Preaching the Gospel to Myself (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 103   |   Sunday, October 7, 2012   |   Code: 2012-10-07am-PJ

By Phil Johnson 

     Our text for this week is in Psalm 103. We're going to focus especially on verses 1-4. This is a Psalm of pure praise. You can read the entire psalm and you'll not find a single word of petition or supplication or complaint in it. The psalmist is simply rejoicing in the Lord and remembering all that the Lord has done for him. There are many other psalms where he pours out his heart in prayer and pleading. But here his theme is simply and only praise. And therefore it's one of the most joyful, upbeat, uplifting psalms in the psalter.

     This psalm is paired with Psalm 104, and they go together perfectly. Notice that both psalms begin and end with the same expression: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." Those are the only two psalms in Scripture where you'll find that expression. The most significant difference between the two psalms is that Psalm 103 is filled with praise about God, and psalm 104 is filled with praise to God. Look at Psalm 104 for a minute. Immediately after that opening refrain, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" the psalmist addresses God directly with words of praise: "O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty." And in Psalm 104 he repeatedly throughout addresses God directly in the second person, "Thou" in the King James Version; "You" (with a capital Y) in most modern translations. In Psalm 104 it's clear that He speaking to God as the object of his worship. Verse 6: "You covered [the earth] with the deep as with a garment"; verse 9: "You set a boundary that [the waters] may not pass;" verse 20: "You make darkness, and it is night"; verse 24: "O Lord, how manifold are Your works!" Over and over, he speaks directly to God.

     In stark contrast, you won't find a single line of Psalm 103 addressed directly to God. Here David is talking to himself. More to the point, he is preaching to himself. He is calling himself to worship. "Bless the Lord, O my soul." Throughout the entire psalm he addresses himself, and then at the very end, beginning in verse 20, he addresses the angels and the rest of creation, calling them all to worship along with him. But at no time in this psalm does he actually address his praise directly to God. Again, there is not a hint of prayer in this psalm. It's full of pure praise. But these are words of praise about God, not words of prayer addressed to God. Both forms are legitimate expressions of praise.

     Above all, Psalm 103 is a call to worship. Again, the most striking thing about it is that David is calling his own soul and all his human faculties to worship. He is preaching to himself. That's always a healthy exercise. In fact, what David is doing in this psalm is just what I often recommend to people in counseling. If you are troubled by guilt, or doubt, or worry, or weakness, or an overwhelming sense of depression—part of the advice I give to nearly every person who comes to me for counseling is this: "learn to preach the gospel to yourself." Recite what Christ has done on your behalf, and urge yourself to anchor all your hope and trust in His life and death and resurrection.

     Preach the gospel to yourself. Remind yourself of the price God paid to purchase your forgiveness—and to deliver you from sin, and from death, and from the effects of Adam's fall. Declare to your own soul the greatness of God's grace and compassion and mercy. Remember how you were fallen and what Christ did to lift you up. Fill your mind and heart with the remembrance of God's goodness, and the love and tender mercies that are revealed in Christ, and that will lift you up out of your depression.

     Preach the gospel to yourself. Encourage yourself with the remembrance of how (v. 8) "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." Proclaim to your own heart the great lovingkindness of God toward them that fear Him. Tell yourself how foolish it is to trust in any other hope but the Lord Himself. Remind yourself that you cannot earn redemption by your own merit. All your own righteousness is like a hamper full of filthy rags—a pile of defilement. It is folly to trust your own works. Look to Christ alone, and remember that He alone is Savior. I don't know how to put it any more simply: Preach the gospel to yourself.

     That is precisely what David is doing in this psalm. He is preaching the gospel to himself. He is reminding himself of the magnitude of God's mercy to him, and he is using that memory to stir his heart to praise.

 Let me read the first five verses:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Several things to notice at the outset, and then we'll get into the meat of it.

     First, notice how he summons his whole self to praise. Verse 1: "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me." Every faculty—all his heart, soul, mind, and strength—needs to be engaged in praise. His passions, his rational faculties, his memory (v. 2), his mouth, his hands, and his inmost being—"all that is within me"—"BLESS the Lord."

     True praise cannot be half-hearted or perfunctory. It involves the whole person—"all that is within [us]." Again, as we have seen time and time again, this is exactly what is demanded of us by the First and Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). That calls for wholehearted praise and reverence. If there's anything God hates, it's lukewarmness in worship. Christ is nauseated by halfheartedness. Revelation 3:14-16, He says to the church at Laodicea: "'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."'"

     So there's no place for lukewarmness in our praise of God. Halfhearted praise is unworthy of Him. It's an insult to his holy Name. And so, when you call yourself to worship, do as David does here and summon all your faculties to the task.

     "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" Here's a second thing to notice: What David calls for here is something spiritual. True worship is always spiritual, because (John 4:24) "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

     Worship is not about external things—forms and formulas, rites and rituals, ceremonies and services. Real worship is something spiritual that must come from within the heart and soul of the worshiper. There's nothing easier than following some prescribed ritual or ceremony, but if that's all you're doing and you're just doing it mechanically, then that is not true worship. It's easy to be moved by pageantry and emotion when the music is especially dramatic and when the atmosphere is charged by a large crowd. But if your worship isn't motivated first of all by your own heart's recognition of God's greatness, then it's not true worship at all. If you are dependent on a certain kind of music, or a certain atmosphere, or a certain location, or any kind of ritual to stimulate your worship, then your worship falls short of true worship, and you need to call yourself to genuine worship in the way the psalmist does here.

     Here's a third thing to notice: He says, "Bless the Lord." That expression appears some 23 times in the Old Testament, and seven of those are right here in Psalms 103 and 104. Only five times does this expression ("Bless the Lord") appear outside the book of psalms, and always it is a formal call to worship. First Chronicles 29:20: "Then David said to all the assembly, 'Bless the Lord your God.' And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the Lord." Nehemiah 9:5 records how, during that great revival in Nehemiah's time, "Then the Levites . . . said [to the people], 'Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting.'"

     I think it's an interesting phrase. "Bless the Lord." Slightly different words from "Praise the Lord," but it means essentially the same thing. The Hebrew word translated "bless" is the word barak, which is derived from a word that speaks of kneeling. It signifies adoration, gratitude, and everything else we associate with the word blessing.

     In fact, this is the very same word used in Genesis 1:28, where God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and Scripture says, "And God blessed them. [Used in that sense, it means he pronounced a formal blessing on them. Here's the blessing:] And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" "God blessed them"; Scripture also says in Genesis 9:1 that "God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.'" Again, that speaks of a formal blessing. In fact, that very same blessing was the very substance of the Abrahamic covenant: In Genesis 12:2, God says to Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing."

     Throughout Scripture, whenever God shows kindness or favor to anyone, He is said to "bless" them. And in the Old Testament, it's always this same Hebrew word or a close cognate.

     Now, it ought to be obvious that our blessing God is not like His blessing us. There is no advantage or benefit we can confer on Him. We can't add to His happiness or contribute to His inherent perfection in any way. So we can't invoke the kind of blessings on Him that He bestows on us. When God blesses us, He shows us favor; he meets our needs; He imparts benefits to us.

     So in what sense can we "bless" God? We bless Him by honoring His name. We bless Him by speaking His praises. We bless Him with our adoration. When the word is used in the sense the Psalmist is using it here, it signifies the deepest, profoundest, most sincere kind of praise and adoration, and especially praise that is offered with the voice.

     You could look at it like this: when the psalmist says, "Bless the Lord," the word bless in a context like that means the exact opposite of the word blaspheme. "Bless the Lord." Honor His name.

     Here's a fourth thing to notice by way of introduction. Look at the phrase at the end of verse 2: "Bless his holy name." God's name is that which signifies all He is. God's name is not merely a word. It's a much larger concept than that. His name signifies all his nature and attributes. Therefore even His name is holy. Holiness is the sum of all His perfections—so holiness is the glory of His name. And it is significant that the holiness of God's name is what the psalmist mentions at the very outset of the psalm, before he mentions the blessings he has received from God.

     Now, as we move through the psalm, you'll notice that David's focus throughout is mostly on the goodness of God and the many benefits the Lord bestows on those who fear Him. But before he ever mentions God's goodness, the psalmist acknowledges His holiness. And that is fitting, because it is the utter holiness of God that makes His goodness so awesome. You can't comprehend or appreciate the goodness of God unless you first understand God's holiness. He is utterly and completely holy—meaning His excellence is all-surpassing; He is just, and upright, and full of virtue. He despises evil and has no part in it. He personifies moral perfection. He is "of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong" according to Habakkuk 1:13.

     And God's holiness is what puts his goodness in perspective. Remember that a perfectly righteous God cannot simply overlook our sin and act as if it did not exist. Exodus 34:7 says, "[He] will by no means clear the guilty"; and in Exodus 23:7, God Himself says, "I will not acquit the wicked." And Exodus 23:21: "He will not [excuse] your transgression." God doesn't ignore sin or simply overlook it. That's not what God's forgiveness is about.

     Someone had to pay the price of sin, and that is why Christ sacrificed Himself to God on a cross. He himself said in John 10:18: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. He died willingly, as an atonement for sin, and that is what makes possible all the benefits of salvation. Psalm 85:10: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Christ's work has taken God's holiness—which used to be a terror and a fright to us—and He has made it the object of our praise and adoration. He turned justice in our favor, so that "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

     Now, you and I have the advantage of knowing about Christ's atoning work in a way that had not yet been revealed to David. We have the full light of God's complete revelation, so we know that Christ's death on the cross is what made God's forgiveness possible. We understand the means by which God can remain just and still justify the ungodly. But even without the benefit of that understanding, the psalmist gave praise to the Lord that is the very model of what all our praise ought to be.

     The focus is on gospel truth. The major themes are sin, righteousness, judgment, forgiveness, cleansing, redemption, divine grace, and the eternal lovingkindness of God for His people. That's what the gospel is all about. There's quite a bit of confusion about that these days, evidently—even among people who call themselves evangelicals. Various evangelical publishers have put out half a dozen or more books in recent years exploring alternative ideas about what is the gospel. The idea that is generally deemed politically correct these days is that the gospel message is about earthly justice—compassion for the poor and disenfranchised, economic equality, or whatever. The popular postmodern notion is that the gospel is a message about tolerance and diversity, including an announcement of general amnesty from the wrath of God. The idea that is currently stylish in academic circles is that we've misunderstood the by focusing too much on sin and salvation, heaven and hell, guilt and forgiveness, faith and regeneration. The gospel, they say, is simply the proclamation that Jesus is Lord.

     Obviously, the gospel includes a proclamation that Jesus is Lord, it highlights the goodness and grace of God, even while it magnifies the justice of God (who is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"; He is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.") So all those ideas—justice, divine grace, and the Lordship of Christ—are part and parcel of the gospel. But the focus of the gospel—what makes it good news for sinners—is the assurance that our sins are forgiven and we are right with God. That's what David is celebrating here in our psalm, and it does it beautifully by unpacking the elements of gospel truth. It's like a lesson in systematic soteriology—but in a musical form. It's a song about the blessings of salvation: forgiveness, justification, sanctification, and the grace and lovingkindness of God (despite our sin) "from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him."

     So let's look at the substance of David's praise in Psalm 103, and we'll begin where David announces the theme of the psalm—verse 2: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Virtually the whole rest of the psalm is devoted to rehearsing what those benefits are. He goes verse by verse listing all the redemptive benefits of God's grace and goodness. Then in verse 19, he pictures the Lord on His throne in the heavens, sovereign over all the universe. In verses 20-22, he renews his call to worship, this time expanding the call to angelic beings, the heavenly host, and in verse 22, all of creation. Then, having come full circle, he ends where he began, with the phrase "bless the Lord, O my soul."

     So that is the layout of the psalm and the flow of thought it contains. Now let's look more closely at these redemptive benefits that are the reason for our praise.

     As I see them, they fall into three basic categories: Pardon (forgiveness from the guilt of sin); Purification (cleansing from the effects of sin); and pity (or compassion and mercy from God in spite of our weakness and our fallenness).

     And it makes a pretty good outline of reasons we ought to praise God and bless His name. Let's look at these one at a time. First is—


1. Pardon

     Spurgeon once said that—

     We could not have understood so well the hundred and third psalm if we had not first read the thirty-second. You remember how the thirty-second [psalm] begins: 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.' The pardoned man is blessed, and then he blesses God. First the full, deep, effective blessing comes to him freely from the Lord, and then he reflects the blessing, and exclaims in joyful gratitude, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul.' First, we are blessed with the pardon of sin, and then we bless God for the pardon of sin.

     The truth of God's forgiveness is the very heartbeat of the gospel. This is why the gospel is good news. What an absolutely amazing truth it is that God forgives us all our iniquities! Notice several things about this:

     One, it is significant, I think, that the psalmist puts this matter of forgiveness first in his list of benefits. That's fitting. Without the forgiveness of sin, it is impossible to enjoy any other blessing in its fullness. Psalm 145:9 says, "The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made." Matthew 5:45 says, "He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." In other words, everyone receives good things from the hand of the Lord. That is what theologians refer to as common grace. But those who remain unforgiven cannot possibly appreciate or enjoy the mercy and kindness that is inherent in those blessings, because they abide under the wrath of God. They are "condemned already," to borrow words from John 3:18. Or John 3:36: "the wrath of God remains on him." Thus they cannot possibly know true, undiluted blessedness.

     You will often hear people say in their testimony that as soon as they were converted, colors seemed brighter, music sounded better, the whole world seemed sweeter. That was my own experience. I didn't really know how wonderful and colorful and amazing all of creation was until after my sins were forgiven, and then I noticed the difference immediately. That's because forgiveness is the blessing that makes it possible for us to enjoy the fulness of all God's other blessings. And forgiveness is the blessing that ensures all the other blessings.

     Forgiveness comes first in the list for another, very practical, reason. Forgiveness is the prerequisite to all the other blessings in the covenant. It is first in order before glorification and before sanctification. We don't earn forgiveness by making ourselves fit for heaven; rather, God forgives us and then makes us fit for heaven. He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, and then conforms us to the image of Christ. The order is vital, because this is the proof that divine forgiveness is an act of pure grace. God does not demand that we earn His forgiveness.

     Here's something else to notice about verse 3: the psalmist speaks of forgiveness in the present, active tense: "[God] forgives all your iniquities." Present tense, continuous action. In other words, forgiveness is a benefit every believer currently possesses. This is not a promise for the future. Full and complete forgiveness of all our iniquities is a reality here and now. John 3:18: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned." Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." But "we have been justified by faith, [and therefore] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). All those verses speak of complete forgiveness in the immediate here and now. Forgiveness is our present possession.

     One of the serious evils of Roman Catholic theology is what it does to the doctrine of forgiveness. According to the Roman Catholic Church, you are not forgiven until some priest grants you absolution. Even then, you have no guarantee of full forgiveness or justification right now; you'll most likely have to work off some of your own guilt in purgatory.

     Scripture knows nothing of any doctrine like that. Instead, the clear message of the New Testament is summed up in the words of Ephesians 4:32: "God in Christ forgave you." Past tense, completed action. "There is therefore now no condemnation."

     And there's perpetual forgiveness, too. Look at our text again. Verse 3: "[He] forgives all your iniquity." All of them. Past, present, future. This is the promise of 1 John 2:1: When any believer sins, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Hebrews 7:25: "He . . . lives to make intercession for [His people]." He is our constant, tireless advocate in heaven, pleading the case for our forgiveness before the throne of God, making the case that God is both faithful and just to forgive us our sins. And God is constantly forgiving, because it is just for Him to do so. Christ has already paid for sin in full.

     And notice how the unlimited fullness of God's forgiveness is also underscored by our text: "[He] forgives all your iniquity." All of it. None of your sins are so dark that they are beyond forgiveness.

     Someone will say, "well what about the unpardonable sin? Didn't Jesus say there is an unpardonable sin?" Yes, let's look at that. Matthew 12:31. And listen to the verse with the proper stress. Jesus says, "I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." This is a sweeping promise—a guarantee from Christ's own lips—that no sin in the universe is beyond the pale of His forgiveness. "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men." That includes murder, every kind of immorality, every conceivable sin against our fellow man—all of it can be cleansed and forgiven and the guilt removed. There is only one exception to that sweeping statement. What is it? It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that is so evil, so heinous, so deliberate, and so premeditatedly monstrous that it blasphemes the very Spirit of God. What is that sin?

     I believe the context makes it absolutely unmistakable. Jesus said these words in response to a sinister attack by the Pharisees. Verse 22, Jesus heals a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute, and instantly the man could see and speak, and he was free of the demon. There was no discounting this miracle. It was clear proof that Jesus was the fulfillment of th messianic promises quoted in verses 18-21. And Scripture says, "All the people were amazed, and said, 'Can this be the Son of David?'" They instantly recognized the validity of His messianic credentials. Everyone who saw this miracle knew the truth about who Jesus was, including the Pharisees.

     But Scripture says that even though the Pharisees had every reason to recognize Jesus as Messiah, they refused Him for political reasons. John 11:47-48 gives an insight into how the Pharisees conspired among themselves: "[They convened] the Council and said, 'What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.'" They weren't concerned about the truth; they were only concerned about political expediency and their earthly status under Roman authority.

     Now look again at Matthew 12:24: "But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.'"

     That was the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, or perhaps something so perilously close to it that Jesus made this statement as a warning to them. Verse 25 says that Jesus knew their thoughts. He knew what was in their hearts, and He knew the sinister motives they had for trying to turn people away from faith in Christ. And that, He said, was the kind of sin that is unforgivable. It is a willful, deliberate rejection of Christ with full knowledge of who He is. But it's even worse than that, because they attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to demons. Notice, in verse 28, Jesus says He was casting out demons by the Spirit of God. By saying He was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, when they knew better, these Pharisees were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And that very specific kind of willful, deliberate blasphemy is the only sin Jesus said is unpardonable. It is a sin so heinous that no one would ever commit it unless his heart had already been permanently hardened against the truth and set in utter opposition to Christ. Such a person will not and cannot repent, and that is why the sin is unpardonable—not because of any hardness or refusal on God's part, but because of the hardness and refusal of the blasphemer.

     But don't miss the thrust of verse 31. It's actually a lavish promise of complete forgiveness for every other kind of sin and blasphemy: "Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven." "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven."

     "[He] forgives all your iniquity."

     And now, to return to our psalm, look at how thoroughly he forgives. Psalm 103:12: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." That's a figure of speech to express the idea that our sins will never again come back to haunt us, or accuse us, or taint us with guilt. How far is the east from the west? It's a way of expressing the idea of infinity, because no matter how far west you travel, you can still go further west, and no matter how far east you travel, you can always go further east, even if it takes you round and round the globe, you're still going east.

     I'm glad he didn't say "as far as the North is from the south," because when you travel north, you reach a point where you can no longer go north, and if you go any further, you're headed south again. When you travel south, same thing. North and south actually meet at the equator. But east and west don't ever meet. And God has removed the sins of His people as far as the east is from the west.

     Notice how many verses in this psalm speak of forgiveness. Verse 8: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in [mercy]." Verse 10: "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." Verse 11: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his [mercy] toward those who fear him." Verse 12, which we've seen already. And verse 17: "But the [mercy] of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him." The word mercy is what you'll find in the King James and New King James Versions. Some versions say "lovingkindness" (NASB), and some say "steadfast love." The Hebrew word includes all those ideas. It's the Hebrew equivalent of our word grace.  It's a broad concept that has a range of meanings including beauty, kindness, faithfulness, favor, mercy, pity, and everything we associate with the concept of "grace." But because we are sinners, it has to start (as this psalm does in verse 3) with forgiveness—mercy, forbearance, pardon for our sins.

     In other words, forgiveness is virtually the main theme of this psalm, and all the various benefits listed here are merely byproducts of the Lord's forgiveness. So it's appropriate that we have taken so much time to talk about the benefit of God's pardon, but we do have to move on.

     I could literally speak on this subject of forgiveness for the rest of the day. It's the keynote of the gospel and the backbone of my favorite doctrine—the promise of justification by faith.

     And yet it's so much more than a cold, academic doctrine, isn't it? Here's my answer to people who think Bible doctrine isn't practical. What is more practical or more personal than the forgiveness of sins? Remember, David is preaching to his own soul here, and it's easy to imagine that when he preached this sermon to his own soul, he put great stress on the word "your". "[God] forgives all YOUR iniquity." You, David, who were guilty of murder and adultery and arrogance and other horrific evils: God "forgives all your iniquity."

     And I could say the same thing about all my sins—and so can you, if Christ is your Savior. Full and complete forgiveness is ours! Is that not a perfect reason to bless the Lord?

     Let me quote Spurgeon one more time. I can't resist this quote. He read this verse ("Who forgiveth all thine iniquities") and Spurgeon said, "I do not feel like preaching when I touch this text. I heartily wish I could sit down and have a happy cry over this blessed truth that my God is at this moment forgiving me." Matthew Henry, the great Puritan commentator, said something similar. He wrote, "This psalm calls more for devotion than exposition."

     I agree.

     But it is my task as your teacher to rightly divide this passage of Scripture, so I'm going to try to get through it. Here's a second category of benefits David lists in this psalm. First was pardon. The second, I'll call—


2. Purification

     Look at the end of verse 3: "who heals all your diseases." Now the context would suggest that this is not talking primarily about physical diseases. The theme is redemption from sin, and I think the context suggests that the diseases the psalmist has in mind are spiritual maladies. Not that God doesn't heal physical diseases; He does, and all healing is wrought through His providence. But I think here David has in mind a more spiritual kind of healing.

     Hebrew poetry depends on a parallelism of meaning. It's the thoughts that rhyme, not the words (like in our poetry). And the words diseases and iniquities represent rhyming thoughts. They are closely related so as to be parallel.

     Sin itself is a kind of spiritual disease. In the words of John Gill, "sin is a natural, hereditary, epidemical, nauseous, and mortal disease; and there are many [spiritual diseases], a complication of them, in men[. They are all byproducts of sin], which God only can cure; and he heals them by his Word, by means of his Gospel, preaching peace, pardon, and righteousness by Christ; by the blood, wounds, and stripes of his Son; by the application of pardoning grace and mercy. For healing diseases, and forgiving iniquities, are [practically] one and the same thing."

     Again, it is the work of Christ that makes this kind of healing possible. Isaiah 53:5: "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed."

     This is the healing of deliverance from sin—not just the guilt and penalty of it, but the power of it as well. It's the healing the prophet Jeremiah prayed for in Jeremiah 17:14, when he wrote, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."

     It is the healing of complete purification from sin. It's the kind of healing pictured in the ceremonial laws that detailed the process of purifying lepers. This sort of healing is also seen in the process of our sanctification, as God conforms us to the image of His Son. And the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:3, "everyone who [has this hope of ultimately being like Christ] purifies himself as he is pure."

     That sort of purification is, again, the fruit and the goal of Christ's atoning work. Titus 2:14: "[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

     I must move on. These are the benefits David celebrates in our passage: pardon, purification, and now third and finally—


3. Pity

     I use that word because it fits the alliteration, and it's the word used in the King James Version of verse 13: "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." But this is not some sort of maudlin, patronizing pity. It's speaking of God's tenderhearted compassion to His people. Verse 4: "[He] redeems your life from [destruction];  [That's forgiveness again, but now watch:] [He] crowns you with steadfast love and mercy." The Lord is tender and compassionate to all who call upon Him, and I love the fatherly picture of God David paints in this psalm.

     He is our provider (verse 5): "[He] satisfies you with good." That verse reminds me of 1 Timothy 6:17, where the apostle Paul says "God . . . richly provides us with everything to enjoy." God is not a cosmic killjoy who frowns when we enjoy life too much. He relishes our pleasure—as long as we glorify Him as the source of that pleasure and find the center of our delight in Him. He delights to satisfy us with good things. He leads us in green pastures and beside still waters, and He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies, according to the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 107:9 says "He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things." Again and again, Scripture stresses his goodness as our provider.

     David also underscores God's patience and longsuffering. Verse 9: "He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever." He does chide and rebuke and chasten and correct those whom He loves, according to Hebrews 12:6, in the same way any loving father chastens his children. But God doesn't chide us for His own sake, or for his pleasure, but for our good. And the process is temporary, and progressive, and it will one day reach its goal when we are perfect, and mature, and remade in the image of Christ. According to 1 John 3:2, "We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is."

     Meanwhile, know that "His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5).

     In Isaiah 57:16-19, God makes this statement through the prophetic words of Isaiah. He says,

I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.

17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.

18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,

19 creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near," says the Lord, "and I will heal him.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture, Micah 7:18-19, echoes the spirit of this psalm. It says, "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."

     God does this all with a tender, fatherly compassion. He pities us, because, as the psalmist says in verse 14, "he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more." We are frail and fallen; our lives are temporary and fragile. God remembers that, and that is why he deals with us compassionately.

     If we kept that in mind, and remembered that all these benefits come to us by God's grace, in spite of our fallen sinfulness—we would have more reason to fill our lives with praise and gladness.

     I don't know about you, but I am profoundly encouraged by the psalmist's confidence that "God knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." God's dealings with us—even when we sin—are full of compassion like the empathy of a loving Father.

     "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." He forgives us, he heals us, He redeems us, and He crowns us, and he satisfies us with good.

     If that doesn't stir you to worship; if you are seeking satisfaction anywhere else; then you need to repent and ask God to renew your heart. The promises of mercy and lovingkindness in this psalm are for believers only. That's what verses 11 and 13 mean when it speaks of "those who fear him." Believers. Verse 18 speaks of "those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments." It's not speaking of sinless people; there aren't any. It's speaking of forgiven people—those who love God's law and are in covenant with Him by faith—believers. But Acts 16:31 makes this simple promise: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."