Golden Text—"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." — Verse 2.
Verses 1 to 5. In the beginning of a Christian's experience fear more than love, alas, too often, has the chief control of his heart and lips. And this because of a false theology, taught him from earliest infancy, even in nursery rhymes impressing upon the simple mind theories which, while denominating God the very essence of Love, paint his character and plans as the most atrocious conceivable, and wrest the Scripture "parables and dark sayings" to their support. In this early stage of general Christian experience, therefore, fear, and not a heart full of love leads to worship. This fact is noted by the prophet.—Isa. 29:13.
The bondage of fear in many instances fails to hold the penitent or to draw him near to the Lord, and consequently we frequently hear expressions similar to those of the old familiar hymn—"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-reviving view
Of Jesus and his Word?"
Some, however, in spite of all their false ideas, learn in their hearts what they are much slower to learn with their heads, that "God is Love." They drink in the spirit of the Scriptural teaching even when, misled by misinterpretations and twistings, they think that the letter of God's Word is in opposition. Their hearts are better than their theology or their heads.
Such, and still more especially those whose heads as well as their hearts are illuminated by the grace of our God, reach as a development this higher state of Christian experience indicated by the prophet in the verses under consideration. They reach the place where acquaintance with and appreciation of the Lord cast out all fear, and where their whole being loves and praises and desires to serve the grand one who is so worthy.
Such do not generalize too much God's favors: they particularize. And naturally and properly (verses 3 and 4) the first item for praise is the redeeming love through the sacrifice of his son as the propitiation (i.e., satisfaction) for our sins, which has forgiven our iniquities, healed our diseases, and redeemed our lives from destruction. "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" Not that this is all done for us yet. No; only by faith can we reckon it as done. But God has begun the good work, the sacrifice for our sins was paid on Calvary, and shortly we shall be presented before the Father blameless and unreprovable, without any of our present mental, moral and physical diseases and weaknesses, and in the full possession of the new life and the new resurrection bodies.
Verses 6 to 10. Having expressed the sentiments and attitude of the saints, the prophet next turns to the people in general—the half-hearted Christians as well as the worldly—and declares (verse 6) that God is on the side of justice and makes the cause of the weak and oppressed ones his cause. He declares (verse 7) that this was fully illustrated in the laws which he promulgated through Moses and in his dealings with Israel, including their deliverance from the task-masters of Egypt. And all these show (verse 8) God's general goodness and sympathy and compassion.
Verse 9. Yet none must presume upon God's love and mercy, and trample upon his laws; for although slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, "He will not always chide [contend with the wayward] neither will he keep [i.e., retain or hold back] his anger forever."
Verse 10. What chastisements he has so far given are not to be esteemed as the full penalty for our sins. He has been holding back the full penalty in mercy according to his provision in Christ. So far "He hath not dealt with us according to [the just desert of] our sins, nor rewarded us according as our iniquities deserved" under his own law. But we must not suppose, therefore, that he will never execute that law which declares that death is the full penalty for full wilful sin. The Lord through the Apostle Peter declares this same truth, that thus far he has held back the full penalty, because willing that all should come to a full appreciation of the truth, and by acceptance of it be saved from the full penalty of wilful sin.—2 Pet. 3:7-10; Acts 3:23; Heb. 10:26-30.
Verses 11 to 18. But the Lord, in thus threatening the wilfully wicked, does not wish to awaken dread in the hearts of those who do love him and seek to know and to do his will. Hence when these find that their lives are imperfect, much as they desired and endeavored to have them otherwise, they are not to be in fear of the "wrath" and "vengeance" which are to be let loose upon wilful sinners in due time. Ah, no! God considereth our frame; he knows our weakness, and as the Apostle declares, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Christ, our Redeemer). Toward all such as love and reverence him, and who are in covenant relations with him, and hence under the blood of the new covenant, God's compassion is far beyond that of an earthly parent. As high as the heaven is above the earth, so great is his love for such, and as far as the east is from the west, he has removed their transgression—laying our sins upon his own spotless Lamb, our Redeemer, and imputing his purity to all who will accept it, as in due time this gift of love is testified to all. And not only does God's blessing rest upon these his "saints," but in some degree it follows even to their children.
Verses 19 to 21. Here prophetically the reference is to that great kingdom for which we pray, "Thy kingdom come." In it the angels (messengers) and ministers (servants) of God will fully carry out his great plan, his goodness to all, showing mercy unto thousands of those who love and obey him, and executing also the judgments written (destruction—not everlasting torments, the judgments which some have imagined, but which would be in violation of the things written) upon those who treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and perdition of ungodly men.
Verse 22. Then, with a clean universe, after the close of the Millennial age, all God's works in all places of his dominion will praise and honor him. And all who are in full accord with the great divine plan can even now in advance hail that grand, gracious time with joy and exclaim, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"