playfulness. More than twenty-five times he says he delights in the word of God, or loves and longs for the word of God.

To him it is delicious (119:103) and delightful. As he reads it he keeps stumbling across treasure (119:162). It is his hope, his peace, his joy, his song, his freedom, and his comfort.

He had much less of the Bible than we do. Certainly he had no New Testament. Probably he didn’t have all our Old Testament. We don’t know who wrote the psalm, or when.

But he loved his shorter Bible. From his psalm we may learn the logic and the dynamics of Bible delight.

I pray that as we learn to sing his psalm, we too may learn to love our complete and even richer Bibles, and that our hearts will beat in time with his, the heartbeat of Bible delight.”

–Christopher Ash, Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God: Psalm 119 for the Bible Teacher and Hearer (Proclamation Trust) (Geanies House, Fearn by Tain, Ross-shire IV20 1TW Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2011), 11.

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“The heaven of grace prevails and rules” by Martin Luther

“The psalmist uses the word ‘prevail’ (Ps. 117:2); that is, God’s grace ‘rules’ over us. It is a kingdom of grace that is more powerful in and over us than all anger, sin, and evil. ‘Prevail,’ גָּבַר in Hebrew, means to be supreme, to be great.

You must think of the kingdom of grace as a child might, in this way: God, through the Gospel, has set a new and great heaven over us who believe, and this is called the heaven of grace. It is far, far more immense and beautiful than this visible heaven; and it is eternal, certain, and indestructible as well.

Although sin makes itself felt, death bares its teeth, and the devil frightens us, still there is far more grace to prevail over all sin, far more life to prevail over death, and far more God to prevail over all devils.

In this kingdom sin, death, and the devil are nothing more than the black clouds of the material heaven. For a time they may well conceal heaven, but they cannot prevail. They must stay beneath the heavens and suffer it to remain, prevail, and rule over them; and at last they must pass away.

Therefore although sin bites us, death frightens us, and the devil throws his weight around with temptation, these are still only clouds. The heaven of grace prevails and rules; in the end they must remain below and surrender.

This cannot come through works, but only through the faith which is certain that such a heaven of grace is above it, without works, and which looks to this heaven as often as it sins or feels sin, comforting itself without merit or works.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 14: Selected Psalms III (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 14; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 14: 27. Luther is commenting on Psalm 117.

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“Other Psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the main ocean” by Charles Spurgeon

“I have been all the longer over this portion of my task because I have been bewildered in the expanse of the One Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm, which makes up the bulk of this volume. Its dimensions and its depth alike overcame me.

It spread itself out before me like a vast, rolling prairie, to which I could see no bound, and this alone created a feeling of dismay. Its expanse was unbroken by a bluff or headland, and hence it threatened a monotonous task, although the fear has not been realized.

This marvelous poem seemed to me a great sea of holy teaching, moving, in its many verses, wave upon wave; altogether without an island of special and remarkable statement to break it up.

I confess I hesitated to launch upon it. Other Psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the main ocean. It is a continent of sacred thought, every inch of which is fertile as the garden of the Lord: it is an amazing level of abundance, a mighty stretch of harvest-fields.

I have now crossed the great plain for myself, but not without persevering, and, I will add, pleasurable, toil. Several great authors have traversed this region and left their tracks behind them, and so far the journey has been all the easier for me; but yet to me and to my helpers it has been no mean feat of patient authorship and research.

This great Psalm is a book in itself: instead of being one among many Psalms, it is worthy to be set forth by itself as a poem of surpassing excellence.

Those who have never studied it may pronounce it commonplace, and complain of its repetitions; but to the thoughtful student it is like the great deep, full, so as never to be measured; and varied, so as never to weary the eye.

Its depth is as great as its length; it is mystery, not set forth as mystery, but concealed beneath the simplest statements.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 111-119, Volume 5 (London: Marshall Brothers, 1882), 5: v.

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“They knew the whole Psalter by heart” by Charles Spurgeon

“The Book of Psalms has been a royal banquet to me, and in feasting upon its contents I have seemed to eat angels’ food. It is no wonder that old writers should call it,—the school of patience, the soul’s soliloquies, the little Bible, the anatomy of conscience, the rose garden, the pearl island, and the like.

It is the Paradise of devotion, the Holy Land of poetry, the heart of Scripture, the map of experience, and the tongue of saints. It is the spokesman of feelings which else had found no utterance.

Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly such as our hearts delight in?

No man needs better company than the Psalms; therein he may read and commune with friends human and divine; friends who know the heart of man towards God and the heart of God towards man; friends who perfectly sympathize with us and our sorrows, friends who never betray or forsake.

Oh, to be shut up in a cave with David, with no other occupation but to hear him sing, and to sing with him! Well might a Christian monarch lay aside his crown for such enjoyment, and a believing pauper find a crown in such felicity.

It is to be feared that the Psalms are by no means so prized as in earlier ages of the Church. Time was when the Psalms were not only rehearsed in all the churches from day to day, but they were so universally sung that the common people knew them, even if they did not know the letters in which they were written.

Time was when bishops would ordain no man to the ministry unless he knew ‘David’ from end to end, and could repeat each Psalm correctly; even Councils of the Church have decreed that none should hold ecclesiastical office unless they knew the whole Psalter by heart.

Other practices of those ages had better be forgotten, but to this memory accords an honourable record. Then, as Jerome tells us, the labourer, while he held the plough, sang Hallelujah; the tired reaper refreshed himself with the Psalms, and the vinedresser, while trimming the vines with his curved hook, sang something of David.

He tells us that in his part of the world, Psalms were the Christian’s ballads; could they have had better? They were the love-songs of the people of God; could any others be so pure and heavenly?

These sacred hymns express all modes of holy feeling; they are fit both for childhood and old age; they furnish maxims for the entrance of life, and serve as watchwords at the gates of death.

The battle of life, the repose of the Sabbath, the ward of the hospital, the guest-chamber of the mansion the church, the oratory, yea, even heaven itself may be entered with Psalms.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 111-119, Volume 5 (London: Marshall Brothers, 1882), 5: vi–vii.

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“We are fascinated with ourselves but the Psalms are fascinated with God” by C. Richard Wells

“Apart from biblical illiteracy, there are special reasons for neglect of the Psalms. The language of poetry doesn’t easily connect in a sound-byte culture.

The Psalms call for time, not tweets– time to read, ponder, pray, digest. It’s easy to be too busy for the Psalms.

Then again, the strong emotions of the Psalms make many modern people uncomfortable– which is ironic since our culture seems to feed on feelings.

On top of everything else, strange to say, the Psalms are just so… well… God intoxicated. We are fascinated with ourselves; the Psalms are fascinated with God.”

–C. Richard Wells, Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 203-204.

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