Bible Commentaries
Psalms 16

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2

Psalms 16:1-2

That we may see the wondrous blessedness of this mighty gift of God Himself, given by Himself to us, let us investigate one simple question: Wherein does true happiness consist?

I. Is it not above all in that which, in the highest sense of the word, we may call rest? This is no inactive, useless state. So far from it, is it not then, above all, when the man is thus at rest that he has really the best chance of developing all that is in him, and bringing all his talents to perfection? As on the imperturbed calmness of night the growth of all things seems to depend, so the man, unruffled by agitating passions and wearing anxieties, can then best expand his nature and fulfil the object of his being.

II. This rest, this power of being at rest, belongs, of all the functions of man's being, to the heart alone, or, in other words, to the seat of his affections. And why? Because love satisfies the heart, and the heart can love, yea, is such that it can love Him who, being Himself infinite, is, if only He gives Himself to be loved, at once and for ever all that love can crave. By the sense of utter blankness which the heart experiences when it loves not, by the absolute incapacity of all earthly things to fill it, by its own strong cravings and yearnings, we learn that it is God's will that its real and best affections should be concentrated on Him alone. Even as the needle rests from its strange, uneasy trembling then only when it points true to the pole, so the heart can then only be at rest when it is filled with the love of God.

III. This then is the reward of God's faithful people. This loving God, all-wise, all-tender, all-sympathetic, all-great, all-sufficing, revealing Himself as Man to man, is He who gives Himself to the human heart to satisfy its longing for love. He who made the heart such that it yearns after Him and can find no peace but in Him, Himself becomes its portion. God is the reward of His people (1) in life; (2) in death; (3) in eternity. "At Thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore."

W. J. Butler, Cambridge Lent Sermons, 1864, p. 225.

References: Psalms 16:0 Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xx., p. 206; J. Hammond, Expositor, 1st series, vol. iv., p. 341; I. Williams, The Psalms Interpreted of Christ, p. 279.

Verse 3

Psalms 16:3

The history of mankind, whether secular or religious, resolves itself ultimately into the history of a few individuals. God carries out His work of continuous redemption by the energy of the chosen few. Into their hearts He pours the power of His Spirit; upon their heads He lays the hands of His consecration. The deliverance of men has never been wrought by the multitude, always by the individual.

From this method of God's working we may learn:

I. The secret, and the sole secret, of moral power. What was it which again and again overcame the world? Was it not faith, showing itself by self-sacrifice? Is not that secret open to the knowledge, feasible to the practice, of every one of us?

II. We may notice, secondly, that the work of these saints of God, being always and necessarily human, is never permanent in its results. Christianity is no stereotyped system; it is no human theology; as such it is nothing; only as a Divine effort, only as an eternal progress, only as a living force, only as an inspiring, continuous effort, can Christianity regenerate the world.

III. Notice that the apparent failures were never absolute. No good man, no saint of God, has ever lived or died in vain. The seed is not quickened except it die; even in its death, but only by its death, comes the promise of the golden grain. Heaven is for those who have failed on earth.

F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 337 (see also In the Days of thy Youth, p. 337, and Sermons and Addresses in America, p. 185).

Reference: Psalms 16:3 . S. W. Skeffington, Our Sins or our Saviour, p. 270; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 307. Psalms 16:5 . G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 19.

Verses 5-6

Psalms 16:5-6

I. The first thought that comes out of the words before us is this: All true religion has its very heart in deliberately choosing God as our supreme good. (1) The highest form of possession even of things is when they minister to our thought, to our emotion, to our moral and intellectual growth. We possess even them really according as we know them and hold communion with them. But when we get up into the regions of persons, we possess them in the measure in which we understand them, and sympathise with them, and love them. A friend or a lover owns the heart that he or she loves, and which loves back again; and not otherwise do we possess God. (2) This possession of God involves, and is possible only by, a deliberate act of renunciation. There must be a giving up of the material and the created if there is to be a possession of the Divine and the heavenly. Remember that nothing less than these are Christianity: the conviction that the world is second, and not first; that God is best, love is best, truth is best, knowledge of Him is best, likeness to Him is best, the willingness to surrender all if it come in contest with His supreme sweetness.

II. Notice the second point that is here, viz., that this possession is as sure as God can make it. "Thou maintainest my lot." (1) The Divine power surrounds the man who chooses God for his heritage, and nothing shall take that heritage from him. (2) He will help us, so that no temptations shall have power to make us rob ourselves of our treasure.

III. He who thus elects to find his treasure and delight in God is satisfied with his choice. "The lines are fallen in pleasant places; yea, the heritage is goodly to me. "

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 1st series, p. 205.

References: Psalms 16:6 . J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., pp. 289, 312, 321, 376, 387; W. M. Statham, Ibid., vol. xxv., p. 180.

Verse 8

Psalms 16:8

This text is not the exclamation of a man to whom a truth has come as a flash; it is the deliberate outcome of a long and varied retrospect.

I. God will not be, in any true sense, before our face unless we set Him there. It is a matter which involves our determination and effort, a matter of special training and practice.

II. This having God before the face requires persistency. The Psalmist tells us, not only of an act, but of a habit: "I have set the Lord always before my face."

III. One who thus keeps God before him makes discoveries. (1) He finds himself revealed. (2) Setting God before our face carries with it a power of growth. (3) It engenders hope. "Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 59.

It will be admitted that few men get out of the powers with which they are endowed all they might get. And the reason is, their lives proceed without rule or system. They do not constrain the various forces of their nature into one direction, nor fling them with concentrated intensity on their object. Dissipation is the parent of mediocrity, because there is neither government, nor concentration, nor dominant idea in men's lives.

I. A dominant idea is an idea which has taken such firm hold of the mind, that it necessarily presents itself along with any other idea that may arise, passes judgment upon it, and either allows it free course, or condemns it to inactivity and ultimate suppression. Restraining ruling ideas spring up naturally. The motions are the first parents of ideas. But early in man's history, as in each individual life, is felt the force of some checking idea. Primitive man hears a voice rebuking mere animal desire, which says, "Thou shalt not eat of it," and the moment that voice is heard a moral nature has arisen and heaven becomes possible. But in many cases these intellectual centres, whose presence within us indicates our claim to be men, seem to arise accidentally, to be the product rather of external circumstances than of internal intention. They form almost without our notice. Side by side grow up other centres, quite unconnected with the former. At one time action is governed by one centre, and at another by another, and this is why we see the strange contradictions which surprise us in the lives of so many men. Instead of our lives being like some well-ordered State, they are more like mob anarchy, twisted and twirled by the last breath and the latest appeal a shapeless jumble of good, bad, and indifferent.

II. How are we to get rid of this state of things? It is a question we ought to settle even if there be no God at all. To be trundled into a grave by anybody who will deign to give us a push is not a very fine business for the heirs of all the ages. This; anarchy must be made to cease by setting up some governing authority endowed with absolute power. We must make our chosen idea into an established monarchy. We must determine to bring it before the mind every day. We must settle with ourselves that that one thing must be recalled whatever else is forgotten.

III. What shall be our dominant idea? The most natural, the most necessary, the most regulating, the most inspiring, idea is that of God. The idea of God is our birthright, but it is for us to make it dominant, that a new order may arise in what has been a moral chaos. Where God is sin cannot be, and where God is all beauty must be. Let this idea but become dominant, a new heaven and a new earth will arise, wherein dwelleth righteousness, and speckled vanity will sicken soon and die. "Time will run back and fetch the age of gold."

W. Page-Roberts, Oxford Undergraduates' Journal, June 10th, 1880.

References: Psalms 16:8 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1305; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 18. Psalms 16:8-10 . Archbishop Thomson, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, p. 62.Psalms 16:8-11 . A. Maclaren, Sunday Magazine, 1881, p. 738. Psalms 16:9 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 52.

Verses 9-10

Psalms 16:9-10

I. Although the sacred Scriptures teach us to think nothing of temporal death but merely as a sleep, while they would beyond all things impress on our minds a sense of the day of judgment and that which is to follow it, yet the little that is told us of the state of our souls before the day of the judgment, and immediately when they depart from the body, is of itself very deeply affecting, and awful. We know "the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand," saith the Lord. They live unto God; they are in the place where the soul of Christ has been; they are with Christ; they are blessed beyond all earthly blessedness. And the unfaithful and disobedient also, they are immediately in a place from whence they cannot get forth, and a place of woe far more miserable than any suffering in this world.

II. Since therefore there are two states so important to us, in one of which we shall continue to be until the great day of final retribution, we know not how much of mercy and goodness and how much benefit to us may be contained in this one article of the Creed, that Christ descended into the place of the dead. By His descent into hell He has sanctified and blessed the place of our souls; every trial in this world He has sanctified by His own example and by His presence upon earth, showing the bright light of His footsteps going before, nor does He leave us when we depart into that unknown and dark world of spirits; but when earth is departing from beneath our feet, then we feel His hand and hear His voice, saying, "It is I: be not afraid."

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times, " vol. ix., p. 120,

Verse 10

Psalms 16:10

I. This verse proves most expressly the truth of our Saviour's human soul and body; proves that as He took on Himself, really and truly, the substance of our nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, and lived and died in all respects a Man, sin only and sinful infirmity excepted, so also in His unseen state He continued to be a Man among men. His Divine soul went where other souls go; His precious body lay for a while in the grave, like other bodies. We know now for certain that souls departed and bodies in the grave, be they where they may, are within the merciful care of Him who is both God and man. He cannot fail to provide for them, for He has Himself gone through their condition, and can be touched with a feeling of what they require, as of all the other infirmities and imperfections of such a frail being as man.

II. Our comfort on further consideration will be found still more distinctly expressed. David's expectation is, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell," i.e., in the dark, unseen state. But when our Lord Himself spoke of it, His word was not "hell," but "Paradise." What the actual blessings of Paradise are Holy Scripture nowhere explains; but thus much it gives us to understand: that the holy souls there are with Christ, in some sense, so near and so blessed, that St. Paul most earnestly desired to depart thither. He knew well what he wrote, for, besides the especial teaching of the Holy Ghost, he had himself been caught up into Paradise, and found it, not a mere place for taking of rest in quiet sleep, but a place where heavenly thought can be exercised and heavenly words spoken in such perfection as is unutterable on earth.

III. The words of the text intimate that, however happy and comfortable soever the Paradise of the dead may be, it is not a place of final perfection, but a place of waiting for something better, a region, not of enjoyment, but of assured peace and hope. For so much is hinted in that God is thanked and glorified for not leaving our Saviour's soul in that place. It was an act of His mighty power, to whom all things bow and obey, to open for the soul of Jesus Christ the doors of that happy, though as yet imperfect, abode, and to make a way for His final and unspeakable exaltation by again uniting that soul to His blessed body.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ii., p. 73.

Without all question, this prophecy belongs in an especial sense to our Lord and Saviour. Yet we may, without presumption, go on to consider these heavenly promises as spoken to ourselves and to all who are in covenant with God through Jesus Christ. David spoke here in the sense of prophecy, and very likely was far from knowing himself the full meaning of all that he said. Still he could not mean less than this, that he had a fair and reasonable hope of being somehow delivered from the power of death and made partaker of heavenly joys in the more immediate presence of God.

I. We see here what kind of persons may reasonably hope to persevere in welldoing and in God's favour, namely, those who make it a rule to live always as in God's especial presence. "I have set God always before me, for He is on my right hand; therefore I shall not fall." If you want to have a cheerful and rational dependence on your own continuance in welldoing, this one thing you must do: you must set God always before you. You must never act as if you were alone in the world, as if you were out of His sight by whom only you are in the world at all.

II. If a man were endeavouring to keep on that safe ground of assurance reasonable hope, grounded on habitual obedience then he might without presumption look for the other comforts mentioned in the Psalm. He might indulge in a calm and reverential joy of heart, such as David's when he sang, "Wherefore my heart was glad," such as that of the holy women when on Easter morning they saw the angels and "departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy."

III. Next, the Psalmist notices as another, the greatest of all fruits of holy trust in the Almighty, that it causes our very "flesh " that is, our mortal body to "rest in hope." It makes sleep quiet and secure. It takes out the sting of death. The chiefest of all privileges is to have hope in the grave, hope that through Him to whom these sacred promises belong of right our souls shall not be left in hell, in that dark, unknown condition to which, before the coming of Christ, the name of "hell" was usually given. The unseen region where the soul is to lodge is the place where once the spirit of our Saviour abode, and is therefore under His special protection. Thus we know how to think of the graves of our friends, and of those which are to be our own. We need not waste ourselves in ignorant and childish bewailings, but calmly and firmly trust, our friends to His care whose they are and whom they faithfully served.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. ii., p. 82.

References: Psalms 16:10 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 57; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xviii., p. 215; C. Stanford, From Calvary to Olivet, p. 24; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 308; Ibid., 2nd series, vol. vii., p. 40. Psalms 16:11 . J. Taylor, Saturday Evening, pp. 298, 314; H. Moffatt, Church Sermons, vol. i., p. 49.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 16". "Sermon Bible Commentary".