The Good Man's Directory
Psalm 37:1-40
Fret not yourself because of evildoers, neither be you envious against the workers of iniquity.…

This is a very remarkable psalm. Its theme is one throughout its entire length. Yet it is not so much drawn out consecutively as repeated proverbially. This may be partly accounted for by its alphabetical structure. There is no advance between the verses at the commencement and those at its close, but rather a remarkable variety of beautiful turns of expression to a thought that is the same throughout. The whole psalm may be summed up thus: "Just now, you see the wicked prospering and the ungodly depressed. Do not fret over this. Trust, do right, rest in the Lord, wait and see. And by-and-by you will find that the righteous are brought out to the light, while the wicked are relegated to forgetfulness and shame. Even now to have God in the heart with a crust in the hand, is better than to have the riches of many wicked. God will, in his own time and way, appear for his faithful ones, and prove the truth of his ancient word, 'Them that honour me, I will honour.'" So far as the text of the psalm is concerned, there is little to call for laboured criticism, though the Hebrew student would do well to examine minutely the second halves of the third and thirty-seventh verses. For the most part the psalm is delightfully plain and clear; and nowhere could any better rule or directory for life be found than is herein contained. In our homiletic treatment of it we will notice -

I. THE SEVERAL DUTIES HERE ENJOINED ON THE GOOD MAN. These duties are put into a form suggested by the circumstances which surrounded the writer. When David wrote this psalm he was an old man. Looking back on the scenes of past observation and experience, he had witnessed many strange inequalities on the surface of society. Looking in one direction, he had often beheld an ungodly man enjoying all that heart could wish, so far as this world was concerned; and in another direction he had as often seen a good man, one who walked closely with God, in the midst of trial, affliction, and distress. This state of things had perplexed him, and he knew that it still perplexed the righteous. To meet their perplexities and to assuage them, this psalm was penned; and it is this purpose which forms the background of thought throughout the entire length of the psalm.

1. The first injunction is "fret not (ver. 1). Do not worry or perplex yourself about these mysteries of God's providence. Even if the lot of the wicked seems more easy, more pleasant, more prosperous than yours, yet they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb; ' besides, "a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." God's people are infinitely better off, with him as their heavenly Friend, than any of the ungodly are, with all their noise and parade.

2. Hence a second duty is presented to us: "Trust and Rest in the Lord. Two expressions for substantially the same attitude of spirit. But this restful trusting is put in contrast from fretting. Your work is not to worry, but to trust your God. Now, in what sense is this intended? Let us picture the good man under the difficulty to which we have referred. He sees the ungodly in high places, while he is obscure, depressed, afflicted; and he wonders what it means, now, in what sense is such a one to trust in the Lord? He is to trust in God, believing that such a state of things is known and permitted by him in infinite wisdom; that this state of chaos is perfectly consistent with God's love for his people; that God has some wise and holy end in permitting it - to prove him and to improve him; and that he will see that end, either in this world or in the next.

3. Then there follows a third duty: Wait patiently. If we are content to wait and let God's methods in providence open up before us, we shall see the ungodly cut down (vers. 2, 9, 10, 15, 17, 20, 25, 36, 38); that God will give us the desires of our heart, and graciously clear our way (vers. 4, 5); that though we may have been misunderstood and misrepresented for a time, yet God will clear us and our reputation in the long run (ver. 6); that God will grant the true possession and peaceful enjoyment of life to the meek and loyal (ver. 11); that the little of the righteous brings far more joy than the much of the wicked (ver. 16); that he will be upheld where others fall (ver. 17); that supplies shall be sent to the saint even in days of famine (ver. 19); that step by step will be taken under the ordering of a Divine Guide (ver. 23); that even in falling he shall not perish, for to him shall be shown a Divine upholding grace (ver. 24); that the righteous man will leave a blessed inheritance to his children, - peace was his in life, and peace shall follow his children when he is gone to his rest (ver. 37); that his life is but an outworking of God's great salvation (vers. 39, 40). It is not in youth that all this can be seen, but if we believe God when we are young, we shall have proved him ere we are old. Only let us wait patiently." There is a vast unfolding plan, which, if we are wise to observe, will be ever revealing to us "the loving-kindness of the Lord."

4. And thus we are led on to a fourth duty - that of obedience. (Ver. 3.) "Trust in the Lord, and do good," i.e. "do right. In ver. 34 the same duty is expressed in another phrase, Wait on the Lord, and keep his way. Trusting and trying, resting and working, are to go together. We are to find out what God would have us do in the sphere in which he has placed us; then to trust in the Lord, be strong, and do it. And we may do right" (ver. 3), or, in other words, we may "keep his way" (ver. 34) in one or other of two methods. By actively doing the Divine will; and this is probably what most of us are called on to do - to pursue with energy the duties in active life that are set before us. Now, we may fulfil these:

(1) In attending at each moment to the duty of the moment; simply doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and with the distinct aim and purpose of pleasing God. May be our calling is not that which we should prefer, and yet we see no way open to any other. When God does open a way in another direction, by all means let us follow it. But, meanwhile, be it ours simply to do the work which lies before us, with a readiness and cheerfulness that befit those whose sole aim is to please God.

(2) In the cultivation of holiness we may "do right," ever setting the Lord before us, and aiming to follow him who "left us an example, that we should follow his steps."

(3) In personal efforts to help, to relieve, to comfort, or to serve another, we may do right. In this respect, as well as others, "it is accepted, according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." But we may "do right" also by patiently bearing the Divine will; and sometimes this is all the believer can do - simply to bear what God has laid upon him. Nor is there a nobler sight on earth than to see one who, racked with pain or wrapped in obscurity, can say, "My lot is appointed me by my Father's will; all that will is love, and therefore I can cheerfully bear it. If my Father were to give the rod unto my own hands, I would give it back to him, saying, 'Father, thou knowest best; do with me as seemeth good in thy sight.'" Why, such a one, though he never goes outside the doors of his own house from one year's end to another, is a missionary to the Church and to the world! Preach fervently as we may by words, we cannot preach like these suffering saints! But we must notice -

II. THE CONNECTION THERE IS BETWEEN THESE SEVERAL DUTIES. We have specified them under four heads.

1. Fret not.

2. Trust.

3. Wait patiently.

4. Do right.

These four may be reduced to two: trusting and trying; or, in other words, to resting and working. Both are included in the verse already quoted. "Trust in the Lord, and do right." While these duties in combination make up "the whole duty of man," they are so connected together that neither can be discharged without the other. If we do not trust in God, we cannot do the right, and if we do not desire to do right, we have no right to trust in God. What, then, is the relation between them? At least a fourfold one.

1. Trust in God ensures the peace of mind which fits a man for work. E.g. take a tradesman in business, whose affairs are going down, and who will soon find himself on the wrong side of the balance-sheet. It is impossible for him to go about his business with the energy it requires, especially in these times. But put the man's affairs straight; tell him that everything is set right, and that by-and-by he will find himself in a better position than at present, - and you put new life into the man. When he knows that all is right, he can set about his work with all the zest that is needed. So it is here. There once were two burdens pressing on the heart. The one, of his spiritual interests, the other, of his temporal care. What has become of these? The first, the burden of guilt, he has laid at the foot of the cross. The second, the load of earthly care, he brings day by day, and casts it upon his God. Thus he has nothing left to care for, nothing left to be anxious about. Hence, the peace of God passing all understanding keeps his heart and mind in Christ Jesus; and, consequently, with unburdened heart, he can go about the work his Father has given him to do.

2. Trusting in God ensures the reception of strength for the discharge of work. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." So runs the promise, and so runs experience too. Strength according to the days; strength sure as the days; strength to the end of the days. Such will be the uniform result of" waiting on God all the day."

3. Trusting in God supplies a man with motives to perform his work. If I am permitted to trust in God, then honour requires that I shall do right; for I trust in God for strength to perform his will; hence when I ask for strength there is a tacit pledge that the strength received from God shall be spent in obedience to God. And not only so, but gratitude also requires that I should do right. If I receive of God's strength, how ann I but gratefully spend it for him? And the honor of religion requires that I should do right. For if I tell the world I am trusting in God, and yet fail to do right, what will the worldling say? What can he say, but this? - "Either your God is not the God you say he is, or else you have not the trust in him which you profess to have." If we want the world to believe in God, if we want them to give us credit for sincerity, we must show that, while we trust in God, we also do right.

4. Trusting in God gives a man a guarantee of the successful issue of his work. Is it mine to trust in God? Can I, under all circumstances, repose in him? Then I know that, to the very last, all shall be well. He hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Trusting in him, we will dare to work, to suffer, or to die.

5. Trusting in God will ensure a blessing to those on whom our work may afterwards full. (Ver. 37, Hebrew and Revised Version margin, compared with ver. 38, Hebrew.) The good man layeth an inheritance to his children's children. "The generation of the upright shall be blessed." The Old Testament does not project our thought into our own future life after death as the New Testament does, but it lays very much stress on the effect of a man's life on the generations which will follow him on earth: this is in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:9. And there can be no manner of doubt that the posterity of a man of trained righteousness, integrity, and piety, even though he be a poor man, will have the best of all legacies - pious poverty, God's blessing, and a father's prayers. We do not say that young people are now taught too much to look to their future life, but we do venture to affirm that far too little stress is laid upon, and mention is far too seldom made of, the thought of the effect of parental character upon posterity. The law of heredity is stronger than that of environment; or, to put the same truth in somewhat antique form, "Grace does not run in the blood, but it purifies it."

6. Trusting in God ensures a man of a home in God when the earthly work is over. Even when flesh and heart fail, God is the Strength of our heart, and our Portion for ever! - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: {A Psalm of David.} Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

WEB: Don't fret because of evildoers, neither be envious against those who work unrighteousness.

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