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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 36

Verses 1-2


‘My heart showeth me the wickdness of the ungodly: that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flattereth himself in his own sight: until his abominable sin be found out.’

Psalms 36:1-2 (Prayer Book Version)

The word ‘guilt,’ like the German ‘schuld,’ means a debt. It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb ‘gildan,’ to pay. How natural the metaphor is we may see from the fact that our Lord chose it in the parable of the unforgiven debtor; and in the Lord’s Prayer He taught us to say, ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ So, too, the metaphor for a man’s redemption is apodosis, the payment of a debt. A guilty man is a man who, being justly chargeable with some crime, has a penalty to pay, either to the laws of his country or to the eternal laws of God, or to both. All have sinned. How does God awaken men from their trance and dream of security?

In various ways. I would ask you to mark them.

I. Sometimes by irretrievable failure in the one high wish or noble end of a man’s wasted life.—When haply you shall desire to accomplish some worthy end, that your life may not be wholly in vain, it may be that words of warning will come back across your mind like a driving gloom, and your fate shall be like that of the young knight seeking the Holy Grail to whom, as everything slipped into ashes before him at a touch, then—

‘The mind of man is a reflecting telescope. The heart is the mirror. The poet finds there a representation of the transgressor. As common in Hebrew poetry, the description is sevenfold—(1) practical atheism, (2) self-flattery, (3) false speech, (4) the loss of power to know the right, (5) evil imagination, (6) a course of doing what is not good, and (7) an acceptance of evil. There is possibly a gradation here. But assuredly by these seven bold strokes there is outlined a terrible portrait of a sinner. No special act is mentioned. It is for the most part the inner life of darkness that is described. The light of the fear of God is gone, and with it the power to understand what is right, and to see conduct in a true light. It is a portrait the lurid colours of which become more evident when carefully studied. Nor is there any mention of judgments or of punishment. The evil is hateful on its own account. It is no superficial view. It reveals a profound knowledge of human nature, going deeper than acts. It is a pre-libation of the morality of Jesus Christ, showing that the inner life of thought and feeling, of darkness and light within, is the true man. This “oracle of the transgression of wicked man” is not the work of an ordinary observer. For real acquaintance with human nature as it is, broken and befouled by the fall, it would be difficult to find a description that can surpass this.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 36". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.