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“Nowhere,” says Perowne, “are the great attributes of God—His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence, set forth so strikingly as they are in this magnificent Psalm. Nowhere is there a more overwhelming sense of the fact that man is beset and compassed about by God, pervaded by His Spirit, unable to take a step without His control; and yet nowhere is there a more emphatic assertion of the personality of man as distinct from, not absorbed in the Deity. This is no pantheistie speculation. Man is here the workmanship of God, and stands in the presence and under the eye of One who is his Judge. The power of conscience, the sense of sin and of responsibility, are felt and acknowledged, and prayer is offered to One who is not only the Judge but the Friend; to One who is feared as none else are feared, who is loved as none else are loved.
“Both in loftiness of thought and in expressive beauty of language the Psalm stands pre-eminent, and it is not surprising that Aben Ezra should have pronounced it to be ‘the crown of all the Psalms.’ The Psalm both in the Hebrew and the LXX is ascribed to David.
“The rhythmical structure is, on the whole, regular. There are four strophes, each consisting of six verses; the first three strophes containing the proper theme of the Psalm, and the last the expression of individual feeling.
“I. In the first strophe the poet dwells on the omniscience of God, as manifested in His knowledge of the deepest thoughts and most secret workings of the human heart, Psalms 139:1-6.
“II. In the second, on His omnipresence, inasmuch as there is no corner of the universe so remote that it is not pervaded by God’s presence, no darkness so deep that it can hide from His eyes, Psalms 139:7-12.
“III. The third strophe gives the reason for the profound conviction of these truths of which the poet’s heart is full. No wonder that God should have so intimate a knowledge of man, for man is the creature of God: the mysterious beginnings of life, which none can trace; the days, all of which are ordered before the first breath is drawn,—these are fashioned and ordered by the hand of God, Psalms 139:13-18.
“IV. In the last strophe the Psalmist turns abruptly aside to express his utter abhorrence of wicked men—an abhorrence, no doubt, deepened by the previous meditation on God and His attributes, and called forth probably by the circumstances in which he was placed; and then closes with a prayer that he himself may, in his inmost heart, be right with that God who has searched him and known him and laid His hand upon him, and that he may be led by Him in the way everlasting, Psalms 139:19-24.”
GOD’S PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF MAN
Our purpose is not to write on the omniscience of God in general, or to make an attempt to set it forth with completeness and show its relations and bearings; but to call attention to those aspects of it which are mentioned by the Psalmist, and to indicate the practical bearing of these aspects upon human life. The poet sets forth in this strophe the omniscience of God as related to human life.
I. God knows all men. David does not write of himself alone. That the Psalm is addressed “to the chief musician” is a proof that it was intended to be set to music for use in public worship. The entire congregation was to use the Psalm. Its utterances were to be adopted by every member of the congregation. Every person in the world may say with truth, “O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me,” &c. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
II. God knows all men thoroughly.
1. He knows all their words and actions. “Thou art acquainted with all my ways, for there is not a word on my tongue, but lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether.” The entire course of every human life, and every step in every individual course, are perfectly known to God, and not a word that is uttered by human tongues escapes His ear.
2. He knows all their thoughts. “Thou understandest my thought afar off.” However great the distance between God and man may seem to be, yet He is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of his heart.” Calvin: “God is not shut up in heaven, as if He delighted in an idle repose (as the Epicureans feigned), and neglected human affairs; but though we live at a great distance from Him, still He is not far from us.” All worthy thoughts and pure and generous feelings He knows, and all evil thoughts and impure and malignant feelings He also knows. “Before men we stand,” says Beecher, “as opaque beehives. They can see the thoughts go in and out of us; but what work they do inside of a man they cannot tell. Before God we are as glass beehives, and all that our thoughts are doing within us He perfectly sees and understands.”
III. God knows all men constantly. At all times and under all circumstances He is perfectly acquainted with us. He knows us in work and in rest, in our daily walk and in our nightly repose. ‘Thou knowest my down sitting” for rest, “and mine uprising” for action. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down.” Perowne: “My path and my bed Thou hast examined.” Lit. “Thou hast winnowed,” or “sifted.” Hengstenberg: “זָרָה, properly, to sift, then poetically, to prove, to know.” God knows our “path,” our way of active life, and our “couch” or “bed,” our thoughts and feelings in our place of rest. We are altogether and always perfectly known unto Him. God’s knowledge of us differs from our knowledge of each other not only in its extent and completeness, but in other respects.
First, His knowledge is underived and independent. We receive instruction from tutors and information from books. But He receives not his knowledge from anything without Him. His knowledge is as independent as Himself and His own essence. “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or, being His counsellor, hath taught Him?” “Our knowledge,” says Charnock, “depends upon the object, but all created objects depend upon God’s knowledge and will: we could not know creatures unless they were; but creatures could not be unless God knew them.”
Second, His knowledge is clear and perfect. “We see through a glass, darkly;” and only “know in part.” He knows all things clearly and distinctly, intimately and thoroughly, infallibly and perfectly. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” “His understanding is infinite.”
Let us endeavour to point out the practical bearing of this knowledge on us and on our life. It ought to prove—
1. An antidote to the pride of intellect. “Such knowlege is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” We cannot comprehend the Divine omniscience. Our attempts to do so end in ignominious failure. We can but cry, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” &c. How vain and ridiculous it is for any man to pride himself in his intellectual attainments or acquisitions! What we know is almost as nothing in contrast to what we do not know. “We have a drop of knowledge, but nothing to the Divine ocean. What a vain thing is it fo a shallow brook to boast of its streams before a sea, whose depths are unfathomable!”
2. An effectual restraint from sins both of heart and of action. The eye of man often imposes a restraint upon the evil-doer; and shall the eye of God, which is ever upon us, be disregarded? Men seek to hide their evil doings by the darkness of night, saying, “How doth God know? can He judge through the dark cloud?” But darkness cannot hide from Him. He knows the evil thought, the dark design, the impure feeling. Secret sin is impossible. Let the fact of God’s omniscience check evil in its first beginnings.
3. A solemn warning to the sinner. Secrecy does not hide from God, hypocrisy does not deceive Him, the lapse of time does not cause Him to forget, all sins are known to Him, and will be visited upon the sinners unless they are pardoned. “What a terrible consideration is it to think that the sins of a day are upon record in an infallible understanding, much more the sins of a week: what a number, then, do the sins of a month, a year, ten or forty years arise to!” Sinner, take warning.
4. The utter impossibility of any man justifying himself in the sight of God. God knows all and everything. “Our secret sins are in the light of His countenance.” He sees defects and imperfections even in our best deeds. “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.”
5. A comfort to the people of God when misjudged by man. Men frequently mistake the motives of their fellow-men and judge them harshly. But how comforting it is to turn from man unto God. “Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. He knoweth the way that I take,” &c. Our cause is in the hands of the Omniscient and All-Merciful.
6. A guarantee of the well-being of the people of God. God not only knows, but also cares for His people. “As providence infers omniscience as the guide of it, so omniscience infers providence as the end of it.” He knows them in their weakness to sustain them, in their need to provide for them, in their dangers to rescue them, in their sorrows to comfort them, &c. Our Lord Himself set forth the Divine knowledge as an encouragement to His people to trust in God. “Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things,” &c. (Matthew 6:31-32).
7. A pledge of the triumph of the Divine government. All the dark and cunning designs of His enemies are known to Him. Their most secret plans cannot surprise Him. Their most subtle plans cannot baffle Him. He will make their counsel of no effect, and frustrate their deepest schemes. His omniscience assures us of the triumph of His cause. All things are under His control. He, and He alone, can say, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.”
The Psalmist here treats of the omnipresence of God, not as a metaphysical conception, but as a momentous practical truth. This truth he sets forth in language of great force and beauty. In other portions of the Holy Word this truth is clearly and forcibly expressed. 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-3. According to the representation of David—
I. God is personally present everywhere. The Psalm was not written by a Pantheist. He speaks of God as a Person everywhere present in creation, yet distinct from creation. In our text He says, “Thy Spirit, … Thy presence, … Thou art there, … Thy hand, … Thy right hand, … darkness hideth not from Thee.” God is everywhere, but He is not everything. All things have their being in Him, but He is distinct from all things. He fills the universe, but is not mingled with it. He is the Intelligence which guides, and the power which sustains; but His personality is preserved, and He is independent of the works of His hands, however vast and noble. Charnock: “Where light is in every part of a crystal globe, and encircles it close on every side, do they become one? No; the crystal remains what it is, and the light retains its own nature. God is not in us as a part of us, but as an efficient and preserving cause.” “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” “We live and move in God, so we live and move in the air; we are no more God by that than we are mere air because we breathe in it, and it enters into all the pores of our body.”
II. God is influentially present everywhere. The Psalmist felt that where-ever he was—in heaven, in Sheol, or on the utmost verge of creation—he would be led and sustained by God. “Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” He is everywhere present in His sustaining energy. “O Lord, Thou preservest man and beast.” “By Him all things consist.” “He upholds all things by the word of His power.” He is everywhere present by His controlling energy. He restrains and overrules all evil. He originates and fosters all good. “This influential presence may be compared to that of the sun, which, though at so great a distance from the earth, is present in the air and earth by its light, and within the earth by its influence in concocting those metals which are in the bowels of it, without being substantially either of them.”
III. God is intelligently present everywhere. The poet felt that, wherever he was and in whatever circumstances, he would be fully known to the Lord.
“And should I say: Only let darkness cover me, and the light about me be night; even darkness cannot be too dark for Thee, but the night is light as the day; the darkness and light (to Thee are) both alike.” “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” “With one single look He beholdeth the whole universe. As I am accounted present in this auditory, because I see the objects that are here, because I am witness of all that passes here; so God is everywhere, because He sees all, because veils the most impenetrable, darkness the most thick, distances the most immense, can conceal nothing from His knowledge. Soar to the utmost heights, fly into the remotest climates, wrap thyself in the blackest darkness, everywhere, everywhere, thou wilt be under His eye.”—Saurin.
IV. God’s presence is everywhere realised by the godly soul. To the Psalmist the Divine omnipresence was not a mere opinion, not a mere article of a creed, but a realised fact. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” He felt the presence of God everywhere. At every step and in every circumstance of life he felt himself in that presence. In all the phenomena of nature he recognised that presence. To him all things are full of God, “yet all distinct from Him. The cloud on the mountain is His covering; the muttering from the chambers of the thunder is His voice; that sound on the top of the mulberry trees is His ‘going;’ in that wind, which bends the forest or curls the clouds, He is walking; that sun is His still commanding eye.” The godly soul is possessed by an intense consciousness of the constant presence of God.
“God is a sphere or circle, whose centre is everywhere, and circumference nowhere.” So far is His presence from being bounded by the universe itself, that, as we are taught in our text, were it possible for us to wing our way into the immeasurable depths and breadths of space, God would there surround us, in as absolute a sense as that in which He is said to be about our bed and our path, in that part of the world where His will has placed us. As He is larger than all time, so He is vaster than all space.
Let us now point out the practical bearings of this great truth.
1. It should restrain us from evil. The eye of a child will effectually check the execution of some evil purposes; more the eye of man or woman; yet more the eye of a holy man or woman. Men chose darkness and secrecy for the perpetration of evil. But “there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” God’s eye sees all things everywhere. He is in the darkness by the side of the worker of iniquity. And He is perfectly holy.
2. It should lead us to hold humble thoughts of ourselves and exalted ideas of God. How small are we to God! Our existence seems almost as non-existence when placed beside His immensity. Let His greatness excite our reverence. Let our littleness lead us to constant lowliness.
3. It should comfort and strengthen the people of God in severe trial, in painful loneliness, and in arduous duty. He accompanies His people into the furnace of affliction, and preserves them from injury. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,” &c. (Isaiah 43:2). When exiled from friends, or forsaken of friends, or bereaved of friends by death, His presence is never withdrawn. If He call us to some difficult task, He assures us, “My presence shall go with thee.” His realised presence is the secret of the success of Moses, Paul, &c.
4. It should be an incentive to holy action. The athletes of Greece and Rome were inspired to run or wrestle by the knowledge of the fact that they were surrounded by a vast assembly of spectators. It is said that, at the battle of Prestonpans, a Highland chief of the noble house of M‘Gregor was wounded by two balls and fell. Seeing their chief fall, the clan wavered, and gave the enemy an advantage. The old chieftain, beholding the effects of his disaster, raised himself up on his elbow, while the blood gushed in streams from his wounds, and cried aloud, “I am not dead, my children: I am looking at you to see you do your duty.” These words revived the sinking courage of the brave Highlanders, and roused them to put forth their mightiest energies; and they did all that human valour could do to stem and turn the dreadful tide of battle. Oh! if we but realised God’s presence, felt Him near to us, our life would become brave and beautiful and holy. God is not only present everywhere, but everywhere present to inspire, and aid, and bless.
5. It is of vital importance to all worshippers of God. The consideration of the Divine omnipresence is calculated to destroy formality, to inspire reverence, and to strengthen faith. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
THE OMNIPRESENCE OF GOD AND ITS IMPRESSIONS UPON MAN
There is one circumstance in the text which directs a humble mind how it ought to be treated, and that is with the utmost humility of devotion; for it is a direct address to God Himself. However discursive the imagination might be on other texts, on this it is quite out of character.
If this thought be powerful on the mind of your preacher, there is another which ought equally to affect the minds of the hearers; and that is, that you are now in a place where you ought to feel yourself most exposed to His survey. God indeed is about your bed and about your path; but in the house of prayer you voluntarily expose yourself to His immediate notice, you court His scrutiny. Recollect that God is present; the King is now come in to see His guests: He knows with what motives you have come hither; whether you prayed before you came; whether you listened to the reading of the Scriptures as to the Word of God; whether you prayed in prayer; whether you sung with devotion, “making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Yes, my brethren, even now you are weighed in the balances of the sanctuary. God grant that you may not be found wanting.
I. Let us endeavour to realise the grand sentiment which the text contains.
God is everywhere present. The first thought of the sinner is how he may escape. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?” &c. How vain! A reflection upon human nature. Grace is wiser; it teaches us to seek His presence. “Let him take hold of My strength,” &c. “When shall I come and appear before God?”
How many present have never reflected upon the subject; and though always surrounded by God, have never derived comfort from His presence! Without hope, without God—awful thought!
1. How great must be the Being who possesses such an empire! These are His attributes; these are not limited. A wing that never tires: an eye that never sleeps.
2. How melancholy the reflection that the great thought that occurs to the sinner is how he may escape Him! “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?” &c. This is not natural: sin is the cause of it. How false the hope! How miserable the condition!
3. How valuable is that religion which teaches us to hope in His mercy; which tells us that over all worlds He exercises a Father’s care; that His fostering wing extends to the minutest object; and that He especially discerns the returning sinner.
II. Let us trace some of the impressions which it ought to produce on individual character.
1. The utter hopelessness of a career of crime or of indifference to God. Wherever you are engaged in guilt, God is there to interrupt, to record, to disappoint, to vex the soul. Think of this in your plans of life, in business, in your families. Examples: Achan (Joshua 7:16-26), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27).
2. The strong consolation afforded to the humble penitent. He sees every desire, hope, effort. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob?” &c. (Isaiah 40:27-31).
3. The absolute necessity of making this God our Friend.
4. The glory of heaven, where His presence is felt only to bless.
5. The dreadfulness of that world in which His mercies are “clean gone for ever,” and His influence is felt as an unmitigated and insupportable curse.—Samuel Thodey.
MAN A WONDERFUL CREATION OF GOD
The connection of these verses with the preceding seems to be this—God must needs have a perfect acquaintance with man because He created him. Hengstenberg suggests that Psalms 139:13 refers back to Psalms 139:2. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off.… For Thou hast formed my reins,” &c. The Psalmist here states that—
I. Man is a creation of God. “Thou hast formed my reins, Thou didst weave me together in my mother’s womb.”—Perowne’s translation.
Man was created—
1. According to God’s design. “In Thy book all my members were written,” &c. What the architect is to the edifice God is to man. We existed first as an idea in the Divine mind. And if we read, “In Thy book all of them were written, the days which were ordered when as yet there was none of them,” we still have the idea of the Divine design in the life of man. Man’s entire being is prearranged by God.
2. Under God’s inspection. “My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret,” &c. The great Creator superintended the formation of man’s bodily frame in the secrecy and obscurity of the womb.
3. By God’s power. “Thou hast formed my reins, Thou didst weave me together in my mother’s womb.” God is the Author of our being: our parents are but the instruments thereof. Every human being is a creation of the Divine power.
II. Man is a wonderful creation of God. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.” This is manifest—
1. In his body. “The frame of man’s body, and the cohesion of its parts,” says Lord Herbert, “are so strange and paradoxical, that I hold it to be the greatest miracle of nature.” “An anatomist, as Dr. Paley observes, who understood the structure of the heart, might say beforehand that it would play; but he would expect, I think, from the complexity of its mechanism, and the delicacy of many of its parts, that it should always be liable to derangement, or that it would soon work itself out. Yet shall this wonderful machine go night and day, for eighty years together, at the rate of a hundred thousand strokes every twenty-four hours, having at every stroke a great resistance to overcome; and shall continue this action for this length of time without disorder and without weariness. Each ventricle will at least contain one ounce of blood. The heart contracts four thousand times in one hour, from which it follows, that there passes through the heart every hour four thousand ounces, or two hundred and fifty pounds, of blood. Now the whole mass of blood is said to be about twenty-five pounds, so that a quantity of blood, equal to the whole mass of blood passes through the heart ten times in one hour; which is once every six minutes. When we reflect also upon the number of muscles, not fewer than four hundred and forty-six in the human body, known and named; how contiguous they lie to each other, as it were, over one another; crossing one another; sometimes embedding in one another; sometimes perforating one another; an arrangement which leaves to each its liberty, and its full play; this must necessarily require meditation and council. Dr. Nienentyt, in the Leipsic Transaction, reckons up a hundred muscles that are employed every time we breathe: yet we take in, or let out, our breath without reflecting what a work is hereby performed—what an apparatus is laid in of instruments for the service, and how many such contribute their assistance to the effect. Breathing with ease is a blessing of every moment; yet of all others, it is that which we possess with the least consciousness.”—Buck.
“The human body is ever changing, ever abiding; a temple always complete, and yet always under repair; a mansion which quite contents its possessor, and yet has its plans and its materials altered each moment; a machine which never stops working, and yet is taken to pieces in the one twinkling of an eye, and put together in the other; a cloth of gold to which the needle is ever adding on one side of a line, and from which the scissors are ever cutting away on the other. Yes: Life, like Penelope of old, is ever weaving and unweaving the same web, whilst her grim suitors, Disease and Death, watch for her halting; only for her is no Ulysses who will one day in triumph return.”—Dr. G. Wilson.
Truly we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
2. In his rational soul. That which thinks, feels, desires, resolves, we call the soul. The soul is wonderful in itself. We do not know what it is; we cannot apprehend it by any of the senses; it has neither shape nor size; it is a mystery. It is wonderful in its powers. How great and marvellous are its powers of memory, reflection, reasoning, anticipation, imagination, &c. And these powers are capable of endless development and increase. How fearfully and wonderfully are we made.
3. In the union of soul and body. How dissimilar they are; yet they are united! Man “is sure that he is distinct from the body, though joined to it, because he is one, and the body is not one, but a collection of many things. He feels, moreover, that he is distinct from it because he uses it; for what a man can use he is superior to. No one can mistake his body for himself. It is his, it is not he.… When two things which we see are united, they are united by some connection which we can understand. A chain or cable keeps a ship in its place. We lay a foundation of a building in the earth, and the building endures. But what is it that unites soul and body? how do they touch? how do they keep together? So far from its being wonderful that the body one day dies, how is it that it is made to live and move at all? how is it that it keeps from dying a single hour?
“Again: the soul is in every part of the body. It is nowhere, yet everywhere. Since every part of his body belongs to him, a man’s self is in every part of his body. The hands and feet, the head and trunk, form one body under the presence of the soul within them. Unless the soul were in every part, they would not form one body; so that the soul is in every part, uniting it with every other, though it consists of no part at all.”—J. H. Newman. This seems contradictory, yet it is true. How mysterious is our being! How fearfully and wonderfully we are made!
III. Because man is a wonderful creation of God he should celebrate the praise of his Creator. “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Man as a creation of God presents many and remarkable illustrations of the wisdom, power, and goodness of his Creator, and these should excite his wonder, admiration, gratitude, and praise.
The highest praise we can offer to our Creator is to fulfil His design in our creation. He who most completely embodies and most clearly expresses the will of God presents to Him the truest and highest worship.
Psalms 139:1-16 may be taken as the text of one homily and its teachings developed under an arrangement of this kind:—
I. The Statement of God’s perfect knowledge of man (Psalms 139:1-6).
II. The Proof of God’s perfect knowledge of man. This is drawn from—
1. His Omnipresence (Psalms 139:7-12);
2. His Creatorship (Psalms 139:13-16).
III. The Effect of this knowledge upon the godly man.
1. A deep impression of intellectual limitation (Psalms 139:6);
2. An inspiration to celebrate His praise (Psalms 139:14).
IV. The Practical uses of this great truth.
THE PRECIOUSNESS AND NUMBER OF GOD’S THOUGHTS
In forming so wonderful a being as man there must have been much thought. Many thoughts and deep are embodied in man. Yet man is only a small portion of the creation of God. Looking at the universe as an embodiment of Divine ideas, we are almost overwhelmed at the number, profundity, and preciousness of God’s thoughts. The thoughts of a being indicate his character. “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” But in order to be known, thoughts must be expressed. Men express their thoughts by means of speech, writing, and action. Action is embodied thought. God has unfolded some of His thoughts. What a revelation of wisdom, goodness, beauty we have in the universe! God’s thoughts in relation to the human race as sinners are expressed in the Bible. Jesus Christ is a Revelation and Revealer of the thoughts of God. What purity, tenderness, love, righteousness, majesty shine forth in Him! David rejoiced in God’s thoughts. We have more of His thoughts and more precious ones than David had; how much more then should we rejoice! Consider—
I. The preciousness of God’s thoughts. “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God.” God’s thoughts are precious—
1. Because of their originality. If a man be the originator of some new and useful process or machine, or the author of a clever or able book, he is honoured as a genius and a benefactor of the race. But absolute originality is not in man. The most original thinkers can only make new groupings of old ideas, or bring old thoughts into new associations and applications. But God’s thoughts are absolutely original. The astonishing ideas of the moral restoration of man and the mode of effecting it are God’s own original thoughts. There is originality in God’s thoughts in nature, in the superintendence of human affairs, and in the great redemptive plan and work.
2. Because of their moral excellence. Distinguish between great thoughts and good ones. The devil is a great thinker, but his thoughts are not precious. Thoughts must be good to be precious. God’s thoughts combine the highest intellectual power with supreme moral excellence. All the ideas of the Divine Mind that have been revealed are perfectly true, righteous, and beautiful.
3. Because of their practicableness and utility. Amongst men there are many original and morally excellent thinkers whose ideas are utterly impracticable—they will not work. But God’s thoughts are all practicable. See this in nature, in history, in redemption. Ultimately His every plan will be fully developed, His every thought perfectly embodied. His ideas are useful in themselves, and they stimulate others to usefulness. They arouse men to thought and action.
4. Because of their influence upon our thoughts. God’s thoughts quicken ours. See how His thoughts in the Bible have stimulated the minds of men. Poets and artists have obtained from it their grandest subjects and their mightiest and holiest inspirations. Nature and the Bible are of exhaustless significance. They are replete with germs of thought. God’s thoughts correct ours. Without the thoughts of God ours would be wild, chaotic, conflicting. Our ideas of God, the soul, truth, &c., are regulated by the revealed thoughts of God.
5. Because of their generosity. Forgiveness for the guilty, holiness for the depraved, rest for the weary—these are some of His thoughts. “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil.” “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
II. The number of God’s thoughts.
“How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.” Many of His thoughts are revealed, and we see them. Many others may be revealed, but we have not yet the capacity to perceive them. And many more may be revealed by Him in the future. His mind is infinite, ever active, ever productive, ever revealing. His thoughts are not only multitudinous in number, but profound in meaning. In our present state we have neither the time, the facilities, nor the capacity fully to number and comprehend the thoughts of God. But in the future, with quickened faculties, increased facilities, and everlasting existence, some of the great thoughts of God will probably be perceived in their completeness by us. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face,” &c. If one of God’s ideas is so precious as that of redemption is, how infinitely valuable must be the whole of His thoughts! “Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward,” &c.
III. The realisation of God’s presence. “When I awake, I am still with Thee.” “As often as he awakes from sleep, he finds that he is again in the presence of God, again occupied with thoughts of God, again meditating afresh with new wonder and admiration on His wisdom and goodness.”—Perowne. The poet had an abiding sense of the presence of God with him, which was a comfort, and refreshment, and strength to his soul.
1. Endeavour to understand God’s thoughts. Examine them, meditate upon them as you find them in nature, the Bible, and Christ.
2. Rejoice in the preciousness of God’s thoughts. Rejoice in them notwithstanding that many of them are mysterious, and perhaps even painful at present. David said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” &c. Yet he rejoiced. His thoughts may be too great for us, yet they are all wise and kind. Think of a few of His thoughts. Here is one of His thoughts for the guilty: “Let the wicked forsake his way,” &c. (Isaiah 55:7). For the suffering: “Our light affliction which is but for a moment,” &c. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). For the perplexed: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him,” &c. (Proverbs 3:6). For the bereaved: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep,” &c. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
3. Seek to become embodiments of God’s thoughts. Live them.
THE POET’S VIEW OF THE WICKED
“How strangely abrupt,” remarks Perowne, “is the turning aside from one of the sublimest contemplations to be found anywhere in the Bible, to express a hope that righteous vengeance will overtake the wicked. Such a passage is startling—startling partly because the spirit of the New Testament is so different; partly too, no doubt, because ‘our modern civilisation has been so schooled in amenities’ that we hardly know what is meant by a righteous indignation. It is well, however, to notice the fact, for this is just one of those passages which help us to understand the education of the world. Just because it startles us is it so instructive. The 63d Psalm presents us with a similar contrast. There, however, the feeling expressed is of a more directly personal kind. David is encompassed and hard pressed by enemies who are threatening his life. He has been driven from his throne by rebels, and the deep sense of wrong makes him burst forth in the strain of indignation and of anticipated victory. ‘They that seek my life to destroy it shall be cast into the pit,’ &c. Here, apparently, the prayer for the overthrow of the wicked does not arise from a sense of wrong and personal danger, but from the intense hatred of wickedness as wickedness, from the deep conviction that, if hateful to a true-hearted man, it must be still more intensely hateful to Him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins. The soul, in the immediate presence of God, places itself on the side of God, against all that is opposed to Him. Still, the prayer, ‘Oh that Thou wouldest slay the wicked,’ can never be a Christian prayer.”
I. The character of the wicked described. They are—
1. Cruel. “Bloody men.” Perowne: “Bloodthirsty men.” (Comp. Psalms 5:6; Psalms 26:9; Psalms 55:23.)
2. Rebellious. “They speak against Thee wickedly.… Those that rise up against Thee.” Wicked men rebel against the most righteous and benevolent authority.
3. Enemies of God. “Them that hate Thee.” It is a terrible thing to hate a Being of infinite wisdom and truth, righteousness and love. Men may, and sometimes do, grow so wicked that they hate the God whose holy law condemns them.
II. The end of the wicked predicted. “Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God.” We may interpret this in three ways.
1. As expressing the assurance of the Psalmist that God would destroy the wicked, that he would “slay” them, bring them to an utter end. Or,
2. As expressing the assurance of the Psalmist that God would severely punish the wicked. He might perhaps have used the word “slay” figuratively, to denote the punishment which would be inflicted on cruel and rebellious haters of the Lord. Or,
3. May we not say that God will “slay the wicked” by slaying their wickedness? You destroy an enemy when you make him your friend. “He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet.”
III. The companionship of the wicked avoided. “Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.” The Psalmist seeks to separate himself from the workers of iniquity. He is moved to this by—
1. Desire for his own safety. Dark and threatening are the prospects of evildoers, and therefore David shunned association with them (Psalms 139:19).
2. Sympathy with God. “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?” &c. The man who sincerely loves God will find the society of the wicked repugnant to him.
3. The influence of divergent characters. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
CONCLUSION.—“Let the wicked forsake his way,” &c. (Isaiah 55:7). “As I live, saith the Lord God,” &c. (Ezekiel 33:11).
A PRAYER OF THE UPRIGHT
We have here—
I. A request for Divine examination. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.” This request implies—
1. Consciousness of sincerity. It is not the request of one who was ignorant of his true character and inflated with presumption, but of one who was conscious of his freedom from hypocrisy and of his integrity of heart. To make an appeal like this unto the great Searcher of hearts a man must be thoroughly conscious of his own sincerity, or must have fallen very low indeed.
2. Distrust of self. David felt his liability to error, and to self-deception, and therefore he appealed to the Omniscient and the Infallible.
3. Confidence in God. We would not that our heart should be completely exposed, that all our thoughts should be fully revealed even to our most trusted friend. “That man,” says Calvin, “must have a rare confidence who offers himself so boldly to the scrutiny of God’s righteous judgment.” There are many things we would not disclose to any fellow-creature, and yet we are thankful that God knows them. This thought is beautifully expressed in Keble’s Hymn for the “Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity.”
II. A desire for entire freedom from evil. This seems to be implied in the request, “and see if there be any wicked way in me.” The poet was not aware of any wicked way in him. But if any evil tendency or way had escaped his scrutiny, it could not escape that of God. And if God discovered such, the clearly implied desire of the Psalmist was that he might be delivered from it. “Any wicked way.” Margin: “Way of pain or grief.” “The way of pain is the way which leads to pain.” The wicked man causes pain. Fürst says that the idea here is the way of “affliction, injury which one causes.” The wicked man suffers pain. “The way of transgressors is hard.” David wishes to be free from every evil way. One unguarded entrance to the beleagured city may admit the invading hosts; one wicked way may ruin a soul.
III. A request for Divine guidance in the way of righteousness. “Lead me in the way everlasting.” “The one true abiding way which leads to the true and everlasting God.” “The way which leads to everlasting life.” “The way which leads to the blessed eternity.” “The way everlasting” is in contrast to “the way of pain.” The one leads to misery; the other leads to joy. Here are two points—
1. Man’s need of guidance. David felt this. We are exposed to temptation, prone to go astray, &c.
2. Man’s infallible Guide. David sought the Divine lead. The Lord is perfectly acquainted with both the traveller and the way.
“Lead us, O Father, in the paths of right;
Blindly we stumble when we walk alone,
Involved in shadows of a darksome night,
Only with Thee we journey safely on.
“Lead us, O Father, to Thy heavenly rest,
However rough and steep the path may be,
Through joy or sorrow, as Thou deemest best,
Until our lives are perfected in Thee.”
—W. H. Burleigh.
A NEEDFUL PRAYER
This is a very honest prayer—a very practical prayer. The text before us is a very personal text. “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” &c. We will consider—
I. The need there is for such a prayer as this. You have not to travel far to find out the need for such a prayer. You have but to look within,—to consider the motives and the thoughts and the desires and the purposes which are continually working within your own hearts, and you will find out, if you be honest, the need for such a prayer as this. There may be some amongst you who know that you are cherishing sin in the heart, and who have no desire to part with it. Does not that prove the necessity for such a prayer as this, that God would search your heart, and make you so feel your need of repentance and of a Saviour that you might forsake that sin this very night?
But the prayer is rather the prayer of a true servant of God. There may exist in the heart of a genuine Christian much undetected evil. A conviction of the omniscience and omnipresence of God is quite consistent with the presence of evil in the heart. We have no grander description of those great attributes of Jehovah than in this Psalm; and yet the Psalmist recognised the possibility that evil was lurking within. A conviction of the evil of sin, a deep abhorrence of iniquity, is quite consistent with the presence of evil in the soul.… Again, a deep sense of our acceptance in Christ, of our reconciliation to God, of our pardon, and of our blessedness in Christ, is consistent with the presence of evil in the heart. Our acceptance in Christ does not destroy the old nature. That nature remains, and shall be destroyed, but not yet. Once more. We may say also, that an earnest purpose and determination to get rid of all evil is consistent with its presence. The man of God longs for the complete deliverance which shall be the perfect answer to the prayer before us. There is need, then, for such a prayer as this.
II. The manner in which such a prayer as this receives its answer. Let us be well assured that God knows the heart. But the question is, How does God make that known to us which is known so perfectly to Him? How does God search the heart? Take an illustration. After David’s great fall, sin certainly was in his heart. For months, apparently, he lived without confession and without forgiveness.… (See 2 Samuel 12:1-14.) “Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God.” It was God’s authoritative word that brought conviction,—which revealed and detected the evil. David confessed his sin, was pardoned, and restored. Peter denied his Lord, &c. “And Peter remembered the word,” &c. (Matthew 26:75). That word searched him, and he went forth and wept bitterly. The Word, then, is that instrument which the Lord God uses to search the depths of the human heart; and bringing home that Word by the power of the Spirit, He reveals the sinner to himself, and so teaches him his need of repentance.
There is no one present who has not a history. There are facts in every life, perhaps, which we would not tell to those nearest and dearest to us. There have been sins cherished in the heart, if not practised in the life. There are secrets unrevealed, scarcely, perhaps, remembered, seldom dwelt upon; but there is a history in each one of us. Now, the Word of God has a wonderful power of fastening upon some critical point in that history, so as to detect the evil—to lay bare the secret—to drag it out, as it were, into light, and, letting the light of truth shine in upon it, to lead the man to know himself. Take, for example, the secret of sin. Illustration: Our Lord and the woman of Samaria (John 4:1-42).
Or, again, a case the very opposite to the woman of Samaria, a man upright, moral, devout, religious, learned, admired, honoured, respected. You have it in Nicodemus; and how does the Lord meet that man’s conscience? (John 3:1-13). Or one who was wedded to one particular idol, though all the rest of his life was fair and good and upright (Matthew 19:16-22). And would you have an example of one who was upright, who feared God, and who eschewed evil, and who yet was brought to confess that he was a grievous sinner? You have it in the well-known case of the patriarch Job.… And how are those convictions wrought? By the suspicious silence of his friends? No. By the blunt and open charges of those same friends? No. By the wiser counsel and the more truthful accusations of Elihu? No; but by the solemn word of Jehovah, &c. (Job 38-41). And what is the result? (Job 40:3-6; Job 42:5-6).
There are probably few Christians present who do not feel the pointed application of these words to their own hearts. You know that there is evil lying within. What you want to know is how to get rid of that evil. You must get rid of the evil within by the application of the very same principle of faith as that by means of which you have become established in Christ. We are justified by faith; we are sanctified by faith in the Lord Jesus.—Sir Emilius Bayley.
THE WICKED WAY WITHIN US, AND THE PRAYER PREFERRED
(Psalms 139:24)—”See if there be any wicked way in me.”
This a beautiful and impressive prayer for the commencement of every day.
It is, also, a great sentiment to admonish us at the beginning or close of each day.
“The law of sin in our members,” warring against the law of truth, of holiness, and of God, is still very powerful, and often very painfully exemplified.
There is the way of unbelief within, to which we are very prone.
There is the way of vanity and pride, to which we often accustom ourselves—vain of something in connection with the body, the accomplishments of the mind, &c. And then how frequently we show a proud and inflated spirit, instead of the temper of deep humility.
There is the way of selfishness in which we frequently walk. We are sometimes quite absorbed in considerations which relate only to our personal advancement or happiness.
There is the way of worldliness we often pursue. The empty pleasures, the shadowy honours, &c.
There is the way of sluggishness, by which we are often marked, and in connection with which we are sadly injured. What apathy in prayer, in the examination and application of God’s Word, we manifest!
There is the way of self-dependence, by which we often dishonour God and injure ourselves. There is not simple, unhesitating, unbroken reliance on the perfect work, the infinite merits of our Divine Redeemer always unfolded, which we are bound invariably to exercise.
There is, unhappily, the way of disobedience in which we often walk. At any rate, our obedience is cold, reluctant, uncertain—not distinguished by its simplicity, its entireness, its fervency.
Now, each of the “ways” to which reference has been made is radically unsound, radically bad,—to every one of which we are individually prone, and from which we require to be delivered.
How necessary is it, then, to go to God at once, and, with the utmost earnestness, to prefer the petition, “Lord, see if there be any wicked way in me.” Anything dark to enlighten, anything erroneous to correct, anything injurious to remove, anything degrading to elevate, anything impure to cleanse, anything deadening to quicken. Let nothing that is wrong, that is opposed to Thy character, repugnant to Thy Word, or injurious and debasing to ourselves, remain, or be harboured within us.
Can anything be more consistent than this? Anything be wiser than this? Can any prayer issue in a larger, richer, or more abiding blessing?
Let us remember that if there be what is holy within, there will be nothing that is unholy without; if there be irregularity within, there must be irregularity and confusion without. If the heart be unsound, the life must inevitably be unsound also.
Can you prefer, with the utmost sincerity, this fine prayer?—T. Wallace.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 139". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29