Behold Samson’s riddle again unriddled, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness; for we have here an account of the good improvement which the psalmist made of that sore temptation with which he had been assaulted and by which he was almost overcome. He that stumbles and does not fall, by recovering himself takes so much the longer steps forward. It was so with the psalmist here; many good lessons he learned from his temptation, his struggles with it, and his victories over it. Nor would God suffer his people to be tempted if his grace were not sufficient for them, not only to save them from harm, but to make them gainers by it; even this shall work for good.
I. He learned to think very humbly of himself and to abase and accuse himself before God (Ps. 73:21, 22); he reflects with shame upon the disorder and danger he was in, and the vexation he gave himself by entertaining the temptation and parleying with it: My heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins, as one afflicted with the acute pain of the stone in the region of the kidneys. If evil thoughts at any time enter into the mind of a good man, he does not roll them under his tongue as a sweet morsel, but they are grievous and painful to him; temptation was to Paul as a thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. 12:7. This particular temptation, the working of envy and discontent, is as painful as any; where it constantly rests it is the rottenness of the bones (Prov. 14:30); where it does but occasionally come it is the pricking of the reins. Fretfulness is a corruption that is its own correction. Now in the reflection upon it, 1. He owns it was his folly thus to vex himself: “So foolish was I to be my own tormentor.” Let peevish people thus reproach themselves for, and shame themselves out of, their discontents. “What a fool am I thus to make myself uneasy without a cause?” 2. He owns it was his ignorance to vex himself at this: “So ignorant was I of that which I might have known, and which, if I had known it aright, would have been sufficient to silence my murmurs. I was as a beast (Behemoth—a great beast) before thee. Beasts mind present things only, and never look before at what is to come; and so did I. If I had not been a great fool, I should never have suffered such a senseless temptation to prevail over me so far. What! to envy wicked men upon account of their prosperity! To be ready to wish myself one of them, and to think of changing conditions with them! So foolish was I.” Note, If good men do at any time, through the surprise and strength of temptation, think, or speak, or act amiss, when they see their error they will reflect upon it with sorrow, and shame, and self-abhorrence, will call themselves fools for it. Surely I am more brutish than any man, Prov. 30:2; Job 42:5, 6. Thus David, 2 Sam. 24:10.
II. He took occasion hence to own his dependence on and obligations to the grace of God (Ps. 73:23): “Nevertheless, foolish as I am, I am continually with thee and in thy favour; thou hast holden me by my right hand.” This may refer either, 1. To the care God had taken of him, and the kindness he had shown him, all along from his beginning hitherto. He had said, in the hour of temptation (Ps. 73:14), All the day long have I been plagued; but here he corrects himself for that passionate complaint: “Though God has chastened me, he has not cast me off; notwithstanding all the crosses of my life, I have been continually with thee; I have had thy presence with me, and thou hast been nigh unto me in all that which I have called upon thee for; and therefore, though perplexed, yet not in despair. Though God has sometimes written bitter things against me, yet he has still holden me by my right hand, both to keep me, that I should not desert him or fly off from him, and to prevent my sinking and fainting under my burdens, or losing my way in the wildernesses through which I have walked.” If we have been kept in the way with God, kept closely in our duty and upheld in our integrity, we must own ourselves indebted to the free grace of God for our preservation: Having obtained help of God, I continue hitherto. And, if he has thus maintained the spiritual life, the earnest of eternal life, we ought not to complain, whatever calamities of this present time we have met with. Or, 2. To the late experience he had had of the power of divine grace in carrying him through this strong temptation and bringing him off a conqueror: “I was foolish and ignorant, and yet thou hast had compassion on me and taught me (Heb. 5:2), and kept me under thy protection;” for the unworthiness of man is no bar to the free grace of God. We must ascribe our safety in temptation, and our victory over it, not to our own wisdom, for we are foolish and ignorant, but to the gracious presence of God with us and the prevalency of Christ’s intercession for us, that our faith may not fail: “My feet were almost gone, and they would have quite gone, past recovery, but that thou hast holden me by my right hand and so kept me from falling.”
III. He encouraged himself to hope that the same God who had delivered him from this evil work would preserve him to his heavenly kingdom, as St. Paul does (2 Tim. 4:18): “I am now upheld by thee, therefore thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, leading me, as thou hast done hitherto, many a difficult step; and, since I am now continually with thee, thou shalt afterwards receive me to glory” Ps. 73:24. This completes the happiness of the saints, so that they have no reason to envy the worldly prosperity of sinners. Note, 1. All those who commit themselves to God shall be guided with his counsel, with the counsel both of his word and of his Spirit, the best counsellors. The psalmist had like to have paid dearly for following his own counsels in this temptation and therefore resolves for the future to take God’s advice, which shall never be wanting to those that duly seek it with a resolution to follow it. 2. All those who are guided and led by the counsel of God in this world shall be received to his glory in another world. If we make God’s glory in us the end we aim at, he will make our glory with him the end we shall for ever be happy in. Upon this consideration, let us never envy sinners, but rather bless ourselves in our own blessedness. If God direct us in the way of our duty, and prevent our turning aside out of it, he will afterwards, when our state of trial and preparation is over, receive us to his kingdom and glory, the believing hopes and prospects of which will reconcile us to all the dark providences that now puzzle and perplex us, and ease us of the pain we have been put into by some threatening temptations.
IV. He was hereby quickened to cleave the more closely to God, and very much confirmed and comforted in the choice he had made of him, Ps. 73:25, 26. His thoughts here dwell with delight upon his own happiness in God, as much greater then the happiness of the ungodly that prospered in the world. He saw little reason to envy them what they had in the creature when he found how much more and better, surer and sweeter, comforts he had in the Creator, and what cause he had to congratulate himself on this account. He had complained of his afflictions (Ps. 73:14); but this makes them very light and easy, All is well if God be mine. We have here the breathings of a sanctified soul towards God, and its repose in him, as that to a godly man really which the prosperity of a worldly man is to him in conceit and imagination: Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is scarcely a verse in all the psalms more expressive than this of the pious and devout affections of a soul to God; here it soars up towards him, follows hard after him, and yet, at the same time, has an entire satisfaction and complacency in him.
1. It is here supposed that God alone is the felicity and chief good of man. He, and he only, that made the soul, can make it happy; there is none in heaven, none in earth, that can pretend to do it besides.
2. Here are expressed the workings and breathings of a soul towards God accordingly. If God be our felicity,
(1.) Then we must have him (Whom have I but thee?), we must choose him, and make sure to ourselves an interest in him. What will it avail us that he is the felicity of souls if he be not the felicity of our souls, and if we do not by a lively faith make him ours, by joining ourselves to him in an everlasting covenant?
(2.) Then our desire must be towards him and our delight in him (the word signifies both); we must delight in what we have of God and desire what we yet further hope for. Our desires must not only be offered up to God, but they must all terminate in him, desiring nothing more than God, but still more and more of him. This includes all our prayers, Lord, give us thyself; as that includes all the promises, I will be to them a God. The desire of our souls is to thy name.
(3.) We must prefer him in our choice and desire before any other. [1.] “There is none in heaven but thee, none to seek to or trust in, none to court or covet acquaintance with, but thee.” God is in himself more glorious than any celestial being (Ps. 89:6), and must be, in our eyes, infinitely more desirable. Excellent beings there are in heaven, but God alone can make us happy. His favour is infinitely more to us than the refreshment of the dews of heaven or the benign influence of the stars of heaven, more than the friendship of the saints in heaven or the good offices of the angels there. [2.] I desire none on earth besides thee; not only none in heaven, a place at a distance, which we have but little acquaintance with, but none on earth neither, where we have many friends and where much of our present interest and concern lie. “Earth carries away the desires of most men, and yet I have none on earth, no persons, no things, no possessions, no delights, that I desire besides thee or with thee, in comparison or competition with thee.” We must desire nothing besides God but what we desire for him (nil praeter te nisi propter te—nothing besides thee except for thy sake), nothing but what we desire from him, and can be content without so that it be made up in him. We must desire nothing besides God as needful to be a partner with him in making us happy.
(4.) Then we must repose ourselves in God with an entire satisfaction, Ps. 73:26. Observe here, [1.] Great distress and trouble supposed: My flesh and my heart fail. Note, Others have experienced and we must expect, the failing both of flesh and heart. The body will fail by sickness, age, and death; and that which touches the bone and the flesh touches us in a tender part, that part of ourselves which we have been but too fond of; when the flesh fails the heart is ready to fail too; the conduct, courage, and comfort fail. [2.] Sovereign relief provided in this distress: But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Note, Gracious souls, in their greatest distresses, rest upon God as their spiritual strength and their eternal portion. First, “He is the strength of my heart, the rock of my heart, a firm foundation, which will bear my weight and not sink under it. God is the strength of my heart; I have found him so; I do so still, and hope ever to find him so.” In the distress supposed, he had put the case of a double failure, both flesh and heart fail; but, in the relief, he fastens on a single support: he leaves out the flesh and the consideration of that, it is enough that God is the strength of his heart. He speaks as one careless of the body (let that fail, there is no remedy), but as one concerned about the soul, to be strengthened in the inner man. Secondly, “He is my portion for ever; he will not only support me while I am here, but make me happy when I go hence.” The saints choose God for their portion, they have him for their portion, and it is their happiness that he will be their portion, a portion that will last as long as the immortal soul lasts.
V. He was fully convinced of the miserable condition of all wicked people. This he learned in the sanctuary upon this occasion, and he would never forget it (Ps. 73:27): “Lo, those that are far from thee, in a state of distance and estrangement, that desire the Almighty to depart from them, shall certainly perish; so shall their doom be; they choose to be far from God, and they shall be far from him for ever. Thou wilt justly destroy all those that go a whoring from thee, that is, all apostates, that in profession have been betrothed to God, but forsake him, their duty to him and their communion with him, to embrace the bosom of a stranger.” The doom is sever, no less than perishing and being destroyed. It is universal: “They shall all be destroyed without exception.” It is certain: “Thou hast destroyed; it is as sure to be done as if done already; and the destruction of some ungodly men is an earnest of the perdition of all.” God himself undertakes to do it, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall: “Thou, though infinite in goodness, wilt reckon for thy injured honour and abused patience, and wilt destroy those that go a whoring from thee.”
VI. He was greatly encouraged to cleave to God and to confide in him, Ps. 73:28. If those that are far from God shall perish, then, 1. Let this constrain us to live in communion with God; “if it fare so ill with those that live at a distance from him, then it is good, very good, the chief good, that good for a man, in this life, which he should most carefully pursue and secure, it is best for me to draw near to God, and to have God draw near to me;” the original may take in both. But for my part (so I would read it) the approach of God is good for me. Our drawing near to God takes rise from his drawing near to us, and it is the happy meeting that makes the bliss. Here is a great truth laid down, That it is good to draw near to God; but the life of it lies in the application, “It is good for me.” Those are the wise who know what is good for themselves: “It is good, says he (and every good man agrees with him in it), it is good for me to draw near to God; it is my duty; it is my interest.” 2. Let us therefore live in a continual dependence upon him: “I have put my trust in the Lord God, and will never go a whoring from him after any creature confidences.” If wicked men, notwithstanding all their prosperity, shall perish and be destroyed, then let us trust in the Lord God, in him, not in them (see Ps. 146:3-5), in him, and not in our worldly prosperity; let us trust in God, and neither fret at them nor be afraid of them; let us trust in him for a better portion than theirs is. 3. While we do so, let us not doubt but that we shall have occasion to praise his name. Let us trust in the Lord, that we may declare all his works. Note, Those that with an upright heart put their trust in God shall never want matter for thanksgiving to him.