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Psalm 143:1-3

1. Hear my prayer, O Jehovah! give ear to my supplication, in thy truth answer me, in thy righteousness. 2. And enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. 3. For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath prostrated my life on the ground: he hath set me in dark places, as the dead of an age.


1. Hear my prayer, O Jehovah! It is evident that the oppression of his enemies must have been extreme, when David laments his case in such earnest and pathetic terms. The introductory words show that the grief he felt was great. His reason for speaking of the justice and faithfulness of God in connection we have shown elsewhere. Under the term justice, or righteousness, we are not to suppose that he speaks of merit, or hire, as some ignorantly imagine, but of that goodness of God which leads him to defend his people. To the same effect does he speak of God’s truth or faithfulness; for the best proof he can give of his faithfulness is in not forsaking those whom he has promised to help. In helping his people he shows himself to be a just and true God, both in not frustrating their expectation, and in so far as he shows in this extension of mercy what his nature is, that David very properly encourages himself in prayer by making mention of both.

2. And enter not into judgment, 249249     Walford thinks there is probably here a reference to the great transgression, the consequences of which followed David all his days. “As he would not fail to be reminded of it,” says that writer, “by the sorrows which had now come upon him, from Absalom’s misconduct, and as his purpose was, notwithstanding, to implore divine support and deliverance, he deprecates God’s righteous judgment, since if no man could be just with God, certainly he, who had so greatly transgressed, could have no claim to such a state. The consciousness of his guilt, though he had reason to believe it was forgiven, induced him thus to abase himself before God, when he was about to offer earnest entreaties for deliverance from dangers which threatened his dignity and life; while he still maintained his hope, that God looked upon him as his servant, whom he had pledged himself to protect.” etc. I have hinted already why he proceeds to pray for pardon. When overtaken by adversity, we are ever to conclude that it is a rod of correction sent by God to stir us up to pray. Although he is far from taking pleasure in our trials, it is certain that our sins are the cause of his dealing towards us with this severity. While those to whom David was opposed were wicked men, and he was perfectly conscious of the rectitude of his cause as regarded them, he freely acknowledged his sin before God as a condemned suppliant. We are to hold this as a general rule in seeking to conciliate God, that we must pray for the pardon of our sins. If David found refuge nowhere else than in prayer for pardon, who is there amongst us who would presume to come before God trusting in his own righteousness and integrity? Nor does David here merely set an example before God’s people how they ought to pray, but declares that there is none amongst men who could be just before God were he called to plead his cause. The passage is one fraught with much instruction, teaching us, as I have just hinted, that God can only show favor to us in our approaches by throwing aside the character of a judge, and reconciling us to himself in a gratuitous remission of our sins. All human righteousnesses, accordingly, go for nothing, when we come to his tribunal. This is a truth which is universally acknowledged in words, but which very few are seriously impressed with. As there is an indulgence which is mutually extended to one another amongst men, they all come confidently before God for judgment, as if it were as easy to satisfy him as to gain man’s approval. In order to obtain a proper view of the whole matter, we are first to note what is meant by being justified. The passage before us clearly proves that the man who is justified, is he who is judged and reckoned just before God, or whom the heavenly Judge himself acquits as innocent. Now, in denying that any amongst men can claim this innocence, David intimates that any righteousness which the saints have is not perfect enough to abide God’s scrutiny, and thus he declares that all are guilty before God, and can only be absolved in the way of acknowledging they might justly be condemned. Had perfection been a thing to be found in the world, he certainly of all others was the man who might justly have boasted of it; and the righteousness of Abraham and the holy fathers was not unknown to him; but he spares neither them nor himself, but lays it down as the one universal rule of conciliating God, that we must cast ourselves upon his mercy. This may give us some idea of the satanic infatuation which has taken hold of those who speak so much of perfection in holiness, with a view to supersede remission of sins. Such a degree of pride could never be evinced by them, were they not secretly influenced by a brutish contempt of God. They speak in high and magnificent terms of regeneration, as if the whole kingdom of Christ consisted in purity of life. But in doing away with the principal blessing of the everlasting covenant — gratuitous reconciliation — which God’s people are commanded to seek daily, and in puffing up both themselves and others with a vain pride, they show what spirit they are of. Let us hold them in detestation, since they scruple not to put open contempt upon God. This of itself, however, which we have stated, is not enough; for the Papists themselves acknowledge that were God to enter upon an examination of men’s lives as a judge, all would lie obnoxious to just condemnation. And in this respect they are sounder, more moderate and sober, than those Cyclopses and monsters in heresy of whom we have just spoken. But though not arrogating to themselves righteousness in the whole extent of it, they show, by obtruding their merits and satisfactions, that they are very far from following the example of David. They are always ready to acknowledge some defect in their works, and so, in seeking God’s favor, they plead for the assistance of his mercy. But there is nothing intermediate between these two things, which are represented in Scripture as opposites — being justified by faith and justified by works. It is absurd for the Papists to invent a third species of righteousness, which is partly wrought out by works of their own, and partly imputed to them by God in his mercy. Without all doubt, when he affirmed that no man could stand before God were his works brought to judgment, David had no idea of this complex or twofold righteousness, but would shut us up at once to the conclusion that God is only favorable upon the ground of his mercy, since any reputed righteousness of man has no significance before him.

3. For the enemy hath persecuted my soul. Having acknowledged that he only suffered the just punishment of his sins, David comes now to speak of his enemies; for to have begun by speaking of them would have been a preposterous order. Their cruelty was shown in their not resting satisfied but with the destruction of one who was a saint of God; he declares that he must even now perish unless God should help him speedily. The comparison is not merely to a dead man, but a putrid corpse; for by the dead of an age 250250     כמתי עולם. These words are differently rendered in the ancient versions. The Septuagint has ὡς νεκροὺς αἰωνος, as the dead of the age; the Syriac, forever; the Chaldee, as they that lie down of that age. The real sense of the expression is, as they who have been dead a long time. The Psalmist employs hyperbolical language in this verse; he says, the enemy hath beaten his life to the ground, hath made him dwell in dark places, and for such a length of time, that there remained no remembrance of him, and that he had become like those persons who had long since been in their graves. The design of all this is to express emphatically great sorrow and oppression.” — Phillips. are meant those who have been long removed from the world. Such language intimates that he not only trusted in God as he who could heal him of a deadly disease, but considered that though his life should be buried, as it were, and long out of mind, God could raise it again, and restore his very ashes.

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