All these verses are quoted by St. Peter in his first sermon, after the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of pentecost (Acts 2:25-28); and he tells us expressly that David in them speaks concerning Christ and particularly of his resurrection. Something we may allow here of the workings of David’s own pious and devout affections towards God, depending upon his grace to perfect every thing that concerned him, and looking for the blessed hope, and happy state on the other side death, in the enjoyment of God; but in these holy elevations towards God and heaven he was carried by the spirit of prophecy quite beyond the consideration of himself and his own case, to foretel the glory of the Messiah, in such expressions as were peculiar to that, and could not be understood of himself. The New Testament furnishes us with a key to let us into the mystery of these lines.
I. These verses must certainly be applied to Christ; of him speaks the prophet this, as did many of the Old-Testament prophets, who testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow (1 Pet. 1:11), and that is the subject of this prophecy here. It is foretold (as he himself showed concerning this, no doubt, among other prophecies in this psalm, Luke 24:44, 46) that Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead, 1 Cor. 15:3, 4.
1. That he should suffer and die. This is implied here when he says (Ps. 16:8), I shall not be moved; he supposed that he should be struck at, and have a dreadful shock given him, as he had in his agony, when his soul was exceedingly sorrowful, and he prayed that the cup might pass from him. When he says, “My flesh shall rest,” it is implied that he must put off the body, and therefore must go through the pains of death. It is likewise plainly intimated that his soul must go into a state of separation from the body, and that his body, so deserted, would be in imminent danger of seeing corruption—that he should not only die, but be buried, and abide for some time under the power of death.
2. That he should be wonderfully borne up by the divine power in suffering and dying. (1.) That he should not be moved, should not be driven off from his undertaking nor sink under the weight of it, that he should not fail nor be discouraged (Isa. 42:4), but should proceed and persevere in it, till he could say, It is finished. Though the service was hard and the encounter hot, and he trod the winepress alone, yet he was not moved, did not give up the cause, but set his face as a flint, Isa. 50:7-9. Here am I, let these go their way. Nay, (2.) That his heart should rejoice and his glory be glad, that he should go on with his undertaking, not only resolutely, but cheerfully, and with unspeakable pleasure and satisfaction, witness that saying (John 17:11), Now I am no more in the world, but I come to thee, and that (John 18:11), The cup that my Father has given me, shall I not drink it? and many the like. By his glory is meant his tongue, as appears, Acts 2:26. For our tongue is our glory, and never more so than when it is employed in glorifying God. Now there were three things which bore him up and carried him on thus cheerfully:—[1.] The respect he had to his Father’s will and glory in what he did: I have set the Lord always before me. He still had an eye to his Father’s commandment (John 10:18; 14:31), the will of him that sent him. He aimed at his Father’s honour and the restoring of the interests of his kingdom among men, and this kept him from being moved by the difficulties he met with; for he always did those things that pleased his Father. [2.] The assurance he had of his Father’s presence with him in his sufferings: He is at my right hand, a present help to me, nigh at hand in the time of need. He is near that justifieth me (Isa. 50:8); he is at my right hand, to direct and strengthen it, and hold it up, Ps. 89:21. When he was in his agony an angel was sent from heaven to strengthen him, Luke 22:43. To this the victories and triumphs of the cross were all owing; it was the Lord at his right hand that struck through kings, Ps. 110:5; Isa. 42:1, 2. [3.] The prospect he had of a glorious issue of his sufferings. It was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross, Heb. 12:2. He rested in hope, and that made his rest glorious, Isa. 11:10. He knew he should be justified in the Spirit by his resurrection, and straightway glorified. See John 13:31, 32.
3. That he should be brought through his sufferings, and brought from under the power of death by a glorious resurrection. (1.) That his soul should not be left in hell, that is, his human spirit should not be long left, as other men’s spirits are, in a state of separation from the body, but should, in a little time, return and be re-united to it, never to part again. (2.) That being God’s holy One in a peculiar manner, sanctified to the work of redemption and perfectly free from sin, he should not see corruption nor feel it. This implies that he should not only be raised from the grave, but raised so soon that his dead body should not so much as being to corrupt, which, in the course of nature, it would have done if it had not been raised the third day. We, who have so much corruption in our souls, must expect that our bodies also will corrupt (Job 24:19); but that holy One of God who knew no sin saw no corruption. Under the law it was strictly ordered that those parts of the sacrifices which were not burnt upon the altar should by no means be kept till the third day, lest they should putrefy (Lev. 7:15, 18), which perhaps pointed at Christ’s rising the third day, that he might not see corruption—neither was a bone of him broken.
4. That he should be abundantly recompensed for his sufferings, with the joy set before him, Ps. 16:11. He was well assured, (1.) That he should not miss of his glory: “Thou wilt show me the path of life, and lead me to that life through this darksome valley.” In confidence of this, when he gave up the ghost, he said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit; and, a little before, Father, glorify me with thy own self. (2.) That he should be received into the presence of God, to sit at his right hand. His being admitted into God’s presence would be the acceptance of his service and his being set at his right hand the recompence of it. (3.) Thus, as a reward for the sorrows he underwent for our redemption, he should have a fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore; not only the glory he had with God, as God, before all worlds, but the joy and pleasure of a Mediator, in seeing his seed, and the success and prosperity of his undertaking, Isa. 53:10, 11.
II. Christ being the Head of the body, the church, these verses may, for the most part, be applied to all good Christians, who are guided and animated by the Spirit of Christ; and, in singing them, when we have first given glory to Christ, in whom, to our everlasting comfort, they have had their accomplishment, we may then encourage and edify ourselves and one another with them, and may hence learn, 1. That it is our wisdom and duty to set the Lord always before us, and to see him continually at our right hand, wherever we are, to eye him as our chief good and highest end, our owner, ruler, and judge, our gracious benefactor, our sure guide and strict observer; and, while we do thus, we shall not be moved either from our duty or from our comfort. Blessed Paul set the Lord before him, when, though bonds and afflictions did await him, he could bravely say, None of these things move me, Acts 20:24. 2. That, if our eyes be ever towards God, our hearts and tongues may ever rejoice in him; it is our own fault if they do not. If the heart rejoice in God, out of the abundance of that let the mouth speak, to his glory, and the edification of others. 3. That dying Christians, as well as a dying Christ, may cheerfully put off the body, in a believing expectation of a joyful resurrection: My flesh also shall rest in hope. Our bodies have little rest in this world, but in the grave they shall rest as in their beds, Isa. 57:2. We have little to hope for from this life, but we shall rest in hope of a better life; we may put off the body in that hope. Death destroys the hope of man (Job 14:19), but not the hope of a good Christian, Prov. 14:32. He has hope in his death, living hopes in dying moments, hopes that the body shall not be left for ever in the grave, but, though it see corruption for a time, it shall, at the end of the time, be raised to immortality; Christ’s resurrection is an earnest of ours if we be his. 4. That those who live piously with God in their eye may die comfortably with heaven in their eye. In this world sorrow is our lot, but in heaven there is joy. All our joys here are empty and defective, but in heaven there is a fulness of joy. Our pleasures here are transient and momentary, and such is the nature of them that it is not fit they should last long; but those at God’s right hand are pleasures for evermore; for they are the pleasures of immortal souls in the immediate vision and fruition of an eternal God.