Psalms 15


The important question answered, Who is a proper member of the

Church militant? and who shall finally join the Church

triumphant? Ps 15:1

contains the question; Ps 15:2-5,

the answer.


The title, mizmor ledavid, a Psalm of David, has

nothing in it particularly worthy of notice. If it were a Psalm

composed during the captivity, relating to their return and

settlement in their own land, with the restoration of their temple

service and all the ordinances of God, and a description of the

persons who should then be considered Israelites indeed, the name

of David is improperly prefixed. But the subject is of the most

general utility, and demands the most solemn and serious attention

of all men who profess to believe in the immortality of the soul.

Verse 1. Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?] The literal

translation of this verse is, "Lord, who shall sojourn in thy

tabernacle? who shall dwell in the mountain of thy holiness?" For

the proper understanding of this question we must note the

following particulars:-

1. The tabernacle, which was a kind of moveable temple, was a

type of the Church militant, or the state of the people of God in

this world.

2. Mount Zion, the holy mount, where the temple was built, was

the type of the kingdom of heaven. There the ark became

stationary, and was no longer carried about from place to

place; and the whole was typical of the rest that remains for the

people of God.

3. The TABERNACLE was a temporary and frequently-removed

building, carried about from place to place, and not long in any

one place. Concerning this it is said: mi yagur, "Who

shall lodge, or sojourn," there? It is not a residence, or

dwelling-place, but a place to lodge in for a time.

4. The TEMPLE was a fixed and permanent building; and here it is

inquired, mi yiscon, "Who shall dwell, abide," or have

his permanent residence, there?

5. The tabernacle being a migratory temple, carried about on the

shoulders of the priests and Levites, there was no dwelling there

for any; they could but lodge or sojourn.

6. The temple being fixed, the priests, Levites, &c., became

permanent occupiers. There was no lodging or sojourning, but

permanent residence for all connected with it.

7. The tabernacle is, therefore, a proper type of the Church

militant, wandering up and down, tossed by various storms and

tempests; the followers of God, having here no continuing city;

sojourning only on earth to get a preparation for eternal glory.

8. The temple is also a proper type or emblem of the Church

triumphant in heaven. "Here the wicked cease from troubling, and

the weary are at rest." It is the dwelling-place, the eternal

residence, of all who are faithful unto death, who are made

pillars in that temple of God, to go no more out for ever.

The questions therefore are,

1. Who can be considered a fit member of the Church of Christ

here below? and,

2. Who shall be made partakers of an endless glory? In answer to

these questions, the character of what we may term a true

Israelite, or a good Christian, is given in the following


Verse 2. He that walketh uprightly] holech tamim, 1.

He walks perfectly. Who sets God before his eyes, takes his word

for the rule of his conduct, considers himself a sojourner on

earth, and is continually walking to the kingdom of God. He acts

according to the perfections of God's law; he has respect to all

its parts, and feels the weight and importance of all its


And worketh righteousness] 2. He is not satisfied with a

contemplative life; he has duties to perform. The law of

righteousness has placed him in certain relations, and each of

these relations has its peculiar duties. poel tsedek, the

words here used, signify to give just weight, to render to all

their dues. 1. As he is the creature of GOD, he has duties to

perform to him. He owes God his heart: May son, give me thy heart;

and should love him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This is giving GOD his due. 2. As a member of civil society, he

has various duties to perform to his fellows, as they have to him.

He is to love them as himself, and do unto all men as he would

they should do unto him. 3. There are duties which he owes to

himself. That his body may be in health, vigour, and activity,

he should avoid every thing by which it might be injured,

particularly all excesses in eating, drinking, sleeping, &c. That

his soul may be saved, he should avoid all sin; all irregular and

disorderly passions. He owes it to his soul to apply to God for

that grace which produces repentance, faith, and holiness; and in

order to get all these blessings, he should read, watch, pray,

hear the word preached, and diligently use all the ordinances of

God. He who acts not thus, defrauds both his body and soul: but

the person in the text works righteousness-gives to all their due;

and thus keeps a conscience void of offence, both towards God and


And speaketh the truth in his heart.] 3. He is a true man; in

him there is no false way. He is no man of pretenses; speaking one

thing, and meaning another. He professes nothing but what he

feels and intends; with him there are no hollow friendships, vain

compliments, nor empty professions of esteem, love, regard, or

friendship. His mouth speaks nothing but what his heart

dictates. His heart, his tongue, and his hand, are all in

unison. Hypocrisy, guile, and deceit, have no place in his soul.

Verse 3. He that backbiteth not with his tongue]

lo ragal al leshono, "he foots not upon his tongue." 4. He is

one who treats his neighbour with respect. He says nothing that

might injure him in his character, person, or property; he forgets

no calumny, he is author of no slander, he insinuates nothing by

which his neighbour may be injured. The tongue, because of its

slanderous conversation, is represented in the nervous original as

kicking about the character of an absent person; a very common

vice, and as destructive as it is common: but the man who expects

to see God abhors it, and backbites not with his tongue. The words

backbite and backbiter come from the Anglo-Saxon bac, the back,

and [A.S.], to bite. How it came to be used in the sense it has in

our language, seems at first view unaccountable; but it was

intended to convey the treble sense of knavishness, cowardice, and

brutality. He is a knave, who would rob you of your good name;

he is a coward, that would speak of you in your absence what he

dared not to do in your presence; and only an ill-conditioned dog

would fly at and bite your back when your face was turned.

All these three ideas are included in the term; and they all meet

in the detractor and calumniator. His tongue is the tongue of a

knave, a coward, and a dog. Such a person, of course, has no

right to the privileges of the Church militant, and none of his

disposition can ever see God.

Nor doeth evil to his neighbour] 5. He not only avoids evil

speaking, but he avoids also evil acting towards his neighbour. He

speaks no evil of him; he does no evil to him; he does him

no harm; he occasions him no wrong. On the contrary, he gives him

his due. See under the second particular. See Clarke on Ps 15:2.

Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.] 6. The word

cherpah, which we here translate a reproach, comes from

charaph, to strip, or make bare, to deprive one of his

garments; hence choreph, the winter, because it strips

the fields of their clothing, and the trees of their foliage.

By this, nature appears to be dishonoured and disgraced. The

application is easy: a man, for instance, of a good character is

reported to have done something wrong: the tale is spread, and the

slanderers and backbiters carry it about; and thus the man is

stripped of his fair character, of his clothing of righteousness,

truth, and honesty. All may be false; or the man, in an hour of

the power of darkness, may have been tempted and overcome; may have

been wounded in the cloudy and dark day, and deeply mourns his

fall before God. Who that has not the heart of a devil would not

strive rather to cover than make bare the fault? Those who feed,

as the proverb says, like the flies, passing over all a man's whole

parts to light upon his wounds, will take up the tale, and carry

it about. Such, in the course of their diabolic work, carry the

story of scandal to the righteous man; to him who loves his God

and his neighbour. But what reception has the tale-bearer? The

good man taketh it not up; lo nasa, he will not bear

it; it shall not be propagated from him. He cannot prevent the

detractor from laying it down; but it is in his power not to take

it up: and thus the progress of the slander may be arrested. He

taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour; and the

tale-bearer is probably discouraged from carrying it to another

door. Reader, drive the slanderer of your neighbour far away from

you: ever remembering that in the law of God, as well as in the

law of the land, "the receiver is as bad as the thief."

Verse 4. In whose eves a vile person is contemned] 7. This man

judges of others by their conduct; he tries no man's heart. He

knows men only by the fruits they bear; and thus he gains

knowledge of the principle from which they proceed. A vile person,

nimas, the reprobate, one abandoned to sin; is despised,

nibzeh, is loathsome, as if he were covered with the

elephantiasis or leprosy, for so the word implies. He may be

rich, he may be learned, he may be a great man and honourable

with his master, in high offices in the state; but if he be a

spiritual leper, an infidel, a profligate, the righteous man

must despise him, and hold him, because he is an enemy to God and

to man, in sovereign contempt. If he be in power, he will not

treat him as if worthy of his dignity; while he respects the

office he will detest the man. And this is quite right; for the

popular odium should ever be pointed against vice.

Aben Ezra gives a curious turn to this clause, which he

translates thus: "He is mean and contemptible in his own eyes;"

and it is certain that the original, nibzeh

beeynaiv nimas, will bear this translation. His paraphrase on it

is beautiful: "A pious man, whatever good he may have done, and

however concordant to the Divine law he may have walked, considers

all this of no worth, compared with what it was his duty to do for

the glory of his Creator." A sentiment very like that of our Lord,

Lu 17:10: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those

things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants;

we have done that which was our duty to do."

Taken in this sense, the words intimate, that the man who is

truly pious, who is a proper member of the Church militant, and is

going straight to the Church triumphant, is truly humble; he knows

he has nothing but what he has received, he has no merit, he

trusts not in himself, but in the living God. He renounces his own

righteousness, and trusts in the eternal mercy of God through the

infinitely meritorious atonement made by Jesus Christ. The

language of his heart is,-

"I loathe myself when God I see,

And into nothing fall;

Content that thou exalted be,

And Christ be all in all."

He honoureth them that fear the Lord] 8. This cause is a proof,

however just the sentiment, that Aben Ezra has mistaken the

meaning of the preceding clause. The truly pious man, while he has

in contempt the honourable and right honourable profligate, yet

honours them that fear the Lord, though found in the most abject

poverty; though, with Job, on the dunghill, or, with Lazarus,

covered with sores at the rich man's gate. Character is the object

of his attention; persons and circumstances are of minor


The fear of the Lord is often taken for the whole of religion;

and sometimes for that reverence which a man feels for the majesty

and holiness of God, that induces him to hate and depart from

evil. Here it may signify the lowest degree of religion,

repentance whereby we forsake sin.

Sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.] 9. If at any time

he have bound himself by a solemn engagement to do so and so, and

he finds afterwards that to keep his oath will be greatly to his

damage; yet such reverence has he for God and for truth, that he

will not change, be the consequences what they may. He is faithful

also to his promises; his bare word will bind him equally with an

oath. He that will not be honest without an oath will not be

honest with one.

The Hebrew might be thus translated: "He sweareth to afflict

himself, and does not change;" and thus the Chaldee has rendered

this clause. He has promised to the Lord to keep his body under,

and bring it into subjection; to deny himself that he may not

pamper the flesh, and have the more to give to the poor.

Verse 5. Putteth not out his money to usury] 10. As usury

signifies unlawful interest, or that which is got by taking

advantage of the necessity of a distressed neighbour, no man that

fears God can be guilty of it. The word neshech, which we

translate usury, comes from nashach, to bite as a serpent; and

here must signify that biting or devouring usury, which ruins the

man who has it to pay. "The increase of usury is called

neshech, because it resembles the biting of a serpent. For as

this is so small at first, as scarcely to be perceptible, but the

venom soon spreads and diffuses itself till it reaches the

vitals; so the increase of usury, which at first is not perceived

nor felt, at length grows so much as by degrees to devour

another's substance." Middoch's edition of Leigh's Critica Sacra,

sub voce .

The Jews ever were, and are still, remarkable for usury and

usurious contracts; and a Jew that is saved from it is in the

fair way, charity would suppose, to the kingdom of heaven. The

Roman laws condemned the usurer to the forfeiture of four times

the sum. Cato de Rust., lib. i.

Nor taketh reward against the innocent.] 11. He neither gives

nor receives a bribe in order to pervert justice or injure an

innocent man in his cause. The lawyer, who sees a poor man opposed

by a rich man, who, though he is convinced in his conscience that

the poor man has justice and right on his side, yet takes the

larger fee from the rich man to plead against the poor man, has

in fact taken a bribe against the innocent, and without the most

signal interposition of the mercy of God, is as sure of hell as if

he were already there.

He that doeth these things] He in whose character all these

excellences meet, though still much more is necessary under the

Christian dispensation, shall never be moved-he shall stand fast

for ever. He is an upright, honest man, and God will ever be his


Now we have the important question answered, Who shall go to

heaven? The man who to faith in Christ Jesus adds those eleven

moral excellences which have been already enumerated. And only

such a character is fit for a place in the Church of Christ.

On this verse there is a singular reading in my old MS. Psalter,

which I must notice. The clause, Qui pecuniam suam non dedit ad

usuram, "who putteth not out his money to usury," is thus

translated: He that gat nout his catel til oker. Now this

intimates that the author had either read pecudem, CATTLE, for

pecuniam, MONEY; or that catel was the only money current in his

time and country. And indeed it has long been the case, that the

Scottish peasantry paid their rents in kind; so many cows or

sheep given to the laird for the usufruct of the ground. That

this is no mistake in the translation is evident enough from the

paraphrase, where he repeats the words, with his gloss upon

them: He that gaf nout his Catel till oker bodyly als covaytus men

dos gastly: that he seke naght for his gude dede, na mede of this

werld, bot anely of heven.

The very unusual word oker signifies produce of any kind,

whether of cattle, land, money, or even the human offspring. It is

found in the Anglo-Saxon, the Gothic, the German, and the

Danish; in all which languages it signifies produce, fruit,

offspring, usury, and the like. Dr. Jameson does not show the word

in any of its forms, though it is evident that it existed in the

ancient Scottish language.

The word catel may be used here for chattels, substance of any

kind, moveable or immoveable; but this word itself was originally

derived from cattle, which were from the beginning the principal

substance or riches of the inhabitants of the country. Indeed the

word pecunia, money, was derived from pecus, cattle, which were no

longer used as a medium of commerce when silver and gold came into

use. There is a passage in Chaucer where cattel catching seems to

be used for getting money. Speaking of the wicked priests of his

time, he says:-

Some on her churches dwell

Apparailled poorely proud of porte;

The seven Sacramentes thei doen sell,

In Cattel catching is her comfort.

Of each matter thei wollen mell;

And doen hem wrong is her disport.

To affraie the people thei been fell

And hold hem lower than doeth the Lorde.

Plowmanne's Tale, 3d part.


A Psalm of doctrine, consisting of two parts, in which we have

the character of a sound Christian, (rather, an upright Jew.)

I. The first part is delivered in the form of a dialogue between

God and the prophet, from Ps 15:1-5.

II. The second is the epiphonema, or moral reflection, in the

close of the last verse.

I. 1. The question proposed by the psalmist to God,

1. "Lord, who shall sojourn in thy holy tabernacle?"

2. "Who shall rest upon thy holy hill?" That is, because all are

not Israel which are of Israel, therefore the psalmist asks of

God, Who shall sojourn as a true member in the Church militant?

And who shall rest in the Church triumphant?

2. To which God returns the following answer, containing very

remarkable notes of the true character of a member of the Church:-

1. In general, he is a man, who is, 1. Upright in thought; he

is an honest man: "He that walketh uprightly." 2. Just in his

deed: "He works righteousness." 3. True in his word: "He

speaks the truth in his heart."

2. In particular, he is a man who avoids evil.

1. In himself he is no slanderer: "He backbites not with his


2. He is no wrong-doer: "Nor doeth evil to his neighbour."

3. He is no reviler, tale-bearer, nor tale-hearer: "He takes not

up a reproach against his neighbour."

4. He is no favourer of sin: "In whose eyes an evil person is


5. He is no oppressor nor extortioner: He puts not his money to

his poor brother to usury.

6. No briber: "He takes no reward against the innocent."

3. Such a man is he who honours them that fear the Lord.

4. "He sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not." He will

surely keep his word; his character is composed of piety and


II. The epiphonema, or moral reflection has these two parts:-

1. The party to whom this privilege belongs: "He that doeth

these things;" for the doers, not the hearers, of the law shall be


2. The promise made to him: "He shall never be moved." The life

of grace is the way to the life of glory. See the preceding notes.

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