We have seen what a strong temptation the psalmist was in to envy prospering profaneness; now here we are told how he kept his footing and got the victory.
I. He kept up a respect for God’s people, and with that he restrained himself from speaking what he had thought amiss, Ps. 73:15. He got the victory by degrees, and this was the first point he gained; he was ready to say, Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and thought he had reason to say it, but he kept his mouth with this consideration, “If I say, I will speak thus, behold, I should myself revolt and apostatize from, and so give the greatest offence imaginable to, the generation of thy children.” Observe here, 1. Though he thought amiss, he took care not to utter that evil thought which he had conceived. Note, It is bad to think ill, but it is worse to speak it, for that is giving the evil thought an imprimatur—a sanction; it is allowing it, giving consent to it, and publishing it for the infection of others. But it is a good sign that we repent of the evil imagination of the heart if we suppress it, and the error remains with ourselves. If therefore thou hast been so foolish as to think evil, be so wise as to lay thy hand upon thy mouth, and let it go no further, Prov. 30:32. If I say, I will speak thus. Observe, Though his corrupt heart made this inference from the prosperity of the wicked, yet he did not mention it to those whether it were fit to be mentioned or no. Note, We must think twice before we speak once, both because some things may be thought which yet may not be spoken and because the second thoughts may correct the mistakes of the first. 2. The reason why he would not speak it was for fear of giving offence to those whom God owned for his children. Note, (1.) There are a people in the world that are the generation of God’s children, a set of men that hear and love God as their Father. (2.) We must be very careful not to say or do any thing which may justly offend any of these little ones (Matt. 18:6), especially which may offend the generation of them, may sadden their hearts, or weaken their hands, or shake their interest. (3.) There is nothing that can give more general offence to the generation of God’s children than to say that we have cleansed our heart in vain or that it is vain to serve God; for there is nothing more contrary to their universal sentiment and experience nor any thing that grieves them more than to hear God thus reflected on. (4.) Those that wish themselves in the condition of the wicked do in effect quit the tents of God’s children.
II. He foresaw the ruin of wicked people. By this he baffled the temptation, as by the former he gave some check to it. Because he durst not speak what he had thought, for fear of giving offence, he began to consider whether he had any good reason for that thought (Ps. 73:16): “I endeavoured to understand the meaning of this unaccountable dispensation of Providence; but it was too painful for me. I could not conquer it by the strength of my own reasoning.” It is a problem, not to be solved by the mere light of nature, for, if there were not another life after this, we could not fully reconcile the prosperity of the wicked with the justice of God. But (Ps. 73:17) he went into the sanctuary of God; he applied to his devotions, meditated upon the attributes of God, and the things revealed, which belong to us and to our children; he consulted the scriptures, and the lips of the priests who attended the sanctuary; he prayed to God to make this matter plain to him and to help him over this difficulty; and, at length, he understood the wretched end of wicked people, which he plainly foresaw to be such that even in the height of their prosperity they were rather to be pitied than envied, for they were but ripening for ruin. Note, There are many great things, and things needful to be known, which will not be known otherwise than by going into the sanctuary of God, by the word and prayer. The sanctuary must therefore be the resort of a tempted soul. Note, further, We must judge of persons and things as they appear by the light of divine revelation, and then we shall judge righteous judgment; particularly we must judge by the end. All is well that ends well, everlastingly well; but nothing well that ends ill, everlastingly ill. The righteous man’s afflictions end in peace, and therefore he is happy; the wicked man’s enjoyments end in destruction, and therefore he is miserable.
1. The prosperity of the wicked is short and uncertain. The high places in which Providence sets them are slippery places (Ps. 73:18), where they cannot long keep footing; but, when they offer to climb higher, that very attempt will be the occasion of their sliding and falling. Their prosperity has no firm ground; it is not built upon God’s favour or his promise; and they have not the satisfaction of feeling that it rests on firm ground.
2. Their destruction is sure, and sudden, and very great. This cannot be meant of any temporal destruction; for they were supposed to spend all their days in wealth and their death itself had no bands in it: In a moment they go down to the grace, so that even that could scarcely be called their destruction; it must therefore be meant of eternal destruction on the other side death—hell and destruction. They flourish for a time, but are undone for ever. (1.) Their ruin is sure and inevitable. He speaks of it as a thing done—They are cast down; for their destruction is as certain as if it were already accomplished. He speaks of it as God’s doing, and therefore it cannot be resisted: Thou castest them down. It is destruction from the Almighty (Joel 1:15), from the glory of his power, 2 Thess. 1:9. Who can support those whom God will cast down, on whom God will lay burdens? (2.) It is swift and sudden; their damnation slumbers not; for how are they brought into desolation as in a moment! Ps. 73:19. It is easily effected, and will be a great surprise to themselves and all about them. (3.) It is severe and very dreadful. It is a total and final ruin: They are utterly consumed with terrors, It is the misery of the damned that the terrors of the Almighty, whom they have made their enemy, fasten upon their guilty consciences, which can neither shelter themselves from them nor strengthen themselves under them; and therefore not their being, but their bliss, must needs be utterly consumed by them; not the least degree of comfort or hope remains to them; the higher they were lifted up in their prosperity the sorer will their fall be when they are cast down into destructions (for the word is plural) and suddenly brought into desolation.
3. Their prosperity is therefore not to be envied at all, but despised rather, quod erat demonstrandum—which was the point to be established, Ps. 73:20. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord! when thou awakest, or when they awake (as some read it), thou shalt despise their image, their shadow, and make it to vanish. In the day of the great judgment (so the Chaldee paraphrase reads it), when they are awaked out of their graves, thou shalt, in wrath, despise their image; for they shall rise to shame and everlasting contempt. See here, (1 54c3 .) What their prosperity now is; it is but an image, a vain show, a fashion of the world that passes away; it is not real, but imaginary, and it is only a corrupt imagination that makes it a happiness; it is not substance, but a mere shadow; it is not what it seems to be, nor will it prove what we promise ourselves from it; it is as a dream, which may please us a little, while we are asleep, yet even then it disturbs our repose; but, how pleasing soever it is, it is all but a cheat, all false; when we awake we find it so. A hungry man dreams that he eats, but he awakes and his soul is empty, Isa. 29:8. A man is never the more rich or honourable for dreaming he is so. Who therefore will envy a man the pleasure of a dream? (2.) What will be the issue of it; God will awake to judgment, to plead his own and his people’s injured cause; they shall be made to awake out of the sleep of their carnal security, and then God shall despise their image; he shall make it appear to all the world how despicable it is; so that the righteous shall laugh at them, Ps. 52:6, 7. How did God despise that rich man’s image when he said, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee! Luke 12:19, 20. We ought to be of God’s mind, for his judgment is according to truth, and not to admire and envy that which he despises and will despise; for, sooner or later, he will bring all the world to be of his mind.