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Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
The penitential psalms
Since the time of Origen, seven of the psalms have borne the name of Penitential; namely, Psalms 6:1-19.6.10; Psalms 32:1-19.32.11; Psalms 38:1-19.38.22; Psalms 51:1-19.51.19; Psalms 102:1-19.102.28; Psalms 130:1-19.130.8; Psalms 143:1-19.143.12. They were used in the special additional services appointed for Lent, and were selected with reference to the sprinkling of the leper seven times, and to the command to Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan; or, as others say, as corresponding to the seven deadly sins. These psalms are not all expressions of contrition for personal sin; nevertheless, they all recognize sin as the source of corruption and trouble. We may find in them every element of a true repentance according to the Gospel standard. They reveal--
I. A recognition of the radical nature of sin. This is especially marked in the 51st. There we find the confession of a sinful nature as well as of sinful acts; the ever-living consciousness that God looks at the heart and not merely at the deed.
II. the feeling of the burden and sorrow of sin (Psalms 6:2-19.6.3; Psalms 32:3-19.32.4; Psalms 38:2-19.38.10; Psalms 102:9-19.102.10; Psalms 51:3).
III. confession of sin. This involves our viewing the sin in the same way in which God views it.
IV. repentance further involves conduct. The prayer for pardoning grace is accompanied with the petitions, “Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, Teach me to do Thy will” (Psalms 143:8-19.143.10). Sinful associations are renounced, and the workers of iniquity are bidden to depart (Psalms 6:8).
V. repentance issues in instruction. David, having been forgiven, says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee” (Psalms 32:8-19.32.9). When God’s face shall be hidden from my sins, and a clean heart shall be given me, “then will I teach transgressors thy ways” (Psalms 51:13-19.51.15).
VI. repentance issues in joy. It is the joy of forgiveness. The man is not blessed who can forget his sins; who can divert his mind from them; who can temporarily escape their consequences. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” From this point, the psalm is all joy. “Thy hand was heavy upon me,” but now I lean upon it, and it leads me into green pastures and folds me to a Father’s heart. I fear not the “floods of great waters” now. “Thou art my hiding-place,” Thou from whom I strove of late to hide. Thy word, sharper than any two-edged sword, pierced me with a thousand pangs; but now “I hope in Thy word.” I remembered Thee and was troubled; but now “Thou shalt preserve me from trouble.” Thou, from whose voice I fled, Thou, whose heavy hand dried up the springs of song in me, Thou shalt fence me about with songs.
VII. Repentance issues in warning. This is powerfully brought out in Psalms 32:9. The bridle which restrains the beast is often its ornament. The fact is familiar that animals have a kind of pride in the gaudy trappings which are the signs of their degradation, the proofs that they cannot be appealed to on the grounds of reason and conscience. So it is often true that a sinful man is proud of his rebellion against God, and boasts of it. If he but knew it, this is his humiliation. It stamps him as a creature which does not realize its relations to God and eternity. God would gladly deal with him as a free man, on generous terms; but if he refuses the guidance of the eye, he must take up with bit and bridle. If men will not come nigh unto God, and fall in with His gracious economy, they must be sternly restrained from interfering with it. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The gate to the confessional
If the world forgives, it generally vouchsafes a kind of stinging forgiveness which perpetuates the smart of the crime. It is at no pains to “cover” the sin. We can say of one thus forgiven, “He is tolerated: tie has a new chance given him,” but scarcely--“he is blessed.” This psalm, on the contrary, while it is one of the saddest, is at the same time one of the most joyful of the inspired lyrics. It is no less the record of a bitter, penitential sorrow, than the expression of a heart full of praise. It comes to us to-day to tell us that the worst sinner, forgiven by God, is a happy man.
I. the blessedness of forgiveness. When a shipwrecked sailor has been rescued from death, and is sitting warm and dry by the fire, his first thought, his first utterance is one of congratulation. “How fortunate I am to have escaped. How thankful I am to those who saved my life.” After this feeling has found vent, he will go on to tell the story of his shipwreck and of his rescue. Hence nothing could be more natural than the ordering of this psalm. David is a rescued man; and thanksgiving, and congratulation on his present security come to his lips, before he tells the story of his moral shipwreck.
1. His sin is taken away.
2. His sins are covered or hidden, and that from God; not from men. However men may comment or rail, it matters little while God says “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.”
3. He is treated as innocent. The Lord does not impute nor lay the iniquity to his charge.
II. the result of his attempts to cover his sin. Perhaps he sought to still that secret voice which was urging him to lay bare his sin, by plunging into the business of state, or into the pleasures of his court; but all in vain. “When I kept silence my bones waxed old.” The very seat of strength was invaded. His body suffered from the terrors of remorse. What an image is this that follows--the pressure of a strong hand, hampering all free activity. No joy in work or in study any more. The healthy competitions of business, the free play of social converse, the sweet interchanges of the household, all repressed and devitalized by this painful consciousness of guilt. What ails the man who was but lately so sparkling, so magnetic, so enthusiastic? “Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me,” etc.
III. the remedy which he found. Confession. “Well,” you say, “if God knows all about my sin, why should I confess it?” God knows what you want in prayer before you ask Him, and yet you will not get it if you do not ask Him. He has conditioned forgiveness upon confession, just as He has conditioned finding upon seeking. Confession implies--
1. Viewing your sin in the same light in which God views it.
IV. the result of its application. He first sums up the result in a single sentence: “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” He has a whole catalogue of joyful consequences of his confession to present to us; but he is careful to make it perfectly clear at the outset that all these consequences are linked with forgiveness. And now what a sudden change reveals itself. The tone of the last few verses has been like the sigh of the wind through the dry valleys. Now we begin to hear the running of streams. The abject penitent, moaning day and night under God’s heavy band, is transformed into a joyful singer of praises; a prophet, with a fresh lesson of God’s goodness kindling on his lips.
V. A practical lesson for our instruction. Christ bade Peter make use of his own terrible sifting to strengthen his brethren. David anticipates the lesson; and these words of his have been the text-book of penitent souls from his time to the present. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shall go;” this way of repentance and confession in which I have walked. Be not obstinate in refusing to walk therein. Heed my experience, ye who feel the pressure of God’s hand, whose moisture is turned into the drought of summer. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The blessedness of forgiveness
I. reasons why such must needs be blessed whose transgressions are forgiven.
1. Because God doth pronounce them blessed.
2. Because they are delivered from the greatest evil, and that which exposes them to the greatest misery, and which alone can deprive them of eternal happiness.
3. Because they are taken into covenant with God.
(1) They are taken into God’s favour.
(2) They are taken into God’s family.
(3) They are under God’s providence.
(4) They have free access unto God in prayer.
(5) They have communion with God in all His ordinances: and thus it is with all pardoned persons, and therefore they are blessed.
4. Because they are in a better state than Adam was in his first creation.
(1) In respect of innocence.
(2) In regard of the image of God, that is repaired in all those that are pardoned.
When God forgiveth their sin, He changeth their nature; and that faith which justifieth the person doth also “purify the heart” (Acts 15:9).
5. Because they shall be blessed.
(1) Show what the future blessedness is, which pardoned persons shall have. They shall live and take up their eternal abode in a most blessed and glorious place (Hebrews 13:14; Hebrews 11:10). They shall have most blessed and glorious company to converse with: saints, angels, the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory, etc. They shall attain a blessed and glorious state of perfect peace and tranquillity, wealth and plenty, honour and dignity, holiness and purity, perfect happiness and glory in soul and body.
(2) Prove that pardoned sinners shall assuredly attain this future blessedness. God’s decree of predestination and election. God’s covenant and promise. The union of all pardoned persons unto Christ and His undertaking for them to bring them to eternal blessedness. The right which they have to eternal blessedness: justification; adoption; the certainty of all pardoned persons’ perseverance in grace unto the end.
(3) Show how this future eternal blessedness of heaven renders pardoned persons blessed here upon earth.
(1) They have a sight of their future blessedness, and the excellence of it.
(2) Their hopes of it, that they shall one day have possession of so great felicity.
(3) They have the beginnings of future blessedness here, in this life, in the work of grace, and sometimes foretastes and first-fruits of it, through the witness, seal, and earnest of the Spirit; and this renders them blessed in this life.
II. How this blessedness may be attained.
1. Some things must be believed.
(1) The doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction for sin.
(2) The doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ.
2. Some things must be done.
(1) They must get conviction of sin.
(2) They must make confession of sin.
(3) They must by faith make application of Jesus Christ.
(4) They must forsake sin.
(5) They must make supplication and earnest prayer unto God for pardoning mercy.
(6) They must forgive others. (T. Vincent, M. A.)
Sin and forgiveness
I. the solemn picture of various phases of sin.
1. The word translated “transgression” seems literally to signify separation, or rending apart, or departure; and hence comes to express the notion of apostasy and rebellion. So, then, here is this thought, all sin is a going away. From what? Rather the question should be--from whom? All sin is a departure from God. And that is its deepest and darkest characteristic. And it is the one that needs to be most urged, for it is the one that we are most apt to forget. The great type of all wrongdoers is in that figure of the Prodigal Son, and the essence of his fault was, first, that he selfishly demanded for his own his father’s goods; and, second, that he went away into a far country. Your sins have separated between you and God.
2. Then another aspect of the same foul thing rises before the psalmist’s mind. This evil which he has done, which I suppose was the sin in the matter of Bath-sheba, was not only rebellion against God, but it was, according to our version, in the second clause, “a sin,” by which is meant literally missing an aim.
(1) “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever;” and whosoever in all his successes fails to realize that end is a failure through and through, in whatever smaller matters he may seem to himself and to others to succeed. He only strikes the target in the bull’s-eye who lets his arrows be deflected by no gusts of passion, nor aimed wrong by any obliquity of vision, but with firm hand and clear eye seeks and secures the absolute conformity of his will to the Father’s will, and makes God his aim and end in all things.
(2) But there is another aspect of this same thought, and that is that every piece of evil misses its own shabby mark. “A rogue is a round-about fool.” No man ever gets, in doing wrong, the thing that he did the wrong for, or, if he gets it, he gets something else along with it that takes all the sweet taste out of it. All sin, big or little, is a blunder, and missing of the mark.
3. Yet another aspect of the ugly thing rises before the psalmist’s eye. In reference to God evil is separation and rebellion; in reference to myself, it is an error and missing of my true goal; and in reference to the straight standard and law of duty, it is, according to the last of the three words for sin in the text, “iniquity,” or, literally, something twisted or distorted. It is thus brought into contrast with the right line of the plain straight path in which we ought to walk. The path to God is a right line, the shortest road from earth to heaven is absolutely straight. The Czar of Russia, when railways were introduced into that country, was asked to determine the line between St. Petersburg and Moscow. He took a ruler, and drew a straight line across the map, and said, “There!” Our autocrat has drawn a line as straight, as the road from earth to heaven; and by the side of it are the crooked wandering ways in which we live.
II. the blessed picture of the removal of the sin. It is “forgiven,” “covered,” “not imputed.” The accumulation of synonyms not only sets forth various aspects of pardon, but triumphantly celebrates the completeness and certainty of the gift. As to the first, it means literally to lift and bear away a load or burden. As to the second, it means plainly enough to cover over, as one might do some foul thing, that it may no longer offend She eye or smell rank to heaven. And so a man’s sin is covered over and ceases to be in evidence, as it were, before the Divine Eye that sees all things. He Himself casts a merciful veil over it and hides it from Himself. A similar idea, though with a modification in metaphor, is included in that last word, the sin is not reckoned. God does not write it down in His great book on the debit side of the man’s account. And these three things, the lifting up and carrying away of the load, the covering over of the obscene and ugly thing, the non-reckoning in the account of the evil deed; these three things, taken together, do set forth before us the great and blessed truth that a man’s transgressions may become, in so far as the Divine heart and the Divine dealings with him are concerned, as if non-existent.
III. the blessedness of this removal of sin.
1. The blessedness of deliverance from sullen remorse and the dreadful pangs of an accusing conscience.
2. The blessedness of a close clinging to God in peaceful trust, which will ensure security in the midst of all trials and a hiding-place against every storm. Only through forgiveness do we come into that close communion with God which ensures safety in all disasters.
3. The blessedness of a gentle guidance and of a loving obedience. “Thou shalt guide me with Thine eye.” No need for force, no need for bit and bridle, no need for anything but the glance of the Father, which the child delights to obey.
4. The blessedness of exuberant gladness; the joy that comes from the sorrow according to God is a joy that will last. All other delights, in their nature., are perishable. The deeper the penitence the surer the rebound into gladness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. the burden.
1. He uses three words, and each word reveals a different aspect of his comprehensive conception.
(1) He calls it his “transgression.” The word is significant of a “breaking-loose.” The figure is almost that of a horse that has broken the traces, and is bolting. The cords have been snapped. The yoke has been thrown aside. The man conceives himself as in revolt. He is a rebel, a deserter. He has broken the bands; he has discarded all discipline, and has roamed in ways of unconsidered licence.
(2) He also calls it his “sin.” He has deflected from the prescribed line of life. He has chosen his own end. He has missed the mark. His life “has not arrived.” It is characterized by failure.
(3) He also calls it his “iniquity” His life is marred by crookedness and deformity. Guilt has sunk into his faculties, and all of them have been twisted in a certain perversity. Such is the man’s vivid consciousness of his own estate. He is a rebel of perverse inclinations, and wrenched by self-will into spiritual deformity.
2. Now, concerning this burning consciousness of personal sin, we are told the man “kept silence.” He invited no fellowship, either on the part of man or of God. How did such secret, silent burden affect the man’s life?
(1) “When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” There is a wonderful intimacy between the flesh and the spirit. To sap the forces of the one drains the energy of the other. This man, with the secret, unspoken consciousness of sin, dragged along a weary body. He was continually tired.
(2) “Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.” He moved in a condition of constant depression. He felt that “the hand of the Lord” was weighing upon him! That is a pathetic word. “The hand’ of the Lord” is usually a minister of succour, of lifting, of resurrection! But here the “hand of the Lord” is regarded as the minister of depression, and the man is held down in mental flatness and imprisonment.
(3) “My moisture is turned into drought of summer.” He was the victim of a dry, fierce heart No cool, cooling influences breathed through his soul. He was “heated hot with burning fears.”
II. the confession. The psalmist had a threefold description of sin, now he has a threefold description of its confession. “I acknowledged my sin.” “Mine iniquity have I not hid.” “I confessed my transgressions.” The marrow of all these pregnant phrases is that the psalmist made a clean breast of it. He hid nothing from the Lord. There was no unclean thing concealed within his tent. He opened out every secret room. He gave God all the keys. Everything was brought out and penitently acknowledged. He confessed in particulars, and not in generals. He “poured out his heart before God.” He emptied it as though he was emptying a vessel in which no single unclean drop was allowed to remain. His confession was made in perfect frankness and sincerity.
III. the Lord’s response.
1. His transgression was “forgiven”--lifted and carried away out of sight.
2. His sin was “covered.” “Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound.” Grace rolls over like an immeasurable flood, and our sins are submerged beneath its mighty depths.
3. His iniquity was “net imputed.” Forgiven sins are never to be counted; they will not enter into the reckoning. They will not influence the Lord’s regard for us. In His love for us, forgiven sins are as though they had never been. Here, then, is the completeness of the freedom of the children of God. Sin forgiven! Sin covered! Sin no longer reckoned! It is not wonderful that this once tried, depressed, feverish soul, tasting now the delights of a gracious freedom, should cry out, “Blessed is the man!” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The blessedness of pardon
In the words you have an emphatical setting forth of a great and blessed privilege and a description of the persons who shall enjoy it. We notice the three expressions, “forgiven,” “covered,” “imputeth not,” and the earnestness and vehemency which this repetition implies. As to the meaning, the transgressions forgiven tells of the relief from a heavy burden (Matthew 11:28). The “sin covered,” alludes to the covering up of or removing that which is offensive out of sight (Deuteronomy 23:14). The “imputeth not iniquities” tells of God’s not putting them down to our account (Matthew 6:12). The object of pardon is described under the various terms of iniquity, transgressions, sin. And the earnestness of the psalmist is because he himself has known the blessedness of God’s forgiveness. The doctrine of the text is, therefore--That a great degree of our blessedness lies in our obtaining the pardon of our sins by Jesus Christ.
I. the necessity that lies upon us to seek this pardon.
1. We all have a reasonable nature, and this implies a conscience, for a man can reflect upon his own actions.
2. But conscience implies a law by which good and evil are distinguished.
3. Law implies a sanction or confirmation by penalties and rewards (Deuteronomy 30:15; Psalms 7:11-19.7.13).
4. Such sanction implies a judge who will take cognizance of our conduct in regard to the law. The heathen knew this (Romans 1:32). Providence showed it (Romans 1:18). And we are to expect the coming of such judge (Acts 10:42-44.10.43; Acts 3:19-44.3.21).
5. A judge implies a judgment day, or some time when his justice must have solemn trial, when he will reckon with the guilty (Hebrews 9:27; Acts 24:25; Acts 17:31).
6. This implies the condemnation of the guilty, unless God set up another court for their relief. For man is utterly unable to fulfil the law (Romans 8:1). “The law is weak through the flesh.”
7. This God hath done in Christ and the Gospel. It is not a ease of forgiveness as between man and man, but there must be satisfaction to Divine justice. Therefore Christ hath died (Galatians 4:5; Romans 3:25-45.3.26).
8. This being done conveniently to God’s honour, we must sue out our pardon with respect to both covenants--that of nature, and that in Christ. We must bring a true repentance (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:31). And we must thankfully accept the Lord’s grace that offers pardon to us.
II. our misery without this pardon.
1. We must bear the heavy burden of our sin (Psalms 38:4; Genesis 4:13; Proverbs 18:14).
2. Sin renders us odious in the sight of God (Proverbs 13:5). “Sin is loathsome.” And the sinner is so, to God, to the righteous, to the indifferent, to other wicked men, and to himself (Psalms 32:3).
3. Sin is a debt that binds the soul to everlasting punishment (Luke 12:59). How blessed, then, must be he unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.
III. the consequent benefits of this pardon.
1. It restores us to God (Psalms 130:4).
2. It lays a foundation for solid peace and comfort in our own souls.
3. We are now capable of eternal life.
IV. the application.
1. Let us bless God for the Gospel. Think of the darkness of the heathen world on this matter (Micah 6:7). And the Jews also (Hebrews 9:9).
2. Let us put in for a share of this blessedness. Pray day by day for it. Christians as well as others. (T. Manton.)
Persuasions to seek after the blessedness of pardon
I. till you are pardoned you are never blessed. IS he happy who is condemned to die, although he hath plentiful allowance till the day of his execution? So neither can earthly good make the sinner blessed.
II. nothing else but pardon will serve our turn, Forbearance on God’s part will not, for forbearance from punishment does not dissolve the obligation to punish. Respite is not pardon. Nor, either, forgetfulness on our part. They are not happy that have the least trouble, but they that have the least cause. A benumbed conscience cannot challenge this blessedness. God hath neither forgiven nor covered their sin.
III. the evils which forgiveness frees us from and the good which depends upon it.
1. The evils. Guilt, and therefore punishment.
2. The good. You cannot enjoy God till you are forgiven.
IV. what must be done that we may be capable of this blessed privilege.
1. For our first entrance into it.
(1) We must have repentance and faith (Acts 10:43; Act 11:33; Luke 24:47). Repentance respects God, to whom we return: faith, Christ, by whom we return. And these are necessary for the glory of God. It is not fitting that pardon and life should be bad without any conditions. And they are necessary, too, for our comfort.
2. For our continuance in it. The first truths are gone over again and again; and there is a new obedience (1 John 1:7). And there is daily prayer.
3. For the recovery out of grievous lapses and falls.
In them there is required a particular and express repentance; and repentance and faith must be carried with respect to those four things that are in sin: culpa, the fault, reatus, the guilt, maeula, the stain and blot, and poena, the punishment.
1. For the fault in the transgression of the law, or the criminal action. See that the fault be not continued; relapses are very dangerous. A bone often broken in the same place is hardly set again. God’s children are in danger of this before the breach be well made up, or the orifice of the wound be soundly closed; as Lot doubled his incest, and Samson goes in again and again to Delilah.
2. The guilt continues till serious and solemn repentance, and humiliation before God, and suing out our pardon in Christ’s name. There must be a solemn humbling for the sin, and then God will forgive us. Suppose a man forbear the act, and never commit it more (as Judah forbore the act, after he had committed incest with Tamar, but it seems he repented not till she showed him the bracelets and the staff); yet with serious remorse we must beg our peace humbly upon the account of our Mediator. Therefore something must be done to take away the guilt.
3. There is the blot or evil inclination to sin again. A brand that hath been in the fire is more apt to take fire again; the evil influences of the sin continue. Now the root of sin must be mortified, it is not enough to forbear or confess a sin, but we must pull out the core of the distemper before all will be well.
4. There is the punishment. It will not be eternal. We are delivered from that. But there may be temporary evils (Psalms 89:32-19.89.33). What, then, is our business? Humbly to deprecate these judgments. “Lord, correct me not in Thine anger,” etc. (T. Manton.)
There is a history of India, which was written by a man who never left his native land, nor set eye or foot on that distant shore; and yet, strange as it may appear, it is said to be the best work on the subject, presenting the most graphic pictures of its oriental scenery, the most satisfactory history of its conquests and its conquerors, the best account of the manners, and customs, and habits of its people, with their variety of races, and tongues, and castes, and religions. In some such way the beauties of Christianity have been portrayed; the pictures being not so much, or rather not at all, a transcript of the artist’s feelings--what his own eyes have seen and his own heart has felt--not the expression of a Christian’s experience, but the triumphs of a poet’s fancy. And so the preacher may, after all, be but a painter, and saving others, he may be himself a castaway. A man who can go to the pulpit, or a man who can stand on the level of other men, and say, “Arise, for I have seen the land, and behold it is very good,” can speak with a point and a power which no fancy or genius can bestow. Such was the position of the man who expressed the sentiment of my text. The world has seen few poets like the royal psalmist; yet here is not a flight of the poet’s fancy, but the expression of a good man’s experience. The blessedness of my text is not a thing that David fancied; it is a thing that David felt. And he gained this blessedness by going to God for it, confessing his sin and finding forgiveness. He went as the prodigal, saying, “I have sinned,” and he gratefully acknowledges, “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”
I. this blessedness is attainable by us now. Sin is a terrible thing, for it incurs the wrath of God. Man’s wrath can do but little in his favour either. A few feet of earth above our heads, and what is the world’s smile or frown then? But God’s wrath and favour are very different things. They stretch on into and throughout eternity. How blessed, then, must be His favour, how terrible His wrath! But, with His favour, what need we fear?
II. the extent of this blessedness. Transgression forgiven, sin covered, iniquity not imputed. How is all this accomplished? Not in the way of the unjust steward, by making a composition, as merchants do. God demands all. ,And yet we are saved. Christ paid the penalty, and thus man is saved the punishment. This is the very palladium and pillar of the believer’s peace. All is forgiven, all covered.
III. blessedness is what we all seek after, and it is found here. This alone is true blessedness. Nothing else is worthy of the name of happiness. I know as well as you do, that there is a kind of happiness in sin; I know as well as you do, that without a sense of forgiveness there is a kind of pleasure a man or woman may enjoy; but do you call that happiness? I do not. Do you call that insect happy, that in ever-lessening circles goes round and round the candle, till it plunge and perish in the flame? I have read of children that with merry glee, add light feet, and buoyant laughter, chased each other upon the sinking deck, when brave men had stripped to swim, and cowards lay down to die. Call ye them happy? Happy! “I said of laughter, It is madness; and of mirth, What doeth it?” But the blessedness told of in our text, that never fades. (S. Guthrie, D. D.)
A song of a saved soul
I. here is a man painting a picture of the evil which had been his curse. When a man has been rescued from hell, he speaks in no mincing fashion of its horrors.
1. “Transgression” signifies departure, the dissolving of a union, apostasy.
2. “Sin” means literally an error, missing an aim. Not only had he rebelled against God, but he had fatally missed the mark to which his whole effort and energy should have been directed. “A man never gets what he hoped for by doing wrong; or, if he seems to do so, he gets something more that spoils it all. He pursues after the fleeing form that seems so fair, and, when he reaches her side and lifts her veil, eager to embrace the temptress, a hideous skeleton grins and gibbers at him.”
3. “Iniquity,” literally, is something twisted or distorted--warped from the straight line of right. All sin is a turning aside, a going out of the way, an entrance on by-paths which can never be safe.
II. here is a man pointing out the wretchedness which his sin and silence concerning it had entailed upon him (Psalms 32:3-19.32.4). A. weird picture, a realistic illustration of the misery of unrepentant remorse. “Be sure your sin will find you out;” and what a finding out it is! The sinner expected to conjure up flowers: he has conjured up serpents; he expected thrills of pleasure: he has felt shocks of pain; he expected to find peace: he has let slip the dogs of war; he hoped to find liberty: he has drawn a heavy chain about his life.
1. Sin always means misery. It is like the poison-tree in travellers’ stories: tempting weary men to rest beneath its thick foliage, and insinuating death into the limbs that relax in the fatal coolness of its shade. It is like the apples of Sodom: fair to look upon, but turning to acrid ashes on the unwary lips.
2. Sin of itself is bad enough, but sin unconfessed is hell on earth. Better confess the deed than allow it to darken your soul’s windows, harden your heart, and spread its contagion throughout your being.
III. here is a man revealing the path which led to the throne of divine forgiveness (Psalms 32:5). Thank Heaven that there is such a path, and that it is accessible to every sin-damaged life. That path has been provided by a loving God; it is the path of repentance, the King’s highway. Have we trodden that path? Have we responded to the summons of God’s Nathan, as he has poured the light divine upon our eyes?
IV. here is a man proclaiming the mastery and removal of his sin by God’s great grace (Psalms 32:1-19.32.2). The three words he employs are delightfully expressive.
1. “Forgiveness” means literally the bearing away of a load. Sin is like the burden on the pilgrim’s back in the Immortal Allegory. It crushes the soul, weakens the life, pampers the spirit. But the grace of God causes the burden to fall from the soul, emancipates it from the crushing load.
2. “Covered” means the interment of the evil thing. It is a nuisance, an annoyance, an eyesore, a foul, disgusting thing. So God digs a grave for it, and buries it out of sight.
3. “Not to impute” means that our wickedness is no longer chargeable to us. God will be silent concerning it. The account is settled
V. here is a man exulting in the blessedness which his forgiveness had secured to him. “O the blessedness of the saved one,” he shouts. The words are a burst of thankful rapture. His very soul dances for joy; and no wonder: the change in himself was so very real, the transition so marvellous. It was a passage from death unto life, from winter to summer, from darkness to light, from hell to heaven; the gnawings of conscience exchanged for the peace of God, his sullen silence giving place to spontaneous, irrepressible and hearty song, his very self becoming rejuvenated. Surely, such a change must mean blessedness! (Joseph Pearce.)
The pardon of sin
I. the nature of pardon.
1. The being and inherency of sin is not taken away. Though not imputed, yet it is inherent in us. Remission and sanctification are distinct acts, and wrought in a distinct manner.
2. The nature of sin is not taken away. It is not a change of the native malice of the sin, but a non-imputation of it to the offender.
3. The demerit of sin is not taken away. Pardon frees us from actual condemnation, but not, as considered in our own persons, from the desert of condemnation.
4. The guilt of sin, or obligation to punishment, is taken away by pardon.
II. the author of pardon--God.
1. It is His act. ‘Tis an offended God who is a forgiving God; that God whose name thou hast profaned, whose patience thou hast abused, whose laws thou hast violated, whose mercy thou hast slighted, whose justice thou hast dared, and whose glory thou hast stained.
2. He only can do it. Forgiveness belongs to God as--
(1) Proprietor. He has a greater right to us than we have to ourselves.
(2) Sovereign, He is Lord over us, as we are His creatures.
(3) Governor of us, as we are parts of the world.
3. It is an act of His mercy. Not our merit. Though there be a conditional connection between pardon and repentance and faith, yet there is no meritorious connection ariseth from the nature of those graces, but remission flows from the gracious indulgence of the promise.
4. It is the act of His justice. There is a composition of Judge and Father in this act: free grace on God’s part, but justice upon the account of Christ.
5. It is the act of His power. It is a greater work to forgive, than to prevent the commission of sin; as it is a greater work to raise a dead man than to cure a sick man: one is a work of art, the other belongs only to Omnipotence.
III. the manner of it.
1. On God’s part, by Christ.
(1) By His death.
(2) By His resurrection.
2. On our part, by faith. This is as necessary in an instrumental way, as Christ in a meritorious way (Acts 26:18).
3. This forgiveness shows--
(1) God’s willingness to pardon.
(2) The certainty of forgiveness.
(3) The extent of It (John 1:29).
(4) The continuance of it.
(5) The worth of it (Acts 20:28).
IV. extensiveness, fulness, or perfectness of pardon.
1. Perfect in respect of state. God retains no hatred against a pardoned person. He never imputes sin formally, because he no more remembers it, though virtually he may, to aggravate the offence a believer hath fallen into after his justification. So Job possessed the sins of his youth. And Christ tacitly put Peter in remembrance of iris denial of Him. The grant is complete here, though all the fruits of remission are not enjoyed till the day of judgment, and therefore in Scripture sin is said then to be forgiven. ‘Tis a question whether believers’ sins will be mentioned at the day of judgment.
2. In respect of the objects. Sinful nature, sinful habits, sinful dispositions, pardoned at once, though never so heinous for quality or quantity.
3. In respect of duration (Colossians 2:14-51.2.15).
V. the effect of pardon.
1. The greatest evil is taken away, and the dreadful consequences of it.
2. The greatest blessings are conferred.
(1) The favour of God.
(2) Access to God.
(3) Peace of conscience.
(4) It sweetens all mercies.
(5) It sweetens all afflictions. Uses--
1. An unpardoned man is a miserable man.
(1) There must either be pardon or punishment.
(2) You can call nothing an act of God’s love towards you, while you remain unpardoned.
(3) All the time thou livest unpardoned, thy debts mount the higher.
(4) It is that God who would have pardoned thee if thou wouldst have accepted of it, who will condemn thee if thou dost utterly refuse it.
2. Pardon of sin may make thee hope for all other blessings.
(1) If once pardoned, thou wilt be always pardoned.
(2) Thou art above the reach of all accusations.
(3) There will be a solemn justification of thee at the last day.
(4) Faith doth interest us in this, though it be weak.
3. Consider whether your sins are pardoned. The true signs are--
(1) Sincerity in our walk.
(2) Mourning for sin.
(3) Fearfulness of sin.
(5) Forgiving others.
(6) Affectionate love to God and Christ. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
The blessedness of forgiveness
I. it drives away all misery.
1. The wrath of God.
2. The curse of the law.
3. An accusing conscience.
4. The fear of death.
5. The awfulness of eternity.
II. it brings is all joys.
1. Filial contemplation of God.
2. Happy communion with God.
3. Bright views of Providence.
4. Alleviation in sickness.
5. Comfort in death.
6. Acquittal at the judgment bar.
7. Glory throughout eternity. (H. Law, M. A.)
Pardon of sin the only true means to happiness
We must every one herein place our happiness, even in God’s pardoning sin, and accordingly set our hearts and affections upon it, longing after this assurance above all things in the world. If a malefactor were condemned, and at the place of execution, what is it that would make him happy? What wisheth he above the world? only a pardon from his Prince: gold and silver, hinds and honours, can do him no good; only a pardon is the most welcome thing in the world. This is every man’s case--we are traitors and rebels to God, our sins have proclaimed us rebels through heaven and earth, the law hath condemned us, we are going on to execution, and every day nearer than other, wherein then ought we to place our happiness, if we well weighed our estate, but in a gracious and free pardon? We would strive for pardon as for life and death. Miserable men they be, that place their felicity in anything else. For consider, that notwithstanding--
1. The greatest part of men place their happiness in wealth, pleasure, honour; and these carry all their hearts: yet--
(1) This is an earthly and sensual, and far from Christian happiness, which cannot leave a man unhappy in the end, as all these do.
(2) The most wicked ones that the world hath had have enjoyed the greatest outward prosperity.
(3) The most dear servants of God have been strangers in the world, and met with the strangest entertainment.
(4) Those whose portion hath been outwardly most prosperous, yet never thought themselves happy out of God’s mercy pardoning sin. An example in David: lie had riches, honour, pleasure, a crown, kingdom, subjects, treasures, but did he place his felicity in these things? No, but in the forgiveness and covering of sins; in whose steps we must tread.
(5) He that would build a firm house, must lay a sure foundation, and wilt thou lay the foundation of thy happiness in the dust? Lay it in wealth, they have wings; and when they fly away, so doth thy happiness: why dost thou trust a fugitive servant? Lay it in pleasures, it will end in sorrow; and the apostle faith, it makes a man as corpse living, dead while he liveth. Lay it in honour, what a vanishing thing is that, like the footsteps of a ship in the sea, carried with a strong gale? Yea, lay it anywhere but in God and His assured mercies, it will prove a tottering happiness, and the fall of such a happy man shall be great.
2. Others think themselves most happy in the committing of sin, and practice of their iniquity; and these are most miserable captives to the devil, so far from thinking their happiness to stand in the pardon of sin, as that they place it in the practice of it. Hence it is that monsters of men, devils incarnate, profess to swear, quarrel, drink, riot, and take them the greatest enemies to their happiness, that would help to pull them out of the snares of the devil. I would know what other happiness the devil hath, than incessantly to sin against God, and draw so many as he can into his own damnation; which express image he hath stamped on numbers, marked to destruction. (T. Taylor, D,D.)
The not imputing of sin
The Lord imputes not, that is, the Spirit of the Lord, the Lord the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, suffers not me to impute to myself those sins, which I have truly repented. The over-tenderness of a bruised and a faint conscience may impute sin to itself when it is discharged, and a seared and obdurate conscience may impute none when it abounds; if the Holy Ghost work, he rectifies both; and if God do inflict punishments after our repentance and the seals of our reconciliation, yet He suffers us not to impute those sins to ourselves, or to repute those corrections, punishments, as though He had not forgiven them, or as though He came to an execution after a pardon, but that they are laid upon us medicinally, and by way of prevention, and precaution against his future displeasure. This is that peace of conscience, when there is not one sword drawn: this is that meridional brightness of the conscience, when there is not one cloud in our sky. I shall not hope that original sin shall not be imputed, but fear that actual sin may; not hope that my dumb sins shall not, but my crying sins may; not hope that my apparent sins, which have therefore induced in me a particular sense of them, shall not, but my secret sins, sins that I am not able to return and represent to mine own memory, may: for this “non imputabit” hath no limitation; God shall suffer the conscience thus rectified to terrify itself with nothing. (John Donne, D. D.)
In whose spirit there is no guile.
Signs of a sincere and guileless heart
1. Observe thy actions.
(1) In their nature. If they be single and pure, so is thy heart. As is the fountain and the root, such are the streams and the fruit.
(2) In their end. An honest heart ever aims at God’s glory directly, whereas a guileful heart ever propounds bad ends of good actions.
2. Observe whether thou makest conscience secretly of all sins; yea, most seriously of those to which thou art most inclined.
3. Consider whether thou daily renewest thy purpose of not sinning against God, as thou renewest thy days, and whether thou watchest over thine own heart with an holy suspicion, and wilt for God’s will break thine own.
4. Mark whether thou lovest God in His image, ordinances, and children, even then when the world scorns and hates all these. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Motives to guilelessness
1. God’s commandment (Genesis 17:1; Psalms 51:6). Conformity of manners must go with reformation of the heart.
2. It is a part of God’s image, who is most single and true; and the beauty of the Church is to be all glorious within: herein she is conformable to her Head, in whose mouth was found no guile. Every son of the Church must be a Nathaniel, in whom is no guile (John 1:47), and a true Israelite, even pure of heart (Psalms 73:1).
3. Our text affords a sound reason, in that sincerity of heart is joined with forgiveness of sins, and is a forerunner to blessedness. Sincerity is a veil to cover all sin; because of this, God covers and cures all our iniquities (1 Kings 15:14).
4. If we would be distinguished from hypocrites, we must labour for sincerity; wicked ones may outwardly strain beyond us, make fair shows, and have a kind of faith and joy, etc., but we must outstrip them all in sincerity of heart.
5. If we would have our duties comfortable to ourselves and profitable, when men object them unto us, and we meet with but small comfort in the world because of them, let us labour to become true Israelites (2 Samuel 6:20-10.6.22).
6. God hath appointed a day to try thy heart and the soundness thereof, to turn out all the windings of it; and He abhors the double heart, that turns itself upon deceitfulness as a door upon hinges; therefore look to the singleness of it beforehand.
7. Only they that walk uprightly are citizens of heaven (Psalms 15:2). (T. Taylor, D. D. )
Guile forsaken when guilt is forgiven
I. many men play tricks with god and their consciences.
1. The guile of the human heart shows itself in a refusal to come to serious consideration. The most frivolous amusements, the most carking cares, and even the most weary ceremonials of fashions, are adopted as a happy release from the labour of reflection. Death, judgment, eternity, heaven, and hell--they dare not think of these: and why? Because they know that all is wrong with them, and so they practise a crafty carelessness and a cunning indifference.
2. Others who do think a little are partial in their judgments of themselves. They present accounts, but these are cooked and made to appear other than they should by a sort of spiritual financing.
3. Many are evidently tricking themselves wilfully because they rest on such frivolous grounds of confidence. Could any man depend on his own good works unless he had juggled with his judgment?
4. Others avoid all home truths, and keep clear of searching doctrines. The preacher is too censorious, and that is your excuse for remaining in spiritual apathy. Even books come in for like censures. The plain-speaking volume is not “conceived in a gentle spirit,” or is too narrow, bigoted, and one-sided.
5. Many are clever at parrying home thrusts by introducing other themes. You know how the lapwing pretends to have a broken wing, and flies as if it must be taken and all with the view of leading the passenger from her nest, so do our hearers try to lead us away from the main matter.
6. Another very cunning trick which is often practised by sinners who are full of guile is this, they pass on to other people anything which is uncomfortably applicable to themselves. It seemed as if the preacher had made a cap specially to fit that head, but the result was that the person who watched the making exclaimed, “Dear me! How well he has taken my neighbour’s measure.”
7. One sorry piece of craft which Satan teaches to many is to make them doubt, or pretend to doubt, anything in Scripture which frowns upon them.
8. While yet far from God, many calm and quiet themselves with outward religion.
9. There are others who conceal in the secret of their hearts a blasphemous notion which they hardly dare to put into words, but it amounts to this that the reason why they are not saved is not by any means due to themselves.
10. Perhaps the most numerous victims of this guile are those who flatter themselves that they will come right some day. If you resolve that you will repent in a year’s time, what is that but a daring defiance of God by declaring that you will continue in sin for twelve months at least? Have you ever looked at it in that light?
II. the pardoned man gives evidence of ceasing from this guile.
1. He makes an open confession of his sin to God.
2. He has done with all sorts of excuses and palliations.
3. Sincerity has entered into his belief in the terrible things of God’s Word. He now sees their certainty and their justice.
4. He now wishes to be dealt with personally and impartially whenever he reads a book or hears a sermon.
5. He desires in everything that he does to be true.
6. He also desires to be rid of all sin.
7. He seeks after perfect purity of life, and he has heartily ceased from guile, for now as an heir of heaven he lives in the presence of God, and delights to remember the all-seeing eye. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old.
On several grounds we may set forth the urgency of the duty of making immediate and penitent confession of our sins unto God.
I. every sin is manifest unto God whether we confess it or not. His scrutiny penetrates every disguise, and analyzes every motive. Every sin is not only naked unto God’s eye, but it is clearer unto Him than any confession of ours could make it. He sees its growth. “He understandeth the thought afar off.” All the aggravations of every sin are clearer unto the eye of God than any confession of ours could state them. Those that are brought to a sense of their sins are often filled with amazement when they think of the forbearance of God towards them in their state of guilt. Should not they that are God’s children, and have been enlightened in their understanding, chasten themselves before God because of their transgressions that they may walk in the light of His countenance? If it be true that unacknowledged sin separates the soul from God, that the regarding of iniquity in the heart makes prayer useless, and sacrifices an abomination, that the look of lust and the motion of causeless anger against a brother provoke God’s anger, an immediate and humble confession of sin from the heart unto God is both necessary and safe. Unto them who keep silence God gives sorrow. He maketh their bones to rot.
II. no sin is diminished by deferring the confession of it. If murder or malice or falsehood or any transgression be a crime because it is a violation of God’s holy raw, the mere lapse of time does not alter the fact that the law was violated. If one day is with the word as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, God’s view of sin will not be otherwise a thousand years hence than it is on the day that the sin is committed. God judges according to the principles from which an action springs, and His judgment cannot be nullified by lapse of time. Is sin represented as a burden on the conscience? The bearing of a burden is not alleviated by lapse of time, but rather becomes more oppressive. Some hearts seem callous, but even they get no actual relief from their burden of guilt by deferring confession of their sins unto God. They are treasuring up wrath unto themselves against the day of wrath. Is sin represented as pollution which makes us hateful unto God? Pollution does not liquify and evaporate, but extends and deepens. “Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse deceiving and being deceived.” The canker of corruption increases to more ungodliness. Is sin represented as a debt? Deferring to pay never diminishes the extent of the indebtedness. In the natural world those substances that cannot resist destroying agents become weaker and weaker. Wood rots; iron rusts; and stones crumble. Lapse of time never makes good that loss of substance, nor does it even arrest the loss.
III. sin unconfessed corrodes the heart. There is an inner unrest. One who suppresses confession unto God nevertheless roars all the day long. Whoso will not pour out his corruptions before God tortures his own soul, wears himself out, and makes himself old before his time. “My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” The corroding effect of unconfessed sin arises from the necessity which is laid on the heart to reconcile itself to its condition. The sin must be explained in some way that will quiet the conscience. Not a few screen themselves behind those that act for them. Because an agent procures and pays a dividend, the investor thinks himself exonerated from all blame that may attach to the methods and means, by which a Limited Liability Company gets prosperity for its shareholders. David gave his command to Joab, and Joab doubtless acted through not a few subordinate officers, before Uriah could be set in “the forefront of the hottest battle,” and deserted at the critical moment, and it was really the sword of Ammon that shed the brave man’s blood; but God joined David immediately with Uriah’s death. It was David who was made to cry, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God.” “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” Sometimes men extract a balm from the general course of God’s providence. ‘Twas a soothing sophism unto David, “The sword devoureth one as well as another.” By many such shifts do men remove themselves from the actual sin which has gratified or profited them. But their heart suffers. Tolerating sin, it soon becomes insensible to the heinousness of sin and foregoes its own brotherhood. In many other ways also unconfessed sin corrodes the heart. It betrays us to other forms of sin, even as one virtue leads to another. Craft uses deceit. Violence seeks justification or concealment in lies. Sensuality loosens every fibre of virtue, and paves the way to every relative vice. Were the sin confessed, the heart would be renewed. Unconfessed sin indisposes us for duty. “Sinful heart makes feeble hand.” Duty is enforced by conscience, but when the conscience itself lies in a comatose state, because of the diffused poison of an unconfessed sin, its authority is paralyzed. Through confession of sin, a sinner is purged from an evil conscience to serve the Living God. Unconfessed sin makes all our services unacceptable unto God. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar,” etc. If service be unacceptable when a brother hath ought against us, much more must it seem vile when God Himself hath something against us! Unconfessed sin exerts an exasperating influence on the heart. There is a state of mind in which a man regards all things as out of joint. It sets him at variance with himself and his surroundings, and fills him with idle longings for change of scene. God’s hand lies heavy on him day and night, and makes duty burdensome. The want of inward peace deprives him of that element which sweetens life’s sorrows and smooths its roughness. Instead of the well-spring of joy, with which a good conscience cheers the mind, there is gloom and unrest and a dread of ill. How can a man with an evil conscience put his trust in the living God, and if he trust not in the living God, how can he be happy, or feel secure? “The light that is in him is darkness.” (H. Drysdale.)
Why men are unwilling to confess their sin
1. Because the devil stupefies and benumbs the soul, that it has little or no feeling of its sin; and then it lies, as it were, concealed in the soul; which makes it either thoughtless about it, or careless to acknowledge it.
2. Because the custom of sin takes away the sense of it; for, the longer any poisonous liquor stands in a vessel, so much the harder will it be to get it cleansed, and the poisonous quality eradicated.
3. Sometimes the soul has so great a sense of his sins, and is so apprehensive of the number and deformity of them, that it becomes thereby either ashamed or afraid to confess them to the Lord.
4. Satan sometimes prevails so far upon the soul as to persuade it that it can hide its sins by an act of oblivion of its own making; that is, he makes men foolishly flatter themselves that God will never remember those sins which they forget; and that what they themselves bury in silence shall be concealed from His all-seeing eyes. But see what God says to such as these (Psalms 50:20-19.50.21). (J. Hayward, D. D.)
Confession and pardon
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven;” not, Blessed is that man who lives in a four-storey house; not, Blessed is that man who has a hundred thousand dollars to his credit in bank; not, Blessed is the man that owns the most railroad stock and government bonds. If you want to be happy, you must obtain the favour of God. And the way to obtain it is to seek God’s pardon. David declares that happy is the man who is pardoned, and “unto whom the Lord umputeth not iniquity.” My relations to God are determined by my loyalty to Him. In the sight of God you are a transparent man. He can see through you. I have a contempt for a man who has anything in him to hide. I believe in having no wrong side and no right side to a character. It should be all right. I like that. But poor old human nature is so made up that no man knows everything. Some will say in their hearts, “If our pastor knew these things about me, what would he say?” Oh, listen; God hath already found it out. Be what you are through and through. Some pieces of humanity are put up like some bales of cotton down South. They put The nice, white cotton outside, and in the centre they put the dog-tail cotton--the worst cotton there is. And some humanity is put up on the same principle exactly. Dealers have got a method of finding out what a bale of cotton is right through. And some of these days God will show you what you are through and through. David tells us that he sinned against God, and kept silence, and would not confess; and that by reason of his refusal to confess his sins, “day and night the hand of God was heavy upon him, and his moisture was turned into the drought of summer.” Oh, what striking figures he uses here! Listen to me now, you who have not had peace of mind for months. Days seem years when your mind is on yourself, because you are miserable. David told what his trouble was, what your trouble is; and he said because of it, “My moisture was turned into the drought of summer.” I have learned how a person feels by seeing how the fields are in a droughty season. Our garden is dried up, and every green thing droops, and the best land produces only about ten per cent of a crop. A drought of this kind may only last for weeks, but a drought in the human heart may be one that will last for ever. “My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” Oh, to see the drought of summer upon the hearts and lives of professing Christians, and upon those out of the Church, and to see their spiritual nature droop, and wither, and die under a drought that is brought upon them by their own voluntary conduct and action! Where is there a man that won’t confess? We come to him to-night asking him to seek the Lord, and he says, “I don’t want to come up.” What he means is, “I don’t want to confess”; that is the trouble. When a fellow gets willing to confess he will go and do it before anything else. The Lord says, “He that confesseth shall find mercy.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Sin is a debt: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Now, as sin is a debt, the best thing to do in the world is--don’t sin at all. That is best, and thank God it is possible. “Yes,” you say, “but I can’t help sinning.” You can help it just as well as you can keep from getting into debt? Am I obliged to get into debt to-day or to-morrow? Which sin am I obliged to commit to-day or to-morrow? “You are not like me,” you hear people say; “I cannot live without sin.” Whenever you hear a person say that, you may know he is falling into sin more deeply, and that he has made provision for it. Well, I say, the best thing in the world is, don’t do wrong. But if you do happen to slip and do wrong the best thing is to fall down and repent. Don’t let it get cold before you have repented of it. A man ought to be able to repent and to pray anywhere that he can afford to sin. Sin is a debt you have to meet at the mercy-seat of God with an honest, open confession, or you will have to meet it in the judgment with eternal bankruptcy of your soul. Now, which will you do? If you have sinned, the best time for you to repent is now. You cannot afford to put it off any longer. (S. P. Jones.)
Repentance the way to happiness
I. the silence which he kept. Its criminality is clear from the circumstances by which it has been occasioned, and from the perseverance with which it has been maintained against the mercy and the power of God. Your silence has been occasioned by--
1. Thoughtlessness and indifference.
2. Pride and enmity of heart against God.
3. Procrastination; notwithstanding the variety of His appeals.
II. the misery which he endured. What misery is occasioned by sin when--
1. It has to contend with keen and deep convictions.
2. It is accompanied by the dread of discovery.
3. The hatred to God which it produces in the heart is connected with a dread of His almighty power.
4. All these internal feelings are accompanied with eternal adversity and tribulation.
5. The sinner looks forward to the future and anticipates that eternity to which every moment brings him nearer.
III. the confession which he made.
1. It was minute and unreserved.
2. He confessed that his sin was ever present to his mind.
3. He confessed that his sin admitted of no apology or extenuation.
4. He confessed that his sins exposed him to the Divine rejection.
5. He confessed that his sin was a source of deep distress to his mind.
6. His confession was accompanied with prayer.
IV. the pardon which he received.
1. The source whence it was derived.
2. The promptness with which it was bestowed.
3. The gratuitousness with which it was granted.
4. The encouragement which it is calculated to afford to those who, like himself, have broken their impenitent silence, and begun to confess their transgressions to the Lord (Psalms 32:6).
5. The blessedness of which it was productive.
(1) Pardon blessed his condition, saving from depravity as well as from condemnation.
(2) Pardon blessed his feelings, making him happy as well as safe and holy. Happy in his affections. Happy in the privilege of communion with God. Happy in the performance of holy duties. Happy in anticipation of the future. (J. Alexander.)
Terrible convictions and gentle drawings
David here describes a very common experience amongst convinced sinners. He was subjected to extreme terrors and pangs of conscience. The terrors he experienced were indescribable, filling his soul with horror and dismay. We would speak--
I. To the subjects of God’s rebuke and the terrors of God’s law. What are the causes of your terror? I shall borrow my divisions from quaint old Thomas Fuller, and, as I cannot say better things than he said, I shall borrow much.
1. Those wounds must be deep which are given by so strong a hand as that of God. Remember it is God that is dealing with you, the almighty God. Do you wonder, then, that when He smites, His blows fell you to the ground. Be not astonished at your terrors.
2. Then think of the place where God has wounded you. Not in hand, head, or foot, but in your heart, your inmost soul.
3. Satan is busy with you. “Now,” saith he, “God is driving him to madness, I will drive him to despair.”
4. The terrible nature of the weapon with which God has wounded you. The sword of the Spirit, so that it cannot be a little wound.
5. The foolishness of the patient. Some are much more quickly healed than others; serenity of mind and quietude of spirit help much, but fretfulness and anxiety hinder. It is even so with you: you are a foolish patient; you will not do that which would cure you, but you do that which aggravates your woe: you know that if you would cast yourselves upon Jesus you would have peace of conscience at once; but instead of that you are meddling with doctrines too high for you, trying to pry into mysteries which the angels have not known, and so you turn your dizzy brain, and thus help to make your heart yet more singularly sad. You seek to file your fetters, and you rivet them; you seek to unbind them yourself, and you thrust them the deeper into your flesh.
6. Yours is a disease in which nothing can ever help you but that one remedy. All the joys of nature will never give you relief. When Adam had sinned he became suddenly plunged in misery; he had unparadised paradise. And so it will be with you. If you could be put in paradise you would not be happier. There is only one cure for you.
7. Now why does God let you suffer so? He does not deal so with all His people. Why, then, with you? We cannot tell all the reasons, but it may be because you were such a stony-hearted sinner. You were so desperately set on mischief, so stolid, so indifferent, that, if saved, God must save you in such a way, or else not at all.
8. And there is that in your heart which would take you back to your old sins, and so He is making them bitter to you. He is burning you that you may be like the burnt child which dreads the fire.
9. And He would make you the more happy afterwards. The black days of dreary winter make the summer days all the fairer and the sweeter.
10. And, maybe, God means to make great use of you. The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction. These are His highlanders that carry everything before them. They know the rivers of sin, the glens of grief, and, now their sins are washed away, they know the heights of self-consecration, and of pure devotion. They can do all things through and for the Christ who has forgiven them.
II. To those who have never felt these terrors but strangely wish they had, It is not true that all who are saved suffer these terrors. The most, and they amongst the best, do not. And God has brought you in quieter ways to Himself--then be grateful to Him. You might not have been able to bear other means. And perhaps if you had much experience you would have grown self-righteous. There is a brother who has never known, to the extent some of us have to know, the plague of his own heart, lie has never gone through fire and through water, but, on the contrary, is a loving-hearted spirit: a man who spends and is spent in his Master’s service; he knows more of the heights of communion than some of us. Do not, then, desire to be troubled, but trust to Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The exercises of a soul seeking pardon
These verses give us the experience of a soul convinced of sin, and aware of the value and blessedness of pardon, without as yet possessing the power to assume that pardon as its own.
I. the individual is first exhibited to us in silent meditation or self-examination.
1. This is a most necessary but painful duty (Psalms 4:4; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalms 77:6).
2. It has for its subject the nature and amount of sin. The rule by which that sin is measured is readily supplied by the Holy Spirit, from all the works and dispensations of God.
II. This self-examination was supposed to be carried on in silence; but the sentence closes with a seeming contradiction, saying that his bones waxed old with his continual roaring. The work of self-examination may go on in silence and in secrecy; men without hear nothing of the sorrow, see nothing of the distress and agony within--“The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.” But God looks upon the sorrow within; God beholds the workings of this troubled conscience, its throes of grief, and hears its moans.
III. conscious impotence arrived at last. “My bones waxed old,” etc. Here it is not requisite to bring in the machinery of outward trial and experiment to convince the believer of his weakness; let him alone; let him lie there, while varied forms of evil pass over the thoroughfare of his memory or imagination, and while he detects the tendency of his affections to these forms, and battles hard, too, to turn it to good, and fails, the experiment is repeated, till he sinks under the shameful conviction, the sickening one, that he can do no good thing; hold his heart right, no, not one moment, with God; think no one good thought alone. And then he is in utter weakness cast on Divine compassion. And then impotent for ever? No, not for ever; impotent in self, but mighty through Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
IV. the stubbornness of the nature dealt with. “Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.” Converted men, without a failure, may be passed or hurried on from trial to trial externally, in order to bring out and mature that faith which eventuates in holiness. Thus with Joseph; what a series, what a sea of calamities had he to wade through, after the treachery of his brethren; what repeated trials and temptations had he to encounter, without an instant’s breathing time, till he is placed in full peace upon the government of Egypt. This was heavy work upon the soul. Not temptation, merely, but distresses likewise; these, under a Divine Providence, sift and humble the soul, fix and form the faith, ere they flee before the sunshine of spiritual prosperity.
V. the soul now in its distress mourns over departed prosperity. “Moisture”--the word is figurative, but most significant. He was as a tree planted by the rivers of water, his fruit rich and ripe, his leaf fresh and verdant; all are now withered, and blasted, and scorched; what misery!
VI. can all this escape the cognizance of the fallen believer? No; he must hear it, and see it, and heed it, and repent. Aye, repent, not perish. God is still gracious, and though this subsequent repentance may be doubly bitter, yet through it he shall pass once more to peace. (C. M. Fleury, M. A.)
The danger of unconfessed sin
Grief kept within grows more and more intense. A festering wound is dangerous. Let thy soul flow forth in words as to thy common griefs, it is well for thee. And as to such as are spiritual the same rule applies. What a mercy that we have the Book of Psalms and the life of such a man as David. Biographies of most people are like the portraits of a past generation, when the art of flattery in oils was at its height. There is no greater cheat than a modern biography. We have no biographers now-a-days. David’s psalms are his best memorial. There you have not the man’s exterior, but his inward soul. You see the man’s heart. There is no man who has known the Lord in any age since David but has seen himself in David’s psalms as in a looking-glass, and has said to himself, “This man knows all about me.” David is one who “seems to be, not one, but all mankind’s epitome.” Be thankful that David was permitted to try the experiment of silence after his great sin, for he will now tell us what came of it--“When I kept silence,” etc.
I. let us think of the child of God thus acting. Children of God sin, for they are still in the body. But when he sins the proper thing for him to do is at once to go and confess it to God. Sin will not come to any great head in any man’s heart who does this continually. But sometimes they will not do this, especially when they have done very wrong. When confession is most needed it is often least forthcoming. It was so in David’s ease. How fully had he fallen! It is no good to try and excuse David’s sin he himself would protest against our attempting it. But why did he not confess it?
1. The sin prevented the confession--blinded the eye, stultified the conscience, and stupefied his entire spiritual nature. What wretched prayers and praises were those he offered while the foul sin was hidden in his bosom. Why was he silent when he knew he was wrong? Why did he not go to God at once? He was stupefied by his sin, fascinated, captivated, held in bondage by it. Beware of the basilisk eye of sin. It is dangerous even to look at, for looking leads to longing. No man ever thinks of sin without damage. I saw a magnificent photograph in Rome, one of the finest I had ever seen, and right across the middle there was the spectre mark of a cart and ten oxen, repeated many times. The artist had tried to get it out, but the trace remained. While his plate was exposed to take the view, the cart and the oxen had gone across the scene, and they were indelible. Upon our soul every sinful thought leaves a mark and a stain that calls for us to weep it out--nay, needs Christ’s blood to wash it out. We begin with thinking of sin, and then we somewhat desire the sin: next we enter into communion with the sin, and then we get into the sin, and the sin gets into us, and we lie asoak in it. So David did. He did not feel it at first, but then he was plunged into the evil deeps. A man with a pail of water on his head feels it to be heavy, but if he dives he does not feel the weight of water above him because he is actually in it and surrounded by it. So when a man plunges into sin he does not feel its weight. When he is out of the dreadful element, then he is burdened by it. Thus at first David did not feel his sin.
2. Next, there was much pride in his heart. A child who has done wrong, and knows it, often will not own it. You cannot bring him to say, “I have done wrong.”
3. Others have been silent because of fear. They could not believe that God would forgive them. They thought He would overwhelm them with His wrath. Do not think thus. Do not think that the Lord’s mercy is clean gone for ever. Did He not love thee when thou weft dead in trespasses and sins, and will He not love us more if we turn to Him again? But now let us use this subject in reference--
II. To the awakened sinner. There are such. But they are slow to make confession. They feel the burden, and will feel it more, but as yet they keep it to themselves. Remember John Bunyan’s picture of the man in the iron cage. There is not in his whole book an incident more terrible. And many full from despair into utter hardness of heart. They say “there is no hope,” and they may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. Oh, when God makes your heart soft as wax, mind who puts the seal upon it. If the Spirit of God do not, there is another that will put the seal of despair, and perhaps of atheism and of defiant sin upon it, and then woe is that day that you were born. Refusal to confess is a perilous thing for the soul. If a man is awakened to a sense of sin, if he tarries long in that condition Satan is sure to entangle him. He cares little for careless sinners. He has them safe enough: and hypocrites, he knows, are going his way certainly; but the moment that souls are aroused he is in fear lest he lose them, so he plies all his craft to keep them. So that now is the time for the soul to close in with Christ. There is no comfort else to a bruised heart. If you are willing to confess everything He will help you, and there is good reason for doing it at once. For there is a mine of sin in every little sin. Like a spider’s nest. Open it, and you will find thousands. So in every sin there is a host of sins. Go before God as the citizens of Calais came before the English king, with ropes about their necks. Then make your appeal, and assuredly God will forgive. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Silent grief injurious
A dry sorrow is a terrible one, but clear sunshine often follows the rain of tears. Tears are hopeful things; they are the dewdrops of the morning foretelling the coming day There is something in telling your sorrow and letting it out, otherwise it is like a mountain turn which has no outlet, into which the rains descend and the torrents rush, and at last the banks are broken and a flood is caused. A festering wound is dangerous. Many have lost their reason because they had good reason to tell their sorrows, but had not reason enough to do so. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.
“Premes gravissima. Sublevans suavissima et potentissima.” So wrote one of our shrewdest commentators about the hand of which the psalmist speaks, in words which may be freely translated, “The hand of God, whilst pressing very hard, supports with utmost tenderness and almighty power.”
I. creation. How beautifully are the two sides illustrated here. Tim schoolboy can tell us how the atmosphere is weighing upon the slenderest object on the earth’s surface with a constant pressure of many pounds to each square inch. The hand seen as “premeds gravissima.” Yet the dewdrop is not shattered, nor the harebell bruised, since the same hand is also “sublevans suavissima et potentissima.” Again, whilst with irresistible force all things are being dragged towards the earth’s centre, the insect with its gauzy wings poises itself in the liquid air, and the tiny child is unhindered in his play.
II. providence. Whatever page of history we study the same facts meet us,--on the one hand discipline and chastisement, disappointment, sorrow, pain, loss--the hand in ten thousand ways “premens gravissima”; on the other, the reaping of a compensating harvest of happy results, the hand “sublevans susvissima et potentissima.” Hers tribulation and anguish, there prosperity and peace; nations and individuals groaning beneath the weight of calamity, then led out into a wealthy place.
III. redemption. By redemption we mean the great process in all its parts by which the Father of Spirits is recovering man from spiritual ruin. Go back to the Fall. In the stern sentence passed on the first sinners, what do we see but the hand “premens”? in the primal promise what but the same hand “sublevans”? And in all that wonderful training, covering so many centuries and conducted in ways so surprising, by which the conscience of man was made alive to the guilt of sin--in all the work done by law--are we not looking at the hand of God as it descends upon the sinner, and makes him groan beneath the intolerable burden, as the psalmist did when “his bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long,” and “his moisture was turned into the drought of summer”? And does not that hand become more and more visible as “sublevans suavissima et poten-tissima,” as mercy streams across the midnight sky in an ever-brightening track of blessed light, prophetic of the full glory of the dawn? (T. G. Rose.)
I. all afflictions are God’s hand.
1. They are from God’s hand purposing and ordaining them (Romans 8:29; 1 Thessalonians 3:3).
2. They are from God’s hand executing them (Isaiah 45:7; Genesis 45:8; Job 1:21; 2 Samuel 16:11; Hosea 6:1).
3. They are from God’s hand ordering and disposing them.
(1) In their causes, circumstances, kinds, manner, measure, and time of their beginning and ending.
(2) In their ends and issues, His own glory, in manifesting His mercy, justice, wisdom, power, etc. The everlasting salvation of His children. He stops them in their course of sin, as with a hedge of thorns (Hosea 2:6), that they should not break over into the pleasant pastures of sin, therein to be fatted to the slaughter. He brings them to a true hatred of sin, when they taste the bitter fruit of it. To the exercise of mortification, and desire of heaven and heavenly things: and thus they are judged of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world.
II. God lays his hand heavily often upon his own dear children.
1. There is deep corruption lurking in the best, who not seldom are cast upon so deep a sleep of security that they cannot be wakened with a little shaking, till by most grievous afflictions the Lord break their bones, consume their strength, and bring them into such grief and pain as sets them roaring.
2. Smaller troubles have often a smaller work. Small things cannot make great hearts stoop; a small fire will not purge away dross from gold, but it must be quick and piercing; a small wind doth not fan away the chaff of vanity, a small correction or smart makes the child more froward, till sounder correction subdue him; small trials do not so exercise faith, nor send men out of themselves to God: for as none for the scratch of a pin, or a little headache, will seek to the physician or surgeon; so a sinner in smaller grievances of the soul will scarce think he needs go to God (Job 33:14).
3. The greater the affliction is, the more odious doth sin appear to be unto God; a strong poison must have a strong antidote: the more the godly are stricken down for sin, the more are they stirred up to godly sorrow, to hatred of it, to zeal against it, the better and more watchful do they prevent sin to come, and look better to themselves: as a good physician oftentimes letteth blood, not to make a man sick, but to prevent sickness.
4. The greater the trial is, the better experience have they of themselves.
5. God’s children have great afflictions, and are pressed with an heavy hand, that God Himself may be clearly seen to be their deliverer, when in the eyes of all flesh they are lost.
6. As great afflictions make way for abundant mercy from God to us, so also for abundant thanks from us to God. If one cure a trifling matter, it neither so binds the patient, nor yet commends the physician: but if any be cured of some deadly, and almost incurable disease, then we profess we could never have met with such a physician in all the world again, and we are accordingly thankful.
7. Were it not for great afflictions, we could never know the power of God’s Word in quickening us, cheering and comforting us in them, that it is the Word of Life, is most evidently seen in Death itself.
III. God lays his heavy hand upon his children a long time, and with much continuance.
1. Sometimes God’s children in their falls harden their hearts, and grow stiff in their sin, which was David’s case here, and then the Lord hardeneth Himself to grow stiff in displeasure. Oftentimes God’s children would sit silent, if the Lord would be as silent as they: but whom He loves, He will bring back the way that they are gone, and great hearts will not stoop for a little.
2. Christ hath not taken away the lingering of trials, but the malignity and poison of them; yea, Himself through all His life was a man full of sorrows; and we must not look to be better; He deserved them not, we have.
3. God would have us in the continuance of our trouble, to see the continuance of our sin; were our correction always short, we would not be persuaded of the greatness of our sins: plasters use to continue, and not fall off till the wound be cured.; and if a right use of afflictions were attained once, a joyful issue would soon follow: but some lust is not denied, and that adds a sting unto them.
4. God by the continuance of His hand would hold us in a continual exercise of grace, as of humility, faith, patience, prayer, repentance, etc., it being with a godly man, as one that hath a precious jewel, which he is careful to keep in his hand, so long as he watcheth, none can get it from him; but when he sleeps or slumbers, his hand opens, and it falls out, any man may have it. By continual blowing, the fire is kept in, but it dies by discontinuance. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou for-gavest the iniquity of my sin.
It is hard to look things in the face; yet we must do so; we must own our sins honestly.
I. To our own hearts--and then, down comes our pride. We thought ourselves tolerably good, and that we could pass muster as well as most; but beginning to look, we detect, here first, and then there, a blemish, an infirmity, a gross sin. It is best to be frank, and rather to make the most than the least of our faults. The iron-founder examines the huge mass of some iron girder, on which he has spent much labour; he sees one tiny crack, but passes it by, hoping, though with strong misgiving, that the real strength of the metal will not be affected; and ere long he hears that the bridge has fallen, and men have been killed by it, and that the disaster is traced to a flaw in the metal. He had better have faced the disappointment, and have had the piece re-cast, than have been responsible for the accident.
II. To others. When a man knows his own fault, he does not like others to know it: He would prefer to remain in their eyes the spotless man he once was in his own. It is a degrading thought that others should know that you have been guilty of a meanness, of intemperance, of passion, of untruthfulness; and yet by trying to conceal it from them, you may be adding deception to your former error. Not that we are bound to blaze abroad our faults; that might do more harm than good: but to cover them, or palliate them, so as to retain the good opinion of others, is fruitless and insincere. Bitter though it be to lose the good opinion of friends, still even that is better than disingenuousness.
III. To God. It is God whom we have offended: to God must our confession be made. With abject sorrow, and unfeigned shame that we should in any, the least, point have outraged the majesty, the purity, the honour of God; with body, soul, and spirit all bowed down; with reason silent, with no excuses, no special pleading, no attempt to set off against our faults any good things which we have done; but simply engrossed in our hatred of the evil thing we have done, and unreservedly acknowledging its wickedness.
IV. If you cannot quiet your conscience by secret confession to God, use the ministry of reconciliation. Something human the man craves, some human voice to tell him to his face that he is forgiven, to assure him, and to dispel doubts. (G. F. Prescott, M. A.)
Sin confesssd and unconfessed
I. sin unconfessed, working misery in the soul.
1. This misery was corporeally emaciating.
2. This misery lasted as long as the silence.
3. This misery was felt to be from God.
II. sin confessed, divinely removed from the soul.
1. The removal of sin from man is a possible act.
2. A blessed act.
3. An encouraging act.
4. A saving act,
(1) It makes safe in the greatest dangers.
(2) It secures the protection of God Himself.
(3) It encircles the life with Divine music. (Homilist.)
Relief afforded by confession
I. the psalmist had kept silence. In this he was wrong. Sin had been committed, and the fruits were fermenting and fomenting in his bosom, gendering turmoil and breeding corruption. So sin will dwell in our souls, and we fondle and turn it into a means of enjoyment. We have not the courage to look at these sins as sins, and to cast them out from what ought to be the temple of the Lord. We try as far as possible not even to notice them. We prefer thinking of our supposed excellences, of the good deeds we have done, of our talents, courage, prowess, generosity, and roll these as a sweet morsel under our tongue. We decline thinking on the abuse made of the gifts bestowed on us,--on our ingratitude, ungodliness, our lusts cherished, our envy, our evil temper, our selfishness. There will be times, indeed, when these iniquities are forced upon our attention by the accusations of conscience or the reproaches of our fellow men, or by the troubles into which they bring us. But on these occasions we put ourselves on the defensive and parry off the attack; and when these weapons of defence are wrested from us, then we bring excuses and urge palliations referring to extenuating circumstances, or pleading seductions, or pointing to the fairer side of the offence, to the pleasure it gave, or the kindness or frankness which characterized it. Under such pretexts as these we keep silence when we should speak out, when we should confess the sin and acknowledge the transgression, cast them out from our hearts and slay them before the Lord.
II. when he kept silence he was troubled. God speaks. He speaks in the conscience, saying, this deed, this thought was evil. He speaks in the Word, saying, “The wages of sin is death.” He speaks to us by His Spirit, striving to subdue the resistance. But the ear is stopped, that it may not hear; or when the voice is so loud that it cannot but be heard, no attention is paid to it, or it is openly disobeyed. There is now a terrible conflict. There is a voice commanding, but there is a determined effort to drown it, as loud and dismal as the sound of the gong which was used in Mexico to drown the cry of the tortured and bleeding human victims on the altar. What earnestness in the voice demanding, the voice entreating! but there is equal earnestness in the struggles resisting, and the hatred resenting. No wonder that “the moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” The terrible heat, exceeding that of a tropical sun, burns up every living thing. The soul is left as an arid waste, without a scrap of vegetation.
III. the psalmist confesses his sins.
IV. the psalmist had his sins forgiven. We are not to understand that the confession can merit the forgiveness. The confession can no more merit the forgiveness than the forgiveness can merit the confession. Both are gifts of God, and so bound together that you cannot have the one without the other. An old author represents Christ as coming to us with a gift in each hand. In the one hand He holds out forgiveness, free forgiveness; in the other hand He holds out repentance and confession. If we begin to say, “We are very willing to take the one of these; we know we have sinned, and are most anxious to have the forgiveness; but as to this wringing repentance and its proper fruit, a humbling confession, we wish to avoid them,” then Christ will give us neither. But if in simple faith we will only take both, we shall receive both “without money and without price.” At the same instant that we break silence and cry in faith for mercy, Heaven also breaks the awful silence, and the mercy is bestowed and received. And now the crowded bosom finds relief; the confined soul experiences enlargement; the fettered spirit is free; the prison doors are thrown open, and the soul walks at liberty and expatiates abroad, on before untrodden ground, and gazes on new and lovely scenes. New affections are called forth, and new-born feelings spring up. The evil burnouts have been let out, and the body feels health returning, and, with health, motive and activity. (J. McCosh.)
The forgiveness of sins
If you blot out of David’s psalms his profound sense of moral evil in all its bare, black iniquity, as the great reality of man’s experience and life, you blot out those psalms at the same time from the literature of the world: their work is done, their power is dead. But it is the firmness with which he grasps the hand which redeems from this evil, which gives him such a wonderful hold on the heartstrings of humanity. Slave, beggar, soldier, scholar, statesman, priest, all feel equally that he belongs to them, because his experience is so profoundly human; because man the sinner, God the Saviour, are the great themes of his meditation, and of his vivid, burning utterance to the world. Sin and salvation must be the main burden of every gospel which lays masterful hold on human hearts. There are two aspects of sin which need sometimes to be separately considered, that we may see the true method of its Divine treatment, and trace the principles on which it rests.
I. its essential iniquity. The revelation of Scripture is that sin is a personal act against a person. It runs directly counter to our modern philosophizing on the subject. Man knows that he has sinned, himself has done it. “I have sinned, I have perverted that which is right.” That “I” means something which, whatever it may be, distinctly is not Nature and is not God (Psalms 51:4). The heart may be broken at beholding the ruin and anguish sin has wrought, but the core of the matter is not reached until its iniquity, the wrong before God, is seen to be the essence of it. Only when the sin is comprehended in all its evil, can God the Redeemer begin its cure.
II. its disastrous fruits. Here is a second gauge of the evil of sin--the utter misery which it works (Genesis 3:24; Genesis 4:1-1.4.15). Let a man be selfish, envious, lustful, grasping, in the most hidden imaginations of his heart, he can no more help being the author of sorrow to every one who has intimate relations with him, than a dunghill can help breeding fever. It is a terrible subject, this inevitable fruit of sin. This is God’s ordinance about sin--its fruit shall be misery. It is the grand hold which He keeps on sinners. Sin is in their power; misery is in His; and it is the hand by which He withholds them from swift perdition (1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 7:1-45.7.25.; 1 John 1:6-62.1.10). The text casts a valuable light on the essential nature of forgiveness. God forgives the iniquity of the sin, while the mischief which it has wrought He sets Himself to repair. This is and must be slow and toilsome work. It is the work of God in the government of the world, to repair the evil which sin has wrought. But the forgiveness is prompt, absolute and final.
III. the forgiveness of sin by God--
1. In its nature. It does not touch the accidents of the sin, but its very essence. The accidents will be cured in time. There are two elements to be dealt with--the Divine anger and the sense of alienation and wretchedness in the child. Now as to the first, God when He forgives declares that it is gone. The sinner is slow to believe this, but it is true, and God has His own ways of lodging the sense of it in penitent hearts.
2. Its conditions. How can God forgive sin? Not by ignoring it. The answer of the Gospel is that by man’s righteousness, man’s iniquity has been put away. Christ stands for man before God, and His righteousness has become a stronger part in humanity than Adam’s sin. One has undertaken for us, stands for us, who can make and will make God’s righteousness the dominant thing, the conquering thing, the characteristic thing, in humanity; and in Christ God justifies man. But what then has confession to do with it? It is the vital link between the soul and Christ. It is the plea of the soul to the Father, Behold me, sinner as I am, in Christ. My will goes with Him; in His obedience, His hatred of sin, I desire to share; make me partaker of His victorious life. Confession, as the fruit of penitence, transmutes the relation of the soul to Christ. From formal it becomes vital. The name becomes a power. It makes, by the stirring of the thought and will of a free being, the oneness with Christ a spiritual reality. It declares that through Christ there is born in the soul that which is not sinful, which is of the essence of holiness, and ever struggling upwards towards God. Confession rests on Christ, and connects us vitally with His righteousness.
3. Its fruits. Perfect, absolute, and eternal peace, if the sinner but keep firm hold on the fact, “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Man will forgive himself when God forgives him. The fruits of his sin may be there; a broken body, a stained name, poverty, struggle, and sad, sad memories. But all the anguish has gone out of the soul, all the dread, if God forgives. “All things,” even the bitter fruits of transgression, “must work together for good to God’s justified children. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The penitent’s progress
David describes three states of mind through which he passed.
I. A state of guilt. “When I kept silence,” etc. It was his own bitter experience. He darkly and sullenly turned away from God. Though a voice within him bade him turn, he would not. He hung back and shunned the presence of his God, like Adam in the garden. It is an unspeakably wretched state of mind. There are two cases in which a man may feel what David felt.
1. An awakened sinner may feel it--a sinner for the first time brought to a sense of his transgression.
2. The other case in which a man may experience what David did, is that of one who, after he has known somewhat of God and the comfort of religion, has unhappily in some degree departed from God again, and fallen into sin, and does not at once return to Him with earnest prayer for forgiveness, with full confession of his sin, with renewed applications to the blood of sprinkling. This was David’s case; and this, too, was Jonah’s. It is easy even for a good man, through negligence and unwatchfulness, to fall into sin and consequent misery; it is not so easy for him to arise and regain the paths of righteousness; it is not so easy to betake himself indeed to the Saviour, and, through the penitent and believing application of His atoning blood, to recover peace of conscience, and with it renewed liberty in the service of God. But there is help for the penitent, help in the abundant mercy of God our Saviour for them that unfeignedly seek it.
II. For mark the next stage of David’s experience, as it is described in the text:--“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.” A great change was here. David no longer kept silence. O happy is it, when the guilty mind comes to this resolution!
III. A state of holy joy at being reconciled to God. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose,” etc. Then he represents himself as secure and happy under the guidance and protection of God. And then, once more, he has communion with God in prayer. Are any conscious of sin committed? Dissemble it not. Cloke it not. Go to God your Saviour; confess your sin; and ask forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, and thus only, can you find peace. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
Penitential confession of sin
I. David’s conduct.
1. It was deliberate. “I said, I will,” etc. He was not dull or unfeeling in his sense of sin; but, like one infirm in body, yet strong in courage, he resolved manfully to go through the operation, however painful, having respect to the recompense of the expected cure.
2. It was humble: “I will confess.” By this is signified his intention of owning, without any excuses, and specifying, his fault--as was required of the Israelite seeking pardon (Leviticus 5:5), of the high-priest making atonement (Leviticus 16:21); and as was practised by the people (1 Samuel 12:19), and by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:3). With this would be connected submission to his trouble, as designed for punishment of his sin, and acknowledgment of its justice; to which course a particular promise was made under the law (Leviticus 26:40-3.26.42).
3. It was personal. “My sin.” Many, anxious to pass hastily and lightly over their own failings, try to effect their purpose by making stepping-stones of their neighbours’ faults. With the general confession, “I am a grievous sinner,” they couple the truth, “and so are we all”; and to the admission, “I have done wickedly,” they add the hackneyed saying, “this is a wicked world we live in.” Thus they seem to derive a false comfort from the number of their fellow-offenders, as though the crowd of criminals could screen them from the piercing eye, or the daring band of rebels protect them from the avenging hand of a long-suffering, but all-seeing and almighty Judge.
4. It was intelligent, i.e. with understanding: “I will confess my transgressions.” The word “transgression” implies a boundary-line to be passed, a fence to be broken; and, without knowing where this is fixed, a man will not be able to see and acknowledge his fault.
5. It was private: “I will confess unto the Lord.” David could abase himself before the prophet (2 Samuel 12:13) and his household (verses 16, 17); but on this occasion he carried his burden to the Lord. It may be asked, Where is the need of confessing to that Lord who “trieth the hearts and reins and understandeth our thoughts afar off”? We answer, The need is ours, and the benefit is ours. The exercise of mentioning our sins leads the mind to dwell longer upon them, discovering their guilt more fully; and helps to mortify our pride, though no mortal ear listens to the recital. It may be further remarked, that David’s confession “to the Lord” was an appeal to his judgment, as to his sincerity; and pledged the penitent to a forsaking the sins which he professed to lament.
6. The happy consequences: “Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Here is a benefit, beyond the mere ease obtained by giving vent to the feelings; here is the entire removal of the guilt of acknowledged transgression.
II. application to ourselves.
1. In dwelling on David’s confession “to the Lord,” I would by no means neglect or undervalue the exhortation of the apostle (James 5:16) to well-chosen confidence and sympathy.
2. I would suggest to parents, sponsors, and teachers, as concerned in the training of the young, the importance of insisting on the duty of confession before they pardon their offences. (G. Newnham, M. A.)
A conscious sense of sin
I. A conscious sense of sin is accompanied with--
1. Self-abasement (Jeremiah 2:26; Ezra 9:6; Jeremiah 6:15). 2, Self-condemnation (Psalms 51:3-19.51.7).
3. Such self-abhorrence must reduce the sinner, who is not altogether abandoned, to self-denial, and abstinence from his former course of wickedness. The trembling penitent adopts the language of Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:18-24.31.20); and, prodigal-like (Luke 15:12-42.15.32), returns to his compassionate Father
II. The prodigal finding a kind reception, contrary to expectation, must be overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness. (J, Kidd, D. D.)
1. Notice the elements of this repentance as they come out in this psalm:
(1) Clear consciousness of sin--“I acknowledged my sin.”
(2) Loathing sorrow for sin--“Mine iniquity have I not hid.”
(3) Confession of sin--“I acknowledged my sin.”
(4) Forsaking of sin (Psalms 32:9).
2. Ask these questions:
(1) Having sinned, is not this the noblest possible way in which a sinner can treat his sin--to repent of it?
(2) Is it not far better and nobler thus to repent of it than heedlessly and blindly to go on in sin?
(3) Do you think that, going on in sin carelessly and blindly, it is possible to go on thus toward God?
(4) Therefore can you not see the necessity of repentance? (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
The word signifies a vehement, a pathetic, a hyperbolical asseveration, and attestation, and ratification of something said before. Such, in a proportion, as our Saviour’s “Amen, amen” is, “Verily, verily I say unto you”; such as St. Paul’s “fidelis sermo,” with which he seals so many truths, is, “This is a faithful saying”; such as that apostle’s “Coram domino” is, with which he ratifies many things, “Before the Lord I speak it”; and such as Moses, “As I live, saith the Lord,” and “As the Lord liveth.” And therefore, though God be in all His words, Yea, and Amen, no word of His can perish in itself, nor should perish in us, that is, pass without observation, yet, in setting this seal of “Selah” to this doctrine, He hath testified His will that He would have all these things the better understood, and the deeper imprinted, that “if a man conceal and smother his sins, “Selah,” assuredly, God will open that man’s mouth, and it shall not show forth His praise, but God will bring him to fearful exclamations out of the sense of the affliction, if not of the sin; “Selah,” assuredly, God will shiver his bones, shake his best actions, and discover their impurity; “Selah,” assuredly, God will suffer to be dried up all his moisture, all possibility of repentant tears, and all interest in the blood of Christ Jesus. (J. Donne, D. D.)
For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee, in a time when Thou mayest be found.
The duty of prayer
I. the nature of this duty. We may say prayers, even the most beautiful of prayers, such as we have in our liturgy, but all this may be and yet we may never pray. If our religion does not teach us to pray, it is a religion good for nothing. The faithful pastor will urge his people to pray, and, if they will not hearken, he will pray God by afflictions to compel them to pray.
II. the time when we should pray--“when Thou mayest be found.” For there is a time when God may not be found. Reprobates on death-beds have tried to find God, but could not (Proverbs 1:24). Oh, do not trifle with the gospel of the grace of God.
III. thy encouragement to pray. “For this cause shall,” etc. God heard the poor, contrite penitent when he confessed his sin, and freely forgave him all. Therefore, do none of you think, it is all in vain now for you to pray. Once, you think, you might have been heard, but not now. Oh, it is not so. The day of grace is not over, but, if you trifle now, it may be to-morrow. Therefore seek the Lord now, at once. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
The experimental pardon of sin sought by prayer
I. the thing spoken of--“For this.”
II. the character--“Every one that is godly.”
III. prayer--“For this shall every one that is godly pray.” And then--
IV. prayer at a particular time--“In a time when Thou mayest be found.” (T. T. West, M. A.)
On seeking God
We want not encouragement of seeking God, nor need doubt of finding Him, if we take these grounds with us:
1. If we seek Him in His own house: for where should a man be found but in his own house? God hath one standing house in the Old Testament, not where His infinite essence, which the Heaven of heavens was not able to contain, but where His name and memorial dwelt: but in the New He hath a number of houses, and being omnipresent, He will be found in them all.
(1) The church-assemblies. Therefore in these houses of prayer seek Him by faithful prayer, and thou shall not miss Him.
(2) Every Christian family is a house of God: whore two or three consent in any one thing in His name, Christ is in the midst of them. The apostle saluteth private Christians with the Church in their houses. Therefore make thy house God’s house, by setting up His worship therein, and Thou shall have Him near thee with all sweet fellowship and fulness of blessedness.
(3) Every Christian soul is a temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16). Then make thy heart His temple, and, if thou wouldst find Him, seek Him there, thou shall find Him nowhere else, or sooner than there.
2. As we must seek Him in His own house, so by His own light and means, and this is twofold.
(1) The Word of God in precepts and promises; this is a lanthorn to our feet, and a light to our paths, by which God may be discerned, whom the darkness of the world cannot comprehend.
(2) Such signs of His presence as He hath made choice of to reveal His grace in. In the Old Testament believers must seek Him in sacrifices and ceremonies, and therein He gave them gracious answers: the ceremonies were all typical, and pointed at Christ and the good things to come in Him. So in the New Testament God’ hath appointed visible signs annexed to His Word, as the public service of Him in spirit and truth, the offering up of our sacrifices of prayer and praise, and frequenting of the holy Sacraments or Ceremonies; in all which He will be sought. God cannot be seen or found but by His own light, and therefore he that would seek Him, must have the light of understanding (Psalms 14:2).
3. We shall find God, if we seek Him, not by the eyes of sense and nature, but of faith and obedience.
4. We shall seek aright, if we seek God in God’s manner, and that is in four things.
(1) If we seek Him in sincerity of spirit (Ephesians 6:18), praying in the Spirit, as knowing that we are to deal with God who is a Spirit: and in sincerity, because He is a God that loveth truth in the inward parts: this condemns hypocritical seeking, which is but deceitful (Jeremiah 29:13).
(2) In fervency: men are commanded to seek for wisdom as for gold and treasures; how eagerly and instantly do men seek after gold and earthly things! Why, no labour can beat them from their desires: how much more carefully ought they to seek after spiritual graces, and most of all after God Himself!
(3) In season, timely (Psalms 63:2).
(4) In His Son: seek Him in Christ the only Mediator; for none can come to the Father but by the Son.
5. We shall seek aright and with comfort, if we seek Him in the right ends, namely, for Himself; not as the Jews who followed Christ for bread; not to gain the world by Him, but to gain Himself and His favour, which is better than life; yea, to obtain this, be content to seek Him with the loss of all, as the disciples and martyrs did. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Prayer the proof of godliness
I. the universal mark of godliness.
1. In its infancy.
2. In all stages of its growth.
3. True prayer is an infallible mark of godliness.
4. Prayer is natural to the godly man.
5. To such a man, prayer is a very happy and consoling exercise.
6. The prayers of the godly may be presented in a great many forms.
II. A potent motive for praying.
1. Because God heard such a great sinner as David was.
2. Because we all need pardon daily.
3. Every one who is godly will pray unto God, because he has received the pardon of sin.
4. Because troubles come.
5. Because God does hear prayer. Prayer does move the arm that moves the world, though nothing is put out of gear by our praying.
III. THE special occasion when prayer is most useful.
1. The time of this mortal life.
2. Under the Gospel dispensation.
3. The time of the finding out of sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou art my hiding place.
Our hiding place
A man who is pursued as if he were a wild beast can appreciate the value of a safe hiding place.
I. we need a hiding place for the soul.
1. For there is an enemy to our souls ever seeking their destruction. Is it true that there is a wicked devil? Some think not, but Jesus tells us that there is. He tells us also that there is a hiding place from Satan’s power, and it is the Lord Himself.
2. From our own inclinations. Some years ago I was walking with one of my children over a canal on a very narrow bridge. The child was frightened, and begged me to hold her tight, as she felt as if something were pulling her down into the canal. And so, like that child, we all of us have an inclination to fall from purity, and we shall fall unless the Lord hold us fast. And He will, if we ask Him. He will no more let you fall into sin, if you call on Him with all your heart, than I would have let that child fall into the canal. Though we have an inclination to sin, there is at all times a hiding place in which our souls may shelter until the danger be past.
II. there are special times when we need a hiding place.
1. One of those times is, when the fear of death comes upon us. Who can help us when we die?
2. Allow me to say a word about the hiding place we need when the sorrows of poverty afflict us. Ah, don’t you think that such people need a hiding place? How blessed is the Gospel to them! They suffer, but they know, they feel, that our Heavenly Father cares for them. (W. Birch.)
The believer’s refuge
I. the refuge which he needs. Refer to David in the stronghold; man-slayer in city of refuge; Noah in the ark. The sinner needs a refuge under the guilt of sin, under the demands of the law, under the dangers of life.
II. the confidence he indulges. “Thou shalt preserve me from trouble”--not that actual exemption from trial is promised, but so preserved as that we shall not sink under it. The argument is that past deliverances are a ground of future hope. If He delivered me as a rebellious sinner, shall He not deliver me as a praying believer? It rests on the promise and faithfulness of God--“For the mountains shall depart,” etc. The Christian, after one trial, should prepare for another. It is supported by the experience of the Church.
III. the joy he anticipates. “Songs of deliverance.” (Study.)
God our hiding place
There is no statement more true, and no truth more important, than that maxim of Martin Luther--“Nolo Deum absolutum.” Who, indeed, can meet an absolute God? God absolute is a consuming fire. His holiness is irreconcilably hostile to sin; His justice sternly demands the sinner’s punishment; and His truth obliges Him to execute the penalty of His violated law. In an absolute God there is no hope for a sinful creature. But now, through the incarnate Word, my atoning Sacrifice and interceding High-Priest, the devouring Fire becomes my protection, the almighty Adversary assumes the character of a friend, and with full assurance of faith I take up the song of the royal saint--“Thou art my hiding place, thou wilt preserve me from trouble; thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” Concerning the ungodly it is said--“The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” But “their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” I have seen the name of Benvenuto Cellini scratched with a nail upon the rugged stone wall of his cell in the Castello Sant’ Angelo; and have handled the sad mementos of Torquato Tasso in the convent of Sant’ Onofrio--his last refuge, the gate by which he entered paradise--midway between his cradle at Sorrento and his dungeon at Ferrara. But my sacred asylum can show many a worthier record and many a holier relic, for it has been the dwelling-place of the saints in all generations. Here Paul and Silas sang their midnight hymn, and the heroic exile of Patmos heard the chanting of immortal tongues. Here Ignatius challenged the lions with his “Gloria in Exeelsis,” and brave old Sanctus as long as he had power to speak confessed--“I am a Christian.” And cheering it is to know that these, and such as these--a fire-crowned host of priests and kings--have been here before me. The cities of refuge were six, and were so distributed that one of them was always within half-a-day’s flight of the man-slayer: and the gates were ever open to admit him. And yet, from one cause or another, he might not reach it. But our defence is ever accessible. Nay, I carry my refuge constantly with me: and not as the Arab carries his tent, or the soldier his shield, or the turtle its shell; for Christ is not only immanent in His word and movements, but dwells--a living Spirit--in every living heart. And the provision is as vast as human want and as various as human woe. And there is perfect safety there. The psalmist is certain of it. “Thou wilt preserve me from trouble.” Not, indeed, from earthly ills--the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to; but with Thee always present I can endure these. But from sin, the source of all trouble, and itself the only real trouble, I know Thy grace is sufficient to save me. My faith, like the eagle’s wings, bears me above the hurtling thunder into the eternal sunshine. Like the skylark, I sing as I soar, and pour music out of the cloud. Like the nightingale, I lift a cheerful lay in the twilight, and charm the night with melodies of love and hope. Thus will the Lord, my hiding place, compass me about with songs of deliverance. (J. Cross, D. D.)
God a hiding place
Adam hid from God; David hides in God.
1. From the penalties of a broken law.
2. From the enmity of man.
3. From the trials and sorrows of life.
4. From the fear of death. (C. D. Bell, D. D.)
Thou shalt preserve me from trouble.--
Saints preserved from trouble
If we content ourselves with that word which our translators have chosen here, “trouble,” we must rest in one of these two senses; either that God shall arm, and endue those that are His, with such a constancy, as those things that trouble others, shall not trouble them, but, “As the sufferings of Christ abound in them, so their consolation also aboundeth by Christ, as unknown, and yet well known, as dying, and behold we live, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things”; for God uses both these ways in the behalf of His servants; sometimes to suspend the working of that that should work their torment, as He suspended the rage of the lions for Daniel, and the heat of the fire in the furnace for the others; sometimes by imprinting a holy stupefaction, and insensibleness in the person that suffers, so St. Laurence was not only patient, but merry and facetious when he lay broiling upon the fire; and so we read of many other martyrs, that they have been less moved, less affected with their torments, than their executioners or their persecutors have been. That which troubled others never troubled them; or else the phrase must have this sense, that though they be troubled with their troubles, though God submit them so far, to the common condition of men, that they be sensible of them, yet He shall preserve them from that trouble so as that it shall never overthrow them, never sink them into a dejection of spirit, or diffidence in His mercy. They shall find storms, but a stout and strong ship under foot. They shall feel thunder and lightning, but garlands of triumphant bays shall preserve them. They shall be trodden into the earth with scorns and contempts, but yet as seed is buried, to multiply to more. Thou shalt make me insensible of it, or Thou shalt make me victorious in it. (J. Donne, D. D.)
Preserved in Christ Jesus
There used to be an old battered safe standing in the Broadway, New York, on which was the notice, “It stood the test; the contents were all saved.” It had been in one of the hottest fires New York ever saw, but the old safe had carried its treasures safely through it all. No life so safe as that which is guided and controlled by Christ. (J. Ellis.)
Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.
Songs of deliverance
Song is the natural language of the feelings. The heart in song seeks relief, as the swollen lake flows over in rills that make music as they flow. Songs of deliverance, therefore, are above all others songs of joy. And joy is far more vivid when it is a recoil from grief or terror, than when it is a continuance or higher degree of the same joy. And such songs strike, also, most powerfully the chords of feeling in other hearts and call forth an echo: for all can sympathize in such joy. And they are peculiar to men. Angels have no dangers, devils no deliverance. They are characteristically human songs: they stamp the singer a native of earth. See the song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-2.15.27.; and that in Judges 5:1-7.5.31.). And we, too, have songs of deliverance. Let us speak of some of them.
I. that sung on our deliverance from the most appalling danger. The Christian’s most thankful praise is praise for deliverance. The joy that breathes in his song is the joy of recovered safety. His whole happiness is a treasure rescued from utter wreck; he is a delivered man. In whatever scene, with whatever fellowship he mingles in his eternal career, he shall be marked as one that has been delivered. All the greatness that may yet come to him, all the blessedness that eternity shall put to his lips, all the glory to which his nature may ascend, cry out of deliverance. His is not the joy of the happy child who has never passed beyond the home of love and purity, but the joy of the reformed prodigal, who, despite a wasted heritage, blighted hopes, and a dishonoured name, has, after weary wanderings, again found a home of peace and love.
II. the believer’s song of deliverance from earthly sorrows and troubles. As the Christian has many a sorrow, so he has many a song. He has songs of deliverance when the judgments which threatened to overwhelm him have not been permitted to come nigh; songs of deliverance when they have come, and all God’s waves and billows have gone over him, and he has passed through the cloud and the sea unharmed. Even the dread chastisements of God which came upon David in consequence of his sin lost their terribleness and all that should make them dreaded. They were henceforth to work together for good; and therefore he lifts the song of deliverance, though the troubles were still with him. Evil in its outward aspect is not changed, but to the soul its spiritual relation is reversed. In the life of the true penitent the fruits of past wickedness, severed from the tree that nourished them, lose their noxious quality, and fatten the soil for future harvests of good. And therefore the pardoned sinner counts it all joy when he falls into tribulation. Hear again David’s song: “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.”
III. the song of final and eternal deliverance. It is not till the Church has reached her heavenly home, and every member of the great body of Christ is finally redeemed from the power of the world,--and death, the last enemy, destroyed, that the glorified Church shall stand on the shores of the glassy sea, and swell high the anthem of triumph that began in the deliverance of Israel under Moses, and is consummated in the triumph of the Lamb, over the world, and sin, and death, and the grave. Then her joy shall be full, in the sense of her own safety assured for ever against all enemies. Nothing shall remain but joy add song. (J. Riddell.)
Compassed about with songs of deliverance
That is, not to have one or two, or a few occasions or deliverances to sing praises to God for, but abundant, yea innumerable causes to praise and magnify God, so as a man can look no way round about him, but he shall see many and infinite mercies, and so many songs and praises, every new mercy being a new matter of a new song of deliverance. For look as when a man hath endured an heavy, dark, and uncomfortable night, the morning approacheth, and light begins to appear, not in any one side of the heavens, but on every side, that, let a man look where he will, the light compasseth him, and it groweth lighter and lighter until perfect day: so, although God’s children seem to be in darkness and in the night of affliction, yet God affords some deliverance, and brings the joyful morning, and then they see the light of comfort on all sides, and can say, Now they are compassed with light and salvation. So as the thing which our prophet here professeth, is; first, that the Lord would afford him matter enough to frame and compile holy songs of joyful praise and thanks. Secondly, that this matter should be so plentiful and abundant, that nothing should on any side be about him, but that whence he ought to provoke himself to return joyful thanks, he should be begirt with blessings and mercy. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Many deliverances, many songs
What need is there of plurality of songs: may not one song serve; and if one may, what need many? One song perhaps may serve for one deliverance; but if there be many deliverances, must there not be many songs? And must there not be many deliverances when there are many bondages? And are there not many bondages when I incur a new bondage as often as I commit a new sin? And yet another reason as great as this: for say that God’s deliverance be but one, will that one deliverance require but one song? O my soul, it deserves, and therefore requires, I say not a plurality, but an infinity of songs; for there must be some songs to express it, and others to extol it; some songs of “miserere” and others of “magnificat”; some “de profundis,” and others “in excelsis”; some songs of praise, and others of thanksgiving; and though there will be a time when all these songs shall be collected into one, and so collected make the great “Cantieum Canticorum,” yet till that time come there will be need of many songs; and seeing I shall need many, I hope, O God, Thou wilt not see me want, and tie me to one song, but wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. (Sir Richard Baker.)
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go.
A teachable disposition
A teachable disposition is implied by the notable words, “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” We lay great stress on these words. It is manifest that the eye of God can guide none but those who are diligently observing the lightest indications of His will. And the following verse contains a warning to them who are of an opposite disposition, who will yield only to harsh measures and severe discipline. A contrast is intended between those who would be guided by the eye, and those who required the bit and bridle. It is as much as to say--you have heard of those who are so blessed as to be led by God, even such as by watching His countenance catch from it the least signs of His will. Be not ye, then, careless and stubborn, resembling those beasts who need the rein and the muzzle, and whom nothing but force will keep in the right path. But let us consider the first of these expressions, “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Now this supposes great attentiveness on the part of those who are led, great desire to know the will of their Guide. See an affectionate child; he will gather his father’s will not merely from his actual words, but from looks, tones, gestures; and when he cannot do much more than guess what that will is, he will act on what is likely, rather than excuse himself by the want of more distinct information. Now this is the disposition which God here approves. The party whom He would guide with His eye must be one who will search out the slightest hints, the briefest intimations, and will not demand in every case express categorical instructions. The Bible seems to be largely constructed on the principle that God would guide His Church with His eye, truths being often intimated rather than alarmed, left to be discerned by the attention, and not exposed to every cursory observer. Now apply this--
I. To some subjects on which we admit that full directions, plain commands, are not given in scripture. To infant baptism, for example. From Christ’s receiving of little children surely we may gather that it is the Lord’s will that we should receive them thus into His kingdom. And to the observance of Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. And to Episcopacy as a form of Church government. Are there not hints, and indirect evidences on all these points which, while not sufficient for the hard, dogmatical temper--the worst in which we can read the Bible--are yet to him who desires above all things to do his Lord’s will, sufficient to determine his judgment and to guide his conduct? Those who will yield to nothing but mathematical demonstrations may be likened to animals who must be ruled by bridle and bit. There is in Scripture much that is adapted for the management of the restive and stubborn; but its general character is that of a document designed for the docile and meek. Hence we shall miss much of its instruction if we yield only to the hand and will not follow the eye.
II. To the truth of a particular providence. Some deny, some ridicule, such a doctrine. It is easy to pour contempt upon it, and some of its advocates have, by their extravagance, almost justified such ridicule. But what is God’s guiding us with His eye, but His indicating to us His will by means of the providential events, and these often the most common and ordinary, of our daily lives? There are times in almost every man’s history at which he owns the workings of God, but if we believe in an universal Providence, and will be on the look-out for God’s hand and will, we shall find in the events of everyday life as convincing proofs of the Divine working as though life were a series of miracles. He who is always noting the Divine providence will grow so used to its workings, as to be able, in a measure, to prepare for the future from what he has marked in the past and in the present. But this promise supposes us to be looking at the eye which is to guide us. It is not enough that that eye be fixed on us; our own eye must also be fixed on God: and it is only, so to speak, when the two eyes meet that we can gather instruction as to the way we should take. If God promised to guide us with His voice, we might not need to be so watchful. But we must be so if He is to guide us with His eye. We must be ever on the watch for the intimations of His will. If we are not we oblige Him to use harsh measures, and to compel our attention by something startling and severe. Much has been said about the language of the eye. Think for a moment of the look which our Lord cast upon Peter, and how much that said to him, and what an effect it had upon him. There are striking and startling events of God’s providence, and they are His voice, but there are noiseless and more common ones and these are the glances of His eye. The former are as the shoutings of a foe to drive us from the wrong path, the latter as the leadings of a friend. And God desires to direct us by these rather than by the others. If He have recourse to stern methods it is only because gentler ones have failed. God doth not afflict willingly, but, alas! men are “born like the wild ass’s colt,” and a mere look will not tame them. Let us refuse to be guided by the eye, and it will be needful to be curbed by the hand. But even the glance of the eye may be terrible. The wicked at last will pray that the rocks and hills may fall upon them and hide them from its glance. Let us not so live that at the last it shall be lit up with anger, when now it seeks to guide us by its love. (M. Melvill, B. D.)
I will guide thee with Mine eye:--
Guidance by the eye
Life is often called a journey; and with good reason. We set out with the freshness of youth; we pass the seasons like milestones on the road; and we are generally weary enough when we reach our journey’s end. Every morning we enter as completely on the unknown as any traveller in an unexplored region; and, moreover, we are hastening to another country. We cannot wonder, therefore, at the universal longing for guidance. If we had merely to conduct the affairs of the present life, so as to make the best of it, and bring ourselves safely to the end of it, we should still desire a wisdom above our own to direct us. How much more, then, when another life comes in question, one for which this is merely a preparation! Every thought we think, every act we perform, should, with us, be determined not by the laws of this world, or only so far determined by the laws of this world as these are in accordance with those of that kingdom to which we belong. It is clear, then, that we, of all men, need guidance from our Leader above. And this guidance, so earnestly desired by us, so greatly needed by us, is promised. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” The idea conveyed would be one most familiar to David, as an Eastern monarch. As he sat in state, he was surrounded by a number of servants eager to do his bidding. Their eyes were constantly fixed on him; and when he wanted this or the other service done, there was scarcely need for him to speak. Each knew his post; the eye of each servant was dutifully fixed on his lord; and at a nod, or a sign, a turn of the eye, he flew to do the required service.
I. what this guidance by the eye implies on God’s part.
1. That His eye will always be upon us. This fact has, naturally, two sides to it: fear and dread for those whose lives are an act of rebellion against God, peace and comfort for those who love God, and whose wish it is to keep near His side through the dangers and perplexities of this troubled life.
2. That He will never expect a service on our part without a bidding on His part.
II. what this guiding by the eye of God implies on our part.
1. That our eyes, our minds, our hearts, should be constantly fixed on God. We are perplexed as to the right way, but why? Have our eyes never wandered from God? May not He have been plainly telling us the way when our eyes were earthward instead of heavenward? and so, may we not, by our forgetfulness of Him, have missed the one sign, the one clue which would have made all our way plain?
2. But after all, you will say, we are but dealing in figures still. What, then, apart from figures, does this guidance by the eye of God practically mean?
(1) Guidance from a distance. Tim time was, as you know, when God led His people by the hand. They saw the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, and they heard His voice in dreams and visions. But those times are passed. We are no longer led by the hand, in that sense; but guided, as from a distance, by the eye.
(2) Guidance by the slightest signs and indications. Signs were all that the servant had to act upon who was guided by the eye of his lord; and since God has told us that He will guide us by His eye, by signs, which will require intelligence and thought on our part to interpret. God now treats us as men: we are no longer to be led by the hand, but guided by the eye. But when we pray for guidance, and wait in vain for an answer to our prayers, have we always remembered this? We pray that the way may be made quite plain, hedged up, as it were, so that there can be no room for doubt for us. We mean, in other words, that without the care and responsibility of choice, we should like the road to be made as clear to us as it is to the horse by the man who is riding him; and because this is not done for us, we say that God does not hear our prayers.
3. What are the signs by which God chooses to guide us His people now? They are, for the most part, undoubtedly, to be gathered from the study of His Word, and, above all, from imbibing His Spirit. I believe that a sincere Christian may take the events of life as signs from the eye of God; but he must do so with great care. Before a man is justified in taking any event or occurrence as a sign from God, he must be sure of three things:--
(1) That he has asked for guidance.
(2) That he has used his own intelligence and common-sense as far as it will go.
(3) That he still needs guidance, i.e. that he is not merely looking for what he may persuade his conscience is a sign, in order that he may escape from some clear command of duty.
III. the guidance mentioned in our text is, in a sense, optional on our part, though there is, of course, also a sense in which guidance by God is inevitable for all men. God offers us His love. He is anxious that we should look to Him as our Father. His will is that in every event of our life we should see a token of His love and care, a sign from His eye; but, if we will not do this, if we will have none of His reproof, if, instead of trusting Him, we rebel and murmur, then those very events which might have been signs to us of Fatherly care, will become as galling bits in our mouths, forcing us against our will. They will be as bridles over our heads, not guiding us where we would gladly go, but dragging us along the paths of just retribution. Can we hesitate which guidance we will accept, the guidance of law or of love, the guidance of brute or of children? (W. F. Herbert.)
Guidance by God’s eye
Human life is a most hazardous journey. It lies through difficult regions. Youth travels in “slippery places.” Maturity is beset with snares. Age has its peculiar dangers. Our steps are dogged by enemies and surrounded with perils. This being so, the text is rich with encouragement and consolation. God guides us with the eye of--
I. divine foreknowledge. The future is as plain to Him as the past to us, and He has ordained all in love.
II. constant watchfulness.
1. Direct. He never: loses sight of any one. No individual is missed in the crowd. No need, no trouble, and no sin can escape His eye.
2. Unceasing. He is never weary of looking down upon His people. Though He has seen frequent failure, the riches Of His long-suffering are not exhausted. Though He may have seen in us a sinful heart, an unwilling spirit, an unrestrained temper, a dissatisfied mind, a wandering path, a miserable service--a faithless discipleship, yet He watches over us still.
III. loving sympathy. The master when he parts with a trusty apprentice does not forget him. He follows him with interest and affection all through his after life. His eye is upon him. The young man knows this, and it is one of the incentives to uprightness, and of his restraints from vice. In some sense the master guides him by his eye. In some feeble measure this represents our relation to our heavenly Father. He promises to guide us by His eye. We are to live, saying in our hearts, “Thou God seest me.” We are to “endure as seeing Him who is invisible.” (F. W. Goadby, M. A.)
The guiding glance
This seems rather a strange kind of promise to make, as we read it first; but when we begin to think over it, it does not seem quite so strange, for I am sure you know very well how to be guided with the eye. When you are doing something you are not quite sure about, and you look up at father, you can tell in a minute, can you not, by the look in his eye, whether he thinks you are doing right or not? So, you see, there are a thousand ways in which one can guide another by a glance of the eye, for the eye can speak as well as the tongue; it can speak of joy or fear, of pleasure or pain; it can encourage and it can threaten; it can whisper love or flash anger. The eye is a wonderful guide. But can we see God’s eye? No; not just as I can see yours and you mine: but the text means that God will guide us by little things and in gentle ways, if we are willing to be guided and won’t be stubborn like the mule. Thus by little things, and gently, would He guide us. Shouldn’t we try, then, to understand these glances of God’s eye, and what they mean, better and better, every day? How can we do that? There is but one way--by praying often; for when we pray, we are very near to God, and you know, the nearer you get to a person, and the oftener you get close to him, the better you begin to understand him--you can tell better and better what he means by every look. It is the same with God. If you would understand Him when He wants to guide you with His eye, you must often draw very near to Him by prayer. (J. Reid Howatt.)
Men under the Divine government
I. The way in which all men should be controlled by God. “I will instruct thee and guide thee with Mine eye.” This implies that men should be controlled--
1. Intelligently. For His “eye” to guide us we must have the power to watch and interpret it. God guides planets by His arm, brutes by blind impulse, intelligences by His look. How much meaning there often is in the human eye!--more than the richest vocabulary can express! How significant the look of God!
2. Readily. The mere look of God should be enough. We should not wait for words, not for whispers, still less for thunders. The attitude of the soul should be, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? . . . :Here am I; send me.”
3. Constantly. The eye of God is everywhere.
II. The way in which SOME men ARE controlled by God. “Be not as the horse,” etc. These words imply that some men under the control of God act--
1. Irrationally. “Like the horse and the mule they have no understanding”--that is, no understanding as to the right way of life.
2. Fractiously. “Whose mouth must be held in,” etc. Thus it is with wicked men; they oppose God; they are determined to have their own way, But God holds them in by force.
3. Dangerously. “Lest they come near unto thee.” Wicked men are dangerous; they would ruin the world if God did not rein them in. (Homilist.)
The guiding eye
I. this assurance of divine counsel and guidance rests on the conviction of God’s nearness to us. So near is He that He can guide us with His eye. This truth is constantly asserted, but it is impossible for us to conceive how the eye of God is upon each individual amongst the millions of mankind. The conception is too great and high for us, for in and all around us are of but limited powers. Science comes to aid our faith here. The microscope shows us the myriad animalculae in each drop of water, but all perfect. To God, therefore, nothing is small. He is absolutely unlimited in faculty. And when we add on the idea that the nature of God is love, then we are led to think of each one being reflected in Him, not as on an impassive and unfeeling mirror, but as on the heart of God, who is love Say not, it is too good to be true. You need never be afraid of your conceptions of God outreaching the reality. They are more likely to fall short. And the thought of God’s omniscience is not terrible to us except when we sin. And when we sin, the knowledge of the love we have grieved is the mightiest power to reclaim and restore us. For no earthly sorrow equals in intensity the sorrow of God over our sin.
II. this divine knowledge leads to counsel, to guidance of our life. Where love is knowledge cannot be passive: it must serve its object. And so the parents’ love and knowledge finds expression in the training of the home, or in the letters of loving counsel sent to the child. And it is so with God. (W. G. Horder.)
The guidance of the eye
We have many organs, but none so expressive as the eye; many languages, but none so eloquent as that of looks. But what they say can only be interpreted by affection. We guide strangers by the directing finger or the spoken word, and servants by commands, but friends by the eye. And these understand. Therefore this promise assures us that we are not servants, but friends. Of old God spake by Urim and Thummim; but now by His eye. And it is our fault, our wayward will, that hinders our being thus guided. But as rational and as redeemed men, the guiding invitation of the eye should suffice to rule us. And how gracious of our God to adopt this method with us. The Gospel is a guiding of us with the eye; our whole spiritual life is ruled and shaped by love. But, remember, if any will not be thus guided, God will hold them in with bit and bridle. “If you will be as beasts before Him, He will deal with you as with beasts:” the cold, sharp bit will be thrust between your teeth, and the lash not spared. (S. Cox, D. D.)
I will guide thee with Mine eye
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back,” is the pithy sentence of the Book of Proverbs. It describes the method by which God distinctly seeks not to rule us, if He can help it, but which we are constantly compelling Him to employ by wilful and determined sin. It is a deep pain to a wise and generous man to govern children or guide the State by fear. “I will have no state of siege. Any one can rule in a state of siege,” said Cavour. How earnestly great teachers--men with the lofty faculty of head-masters like Dr. Arnold--strive to establish a nobler chain of influences than terror can generate, and to bring warm, generous young hearts into such vivid sympathy with their own natures that they can guide them with the eye. It is the principle of our Lord’s words. “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.”
I. God is the instructor and guide of men. He is no Epicurean God, careless of the interests and concerns of men, but the God whose care for the world brought Him to live in it that He might share its burden and its pain. It is essential that we should understand that God cannot leave men unruled. He cannot surrender the powers of life to be wielded at will by sensual and malignant hearts. A fool’s paradise, a knave’s, a demon’s--what sort of a world were that for any man to dwell in? Suicide then would be the queen of the arts, as it was once in the Roman Paradise, of which Virgil and Horace dreamed. No, God the Ruler, responsible for the universe He has made to suffer or to be blessed, appoints and holds the limits beyond which freedom shall not pass in defiance. His hand is on the most daring rebel, compelling him to range within bounds.
II. the moral condition of various men and classes with regard to the rule of God.
1. There are the utterly godless; men who care for no restraint, who ask, “Who is the Lord, that?” etc. Often they seem to escape the eye and hand of God. But it is not so. A hard bar meets them at every turn, a check at every breath. God rules them with a rod of iron. Blind to the glance of His eye, they must writhe under the pressure of His hand.
2. The indolent among His own children--hearts sluggish and lazy, that will not rise up to the sympathy of friends. They will not reject God. They know already that there is no blessing which is really worth anything but God’s. They would weep bitterly, and feel that life was utterly impoverished, if God’s presence were gone from it, and they were just left to make the best of a world that they love too well. But they will not risk too much in seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. One eye is always on the world, if the other is on God. But they have to be driven in the way which they say they love, and this at a cost of pain to them and patience to Him, which God only knows. And what are the instruments?
1. Adversity. See how He dealt with Jacob. God kept him always in sorrow as a means of keeping him near to Himself. “I have lost my health,” cried one to a minister--one who knew well that her health had not been nobly used. “Take care that you do not lose your sickness too,” was the answer. It went home, and led her to turn to God.
2. The prison of circumstance. Many are bound as with iron bands to irksome, wearisome duties; but wrestle as they may, the bonds hold. They must work on or starve. And they do work on, but loveless, joyless; because they must, not because they would. It is God’s school of compulsory discipline.
3. Inward terrors. God can speak to the soul when none hears. Out of the deep silence a voice may break to daunt and humble us, to make all mere possession worthless, and set us face to face with God.
4. Death. Many a child of God lives in almost slavish fear of dying. And God keeps the terror before them, that He may hold them by its chain, as they will not be held by the bands of His love. Multitudes are sobered and restrained by this fear, servile though it be.
III. those is whom the Lord finds full sympathy, and sees the end of His culture fulfilled. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” The eye indicates the desire, the lips the command, the band compels. Those who know the language of the eye have mastered the language of the soul.
1. It implies sympathy.
2. Vigilant duty.
3. Perfect delight. To be guided by the eye we must love supremely Him who guides. And as the fruit of this the light of God’s countenance shines oil us evermore. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I. the place of guidance.
1. The place of forgiveness.
2. The place of confession.
3. The place of prayer and of communion.
4. The place of personal appropriation of the presence of Jesus.
II. the process of divine guidance.
1. The exterior process.
(2) The Word of God.
(3) The Holy Spirit.
(4) The outward providences of God.
2. The interior process.
(1) Map out the whole circumstances in the presence of God simply, as far as you know them.
(2) Bring your will while it is yet in a fluid condition, if I may so speak, and place it before God, that He may mould it and direct it before it is solidified.
(3) There must be a deep detaching of your affections in the matter, by the power of the Holy Spirit; your affections must be untwined, ready to twine round whatever God tells you is His will.
(4) Then bring all the materials naturally found for forming a judgment, and spread them out in the presence of God.
(5) After thus yielding your will, after detaching your affections, after preparing an altar of sacrifice by bringing all the materials for forming f judgment, and after laying yourselves upon it, what next? Wait. Scarcely a Christian dare do it. And I venture to say this is why so few hear the voice of God. We all have the written Word, but He speaks behind it, as well as through it. (C. A. Fox.)
The wonderful guide
Now, if we start in the journey of life without a guide, we shall be sure to go astray and wander from the right path. We shall find many guides offering their services, but who will only lead us on to ruin. We are better without them. The only safe guide, on whom we may always rely with confidence, is Jesus our Saviour. It is He who says so tenderly in our text, “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” What wonderful power there is in the eye. How much it can say. Jesus has three things that He makes use of in guiding His people--
I. he has a wonderful eye. The eye is the emblem of knowledge, and the Bible tells us that “the eye of the Lord is in every place, beholding,” etc. This wonderful eye that takes all things in shows the perfect knowledge of Jesus. It is important for a guide to have a clear and proper knowledge of everything the persons he is guiding will need in their journey. Suppose you start on a journey. At night it becomes very cold; but your guide has provided no warm clothing, and made no preparations for a fire, then how much suffering there will be! Or suppose there is a river to be crossed, and you have no means of crossing it, what trouble that will cause! But if we take Jesus for our Guide in the journey of life which is before us, we need fear none of these things. “He seeth the end from the beginning.” He knows everything that we can need through the whole course of our journey; His wonderful eye takes in at a glance the guidance which His people need; and He leads them in the right way.
II. Jesus has a wonderful hand. The hand represents power. He makes use of His eye and His hand, His knowledge and His power, to guide and help His people.
III. he has a wonderful book. In foreign travel a guide-book is indispensable. It tells us all the things we want to know on our journey. So is the Bible to us poor lost sinners; and chief of all, because it guides us to Jesus. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The leading of God
What a frail thread of guidance for a human soul! A glance of God’s eye--it seems a trivial thing. Why not a pressure of God’s hand, a support of God’s arm, a binding of God’s golden chain? Does not He guide other things much more imperatively? Has he not bound the stars with an iron belt of law? They cannot, if they would, transgress. But my soul has no belt around it. It can break away if it will; it has broken away many times. It has only the glance of God’s eye, not the driving of His hand; only His direction, not His force, to guide. Wherefore is it so? Is not my soul of more value than many stars? Is it not a deeper note in the music of existence than all the harmony of the orbs of light? Why has it merely the guidance of the eye? Just because it is meant to be a deeper harmony. What is it that makes thy life an intenser note than the music of the stars? Is it not just the fact that thou art free, just the circumstance that there is no iron belt around thee? What is this marvellous thing thou callest thy will? Wherein does its glory differ from the glory which the heavens declare? Is it not just in this, that thou art not compelled to come in? There is a guidance for thee, but it is not a star’s guidance; it is a guidance of the eye. It is the only guiding which a will can get without dying. The rivers of Paradise run in their courses because they cannot get away. Not thus would He make thy paradise, oh my soul! He would surround Himself with rivals in thy heart. He would give thy steps room to stray. He would suffer thee to be led into temptation. He would show thee the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. He would be loved after experience; He would be, not the inevitable, but the chosen, one. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding.
Bit and bridle: how to escape them
I. A privilege to be sought.
1. This guidance is very full in its nature.
(1) God is prepared to give you an inward understanding of spiritual things; for His instruction is intensely effectual upon the mind.
(2) God adds the precept to the doctrine, and instructs us in both.
(3) Here is fellowship as well as instruction; for the guide goes with the traveller, and thus will God, in the process of our instruction, give us fellowship with Himself.
2. This teaching is divine in its source. Our Lord may instruct us by men who are taught of Himself; but, after all, the best of His servants cannot teach us anything profitably except the Lord Himself teaches by them and through them. What a wonderful condescension it is that the Lord should become a teacher!
3. Observe how wonderfully personal is this promised guidance. The Infinite focusses Himself upon the insignificant!
4. This teaching is delightfully tender.
5. This teaching is constant.
II. A character to be avoided.
1. We are not to imitate creatures of which we are the superiors. One said, in my hearing, as an excuse for a passionate speech, “I could not help it. If you tread on a worm it will turn.” Is a worm to be the example for a saint?
2. We must mind that we do not imitate creatures to whom we are so near akin. A large part of us is animal, and its tendency is to drag down that part which is more than angelic. How abject, and yet how august is man! Brother go the worm, and yet akin to Deity. Immortal and yea a child of dust. Be ye not the prey of your lower natures.
3. We are not to imitate creatures devoid of reason. Be sensitive to the Spirit of God. “Give me understanding and I shall keep Thy law.”
III. As infliction to be escaped. DO not drive your Saviour to be stern with you. Do not choose the way of hardness--the brutish way. “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding,” for then you will become sad, gloomy, dull, stupid, and full of disquietude.
IV. A freedom to be attained. There are children of God who wear no bit or bridle: the Lord has loosed their bonds. To them obedience is delight: they keep His commands with their whole heart. The Son has made them free, and they are free indeed.
1. They are free, because they are in touch with God. God’s will is their will. They answer to the Lord as the echo to the voice.
2. Because tutored.
3. Because always trusting.
4. Because tender. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
That reason is an insufficient guide
That the will of man stands in need of restraint and control is an acknowledged truth: but it has been of late discovered that reason is all-sufficient in itself; that it wants no spur to stimulate, or curb to check it; but that, if left to take its own course, it is liable to no error--it never fails--it never injures others, or itself. Before this new doctrine be admitted, it must be subjected to the test of time and trial;--it must, like all other theories, be reduced to practice. What is religion, but the guide of reason and the controller of the will? What is law, but the restraint of individual will for the good of all? What is education, but the art of forming the will to obedience, of correcting its errors, and training it to virtue?
I. religion cheeks the vices, follies, and passions of mankind, by inculcating a belief that there is a Superior Power which created us, such as we are;--that set good and evil before us, for our free will to choose; but promised a reward for the one, and a punishment for the other. All religion, therefore, stands upon the supposition that reason left to itself is insufficient to direct us;--for if we should all choose the good of our own accord, reward and punishment must be superfluous: even false religion supposes this; nay, even a religion in the hands of the magistrate,--a political religion,--the avowed invention of man,--the product of reason itself, imputes error to reason, and preaches up the necessity of control.
II. The very existence of LAW in the world is a testimony of the universal suffrage of mankind against the power of reason. If all men acted right of their own accord there would be no need of law to restrain them.
III. education, though applied first to the individual, is the last resource of society. Men form themselves into society, from their mutual fears, for mutual protection. Their notions of a Deity may be derived from tradition or revelation. But, in the ordinary course of things, both religion and law exist before education. It is from reflection that men begin to perceive that the rising generation may be trained to habits suitable to the society of which they are to become members; and if education could act in proportion to its design, it would prevent the commission of those crimes which the law must punish.
IV. but do we really hope to stem the torrent by religion, law, and education? Yes--if they have not lost their effect upon the mind of man. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.
The portion of the righteous and the wicked contrasted
Note the contrast in these words. The wicked, and those who trust in the Lord. And the “many sorrows” of the one, with the encompassing mercy of the other. The psalmist, therefore, defines wickedness as a not trusting in the Lord. This certainly is not the description that would be generally given of a wicked person. You think it too mild to give of a wicked person, simply to affirm in respect of such an one, that he is a man who places no trust in God; and yet more attentive examination will serve to illustrate that scarcely could there be a more emphatic or a more melancholy description to give of a wicked man, than to declare of him that he is the exact opposite of one who puts trust in God. Why, only consider how want of trust in God leads necessarily to all that is depraved and vicious in practice. The man who is devoid of such trust has no defence left to keep him from any one species of wickedness. What is it but trust in God--trust in His character--trust in His promises--trust in His threatenings, which lies at the foundation of all that is morally excellent? Do away with this trust, and there seems to be no safeguard left to hinder from wickedness, or allure to piety. Let this trust be wanting, and where is the motive remaining, whether to animate for duty, or to warn from iniquity? And so if we were set to delineate the moral character of the righteous, we should be tempted to say far more than that he is simply one who puts his trust in God. But because this is the real essence of his character, the root from which springs all else that is good, therefore it is after all the best description that could be given. And whilst the text tells of “many sorrows” that shall be to the wicked, it does not put “joys” as the distinguishing lot of the righteous in opposition to those sorrows. But it tells of “mercy:” not of joy. Let us now seek to vindicate the assertions of the text.
I. As to the wicked. Is it true that many sorrows shall be to them? It often does not seem so, but the very reverse. But wherever a man reposes his main confidence, there he rests the foundation of his peace. But as the wicked does not trust in the Lord, he must be dependent on some created source, and all such are transient and perishable. No man can satisfy the desires of the soul with anything short of God. You cannot centre your affections on any created thing. Sorrow, then, must at length be inherited by the wicked. And they accompany him now; follow him into the recesses of his soul, where conscience will speak and will be heard, and what the soul has perpetually to hear is its condemning voice. There we see how it is that many sorrows shall be to the wicked.
II. As to the righteous. Mercy shall compass him about. Mercy, that is, pity and love. He needs both, for he is a transgressor, and prone to err. Therefore he needs not only love, but pity. And they are his. They are the mercy which environ him round. Who, then, would not rather choose his portion? (R. Bickersteth, B. A.)
The sorrows of the wicked
I. Was are the wicked? Describe the character of the ungodly--
1. By their dislike to God, and contempt of His authority.
2. By their practical violation of the Divine law.
3. By their hatred of the righteous.
4. By their unregenerate nature.
II. what are the sorrows of the wicked?
1. Disappointment (Ecclesiastes 2:4; Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:26).
2. Remorse (Matthew 27:4-40.27.5; Psalms 7:16).
4. The sorrows of hell. (R. Scott.)
Mercy for those who trust in the Lord
This is most encouraging and consolatory. It refers to--
1. The supplies with which God will favour us. What is it but mercy that feeds, clothes, and provides for us according to our several necessities? We have no claim to any of these blessings on the ground of human merit. God does not feed us because we deserve this grace: it is His mercy compassing us about.
2. The compassionate regard which God exercises toward us. When we consider our manifest defects, our imperfections, our infirmities, what reason have we to fear that God should enter into judgment with us!
3. The defence with which God will surround His people. Our enemies may beset us on every side, but mercy shall compass us about: Job; Daniel. (R. Scott.)
The righteous encompassed by mercy
God’s mercies are always more numerous than we see them. We choose to call one tiring or another a benefit and a blessing because it happens to fit our desires, or, at least, our ideas of what a blessing ought to be. But we are too insensible, too short-sighted, to see all the stars of God’s goodness in the sky. Only here and there do we perceive a point of light, a larger or a lesser sun or planet. But had we finer spiritual vision, we should perceive the innumerable points of light in what are now to us but the dark interstellar spaces. The highly-sensitized plate of the astronomical photographer reveals a countless multitude of stars where a field-glass, or even a telescope, fails to discover aught but blank space. We have not gone so far yet in our spiritual perceptions--we are not yet so spiritually sensitized--as to see our sky a blaze of light. But each new revelation, each new star or group of stars, as it appears above our horizon, ought to be an evidence that the dark is not darkness, but light unperceived. The sky of life is not merely studded with mercies. It is itself mercy. (P. Du Bois.)
Shout for joy, all ye that are upright of heart.
How we rejoice in the Lord
1. When our joy is a fruit of the Spirit of the Lord (Galatians 5:22).
2. When it looketh to God and acknowledgeth Him the true God, and in His Son whom He hath sent, His God reconciled, appeased, and well pleased (Romans 5:1). Our prophet here calls the righteous to rejoice upon this ground. When a man rejoiceth in God’s favour, forgiving sin, and in fellowship with God and Jesus Christ, then he rejoiceth in the Lord.
3. When it respecteth the special pledges of God’s favour, as the works of regeneration, the happy change we find in ourselves, the shining and beautiful graces of God’s Holy Spirit, with the daily increase of them: thus to rejoice in the Lord’s image renewed, is to rejoice in the Lord Himself.
4. When our joy is set upon God’s ordinances and Word, in which the Lord revealeth Himself, and communicateth Himself more freely unto us, when in them we get a faster hold of God, and grow up into further fellowship with Him, especially when His gracious promises feed our hearts, and we rejoice in His truth and faithfulness, making them good not only to others, but also to our own selves.
5. When we rejoice in the hope of eternal glory, both in soul and body (Romans 5:3). Hoping and expecting and rejoicing that we shall fully enjoy Him as He is, and drink freely of that water of life, which we have already tasted. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
All ye that are upright in heart.--
Upright in heart
If you carry a line from the circumference, to the circumference again, as a diameter, it passes the centre, it flows from the centre, it looks to the centre both ways. God is the centre; the lines above and the lines below still respect and regard the centre; whether I do any action honest in the sight of men, or any action acceptable to God, whether I do things belonging to this life or to the next, still I must pass all through the centre, and direct all to the glory of God, and keep my heart right, without variation towards Him. For as I do no good action here, merely for the interpretation of good men, though that be one good and justifiable reason of my good actions: so I must do nothing for my salvation hereafter, merely for the love I bear to mine own soul, though that also be one good and justifiable reason of that action; but the primary reason in both, as well the actions that establish a good name, as the actions that establish eternal life, must be the glory of God. (J. Donne, D. D.)
Notes of uprightness
1. That is right which is tried so to be by a right line, and stands in correspondence unto it: the right line is God’s Word, the precepts of the Lord are right (Psalms 19:8), and then the heart is upright, when it is made straight by the Word, and is squared in all things by it. Every man boasts of the rightness and goodness of his heart, that cares but a little for God’s Word.
2. A right line doth ever discover that which is crooked; a good sign of a right heart is to discover, but not without true sorrow, the crookedness and hypocrisy of it, and to labour to correct and reform it (Psalms 119:80). Let my heart be upright in Thy statutes, that I be not ashamed: a right line shames a crooked; crooked legs are ashamed to be seen: when a man fears, and is ashamed of his hypocrisy and crookedness, and ever tendeth to straightness, it is a good note of some rightness of heart.
3. Consider the things which flow from the heart: if they be single and pure, warrantable and right, then a man may know his heart is upright; for such as the fruit is, such is the tree; if thou feedest on forbidden fruit, thou art a bad tree, and thy heart far from uprightness; an upright heart suffereth not rotten speeches in the mouth, idleness in the hand, injustice in the life, drunkenness in the brain, and disorder in the course.
4. Consider the ends and aims of our actions; the upright heart aimeth directly at God’s glory in all things, but the crooked heart pro-poundeth ever some crooked end and sinister respect unto good actions; as many come to church, get knowledge, and profess religion for vain glory and vain ends; some thrust among godly persons, and into good company, not because they are good or would be good, but because they would be thought so.
5. Consider if thy heart be the same in private as it would be thought in public. Abraham walked in uprightness before God according to the commandment (Genesis 17:1), how did he reform his house, teach his family, instruct his servants, and take God with him in providing a wife for Isaac, and in all things (Genesis 24:63). Isaac was the same in the field as he was in the house; he went out into the field to pray. Daniel was the same after the dangerous law that he was before, he opened his windows thrice a day as he was accustomed. So upright was Paul in his whole course, as he knew nothing by himself’(1 Corinthians 4:4). (T. Taylor, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 32". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent