Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies. – Psalm 103:1-4
Exodus 15:20-27 · Matthew 9:18-38 · Psalm 30:1-12
Our text expresses the feeling which we should always have toward the Lord.
Some people think that the Lord is severe with them. They want many things but do not get them. They suffer many things and they do not see why. They grow to be discontented with their lot, and feel that they are worthy of better and that the Lord disregards them. Inwardly they do not bless but curse the Lord.
The text describes the state into which we should strive to come, or the relation that we may all sustain toward the Lord, a relation toward Him whereby we feel in our hearts that He always blesses us. From this inward feeling that He always blesses us we are given to exclaim, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Then it is added, “and forget not all his benefits.” If we do not from our souls bless the Lord, it is because we forget His benefits and dwell upon what we have not obtained, or upon some minor thing.
There are many things over which people grieve, worry, and fear; but there is only one real source of sorrow, only one actual cause for fear, and that is our sins. There is absolutely nothing that can hurt us except our own evils. The Lord so governs our ministering and guardian angels, in whose care we are, that no matter what is said to us or done to us, only good will come out of it if we are strong in temptation and refrain from sin. And this is the strength that we may be given from the Lord: to say in affliction and joy alike, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
What worth is there in the character of one who praises the Lord in success and sunshine, but in adversity and sorrow turns from Him and finds fault? Is it not evident that such want their own way, and are unwilling to walk with the Lord and endure His baptism? Does He not say to such, “What, can ye not watch with me one hour?”
When the storm is raging without, we most value the shelter of our homes. The cold, bleak winds of winter give the fireside its cheerful comfort. The deepest joys of the soul come when amidst affliction we feel the Divine shelter, and can say within us, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Into this state the spirit of the Lord flows, giving the soul eternal life, and thence descending to the body as its health and protection.
It has been said that there is but one thing for which anyone should grieve, and that is his sins. And if we know the nature and love of God, even our grief over our sins will soon lead to joy, for we will shun them, and then rejoice, because when we cease to sin, the Lord forgives all our iniquities.
There are some people who seem to find nothing to rejoice over. But we all alike have the greatest things to give us delight and comfort. Some of them are expressed in our text, and this is one: that our iniquities may be forgiven. We do not pray to be able to bless the Lord for riches or renown or great talent or glory, for what are all these if upon our conscience is the weight of sin, if our hearts are impure or defiled? Here is the greatest thing, and it is equally for all: the Lord’s forgiveness, whereby guilt is removed and we are given eternal life. This state of innocence in the soul is an abiding-place of the Lord’s spirit, whereby the healthful life of the soul is imparted even to the body.
And so another reason for gratitude follows: “who healeth all thy diseases.” Forgiving iniquities and healing diseases are not mentioned together here by accident. Forgiving iniquities is the removal of disorders from the soul. Healing diseases is the removal of disorders from the body. We need to emphasize this fact: that it is the Lord who forgives iniquities and heals diseases, and that He who forgives iniquities also heals diseases.
We should not put any limitation on the power of the Lord to save and to heal, for if we come into the right relationship to Him, He can deliver us from all our enemies. Yet we should not make the chief thing of religion the healing of diseases of the body. We should not fear that which kills the body, but we should fear the sin that destroys the soul with evil desires and immoral life. The Lord does not bring diseases upon us. His effort is always to heal.
In the Scriptures the laws of disease and its cure are stated: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” This is to say that disease does not exist within Divine order. It takes hold where we are out of order. Coming into Divine order removes us from the realm of disease, for the Lord is Divine order itself, and so He heals. If the human race for a few generations would shun all evil desires and wrong thoughts and cultivate affection for the pure and holy, diseases would be banished from the earth, for all diseases have their origin in the states of affection and thought in the soul. All things are under the power and dominion of the Lord. He permits diseases that they may act as deterrents by checking tendencies toward evil. But if society would come into such order as would render diseases no longer useful as deterrents, the Lord by His Holy Spirit would banish them.
But it is not this that we are particularly concerned with today. There is a certain relation that we can have toward the Lord. It is set forth graphically in the Word. The woman, twelve years diseased, said within herself, “If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be whole.” She worked her way through the throng and touched His garment. Immediately she felt within herself that she was healed, and Jesus perceived that virtue had gone out of Him.
In Jesus Christ is life omnipotent to heal and restore. But there are conditions. These the woman stated when she said, “If I may but touch the hem of his garment.” Even in her weakness she had faith to press through the crowd and work her way to Him. And as she touched Him, virtue went forth from Him and healed her. The hem of the Lord’s garment is the ten commandments.
Belief or faith is not merely to know. Faith is an inward thing, a conviction of the heart. One who does not believe that he can achieve never will. On the natural plane, where there is no belief there is no energy, power, or achievement. But where there is belief we find effort, activity, and results. It has been taught that we are saved by our faith. We are saved not on account of our faith in the Lord but through it, through that relation to the Lord which results from learning of Him and keeping His commandments.
Through our natural inheritance we have tendencies to evil, and evil spirits try to make us feel that evil has power over us, and so to make us think that we are evil, that we are weak and cannot escape from their control. But if we at once turn against our evil impulses and wrong thoughts, saying that they are not ours but are wholly from the hells, we break their power. In the degree that we believe that evil has power we disbelieve in the Lord’s power. The truth makes us free by showing that evil has absolutely no power, and that its seeming power is a delusion. For this reason the Word emphasizes the importance of belief. So it is written, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
As we believe that all the goodness and truth we experience is from the Lord and not from ourselves, the Lord imputes them to us. If we call what goodness and truth we have ours, we deny the Lord and become self-righteous, and close our souls to the entrance of the Lord.
As we look to the Lord as the source of all blessings, spiritual things become to us more than the material and natural. It keeps before us the Lord’s great goodness and the ends toward which the Lord works. It makes us realize that what we want and need most we have. We are sure that whatever happens is, under the Divine providence, for our good, though it may appear to be the reverse. And this belief enables the Lord to heal all our spiritual diseases.
There are two ways in which we can think of the Lord as crowning us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. He wants our faith in Him to be so strong that nothing can disturb us. Then He can crown our efforts with lovingkindness and tender mercies.
And there is yet another way. Through our affliction we learn to sympathize. And by sympathizing and loving, these virtues become a part of our character. And realizing this, we resolve that no one shall suffer by any word or deed of ours. Then the life of God can flow into the soul and give His angels charge over us, so that “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”
Rev. Louis Dole
(I acknowledge the source of this “classic” sermon, from an archive of sermons by Rev. Louis Dole, recently created by his grandson, Rev Lee Woofenden. Rev. Louis Dole (1885-1964) was the fine husband of Anita Dole who compiled the well-known and well-used 6 volume ‘Dole Notes’ for Bible Study.)