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“It does not appear upon what occasion David composed this psalm. The revolt of Israel in Absalom’s rebellion is by most writers pitched upon as the subject of it. But be this as it may, the expressions are general, and evidently designed to extend beyond a private interpretation. And accordingly, the apostle (Romans 3:10, &c.) produces some passages from it to evince the apostasy of both Jews and Gentiles from their King and their God, and to prove them to be all under sin. In this light, therefore, we are to consider it, as characterising the principles and practices of those who oppose the Gospel of Christ in all ages.”—Horns.
THE IMMORALITY OF ATHEISM
I. It is immoral in its principle.
It is the denial of the existence, an ignoring of the rights, of the Absolute and Eternal King. Sceptics often talk of the rights of man; but they end with the essential immorality of denying the crown rights of God. He made us; He made the world, and all that is in it; and to deny His existence and to ignore His government is profoundest immorality. “Sin, if unchecked, would go to the extinction of all being, and of God Himself. There is no doubt that all sin designs deicide. All sin is directed against universal being. It is primarily against God, inferentially against all being. All transgression is ambitious, and, if it could succeed, it would scale the universe and dethrone its Monarch.”—Duncan. Atheism is the essence of ingratitude, injustice, lying, pride, hatred, and selfishness.
II. It is immoral in its origin.
“They are corrupt.” It does not spring from a pure and honest intellect, which finds itself perplexed by a problem too great for it, but from a proud and corrupt heart. “Passion, not reason, generates atheism. Sin suggests a dislike of Providence, and reason is then marshalled to drive Him out of our view.”—Rylands. “Their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). The child recognises God, but, giving place for long years to worldliness and sin, the man sinks into practical atheism. He lives so long without God in the world, that at last he ventures to think that there is no God. And so a nation as it increases in wealth, and luxury, and power, becomes self-sufficient; and the outcome of this is a general prevalence of speculative and practical atheism. We wrong God, and then we forget Him; we forget Him, and then we deny Him.
III. It is immoral in its consequences.
Sin leads to scepticism, and scepticism to sin. With the denial of God we lose the principle of moral life and beauty.
1. Personally we become “corrupt.” Belief in God is the salt of human nature, and when that has gone the whole man rapidly corrupts.
2. And our works become “abominable.” He who has smothered in his heart the knowledge of God, has lost the vital principle of health, beauty, life, and usefulness. “The fool, is a term in Scripture signifying a wicked man; the word signifies the extinction of life in men, animals, and plants; so the word is taken Isaiah 40:7, ‘The flower fadeth;’ a plant that hath lost all that juice that made it lovely and useful. So a fool is one that hath lost his wisdom and right notion of God and divine things, which were communicated to man by creation; one dead in sin.”—Charnock. Atheism cannot create a noble manhood. It creates a fool. Religion and right reason gone, natural principles extinct, what can you have but a distorted and ignoble humanity? Atheism cannot create a noble nation. Without God, man rots; without God, society rots. Atheism is the greatest immorality. “Folly is a term employed in Hebrew to signify the greatest possible degree of guilt.”—French. “The Psalmist makes this prominent as the very extreme and depth of human depravity, that there can be among men those who deny the existence of a God.”—Delitzsch. It is the source of all immoralities; and God will punish it with great retribution (Psalms 14:5).
THE BANE AND THE ANTIDOTE
I. The corruption of the race.
1. This corruption is universal (Psalms 14:2). God is represented, in the history of the Flood, as looking down from the windows of heaven upon mankind to see if there were any who sought Him. And what is the result of this search? We have it in the 3d verse. “Every one hath turned away; or, more emphatically, the whole universe hath turned away.”—Phillips. “The universality of corruption is expressed in as strong terms as possible; what the Psalmist says applies primarily to Israel, his immediate neighbours, but at the same time to the heathen, as is self-evident. What is lamented is neither the pseudo-Israelitish corruption in particular, nor that of the heathen, but the universal corruption of man, which prevails not less in Israel than in the heathen world.”—Delitzsch. “Total and universal corruption could not be more clearly expressed than by this accumulation of the strongest terms, in which, as Luther well observes, the Psalmist, not content with saying all, adds together, and then negatively, no not one. It is plain that he had no limitation or exception in his mind, but intended to describe the natural condition of all men, in the widest and most unrestricted sense. The whole, not merely all the individuals as such, but the entire race as a totality or ideal person.”—Alexander. It is true that in the 5th verse the Psalmist speaks of “the generation of the righteous,” but this is not to be regarded as any limitation of his dark judgment of the condition of man. “The recognition of a righteous generation on earth does not contradict the statement of the total corruption of the children of Adam, embracing all without exception. For the righteous generation consists not of a little band of men who have remained exempt from sin and its corruption, whom God has somehow overlooked, when He looked about, because they stood in a corner, or because they are not brought into consideration on account of their small number in comparison with the awful corruption of the masses. To this class belong rather those men in the midst of the generation of the children of Adam who have been born again as children of God of incorruptible seed, who by this change of their inborn nature form a peculiar class in the midst of the generation of men, and afford the seed of regeneration for the entire people.”—Moll. The Psalmist pictures all men everywhere as corrupt, and thus the apostle interprets him (Romans 3:10-12).
2. This corruption is thorough. Not only are all corrupt, but all are entirely so. “They are altogether filthy.” The nature is depraved. “They are corrupt.” The “heart,” the inmost personality, is corrupt, and thus all the powers and faculties of the man are defiled. “The source of all his movements, the affections and heart, are polluted; the waters are poisoned at the spring.”—Rylands. The life is depraved.
(1.) Many have done “abominable works.” “When men begin with renouncing the Most High God, who shall tell where they will end? Observe the state of the world before the Flood, as portrayed in Genesis 6:12, and remember that human nature is unchanged. He who would see a terrible photograph of the world without God must read that most painful of all inspired Scriptures, the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Things loathsome to God and man are sweet to some palates.”—Spurgeon.
(2.) And if men have not done “abominable works,” there is “none that doeth good.” “Do any object that, beyond the circle of the righteous, there is much virtue to be found, much civil righteousness, much beautiful natural affection? The natural virtues that still adorn the world and claim the admiration of men are vitated before God by this, that there is no regard in them to His will.”—Binnie. They “come short of the glory of God.”
3. This corruption is profound. It is not a taint, but a deep disease. It is deeply “corrupted,” i.e., become putrid. It is a deep malignity of nature. In Psalms 8:0, we have the picture of the ideal man, the original man, the possible man; here, alas! we have a sorrowful picture of the actual man. The Bible recognises our intrinsic grandeur, it recognises our deep degradation.
II. The Deliverer of the race.
Psalms 14:7. “The prayer is, in a subordinate sense, that God would raise up a reformer. But the true and ultimate spirit of the prayer is for the speedy advent of Christ (Isaiah 59:20; Romans 11:26; Jeremiah 14:8). To whom could, the prophets appeal in the time of trouble but to the only Hope of Zion? (Psalms 53:0.).”—Sutcliffe.
1. The world cannot be renewed by philosophy. “Philosophy may adorn, but it is impotent to regenerate human nature.”—Lecky.
2. Nor by education. The fault is in the heart, not the head; it is moral, not intellectual. “The word chosen by David in the 1st verse, nabal, fool, means imbecile, a vapid, worn-out fool, one whose heart and understanding are degraded, incapable of seeing truth. It is a word never used of mere natural obtuseness, but of spiritual corruption.”—Speaker’s Com.
3. Nor by institutions. No change of external relations will bring true deliverance. Politics, commerce, manners, whatever springs from man, is itself imperfect and tainted; and to attempt to make a perfect man by human institutions is like a man attempting to clean his face with a dirty duster.
4. Nor is there any restorative principle in human nature. “At last man will be healed, for human nature has the power to recover from its wounds by means of a certain inward power.”—Goethe. This is not true: there is no such power. The hope of the world is in the Church of Christ. Out of Zion comes the Deliverer; out of the Christian Church come those blessings which shall make society pure and free. And oh! what joy shall there be everywhere when Christ breaks the tyranny of sin, and gives to the world the freedom and pleasures of righteousness!
We have here:
I. Conscience informed.
“Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” (Psalms 14:4). “Have they no conscience.”—Delitzsch. “Have they no experience.”—Moll. Now it is quite true that the workers of iniquity seem like brute beasts, as if they had no common sense, no conscience; but they had these gifts, and it is this fact which renders their conduct so dark.
I. We sin against understanding. Our reason protests against sin.
2. We sin against conscience. Our moral sense echoes the words and thunders of Sinai, and protests against transgression.
3. We sin against experience. Our history shows how all that is desirable and honourable lies in the path of obedience, and how paths of transgression are paths of misery and shame. This constitutes the enormity of sin: we know our duty to God and man. We have moral ideas and sensibilities. Sin is not a mistake, not a misfortune, but a crime.
II. Conscience asleep.
1. Asleep as to men. “Who eat up My people as they eat bread” (Psalms 14:4). That is, they commit the greatest excesses and injustice without the smallest compunction. In wronging the weak, the good, the poor, “they think that they are not doing anything more sinful,—indeed, rather what is justifiable, irreproachable, and lawful to them,—than when they are eating bread.”—Hengstenberg. “The light that is in them is darkness.”
2. Asleep as to God. “And call not upon the Lord” (Psalms 14:4). They have forgotten God. Practically they say, “There is no God.” Thus men stifle their moral sense and live neither fearing God nor regarding man.
III. Conscience aroused (Psalms 14:5). “When Jehovah thus bursts forth in scorn, His word, which never fails in its working, smites down these brutish men, who are without knowledge and conscience.”—Delitzsch. “When God’s long-suffering changes into wrath, terror at His judgment seizes them, and they tremble through and through.”—Delitzsch. “Suddenly, while they were in complete security (Psalms 53:6), terror lays hold on them.”—Kay. As Psalms 14:6 intimates, the sceptical worldlings had laughed at the piety of the meek. “You pour contempt on the poor man’s resolve, because the Lord is his refuge, you must needs deride this as arrant folly,—to trust in an unseen God!”—Kay. But they awake to find that “God is in the generation of the righteous;” all is true that the righteous held, and the angry God is ready to avenge Himself on the proud sinner. Let us fly to the great Deliverer of Zion. He can give the guilty conscience peace, and wash away its stains.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18