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THE COMMONNESS AND FOLLY OF ATHEISM
Psalms 14:1. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
MEN, who judge only by the outward appearance, are apt to entertain a good opinion of themselves: but God, who looketh at the heart, describes the whole race of mankind as immersed in an unfathomable abyss of wickedness [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]. In confirmation of this melancholy truth we need look no further than to the declaration in the text. It may be thought indeed that the text is spoken only in reference to a few professed infidels: but the words immediately following shew that it relates to many, yea to all mankind; “all being gone aside, and none doing good, no not one.” Above all, St. Paul, speaking expressly upon the subject of human depravity, appeals to this very passage as decisively establishing that doctrine. [Note: Romans 3:10-12.] In considering the words before us we shall shew,
The atheistical thoughts and desires of the heart—
God interprets the thoughts and desires of the heart as though they were expressed in words; and he attests its real language to be like that in the text. It may be understood,
As an assertion—
[The name here used for God is not Jehovah, which relates to his essence, but Elohim, which characterizes him as the moral governor of the world. The words therefore must be understood, not as declaring that there is no God, but that there is no God who interferes in human affairs. It is true there are not many, who will deliberately affirm this in plain terms; but, alas! how many are there, whose actions manifest this to be the inward thought of their hearts! If we look around us, we shall see the great mass of mankind living as if there were no superior Being to whom they owed obedience, or to whom they were accountable for their conduct. They inquire constantly whether such or such a line of conduct will tend to their comfort, their honour, or their interest; but how rarely do they examine whether it will please God! How will men gratify in secret, or at least harbour in their bosoms, those lusts, which they could not endure to have exposed to the eye of a fellow-creature, while yet they feel no concern at all about the presence of their God! The language of their hearts is, “The Lord seeth us not, he hath forsaken the earth [Note: Ezekiel 8:12.]:” “How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of the heaven [Note: Job 22:13-14.],” ignorant and indifferent about the affairs of men. And as we thus refuse to acknowledge God ourselves, so we do not choose that any others should acknowledge him. Is any one of our companions awed by the fear of God? how ready are we to laugh at his scruples; to propose to him the customs and maxims of the world as more worthy of his regard than the mind and will of God; and to encourage him in the hope, that such compliances shall never be noticed in the day of judgment! And what is this but to use the very language which God imputes to us, “The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil [Note: Zephaniah 1:12.]?”]
As a wish—
[The words “There is” are not in the original, and may therefore be omitted: the text will then stand thus; The fool hath said in his heart, No God! that is, I wish there were none. And how common a wish is this! When men are fully convinced in their minds that God notices every transaction of their lives, and records it in the book of his remembrance, they are still unwilling to give up their lusts, and determined to continue in sin at all events. But are they easy in such a state? No: they shrink back at the prospect of death and judgment, and wish that they could elude the summons that will be given them in the last day. Gladly would they sleep an eternal sleep, and barter their immortality for an exemption from appearing at the tribunal of God. What satisfaction would they feel if they could be certified on unquestionable grounds, that God did not notice their actions, or that, notwithstanding he be the Governor and Judge of all, he hath decreed to bestow on them the favour of annihilation! Instantly they would exclaim, Now I may dismiss my fears; now I may take my fill of pleasure, and “drink iniquity like water,” without any dread of future consequences. We may appeal to the consciences of all, whether such have not been frequently the thoughts of their hearts, or, at least, whether their dread of death and judgment do not justly admit of this construction?]
Such being the thoughts and desires of the heart, we proceed to shew,
The folly of entertaining them—
This will appear in a striking point of view, if we take into consideration the three following truths—
The thing wished for is absolutely impossible—
[God can no more cease to inspect the ways of men with a view to a final retribution, than he can cease to exist. As his superintending care is necessary for the preservation of the universe, so the continual exercise of his moral government is necessary for the vindication of his own honour. How absurd then is it to indulge a wish, when it is not possible for that wish ever to be gratified, and when the indulging of it makes us act as though it would be gratified! How much better were it to say at once, There is a God, and I must fear him; there is a judgment, and I must prepare for it!]
If the wish could be obtained, it would be an unspeakable injury to all, even in this world—
[Men are led, even by the faintest hopes of impunity, to live in sin; and how much more would they yield themselves up to its dominion, if they could once be sure that God would never call them into judgment for it! This, as it respects individuals, would greatly embitter this present life. The gratification of their lusts would indeed afford them a transient pleasure; but who that considers how soon such enjoyments cloy; who that knows how many evils they bring in their train; who that has seen the effects of unbridled passions, of pride, envy, wrath, malice, of lewdness, covetousness, or any other inordinate affection; who that has the least knowledge of these things can doubt, but that sin and misery are indissolubly connected, and that, in proportion as we give the rein to appetite, we undermine our own happiness? And what would be the consequence to the community at large? Men, even now, “bite and devour one another” like wild beasts, the very instant that God withdraws his restraint from them! Who was it that overruled the purposes of a lewd Abimelech, of a covetous Laban, and of a revengeful Esau? It was God alone: and it is the same God that now keeps the world in any measure of peace and quiet. And if once the world were bereft of his providence, it would instantly resemble that world, where the dispositions of men are suffered to rage without controul, and all incessantly to torment themselves, and all around them. Is it not then the extremest folly to entertain a wish, that would involve in it such tremendous consequences?]
It would be productive of still greater evil as it respects the world to come.
[Doubtless, if there were no moral governor of the universe, there would be no fear of hell; and the thought of this would be a great acquisition to ungodly men. But they, on the other hand, entertain no hope of heaven; their brightest prospect would be annihilation. Melancholy prospect indeed! How much better, even for the most ungodly, to have a God to flee unto; a God to pardon their iniquities; a God to sanctify and renew their souls; a God to bless them with immortality and glory! They need not to wish for the cessation of his agency, or the extinction of their own existence, seeing that he is rich in mercy unto all that call upon him, and ready to receive returning prodigals. And is it not for the interest of all that there should be such a God? Is not the prospect of obtaining his favour, and participating his glory better than annihilation, more especially when the terms of our acceptance with him are so easy? He requires nothing but that we should humble ourselves before him, and plead the merits of his dear Son, and renounce the ways that have been displeasing to him: the very instant we return to him in this manner, he will “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea,” and embrace us with the arms of his mercy. What madness then to wish that there were no such Being!]
How great is the patience of God!
[God sees, not one only or even many, but all the world living without God [Note: Ephesians 2:12.], banishing him from their thoughts [Note: Psalms 10:4.], and wishing him banished from the universe: yet he not only bears with them, but follows them with invitations and promises, and waiteth to be gracious unto them — — — Let us stand amazed at his goodness; and let that goodness lead us to repentance — — —]
How glorious is the change that takes place in conversion!
[Grace no sooner enters into the heart than it slays this enmity, and reconciles the sinner to God. Henceforth it becomes his one desire to walk with God, to enjoy his presence, to fulfil his will, and to live in the near prospect of participating his glory — — — How enviable is such a state! Compare the wisdom of such a state with the folly which we have been exposing — — — And let us instantly begin to live, as we shall wish we had lived, when we come to die.]
Psalms 14:6. Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord in his refuge.
ONE would imagine that religion, as brought into lively and habitual exercise, should commend itself to all: it is so reasonable a service, that one would suppose none could find fault with it. Yet, never has it been maintained by any one since the first introduction of sin into the world, without provoking hostility from those who were not under its dominion. As for David, he suffered for it through all the reign of Saul, and through a great part also of his own reign: for, though a king, he was an object of derision to all the scoffers in the land. Of this he complains in the psalm before us: for though it is probable that Absalom was the great instigator of the present evils, the people, too, readily sided with him, and exulted in the thought, that this despised monarch would now be destroyed.
The psalm, though primarily applicable to that occasion, was really, as St. Paul tells us, of a general import [Note: ver. 2, 3. with Romans 3:10-12.]. And therefore, taking the text in that view, I will explain, and vindicate, the counsel that is here referred to.
The persons designated as “the poor,” are the Lord’s people, generally—
[It is certain that the great mass of the Lord’s people are taken from the lower walks of life. There are “not many rich, not many mighty, not many noble, called.” In the days of our Lord, it was “not the Scribes and Pharisees that believed on him,” but the poor—who were deemed accursed [Note: John 7:49.]. “The common people heard him gladly [Note: Mark 12:37.].”
But the name is given to the Lord’s people principally because they are “poor in spirit [Note: Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 29:19. Zephaniah 3:12.],” feeling their utter destitution of every thing really good; just as a person in the state of Lazarus feels his want of all the comforts of life. In this sense the name is given to them in a great variety of passages — — — and throughout the whole world they answer to the character contained in it.]
They invariably “make the Lord their refuge”—
[They feel their lost and undone state — — — And in themselves they find no remedy — — — But in Christ they see a fulness and sufficiency, even for the very chief of sinners — — — They look into the Scriptures, and see the “counsel” given them, to “look to him,” and to “flee to him:” and this counsel they both follow themselves, and give to all around them — — — They determine, both for themselves and for others, to “know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”]
But this conduct exposes them to much obloquy. I will therefore proceed to,
In “shaming this their counsel,” the ungodly will pretend to reason with them—
[They will deride this counsel as unnecessary; since there is no occasion for them to feel any such alarm about their souls — — — They reprobate it as presumptuous: for, can they suppose that God should pay such peculiar regard to them, to accept them, sanctify them, save them; when all the rest of the world are perishing in their sins? — — — They pour contempt upon it as ineffectual: for to think of setting aside all good works in point of dependence, can be no other than a desperate delusion — — — Such are the arguments with which the ungodly will endeavour to shame the poor out of their confidence in God.]
But we will defend their counsel against all these unjust aspersions—
[It is not un necessary: for there is not a creature in the universe that can be saved in any other way — — — It is not presumptuous. What presumption is there in believing God’s promises, and in obeying his commands, and especially that command of coming to Christ and relying on him for salvation [Note: 1 John 3:23.]? — — — It is not ineffectual: for there never was, nor ever shall be, one soul left to perish, that sought for mercy solely and entirely by faith in Christ — — — The cities of refuge afforded a safe asylum to him who fled from the avenger of blood: and, whatever have been the sins of the believing penitent, “he shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].”]
[We need not go far to find persons of this character. In fact, they despise this counsel who do not follow it, even though they should never cast any particular reproach on those who adopt it — — — But, I beg leave to ask, what counsel will you give? Shall it be, to despise all religion? — — — or to rest in outward forms? — — — or to say, “Lord, Lord, whilst you do not the things which he says?” — — — You may boldly maintain this counsel now: but will you do it in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment? Know, assuredly, that you will be ashamed of it then, whether ye be now, or not. And that is the only wise counsel which will be approved of your God, and issue in your everlasting salvation. All else is but to “make lies your refuge, and to hide yourselves under falsehood [Note: Isaiah 28:15.];” or, in other words, to “build on a foundation of sand, what will fall,” and crush you under its ruins.]
[What harm has it done you hitherto, that you hare been despised by an ungodly world? Only seek your happiness in God, and you need not mind what man shall say concerning you. Man’s judgment is but for “a day [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3. The margin.];” whereas God’s judgment will be for ever. The Prophets, the Apostles, and our Lord Jesus Christ, were they approved of men? On the contrary, was there any thing too bad for men to say concerning them? Be content, then, to be “partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when he shall appear, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy [Note: 1 Peter 4:13.].” In truth, to be despised for righteousness’ sake is your highest honour [Note: 1 Peter 4:14.Acts 5:41; Acts 5:41.], and shall surely issue in your more exalted happiness [Note: Romans 8:17.].]
THE BLESSINGS OF SALVATION
Psalms 14:7. O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.
ON what occasion this psalm was written, we know not: but there are two things which render it pre-eminently worthy of our attention: the one is, that, with very little alteration, it is repeated in another psalm [Note: Psalms 53:0.]: and the other is, that a very considerable part of it is cited by the Apostle Paul, not for the mere purpose of illustrating any point, but for establishing that doctrine which lies at the very foundation of Christianity, the universal and total depravity of human nature [Note: Compare ver. 1–3. with Romans 3:10-12; Romans 3:19.]. The Psalmist has evidently been reflecting on the extreme wickedness of the human heart, in that men, for the purpose of prosecuting their evil ways without fear, would banish God himself from the universe [Note: ver. 1.], and, by impious derision, drive out all regard for piety from the world [Note: ver. 6.]. Being oppressed, and overwhelmed, as it were, with this painful contemplation, he breaks forth into this devout rapture: “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord shall bring again the captivity of Israel, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”
We may conceive him in these words looking forward, not only to the times of the Messiah, but to the Messiah himself, who is frequently designated by the name of Saviour [Note: Isaiah 62:11. with Isa 45:21-22 and in New Testament passim.], and who, under that character, comes forth out of Zion [Note: Romans 11:26.], and is an object of desire to all nations [Note: Haggai 2:7.].” But, perhaps, it is rather “salvation” itself that is here spoken of; and which the Psalmist contemplates,
As an object of desire—
And truly so it is,
To the world at large—
[View the state of the world, especially as it is described in the psalm before us — — — How inexpressibly awful! And how fully is this description verified in all around us! Respecting the Heathen world, we are willing enough to acknowledge the truth of the accusation: but, respecting the Christian world, we are ready to conceive of it as exaggerated and false. But St. Paul quotes these very expressions, to prove the wickedness of all mankind: and the smallest measure of candid observation will confirm all that he has spoken. Say, then, whether salvation be not needed; and whether the Psalmist’s wish should not be the most ardent desire of our souls: “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!” The Gospel brings precisely such a salvation as men’s necessities require: and happy would it be, if its blessings were proclaimed to the utmost ends of the earth!]
To every heavy-laden sinner—
[Are any of you convinced of your sinful and undone state? Consider the remedy provided for you. O how precious should it be to your souls! How infinitely dearer to you than thousands of silver and gold! Great as your guilt undoubtedly is, it may all be washed away in the Redeemer’s blood: and, fixed as your corruptions are, they may all be rooted out by the operation of his holy Spirit on your souls. Reconciliation is made for you through the blood of the cross; so that God, from being your enemy, is ready to become your Father and your friend: and, if only you embrace the salvation offered you in the Gospel, all the glory of heaven shall be yours. Cherish, then, this holy desire: and, in reference to your own souls in particular, be constantly saying, “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!”]
Realizing in his mind the object of his desire, the Psalmist proceeds to view it,
As actually attained—
Salvation has been effected by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ: and,
Already has it produced great joy in the world—
[To a great extent has the captivity of God’s Israel been turned. Thousands and millions, both of Jews and Gentiles, have been delivered from the power of Satan, by whom they were once led captive at his will. And what joy the deliverance occasioned, we well know. On the day of Pentecost. not less than three thousand, who had been pricked to the heart with a sense of sin, were, by the glad tidings of the Gospel, enabled to eat their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God. And to this hour do all who hear the joyful sound experience the same holy feeling in their souls. Tell me, ye who have ever been released from the bonds of sin and Satan, have ye not been constrained to say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour?” Yes, in every place where the Gospel comes, and in every bosom where it is received, is “the oil of joy given in the stead of mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”]
But what joy will it not excite, when it shall prevail to its full extent?
[There is a period yet future, when the Gospel shall be conveyed to all nations, and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Then shall the dominion of Satan be altogether broken, and the whole race of mankind be brought to “serve the living God.” What joy shall prevail over the face of the whole earth! Truly the descriptions given of it by the Psalmist will fall infinitely short of the reality [Note: Psalms 98:1-9.] — — — for heaven itself will then appear to have come down upon the earth [Note: Revelation 21:2-4.], and all the glorified saints to have descended to swell the chorus of the redeemed [Note: Revelation 20:4.].]
From hence, then, we may learn,
What conversion is—
[Whatever mystical representations be given of it, it is simply this, “a turning of us from the captivity” of sin and Satan, and bringing us “into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” This it was for which the Saviour came into the world: and this it is which he effects, in all who are partakers of his salvation. Let any say whether it be not a proper object of desire, or whether a captive soul can ever desire it too much.]
What should be our great aim in life—
[The deliverance, to whomsoever it is vouchsafed, is only gradual: “the flesh will yet lust against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh; so that, to the latest hour of our lives, we shall not be able to do all that we could wish [Note: Galatians 5:17.].” Even the Apostle Paul, after having served the Lord for twenty years, yet was constrained to cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me [Note: Romans 7:24.]?” To grow then in grace should be the daily object of our ambition: and to “put off the old man, and put on the new,” should be the one labour of our souls: nor should we ever cease from this labour, until we have attained the full measure of the stature of Christ.]
What should endear to us the thoughts of death—
[Death will break all our chains, and set us at perfect liberty. Whilst here, we still are complaining that “we are tied and bound with the chain of our sins.” But no complaint shall ever be heard in heaven. There we shall be “pure, as Christ is pure;” and “perfect, as our Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Let us learn, then, to look on death as a friend, and to number it amongst our richest treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]. That it is disarmed of its sting, is no mean part of our present joy: and that it shall translate us into the immediate presence of our God, is sufficient to make us pant for its arrival, “desiring to depart and to be with Christ, as far better” than the happiest lot that can be enjoyed on earth [Note: Philippians 1:23.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 14". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany