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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 139

Verses 1-24

The Searching of God

Psalms 139:1

We are prone to associate the searching-work of God with events of a striking or memorable kind. It is in great calamities and overwhelming sorrow that we feel with peculiar vividness God's presence. When Job was in the enjoyment of prosperity he was an eminently reverent man; but it was in the hour of his black and bitter midnight that he cried out, 'The hand of God hath touched me'. And that same spirit lodges in every breast, so that God's searching comes to be associated with hours when life is shaken to its deeps, and when all the daughters of music are laid low. Now the point to be noted is, that in this Psalm the writer is not thinking of such hours. There is no trace that he has suffered terribly, or been plunged into irreparable loss. 'Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising' my usual, ordinary, daily life it was there that the Psalmist recognized the searching; it was there that he woke to see that he was known.

I. We are searched and known by the slow and steady passing of the years. There is a revealing power in the flight of time, just because time is the minister of God. In heaven there will be no more time; there will be no more need of any searching ministry. There we shall know even as we are known in the burning and shining of the light of God. But here, where the light of God is dimmed and broken, we are urged forward through the course of years, and the light of the passing years achieves on earth what the light of the Presence will achieve in glory.

II. Then once again God searches all of us by the responsibilities He lays upon us. It is in our duties and not in our romance that the true self is searched and known. Think of those servants in the parable who got the talents. Could you have gauged their character before they got the talents? Were they not all respectable and honest, and seemingly worthy of their Master's confidence? But to one of the servants the Master gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, and what distinguished and revealed the men was the use they made of that responsibility. They were not searched by what they had to suffer; the men were searched by what they had to do. They were revealed by what their Master gave, and by the use they made of what they got.

III. Once more, God has a way of searching us by lifting our eyes from the detail to the whole. He sets the detail in its true perspective, and seeing it thus, we come to see ourselves. You note how the writer of this Psalm proceeds: 'Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising,' he says. These are details; little particular actions; the unconsidered events of every day. But the writer does not stop with these details he passes on to the survey of his life: 'Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways'.

We are all prone to be blinded by detail, so that we scarcely realize what we are doing. There are lines of conduct which we would never take if we only realized all that they meant. There are certain sins to which we would never yield, if we but saw them in their vile completeness. But the present is so tyrannical and sweet, and the action of the hour is so absorbing, that we cannot see the forest for the trees, nor reckon out the course that we are taking. We often say, looking back upon our sufferings, 'We wonder how we ever could have borne it'. One secret of our bearing it was this, that we only suffered one moment at a time. And so, looking back upon our foolish past, we sometimes say, 'How ever could we do it?' and one secret of our doing it was this, that we only acted one moment at a time. When a man is dimly conscious he is wrong, he has a strange power of forgetting yesterday. When a man is hurrying to fulfil his passion, he shuts his ears to the calling of tomorrow. And the work of God is to revive that yesterday, and tear the curtain from the sad tomorrow, and show a man his action of today set in the general story of his life.

IV. Again, God has a common way of searching us, by showing us our own case in another's life. We may never know ourselves until we see ourselves divested of all the trappings of self-love.

V. Does not God search us by bringing new influences to bear upon our lives? Some one enters the circuit of our being, and the light they bring illuminates ourselves. We are all prone in our ordinary course to settle down into a dull routine. The vision of the highest fades away from us, and we go forward without high ambition. Our feelings lose their freshness and their zest, and we are not eager and strenuous as we once were, and we are content with far lower levels now than would have contented us in earlier days. All this may come to a man, and come so gradually that he hardly notices all that he has lost. His spiritual life has grown so dull and dead that prayer is a mockery and joy is flown. Then we meet one whom we have not seen for years, one who has wrestled heavenward 'gainst storm and tide and in that moment we realize it all. Nothing is said to blame or to rebuke us. The influence lies deeper than all speech. Nothing is done to make us feel ashamed. We may be welcomed with the old warmth of friendship. But there is something in that nobler life, suddenly brought into contact with our own, that touches the conscience, and shows us to ourselves, and quickens us to the shame that is medicinal.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 109.

Psalms 139:1

Ruskin says of this Psalm: 'All the true religions of the world are forms of the prayer, "Search me and know my heart: prove me and examine my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting". And there are, broadly speaking, two ways in which the Father of men does this: the first, by making them eager to tell their faults to Him themselves (Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee); the second, by making them sure they cannot be hidden, if they would: "If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there".'

References. CXXXIX. 1. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 97. CXXXIX. 1, 2. C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 21. CXXXIX. 1-3. Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons (1st Series), p. 178. CXXXIX. 1-6. W. G. T. Shedd, American Pulpit of Today, vol. i. p. 281. CXXXIX. 1-12. E. W. Shalders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi. p. 328. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines, p. 138. CXXXIX. 7. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 351. A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx. p. 118. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, p. 65. CXXXIX. 9. A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv. p. 257.

The Comfort of God's Omnipresence

Psalms 139:9-10

I. The greatest comfort in all hours of separation is the idea of God. When you are to be divided from a friend by an earthly sea there can be no deeper solace than the thought that you and he are to be really within the hollow of a single hand that, while unable to touch one another, you will be in the presence of one who is touching you both. And when there comes the separation of that widest sea death, there is again no solace so deep as that. At such a time what do I want to know? Is it whether the streets of heaven are paved with gold? Is it whether the songs of heaven are rich in music? Is it whether the work of heaven is wrought by angels? It is none of these things. It is whether in this vast universe beyond the earth there is anything which can connect my life with the life of my departed brother.

II. What a comfort to be told that, with all our seeming separation, we are still inmates of the same house the house of God! That is just what the Psalmist says. He says that absolute separation between two souls is an impossibility that the wings of the morning can never lift outside the gates of God. If you had departed into the far-off land and I, lingering here, had a message to send you, I should not, like Adelaide Procter, make music the medium of transmission. That would be wireless telegraphy; the song might reach the wrong quarter. But if I knew there was an invisible being in the universe who, spite of the poles of distance, had one hand on you and the other on me, I should find my medium of communication in him. I should say, 'Convey into the heart of my friend the impression that he is still remembered by me, still loved by me, still longed for by me'.

III. If a man feels himself in contact with God, he is in contact with all worlds. I once heard an old woman express great confidence that she would meet her departed husband beyond the grave. Experimenting on her understanding I said, 'Of course in that vast district it may take some time to find him'. She answered, 'It will need no time; I shall just ask Christ to take me to my husband, and He will take me at once'. With all its crudeness and primitiveness, the answer was on the lines of Herbert Spencer. If all the forces of the universe are the parts of one central force, that central force can at any moment unite them all: the wings of the morning can do nothing to divide.

G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 196.

Psalms 139:9-10

From this text Bishop Selwyn preached on the Sunday after his arrival in Auckland in 1842. In the afternoon of the same day, to the astonishment of all, he conducted a service in the Maori language, so quickly had he learned it while on his voyage out.

References. CXXXIX. 11. H. N. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 245 (P.B.V.). M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 241. CXXXIX. 12. B. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 50. CXXXIX. 13-24. E. W. Shalders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi. p. 360. CXXXIX. 14. C. Perren, Revival Sermons, p. 306. J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 321.

Psalms 139:16

Ruskin says: 'Was the great precipice shaped by His finger, as Adam was shaped out of the dust? Were its clefts and ledges carved upon it by its Creator, as the letters were on the Tables of the Law? The only answer is "Behold the cloud". No eye ever "saw its substance, yet being imperfect"; its history is a monotone of endurance and destruction; all that we can certainly know of it is that it was once greater than it is now, and it only gathers vastness and still gathers, as it fades into the abyss of the unknown.'

References. CXXXIX. 16. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 369. CXXXIX. 17. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 191. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 121.

Still with Thee

Psalms 139:18

A max whose religion is of a shallow kind is content with occasional acknowledgment of God. He has his stated seasons of approach, and his rigid periods of worship. There are long times when, as the Psalmist says, God is not in all his thoughts. He wages his warfare on the field of business in total forgetfulness of the Divine. That is one mark of a religious life which is neither very deep nor very real; it never issues in spiritual strength, nor in the bright experience of joy. Now in the book of Psalms it is not so. The Psalmist's recognition is continuous. What you feel about the Psalmist is just this, that always he sets the Lord before him. And it is this continual recognition, and this unvarying practice of God's presence, which kindle the Psalmist when he is discouraged, and bring the joy that cometh in the morning. When we go to sleep mastered by some thought, that thought is still beside us when we wake. If it be trouble on which we closed our eyes, how swiftly in the morn does it return! And it was because the Psalmist lived with God, and went to sleep under the wing of God, that he could take his pen and write in all sincerity, 'When I awake, I am still with Thee'.

Now I want to widen out that thought, for human life has various awakings.

I. And in the first place we might apply it to the waking of the child into maturity. God is with us in our sorest duty. God is with us in our heaviest sorrow. God is with us in our humblest task, if only it be valiantly done. And this is the joy of it when we awake, that through all we strive to do, and all we bear, God and His grace become more wonderful than in the earlier morning when we dreamed.

II. Again our text has a deep application when we think of the awaking to new knowledge. Through every increase and advance of knowledge the heart still hungers for the living God. We never outgrow that, no matter what we learn. We never get beyond it or above it The heart and God were made for one another, and only in that communion is there rest.

III. Once more, our text is full of meaning when we think of the waking from spiritual lethargy. I believe that the longsuffering of God shines brightest, not against our blackest sins, but against those periods when we were slumberous, and when the eyes of our trust were sealed in sleep.

IV. I think, too, we should bear our text in mind in view of any time of crushing sorrow. In all great sorrow there is something numbing, an insensibility like that of sleep. It is one of the triumphs of our modern medicine that it can apply opiates so powerfully. A prick of a needle or a little sprinkling, and one forgets the agony of pain. But God has His opiates no less than man, reserved for the hours when the physician fails, so that the mourner says, 'I cannot take it in it is like a dream I cannot realize it'. There is mercy in that numbing of the spirit. The worst might be unbearable without it. When vividness of perception would be torture, God giveth to His beloved sleep.

V. Does not our text apply to the last awaking in eternity? 'I shall be satisfied when I awake,' and satisfied because I am with Thee.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 290.

Always with God

Psalms 139:18

Under what conditions did the Psalmist make this declaration? He said, 'When I awake I am still with Thee'. Where else had he been? He had been asleep; the reference is to natural sleep, but I am going to broaden the outlook and say next to nothing about that natural sleep. Still, confined to that little event, it is a very marvellous text. 'When I awake, I am still with Thee:' I have been in the darkness, and I should have been lost there, my dream teacher was grim, and the darkness was full of nightmare and sorrow and bitterness, but lo, when I awake, it is all right, I am still in my bed, I am still in safety, I am still in my house, I am still with Thee.

I. 'When I awake,' let us take that in its more ideal and poetic sense, in its higher intellectual aspect, and let us begin by saying how well we know what it is for a man to have his eyes opened, and yet not to be awake. We characterize some persons as sleepy, not alert, allowing chances to pass by, seeing nothing; it would require all God's thunder to get an idea into their heads. So we speak of them, so we characterize them: let us take care lest we are taking our own portraits, lest we are indicating our own intellectual and spiritual condition.

1. When I awake intellectually I am still with Thee; once I did not seem to have any mind; as for intellect, I did not know the meaning of the word. I begin to see somewhat of it now in dim outline, and what I do see I like, for there is a light even in the shadow. The weary, trying, weakening thing is that men who can be alert in business and bargaining are absolutely and wilfully half-asleep when the question is God, prayer, forgiveness, immortality. That is so strange and so wearying to the poor heart.

2. When I awake spiritually I am astounded at myself. I knew nothing about myself; I thought I was good enough so far as time permitted me to be good and circumstances allowed me to look after my own conduct, but when I awoke I saw that there was something finer than conduct, behind it, beneath it, above it. What was that ethereal, spiritual something? It was motive, disposition, spiritual impulse, moral intent. Conduct was a thing that was marked up in plain figures in the window, and I could go and buy it, and wear it, and look as respectable as other men; but when I awoke spiritually I saw that what I really needed was not something marked in plain figures in the window, but a new heart, a new life, new sensitiveness, in other words, a grander, a new personality. I thought life a run, a rattle, a feast, a wedding, a burial; I now see that all these poor outlines are nothing except in so far as they indicate that behind them all and above them all there is a spirit, a slumbering immortality.

II. Thus it is so all the way through. When I am awake and take a wakeful man's view of God's providence, I see how much God has been doing in the sleeping time. I used to call all these things events; in my fancy I published a morning journal, and called the leading column Events of the Day. Now that I am awake, at noonday awake, throbbing in every pulse, quivering in every nerve, I see that events make up a great Bible, a marvellous revelation; I see that God takes up these little patches, and so to say makes of them a great coverlet, a great area of philosophy, experience, and suggestion. Oh that men would connect things, bring them up into coherency and unity and final meaning.

III. Now the singer says, 'When I awake, I am still with Thee'. Always with God, without knowing it sometimes. I now begin to see that I live and move and have my being in God. Oh, it is all so mystic, so wondrous! I used to desire to fall asleep that I might forget everything; I have got so far on the road of progress that I sometimes say in my poor bedside prayer, 'Lord, send me to-night a dream of comfort, a dream of light, a dream of song'. And then I do this, as you do it which is the most perilous experiment that a man can conduct or have any hand in conducting I fall asleep. We have taken the poetry out of that expression and made it flat prose. 'I fell asleep,' says the man who does not know what sleep means in its innermost purpose and providential interpretation. That a man should willingly and eagerly go out of himself, leave himself as a half-dead thing on his feather-bed, and go away whence he may never return oh, that is surely, if properly interpreted and understood, a deeply religious act. And yet men who throw themselves into that invisible power and presence and sanctuary called Sleep, dare not throw themselves by faith into the heart of God.

IV. 'I am still with Thee.' One man said this in other words on a very remarkable occasion. He fell asleep wearied, fatigued, exhausted, self-despising in some degree; he fell asleep among the stones, he could not keep his eyes open, and therefore he fell into natural slumber. And as the morning crept on and all things showed themselves in a grey light, he arose, and looking round upon all the spectres of cloud and mist and growing light, he said, 'I am in the house of God, this is the gate of heaven, and I knew it not'. With true wakefulness comes true religion. Get intellectually alert, and you will begin to be religious. The universe is a less place to the fool than it is to the wise man. Have we not all hours of darkness? Are there not times when we cannot see the star? and yet when we sleep, partially at least, through the weary night there comes a great evangel, a great revelation on the white hills of the east, and we say, 'Why, we must have been mistaken, it was not darkness, at least it was that kind of darkness which is a quality of light. This is none other than the house of God.' These are the experiences that thief cannot steal, that moth and rust cannot corrupt. We must pass through them personally and really, and not try to live upon the leavings of other souls. Then what shall come to pass? We shall say, as the east whitens and the opal rises which will die in crimson, 'Lo! this is none other than the house of God God God'.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 252.

Divine Scrutiny and Guidance

Psalms 139:23-24

The Psalmist sets forth in poetry what theology calls the doctrine of the Divine omniscience. He believes in Jehovah, the God of all the earth, and therefore believes in a Providence so universal that it misses nothing.

I. God's providence is everywhere, but it does not dissipate itself in a mere general supervision of creation. It is all-seeing, all-surrounding, all-embracing, but it is not diffused in matter and dispersed through space. The Psalmist dwells on what that means, how there is no limit to God's knowledge of him. The strange and awe-inspiring thought is borne in on him that the God with whom he has to do has a perfect knowledge of him, that the whole life and soul lie open and naked before Him. No spot of creation is empty of God. Whither can he go from God's spirit, or whither can he flee from His presence? The practical ethical thought suggested by such a conception to the Psalmist is the question, how can God, the pure and holy One, with such an intimate and unerring knowledge, tolerate wicked men? He feels he must separate himself from the men who live in revolt against good and who hate God. But he is not content with such moral indignation against others. He is driven in to consider the state of his own heart, and to be willing to open up his whole nature to the Divine scrutiny that he may be purged from evil.

II. Divine examination and Divine guidance are the two petitions of the prayer; and the two are not only connected, but are dependent on each other. We all in some form know and admit the value of some sort of examination of life, the need of some kind of judgment and test; and we know that life and character are weighed on some balance or other. Religion also seeks for self-examination. Any kind of self-judgment is better than none; for there is always a chance of learning the truth, and of discovering duty. There is another kind of examination we are constantly undergoing the judgment of others. We are always incurring criticism, the attempt of others to estimate our work and our worth. The world judges results. It cannot take account of motives or even of opportunities. Outside criticism cannot avoid being largely surface criticism. In the region especially of character, such examination constantly errs. On the whole, self-examination has a better chance of arriving at a true state of affairs.

III. But here is a judgment, both from without and from within, which can test the life. It is to this the Psalmist offers himself, to a judgment that is unerring, a scrutiny that is both just and merciful, an examination that will set for him a standard by which he can examine himself. All the methods of self-examination most approved of by the masters of devotional life will not themselves lead a man to the way everlasting. The Psalmist is not thinking of any such methods, or even of self-scrutiny at all when he asks to be searched and tried. It is the recognition and acceptance of God that he feels is the important thing. He would have God hold his hand and lead him in the way of life. He would turn the scrutiny into guidance; and this is done by simple surrender.

Hugh Black, Christ's Service of Love, p. 158.

The Sign of the Sincere

Psalms 139:23-24

In this wonderful Psalm the Divine attributes of omnipresence and omniscience are most eloquently set forth. It is a large subject; but the writer does not lose himself in immensity he recognizes its immediate personal bearing. 'O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising. Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.' And the moral bearing of the solemn theme is felt by the Psalmist to be of the first consequence. He does not contemplate the Divine immanence and transcendence like a poet, nor treat it as a philosopher, metaphysician, or theologian. He is fully alive to the fact that the all-pervading Spirit is the Spirit of righteousness.

I. The Examination Invoked. 1. Mark the range of this examination. 'Search me, O God, and know my heart.' Bishop Horsley's translation reads: 'O Jehovah, Thou hast explored me, and Thou knowest me'. God knows him because He has explored him. The Psalmist stands perplexed before the mystery of his own being; he is at once ignorant of himself and yet mistrustful of himself; he does not know himself, yet knows himself sufficiently well to suspect himself; therefore he appeals to the Spirit who searcheth all things. How true it is that we are mainly unknown to ourselves; that within us are unexplored regions; that our heart is substantially undiscovered! Schopenhauer one day strayed into the Royal Gardens of Berlin; and when an officer inquired of him, 'Who are yon, sir?' the philosopher responded, 'I don't know; I shall be glad if you can tell me'. The officer reported him for a lunatic; but he was far from that he was one who had deeply pondered the mystery of personality, and was accordingly puzzled by it.

Our personality is largely unmapped; the heights and depths of the soul, its capacities and forces, its possibilities for good and evil, are only dimly perceived and faintly understood. We know more of the world outside than we do of the universe within us. The psychological Columbus has not yet arrived; no Cortez has yet scaled the peaks of the soul.

But what is beyond our ken is set in the light of God's countenance.

2. The depth of this examination. 'And know my thoughts' 'My inward thoughts, my distant thoughts, the thoughts not yet come into my mind.' Ewald translates this, 'Prove me, and know my dreams'. Not the dreams of the night, which are fantastic and negligible; but the waking dream, the first ghostly inception of the act All acts are first dreams, too faint for definition, too elusive for anything like satisfactory explanation; and evil acts are first evil dreams so shadowy as apparently to be without serious signification. Every robbery is first transacted in the phantom gold of imagination; murder is first rehearsed within the closed doors of secret malice; we lie in our heart before we lie with our tongue; the unclean act is born in a sullied fancy; deeds of pride, covetousness, and ambition are first dalliances with mental imagery and emotional moods apparently far from reality. Our dreams indicate what we potentially are, they forecast what we may actually become, and they have a strange trick of fulfilling themselves. Yes, this is the main matter what we mean in our heart of hearts, what lies at the bottom of our heart. 'All mind finally becomes visible.'

It is one thing to examine ourselves; it is another to surrender ourselves unreservedly to the Divine criticism. When, in 1896, the engineers were planning the foundations for the Williamsburg Bridge, New York, the deepest of their twenty-two borings was a hundred and twelve feet below high water. Steel drills had indicated bedrock from twelve to twenty feet higher than was the actual case; the diamond drill, however, showed the supposed bedrock to be merely a deposit of boulders. So the diamond drill of God pierces our self-delusions, detects the fallacy of our assumptions, proves what we thought sterling to be only stones of emptiness, discloses the very truth of things far down the secret places of the soul.

3. The severity of this examination. ' Try me.' 'Prove me.' He is willing to be subjected to severe discipline that the falseness and foulness of nature shall be sevenfold purified. In the Revised Version the third verse stands, 'Thou searchest out my path and my lying down'. But the margin reads, 'Thou winnowest my path' a close and cleansing scrutiny. As the thresher separates the golden corn from the valueless chaff, so the Psalmist prays that the Divine Analyst will deliver him from whatever is gross and worthless.

The consummate ability of Stas, the Belgian chemist, is celebrated because he 'eliminated from his chemicals every trace of that pervasive element, sodium, so thoroughly that even its spectroscopic detection was impossible'. But such is the efficacy of Divine grace that it can eliminate so thoroughly every trace of that pervasive and persistent element known as sin that we may be presented before the throne holy and unreprovable and without blemish. That the sincere may attain this purification, they are prepared to pass through the hot fires of bitter and manifold discipline.

II. The Design of this Examination. The ulterior purpose, as expressed by the text, is twofold.

1. Deliverance from our own way of life. Our own way is a way of emptiness. Some would translate these words, 'any way of idols in me'. It signifies the vanity, the unreality, the delusiveness of the objects on which the natural man fixes his ambition and hope. We sometimes say of a thing, 'There is nothing in it'. We may say this of wealth, honour, pleasure, fame; if we make idols of them, we know that an idol is nothing in the world. If I follow the desires and devices of my own heart, I walk in a vain show and disquiet myself in vain. Our own way is a way of pain. 'See if there is any way of grievousness in me.' Our own way is a way of destruction. Not leading to a goal of lasting felicity, but descending into darkness and despair. The other petition seeks

2. Guidance in God's way. 'And lead me in the way everlasting.' The way of final peace, security, and progress; of imperishable strength, full felicity, and of eternal life.

W. L. Watktnson, The Fatal Barter, pp. 95-109.

God's Microscope

Psalms 139:23-24

Let us look at the request preferred, a request for the scrutiny of God to examine David's heart, then the acknowledgment which the Psalmist makes; and then the purpose which he proposes leading in the way everlasting.

I. Let us look at the request: 'Search me, O Lord, and examine my heart: try me, and know my thoughts'. This is a rare desire, taken in all its comprehensiveness. It is not a common thing for a man to desire anything that is calculated to wound his pride or mortify his vanity. The man must have been very sincere towards himself, and must have been very anxious to be sincere towards God, before he ever could have preferred such a request as this. Then this desire shows that David had made considerable progress in the things of God. No man who is not influenced by religious principles can with sincerity offer this prayer. A man may feel, for instance, a desire for deeper acquaintance with God; but that does not necessarily imply a knowledge of religion; for we know that unbelievers have desired to know about Him who everywhere gives manifestations of His power. But show me a man who is anxious to know how many secret evils are lurking and undetected in his moral nature; show me a man who is anxious that God should bring into the full blaze of Divine truth all the evils in his heart, and you show me a man who is anxious for holiness.

II. Next David's acknowledgments, first of the omnipotence and omniscience of God; second that that omniscience alone can search his heart. ( a ) First the omnipotence and omnipresence of God; the Psalm is a treatise on the omniscience and omnipresence of Jehovah. He ascends to the height of heaven, then to the depths of hell; He fills the whole of nature, and David feels that everywhere God is at his side, and His eye upon him; that he cannot escape from that glance, either in heaven or hell, or in the infinite space ( b ) And the next acknowledgment is that this omniscience alone could search him; that if he was to do it effectually God was to do it with His glance. What deep conviction David must have had of the depravity of his heart when he felt that no glance but the glance Divine could search his heart.

III. There is next a gracious purpose proposed to lead in the way everlasting. Now David did not want to know himself merely out of curiosity, he did not want to know himself that he might see how much good was in him, but that he might know the bad that was in him. There was another thing self-examination should lead to correction. It would have been sheer hypocrisy if David knew that there had been any way of wickedness in him; if he knew that there were wrongs unconnected it was his business to correct the wrongs he did know before asking God to show him other wrongs. We must correct ourselves as fast as we know ourselves if there be any good in self-examination. It would be in vain to attempt to conquer a country leaving enemies behind, and so it is in spiritual life. It is not for you to leave enemies behind you, foes unconquered, and then for you to ask God to show you foes that you might fight them; but you must master every rood of the field over which you march, and then when every foe is conquered you may say, 'Thou hast led me in the way everlasting'.

R. Roberts, Penny Pulpit, vol. XVI. No. 934, p. 193.

References. CXXXIX. 23, 24. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 253. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (10th Series), p. 222. CXXXIX. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 903. CXXXIX. J. Martineau, Endeavour After the Christian Life, p. 12. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 491. CXL. 12. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 310. CXL. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 402.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 139". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/psalms-139.html. 1910.