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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 38

Verses 1-22


Psalms 38:18

There can be no real repentance, and, therefore, no blessed forgiveness, unless we attain to two things: a knowledge of what sin is how serious, how full of peril, how displeasing to God, how exceeding sinful; and a knowledge of what we are ourselves a recognition in the full light of consciousness of our own lives and our own deeds. But a yet further step is necessary, which is to weld together these two convictions, and to see that our own lives, our deeds, our thoughts, make us sinners before God, without subterfuge and without excuse. It is true of millions may it not be true of us? that, while we hate sin in the abstract, while we confess, in a vague collective way, that 'we have offended against God's holy laws,' yet we do not condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:17-24 ).

I. How is it, then, that men do not connect together their intimate knowledge of themselves and their theoretical hatred of sin? There are various ways in which men try to escape their own detection. There is:

( a ) The sorcery of words. Men call sins, which they see others commit, by their true names; they call their own sins by false and simple names. What is pride in others is in themselves proper spirit; what is slander in others is in themselves moral indignation; what is cheating in others is in themselves legitimate profit; what is in others an immoral acquiescence is in themselves a practical common sense; what is in others licence is in themselves Christian liberty.

( b ) Men will hardly ever look at their own actual deeds in connexion with their own true motives. They live two lives. One is their habitual round of conduct, which is often base, mean, and unworthy. The other is their traditional homage to righteousness, which is upright and respectable. That imaginative life they choose to take for their true life. Their lives are like a stately temple front, its entablature enriched with a pious inscription. Alas! Enter beyond the vestibule, and in some inmost shrine, there, as they sit shrouded, and almost incognito, each man to himself, there, in dark, secret chambers, all the bad, impure, and dishonourable work of their lives is done!

( c ) The freely condemning every other sin but the one to which they are themselves addicted. A man may be a libertine in heart and life, and yet, corrupt as he is or has been, he walks with head erect, and is very proud of himself, because he is such 'a man of honour'. Or, it may be, a man is earning his living as a professional liar, and living in an envenomed atmosphere of gossip; and yet he may go regularly to church, and take himself for a Christian, because, perhaps, he feels a contempt for avarice. Or he may be earning his bread by means dishonest and immoral; by trades that ruin men, body and soul; by houses in which the poor are huddled together like swine; and yet he may speak of sensuality with the fiercest denunciation. It is thus a matter of primary importance, by self-examination, to see that there are no personal sins for which we make an exception; no Commandments which, for ourselves only, we strike out of the Decalogue.

II. What should be our protection against these specious thoughts of our own hearts and our own counsel? God has not left you unshielded. He has assigned the soul of man to the special guardianship of those two pure and strong Archangels of our being: Duty, that angel so stern and yet so beautiful, and Conscience, that aboriginal vicar of Christ, with a voice now like the blast of a trumpet, now thrilling, and still, and small. A man who, from his youth upward, has, by the grace of God, committed himself to the care of these two, such a man is safe.

III. If we should receive the grace of Christ, we must come as true penitents; if otherwise, we shall not be forgiven. We must not only see that sin is hateful; we must not only confess, 'Thus and thus have I done,' but we must see that we individually and specifically are sinners, and that without excuse. It is only to the helpless who feel themselves to be helpless that Christ comes. To the blind, who say, We see'; to the lepers, who cry, 'We are clean'; to the sinners, who say, 'We have no sin' (and therefore their sin remaineth), Christ comes not.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 38". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.