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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 103:1-5

A Psalm of David.

1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and all my inward parts, bless his holy name.2. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and forget not any of his benefits: 3. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; 4. Who redeemeth thy life from the grave; who crowneth thee with mercy and compassions; 5. Who satisfieth [or filleth] thy mouth with good: thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle's.

1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! The prophet, by stirring up himself to gratitude, gives by his own example a lesson to every man of the duty incumbent upon him. And doubtless our slothfulness in this matter has need of continual incitement. If even the prophet, who was inflamed with a more intense and fervent zeal than other men, was not free from this malady, of which his earnestness in stimulating himself is a plain confession, how much more necessary is it for us, who have abundant experience of our own torpor, to apply the same means for our quickening? The Holy Spirit, by his mouth, indirectly upbraids us on account of our not being more diligent in praising God, and at the same time points out the remedy, that every man may descend into himself and correct his own sluggishness. Not content with calling upon his soul (by which he unquestionably means the seat of the understanding and affections) to bless God, the prophet expressly adds his inward parts, addressing as it were his own mind and heart, and all the faculties of both. When he thus speaks to himself, it is as if, removed from the presence of men, he examined himself before God. The repetition renders his language still more emphatic, as if he thereby intended to reprove his own slothfulness.

2. And forget not any of his benefits Here, he instructs us that God is not deficient on his part in furnishing us with abundant matter for praising him. It is our own ingratitude which hinders us from engaging in this exercise. In the first place, he teaches us that the reason why God deals with such liberality towards us is, that we may be led to celebrate his praise; but at the same time he condemns our inconstancy, which hurries us away to any other object rather than to God. How is it that we are so listless and drowsy in the performance of this the chief exercise of true religion, if it is not because our shameful and wicked forgetfulness buries in our hearts the innumerable benefits of God, which are openly manifest to heaven and earth? Did we only retain the remembrance of them, the prophet assures us that we would be sufficiently inclined to perform our duty, since the sole prohibition which he lays upon us is, not to forget them.

3. Who forgiveth all thy iniquities He now enumerates the different kinds of the divine benefits, in considering which he has told us that we are too forgetful and slothful. It is not without cause that he begins with God's pardoning mercy, for reconciliation with him is the fountain from which all other blessings flow. God's goodness extends even to the ungodly; but they are, notwithstanding, so far from having the enjoyment of it, that they do not even taste it. The first then of all the blessings of which we have the true and substantial enjoyment, is that which consists in God's freely pardoning and blotting out our sins, and receiving us into his favor. Yea, rather the forgiveness of sins, since it is accompanied with our restoration to the favor of God, also sanctifies whatever good things he bestows upon us, that they may contribute to our welfare. The second clause is; either a repetition of the same sentiment, or else it opens up a wider view of it; for the consequence of free forgiveness is, that God governs us by his Spirit, mortifies the lusts of our flesh, cleanses us from our corruptions, and restores us to the healthy condition of a godly and an upright life. These who understand the words, who healeth all thy diseases, as referring to the diseases of the body, and as implying that God, when he has forgiven our sins, also delivers us from bodily maladies, seem to put upon them a meaning too restricted. I have no doubt that the medicine spoken of has a respect to the blotting out of guilt; and, secondly, to the curing us of the corruptions inherent in our nature, which is effected by the Spirit of regeneration; and if any one will add as a third particular included, that God being once pacified towards us, also remits the punishment which we deserve, I will not object. Let us learn from this passage that, until the heavenly Physician succor us, we nourish within us, not only many diseases, but even many deaths.

4 Who redeemeth thy life from the grave The Psalmist expresses more plainly what our condition is previous to God's curing our maladies -- that we are dead and adjudged to the grave. The consideration that the mercy of God delivers us from death and destruction ought, therefore, to lead us to prize it the more highly. If the resurrection of the soul from the grave is the first step of spiritual life, what room for self-gloriation is left to man? The prophet next teaches us that the incomparable grace of God shines forth in the very commencement of our salvation, as well as in its whole progress; and the more to enhance the commendation of this grace, he adds the word compassions in the plural number. He asserts that we are surrounded with them; as if he had said, Before, behind, on all sides, above and beneath, the grace of God presents itself to us in immeasurable abundance; so that there is no place devoid of it. The same truth he afterwards amplifies in these words, thy mouth is satisfied, by which metaphor he alludes to the free indulgence of the palate, to which we surrender ourselves when we have a well-furnished table; for those who have scanty fare dare scarcely eat till they are half satisfied. Not that he approves of gluttony in greedily devouring God's benefits, as men give loose reins to intemperance whenever they have great abundance; but he borrowed this phraseology from the common custom of men, to teach us that whatever good things our hearts can wish flow to us from God's bounty, even to perfect satisfaction. Those who take the Hebrew word dy, adi, for ornament, mar the passage by a mere conceit of their own; and I am surprised how so groundless an imagination should have come into their minds, unless it may be accounted for from the circumstance that it is usual for men of a prying or inquisitive turn of mind, when they would show their ingenuity, to bring forward mere puerilities. The Psalmist next adds, that God was constantly infusing into him new vigor, so that his strength continued unimpaired, even as the Prophet Isaiah, (Isaiah 65:20) in discoursing on the restoration of the Church, says that a man of a hundred years old shall be like a child. By this mode of expression, he intimates that God, along with a very abundant supply of all good things, communicates to him also inward rigor, that he may enjoy them; and thus his strength was as it were continually renewed. From the comparison of the eagle, the Jews have taken occasion to invent, for the purpose of explanation, a fabulous story. Although they know not even the first elements of any science, yet so presumptuous are they, that whatever may be the matter treated of, they never hesitate to attempt to explain it, and whenever they meet with any thing which they do not understand, there is no figment so foolish that they do not bring forward, as if it were an oracle of God. Thus, for expounding the present passage, they give out that eagles, every tenth year, ascend to the elemental fire, that their feathers may be burnt, and that then they plunge themselves into the sea, and immediately new feathers grow upon them. But we may easily gather the simple meaning of the Prophet from the nature of the eagle, as described by philosophers, and which is well-known from observation. That bird continues fresh and vigorous, even to extreme old age, unenfeebled by years, and exempt from disease, until it finally dies of hunger. That it is long-lived is certain; but at last, its beak or bill grows so great that it cannot any longer take food, and, consequently, is forced to suck blood, or to nourish itself by drinking. Hence the ancient proverb in reference to old men who are addicted to drinking, The eagle's old age; for necessity then constrains eagles to drink much. But as drink alone is insufficient to maintain life, they die rather through hunger, than fail by the natural decay of strength. Now we perceive, without the help of any invented story, the genuine meaning of the Prophet to be, that as eagles always retain their rigor, and even in their old age are still youthful, so the godly are sustained by a secret influence derived from God, by which they continue in the possession of unimpaired strength. They are not always, it is true, full of bodily vigor while in this world, but rather painfully drag on their lives in continual weakness; still what is here said applies to them in a certain sense. This unquestionably is common to all in general, that they have been brought out of the grave, and have experienced God to be bountiful to them in innumerable ways. Were each of them duly to reflect how much he is indebted to God, he would say with good reason that his mouth is filled with good things; just as David, in Psalm 40:5, and 139:18, confesses that he was unable to reckon up the Divine benefits, because |they are more in number than the sands of the sea.| Did not our own perverseness blind our understandings, we would see that, even in famine, we are furnished with food in such a manner, as that God shows us the manifold riches of his goodness. With regard to the renovation of our strength, the meaning is, that since, when our outward man decays, we are renewed to a better life, we have no reason to be troubled at the giving way of our strength, especially when he sustains us by his Spirit under the weakness and languishing of our mortal frames.

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