Images of the Savior from the Psalms (Prologue)
He who has entered the treasury of the Psalms has come upon such a storehouse of riches as may not be found in all the world beside. What El Dorado is there that shines with a purer gold than the very words of the Lord, seven times refined (Psalm 12:6)? What stately pleasure dome of what proud Kubla Khan has ever been supplied with more scintillating delights, delicate treasures, unspeakable glories to dazzle the eyes of men and angels alike? The one who has tasted the goodness of the Lord in the banqueting house of the Psalter must thenceforth be forever spoiled for the pleasures of the world â€“ the sweetest treats that he had coveted before must touch upon his palate as ashes and dust, and until he garner more pleasant fares from the same larder house, sweeter than drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10), he will never again be happy. The fabled nectar of the gods will be bitter as gall and coarse as gravel to him who has once tasted the sweet wine of the true God of gods, which flows to us from the lips of the Psalter's great hero, Jesus Christ our Lord.
They who have tasted these things know I speak the truth; but it is they alone, who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), who will give me an ear. Well then, let it be so; for it is they alone who will profit from the treasury of the psalms. Its storehouses open only to a key that others do not have â€“ the key of the fear of the Lord (Psalm 25:12; 111:10), and the humility that comes from seeing oneself before him in all his terrible glory. The proud kings and rulers of the earth will profit nothing from the psalms, for they cannot stoop low enough to get through the door; but the humble and afflicted, however miserable and broken they may be, will pass through easily enough. The greater their distress, the higher will they see that same vaulted entranceway soaring above them, as they pass through to green pastures and still, cool waters (Psalm 23:2).
And ah, what pleasant things they will find there! He who is sick will find medicine such as no physician on earth could discover, the true cordial of the hurting soul, the only sure panacea for any malady of heart and spirit, able to forgive sin and take away guilt, provide comfort in affliction, give confident faith when all the world is shaken, cast before the eyes of trust the heaven of God's salvation, even when defeat seems near enough to touch â€“ and what other medicine is sufficient for so powerful a remedy?
So also will he who is hungry find a feast such as emperors can only dream about, and he who is lonely will find a love that can never die, and he who is sorrowful will find comfort surpassing deep, and he who is joyful will dance to such songs as he never heard before, songs which alone are able express the truest worship of his heart.
I am saying nothing new, but only what all the saints have proved by bitter trial and blessed experiment. Others may think my words excessive, extravagant; but the saints will only wonder at their coldness and inadequacy. That is well, for I speak now to the saints. If anyone thinks my words overdone and affected, I have no defense; but if one who has tasted the pleasure of the sweet psalms of David should chide me for my weak and stumbling speech, and wonder how so low a clod should take upon his sinful tongue so exalted a theme, then I burn with shame and ask only that you look beyond my stammered words to the Savior of whom (ah, but inadequately!) I have dared to speak. He will forgive my errors; and ought not you to do so too?
You may wonder why I who am unqualified have desired to write about what the greatest saints in history have made the pre-eminent subject of their deepest and most useful works. Let me explain what I hope to do, and perhaps you will then grant me some leniency. Others more competent than I in grammar and exegesis have produced commentaries noted for their precision and insight; they are as refiners, who purify the gold they have gathered up in their kilns of grammar and redemptive history. Still others who have a deeper experience of the comfort of the gospel proclaimed in the psalms, those fathers of the faith who have passed through fire and flood, persecution and desolation, trials such as we have never been made to encounter, have proved the practical value of this refined gold. They are as skilled workers who fashion the purified gospel-gold into fine jewelry, that it might be worn prominently upon their breasts and bound around their brows.
What then am I, that I should thrust myself into such company? And what do I hope to accomplish that they have not already? I will add nothing new to the rich insights of the skilled grammarians. I cannot prove empirically the great efficacy of the psalms by raising my voice in worship when the persecutor's flames leap about my body. But this one thing I hope to do: I am as one who has already entered the treasure cavern, and I have paused for but a moment so that my eyes might adjust to the gloom; now, whenever anyone enters behind me, looking for the answer to whatever problem he may have, seeking out riches for whatever kind of poverty in whose cold grasp he should find himself, I take his arm and extend my finger and say, â€œThere, in that corner, is this cavern's richest vein! Go gather up the gold in that place, and when the refiners purify it and the fashioners shape it to adorn your brow, it will be such a jewel as you have never seen before.â€ There are other places in these treasuries of David where you may dig up much fine gold; by all means go and do so, there is plenty for the digging! But I would point out in brief only the richest veins of all to him who is greedy for the gospel.
The great reformer, John Calvin, was certainly right to speak about the psalms as â€œAn Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul,â€ for in them may be found every emotion which anyone has ever experienced, each made to find its proper place in the life and experience of the saints; and he is also right that this is done largely by the example of that great and typical saint, King David. What all the saints have known and experienced, of comfort in trials, true penitence for sin, the joy of imputed righteousness and covered transgression, and many other things, God was pleased to show forth pre-eminently in the life of David, as an example and pattern for all the saints.
But to see David and his sweet psalms as an example alone of the life of faith is to miss much â€“ and indeed the better part â€“ of their surpassing value. True, Calvin spoke most often directly of David, in his expositions of the psalms; but that he never intended anyone to look to David alone, without then turning his eye to the greater David, the Son who was greater than his earthly father, the final Anointed King whom David himself ever looked for and hoped in, is evident by the tenor of all his writings. â€œWhenever, therefore, the Jews thought of a Redeemer, that is, of their salvationâ€ Calvin taught in another place, â€œthey ought to have remembered 'David' as a mediator who represented Christ; for David must not here be regarded as a private individual, but as bearing this title and characterâ€.
Calvin very often points out in the psalms those places in which the messianic glory shines so brightly that, skipping right over King David, they make reference to Christ solely and uniquely. How often does the Psalmist look ahead in worship to Christ as the God whose throne is forever and ever (Psalm 45:6), to his Son who is also his Lord (Psalm 110:1; cf. also Mat. 22:42-46), and rest in Christ untypified and unmediated in his glory? And yet, for all those beautiful prophetic gems, there is much more of Christ in the psalms than just that; for in all of David's own trials and struggles also, when he is burdened down with the weight of sin, oppressed by the unjust persecution of his enemies, feeling the weight of interceding for and representing the people of God, and when he therefore pours out his own heart and soul, he does so ever as type and forerunner of that great Savior and King, the Messiah in whom his soul trusted. Whenever, therefore, one speaks of King David without applying the truths there displayed in a pre-eminent manner to the greater David, he has failed to see the finest gold of the treasury of the psalms.
The riches of the psalms are never truly apprehended except when they are made to apply to the soul in all of its various conditions, whether in sorrow and despair, joy and praise, doubt and fear, or any other estate at all; but they are never made to apply properly to the soul in any of those conditions, except when they hold forth the Messiah to the eyes of the saints, and show how his glorious Person and matchless work may alone provide the fitting remedy; and in the person of King David, as a typical saint and typological savior, both of these aspects are brought together. When David, therefore (and the other psalmists also), is not treated of as a type of the Christ, who was truly joined to the saints in a life like theirs and won a victory in their stead and for their salvation, then the psalms are not put to a proper use. And if they are not so put to a proper use, then they are not finally sufficient to hold forth the answers to the deepest problems and greatest difficulties that the saints may bring to them.
This, then, is what I propose to do by the help of the Holy Spirit as we look to the blessed psalms: I hope to look through the psalmist to the Savior for the saint. My meditations will be brief, and contain the merest skeleton of an overview. They will usually give no extended explanation or description. They will only say, in the barest of terms, that this is what the psalmist tells us about David, who suffered so and remembered this and learned thus and such; this is how it looks ahead from David to the Christ, either by way of direct prophecy or typological example; and this is how we may put it to a personal and appropriate application in our own lives, as we go through like experiences to David's, and ultimately to Christ's, the greater David, who walks through them all with us, and is joined to us by his Spirit, and who overcomes every foe to give us a salvation great enough for any problem we might ever face.
 From Calvin's Commentary on Isaiah 55:3