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We all of us know that repentance of our sins is necessary for us, if we hope to be saved in the next world. True repentance is the path, the only path, of forgiveness, of restoration to God's favour, of becoming good and holy. But
I. What is Repentance? It is the breaking off with our sins. It is not merely being sorry for them; not merely looking them in the face, and admitting the truth, when conscience convinces us that we have done wrong. All this is very necessary; confession of sin is part of repentance, it is the beginning, and without it there can be no true repentance; but it is not the whole; sorrow and self-reproach, the broken and humbled heart, is a part of repentance, but it may stop short of repentance itself. Only when we break off from our sin is repentance fulfilled in earnest. There are several points which we might consider in connexion with repentance; there is the benefit of repentance; its necessity. Here we will consider only
II. Its comfort. Besides all the other good things there are in repentance, there is great and solid comfort. There is a comfort in the feeling sorry for our sins, however deep and sharp the pain may be which goes with it; but this sort of comfort by itself is not abiding, and will not profit us much. There is a better and truer comfort, in being able honestly to confess our sins. As long as the Psalmist tried to hide from himself that he was doing wrong he was miserable; as long as he tried to shelter himself under vain excuses, as long as he was too proud to own his sin, there was a load on his heart. 'For while I held my tongue my bones consumed away through my daily complaining. For Thy hand is heavy upon me day and night: and my moisture is like the drought in summer.' Then he resolved to be bold and honest to own his sin: 'I will acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine unrighteousness have I not hid. I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord.' And then came comfort, the comfortable sense of being at peace with the Father, Who forgives the sins of His children when they own their sin, 'And so Thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin'; the comfort of feeling that there was no longer a war between him and the mercy and righteousness of God; that, having confessed all, he had nothing more to make him ashamed, and he could venture to think of God's nearness and power. 'For this shall every one that is godly make his prayer unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found; but in the great water-floods they shall not come nigh Him.' Then did comfort come to the sinner, who without flinching and making excuses, dared to look his sins in the face, gave up hiding them, and laid them before the eyes of God. But this comfort is not to be depended upon, and will not last unless something more follow. People can confess their wrongdoings, and yet make no real attempt to put an end to them. If we rest on the comfort of confession alone, it may become a very dangerous delusion. Seeing, feeling, owning, confessing, all this will not of itself mend our condition or relieve our conscience. There is only one way breaking off for good what is wrong. Repentance is, after we have seen and felt and confessed and bewailed our misdeeds, really giving them up. This will not only bring us safety, forgiveness, the favour of God, the hope of everlasting rest; it will bring us, besides this, comfort. We can bear much when we are at peace within. Repentance, with its trials, its sacrifices, its self-denials, has also comfort, which outweighs them all the comfort of being at peace not only with God, but with our own hearts. That which gives a sting to our difficulties, and makes trouble so dreadful and hard to bear, is the secret knowledge that we are unfaithful to our duty and to Christ, that we have not yet made our honest choice between right and wrong, that we are attempting a double service. Let us break the yoke. Let us not only be sorry for our sin, but seek God's grace to have done with it for ever. Let us turn our backs on it, not looking behind, but with undivided heart giving it up for ever. The wrench, however painful, will soon be forgotten. The sacrifice, whatever it may be, will soon be made up for an hundredfold. But the consolation will come and go on increasing for ever to the end. The beginning of repentance may be with clouds and storms, with perplexity and distress of heart; but let it be in earnest, the honest breaking off from what is evil, and the clouds will soon give way to calm and sunshine, and it will be to us the path leading us, through peace and contentment here, to the rest of glory in God's kingdom in heaven.
Reference. XXXII. 6. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 174.
Sins of Scripture Saints
David was far from being a character of spotless purity. So greatly indeed was his life disgraced by bloodshed and by sin, that the same God who chose him to reign over Israel, refused to receive from his hands the dedication of his intended Temple.
I. It is not our duty to attempt to excuse or palliate crimes like those of David, or of any other person mentioned in Holy Writ. We should confess that there is scarcely a Scripture character without a stain nor need we be at any pains to excuse this fact We should, indeed, give the same justice to them that we do to others, but there is nothing in the Bible requiring us to regard sin differently or as less aggravated whether seen in a Prophet, Minister, Christian, or Infidel.
II. Suppose that the believers mentioned in Scripture had all been represented as faultless, would the Bible have been any more credible? Here in the world we see, as a rule, good men overcoming their sins. At times, however, they may have been overcome by them and if we turn to the Bible we find just such characters drawn there. Every one must feel that the Scriptures are, therefore, much more credible when they describe believers as but imperfectly sanctified, than they would have been had they represented them as perfect.
III. Admitting the guilt of those Scripture Saints, we should observe the severity of God's justice against them. In the ordinary course of things their crimes would have been in a great measure concealed had not God displayed them. Does not this show God's confidence in truth? Nor let it be supposed that those sins were passed over without punishment. So far was it otherwise that, in David's case, even when the pardon of his soul was pronounced, yet heavy were the inflictions laid upon him. Let none then make the example of illustrious men of old, as mentioned in Scripture, encouragements or excuses to sin, when we see, as in David's case, how severely these sins were punished.
E. J. Brewster, Scripture Characters, p. 193.
References. XXXII. 8. J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 278. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 137. XXXII. 9, 10. F. J. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 194. XXXII. 10. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 178. A. Watson, Sermons for Sundays, etc. (1st Series), p. 63.
'Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.' This was the favourite Psalm of Augustine. With reference to it he says, Intelligentia prima est ut te nôris peccatorem . 'The beginning of understanding is to know thyself a sinner.'
When Luther was asked which were the best Psalms, he replied, Psalmi Paulini, 'The Pauline Psalms'; and being asked to name them, he gave the 32nd, 51st, 130th, and 143rd. These all belong, it will be observed, to the penitential Psalms.
Verse 2 contains the spiritual ideal which quaint old Izaak Walton set up for the model of his life. In closing his biography of Bishop Sanderson, he says: 'Tis now too late to wish that my life may be like his, for I am in the eighty-fifth year of my age; but I humbly beseech Almighty God that my death may be, and I earnestly beg of every reader to say, Amen. 'Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.'
This Psalm was also a favourite with Alexander Peden. One little incident of his life in connexion with this Psalm helps us to come close to him. 'On one occasion,' says the narrative, 'when the service was ended, he and others that were with him lay down in the sheep-house and got some sleep. He rose early, and went up by the burnside and stayed long. When he came in to them, he did sing the 32nd Psalm from the 7th verse to the end.
Thou art my hiding-place, thou shalt
From trouble keep me free:
Thou with songs of deliverance
About shalt compass me.
Ye righteous, in the Lord be glad,
In him do ye rejoice:
All ye that upright are in heart,
For joy lift up your voice.'
When he had ended, he repeated the 7th verse again, and said, 'These and what follow are sweet lines which I got at the burnside this morning, and I will get more tomorrow, and so we shall have daily provision.'
References. XXXIII. International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 284. XXXIII. 1 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii. p. 355. XXXIII. 2, 3. J. M. Neale, Occasional Sermons, p. 108. XXXIII. 5. G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii. p. 378. XXXIII. 6. J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity, p. 384.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 32". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany