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David Dickson on Psalm 85



David Dickson was a Presbyterian minister who was born in 1585 in Glasgow, Scotland. He was an only child, and one asked of the Lord by religious parents who had been childless for many years. Mr Dickson was first a pastor at Irvine in Ayrshire, where under his ministry ďmultitudes were convinced and convertedĒ despite the fierce persecution under Prelacy. A very close and familiar friend of James Durham, one result of their friendship was the excellent ďSum of Saving KnowledgeĒ which is usually bound with the Westminster Confession and the Catechisms. In the 1640ís he became a minister in Glasgow and professor of theology; in 1649 he moved to Edinburgh to be minister and professor at the college there until his death in 1662.


Psalm 85

To the chief musician. A psalm for the sons of Korah.

This psalm agreeth well with the condition of the church of the Jews, now fallen into new troubles, after their return from the captivity of Babylon. In the former part whereof they pray for a new proof and experience of God's mercy, to ver. 8. In the latter part is set down a comfortable answer to their prayer, and for the help of their faith in their prayer. First, they make mention of their gracious delivery from the captivity, ver. 1-3. Next, they pray for repentance, and removing of the tokens of God's wrath, ver. 4, 5. Thirdly, they pray for restoration of their miserable and dead condition wherein they were lying, by some merciful deliverance, ver. 6, 7.

As for the answer in the latter part, he prepareth himself to receive it from the Lord, and by inspiration receiveth indeed a comfortable prophecy of five notable fruits of mercy. The first is, of peace to God's people, ver. 8. The next is, of deliverance and salvation to his servants, ver. 9. The third is, of the grace of Christ unto justification, and the fruits of it, ver. 10, 11. The fourth is, of temporal blessings, upon the place where the Lord's people dwell, and that for his people's comfort, ver. 12. The fifth is, of the grace of Christ unto sanctification, ver. 13.

1. LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

2. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.

3. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

After the church of the Jews had been delivered from captivity, they fell into new troubles, because of their sin and new provocations of God, and in this psalm they cry to God for mercy, and for strengthening of their faith. They acknowledge the Lord's favour in loosing their captivity, v. 1, and in forgiving their sins, v. 2, and in removing all the tokens of his wrath from them, v. 3. Whence learn, 1. After great mercies shown to Godís people, new provocations draw on new judgments, as appeareth in the change of the condition of the church here represented. 2. Neither old sins nor late, neither old judgments nor presently lying under wrath, must keep back Godís people from running unto God by prayer, for obtaining favour of God again, as the example of the church here teacheth. 3.  As no sins can make the Lord so forget his covenant with his people, as mercy should not be let forth to penitent sinners suing for grace, so no wrath is so great, as shall bar poor supplicants from access unto God, when they come to seek mercy.  4. As new necessities call to mind old supplies received from God; so they who would have any new benefit from the Lord, should thankfully remember the old, and take encouragement from those to hope for further; Lord, thou hast been favourable to thy land; thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. 5. As grace is the only ground of Godís bounty to His people, so is it the only ground of his peopleís prayer for new experiences of his grace; as here, God's favour is acknowledged to be the cause of bringing back the people from captivity, and the ground whereupon the psalmist foundeth his prayer: thou hast been favourable to thy land. 6. As that is a benefit indeed, which is given with remission of sins; so every one who seeketh a benefit, should desire to have the benefit which they come to seek, joined with remission of their sins: as the psalmist here maketh the bringing back from captivity a complete favour, because joined with remission of sins: without which it had been the less comfortable: thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people. 7. The way of Godís forgiving sins is, by not imputing them, not bringing them forth to be reckoned, but hiding them from justice's view, and covering them with the imputation of the righteousness of the Redeemer: thou hast covered all their sin. 8. As, while sin unrepented and unforgiven remaineth, wrath also remaineth; so when sin is taken away, God's wrath also is taken away; when God forgiveth sin, he taketh away its punishment; for, after he hath said, thou hast covered all their sin, he subjoineth, thou hast taken away all thy wrath; thou hast turned from the fierceness of thine anger. 9. As the consciousness of sin, and feeling of wrath lying on, and fearing the growth of it, hinder much the guilty from confident approach unto God: so the seen experiences of Godís drawing off those bars in former times, open the door for afflicted sinners confidently to come and seek mercy, as here the psalmist teacheth us, in his making of this preface to his following prayer.

4. Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. 

5. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?

In the next place, upon the aforesaid grounds, the church afflicted prayeth for grace to repent, that so remission of sin and removing of wrath may follow.  Whence learn, 1. Whosoever in an afflicted church are sensible of their own and the churchís sins, should deal with God for giving repentance to his backsliding people, and to increase their own repentance, before they seek removal of the tokens of wrath, as here the godly pray, in the first place, turn us, O God.  2. The Lordís covenant with his people for everlasting salvation, is a ground to pray and hope for temporal deliverance from God, who hath power and ways of his own how to save, when we see no event: turn us, saith he, O God of our salvation.  3. When God giveth grace to a people to repent and turn to him the tokens of his wrath will be removed also: or be so changed, as they shall be no more the effects of wrath; therefore joineth he with, turn us, this petition also, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. 4. The anger of the Lord toward his people, is but temporal and for a moment in comparison of deservings, albeit it seem to endure long: and the believer may be persuaded, that it shall not continue against supplicants long; for, w

6. Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? 

7. Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.

In the third place, the church prayeth for some relief from the distress wherein they were for the time, and putteth their petition out of question, by this interrogation, because Godís purpose and pleasure were that his people should have joy in their God, and thereupon request new tokens of mercy, from the ground of his covenant with them for salvation. Whence learn, 1. As it is a death to be deprived so much as of the evidence and sense of God's favour, so it is life to be clear that we are in favour with God; and as such who have had the sense of God's favour, cannot endure to want it; so shall they have it restored: wilt thou not revive us again? 2. Because plagues and wrath upon Godís people are temporal, they may look certainly for a change to the better; and after they have smarted for their sins for a while, may yet expect to be restored to joy and comfort again: wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? 3. When God changeth the cheer of his people, their joy should not be in the gift, but in the giver: that thy people may rejoice in thee.  4. Albeit the dear children of God, for whom mercy and salvation are appointed, may be destitute of the sight and evidence of both, yet must they believe both, claim both, and hope for the manifestation of both unto them: shew us thy mercy, O Lord, &c., grant us thy salvation. 5. As mercy is the cause of salvation temporal and eternal, and no merit in us; so must he who looks for salvation of either sort make mercy his plea, and no good in himself: shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.

8. I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.

In the latter part of the psalm is the answer of this prayer, which the psalmist expecteth and receiveth by way of prophecy, of five sweet effects of Godís mercy to his people: whereof the first are peace and reconciliation and removing the tokens of his wrath.  Whence learn, 1. The prayer of a believer put up to our ever living Lord, is not a vain work of pouring out words in the air, but a profitable exercise of faith, grounded upon Godís word and goodness, whereof he may expect certainly a return: I will hear what the Lord will say.  2. Comfortable promises will suffice the believer, who, if he know what the Lord sayeth, will be clear also what the Lord will do: I will hear what the Lord will say. 3. Albeit Godís people be under the sense of wrath, yet the Lord will comfort them after seeking grace of him: he will speak peace to his people. 4. Those who indeed mind true holiness, are God's people, to whom the Lord will speak peace; and for whose cause the society wherein they are, shall partake of the fruits of God's favour to them: he will speak peace to his people and to his saints. 5. As the interruption of our peace with God is procured by our folly, or foolish following of the vanities which allure to sin, and divert us from communion with God, so the restoring of us to peace must come by our forsaking those sinful and foolish courses which have procured wrath; and the way to keep us in that peace, is not to return to these courses again; and this is the very end both of Godís correcting us, and of his restoring us to peace, that we sin not as before: he will speak peace to his saints; but let them not return again to folly.

9. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

The second effect of mercy to Godís saints, is the nearness of free salvation in Christ, who is the glory of the land of Judah, where he was born, and the glory of that land, whatsoever it is, wherein his saints, and he among his saints, dwell. Whence learn, 1. The heirs of the promises are only such as study to please God, and to eschew provoking him; for the answer of the former prayer, and the word of prophecy here, are made in favour only of them that fear him. 2. There is no satisfactory deliverance to the afflicted believer, labouring under the sense of wrath, except Jesus Christ, who is really the only complete salvation of God, alone able to answer fully to that name, and who was known to the church before his coming in the flesh by that name; as we may understand by the words of Simeon, Luke ii., who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and had a promise that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ, v. 25, 26. And when he had Christ in his arms he saith, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, v. 30. Here is the name whereby Christ was of old known to the church, among many other titles; he is God's salvation, as he is called here. 3. Consolation and deliverance, and salvation in Christ, are near hand to every upright afflicted believer, whether the afflicted see it comfortably for the time or not: surely God's salvation is near them that fear him. 4. What land the true church of Christ, the saints, and they that fear God dwell in, there glory dwelleth; there God, there Christ by his Spirit bringing righteousness and salvation to such a society, is glorious; and for his presence the people are glorious, and the land glorious above all other lands whatsoever: surely his salvation is near them that fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. This commendation, for many reasons, the land of Judea might claim far above all others.

10. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.  

11. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The third effect of mercy is the grace of Christ unto justification and the fruits thereof bestowed upon them that are justified by faith. There are here three conjunctions, or couples, sweetly agreeing together; one is, of mercy and truth; another is, of righteousness and peace; and the third is, of truth and righteousness. For the first couple, mercy and truth, may be referred either to God bestowing something on his people Ė and so God's mercy pitieth, spareth, and pardoneth his sinful people, and his truth performeth all the good things which in his word he promised; and this couple indeed most eminently met, when Christ, the salvation of God, came in the flesh, for Christ's coming is the highest manifestation of mercy that ever was heard tell of, when God, out of love, and pity, and mercy, gave his Son to redeem sinners; and this also was the most glorious performance of the richest and the noblest promise that ever was made to man; for in the sending of Christ promised, all the promises are made yea and amen; for the way is made sure now to perform all the rest of the promises Ė or mercy and truth may be referred, the one, namely mercy, to God; and the other, to wit truth, may be referred to men, to whom God will show mercy. And in this consideration we are given to understand, that as a merciful God misbelieving sinners are separated, and stand at a great distance, the one departing more and more from the other, so a merciful God and a believer are surely reconciled, and quickly meet together, for God in Christ holdeth forth mercy to the sinner, and mercy bestoweth faith upon the redeemed, and faith layeth hold on mercy, and so mercy and truth are met together. Mercy calleth for faith, and createth it, and faith calleth for mercy, and so this couple meet together.

As for the second couple, of righteousness and peace, both of them are the effects of the meeting of mercy and truth together, or of mercy and faith saying amen to mercy's offer; for faith laying hold on mercy, bringeth down from God righteousness, or justification by faith; and we, being justified by faith, have both peace with God and our own consciences, at least in the point of right and privilege, albeit sense, and possession of the sense of this peace may be interrupted. Whence learn, In whomsoever mercy, or the offer of grace, and faith receiving the offer meet, justification also, or imputed righteousness and peace with God, meet: then righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

The third couple is of truth, or true faith in man on earth, and righteousness from God in heaven: faith springing out of the earth, as the plantation of mercy, in the sensible fruits thereof, that is, in the true effects of sincere love to God and man; and the righteousness of God from heaven shining down as the sun, for nourishing and protecting his own plantation, and performing all promises to the believer. Whence learn, As mercy in God and true faith in man meeting together, are followed with righteousness of justification and peace with God; so, true faith in man is followed with fruits; for it cannot be idle, but must be operative in bringing forth the effects of faith or truth: truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness from heaven is followed with active influence upon springing faith, for defending, and increasing, and blessing it, as the sun fostereth and refresheth the fruits of the ground: truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.  

12. Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.

The fourth fruit of mercy is that of giving temporal benefits to the believer, and blessing the land where believers dwell. Whence learn, 1. The things of this life are appendages to the chief mercies of the gospel, which reconciled people may expect to receive of God, as their need and good require: yea, the Lord shall give that which is good. 2. As the place, or land, where the Lord's people dwell, beareth the tokens of God's displeasure when they provoke him; so shall the land be sensibly blessed when his people are reconciled unto him: and our land shall yield her increase. 

13. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

The fifth fruit of mercy is, the grace of Christ for directing and furthering believers in the way of sanctification. Christ shall be their leader, and righteousness imputed unto believers from Christ, (in the grace of conversion or holy inclination, and of perfect direction by the word and Spirit,) shall make believers follow Christ's ways, and go on in the paths of his obedience. Whence learn, 1. Christ is the captain of his redeemed and reconciled people, or the shepherd of his purchased flock; for he and his people here are walking in one way, wherein he goeth before his people that they may follow his steps, and behind them also to bring them up, and to set them forward in the way, so that none may fall off, as the similitude importeth. 2. As Christ is the leader of his people, so righteousness is the preparer of his people to follow him; first, in the work of conversion or regeneration, wherein the mind is illuminated to behold, and the heart inclined to follow righteousness; secondly, in the work of daily direction, by his word and Spirit: righteousness shall go before him. 3. As the way that the believer must walk in is that which is prescribed by the Lord his leader, so the effectual mover of the believer unto sanctification is the grace of righteousness or sanctification, which Christ the leader sendeth forth into his peopleís hearts, to make them follow the direction given them: for, righteousness shall go before him, and set us in the way of his steps.



A COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS, by David Dickson. Published by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985. pp 76-83.