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MERCY AND JUDGMENT GROUNDS OF PRAISE
Psalms 101:1. I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.
THERE are many things in the Christian’s experience, the precise quality of which he would find it difficult to determine, if they had not been recorded, as experienced by others, of whose piety we can have no doubt. To sing of mercy, and to be resigned to judgment, would appear to most Christians a suitable expression of their feelings under the different dispensations. But David, in a review of his past life, and under circumstances as they existed at the time when he wrote this psalm, declared both mercy and judgment to be equally proper grounds for praise and thanksgiving; and the repetition of his determination to praise God for them shewed that he spake not inconsiderately, but the deliberate and determined purpose of his mind.
That we may be led to adopt the same pious determination, I will endeavour to set before you,
The dealings of God with his people—
We should naturally expect that God would act in a way of mercy only to his friends, and of judgment only to his enemies. But towards both the one and the other he sees fit to dispense a mixed lot, reserving the unmixed portion for the eternal world. The ungodly, whilst partakers of some judgments, certainly enjoy many mercies: and the godly, whilst abounding in mercies, are exposed also to some judgments.
Some they feel in common with the world at large—
[In their bodies, they are liable to pain, sickness, and death, even as others. In their minds, too, they may be afflicted with the loss of friends, with ill-treatment from enemies, with distress in their families, with embarrassment in their worldly circumstances. In these respects, one lot comes to all; nor can we discern God’s love towards them by any thing of this outward nature [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:1.].]
To some also they are subjected, that are peculiar to themselves—
[The ungodly are not, in general, sensible of any particular tokens of God’s displeasure, as arising out of any variations of their conduct towards him: but the saints, who know what it is to have the light of his countenance lifted up upon them, are very keenly sensible of his withdrawment from them, when, by any secret neglects, they have provoked him to hide his face from them: and such frowns from their heavenly Father are inexpressibly painful to their soul [Note: Psalms 77:7-9; Psalms 88:14-16.] — — — The temptations of Satan, too, to which the ungodly are, for the most part, utter strangers, are sometimes like fiery darts in the souls of the righteous. None can tell what “wrestlings” many a devout soul has “with the principalities and powers of hell:” but verily, those, whose lot it is to sustain them, find them a source of extreme pain at the time [Note: Ephesians 6:12; Ephesians 6:16.]. Holy Job [Note: Job 6:2-4.], and the Apostle Paul [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:8.], yea, and our blessed Lord himself, complained bitterly under these trials [Note: Luke 22:44; Luke 22:53.]; from which the vassals of Satan are exempt, and to which they only who are his determined enemies are exposed. Nor must I omit to mention the persecutions to which many are called to submit for righteousness sake. Those recorded in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews are amply sufficient to shew that they are not easy to be borne [Note: Hebrews 11:36-37.], nor altogether to be avoided, by any who will serve their God with fidelity and zeal [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.]. Of course, in respect of the measure of these trials, there will be found a great difference amongst the saints of God: but of some measure, all, in their season, are called to participate.]
But, mixed as these dispensations are, we are nevertheless prepared to contemplate,
The wisdom and goodness of God displayed in them—
Mercies may be sent to the ungodly in judgment; as when “God gave the Israelites their desires, but sent leanness withal into their souls [Note: Psalms 106:15.].” So, in like manner, to his own people he often sends judgment in mercy. In truth, so are we constituted in our present imperfect state, that we could not bear either mercies or judgments, if they came alone. Mercies, if unmixed, would “exalt us above measure [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7. twice mentioned in that one verse.];” and judgments, if unmixed, would sink us into despondency. A ship needs both sails and ballast, to carry it forward in safety: and so the Christian needs a diversity of dispensations, in order to accomplish in him the purposes of God’s grace. God sends them to his people,
To form them to the divine image—
[The divine image consists not in any one perfection, but in an assemblage of every perfection that can possibly be imagined. So the perfection of a Christian consists not in one grace, or even in one set of graces, but in a combination of all the graces which are suited to a redeemed soul, and calculated to advance the honour of our God. Now, all of these are formed by that variety of dispensations of which we have been speaking. The workings of the soul under so many different circumstances will tend to shew a man what he really is, and consequently to humble him in the dust before God: whilst the dealings of God with him will wonderfully display the character of God himself, and lead forth the soul in the devoutest acknowledgments to him for past mercies, and in the most implicit confidence in him for future blessings. In a word, all the active and passive virtues will be generated in the soul, and be called forth into united and harmonious exercise; so that by these dispensations the Believer will be assimilated unto “God, who is light itself, and in whom is no darkness at all [Note: 1 John 1:5.].”]
To stimulate them in their way to glory—
[Mercies have a tendency to fill the soul with love to God, and to make it pant for the full enjoyment of God in heaven. Judgments also operate to the same end, by weaning the soul from present things, and causing it to long for that rest which remaineth for it in a better world. It was not peculiar to the Apostle Paul to “desire to depart, and to be with Christ.” Every one who feels the vanity of earthly things, and has a foretaste of the world to come, will be like-minded with him. A weariness of life may be felt, and is often felt, by the most ungodly of men. That, therefore, is not the experience which I am speaking of: that results from a total ignorance of God’s mercies, and a dissatisfaction with their appointed lot. The state of mind to which I refer, is well expressed by St. Paul, when he says, “We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burthened: not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:4.].” To the voice of Christ, saying, “Behold, I come quickly,” it responds with joyful confidence; “Even so, come, Lord Jesus [Note: Revelation 22:20.]!”]
Whilst they answer such ends as these, we cannot but see,
The light in which they should invariably be viewed—
The saints in every age have acknowledged the goodness of God in them—
[David, in my text, speaks of judgment, as well as mercy, as the ground of his devoutest acknowledgments. And he elsewhere not only declares that “it is good for him to have been afflicted [Note: Psalms 119:71.],” but traces his afflictions to the faithfulness of God [Note: Psalms 119:75.]; evidently intimating, that he regarded them as comprehended in the covenant of grace, and as promised, so far as they should be needful for him, by a faithful and unchanging God. St. Paul even “took pleasure in them” in this view [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.]: and regarded them not only as light, but “as lightness itself”, from the consideration that they were “working out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. The Greek.].” The same experience also is ascribed to all the saints: for, of every true Christian it is said, “We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed [Note: Romans 5:3-5.].”]
And we also should be prepared to join in their anthems of praise—
[Our views of eternity should swallow up all inferior considerations; and that dispensation be most welcomed which most conduces to our eternal interests. To flesh and blood, that which is attended with present comfort appears best; but it is not really so. A wind that is somewhat cross will urge on a ship more steadily, and carry it forward more rapidly, than one which is quite direct; because it will fill all the sails. So a measure of adversity will operate more favourably on our Christian course, than a state of unmixed prosperity. Taken in connexion, the good and the evil mutually assist each other, and “work together for good unto all them that love God, and have been called by him according to his purpose [Note: Romans 8:28.].” Our blessed Lord himself “was made perfect through sufferings:” and what was subservient to his benefit, cannot fail of being conducive to ours also: and consequently, the acknowledgments which we should make respecting them in the eternal world should now at this time constitute an essential part of our thanksgivings to God.]
Who does not see here—
The value and importance of faith?
[Sense beholds things as they appear. Faith beholds them as they really are. Faith views them both in their source and end: it traces every thing to God, as the all-wise and infinitely gracious Disposer of all events. Faith comprehends that saying, “Is there evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it?” It fully accedes, also, to that inspired declaration, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hence, if our mercies were unmixed, it would be far from regarding it as a token for good: it would rather suggest, that we were bastards and not sons; because there is no son whom a wise father chasteneth not [Note: Hebrews 12:6-8.]. Learn then, my Brethren, to “walk by faith and not by sight [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.].” You well know how greatly Jacob erred, when he said, “All these things are against me [Note: Genesis 42:36.].” In fact, the very events which he so much deplored, were the means which God had ordained for the preservation of himself and all his family. Job too, in the midst of all his trials, little thought in what they would issue. But “you have seen the end of them [Note: James 5:11.];” and if you will wait to see the Lord’s end in every thing that wears a painful aspect in his dispensations towards you, I may venture to assure you that the time is coming when you shall add your testimony to that of old, “He hath done all things well.” Your way may be circuitous and painful: but you will find, at the last, that “he has led you in the right way.”]
The blessedness of true Believers?
[Where is the man under heaven, except the Believer, who can adopt the language of the text, or carry it into effect? Ungodly men may sing when all goes well with them: but where is he that will sing in the midst of his afflictions, and make his afflictions themselves a ground of joy? Nowhere is that man to be found, but in the Church of Christ; for it is to his believing people only that “God giveth songs in the night.” On the other hand, there is not an individual in the Church of Christ who is not privileged to experience this joy, and who does not actually possess it in proportion as he has made a progress, in the divine life. Hear the prophet of old: “Although the figtree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation [Note: Habakkuk 3:17-18.].” Take this for your pattern, Brethren. You may be brought into trials, which may seem to menace your very existence: but, however the storm may rage, your Saviour is embarked in the vessel with you; yea, and is also sitting at the helm. Only reflect on his conflicts, victories, and triumphs; and you will see the way that is marked out for you: and as He fought and overcame, and is set down upon his Father’s throne, so shall you also overcome, and enjoy the full recompence of your trials upon your Father’s throne for ever and ever. And say, whether there will be one incident for which you will not bless your God in the eternal world? If not, then view every thing now as proceeding from his love, and as leading to the full enjoyment of heaven: and sing now both of mercy and judgment, as you will sing, when they shall have come to their final termination, and all present scenes shall be consummated in eternal bliss. I conclude, then, with that direction of the Apostle which is so suited to the occasion, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:18.].”]
A WISE DEPORTMENT DELINEATED
Psalms 101:2. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
EXTENSIVE influence is a most invaluable talent, which entails upon us an awful responsibility, and should therefore be improved with all possible care and diligence. The higher we are in the scale of society, the more our obligations to exert ourselves for God are increased. But, if wisdom direct not our measures, our most strenuous efforts will be in vain. David was well convinced of this truth: and, having seen in his own experience a wise admixture of mercy and of judgment in the dealings of God towards him, he determined, in his limited sphere of action, to imitate the conduct of the Governor of the Universe, and so to temper mercy with justice in the whole of his administration, that iniquity might be suppressed, and virtue cultivated, not in his own palace only, but throughout all his dominions. We might not unprofitably enter into an investigation of the principles which he laid down for the regulation of his conduct, and mark the specific course of action which he determined to pursue towards his courtiers; but we shall wave the consideration of those particulars, and notice rather the general principle which he adopted, and which is equally applicable to persons in every station of life; “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way; I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.”
A noble resolution this! We will endeavour to point out,
The great importance of it—
The value of religion, generally, is acknowledged by all; but few are aware of the vast importance of a wise, discreet, and prudent deportment: yet on that essentially depend,
The peace and comfort of our own souls—
[An indiscreet conduct, even where the person’s intentions on the whole are good, will involve him in many difficulties, and rob him of those supports and consolations which under other circumstances he might enjoy. True it is, that the wisest demeanour will not avail to root out prejudice, or to make religion lovely in the eyes of carnal men: for the children of darkness cannot but hate the light: and our blessed Lord himself, in whose conduct not the slightest fault or error could be found, was an object of universal hatred to the whole Jewish nation. But it is no less true, that imprudence in religious characters calls forth against them, and, in appearance, justifies, the malignity of many, who, if their zeal had been better regulated, would never have raised their arm against it. Many parents, masters, magistrates, who would never have interposed their authority to obstruct a prudent exercise of religion, have been induced to exert their power in consequence of the indiscretion of those whom they were constrained to oppose. In such cases their opposition can scarcely be called persecution; nor can the cross which the sufferers are called to bear, be called “the cross of Christ:” it is their own cross, that they have to bear, and their own folly, that they have to blame. Enthusiasts do indeed persuade themselves that they are suffering for righteousness sake: but having no satisfactory evidence that such is indeed the true ground of their trials, they cannot feel that humble acquiescence in the divine appointments, which, if they had acted a wiser part, would have calmed their spirits, and sweetened their afflictions [Note: 1 Peter 2:19-20; 1 Peter 4:15-16.].]
The benefit of all around us—
[Nothing can be more unreasonable than that men should condemn religion for the faults of those who profess it: but they will do so, and will take occasion from the misconduct of religious people to defame and decry all vital godliness [Note: 2 Peter 2:2.].
It is of no consequence in their eyes, that the wise and prudent condemn the things that are complained of: no; their adversaries are not disposed to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent: they involve all in the same obloquy: and will bring the faults of former ages as grounds of accusation against those who live in the present day [Note: The errors of the Puritans are imputed to those who profess religion in the present day.]. Even the errors that were acknowledged and lamented by the persons who in early life committed them, are still adduced as characterizing not only the persons who openly renounced them, but those also who have never in any degree approximated towards them [Note: This is particularly to be noticed in reference to the early journals of Messrs. Whitfield and Wesley; which, though afterwards condemned by the authors themselves, are to this hour made the sole grounds of estimating their character; and not their character only, but the characters of thousands who were never guilty of any of their extravagances.]: and all this is done for the purpose of discrediting religion, and of justifying their own aversion to it. On the other hand, great good is done by those who “walk circumspectly,” and “shine forth as lights in the world [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].” They “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men [Note: 1 Peter 2:15.],” and “shame those who falsely accuse their good conversation in Christ [Note: 1 Peter 3:16.].” What St. Peter says of “wives winning by their good conversation their unbelieving husbands [Note: 1 Peter 3:1.],” we doubt not is often verified in all other relations of life; those who behold the light that is set before them being constrained to acknowledge, that “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour [Note: Proverbs 12:26.].” A certain awe is impressed on the minds of the ungodly by the sight of “a man of God.” “Herod feared John,” when he saw what a just and holy man he was [Note: Mark 6:20.]: and it is particularly said of Saul, that, “when he saw that David behaved himself very wisely, he feared him [Note: 1 Samuel 18:15.].” And if we will walk “holily, justly, and unblameably before men,” we shall have a testimony in their consciences, “that God is with us of a truth [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:25.],” and that the principles we profess are “worthy of all acceptation [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15.].”]
The honour of God and his Gospel—
[The argument which St. Paul uses to enforce on servants the maintenance of a dutiful behaviour towards their unbelieving masters, is, “that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed [Note: 1 Timothy 6:1.].” How terrible is the thought that our indiscretions should ever produce such an effect as this! On the other hand, our blessed Lord bids us to “make our light shine before men, that they who behold our good works may be stirred up to glorify our heavenly Father [Note: Matthew 5:16.].” What a stimulus is here! what a motive to circumspection! what an incentive to every thing that is great and holy! Believer, can you reflect one moment on the thought, that God can be glorified in you, and not determine, like David, to “walk wisely before him in a perfect way?” If nothing but your own welfare and the welfare of your fellow-creatures were at stake, you would watch over your every action, your every disposition; but when you consider, that the honour of God himself is in a measure dependent upon you, methinks, you should be utterly purposed, that, if it be possible, “God himself shall not find any thing amiss with you [Note: Psalms 17:3.]; and that, at all events, your conduct shall be so blameless, “that they who are of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you [Note: Titus 2:8.].”]
Having shewn the importance of this resolution, we will distinctly mark,
The way in which it must be carried into effect—
It is scarcely needful to say, that we must have respect to every commandment of God, without partiality or reserve; for where there is partiality there is hypocrisy [Note: James 3:17.]; and where there is hypocrisy, there is neither “a perfect heart,” nor “a perfect way,” nor indeed one spark of true “wisdom.” This then must be ever borne in mind, that without an unreserved endeavour to fulfil the whole will of God, the forming of such a resolution must be altogether nugatory and delusive. But supposing the resolution to be sincerely formed, then the question will arise, How must a person demean himself so as really to effect his wish? We answer, he must conduct himself,
With meekness and modesty—
[Nothing is more disgusting than forwardness in a religious character. It is offensive in any; but most of all in one who professes to feel himself a poor, blind, ignorant, guilty creature, “less than the least of all saints,” yea, rather, “the very chief of sinners.” How unseemly is it to see such an one full of conceit, obtrusive, talkative, loving pre-eminence, and “thinking himself to be something, when he is nothing [Note: Galatians 6:3.]!” Yet how many such professors are there, wherever the Gospel is preached! On the other hand, how lovely is the character of one that is gentle, modest, unassuming, arrogating nothing to himself, and willing on all occasions to “take the lowest place!” Such a person, whilst he himself “is beautified with salvation [Note: Psalms 149:4.],” reflects an honour on the Gospel, and “adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour [Note: Titus 2:10.].” Such a disposition is lovely even in the sight of God himself, and is esteemed by him as “an ornament of great price [Note: 1 Peter 3:4.].” It should seem that this was a distinguishing feature in our Lord’s character, since the Apostle particularly beseeches us “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:1.]:” and the more we have of the mind of Christ in this respect, the more “wisely shall we walk both towards them that are without [Note: Colossians 4:5.]” the pale of the Church, and those that are within. The want of this disposition renders our way far more difficult whilst it incapacitates us for encountering the difficulties which it puts in our way. This then we conceive to be our first object, to obtain a humble and subdued spirit, which, whilst it offends none who differ from us, qualifies us to bear with patience, and to turn to good account, whatever evils the unreasonableness of wicked men may inflict upon us. By means of it we shall “out of the eater bring forth meat, and out of the strong bring forth sweet;” or, in other words, we shall make “all things work together for our good.”]
With kindness and charity—
[There is really in many religious professors almost the same acrimony against the ungodly world, as there is in the ungodly world against them. But how unbecoming is this! for, if there be a difference between us and others, who is it that has made us to differ [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]? And, if we see others yet lying in their natural enmity against God, what does their state call for, but pity and compassion? Besides, love is the very end, yea the sum and substance, of all religion [Note: 1 Timothy 1:5.]. If we have not love, we may give all our goods to feed the poor, and our body to be burned, and yet be no better than “sounding brass, and tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1.].” If this principle preside not in our hearts, we shall do nothing well [Note: 1 Corinthians 16:14.]. This will lead us to consult the best interests of all around us: to study how we may most influence them for their good; and to bend to circumstances, in order to abate their prejudice, and gain the easier access to their minds. It was from this principle that St. Paul “became all things to all men [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.].” If he might but “gain the more,” he was ready to deny himself the most innocent enjoyments, and to comply with any requisitions, which would consist with fidelity to his God. How conciliatory will be the conduct of one who acts under this principle! With what “meekness will he give to an inquirer a reason of the hope that is in him [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.]; and convey instruction to a blind and obstinate opposer [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25.]! How cautiously will he “cut off occasion from those who seek occasion against him [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:12.]!” How watchfully will he “abstain even from the appearance of evil [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:22.],” and prevent, if possible, his good from being evil spoken of [Note: Romans 14:16.]. In a word, where love is in the heart, and “the law of kindness is in the lips,” the enemies of religion will be “put to silence, and the mouths of gainsayers be stopped.”]
With prudence and foresight—
[Solomon observes, “I Wisdom dwell with Prudence [Note: Proverbs 8:12.].” But many seem to think that they have nothing to do with prudence: they have only to follow their own notions of duty, and to leave all consequences to God. Hence they go forward in their own way, and in their own spirit; never once considering, what may be the effect of their conduct on the minds of others: and, though they may do some good, they do more injury than they can well conceive. But if we would behave ourselves wisely in a perfect way, we must consider the probable consequences of our actions [Note: Ecclesiastes 8:5.], and endeavour to accomplish our ends by the most inoffensive means. When Paul went to Jerusalem, where God’s design of calling the Gentiles into his Church, and of abrogating the Mosaic ritual, was but imperfectly understood, he took the precaution of conferring privately with the leading members of that Church in the first instance [Note: Galatians 2:2.], in order to explain his views to them, and through them to remove the prejudices of the people at large. This was wise; and the wisdom of it appeared in the effects which followed. Similar precautions should be used by us in all our commerce with the world at large, or with the Church in particular: we should “give no unnecessary offence either to the Jew, or to the Greek, or to the Church of God.” We should consider what every one can bear; and should suit ourselves to his capacity or condition. Our blessed Lord himself set us this example, speaking every thing in a way of parables, according as his auditors were able to receive it [Note: Mark 4:33.]. St. Paul also administered “milk or strong meat” to his converts, according as the measure of their proficiency required [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:2.]. And we also are taught to act under the influence of the same principle, towards all whom we may have occasion to address; “not casting our pearls before swine,” “nor pouring new wine into old bottles,” but accommodating our instructions to the necessities and dispositions of all who hear us. In a word, “I would,” as St. Paul says, “have you wise concerning that which is good, and simple concerning evil [Note: Romans 16:19.].”]
With disinterestedness and simplicity—
[There is a carnal wisdom, which operates in a way of craft and cunning: but this is directly opposed to “the wisdom that is from above,” which consists in simplicity and godly sincerity. “It is this, and this alone, that proceeds from the grace of God, and under the influence of which we are to have our conversation in the world [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.].” If there be any selfish objects proposed, any sinister motives indulged, any artifices practised by us, we are far from true wisdom: true wisdom disclaims every thing that is disingenuous. Its eye is single, its object pure, its operation lucid, uniform, irreprehensible. It will bear the light: it will shine the brightest, where it is brought most to view. If it make us “wise as serpents, it will keep us harmless as doves [Note: Matthew 10:16.].” Every measure of deceit must be banished; all falsehood, either in word or deed, abhorred; and truth and equity must stand confessed in the whole of our dealings. This is true wisdom; and, “whosoever walks according to this rule, peace shall be upon him, and mercy, even upon all the Israel of God [Note: Galatians 6:16.].”]
We conclude with one or two directions for the attainment and increase of this wisdom:
Let a conformity to its dictates be your constant aim—
[“The wisdom of the prudent is, to understand his way [Note: Proverbs 14:8.].” If we walk at random, and without a due consideration of our ways, we never shall attain any true wisdom. We must be aware that folly is bound up in our hearts, and that we are constantly liable to err. We must take our rule of action from the unerring words of truth. We must measure our sentiments and actions by that rule. We must in particular set the Lord Jesus Christ before us, and endeavour to drink into his spirit, and to walk in his steps. This must be our constant habit. Whether our actions be more or less important, they must all be referred to this standard, and be regulated by this principle. Then we shall gradually have our minds enlightened: we shall see with increasing evidence our former deviations from the right path. We shall see, how erroneously we judged on many occasions; and how unwisely we acted, whilst yet we thought that we were acting right. Thus our judgment will be matured; our consciences be preserved tender; and our ways be conformed to the perfect will of God. “Who then is wise and endued with knowledge amongst you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom [Note: James 3:13.].”]
Pray earnestly to God to inspire you with it—
[It is “the Lord alone that giveth wisdom [Note: Proverbs 2:6.]:” and to him David directed his supplications, in the words of our text, “O when wilt thou come unto me?” David felt his insufficiency for that great work which lay before him, and he panted after an increase of grace to fit him for it. Thus should we pant after the influences of the Holy Spirit, to “open the eyes of our understanding,” and to “guide us into all truth.” Without the aid of the Holy Spirit we cannot hope to fill up our several stations in life with true wisdom. David, as a monarch, felt his need of divine aid to execute the resolution he had formed. Solomon desired this aid beyond either riches or honour: and God, in answer to his prayer, “gave him a wise and understanding heart,” above all the children of men. As ministers of God’s word, we need the same: for St. Paul says, in reference to the ministry, “who is sufficient for these things?” The same must be said by us in every station and relation of life. We all have our own peculiar duties to perform; and wisdom consists in executing them aright. Let this never be forgotten, that our chief wisdom consists in ascertaining with precision, and performing with punctuality, the duties of our own particular situation. It is not by going out of our own proper line, but by filling our own particular station well, that we shall approve ourselves truly wise. Let parents and children, masters and servants, magistrates and subjects, bear this in mind: “let none lean to their own understanding [Note: Proverbs 3:5.],” but all with one heart address to God this necessary petition, “O give me understanding in the way of godliness [Note: See the text in the Prayer-book Translation.]!”]
Psalms 101:3. I hate the work of them that turn aside: it shall not cleave to me.
TO improve our influence for God, is our bounden duty, whatever be the station to which he has been pleased to call us. Magistrates, in particular, may render most extensive service to the community, by exerting their power in the promotion of virtue. David felt his responsibility in this respect: and, either on his beginning to reign in Hebron after the death of Saul, or on his coming to the full possession of the kingdom at a subsequent period, he wrote this psalm, declarative of his determination to discountenance evil, and encourage good, to the utmost extent of his power, both amongst his courtiers, and amongst his more immediate attendants in his household.
Let us consider,
The work which he here so determinately reprobates—
The two points to which he seems to refer are,
A want of integrity in morals—
[A dereliction of principle has often been indulged under the idea of expediency; and the utmost subtlety of argument has been employed in vindication of it. But integrity, undeviating integrity, should possess the Christian’s mind. There are many things which will consist with what is called a sense of honour, which can never be admitted into the conduct of a real saint. The laws of honour have their origin from man: and as they derive their authority from man, so they have respect only to the judgment of man in the observance of them. These therefore may bend to times and circumstances. But the Law of God is inflexible; and our adherence to it must be uniform under all circumstances. It must regulate the ends which we propose, the means we use in the prosecution of them, and the manner in which we proceed throughout the whole of our deportment. In every thing we must endeavour to approve ourselves to God, and to act as in his immediate presence. Any departure from the strict line of duty, in whatever circumstances we be placed, must be avoided: and our whole conduct towards mankind, in whatever relation to us they stand, must be such as we, in a change of circumstances, should think it right for them to observe towards us. God requires that “truth should be in our inward parts [Note: Psalms 51:6.];” and every act, every word, every purpose and desire of our hearts, ought to be in strict accordance with it.]
A want of constancy in religion—
[Many there are, who, having begun well, leave off to behave themselves wisely, and “turn aside from the holy commandment delivered to them [Note: 2 Peter 2:21.].” Various are the sources of this declension. Sometimes it begins in a neglect of religious duties, or in the mere formal performance of them. Sometimes it originates in the secret indulgence of some hidden lust. Sometimes “the care of this world, the deceitfulness of riches,” and the desire of other things which have no direct reference to religion, choke the seed that has been sown in our hearts, and prevent it from bringing forth any fruit unto perfection [Note: Matthew 13:22.]. But whatever it be that turns us from God, it should be discountenanced in others, and avoided in ourselves. It may have a specious aspect: much may be said for it to extenuate, if not altogether to justify, the practice of it: but if its operation be to turn us aside from God, and from the pursuit of heavenly things, it becomes an evil work, which it behoves us to renounce.
We must, however, be careful not to impute to any line of duty the evils which arise from our own want of care in the prosecution of it There is not any thing which we may not make an occasion of sin. A person may say, ‘I have intellectual pursuits, which occupy my mind with such intensity, that I cannot fix it afterwards upon heavenly things:’ or, ‘I have a manual labour, which indisposes me for heavenly contemplation.’ In such cases, the duty of these persons is, not to renounce the labours to which, in the course of providence, they have been called, but to implore of God such a measure of spiritual strength as may enable them to combine the duties which they have been wont to separate: nor can we doubt, but that, if they be upright in heart, they shall have imparted to them grace sufficient for the conscientious discharge of all their duties. The point for them especially to attend to, is, that they guard against every inordinate desire: for it is from their inward desires, rather than their outward duties, that they are in any danger of being drawn from God.]
The conduct of the Psalmist, in relation to such “work,” shews,
The disposition which we also should manifest towards it—
We should abhor it in principle—
[There should be in us an attraction towards God, resembling that of the needle to the pole. A needle may, by force, be turned from its proper direction: but it will never cease from a tremulous motion, till it has returned again to its proper rest. So it may be with us. We know not what deviations a sudden impulse of temptation may cause for a moment: but the very instant we perceive that we have departed, even in thought, from the perfect line of duty, we should give neither sleep to our eyes nor slumber to our eye-lids, till we have returned with penitential sorrow to our God. The direction given to us by God is, “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good [Note: Romans 12:9.].” And, whether in relation to morals or religion, this must be the constant habit of our minds. We must be “Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile [Note: John 1:47.].”
We should avoid it in practice—
[We never can be too observant of our own ways. As, at sea, the mariner is often drawn from his course by currents of which he was not aware, and only finds his deviation from his appointed course by the observations which he makes; so it is possible for a Christian to be drawn aside by a corrupt bias, till he has carefully compared his ways with the unerring standard of the word of God. Hence the need of attending to that divine counsel, “Prove all things; and hold fast that which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].” It is not without extreme care that we shall be able to “keep a conscience void of offence towards both God and man.” We are passing through a polluted world; and it is very difficult to “keep our garments altogether undefiled [Note: Revelation 3:4.].” But if we come in contact with evil, we must take care that it does “not cleave unto us.” It must be the one labour of our lives to be “sincere, and without offence, until the day of Christ [Note: Philippians 1:10.].”]
Mark well the beginnings of declension—
[“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” says the Apostle: “prove your ownselves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” Let the first symptoms of spiritual declension be carefully noted by you, and be made an occasion of augmented diligence in your heavenly course. Many evils will you avoid by such watchfulness. Happy would it have been for David, if he had marked the first risings of desire, which the sight of Bathsheba excited in his soul. And happy will it be for us, if we determine, through grace, to abstain, not from evil only, but from the first motions of it, yea, and even “the very appearance of it,” whether in heart or life [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:22.].]
Avoid the means and occasions of it—
[Our Lord teaches us to pray, that we may “not be led into temptation.” In truth, it we willingly subject ourselves to temptation, we cannot expect to be kept. We must “take heed to our ways,” and shun the scenes of vice and folly; and avoid the company, and conversation, and books, and sights, that would ensnare us, if we would be preserved “holy and unblameable and unreprovable in the world.” If we “come out from among the ungodly, and touch not the unclean thing, then will God be a Father unto us, and we shall be his sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 101". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter