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The Glorious Psalms (5)

By Rev. James Gracie

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 28, October-December 2002.

THE PSALTER opens up to the Christian depths of spiritual experience otherwise unknown e.g. joy and praise as the ark of the covenant returns to Jerusalem (Ps. 105) and the repentance of David for his sin (Ps. 51). However, before proceeding to examine in greater detail these and other Christian experiences, let us see what the Book of Psalms has to say regarding the worldly and the wicked.

A Contrast

The contrast between the wicked on the one hand and the godly on the other is introduced within the opening psalm. Psalm 1 speaks of the 'blessed man' (v.1) and the 'ungodly' man (v.4). It is worthy of some note that this Psalm may be closely identified with the sermon on the mount in that it begins, as Christ begins, by setting forth the true blessedness of the godly man (c/f. Ps. 1:1 and Matt. 5:3). What, according to Psalm One, is this contrast?

The godly do not walk in (i.e. listen to) the counsel of the ungodly. Psalm 2 particularly refers this 'counsel of the ungodly' to the day of our Lord: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed..." (Ps.2:2). In our Lord's day there were those who did not listen to such evil counsel. The wise men, for example, "being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, departed into their own country another way" (Matt.2:12). These wise men paid no heed to the counsel of Herod. More particularly is Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin which basely conspired against Christ: "The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them..." (Luke 23:51). Thus, even the man who took the body of our Lord down from the tree can be sung of in the Psalter.

The godly man does not stand in the way of the sinner, nor does he sit in the chair of the scorner; indeed, he separates himself from such (c/f 1 Cor.5:1-9). While the Pharisee may separate himself outwardly from the profligate sinner, he is yet a sinner in heart. He walks in the way of justification by the works of the law: however, blessed is the man who walks in the way of Christ; "even the righteousness which is of faith." (Rom. 9:30-32). There is thus an underlying motive for godly separation from such immoderate sinners. This motive is not self-righteousness. Psalm 26:3 reveals the true motive: "For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth." The result: "I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked." (Ps.26:4-5)

The ungodly are proud and wise in their own conceits. Such were the Scribes and Pharisees in Christ's time, and such are the ungodly today. They scoffed at him when he hung upon the cross, and despised him, his apostles, and his Gospel. Blessed is the man who does not join with such but who is humbled, and to whom His truths are precious. To such he is the power and wisdom of God: "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly." (Prov. 3:34)

A Fallen State

Psalm 14 concludes that unregenerate man is in a most fearful state:

1. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
2. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Ps 14:1-3)

Not that man simply denies the existence or being of Jehovah(LORD [A.V.] i.e. the existing One): on the contrary, he often boasts himself in such knowledge. He does, however, deny Elohim (God [A.V.] ) i.e. he denies the Almighty as Provider and Judge; and he does so within the most important aspect of his being - THE HEART. However, the Lord seeth not as man seeth, "...for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.(1 Samuel 16:7).

In this respect, fallen mankind lives in a state of practical atheism. Their lives give the lie to their profession; their words show that they have no true knowledge of him; their deeds prove that the fear of God is not before their eyes (Ps.36:1). Not one of them does good. Even when they are bedecked with the most exquisite form of godliness (or goodliness!) they have not the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5).

The heart is so deceitful and desperately wicked that it will trust in worldly strength, goods, and riches before it will trust in the Almighty God (Ps. 49:6). Yet, how vain: "There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength" (Ps. 33:16-17).

Fallen man hates the Christ of the Gospel. He is worthy of praise and love yet both Jew and gentile rebel against him. "They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head..." (Ps.69:4). They are his enemies and that wrongfully (Ps. 35:19; 109:3). Genesis 3 speaks of the emnity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Thus Psalm 140 states: "Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear...".

A Condemned State

This fallen state of man is condemned by God: its fate is sealed. The LORD will judge the world according to the strictest rules of justice and equity (Ps. 9:8; 96:13; 98:9). What will be the result of such righteous judgement? "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." (Ps. 9:17)

4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
6 Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man. (Ps 5:4-6)

Such condemnation may not be apparent to the world. Indeed, when one considers the outward state of the church at various points in history compared to that of the ungodly one may be inclined to conclude otherwise. However, the Psalmist assures us of the contrary: "Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him, fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way...For evildoers shall be cut off...For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be..." (Ps. 37:7-10). While "the LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things" (Ps. 12:3), so also "the meek shall inherit the earth..." (Ps 37:11 c/f Matt.5:5).

Psalm 36 begins with the transgression of the wicked: "For he flattereth himself in his own eyes..." (v.2). Yet it concludes with their ruin: "There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise." (v.12)