8. Good and upright is Jehovah; therefore will he teach sinners in the way. 9. He will guide the poor in judgment, and will teach the poor1 his way. 10. All the ways of Jehovah are mercy and truth, to those who keep his covenant and his testimony. 11. For thy name's sake, O Jehovah! be thou merciful to mine iniquity, for it is great.
8. Good and upright is Jehovah. Pausing for a little as it were in the prosecution of his prayer, he exercises his thoughts in meditation upon the goodness of God, that he may return with renewed ardor to prayer. The faithful feel that their hearts soon languish in prayer, unless they are constantly stirring themselves up to it by new incitements; so rare and difficult a thing is it to persevere steadfastly and unweariedly in this duty. And, indeed, as one must frequently lay on fuel in order to preserve a fire, so the exercise of prayer requires the aid of such helps, that it may not languish, and at length be entirely extinguished. David, therefore, desirous to encourage himself to perseverance, speaks to himself, and affirms that God is good and upright, that, gathering new strength by meditating on this truth, he may return with the more alacrity to prayer. But we must observe this consequence -- that as God is good and upright, he stretches forth his hand to sinners to bring them back again into the way. To attribute to God an uprightness which he may exercise only towards the worthy and the meritorious, is a cold view of his character, and of little advantage to sinners, and yet the world commonly apprehends that God is good in no other sense. How comes it to pass that scarcely one in a hundred applies to himself the mercy of God, if it is not because men limit it to those who are worthy of it? No on the contrary, it is here said, that God gives a proof of his uprightness when he shows to transgressors the way; and this is of the same import as to call them to repentance, and to teach them to live uprightly. And, indeed, if the goodness of God did not penetrate even to hell, no man would ever become a partaker of it. Let the Papists then boast as they please of their imaginary preparations, but let us regard this as a sure and certain doctrine, that if God do not prevent men by his grace, they shall all utterly perish. David, therefore, here commends this preventing grace, as it is called, which is manifested either when God in calling us at first renews, by the Spirit of regeneration, our corrupt nature, or when he brings us back again into the right way, after we have gone astray from him by our sins. For since even those whom God receives for his disciples are here called sinners, it follows that he renews them by his Holy Spirit that they may become docile and obedient.
9. He will guide the poor in judgment. The Psalmist here specifies the second manifestation of his grace which God makes towards those who, being subdued by his power, and brought under his yoke, bear it willingly, and submit themselves to his government. But never will this docility be found in any man, until the heart, which is naturally elated and filled with pride, has been humbled and subdued. As the Hebrew word Mywne, anavim, denotes the poor or afflicted, and is employed in a metaphorical sense, to denote the meek and humble, it is probable that David, under this term, includes the afflictions which serve to restrain and subdue the frowardness of the flesh, as well as the grace of humility itself; as if he had said, When God has first humbled them, then he kindly stretches forth his hand to them, and leads and guides them throughout the whole course of their life. Moreover, some understand these terms, judgment and way of the Lord, as denoting a righteous and well ordered manner of life. Others refer them to the providence of God, an interpretation which seems more correct, and more agreeable to the context, for it is immediately added, All the ways of Jehovah are mercy and truth. The meaning therefore is, that those who are truly humbled in their hearts, and brought to place their confidence in God, shall experience how much care he has for his children,2 and how well he provides for their necessities. The terms, judgment and way of the Lord, therefore, are simply of the same import in this place as his government, in the exercise of which he shows that he, as a kind father, has a special interest in the welfare of his children, by relieving them when they are oppressed, raising them up when cast down, cheering and comforting them when sorrowful, and succouring them when afflicted. We perceive, then, by what order God proceeds in the manifestation of his grace towards us. First, he brings us again into the way when we are wandering and going astray from him, or rather, when we are already fugitives and exiles from him, he restrains our frowardness; and whereas we were before froward and rebellious, he now subdues us to the obedience of his righteousness:and, secondly, after he has afflicted and tried us, he does not forsake us; but after he has moulded and trained us by the cross to humility and meekness, he still shows himself to be a wise and provident father in guiding and directing us through life.
10. All the ways of Jehovah. This verse is erroneously interpreted by those who think that the doctrine of the law is here described as true and sweet, and that those who keep it feel it indeed to be so, as if this passage were of the same import as that which was spoken by Jesus Christ,
"My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Such an interpretation is not only strained, but may also be easily disproved by many similar passages in which the expression, The ways of the Lord, is taken in a passive signification, for the paternal manner in which he acts towards those who are his people, in defending and cherishing them; nay, even for his whole conduct in the government and direction of the affairs of this world. The amount of what is said is, that God acts in such a manner towards his people, as that, in all respects, they may find from experience that he is merciful and faithful. David is not here speaking of the character in which God acts towards mankind in general, but what his own children find him to be. We have already seen in Psalm 18:26, that he is stern and severe towards the obstinate and rebellious; and even though he act with kindness towards them, in mercifully exercising forbearance towards them notwithstanding their iniquity, yet we find, that so far from seeking their full enjoyment in him, and trusting to his promises, they have no sense of his goodness. Nay, as soon as any adversity befalls them, they either become passionate and fretful, accuse God of acting cruelly towards them, or else complain that he is deaf to their prayers; and when they enjoy prosperity, they despise and neglect him, and as much as they are able flee from his presence. David, therefore, in speaking of the mercy and faithfulness of God, justly describes them as a treasure peculiar to the godly; as if he had said, We have no reason to be afraid that God will deceive us if we persevere in his covenant. These words, covenant and testimony, are of the same import, unless that the second is added as an explanation of the first. They comprehend the whole doctrine of the law, by which God enters into covenant with his chosen people.
11. For thy name's sake, O Jehovah! As in the original text the copulative and is inserted between the two clauses of this verse, some think that the first clause is incomplete, and that some word ought to be supplied; and then they read these words, Be thou merciful to mine iniquity, etc., as a distinct sentence by itself. And thus, according to their opinion, the sense would be, Lord, although I have not fully kept thy covenant, yet do not on that account cease to show thy kindness towards me; and that mine iniquity may not prevent thy goodness from being extended towards me, do thou graciously pardon it. But I am rather of the opinion of others, who consider that the copulative is here, as it is in many other places, superfluous, so that the whole verse may form one connected sentence. As to the tense of the verb, there is also a diversity of opinion among interpreters. Some render it in the past tense thus, Thou hast been merciful, as if David here renders thanks to God because he had pardoned his sin. But the other interpretation, which is the one more generally received, is also the most correct, namely, that David, in order to obtain pardon, again resorts to the mercy of God as his only refuge. The letter w, vau, which is equivalent to and, has often the force of changing the tense in the Hebrew verbs, so that the future tense is often taken in the sense of the optative. Moreover, I connect this verse with the preceding one in this way:The prophet, having reflected upon this, that God is kind and faithful to those who serve him, now examines his own heart, and acknowledges that he cannot be accounted of their number, unless God grant unto him the forgiveness of his sins; and, therefore, he betakes himself to prayer for pardon:as in Psalm 19:13, after having spoken of the reward which is laid up for the faithful who keep the law, he instantly exclaims, "Who can understand his errors?" Accordingly, although David is not ignorant that God promises liberally to bestow upon those who keep his covenant every thing which pertains to a life of happiness, yet, at the same time, considering how far he is as yet from the perfect righteousness of the law, he does not rest his confidence upon it, but seeks a remedy for the manifold offenses of which he feels himself to be guilty. And thus, in order that God may reckon us of the number of his servants, we ought always to come to him, entreating him, after the example of David, in his fatherly loving-kindness, to bear with our infirmities, because, without the free remission of our sins, we have no reason to expect any reward of our works. At the same time, let it be observed, that in order to show more distinctly that he depends entirely upon the free grace of God, he expressly says, for thy name's sake; meaning by this, that God, as often as he vouchsafes to pardon his people, does so from no other cause than his own good pleasure; just as he had said a little before, in the same verse, for thy goodness' sake. He was also constrained, by a consideration of the magnitude of his offense, to call upon the name of God:for he immediately adds, by way of confession, because mine iniquity is great, or manifold, (for the word br, rab, may be translated in both ways;) as if he had said, My sins are, indeed, like a heavy burden which overwhelms me, so that the multitude or enormity of them might well deprive me of all hope of pardon; but, Lord, the infinite glory of thy name will not suffer thee to cast me off.