Some preachers have a strange way of proclaiming the gospel message. They only seem to know how to target their Sunday morning sermon to the lost. These preachers assume the worst of the gathered congregation, even though they are in the presence of sincere believers. “You may look all put together,” the preacher says boldly, “but inside you are filled with deceit and guilt.” The preacher is in the habit of addressing the congregation as unrepentant sinners, hard-hearted evildoers who are strangers to the grace of God and who have no history of being forgiven and sanctified. He is used to preaching this way even though his congregation has just finished singing songs and hymns with gratitude in their hearts to the Lord.
The seeker in the congregation who has yet to come to Christ must wonder at the power of the gospel to change lives if a seemingly vibrant and redeemed congregation is so lost and in such need of saving. Psalm 26 defends the sincere worshiper against the well-meaning preacher who knows no other way to present the gospel than by turning believers into unbelievers for at least the duration of his sermon. Meanwhile, the worshiper does not feel like damaged goods, nor does she feel estranged from God, because she has received God’s redemptive grace. Thankfully, she feels alive in Christ: forgiven and free. The psalms assume universal depravity. There is no question that everyone is a sinner: “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 53:3). But the psalms also reflect the impact of the Lord’s steadfast love on the people of God. It is not prideful or unchristian to revel, as the psalmist does, in the power of God’s saving grace to change her life.
Vindicate me, Lord,
for I have led a blameless life; [for I have walked in my integrity, ESV];
I have trusted in the Lord [without wavering. ESV] and have not faltered.
Test me, Lord, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.
Psalm 26, like Psalm 15, is a “liturgy at the gate,” dedicated to all the sincere souls who come before the presence of God with humility. These true worshipers have experienced the sweetness of forgiveness and the beauty of redemption. They are seeking vindication and affirmation based on God’s redeeming love. The concluding theme of the previous psalm, “May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you” (Ps. 25:21), introduces the opening theme of Psalm 26, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering” (Ps. 26:1 ESV). The words “integrity,” “upright- ness,” and “blameless” describe a state of grace and a way of life rooted in the righteousness of God and received as the gift of God. These qualities are not the means of salvation but the meaning of salvation. The person asking for vindication is the same person who lifts his soul to the Lord. He walks in integrity and trusts in the Lord. The concern expressed here is the same as the plea in Psalm 139, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24). The apostle Paul captures a similar desire in his prayer: May “your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).
Spiritual maturity is not a hopeless ideal but a real possibility. Sadly, we have developed the fine art of self-deprecation to win the favor of those who have little intention of growing in Christ. Ironically we put ourselves down to raise ourselves up; we belittle ourselves to impress people with our humility. The psalmist refuses to play that game. Like metal refined by fire, David prays to be tested and tried. The apostle Peter likened “grief in all kinds of trials” to a refiner’s fire that tested the genuineness of faith (1 Peter 1:6–7). Peter admonished believers, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
The psalmist is not ashamed to say that he is walking in integrity, that he is trusting the Lord, and that his feet are not slipping. Even though C. S. Lewis judged the psalmist to be self-righteous and pharisaical, I am suggesting that the psalmist’s claim is not an egotistical boast but rather an edifying testimony. He is not patting himself on the back when he says, “I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” He is witnessing to the Lord’s faithfulness. The New Testament equivalent to David’s confidence may be Paul’s testimony when he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that bring salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Psalm 26 offers an Old Testament profile of a New Testament reality. The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to approach the presence of God “with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The author’s focus is not on self-confidence or a winning attitude. He calls for a confidence and integrity in Christ that spreads across all personality types and emotional ranges. To “hold firmly to our confidence” means embracing wholeheartedly “the hope in which we glory” (Heb. 3:6); it means holding “our original conviction firmly to the very end” (Heb. 3:14); it means holding “firmly to the faith we profess” (Heb. 4:14). Confidence is not just an attitude, but a way of life lived in anticipation of God’s great reward in heaven (Luke 6:23).
I do not sit with the deceitful,
nor do I associate with hypocrites.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, Lord,
proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
These words are reminiscent of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Ps. 1:1–2). The psalmist is not like the proud Pharisee in Jesus’s story of the repentant tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). Nor is he like Pilate washing his hands in innocence (Matt. 27:24). The heart of the psalmist checks the popular bias against spiritual maturity. He does not claim “authenticity” as an excuse to disregard God’s will. Like Job he is faithful to his understanding of God’s righteousness, and he seeks it with all his heart. Integrity and self-preservation cause him to keep his distance from the deceitful, the hypocrite, the evildoer, and the wicked. He is morally sensitive, not morally superior. He embraces his moral obligation.
The line between the assembly of the wicked and the sanctuary of God is clearly felt by the psalmist. He loves the household of faith. His heart’s desire is to “proclaim aloud” the Lord’s praise and tell of all his “wonderful deeds” (Ps. 26:7). His “separation” from evil does not shy away from ministry to the lost and needy; it demands it. Jesus and his followers are not of this world, but they are for the world. Spiritual discipline and moral integrity are coupled with compassionate evangelism in the world. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But if we hope to help the world we cannot become like the world. The Danish Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard believed that Christians were assimilated into the culture so completely that there was no real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. Everyone was a Christian because no one was a Christian. Christians cannot be at home in the world and at the same be “a stranger and a pilgrim in the world.”
HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH
Lord, I love the house where you live,
the place where your glory dwells.
Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with those who are bloodthirsty,
in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.
I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me.
My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.
The psalmist finds his refuge in the glorious sanctuary of God. The image of the house of God invites reflection on the church as the body of Christ. Early Christians had a sense of place, a feeling of being at home, not in a facility but in a family of shared faithfulness to the Word of God. There was no outward temple or tall steeple to symbolize their place, but as they met together there was a powerful presence of the risen Lord Jesus. The early Christians knew that “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands” (Acts 7:48). The relational and spiritual character of this “house” built by God of people is no less material, temporal, spatial, and concrete than if it had been built with stone and steel. The good news is proclaimed and lived through the household of faith. In a world of hostility, the church is an alternative society, a visible sign of the kingdom of God in a fallen world.
Only the Lord can save the psalmist. He pleads for assurance that he will not be swept away in judgment along with the violent offenders, the perpetrators of wicked schemes, and the white-collar crooks who bribe their way to the top. As confident as he is in his blamelessness and in his resolve to trust in the Lord, he throws himself on the mercy of God. His plea is simple, “Deliver me and be merciful to me” (Ps. 26:11). His humble plea for vindication depends upon the grace of God. His integrity and unfaltering trust evidence his earnestness. David serves as a type pointing forward to the assurance of salvation that will be found in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God by his physical body through death and presented us as holy and blameless and above reproach in his sight (see Col. 1:22). For now, the psalmist pictures assurance as standing tall on level ground in the company of God’s people, and he is praising the Lord. The conclusion forms an inclusio with verse one. Trust in Yahweh prevents his feet from slipping, and the promise of redemption gives his feet a firm place to stand. Yahweh has made his faith secure, and David declares his praise openly in the great congregation. Calvin writes, “It is highly necessary that everyone should publicly celebrate his experience of the grace of God, as an example to others to confide in him.”
 Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 58.
 Kierkegaard, Attack upon “Christendom,” 42.
 Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 50.
 Calvin, Psalms, 4:1:449
This post is adapted from The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book by Douglas D. Webster. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
A Commentary for worship, devotion and reflection on the Psalter.
The Old Testament Psalter testifies both to the universal human condition and the redemption wrought for believers in the person and work of Christ. In The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book, longtime pastor and seminary professor Doug Webster distills ancient and modern scholarship on the Psalms into theological, canonical, apostolic, linguistic, and pastoral edification to students of Psalter. By focusing on both the most consequential and the less developed aspects of Psalm studies, Webster shows how living a Christ-centered life goes hand in hand with digesting the Psalms as a complete collection prefiguring Christ. The volumes of The Psalms follow the internal divisions Psalms presents:
- Volume 1 (Book I of the Psalms)
- Volume 2 (Book II)
- Volume 3 (Book III-IV)
- Volume 4 (Book V)
Designed with preachers and teachers in mind, The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book strikes a middles ground between a technical commentary and a book of sermons. Webster offers pastoral insight in both interpretation and application of the Psalms for worship, unveiling purpose and significance for worship, devotion, and reflection.