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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 39:1-3

1. I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked standeth before me.2. I was dumb in silence; I held my peace from good; and my sorrow was stirred.3. My heart became hot within me; in my musing a fire burned: I spake with my tongue.

1. I said, I will take heed to my ways. David explains and illustrates the greatness of his grief by this circumstance, that, contrary to his inclination and resolution, he broke forth into the severest complaints. The meaning substantially is, that although he had subdued his heart to patience, and resolved to keep silence, yet the violence of his grief was such that it forced him to break his resolution, and extorted from him, if we might so speak, expressions which indicate that he had given way to an undue degree of sorrow. The expression, I said, it is well known, does not always mean what is expressed in words, but is often used to denote the purpose of the heart, and, therefore, the words in heart are sometimes added. David, therefore, means not that he boasted of his fortitude and constancy, and made a display of them before men, but that before God he was, by continued meditation, well fortified and prepared to endure patiently the temptations by which he was now assailed. We ought to mark particularly the carefulness by which he was distinguished. It was not without cause that he was so much intent on exercising watchfulness over himself. He did so because he was conscious of his own weakness, and also well knew the manifold devices of Satan. He, therefore, looked on the right hand and on the left, and kept watch on all sides, lest temptation stealing upon him unawares from any quarter might reach even to his heart. Access to it, then, had been impossible, since it was shut up on every side, if the extreme severity of his grief had not overpowered him, and broken his resolution. When he says, I will keep my mouth with a muzzle, that I sin not with my tongue, it is not to be understood as if he could with difficulty restrain and conceal his grief, (for it is mere pretense for a man to show by the countenance and speech the appearance of meekness when the heart still swells with pride;) but as there is nothing more slippery or loose than the tongue, David declares that he had endeavored so carefully to bridle his affections, that not so much as one word should escape from his lips which might betray the least impatience. And that man must indeed be endued with singular fortitude who unfeignedly and deliberately restrains his tongue, which is so liable to fall into error. As to what follows, while the wicked standeth before me, it is generally understood, as if David had concealed his grief, lest he should give occasion of blasphemy to the wicked, who, as soon as they see the children of God fail under the weight of their afflictions, insolently break forth into derision against them, which amounts to a contempt of God himself. But it appears to me that by the term standeth, David meant to express something more, -- that even while he saw the wicked bearing rule, exercising authority, and exalted to honor, he resolved not to speak a single word, but to bear patiently the poverty and indignity which otherwise grieve and torment not a little even good men. Accordingly, he says not merely that when he was in the presence of the wicked he restrained himself, lest he should be subjected to their scorn, but that even while the worst of men prospered, and, proud of their high rank, despised others, he was fully determined in his own mind not to be troubled at it. By this he very plainly shows that he was so beset with wicked men, ever ready for mischief, that he could not freely heave a sigh which was not made the subject of ridicule and scorn. Since, then, it was so hard a task for David to restrain his tongue, lest he should sin by giving way to complaints, let us learn from his example, whenever troubles molest us, to strive earnestly to moderate our affections, that no impious expression of dissatisfaction against God may slip from us.

2. I was dumb in silence. He now declares that this resolution of which he has spoken had not been a mere passing and momentary thought, but that he had shown by his conduct that it was indeed a resolution deeply fixed in his heart. He says, then, that he held his peace for a time, just as if he had been deaf, which was a singular manifestation of his patience. When he thus determined to be silent, it was not such a resolution as persons of a changeable disposition, who scarcely ever know their own mind, and who can with difficulty be brought to carry their desires into effect, often make: he had long and steadfastly inured himself to the exercise of patience; and this he had done, not only by keeping silence but by making himself utterly dumb, as if he had been deprived of the power of speech. The expression from good is expounded by some in the sense that he not only refrained from uttering sinful and unadvised words, but also that he abstained from speaking on any subject whatever. Others think that he held his peace from good, either because, being overwhelmed with miseries and afflictions, he found no relief to whatever side he turned, or else, because, by reason of the greatness of his sorrow, he was unable to sing the praises of God. But in my opinion the natural sense is, that although he was able adequately to defend himself, and it could not be shown that he wanted just and proper grounds of complaint, yet he refrained from speaking of his own mere will. He might have encountered the ungodly with a good defense of his own innocence, but he rather preferred to forego the prosecution of his righteous cause than indulge in any intemperate sorrow. He adds in the last clause of the verse, that although he thus restrained himself for a time, yet at length the violence of his grief broke through all the barriers which he had set to his tongue. If David, who was so valiant a champion, failed in the midst of his course, how much greater reason have we to be afraid lest we fall in like manner? He says that his sorrow was stirred, because, as we shall soon see, the ardor of his affections was inflamed so as to become tumultuous. Some render the phrase in this sense, that his sorrow was corrupted, as if his meaning were, that it became worse; just as we know that a wound becomes worse when it happens to putrify or fester: but this sense is forced.

3. My heart became hot within me He now illustrates the greatness of his grief by the introduction of a simile, telling us that his sorrow, being internally suppressed, became so much the more inflamed, until the ardent passion of his soul continued to increase in strength. From this we may learn the very profitable lesson, that the more strenuously any one sets himself to obey God, and employs all his endeavors to attain the exercise of patience, the more vigorously is he assailed by temptation: for Satan, whilst he is not so troublesome to the indifferent and careless, and seldom looks near them, displays all his forces in hostile array against that individual. If, therefore, at any time we feel ardent emotions struggling and raising a commotion in our breasts, we should call to remembrance this conflict of David, that our courage may not fail us, or at least that our infirmity may not drive us headlong to despair. The dry and hot exhalations which the sun causes to arise in summer, if nothing occurred in the atmosphere to obstruct their progress, would ascend into the air without commotion; but when intervening clouds prevent their free ascent, a conflict arises, from which the thunders are produced. It is similar with respect to the godly who desire to lift up their hearts to God. If they would resign themselves to the vain imaginations which arise in their minds, they might enjoy a sort of unrestrained liberty to indulge in every fancy; but because they endeavor to resist their influence, and seek to devote themselves to God, obstructions which arise from the opposition of the flesh begin to trouble them. Whenever, therefore, the flesh shall put forth its efforts, and shall kindle up a fire in our hearts, let us know that we are exercised with the same kind of temptation which occasioned so much pain and trouble to David. In the end of the verse he acknowledges that the severity of the affliction with which he was visited had at length overcome him, and that he allowed foolish and unadvised words to pass from his lips. In his own person he sets before us a mirror of human infirmity, that, being warned by the danger to which we are exposed, we may learn betimes to seek protection under the shadow of God's wings. When he says that he spake with his tongue, it is not a superfluous mode of expression, but a true and fuller confession of his sin, in that he had not only given way to sinful murmuring, but had even uttered loud complaints.

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