This psalm is entitled Maschil, which some take to be only the name of the tune to which it was set and was to be sung. But others think it is significant; our margin reads it, A psalm of David giving instruction, and there is nothing in which we have more need of instruction than in the nature of true blessedness, wherein it consists and the way that leads to it—what we must do that we may be happy. There are several things in which these verses instruct us. In general, we are here taught that our happiness consists in the favour of God, and not in the wealth of this world—in spiritual blessings, and not the good things of this world. When David says (Ps. 1:1), Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, and (Ps. 119:1), Blessed are the undefiled in the way, the meaning is, “This is the character of the blessed man; and he that has not this character cannot expect to be happy:” but when it is here said, Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, the meaning is, “This is the ground of his blessedness: this is that fundamental privilege from which all the other ingredients of his blessedness flow.” In particular, we are here instructed,
I. Concerning the nature of the pardon of sin. This is that which we all need and are undone without; we are therefore concerned to be very solicitous and inquisitive about it. 1. It is the forgiving of transgression. Sin is the transgression of the law. Upon our repentance, the transgression is forgiven; that is, the obligation to punishment which we lay under, by virtue of the sentence of the law, is vacated and cancelled; it is lifted off (so some read it), that by the pardon of it we may be eased of a burden, a heavy burden, like a load on the back, that makes us stoop, or a load on the stomach, that makes us sick, or a load on the spirits, that makes us sink. The remission of sins gives rest and relief to those that were weary and heavily laden, Matt. 11:28. 2. It is the covering of sin, as nakedness is covered, that it may not appear to our shame, Rev. 3:18. One of the first symptoms of guilt in our first parents was blushing at their own nakedness. Sin makes us loathsome in the sight of God and utterly unfit for communion with him, and, when conscience is awakened, it makes us loathsome to ourselves too; but, when sin is pardoned, it is covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, like the coats of skins wherewith God clothed Adam and Eve (an emblem of the remission of sins), so that God is no longer displeased with us, but perfectly reconciled. They are not covered from us (no; My sin is ever before me) nor covered from God’s omniscience, but from his vindictive justice. When he pardons sin he remembers it no more, he casts it behind his back, it shall be sought for and not found, and the sinner, being thus reconciled to God, begins to be reconciled to himself. 3. It is the not imputing of iniquity, not laying it to the sinner’s charge, not proceeding against him for it according to the strictness of the law, not dealing with him as he deserves. The righteousness of Christ being imputed to us, and we being made the righteousness of God in him, our iniquity is not imputed, God having laid upon him the iniquity of us all and made him sin for us. Observe, Not to impute iniquity is God’s act, for he is the Judge. It is God that justifies.
II. Concerning the character of those whose sins are pardoned: in whose spirit there is no guile. He does not say, “There is no guilt” (for who is there that lives and sins not?), but no guile; the pardoned sinner is one that does not dissemble with God in his professions of repentance and faith, nor in his prayers for peace or pardon, but in all these is sincere and means as he says—that does not repent with a purpose to sin again, and then sin with a purpose to repent again, as a learned interpreter glosses upon it. Those that design honestly, that are really what they profess to be, are Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.
III. Concerning the happiness of a justified state: Blessednesses are to the man whose iniquity is forgiven, all manner of blessings, sufficient to make him completely blessed. That is taken away which incurred the curse and obstructed the blessing; and then God will pour out blessings till there be no room to receive them. The forgiveness of sin is that article of the covenant which is the reason and ground of all the rest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, Heb. 8:12.
IV. Concerning the uncomfortable condition of an unhumbled sinner, that sees his guilt, but is not yet brought to make a penitent confession of it. This David describes very pathetically, from his own sad experience (Ps. 32:3, 4): While I kept silence my bones waxed old. Those may be said to keep silence who stifle their convictions, who, when they cannot but see the evil of sin and their danger by reason of it, ease themselves by not thinking of it and diverting their minds to something else, as Cain to the building of a city,—who cry not when God binds them,—who will not unburden their consciences by a penitent confession, nor seek for peace, as they ought, by faithful and fervent prayer,—and who choose rather to pine away in their iniquities than to take the method which God has appointed of finding rest for their souls. Let such expect that their smothered convictions will be a fire in their bones, and the wounds of sin, not opened, will fester, and grow intolerably painful. If conscience be seared, the case is so much the more dangerous; but if it be startled and awake, it will be heard. The hand of divine wrath will be felt lying heavily upon the soul, and the anguish of the spirit will affect the body; to the degree David experienced it, so that when he was young his bones waxed old; and even his silence made him roar all the day long, as if he had been under some grievous pain and distemper of body, when really the cause of all his uneasiness was the struggle he felt in his own bosom between his convictions and his corruptions. Note, He that covers his sin shall not prosper; some inward trouble is required in repentance, but there is much worse in impenitency.
V. Concerning the true and only way to peace of conscience. We are here taught to confess our sins, that they may be forgiven, to declare them, that we may be justified. This course David took: I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and no longer hid my iniquity, Ps. 32:5. Note, Those that would have the comfort of the pardon of their sins must take shame to themselves by a penitent confession of them. We must confess the fact of sin, and be particular in it (Thus and thus have I done), confess the fault of sin, aggravate it, and lay a load upon ourselves for it (I have done very wickedly), confess the justice of the punishment we have been under for it (The Lord is just in all that is brought upon us), and that we deserve much worse—I am no more worthy to be called thy son. We must confess sin with shame and holy blushing, with fear and holy trembling.
VI. Concerning God’s readiness to pardon sin to those who truly repent of it: “I said, I will confess (I sincerely resolved upon it, hesitated no longer, but came to a point, that I would make a free and ingenuous confession of my sins) and immediately thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin, and gavest me the comfort of the pardon in my own conscience; immediately I found rest to my soul.” Note, God is more ready to pardon sin, upon our repentance, than we are to repent in order to the obtaining of pardon. It was with much ado that David was here brought to confess his sins; he was put to the rack before he was brought to do it (Ps. 32:3, 4), he held out long, and would not surrender till it came to the last extremity; but, when he did offer to surrender, see how quickly, how easily, he obtained good terms: “I did but say, I will confess, and thou forgavest.” Thus the father of the prodigal saw his returning son when he was yet afar off, and ran to meet him with the kiss that sealed his pardon. What an encouragement is this to poor penitents, and what an assurance does it give us that, if we confess our sins, we shall find God, not only faithful and just, but gracious and kind, to forgive us our sins!
VII. Concerning the good use that we are to make of the experience David had had of God’s readiness to forgive his sins (Ps. 32:6): For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee. Note, 1. All godly people are praying people. As soon as ever Paul was converted, Behold, he prays, Acts 9:11. You may as soon find a living man without breath as a living Christian without prayer. 2. The instructions given us concerning the happiness of those whose sins are pardoned, and the easiness of obtaining the pardon, should engage and encourage us to pray, and particularly to pray, God be merciful to us sinners. For this shall every one that is well inclined be earnest with God in prayer, and come boldly to the throne of grace, with hopes to obtain mercy, Heb. 4:16. 3. Those that would speed in prayer must seek the Lord in a time when he will be found. When, by his providence, he calls them to seek him, and by his Spirit stirs them up to seek him, they must go speedily to seek the Lord (Zech. 8:21) and lose no time, lest death cut them off, and then it will be too late to seek him, Isa. 55:6. Behold, now is the accepted time, 2 Cor. 6:2, 4. Those that are sincere and abundant in prayer will find the benefit of it when they are in trouble: Surely in the floods of great waters, which are very threatening, they shall not come nigh them, to terrify them, or create them any uneasiness, much less shall they overwhelm them. Those that have God nigh unto them in all that which they call upon him for, as all upright, penitent, praying people have, are so guarded, so advanced, that no waters—no, not great waters—no, not floods of them, can come nigh them, to hurt them. As the temptations of the wicked one touch them not (1 John 5:18), so neither do the troubles of this evil world; these fiery darts of both kinds, drop short of them.