The psalm divides itself into four portions:
the first ( Psalms 103:1-5 ) an outburst of praise for blessings granted by God to each man severally;
the second ( Psalms 103:6-14 ) an enumeration of his loving kindnesses towards his Church as a whole;
the third ( Psalms 103:15-18 ) a representation of man's weakness and dependence on God; and
the fourth ( Psalms 103:19-22 ) a glance at God's unchanging glory, and a call upon all his creation to bless and worship him.
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities. This is the first and greatest of "benefits," and is therefore placed first, as that for which we ought, above all else, to bless God. God's forgiveness of sin is a frequent topic with the psalmists (see Psalms 25:11 , Psalms 25:18 ; Psalms 32:1 ; Psalms 51:9 ; Psalms 85:2 ; Psalms 86:5 , etc.). Who healeth all thy diseases. This is best understood literally—not as mere "parallelism." Among the greatest blessings which we receive of God is recovery from sickness.
God's goodness to ourselves.
The psalmist begins by addressing himself; he has before him his own personal experience during a long (or lengthening) life; and he finds ample reason for full, heartfelt gratitude. Of the "benefits" he has received, he gives—
I. A RECITAL OF THEM . They include:
1 . The Divine mercy when he has sinned ( Psalms 103:3 ). These sins have been
2 . Divine restoration. ( Psalms 103:3 , latter part, and 4.) And this is inclusive of
3 . All the loving kindnesses which make life beautiful and glad ( Psalms 103:4 ). The excellency of human love, the comforts of home life, the sacred joy of worship.
4 . The continuance of Divine protection and replenishment to later life ( Psalms 103:5 ). God had satisfied his prime (marginal reading, Revised Version) with good things—had so visited and renewed him in his manhood, that now, instead of a growing feebleness, he felt the vigour and hopefulness of youth; perhaps he was far enough on the way to be said to be "still bringing forth fruit in old age." He calls on himself to cherish—
II. A REMEMBRANCE OF THEM . "Forget not," etc. ( Psalms 103:2 ). Antecedently that seems impossible; certainly in the case of any one claiming to be devout. Yet it is quite possible for us to be
III. FULL - VOICED AND FULL - HEARTED UTTERANCE OF PRAISE . ( Psalms 103:1 , Psalms 103:2 .) God's praise is not to be rendered by an occasional and formal "returning of thanks" either at the table or in the church. It is to be a daily offering, and one that comes from the heart as well as from the lips. "All that is within us," the whole range of our faculties, is to combine to speak and to sing his praise. Gratitude to God for his abiding and abounding goodness to us, both as citizens of this world and as his children, should be a very leading and powerful factor in our soul, making our character beautiful with spiritual worth, and our life resonant with holy song.
A pattern of praise.
This psalm is all praise; there is no supplication in it. It has helped myriads to praise God, and the secret of such help is that the psalmist was himself filled with the spirit of praise, and it is the blessed contagion of that spirit that helps us today as in the days of old. And it is a pattern of all true praise. It is so in these ways.
I. IN ITS OBJECT .
1 . It is praise of the Lord. All is addressed to him, and is for him.
2 . And in his holiness. "Bless his holy Name." What a happy fact this reveals as to the psalmist and all who sincerely adopt his words! We can bless God for his beneficence and mercy and goodness, but only a holy soul can bless him for his holiness. Such soul delights not merely in the kind acts of God, but in the pure and perfect character of God.
II. ITS METHODS . It shows us how we should praise the Lord.
1 . Personally. "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" It is not a work to be handed over to any choir or any people whatsoever. It is to be our own personal work.
2 . Spiritual. It is to be the soul's work. Poetic speech, eloquent phrase, beautiful music, skilled song,—all count for nothing if the soul be not in the work.
3 . Whole hearted. "All that is within me." Intellect, memory, imagination, affection, will, all the energies of our spiritual nature, should be engaged.
4 . With set purpose. See how he calls on himself, stirs himself up to this holy work, repeats his exhortation and protests against that one chief cause—forgetfulness—of our failure to render praise. "Forget not any of his benefits." This is how we should praise the Lord.
III. ITS REASON . He tells wherefore we should bless the Lord.
1 . For forgiveness. This our first necessity; all else avails not without that.
2 . For the healing of the soul. It would be but a poor salvation if soul healing did not follow forgiveness, for without the latter we should soon be back to our sins again ( 2 Peter 2:22 ). Therefore we need this healing of the soul. And it is promised (see Ezekiel 36:25 ).
3 . For penalty in this life averted. He "redeemeth thy life from destruction." God does not redeem our life from all the consequences of our sin ( Psalms 99:8 ), but from the worst he does. The forgiven man may have to suffer much in consequence of his past sins, but it is as nothing compared with what he would have had to suffer had he not been forgiven. The comfort of God's Spirit, power to witness for Christ, victory over sin, hope bright hope of life eternal,—all these are his; his life is redeemed from destruction.
4 . For, next, God crowneth with loving kindness. See all this illustrated in the story of the prodigal son—forgiven, healed, redeemed, crowned, the ring, the robe, the shoes, the feast, were for him; and what answers to them yet is the crowning told of here.
5 . For satisfaction with good. This also awaits us: would we but trust God more, we should know it for ourselves. They who walk with God, abide in Christ, know what it is. Let us not rest until we know it for ourselves.
6 . For youth of soul renewed. (See homily on this subject.) The outward man may, will, decay, but the inward man shall be renewed day by day.
IV. ITS RESULTS . What a history it would be if we could only trace out what this psalm has done for God's saints in all ages! What spiritual victories it has won! what strength it has imparted! what holy joy! Christian, sing this psalm more heartily, so that many poor lost ones, hearing its sweet evangel, may turn and with you bless the Lord.—S.C.
God the Healer of disease.
Though this psalm is one of the most familiar, both its authorship and its particular occasion are quite unknown. Early in the psalm this text comes. It is part of a review of God's personal mercies to the psalmist, but it is doubtful whether the psalmist referred to times of bodily disease and bodily healing, or to the soul diseases which answer to "iniquities." In view of the way in which Eastern poets loved to repeat their thought with slightly altered phraseology, it is quite possible that the text may read, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, and healeth all thy soul diseases—those soul conditions of frailty and infirmity, out of which iniquities come." But, however that may be, it is certainly true that God is the Healer of all men's diseases. The work of the physician must always be traced back to the Divine Physician, who alone has proved to be the recuperative force in human vitality. God has healed us again and again through the agency of the doctor and the medicine.
I. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT MEN 'S SICKNESSES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT ? Abraham and Isaac died of sheer old age. So indeed did Jacob, but there is a fuller reference to his ending. For all that appears in the record, neither the patriarchs nor their families suffered any sicknesses during their lives. Evidently, these experiences of sickness were not then seen in their relation to character, and so there was no need to leave any narratives concerning them. Sickness is reckoned with under the Mosaic system, but in a very peculiar way. It was treated as an outward sign and consequence of sin; both the sick person and those who tended him being treated as "unclean." To limit this rule because, in its working, it occasioned very serious family and social disturbance, one particular form of disease—that most typical form of disease, leprosy—was taken as the representative of all forms, and the law of the "unclean" was strictly enforced in relation to it. Judaism never suggests the idea that character is cultured by the experience of sickness; and so even its priests and Levites offer no example of tending the sick poor. Sickness, in the old economy, served its purpose simply as the outward sign of God's judgment on sin. When Job's friends came to comfort him, they could think of no other view of sickness than this, though Job felt sure that there must be a higher meaning, if only he could reach it. In the historical books the references to sickness—other than great pestilences—are very brief. One king suffered from internal disease, and one had the gout, but there is only one instance in which any details of a sickness are given, and in that case the relation of it to character first clearly appears. Hezekiah, in the middle of his reign, but before any son and heir was born to him, was smitten down with a bad kind of boil or carbuncle, which put his life in peril. He turned to God in his distress, and gained from God recovery. Evidently he prayed the prayer of faith. As evidently the Prophet Isaiah prayed for him the prayer of faith. And yet it is significantly told us that means were used to ensure his recovery, "Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover." The Book of Job is not a discussion of the question—What ought a godly man to do who is smitten with sickness? Its subject is rather this—What moral end can explain the Divine permission of sickness? One king was seriously reproved because, when he was ill, he "sought unto the physicians, and not unto God." But the wrong was not in his seeking the help of the physicians, but in his failing to seek God first, and to let him send him to the physicians: All we can say about this matter, in connection with the Old Testament, is that when moral considerations began to prevail over ceremonial ones, a truer and worthier view of sickness began to gain power. Then sickness was seen to be one of the great moral agencies by means of which God wrought his higher work in characters and in souls.
II. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IN THE GOSPELS ? Our Lord, as a moral and spiritual Teacher, our Lord as a Saviour, found in men's sicknesses, infirmities, and. disabilities his best agencies for reaching their souls with saving influences. To him suffering was the issue and consequence of sin. And so it was to everybody in his day. Sickness illustrated sin. Suffering produced moods of mind in men which laid them open to his higher influence. So he worked very largely for and among sick people, always trying to get their sicknesses sanctified to them, even in the very act of healing or removing them. He revealed fully to the world the moral relations of sickness, the moral possibilities that lie in sickness. Our Lord's dealing with it is unique, not so much because it was supernatural, as because it was moral. He dealt with it only as a means of securing soul healing. Since Christ's time, sickness, disease, and disability have taken rank among God's remedial agencies, God's character culturing agencies, God's sanctifying agencies.
III. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IS THE EPISTLES ? The apostles never claimed to exert any independent powers. They always healed "in the Name of Christ." They conceived of themselves as holding that special ability in trust for particular ends in the propagation of the gospel. They did not heal everybody. They only healed when the healing could make a way for the gospel, draw attention to it, or prove its Divine origin. And the historical fact is that the power of healing passed away with the first generation of disciples. It is found, in later ages, only in separate and highly endowed individuals, to whom has been entrusted a genius for healing. The case of the Apostle Paul is a remarkable one. He had the gift of healing. He did heal the father of Publius. But he was not carried away by the gift he possessed. He held all his gifts under the most careful restraints. His friend and fellow labourer, Epaphroditus, was "sick, nigh unto death," but St. Paul put forth no power to heal him. God had mercy on him, and restored him in the ordinary way. Trophimus was left at Miletum sick, but it did not enter the apostle's mind that he, or the eiders, could have cured him if they had tried. St. Paul himself had some bodily infirmity which he calls a "thorn in the flesh," but he simply prayed about it, as we pray about such things now. The reference made to this matter by the Apostle James has been gravely misunderstood. It must be read in the light of the chief point he deals with in his Epistle, viz. that faith which cannot get expression in action is not acceptable faith, it is mere sentiment. Anointing sick people with oil was no religious ceremony in the days of the apostle. Using oil in the toilet was simply the sign of health. Those who prayed in faith for the healing of the sick should show their faith by acting as if their prayer was answered. Get the sick man up, dress him, anoint him, in the full confidence that God answers prayer. So Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, "Stretch forth thine hand!" If he believed, he would do what Christ told him, and find power come in so doing. In every age God has healed diseases through his own appointed healing agencies; and those we must use in faith.—R.T.
Gratitude for unbounded mercies.
I. THE SOUL URGENTLY SUMMONED TO PRAISE GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS . Inward praise, not the praise of the lips, is here called for—spiritual, not bodily worship.
II. THE WHOLE INWARD MAN IS TO RECOUNT TO ITSELF THE MERCIES OF GOD .
1 . Every power he has— memory, heart, and reason— is to assist in recognizing the Divine benefits he has received.
2 . Our temptation and danger are to forget. And we are to resist and conquer forgetfulness and ingratitude.
Especially apt to forget the mercies:
1 . That we receive in common with others .
2 . The mercies that are uninterrupted by constraint .
3 . Mercies of a spiritual nature.
III. A THANKFUL SURVEY OF THE FATHERLY MERCIES OF GOD . "The poet calls upon his soul to arise to praiseful gratitude for God's justifying , redeeming, and renewing grace."
1 . The forgiveness of all his sins.
2 . Recovery from bodily sickness and infirmity. Sin, the sickness of the soul; disease, the sickness of the body; and God is the Physician of both.
3 . Deliverance from threatened death. The pit—a name of Hades—the abode of the departed.
4 . Loving kindness and tender mercies make him rich and royal. Like a king, they crown him.
5 . No real want of the soul is left unsatisfied. "Shall not want any good thing;" "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
6 . His strength is thus constantly renewed. ( Isaiah 40:31 .) "They that wait upon the Lord," etc.—S.