The title of this psalm is very observable; it is a psalm to bring to remembrance; the 70th psalm, which was likewise penned in a day of affliction, is so entitled. It is designed, 1. To bring to his own remembrance. We will suppose it penned when he was sick and in pain, and then it teaches us that times of sickness are times to bring to remembrance, to bring the sin to remembrance, for which God contended with us, to awaken our consciences to deal faithfully and plainly with us, and set our sins in order before us, for our humiliation. In a day of adversity consider. Or we may suppose it penned after his recovery, but designed as a record of the convictions he was under and the workings of his heart when he was in affliction, that upon every review of this psalm he might call to mind the good impressions then made upon him and make a fresh improvement of them. To the same purport was the writing of Hezekiah when he had been sick. 2. To put others in mind of the same things which he was himself mindful of, and to teach them what to think and what to say when they are sick and in affliction; let them think as he did, and speak as he did.
I. He deprecates the wrath of God and his displeasure in his affliction (Ps. 38:1): O Lord! rebuke me not in thy wrath. With this same petition he began another prayer for the visitation of the sick, Ps. 6:1. This was most upon his heart, and should be most upon ours when we are in affliction, that, however God rebukes and chastens us, it may not be in wrath and displeasure, for that will be wormwood and gall in the affliction and misery. Those that would escape the wrath of God must pray against that more than any outward affliction, and be content to bear any outward affliction while it comes from, and consists with, the love of God.
II. He bitterly laments the impressions of God’s displeasure upon his soul (Ps. 38:2): Thy arrows stick fast in me. Let Job’s complaint (Job 7:4) expound this of David. By the arrows of the Almighty he means the terrors of God, which did set themselves in array against him. He was under a very melancholy frightful apprehension of the wrath of God against him for his sins, and thought he could look for nothing but judgment and fiery indignation to devour him. God’s arrows, as they are sure to hit the mark, so they are sure to stick where they hit, to stick fast, till he is pleased to draw them out and to bind up with his comforts the wound he has made with his terrors. This will be the everlasting misery of the damned—the arrows of God’s wrath will stick fast in them and the wound will be incurable. “Thy hand, thy heavy hand, presses me sore, and I am ready to sink under it; it not only lies hard upon me, but it lies long; and who knows the power of God’s anger, the weight of his hand?” Sometimes God shot his arrows, and stretched forth his hand, for David (Ps. 18:4), but now against him; so uncertain is the continuance of divine comforts, where yet the continuance of divine grace is assured. He complains of God’s wrath as that which inflicted the bodily distemper he was under (Ps. 38:3): There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy anger. The bitterness of it, infused in his mind, affected his body; but that was not the worst: it caused the disquietude of his heart, by reason of which he forgot the courage of a soldier, the dignity of a prince, and all the cheerfulness of the sweet psalmist of Israel, and roared terribly, Ps. 38:8. Nothing will disquiet the heart of a good man so much as the sense of God’s anger, which shows what a fearful thing it is to fall into his hands. The way to keep the heart quiet is to keep ourselves in the love of God and to do nothing to offend him.
III. He acknowledges his sin to be the procuring provoking cause of all his troubles, and groans more under the load of guilt than any other load, Ps. 38:3. He complains that his flesh had no soundness, his bones had no rest, so great an agitation he was in. “It is because of thy anger; that kindles the fire which burns so fiercely;” but, in the next words, he justifies God herein, and takes all the blame upon himself: “It is because of my sin. I have deserved it, and so have brought it upon myself. My own iniquities do correct me.” If our trouble be the fruit of God’s anger, we may thank ourselves; it is our sin that is the cause of it. Are we restless? It is sin that makes us so. If there were not sin in our souls, there would be no pain in our bones, no illness in our bodies. It is sin therefore that this good man complains most of, 1. As a burden, a heavy burden (Ps. 38:4): “My iniquities have gone over my head, as proud waters over a man that is sinking and drowning, or as a heavy burden upon my head, pressing me down more than I am able to bear or to bear up under.” Note, Sin is a burden. The power of sin dwelling in us is a weight, Heb. 12:1. All are clogged with it; it keeps men from soaring upward and pressing forward. All the saints are complaining of it as a body of death they are loaded with, Rom. 7:24. The guilt of sin committed by us is a burden, a heavy burden; it is a burden to God (he is pressed under it, Amos 2:13), a burden to the whole creation, which groans under it, Rom. 8:21, 22. It will, first or last, be a burden to the sinner himself, either a burden of repentance when he is pricked to the heart for it, labours, and is heavy-laden, under it, or a burden of ruin when it sinks him to the lowest hell and will for ever detain him there; it will be a talent of lead upon him, Zech. 5:8. Sinners are said to bear their iniquity. Threatenings are burdens. 2. As wounds, dangerous wounds (Ps. 38:5): “My wounds stink and are corrupt (as wounds in the body rankle, and fester, and grow foul, for want of being dressed and looked after), and it is through my own foolishness.” Sins are wounds (Gen. 4:23), painful mortal wounds. Our wounds by sin are often in a bad condition, no care taken of them, no application made to them, and it is owing to the sinner’s foolishness in not confessing sin, Ps. 32:3, 4. A slight sore, neglected, may prove of fatal consequence, and so may a slight sin slighted and left unrepented of.
IV. He bemoans himself because of his afflictions, and gives ease to his grief by giving vent to it and pouring out his complaint before the Lord.
1. He was troubled in mind, his conscience was pained, and he had no rest in his own spirit; and a wounded spirit who can bear? He was troubled, or distorted, bowed down greatly, and went mourning all the day long, Ps. 38:6. He was always pensive and melancholy, which made him a burden and terror to himself. His spirit was feeble and sorely broken, and his heart disquieted, Ps. 38:8. Herein David, in his sufferings, was a type of Christ, who, being in his agony, cried out, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful. This is a sorer affliction than any other in this world; whatever God is pleased to lay upon us, we have no reason to complain as long as he preserves to us the use of our reason and the peace of our consciences.
2. He was sick and weak in body; his loins were filled with a loathsome disease, some swelling, or ulcer, or inflammation (some think a plague-sore, such as Hezekiah’s boil), and there was no soundness in his flesh, but, like Job, he was all over distempered. See (1.) What vile bodies these are which we carry about with us, what grievous diseases they are liable to, and what an offence and grievance they may soon be made by some diseases to the souls that animate them, as they always are a cloud and clog. (2.) That the bodies both of the greatest and of the best of men have in them the same seeds of diseases that the bodies of others have, and are liable to the same disasters. David himself, though so great a prince and so great a saint, was not exempt from the most grievous diseases: there was no soundness even in his flesh. Probably this was after his sin in the matter of Uriah, and thus did he smart in his flesh for his fleshly lusts. When, at any time, we are distempered in our bodies, we ought to remember how God has been dishonoured in and by our bodies. He was feeble and sorely broken, Ps. 38:8. His heart panted, and was in a continual palpitation, Ps. 38:10. His strength and limbs failed him. As for the light of his eyes, that had gone from him, either with much weeping or by a defluxion of rheum upon them, or perhaps through the lowness of his spirits and the frequent returns of fainting. Note, Sickness will tame the strongest body and the stoutest spirit. David was famed for his courage and great exploits; and yet, when God contended with him by bodily sickness and the impressions of his wrath upon his mind, his hair is cut, his heart fails him, and he becomes weak as water. Therefore let not the strongman glory in his strength, nor any man set grief at defiance, however it may be thought at a distance.
3. His friends were unkind to him (Ps. 38:11): My lovers (such as had been merry with him in the day of his mirth) now stand aloof from my sore; they would not sympathize with him in his griefs, nor so much as come within hearing of his complaints, but, like the priest and Levite (Luke 10:31), passed on the other side. Even his kinsmen, that were bound to him by blood and alliance, stood afar off. See what little reason we have to trust in man or to wonder if we disappointed in our expectations of kindness from men. Adversity tries friendship, and separates between the precious and the vile. It is our wisdom to make sure a friend in heaven, who will not stand aloof from our sore and from whose love no tribulation nor distress shall be able to separate us. David, in his troubles, was a type of Christ in his agony, Christ, on his cross, feeble and sorely broken, and then deserted by his friends and kinsmen, who beheld afar off.
V. In the midst of his complaints, he comforts himself with the cognizance God graciously took both of his griefs and of his prayers (Ps. 38:9): “Lord, all my desire is before thee. Thou knowest what I want and what I would have: My groaning is not hidden from thee. Thou knowest the burdens I groan under and the blessings I groan after.” The groanings which cannot be uttered are not hidden from him that searches the heart and knows what is the mind of the Spirit, Rom. 8:26, 27.
In singing this, and praying it over, whatever burden lies upon our spirits, we would by faith cast it upon God, and all our care concerning it, and then be easy.