A Sermon on the 32nd Psalm
There is nothing worse than to feel the conviction of sin–that miserable sense that you’ve done wrong and that your actions displease God because they violate his commandments. The Psalmist describes this feeling as akin to the oppressive heat of a hot and sweltering day. On the other hand, there is nothing better than to know the forgiveness of sin–the sense that the guilt of our wrong-doing has been forgiven, and that we are now considered righteous, as though we had never broken a single one of God’s commandments. The Psalmist describes this sense as a safe hiding place in times of trouble. This then, is the theme of the 32nd Psalm–where and how to find true happiness and peace stemming from the knowledge that our sins have been forgiven, and that we are counted as righteous before God. When someone once asked Martin Luther which of the Psalms he liked best–he said the Psalms of Paul (the 32nd, the 51st, the 130th, the 146th) because they teach that the full forgiveness of sins comes without works to all who believe. John Calvin says that in this Psalm we are reminded, “what a miserable thing it is to feel God’s hand heavy on account of sin,” but that “the highest and best part of a happy life consists in this, that God forgives a man’s guilt, and receives him graciously into his favor.” Indeed, “blessed is the one.”
As we continue our series on select Psalms, we now consider the 32nd Psalm, which is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4, and used by the apostle as an important proof-text for the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. This Psalm is often considered a “penitential Psalm”–the prayer of someone deeply affected by the guilt of their sins. This is the second of seven so-called penitential Psalms in the Psalter, and the second such Psalm to appear in Book One of the Psalter. But this Psalm is much more than a penitential Psalm. It includes thanksgiving on the part of David–the Psalm’s author–as well as an appeal to divine wisdom, wisdom which is revealed by YHWH. The Psalmist gives thanks for this wisdom, which he has received through the “instruction,” “teaching” and “counsel” mentioned in verse 8. Having gained this wisdom from God, the Psalmist is moved to confess his sins and gives thank to YHWH for this wonderful blessing. Made wise by God’s wisdom, the Psalmist describes the contrast between the misery of the conviction of sin and the joy (indeed, the happiness) of knowing that he is forgiven. The Psalmist can describe this sense so well because he has lived it.
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