A Transcript Of The Video Study
This is the twenty-seventh study in the series, and we are looking at the book of Psalms. As I have pointed out in the previous studies, the last thirty books of the Old Testament fit into one of three sections of history—the United Kingdom of Israel, the Divided Kingdom of Israel and the Exile/Return of Judah. The book of Psalms fits within the first of these time periods, and is the twelfth book to appear along the timeline.
The book of Psalms is the longest book of the Bible, made up of 150 separate compositions, taking approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes to read in a single sitting. The name of the book—“Psalms”—is taken from the Greek, which refers to a piece of literature designed to be sung with musical instruments. According to the Hebrew language, the book goes by the name of “Praise-Songs” or the “Book of Praises”. In other words, the book of Psalms is the inspired hymn book of the Bible.
And, on the point of inspiration, I must point out as I do with every book of the Bible, the book of Psalms is a divinely inspired book. That is, God breathed out His words through those who wrote each Psalm. The words of this book, therefore, are the words of God. They are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. The words of this book are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we might be matured in the faith, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:15-17)
One hundred of the Psalms are prefaced with an inscription, identifying one of three things—the authorship, the occasion which prompted the writer to compose the Psalm and the purpose for which it was written. According to these inscriptions, there are seven authors to the book of Psalms. The majority are ascribed to David—a total of 73. Twelve are ascribed to Asaph; ten to the sons of Korah; one to Moses; two to Solomon; one to Ethan; and one to Heman. The remaining fifty Psalms are anonymous. Having said this, the inscriptions are not inspired, and therefore while they may be helpful providing some historical backdrop to the Psalms, they may not be entirely accurate. For this reason, if ever you want to learn more about the historical backdrop to a Psalm, I recommend you consult a commentary, such as those by John Gill and William Plumer. Although it is not essential we understand the historical backdrop for each Psalm in order to benefit from the Word of God, yet knowing this information will enable us to better understand and enjoy the compositions.
You may now ask, are we going to read the entire book of Psalms this week in a single sitting? Well, it is certainly not impossible for us to do that, if it is in our hearts to accomplish it. However, given the fact that the book is made up of 150 compositions, I am not convinced reading through the whole book in a single sitting would allow us to process the teachings with much profit. At the same time, we must read more than one Psalm in a single sitting, as our goal is to read through the books of the Bible, rather than studying or meditating on specific portions of the Bible. Henceforth, I have chosen to divide the book of Psalms into smaller sections, with the goal of reading each section per week. Initially, I was going to suggest the Psalms be divided into three equal sections— we would read 50 Psalms per week. However, on further reflection, I have decided to adopt the divisions of the book given to us by the ancient Hebrews. They divided the Psalms into five books, or sections:
Book 1: Psalms 1-41 (1 hr, 5 min to read)
• Total 41: David (37); Anonymous (4)
Book 2: Psalms 42-72 (51 min to read)
• Total 31: David (18); Asaph (1); Korah (7); Solomon (1); Anonymous (4)
Book 3: Psalms 73-89 (36 min to read)
• Total 17: David (1); Asaph (11); Korah (3); Ethan (1); Heman (1)
Book 4: Psalms 90-106 (31 min to read)
• Total 17: David (2); Moses (1); Anonymous (14)
Book 5: Psalms 107-150 (1 hr, 10 min to read)
• Total 44: David (15); Solomon (1); Anonymous (28)
It will be according to these divisions that we will read through the book of Psalms—one book per week. We will, therefore, begin this week with the first book, comprising the first forty-one Psalms. Now, there are three things I want to highlight about these Psalms.
First, the New Testament quotations of this First Book (1-41).
Of the forty-one Psalms in the First Book, the New Testament writers quote from sixteen of them.
Psalm 2—Psalm 2:1,2 (Acts 4:25,26); Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33); Psalm 2:9 (Revelation 2:27)
Psalm 5—Psalm 5:10 (Romans 3:13)
Psalm 8—Psalm 8:3 (Matthew 21:16); Psalm 8:5 (Hebrews 3:6); Psalm 8:6 (1 Corinthians 15:27)
Psalm 10—Psalm 10:7 (Romans 3:14)
Psalm 14—Psalm 14:1 (Romans 3:10)
Psalm 16—Psalm 16:8 (Acts 2:25)
Psalm 18—Psalm 18:50 (Romans 15:9)
Psalm 19—Psalm 19:5 (Romans 10:18)
Psalm 22—Psalm 22:2 (Matthew 27:46); Psalm 22:19 (Matthew 27:35); Psalm 22:19 (John 19:24); Psalm 22:23 (Hebrews 2:12)
Psalm 24—Psalm 24:1 (1 Corinthians 10:26)
Psalm 32—Psalm 32:1,2 (Romans 4:7,8)
Psalm 34—Psalm 34:13 (1 Peter 3:10)
Psalm 35—Psalm 35:19 (John 15:25)
Psalm 36—Psalm 36:2 (Romans 3:18)
Psalm 40—Psalm 40:7 (Hebrews 10:5)
Psalm 41—Psalm 41:9 (John 13:18)
Now, I don’t point this out to you because I expect you to examine each of the references, but rather, I simply want you to gain an appreciation for the significant position the New Testament writers gave to the book of Psalms. Not only were they familiar with the Psalms, but they had an understanding of their teachings which allowed them to apply those doctrines to the good news of glad tidings regarding the redeeming grace of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. You see, the gospel of the New Testament is the gospel of the Old Testament, which is why the New Testament writers quoted so often from the Old Testament scriptures. The book of Psalms is a gospel book, and if we are to derive the greatest benefit from the songs, then we must understand them to teach nothing other than the masterplan of God for the ages, and in particular, the gospel of the gracious covenant.
Second, the characters mentioned in this First Book (1-41).
Actually, there are no names recorded in the inspired text of the first book. However, the inscriptions mention six names. Two of the names are numbered among God’s elect people—Saul and David; whereas it is uncertain where the other four names belong—these are Absalom, Cush, Abimelech and Juduthun. Of course, David wrote the majority of these Psalms, if not all of them, and together with the testimony of his salvation in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, we have no doubt that he was a vessel of honor and mercy, chosen by the Father and redeemed by Christ.
Third, the leading message of this First Book (1-41).
The leading message of the book of Psalms, as it is with every book of the Bible, is the masterplan of God for the ages. What is the masterplan of God for the ages? Well, in a nutshell, it is the administration of God’s grace to the human race. There is a common grace of God unto creation which extended to the elect and the non-elect alike; but then, there is the special grace of God unto salvation which is designed for and extended only to the elect. Now, as I have said, this is the leading message of the book of Psalms. A good example of this may be found in the first Psalm. In verse 3, the elect are described as “trees planted by the rivers of water, that bring forth their fruits in their season; their leaves do not wither, and whatsoever they do shall prosper.” On the other hand, in verse 6, the non-elect are described as “chaff which the wind driveth away.” Now, do you see, there is a great difference between trees and chaff. A tree is rooted and alive, whereas the chaff is dead and driven away by the wind. So are the elect and the non-elect. The elect are rooted in the terms and promises of the gracious covenant, enjoying the life and graces of Christ which flow into their souls by virtue of the new birth, whereas the non-elect are forever dead in their trespasses and sins, reserved by the longsuffering of God unto the judgment of the great day. And so, when reading through the book of Psalms, be sure to keep in view the masterplan of God for the ages.
Having said that, the book of Psalms tends to emphasize one particular part of God’s masterplan for the ages—the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. And this doesn’t surprise us in the least. After all, a psalm is nothing other than a record of a regenerate sinner’s experience of saving grace and walk with the Lord. And you see, when we speak about experiencing saving grace, that comes under the third branch of the gospel—the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, you will notice on this framework of sovereign grace, that I included under the label, “Covenant of Grace”, something called the “Gospel Law”. This, of course, is in contrast with the “Covenant of Works” and the “Heart Law”. What do these terms mean, and how are they connected with the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit? Well, when we speak of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, we are immediately brought to the subject of the rule, or law, which governs the believer’s conduct. There are four main views on this topic, and it is important, for your own growth in grace, to understand the difference between the views.
First, there are some who believe the regenerate sinner’s rule of conduct is the Heart Law, under the authority of the Covenant of Works. They say that before the sinner is born again, he/she does not have the power to keep the Heart Law, but after he/she is born again, the Spirit of God enables him/her to keep the Heart Law.
Second, there are others who believe the regenerate sinner’s rule of conduct is the Moral Law, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, under the authority of the Mosaic Covenant. They say that the Ten Commandments are the perfect expression of God’s requirements for the human race, and, although the unregenerate sinner does not have the power to keep the Moral Law before he/she is born again, yet the Spirit of God enables him/her to keep the Ten Commandments after the new birth.
Third, there are others who believe the regenerate sinner’s rule of conduct is the Gospel Law, sometimes called the Law of Christ, or, the Law of Faith, or, the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, which is under the authority of the Covenant of Grace. Now, in the same way that the foregoing views understand the law to be a set of precepts to be obeyed, so there are some who understand the Gospel Law to be nothing more than the precepts and commandments recorded in the New Testament Scriptures. In essence, they replace the commandments of the Heart Law and of the Moral Law, with those of the Gospel Law.
Fourth, there are others who also believe the regenerate sinner’s rule of conduct is the Gospel Law, but they do not understand the Gospel Law as a mere set of precepts and commandments. Rather, they believe the Gospel Law is none other than the union of the soul with the Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of which the life and graces of Christ flow into the soul, making the regenerate sinner alive unto God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and imparting to the regenerate sinner a new nature in Christ wherein he/she bears the fruit of that new nature, among which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, contrition, and a thirsting and hungering for Christ. In other words, the Gospel Law is a spiritual, and living, and fruitful union between the regenerate sinner’s soul and the Lord Jesus Christ, forged by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a mere set of precepts and commandments that one is required to obey, but rather, it is a living union with Christ by virtue of which the regenerate sinner is made a partaker of the divine nature, having the life and graces of Christ flowing into him/her.
Now, as the Spirit of God works in the regenerate sinner both to will and to do of His good pleasure, the regenerate sinner will work out his/her own salvation with fear and trembling. And you see, the working out of that salvation will be expressed by good words and good works. For every good word spoken by the regenerate sinner, or for every good work exercised by the regenerate sinner, there is a fruit of the new nature behind it, or in it. If the regenerate sinner, for instance, speaks a word of encouragement to his/her brother or sister in Christ, then that word of encouragement flows from that fruit of love and benevolence of the new nature. And, of course, that fruit of love and benevolence is none other than the grace of Christ’s love, which flows from Christ into the soul as a result of the soul’s union with Him.
Now, I have labored the point on this fourth view, because obviously, it is the view that I believe is revealed in the scriptures. I do not believe the rule of conduct for a regenerate sinner is the Heart Law, for the regenerate sinner has been experientially delivered from the terms and promises of the Covenant of Works, and is no longer subject to the Heart Law, for Christ is the fulfillment of that Law, and the believer stands complete in Him. Neither do I believe the rule of conduct for a regenerate sinner is the Moral Law, or the Ten Commandments, for the Ten Commandments were given to the children of Israel as a nation, under the terms and promises of the Mosaic Covenant—a Covenant and Law which was designed only for the Jewish people as a nation, which has absolutely nothing to do with Gentiles, or regenerate sinners. Neither do I believe the rule of conduct for a regenerate sinner is the Gospel Law as a mere set of precepts and commandments, for this undermines the gospel of Christ, setting up the believer as the author of good works, rather than Christ in the believer, our hope of glory. The only view which magnifies Christ and honors the gospel is the fourth view—the rule of conduct for the regenerate sinner is the Gospel Law, the living and spiritual union of our souls with Christ, with His life and grace flowing into us; with the Holy Spirit working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, enabling us through Christ to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Now, as I said a few minutes ago, the book of Psalms emphasizes this aspect of the gospel—it concentrates on the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, in particular, on how the regenerate sinner is working out his/her salvation with fear and trembling through his/her union with Christ. Make no mistake, my dear friends, the writers of the Psalms were all sinners regenerated by the Spirit of God. Their lives were therefore governed by the Gospel Law, or, their spiritual union with Christ. Well, seeing that our time is gone, I wish to extend the length of this study for a few more minutes, in order to share a few examples on how David speaks about the Gospel Law, or, his union with Christ.
Take, for instance, the first Psalm. We read in Psalm 1:2,3: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Now, the “law of the LORD” is usually thought to be that of the Bible—his delight is in the Bible, and in the Bible does he mediate day and night. However, on further reflection, is not this the Gospel Law? The delight of the regenerate sinner is in the spiritual blessings which flow from Christ, and in those blessings does he meditate day and night. And as such, because he has been born again, enjoying the life and graces of Christ flowing into the soul, he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth the fruit of the new nature in each season; his leaf shall not wither, for he is a new creature in Christ, created in righteousness and true holiness, and whatsoever he does by working out his salvation shall prosper.
Let’s look at a second example in the 32nd Psalm. We read in Psalm 32:8-11: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” We have here the words spoken by God—He will instruct and teach His people in the way which they should go. But how does He do this great work? Not by merely giving to them a set of commandments and pointing His finger in the way they should go. But rather, He instructs His people by imparting to them a new nature in Christ, causing them to bear the fruit of their new natures and to walk in His statutes. (Ez 36:26,27) Henceforth, the Lord’s regenerate people are not like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding; whose mouths must be held in with bit and bridle. You see, this is a good description of those who view the rule of conduct for the believer’s life to be that of the Heart Law, the Moral Law and the Gospel Law, as precepts and commandments for regenerate sinners to obey. These laws are nothing other than bits and bridles in the mouth—they do not flow from the heart; they must be forced upon the sinner in order to make him/her go here or there. But the Lord’s people are not horses and mules, and they are not led by bit and bridle. The Lord’s people are sheep, who, when they hear the Shepherd’s voice, will freely and cheerfully follow Him. They are made willing in the day of His power, having been united with the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore led by this principle, or this law, of a new nature in Christ. And you see, we who have been born again trust in the Lord, with the assurance that His mercy surrounds us—for remember, we are made the vessels of mercy by the redeeming grace of God the Son, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, having been born again, we are brought to the realization that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to our souls—having been freely justified by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And not only this, but by virtue of the new birth, we are given an upright heart, or new nature, imparted to our souls, created in righteousness and true holiness. Therefore, we do exercise the fruit of that new nature, nurturing a gladness in the Lord, a rejoicing in the hope of our salvation through Christ, shouting for joy that we are recipients of His saving grace. Yes, the words of this 32nd Psalm most certainly refer to the Gospel Law.
I would like to look at just one more example of the Gospel Law, taken from the 40th Psalm. We read in Psalm 40:11,12: “Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.” In verse 11, we have the Psalmist’s confidence in the gracious covenant, whereas in verse 12 it’s his confession of his sinful corrupt nature. He acknowledges the innumerable evils that have surrounded him. What are these evils? They are his iniquities; his transgressions; his sins against the Lord. They have taken hold upon him; he has been overtaken in many faults; he has given into the flesh and yielded to temptation. So many are his sins, that he compares them to the hairs of his head. He is ashamed; he is under the burden of guilt; he can’t look up; his heart is broken and with a sincere and contrite spirit, he crumbles under the weight of his sins and the heaviness of guilt and shame—his heart has failed him. Where can he go to find relief? How can these sins and the guilt and the shame be lifted from him? How can he look up to the Lord to find grace to help in time of need, when he is such a rebel and transgressor of the law God has inscribed upon his heart? Well, he knows where to go and he knows how to find relief from his sins, and the guilt and the shame. He runs, not to the Heart Law, nor to the Moral Law, but to the Gospel Law—not the Gospel Law as a set of precepts and rules, but the Gospel Law as that living and spiritual union between him and Christ. He exclaims, “Withhold not Thou Thy tender mercies from me, Ol LORD.” In other words, Lord, continue to make known to me the good news of glad tidings; continue to press upon my heart the reality of Thy tender mercies in Christ; continue to make me conscious that Thy tender mercies in Christ are designed for me; apply Thy tender mercies in Christ to my soul; heal me from the guilt and shame of my sins; forgive me of my transgressions and iniquities. Increase my faith, that I may see and know Thy justifying grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—“Withhold not Thou Thy tender mercies from me, O LORD.” In fact, “Let Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth continually preserve me.” I trust in Thy electing love, and in Thy lovingkindness, by which Thou hast given me to the special care and charge of Thy Son, that He might redeem me my from my sins. I believe Thy gracious covenant unto salvation is true and faithful, and it is all my desire, it is all my hope, it is all my salvation. Do you see, my dear friends? Where did David go as a rule of conduct for his life? Did he run to the Heart Law? No! Did he chase after the Moral Law? No! Did he come to the Gospel Law as a set of rules and regulations? No! He came to Christ and sought forgiveness and healing through the gracious covenant. That is the Gospel Law! And that is the only law that will give the regenerate sinner a knowledge of forgiveness and healing to his/her soul.
Ah, my dear friends, I know I have taken more time to bring out these teachings than expected, or you may even have wished. But if you have followed the teachings, then I pray the Lord will impress upon your heart the reality of your union with Christ, and that you will come to see that He, Christ Himself, and Christ alone, is the law of your life, for it is in your union to Him that He is made unto you wisdom, righteousness, redemption and sanctification. As you read through the first forty-one Psalms this week, look for the Gospel Law, and ask the Lord to give you an understanding, that Christ alone is your rule of conduct as a stranger and pilgrim in this world.
Well, I look forward meeting with you again next week for another study. Until then, may the Lord bless you!
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.