Tag Archives: Psalms

The Psalms: An Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul

I have been accustomed to call this book (Psalms), I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.  Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.  The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us.  But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we abound, may remain concealed.  It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy.  In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.  Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of need, and next, from faith in the promises of God.  it is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure.  In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book.  And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds.  Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts. In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others — that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

John Calvin (1509-64), The Author’s Preface, Joshua. Psalms 1-35, xxxvi-xxxvii


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The Word Become Flesh: The Secret of the Psalter

psalmsThe Psalter occupies a unique place in all the Holy Scriptures. It is God’s Word, and with few exceptions it is at the same time the prayer of human beings.  How are we to understand this?  How can God’s Word be at the same time prayer to God?  This question is followed by an observation made by all who begin to pray the Psalms.  First, they try to repeat the Psalms personally as their own prayer.  But soon they come across passages that they feel they cannot pray as their own personal prayers.  We remember, for example, the psalms of innocence, the psalms of vengeance, and also, in part, the psalms of suffering.  Nevertheless, these prayers are words of the Holy Scriptures that believing Christians cannot simply dismiss as obsolete and antiquated.  Thus they do not desire to gain control over the word of Scripture, and yet they realize that they cannot pray these words.  They can read them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but they can neither pray them themselves nor expunge them from the Holy Scriptures…. [T]his difficulty actually indicates the point at which we may get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter.  The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers, those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone else is praying, not we – that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who is calling God’s judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself.  It is he who is praying here, and not only here, but in the whole Psalter.  The New Testament and the church have always recognized and testified to his truth.  The human Jesus Christ to whom no affliction, no illness, no suffering is unknown, and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one, is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of his congregation.  The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus in the truest sense of the word.  He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time.  Can we now comprehend how the Psalter is capable of being simultaneously prayer to God and yet God’s own Word, precisely because the praying Christ encounters us here?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), Life Together, 53-55.

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Satisfying Goodness or Bitter Emptiness

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Psalm 34:8

Just these few words communicate an eternity of truth.  Not only do they sum up Psalm 34, but are truly a summary of all of the psalms.  Furthermore, these words reveal an overarching theme of the entire Bible – the LORD is good!  This phrase is crucial for our understanding of God.  First, the proposition “the LORD is good” is a truth claim about God’s nature – not just who He is but what He is essentially. God is Good!  This means that He cannot be anything other than good, which leads us to our next point.  Verse 8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”, emphasizing not only God’s nature but His actions as well.  Since God is good and cannot be anything other than good, whatever He does, commands, wills, and speaks is good, regardless of human comprehension or judgment.  God is good and all that He does is good.

Knowing that God is good is essential for trusting Him.  There are many times in our lives that we cannot comprehend how something happening to us or someone else can possibly be good.  If we do not know that God is good how can we trust Him.  If we think of Him as some cosmic moral policeman, waiting to strike you down any chance that He gets, then you would be hesitant to trust Him in those dark moments.  Knowing that the God, who is sovereignly working in all things, is good, enables you and I to trust Him no matter what we may experience.  Our confidence or trust cannot rest on our extremely limited comprehension, but upon the God who is good and only does that which is good.

Not only is God’s goodness crucial for our understanding of God but it is crucial for those  who have not tasted of the Lord’s goodness in Christ Jesus.  The world does not see God as good, though He is gracious to all.  They see pain and suffering in the world and accuse God of evil or deny His existence.  They say that either He is unwillingly to stop evil and therefore not good or that He is unable to stop it and therefore not God.  Not only that, but those who do not know of His goodness see those who claim to be His people and rather than being left with a satisfying taste of God’s goodness, they have a bitter taste in their mouth.  The verse says, “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good!”  If we, God’s ambassadors through Christ, wrongly represent the One who alone is good (Lk 18:19), we are preaching a false and deadly gospel to the world in word and in deed.  Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian and most people will never read the first four.”  God’s goodness is exemplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the gospel.  As those who have tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness in salvation, and will continually do so for eternity, we have a calling to be, speak, and live the goodness of God in the gospel before the world.  People are watching, waiting, and longing for that good news and for the satisfaction that only comes through faith in Jesus.

What taste are you leaving with people?  Satisfying goodness or bitter emptiness?

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