The instructions here given are very plain; much need not be said for the exposition of them, but there is a great deal to be done for the reducing of them to practice, and there they will look best.
I. We are here cautioned against discontent at the prosperity and success of evil-doers (Ps. 37:1, 2): Fret not thyself, neither be thou envious. We may suppose that David speaks this to himself first, and preaches it to his own heart (in his communing with that upon his bed), for the suppressing of those corrupt passions which he found working there, and then leaves it in writing for instruction to others that might be in similar temptation. That is preached best, and with most probability of success, to others, which is first preached to ourselves. Now, 1. When we look abroad we see the world full of evil-doers and workers of iniquity, that flourish and prosper, that have what they will and do what they will, that live in ease and pomp themselves and have power in their hands to do mischief to those about them. So it was in David’s time; and therefore, if it is so still, let us not marvel at the matter, as though it were some new or strange thing. 2. When we look within we find ourselves tempted to fret at this, and to be envious against these scandals and burdens, these blemishes and common nuisances, of this earth. We are apt to fret at God, as if he were unkind to the world and unkind to his church in permitting such men to live, and prosper, and prevail, as they do. We are apt to fret ourselves with vexation at their success in their evil projects. We are apt to envy them the liberty they take in getting wealth, and perhaps by unlawful means, and in the indulgence of their lusts, and to wish that we could shake off the restraints of conscience and do so too. We are tempted to think them the only happy people, and to incline to imitate them, and to join ourselves with them, that we may share in their gains and eat of their dainties; and this is that which we are warned against: Fret not thyself, neither be thou envious. Fretfulness and envy are sins that are their own punishments; they are the uneasiness of the spirit and the rottenness of the bones; it is therefore in kindness to ourselves that we are warned against them. Yet that is not all; for, 3. When we look forward with an eye of faith we shall see no reason to envy wicked people their prosperity, for their ruin is at the door and they are ripening apace for it, Ps. 37:2. They flourish, but as the grass, and as the green herb, which nobody envies nor frets at. The flourishing of a godly man is like that of a fruitful tree (Ps. 1:3), but that of the wicked man is like grass and herbs, which are very short-lived. (1.) They will soon wither of themselves. Outward prosperity is a fading thing, and so is the life itself to which it is confined. (2.) They will sooner be cut down by the judgments of God. Their triumphing is short, but their weeping and wailing will be everlasting.
II. We are here counselled to live a life on confidence and complacency in God, and that will keep us from fretting at the prosperity of evil-doers; if we do well for our own souls, we shall see little reason to envy those that do so ill for theirs. Here are three excellent precepts, which we are to be ruled by, and, to enforce them, three precious promises, which we may rely upon.
1. We must make God our hope in the way of duty and then we shall have a comfortable subsistence in this world, Ps. 37:3. (1.) It is required that we trust in the Lord and do good, that we confide in God and conform to him. The life of religion lies much in a believing reliance on God, his favour, his providence, his promise, his grace, and a diligent care to serve him and our generation, according to his will. We must not think to trust in God and then live as we list. No; it is not trusting God, but tempting him, if we do not make conscience of our duty to him. Nor must we think to do good, and then to trust to ourselves, and our own righteousness and strength. No; we must both trust in the Lord and do good. And then, (2.) It is promised that we shall be well provided for in this world: So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. He does not say, “So shalt thou get preferment, dwell in a palace, and be feasted.” This is not necessary; a man’s life consists not in the abundance of these things; but, “Thou shalt have a place to live in, and that in the land, in Canaan, the valley of vision, and thou shalt have food convenient for thee.” This is more than we deserve; it is as much as a good man will stipulate for (Gen. 28:20) and it is enough for one that is going to heaven. “Thou shalt have a settlement, a quiet settlement, and a maintenance, a comfortable maintenance: Verily thou shalt be fed.” Some read it, Thou shalt be fed by faith, as the just are said to live by faith, and it is good living, good feeding, upon the promises. “Verily thou shalt be fed, as Elijah in the famine, with what is needful for thee.” God himself is a shepherd, a feeder, to all those that trust in him, Ps. 23:1.
2. We must make God our heart’s delight and then we shall have our heart’s desire, Ps. 37:4. We must not only depend upon God, but solace ourselves in him. We must be well pleased that there is a God, that he is such a one as he has revealed himself to be, and that he is our God in covenant. We must delight ourselves in his beauty, bounty, and benignity; our souls must return to him, and repose in him, as their rest, and their portion for ever. Being satisfied of his loving-kindness, we must be satisfied with it, and make that our exceeding joy, Ps. 43:4. We were commanded (Ps. 37:3) to do good, and then follows this command to delight in God, which is as much a privilege as a duty. If we make conscience of obedience to God, we may then take the comfort of a complacency in him. And even this pleasant duty of delighting in God has a promise annexed to it, which is very full and precious, enough to recompense the hardest services: He shall give thee the desires of thy heart. He has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body and the humours of the fancy, but to grant all the desires of the heart, all the cravings of the renewed sanctified soul. What is the desire of the heart of a good man? It is this, to know, and love, and live to God, to please him and to be pleased in him.
3. We must make God our guide, and submit in every thing to his guidance and disposal; and then all our affairs, even those that seem most intricate and perplexed, shall be made to issue well and to our satisfaction, Ps. 37:5, 6. (1.) The duty is very easy; and, if we do it aright, it will make us easy: Commit thy way unto the Lord; roll thy way upon the Lord (so the margin reads it), Prov. 16:3; Ps. 55:22. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, the burden of thy care, 1 Pet. 5:7. We must roll it off ourselves, so as not to afflict and perplex ourselves with thoughts about future events (Matt. 6:25), not to cumber and trouble ourselves either with the contrivance of the means or with expectation of the end, but refer it to God, leave it to him by his wise and good providence to order and dispose of all our concerns as he pleases. Retreat thy way unto the Lord (so the LXX.), that is, “By prayer spread thy case, and all thy cares about it, before the Lord” (as Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh, Jdg. 11:11), “and then trust in him to bring it to a good issue, with a full satisfaction that all is well that God does.” We must do our duty (that must be our care) and then leave the event with God. Sit still, and see how the matter will fall, Ruth 3:18. We must follow Providence, and not force it, subscribe to Infinite Wisdom and not prescribe. (2.) The promise is very sweet. [1.] In general, “He shall bring that to pass, whatever it is, which thou hast committed to him, if not to thy contrivance, yet to thy content. He will find means to extricate thee out of thy straits, to prevent thy fears, and bring about thy purposes, to thy satisfaction.” [2.] In particular, “He will take care of thy reputation, and bring thee out of thy difficulties, not only with comfort, but with credit and honour: He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light and thy judgment as the noon-day.” (Ps. 37:6), that is, “he shall make it to appear that thou art an honest man, and that is honour enough.” First, It is implied that the righteousness and judgment of good people may, for a time, be clouded and eclipsed, either by remarkable rebukes of Providence (Job’s great afflictions darkened his righteousness) or by the malicious censures and reproaches of men, who give them bad names which they no way deserve, and lay to their charge things which they know not. Secondly, It is promised that God will, in due time, roll away the reproach they are under, clear up their innocency, and bring forth their righteousness, to their honour, perhaps in this world, at furthest in the great day, Matt. 13:43. Note, If we take care to keep a good conscience, we may leave it to God to take care of our good name.