Verses 1–5

This is the psalmist’s preface to his discourse concerning the vanity of the world and its insufficiency to make us happy; and we seldom meet with an introduction more solemn than this is; for there is no truth of more undoubted certainty, nor of greater weight and importance, and the consideration of which will be of more advantage to us.

I. He demands the attention of others to that which he was about to say (Ps. 49:1, 2): Hear this, all you people; hear it and heed it, hear it and consider it; what is spoken once, hear twice. Hear and give ear, Ps. 62:9, 11. Not only, “Hear, all you Israelites, and give ear all the inhabitants of Canaan,” but, Hear, all you people, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the world; for this doctrine is not peculiar to those that are blessed with divine revelation, but even the light of nature witnesses to it. All men may know, and therefore let all men consider, that their riches will not profit them in the day of death. Both low and high, both rich and poor, must come together, to hear the word of God; let both therefore hear this with application. Let those that are high and rich in the world hear of the vanity of their worldly possessions and not be proud of them, nor secure in the enjoyment of them, but lay them out in doing good, that with them they may make to themselves friends; let those that are poor and low hear this and be content with their little, and not envy those that have abundance. Poor people are as much in danger from an inordinate desire towards the wealth of the world as rich people from an inordinate delight in it. He gives a good reason why his discourse should be regarded (Ps. 49:3): My mouth shall speak of wisdom; what he had to say, 1. Was true and good. It is wisdom and understanding; it will make those wise and intelligent that receive it and submit to it. It is not doubtful but certain, not trivial but weighty, not a matter of nice speculation but of admirable use to guide us in the right way to our great end. 2. It was what he had himself well digested. What his mouth spoke was the meditation of his heart (as Ps. 19:14; 45:1); it was what God put into his mind, what he had himself seriously considered, and was fully apprized of the meaning of and convinced of the truth of. That which ministers speak from their own hearts is most likely to reach the hearts of their hearers.

II. He engages his own attention (Ps. 49:4): I will incline my ear to a parable. It is called a parable, not because it is figurative and obscure, but because it is a wise discourse and very instructive. It is the same word that is used concerning Solomon’s proverbs. The psalmist will himself incline his ear to it. This intimates, 1. That he was taught it by the Spirit of God and did not speak of himself. Those that undertake to teach others must first learn themselves. 2. That he thought himself nearly concerned in it, and was resolved not to venture his own soul upon that bottom which he dissuaded others from venturing theirs upon. 3. That he would not expect others should attend to that which he himself did not attend to as a matter of the greatest importance. Where God gives the tongue of the learned he first wakens the ear to hear as the learned, Isa. 50:4.

III. He promises to make the matter as plain and as affecting as he could: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. What he learned for himself he would not conceal or confine to himself, but would communicate, for the benefit of others. 1. Some understood it not, it was a riddle to them; tell them of the vanity of the things that are seen, and of the reality and weight of invisible things, and they say, Ah Lord God! doth he not speak parables? For the sake of such, he would open this dark saying, and make it so plain that he that runs might read it. 2. Others understood it well enough, but they were not moved by it, it never affected them, and for their sake he would open it upon the harp, and try that expedient to work upon them, to win upon them. A verse may find him who a sermon flies. Herbert.

IV. He begins with the application of it to himself, and that is the right method in which to treat of divine things. We must first preach to ourselves before we undertake to admonish or instruct others. Before he comes to set down the folly of carnal security (Ps. 49:6), he here lays down, from his own experience, the benefit and comfort of a holy gracious security, which those enjoy who trust in God, and not in their worldly wealth: Wherefore should I fear? he means, Wherefore should I fear their fear (Isa. 8:12), the fears of worldly people. 1. “Wherefore should I be afraid of them? Wherefore should I fear in the days of trouble and persecution, when the iniquity of my heels, or of my supplanters that endeavour to trip up my heels, shall compass me about, and they shall surround me with their mischievous attempts? Why should I be afraid of those all whose power lies in their wealth, which will not enable them to redeem their friends? I will not fear their power, for it cannot enable them to ruin me.” The great men of the world will not appear at all formidable when we consider what little stead their wealth will stand them in. We need not fear their casting us down from our excellency who cannot support themselves in their own excellency. 2. “Wherefore should I be afraid like them?” The days of old age and death are the days of evil, Eccl. 12:1. In the day of judgment the iniquity of our heels (or of our steps, our past sins) will compass us about, will be set in order before us. Every work will be brought into judgment, with every secret thing; and every one of us must give account of himself. In these days worldly wicked people will be afraid; nothing more dreadful to those that have set their hearts upon the world than to think of leaving it; death to them is the king of terrors, because, after death, comes the judgment, when their sins will surround them as so many furies; but wherefore should a good man fear death, who has God with him? Ps. 23:4. When his iniquities compass him about, he sees them all pardoned, his conscience is purified and pacified, and then even in the judgment-day, when the hearts of others fail them for fear, he can lift up his head with joy, Luke 21:26, 28. Note, The children of God, though ever so poor, are in this truly happy, above the most prosperous of the children of this world, that they are well guarded against the terrors of death and the judgment to come.