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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 102:23-28

23. He hath afflicted my strength in the way; and shortened my days.24. I said, O my God! Cut me not off in the midst of my days: for thy years are from generation to generation.25. Thou hast aforetime founded the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands.26. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: and all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: 27. But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. 28. The children of thy servants shall dwell, and their seed shall be established before thee.

23. He hath afflicted my strength in the way Some improperly restrict this complaint to the time when the Jews were subjected to much annoyance after the liberty granted them to return to their own land. We are rather to understand the word journey or way in a metaphorical sense. As the manifestation of Christ was the goal of the race which God's ancient people were running, they justly complain that they are afflicted and weakened in the midst of their course. Thus they set before God his promise, telling him, that although they had not run at random, but had confided in his protection, they were nevertheless broken and crushed by his hand in the midst of their journey. They do not indeed find fault with him, as if he had disappointed their hope; but fully persuaded, that he does not deal deceitfully with those who serve him, by this complaint they strengthen themselves in the hope of a favorable issue. In the same sense they add, that their days were shortened, because they directed their view to the fullness of time, which did not arrive till Christ was revealed. It accordingly follows, -- (verse 24,) Cut me not off in the midst of my days. They compare the intervening period until Christ should appear to the middle of life; for, as has been already observed, the Church only attained to her perfect age at his coming. This calamity, no doubt, had been foretold, but the nature of the covenant which God had entered into with his ancient people required that he should take them under his protection, and defend them. The captivity, therefore, was as it were a violent rupture, on which account the godly prayed with the greater confidence, that they might not be prematurely taken away in the midst of their journey. By speaking in this manner, they did not fix for themselves a certain term of life; but as God, in freely adopting them, had given them the commencement of life, with the assurance that he would maintain them even to the advent of Christ, they might warrantably bring forward and plead this promise. Lord, as if they had said, thou hast promised us life, not for a few days, or for a month or for a few years, but until thou shouldst renew the whole world, and gather together all nations under the dominion of thine Anointed One.

What then does the prophet mean when he prays, Let us not perish in the midst of our course? The reason stated in the clause immediately following, Thy years are from generation to generation, seems to be quite inapplicable in the present case. Because God is everlasting, does it therefore follow that men will be everlasting too? But on Psalm 90:2, we have shown how we may with propriety bring forward his eternity, as a ground of confidence in reference to our salvation; for he desires to be known as eternal, not only in his mysterious and incomprehensible essence, but also in his word, according to the declaration of the Prophet Isaiah,

|All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; but the word of our God shall stand for ever.| Isaiah 40:6-8

Now since God links us to himself by means of his word, however great the distance of our frail condition from his heavenly glory, our faith should nevertheless penetrate to that blessed state from which he looks down upon our miseries. Although the comparison between his eternal existence and the brief duration of human life is introduced also for another purpose, yet when he sees that men pass away as it were in a moment, and speedily evanish, it moves him to compassion, as shall presently be declared at greater length.

25 Thou hast aforetime founded the earth Here the sacred writer amplifies what he had previously stated, declaring, that compared with God the whole world is a form which quickly vanishes away; and yet a little after he represents the Church as exempted from this the common lot of all sublunary things, because she has for her foundation the word of God, while her safety is secured by the same word. Two subjects are therefore here brought under our consideration. The first is, that since the heavens themselves are in the sight of God almost as evanescent as smoke, the frailty of the whole human race is such as may well excite his compassion; and the second is, that although there is no stability in the heavens and the earth, yet the Church shall continue steadfast for ever, because she is upheld by the eternal truth of God. By the first of these positions, true believers are taught to consider with all humility, when they come into the divine presence, how frail and transitory their condition is, that they may bring nothing with them but their own emptiness. Such self-abasement is the first step to our obtaining favor in the sight of God, even as He also affirms that he is moved by the sight of our miseries to be merciful to us. The comparison taken from the heavens is a very happy illustration; for how long have they continued to exist, when contrasted with the brief span of human life, which passes or rather flies away so swiftly? How many generations of men have passed away since the creation, while the heavens still continue as they were amidst this continual fluctuation? Again, so beautiful is their arrangement, and so excellent their frame-work, that the whole fabric proclaims itself to be the product of God's hands And yet neither the long period during which the heavens have existed, nor their fair embellishment, will exempt them from perishing. What then shall become of us poor mortals, who die when we are as yet scarcely born? for there is no part of our life which does not rapidly hasten to death.

Interpreters, however, do not all explain these words, The heavens shall perish, in the same way. Some understand them as expressing simply the change they shall undergo, which will be a species of destruction; for although they are not to be reduced to nothing, yet this change of their nature, as it may be termed, will destroy what is mortal and corruptible in them, so that they shall become, in a manner, different and new heavens. Others explain the words conditionally, and make the supplement, |If it so please God,| regarding it as a thing absurd to say that the heavens are subject to corruption. But first, there is no necessity for introducing these supplementary words, which obscure the sense instead of making it plainer. In the next place, these expositors improperly attribute an immortal state to the heavens, of which Paul declares that they |groan and travail in pain,| like the earth and the other creatures, until the day of redemption, (Romans 8:22) because they are subject to corruption; not indeed willingly, or in their own nature, but because man, by precipitating himself headlong into destruction, has drawn the whole world into a participation of the same ruin. Two things are to be here attended to; first, that the heavens are actually subject to corruption in consequence of the fall of man; and, secondly, that they shall be so renewed as to warrant the prophet to say that they shall perish; for this renovation will be so complete that they shall not be the same but other heavens. The amount is, that to whatever quarter we turn our eyes, we will see everywhere nothing but ground for despair till we come to God. What is there in us but rottenness and corruption? and what else are we but a mirror of death? Again, what are the changes which the whole world undergoes but a kind of presage, yea a prelude of destruction? If the whole frame-work of the world is hastening to its end, what will become of the human race? If all nations are doomed to perish, what stability will there be in men individually considered? We ought therefore to seek stability no where else but in God.

28. The children of thy servants shall dwell. By these words the prophet intimates that he does not ask the preservation of the Church, because it is a part of the human race, but because God has raised it above the revolutions of the world. And undoubtedly, when He adopted us as his children, his design was to cherish us as it were in his own bosom. The inference of the inspired bard is not, therefore, far-fetched, when, amidst innumerable storms, each of which might carry us away, he hopes that the Church will have a permanent existence. It is true, that when through our own fault we become estranged from God, we are also as it were cut off from the fountain of life; but no sooner are we reconciled to Him than he begins again to pour down his blessings upon us. Whence it follows that true believers, as they are regenerated by the incorruptible seed, shall continue to live after death, because God continues unchangeably the same. By the word dwell, is to be understood an abiding and everlasting inheritance.

When it is said that the seed of God's servants shall be established before his face, the meaning is, that it is not after the manner of the world, or according to the way in which the heavens and the earth are established, that the salvation of true believers is made steadfast, but because of the holy union which exists between them and God. By the seed and children of the godly, is to be understood not all their descendants without exception -- for many who spring from them according to the flesh become degenerate -- but those who do not turn aside from the faith of their parents. Successive generations are expressly pointed out, because the covenant extends even to future ages, as we shall again find in the subsequent psalm. If we firmly keep the treasure of life intrusted to us, let us not hesitate, although we may be environed with innumerable deaths, to cast the anchor of our faith in heaven, that the stability of our welfare may rest in God.

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