4. O Jehovah! make me to know thy ways, and teach me thy paths. 5. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me; for thou art the God of my salvation: I have waited for thee all the day. 6. Remember, O Jehovah! thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindnesses, for they have been from everlasting. 7. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy compassion, and for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! do thou remember me.
4. O Jehovah! make me to know thy ways. By the ways of the Lord, David sometimes means, as we have seen in another place, the happy and prosperous issue of affairs, but more frequently he uses this expression to denote the rule of a holy and righteous life. As the term truth occurs in the immediately following verse, the prayer which he offers up in this place is, in my opinion, to this effect:Lord, keep thy servant in the firm persuasion of thy promises, and do not suffer him to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. When our minds are thus composed to patience, we undertake nothing rashly or by improper means, but depend wholly upon the providence of God. Accordingly, in this place David desires not merely to be directed by the Spirit of God, lest he should err from the right way, but also that God would clearly manifest to him his truth and faithfulness in the promises of his word, that he might live in peace before him, and be free from all impatience.1 If any one would rather take the words in a general sense, as if David committed himself wholly to God to be governed by him, I do not object to it. As, however, I think it probable, that, under the name of truth in the next verse, he explains what he means by the ways and paths of God, of which he here speaks, I have no hesitation in referring the prayer to this circumstance, namely, that David, afraid of yielding to the feeling of impatience, or the desire of revenge, or some extravagant and unlawful impulse, asks that the promises of God may be deeply impressed and engraven on his heart. For I have said before, that as long as this thought prevails in our minds, that God takes care of us, it is the best and most powerful means for resisting temptations. If, however, by the ways and paths of God, any would rather understand his doctrine, I, nevertheless, still hold this as a settled point, that in the language of the Psalmist there is an allusion to those sudden and irregular emotions which arise in our minds when we are tossed by adversity, and by which we are precipitated into the devious and deceitful paths of error, till they are in due time subdued or allayed by the word of God. Thus the meaning is, Whatever may happen, suffer me not, O Lord, to fall from thy ways, or to be carried away by a wilful disobedience to thy authority, or any other sinful desire; but rather let thy truth preserve me in a state of quiet repose and peace, by an humble submission to it. Moreover, although he frequently repeats the same thing, asking that God would make him to know his ways, and teach him in them, and lead him in his truth, there is no redundancy in these forms of speech. Our adversities are often like mists which darken the eyes; and every one knows from his own experience how difficult a thing it is, while these clouds of darkness continue, to discern in what way we ought to walk. But if David, so distinguished a prophet and endued with so much wisdom, stood in need of divine instruction, what shall become of us if, in our afflictions, God dispel not from our minds those clouds of darkness which prevent us from seeing his light? As often, then, as any temptation may assail us, we ought always to pray that God would make the light of his truth to shine upon us, lest, by having recourse to sinful devices, we should go astray, and wander into devious and forbidden paths.
At the same time, we ought to observe the argument which David here employs to enforce his prayer. By calling God the God of his salvation, he does so in order to strengthen his hope in God for the future, from a consideration of the benefits which he had already received from him; and then he repeats the testimony of his confidence towards God. Thus the first part of the argument is taken from the nature of God himself, and the duty which, as it were, belongs to him; that is to say, because he engages to maintain the welfare of the godly, and aids them in their necessities, on this ground, that he will continue to manifest the same favor towards them even to the end. But as it is necessary that our confidence in God should correspond to his great goodness towards us, David alleges it, at the same time, in connection with a declaration of his perseverance. For, by the expression all the day, or every day, he signifies that with a fixed and untiring constancy he depended upon God alone. And, doubtless, it is the property of faith always to look to God, even in the most trying circumstances, and patiently to wait for the aid which he has promised. That the recollection of the divine blessings may nourish and sustain our hope, let us learn to reflect upon the goodness which God has already manifested towards us, as we see that David did in making this the ground of his confidence, that he had found in his own personal experience God to be the author of salvation.
6. Remember, O Jehovah; From this it appears, in the first place, that David was grievously afflicted and tried, so much so that he had lost all sense of God's mercy:for he calls upon God to remember for him his favor, in such a manner as if he had altogether forgotten it. This, therefore, is the complaint of a man suffering extreme anguish, and overwhelmed with grief. We may learn from this, that although God, for a time, may withdraw from us every token of his goodness, and, apparently regardless of the miseries which afflict us, should, as if we were strangers to him, and not his own people, forsake us, we must fight courageously, until, set free from this temptation, we cordially present the prayer which is here recorded, beseeching God, that, returning to his former manner of dealing, he would again begin to manifest his goodness towards us, and to deal with us in a more gracious manner. This form of prayer cannot be used with propriety, unless when God is hiding his face from us, and seems to take no interest at all in us. Moreover David, by having recourse to the mercy or compassion and goodness of God, testifies that he trusts not to his own merit as any ground of hope. He who derives every thing from the fountain of divine mercy alone, finds nothing in himself entitled to recompense in the sight of God. But as the intermission which David had experienced was an obstacle which prevented his free access to God, he rises above it, by the very best remedy -- the consideration, that although God, who from his very nature is merciful, may withdraw himself, and cease for a time to manifest his power, yet he cannot deny himself; that is to say, he cannot divest himself of the feeling of mercy which is natural to him, and which can no more cease than his eternal existence. But we must firmly maintain this doctrine, that God has been merciful even from the beginning, so that if at any time he seem to act with severity towards us, and to reject our prayers, we must not imagine that he acts contrary to his real character, or that he has changed his purpose. Hence we learn for what end it is that the Scriptures every where inform us, that in all ages God has regarded his servants with a benignant eye, and exercised his mercy towards them.2 This, at least, we ought to regard as a fixed and settled point, that although the goodness of God may sometimes be hidden, and as it were buried out of sight, it can never be extinguished.
7. Remember not the sins of my youth. As our sins are like a wall between us and God, which prevents him from hearing our prayers, or stretching forth his hand to help us, David now removes this obstruction. It is indeed true, in general, that men pray in a wrong way, and in vain, unless they begin by seeking the forgiveness of their sins. There is no hope of obtaining any favor from God unless he is reconciled to us. How shall he love us unless he first freely reconcile us to himself? The right and proper order of prayer therefore is, as I have said, to ask, at the very outset, that God would pardon our sins. David here acknowledges, in explicit terms, that he cannot in any other way become a partaker of the grace of God than by having his sins blotted out. In order, therefore, that God may be mindful of his mercy towards us, it is necessary that he forget our sins, the very sight of which turns away his favor from us. In the meantime, the Psalmist confirms by this more clearly what I have already said, that although the wicked acted towards him with cruelty, and persecuted him unjustly, yet he ascribed to his own sins all the misery which he endured. For why should he ask the forgiveness of his sins, by having recourse to the mercy of God, but because he acknowledged, that by the cruel treatment he received from his enemies, he only suffered the punishment which he justly merited? He has, therefore, acted wisely in turning his thoughts to the first cause of his misery, that he may find out the true remedy; and thus he teaches us by his example, that when any outward affliction presses upon us, we must entreat God not only to deliver us from it, but also to blot out our sins, by which we have provoked his displeasure, and subjected ourselves to his chastening rod. If we act otherwise, we shall follow the example of unskilful physicians, who, overlooking the cause of the disease, only seek to alleviate the pain, and apply merely adventitious remedies for the cure. Moreover, David makes confession not only of some slight offenses, as hypocrites are wont to do, who, by confessing their guilt in a general and perfunctory manner, either seek some subterfuge, or else extenuate the enormity of their sin; but he traces back his sins even to his very childhood, and considers in how many ways he had provoked the wrath of God against him. When he makes mention of the sins which he had committed in his youth, he does not mean by this that he had no remembrance of any of the sins which he had committed in his later years; but it is rather to show that he considered himself worthy of so much the greater condemnation.3 In the first place, considering that he had not begun only of late to commit sin, but that he had for a long time heaped up sin upon sin, he bows himself, if we may so speak, under the accumulated load; and, in the second place, he intimates, that if God should deal with him according to the rigour of law, not only the sins of yesterday, or of a few days, would come into judgment against him, but all the instances in which he had offended, even from his infancy, might now with justice be laid to his charge. As often, therefore, as God terrifies us by his judgments and the tokens of his wrath, let us call to our remembrance, not only the sins which we have lately committed, but also all the transgressions of our past life, proving to us the ground of renewed shame and renewed lamentation. Besides, in order to express more fully that he supplicates a free pardon, he pleads before God only on the ground of his mere good pleasure; and therefore he says, According to thy compassion do thou remember me. When God casts our sins into oblivion, this leads him to behold us with fatherly regard. David can discover no other cause by which to account for this paternal regard of God, but that he is good, and hence it follows that there is nothing to induce God to receive us into his favor but his own good pleasure. When God is said to remember us according to his mercy, we are tacitly given to understand that there are two ways of remembering which are entirely opposite; the one when he visits sinners in his wrath, and the other when he again manifests his favor to those of whom he seemed for a time to take no account.