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The heavens declare the glory of God.
The glory of God
Nature exists not for a merely natural, but for a moral end; not for what it is, but for what it says or declares.
I. What nature tells us to think of God.
1. Nature reveals God. The race as a whole have heard the declaration of His eternal power and Godhead. In proportion as they have heard, adoring, they have risen in the scale of manhood.
2. Nature declares the knowledge and power of God. The marks of mathematical and geometric law in nature are conspicuous. The more we explore the different departments of nature, the more we find it pervaded by strict arithmetical and dynamic laws. We meet thought everywhere. The race of man, as a whole, has heard, and to some extent understood, the testimony of nature to infinite thought and power.
3. Nature declares that God is just and good. This has been called in question. Nature says that every natural law, if obeyed, tends to happiness. Nature’s laws are benevolent, Men have not fully appreciated this, for one reason, because they have so commonly broken those laws and have suffered. But does nature in any wise speak of the Divine mercy? This question has often been wrongly answered. Listen attentively, and you will hear nature say that God is merciful. It is a striking fact that very many, if not all, physical penalties can be mitigated, if not relieved, by some counter law, some curious side-process or arrangement. God has so made nature as practically to encourage self-sacrifice for each other. Whenever men take pains for each other, to help each other over their faults and their consequences, there is an illustration, however faint, of the Divine principle of mercy. Mercy is the policy of the Divine government; it is the character of God Himself.
II. What God thinks of nature.
1. God looks upon nature as a basis of language. Let the heavenly orbs be for signs. Signs are vehicles of ideas. Let them say something; let them be words. The universe is God’s telephone, God’s grand signal service system by which He can flash messages from the heights above to the deepest valleys below. The material system is God’s great instrument of conversation.
2. God tells us what to think of this eloquent material system. It is God’s most glorious schoolroom by which to teach us reality,--above all, to teach us self-government, and painstaking for one another. Why are we in such a world? Because we needed to be. We need what we get here. We need that knowledge of ourselves which nature can give. We need to be where we are. We need just the restraints and the liberties, the trials and the triumphs, the joys and the sorrows, the smiles and the tears, the bliss and the anguish of this strange life. And in all, and through all, we need to know Him who placed us here, and is revealing Himself to us in a thousand ways. (Charles Beecher.)
The Biblical conception of nature
The whole of revelation reposes on this broad platform: how God and nature stand to one another. Now, there are two opposite extremes into which our conceptions on this point may fall. We may immerse God in nature; or we may isolate nature from God.
1. We immerse God in nature if we treat nature as itself possessed of properties which are strictly personal; as when, for example, we accustom ourselves to think of it as originating its own processes, as intending its own results, or as conscious of its own plan. Men talk of nature as though it were aiming at certain ends, striving to accomplish them, adapting itself to new conditions, overcoming fresh obstacles, and so forth. The corrective lies in the scriptural idea of creation as an act of will of One who is outside of material being. Scripture is strictly philosophical when it traces all phenomena, all change, ultimately to a will. But will is an attribute of personality; and the Person whose will determines that nature should be what it is must be a Person not Himself included in the nature which He wills shall be. He is God. Again--
2. We may unduly isolate nature as God’s workmanship from God the worker. We do this, e.g., when we conceive of the universe as teaching us nothing of God, being only a whirl of material change without spiritual meaning; or when we represent it as a machine which, being somehow endued with a given stock of force, must go on so long as the force lasts, like a watch that has been once wound up. To separate the work from the worker after this sheer and mechanical fashion may do some harm to science, and it leaves hardly any foothold for religion. Again, the spiritual conception of creation will furnish the corrective. According to it, God is personally separate from and above nature, yet for all that He has put into His handiwork His own thoughts. We may fairly say that both sides of the idea lie in embryo in the solitary phrase, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made.” For the word of any person serves two functions: it is the organ of command, conveying an act of will; it is also the organ of expression, revealing the speaker’s nature. Stupendous conception of primary force! The force of personal will, resident in the Supernatural Being, in the one sole unmade, unborn Person, who is that He is; is, and was, and is to come, the Almighty. The sole cause; sole origin of being; sole efficient factor in the beginning; is this act of volition or self-determination of an Infinite Personal Will. “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” It accords with experience; it satisfies philosophy; not less does it meet the religious necessities of the spirit; for if I am to worship at all, where shall I find a nobler object of worship than the Person who will give being to all beings but Himself? On the other hand, the word of a speaker while it utters his will must no less reflect, consciously or unconsciously, his inner self. It seems to me that in this Biblical conception of nature as the revelation of its Maker we find the common root whence have grown two very dissimilar growths of the ancient and of the modern world. The great fact of the whole ancient world was this, that its multiform religions started from a nature basis. The sun and stars, the reproductive forces of animal and vegetable life, the decay and revival of the year, the wondrous cycle, in short, of cosmic change through which nature accomplishes herself, was the common fact which very early riveted the attention of primitive man, till out of it there grew up in many lands, under many shapes, a system of religious observance everywhere the same in principle. Being whose thoughts these objects revealed, men began to adore the symbol, and to forget the Invisible Person behind it. Easy and rapid was the downward plane to idolatry and polytheism and gross fetish worship. Yet what is worth noting is, that such nature religions would have been impossible had not nature really spoken to unsophisticated men a Divine message, had it not been charged to their souls from the first with Divine ideas. We are far enough removed now from that early stage of human experience. The world is grown aged, and the work of its age is not to worship nature, but to master it. Yet this modern science which leads to the utilisation of physical forces for human needs is not less an outgrowth from the same root. For all our power over nature reposes immediately on our correct reading of natural laws. Observation of naked facts will never put into man’s hand the sceptre of the physical world, Naked facts must lead on to the discovery of law; and law is the Divine idea governing the facts; and when man has discovered and mastered that Divine idea, then he becomes in his degree a divinity on earth, a lord over matter, a maker and disposer in his turn. What does this mean but that we come to read behind phenomena the thought and will of One whom, because He is a personal Spirit as we are, we can comprehend? We reach the secret principles on which He makes, not made merely but is ever making, the world; and when we thus know His mind, or on what lines His will moves, we enter upon a share of His dominion; we fall in with His working plan; we, too, govern by imitating Him. I have cited both ancient nature worship and modern nature study as alike dependent for their possibility upon the same truth of Scripture; this, namely, that nature, being made by God’s Word, speaks to us His thoughts. But if I desired conclusive evidence how insufficient is this revelation of itself to guide men to friendly communion with God, where could I find any more conclusive than is furnished by the history both of ancient nature religions and of modern science! Of the one the tendency was more and more to immerse God in nature, till He was wholly lost in His own handiwork. Of the latter--modern science--the tendency very decidedly is to isolate nature from God, as a wholly separate existence whose relationship to its Author (if any) is at least unknown. This moral revelation, which began with Abraham and culminated in Jesus Christ, admits of being both compared and contrasted with the older nature revelation.
1. The later revelation starts from and builds upon the earlier one. It is not so often recollected as it should be, but once seen it cannot be doubted that underneath every other relationship which the God of the Bible claims to sustain to us as Lawgiver, Father, Redeemer, Promiser, Saviour there lies this broad, original relationship of all--that He is our Creator. That tie to Him, which we share with even the dumb cattle and the dead earth, bears up and justifies all the rest. Man is a portion of the created universe, and its Maker must be his Lord and King.
2. It must be clear that such a revelation as we actually possess in the Bible is only possible if God be (as the Bible teaches) at once above nature, and yet present, self-revealed in nature. First of all, we are ourselves part of the world, and if we are to receive communications that transcend what the world itself can tell us, then He who gives them must stand outside of and above the world. The supernatural is impossible if God be inseparable from nature or be its slave. On the other hand, the actual revelation recorded in the Bible employed nature as its organ. In the revelation of new truth God is constantly found availing Himself of the old creation. Dreams, and visions, and voices to the ear, the thundercloud on Sinai, the cleft sea, dearth and the plague, the vicissitudes of war, conquest, and revolt were all turned into vehicles for teaching saving lessons to mankind. The whole of Bible teaching, too, attaches itself to the parables of nature. Above all, His final revelation of Himself is in the life of a Man, a true natural life resting on the physical basis of a true body, “born of a woman”; so that the highest of all revelations is in appearance the most human, the least supernatural.
3. The voice of the new revelation agrees with the voice of the old. To develop the congruousness of the Divine image in nature with the Divine image in Scripture would take too long; I only suggest it to you. The absolute unity of plan which strict research is daily proving more and more--a unity now known to reach as far as the planets in their spheres--attests that the Creator is one. And Scripture proceeds on the unity of God. (b) Throughout all nature we find a will at work whose method is to bind itself by orderly method and fixed law. This reveals a mind in God intolerant of what is arbitrary, eccentric, or illegal. All is variety, yet all is system. Now, the revelation of the Divine will in Scripture is likewise the revelation of a law, and its chief end is the reduction of moral anarchy to moral order. (c) Again, we are daily learning how patiently, and through what long, slow, even laborious processes God has been pleased to build up His physical universe, as though a thousand years were to Him of no more account than a single day, so long as the results are wrought by growth and evolution, rather than by sudden shocks or interventions. This is God’s way in nature, and it has been His way in grace. (d) Once more, the God of nature avenges the transgression of every physical law by a sentient creature. Scripture discovers precisely the same features in the moral and spiritual rule of God. So far the two revelations walk abreast. Thanks be to God, the Gospel continues its parable where the voice of nature falters and grows mute. Of law, of transgression, of penalty and reward, of life and death, nature has no less to say than the Bible has. But of another law higher than that of penalty, of grace which transcends judgment, of the spiritual law of self-sacrifice, of redemption of life by life, and giving up of the just for the unjust, and forgiveness of sin and regeneration of the lapsed,--the physical universe is wholly, or all but wholly, silent. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
God’s works and Word
Providence is the best schoolmaster. This Psalm leads us, and is designed to lead us, to a contemplation of nature. Not the faintest apprehension appears, lest contradictions may be discovered between the world book and the word book. The sympathy with nature is complete, and not the less so because the poet has been enabled to penetrate the closest of her secrets. “The wisest of men are those who with pious eagerness trace the goings-forth of Jehovah as well in creation as in grace.” Just that is the wisdom here. The study is a reverent study. God is seen everywhere. The lines are saturated with theology. There are, however, other voices of praise. While, doubtless, the heavens are the work of God’s fingers and declare His glory, His Word is yet “more to be desired.” Fascinated as David has been with the contemplation of the Creator’s works, he does not make the blunder of despising the written revelation. Some of the grounds for a conclusion which so exalts the Word above the works.
1. A comparison of the contents of the two revelations. From nature we may learn the existence of an infinite personal God. But is this mighty Author of the universe a friend? There throbs the tremendous interrogation concerning which the heavens make to the eager shepherd boy no answer. With regard to the problems which most deeply affect our welfare, nature only baffles us. The Gospel far surpasses all that nature can be made to teach.
2. Not only in its contents, but in the proclamation of them, is the Word magnified. Consider the instrumentalities selected for the utterance of the Gospel. Angels, the Son of God.
3. Consider by what enforcement of his Word God is magnified. In nature there is no provision for effectively reaching the conscience and moving the will. To apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ, the Spirit has come.
4. Observe the stupendous effects produced, by God’s Word. “Enlightening the eyes.” “rejoicing the heart, making wise the simple,” “converting the soul,” here are effects chiefly wrought by God’s Word. (Hanford A. Edson, D. D.)
The testimony of the works and the Word
Nature is the volume in which the Godhead of the Creator is plainly discoverable. Scripture is the volume in which all may read the Divine will concerning men.
I. Nature’s testimony to the existence of God. Nature is here pictured as comprising the “heavens” and the “firmament,” together with alternating days and nights--these sublime works witnessing for God. David attempts to teach no lesson in astronomy. He imagines an observant and thoughtful man opening his eyes upward, and affirms that what this man beholds proves the presence and power of God. These heavens are forever telling or revealing the presence, power, majesty, supremacy of the Infinite. What he means to say is, that the realm of nature, beautiful in outline, vast in proportions, grand in order and methods of movement, illustrates glorious qualities of being and of character, and that in this creation the good of man and of all sentient beings has been so manifestly sought and secured that God therein is plainly revealed as ever present in power and in proclamation of Himself. Here, then, is not astronomy, but revelation. A scene in which he affirms that the humblest observer may be convinced of God’s existence and glory. These things could not have originated in what has been called a “casual hit of atoms,” they must have had a Creator, and the Creator can be no other than an infinite and eternal God.
II. The revelation of God in Scripture. Looking first at the stellar world, and viewing the splendour of a solar day, David confesses his vision of God is incomplete, and so he affirms the Infinite to come nearer to man than in the stars, and making Himself better known in “the law,” “the testimony,” “the statutes,” “the Commandments,” and in the providences which play around him. The term “law” may refer to the “preceptive portions of Scripture”; “testimonies” may mean doctrines; “statutes,” ordinances and forms of worship; “commandments” are directions to duty; “fear” indicates anxiety to please God; and “judgments” are God’s record or declaration of the results of unforgiven sin. But all these terms may be gathered up as referring to the body of Scripture, revelations which have been made either by voice, or vision, or inspiration in any form. The writer’s purpose was to indicate the excellent properties and purposes of Scripture, including precept, promise, and perfect rules of life. Calling this revelation the “statutes of God,” the idea evidently is of something binding on universal man. Calling it “the fear of the Lord” seems to refer to that filial affection which reigns in a human heart, making man ashamed of sin, and becoming for him a cleansing power. “Judgments of the Lord” is a comprehensive phrase, summing up the substance and object of Scripture.
III. The law, testimony, statutes, commandments, fear, and judgments of the Lord tested. Put them to the test of personal experience. This shall prove whether or no the claim of the Psalmist has warrant in the lives of men. There never was a man who received the law of God into his heart and obeyed it who did not become a “new man,” enriched thereby beyond all measurement or estimate. (Justin E. Twitchell.)
God’s glory in the skies
The immediate outlook upon nature is independent of scientific elaboration. It is unalterable by intellectual mutations and advances; it rests on those permanent relations which hold between the soul of man within and the world without. But the whole stress of the Psalm is laid on that aspect of the natural world which it is the work of science to emphasise and to extricate. What the Psalmist sees is the manifestation of law, of regularity, of reason. There is about it all, as the mighty drama discloses itself, the calmness, the majesty, of rational knowledge. The awful silence in which the tremendous scene proceeds is more eloquent than words. Dumb in the vault, yet filled with voices that toll in our ears, voices that cry without a language, and assure us of that eternal consciousness which possesses the entire round of the heavens, whose rule and line goeth out throughout all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. Universal law acting in silence, with absolute security of rhythm. The mystic eloquence of law. That is the vision which overawes the Psalmist; and is not that the very essence of our scientific presentation of nature? Law acting in silence, that is nature as science discloses it. Silent as it may be, this perfect law, this undeviating order, this calm precision, this infinite regularity of succession, this steady certainty of movement, this unbroken universality, these disciplined forces, this rhythmic harmony, this balance, this precaution, this response of day to night, and night to night, that is intelligence, that is reason, that is consciousness, that is speech! No one can face it in its wholeness, part answering to part, and each to all, without becoming aware of its mystic eloquence. It all speaks, speaks as it works, speaks without a language, speaks without a sound. The Psalmist has but to lift his eyes, and then above it, allied to it, a corresponding world opens out,--a world, too, of law, of certainty, of regularity, of order, no less than the world of nature. Here, too, all is sane, rational, secure, quiet, and sure, as the silent stars in the night. This higher order of life moves along the course set before it, and its laws never flag or fail; no chance confuses it, and no unruly accident disturbs it. This world is the world of consciousness, the world of the moral law, the world of the religious spirit, the world of the fear of the Lord. Laws, statutes, testimonies, commandments,--no physical world could be based on grounds more fixed and uniform and sure. Everywhere precision, everywhere unalterable rigour--that is what delights him. Error, wrong, sin--these may be on his own side, but this does not shake the absolute authority of this reign of law without him. Only, it makes him tremble, lest even unwittingly he may have introduced any quiver of disturbance into this fabric of exquisite and harmonious order. Who can tell how oft he offendeth? “Oh, cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” Can we recover at all for ourselves this mental temper of the Psalmist? This world of which he is speaking is what we name spiritual, religious, supernatural, and as soon as we have touched such names as these we recall something wholly unlike nature, wholly opposed to scientific law and the necessities of reason. Yet veracity, regularity, universality, these are the very notes of the Divine action in both spheres, and in both, therefore, there is the same ground for reason to work upon. Nature will enable us to understand the supernatural. Our faith in Christ Jesus lays large and unfaltering trust in the veracity of human faculties, in the solidity of knowledge, in the reality of an instructed and intelligent experience. Base your belief in Jesus on the convictions that form the ground of your confidence in the stability and reality of life. (Canon Scott Holland.)
The moral law and the starry heavens
“Two things,” said Kant, “fill the soul with awe and wonder: the starry heaven above, and the moral law within.” How many of us have felt this amazement without expressing it! Approach man from a material point of view, and he is utterly insignificant; but view him from a spiritual point of view, and how wonderful is he! That strange faculty within him which witnesses to a law above himself, which speaks to him of the right even when he is yielding to the wrong, which enables him to hold communion with infinite perfection, which gives meaning to such words as “trust,” “duty,” “obedience,” “religion,” that faculty which perpetuates in him the image of his Maker; whence did it come? “Yes,” said Pascal, “man is a worm, but then he is a worm that thinks.” This is exactly the mystery which filled a mind so powerful as that of Kant. To see no mystery in man and his spiritual nature is a sure mark of a shallow and second-rate mind. What is the thought which the contemplation of the heavenly bodies presents to us most prominently? Is it not order or “law”? But how about the spiritual world? Are there laws for mind as well as for body? Is there not an order in moral things which cannot be violated with impunity? The Kingdom of Heaven is a reign of law too. One order alike for the material and the moral. The law of the material world we reach through observation and generalisation; the law of the soul through God’s revelations of Himself to man’s spiritual nature, but both are alike of God, and not two laws but one. How pure, elevating, and ennobling was the writer’s conception of true religion. (J. A. Jacob, M. A.)
God’s works and Word
Every varying mood of nature is an index finger to the power and glory of the Creator. His works lie open beside His Word,--the one a volume of illustrations, the other a book of inspired principles. In the 19th Psalm these double volumes of revelation are bound together. There is both a world book and a word book in the Psalmist’s thought. Both are bearing eternal witness to the Creator.
I. The witness of the heavens. In the clear dry air of the East the heavens shine with a strange brilliancy. To the reverent soul of David, the stars in their courses and the moon in her phases were nightly lessons of wonder and of God. To the Psalmist’s eye the whole firmament was written over, and the whole universe was resonant to his ear with the name of God. And to the eyes of this devout shepherd, this witness of creation to its Creator was continuous. And yet this witness of the heavens is silent. It is their silence which puts such terrible emphasis upon the testimony of the heavens; for silence is the great law of the universe. This witness is also universal in its reach and influence. The stars preach a gospel of Divine law and power, before which worshippers of all races and generations have kneeled in reverence and awe. But man, made in the likeness of God, is not measured by physical, but by moral standards. The moral law written upon conscience and soul has brought man into fellowship with the Infinite, and there follows that sharp transition in thought which cuts this Psalm like the keen stroke of a knife when David remembers the glory of God’s law. Grander than that of the heavens is--
II. The witness of the moral law. In this sudden rebound from the glory of the sun to the greater glory of the truth the Psalmist seems to chide himself for having forgotten the greater in the less. For what the sun is in the natural world, bringing light and inspiring growth, the law of God is in the spiritual, revealing moral darkness and quickening the life of souls. Climbing up adjectives of admiring descriptions, David unfolds the nature of the Word of Jehovah. It is “perfect,” with a completeness which fits all needs and encompasses all souls. It is “sure,”--an eternal verity to which men may anchor and never drift. It is “right,” with an absolute rectitude and justice. This Divine law not only reveals the glory of Jehovah, but also--
III. It reveals the heart of man. Without the revelation of the mirror man is a stranger to his own face; without the revelation of God’s law we were strangers to the guilt of sin. For the law lays a man bare to himself. Gather up the lesson of the Psalm--
1. That there is no conflict between God’s works and God’s Word. There may be conflict between the flippant guesses of men and the “Thus saith the Lord” in the Book. But the world book and the word book are one and the same truth.
2. The Psalm reveals the vastness and variety of the witnesses which God has put about us. The heathen of all lands have deified the forces of nature and the planets of the sky, and worshipped. Such witness is ours, but supplemented by the written Word, the enlightened conscience, the civilised state, and the Christian Church. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The revelation in nature
Modern poets are never tired of dwelling on the beauties of nature. The Hebrew poet perceived these just as keenly, but he never set them forth for their own sake. He considered them only as they bear on our moral and spiritual relations with God, or as they illustrate the being and glory of the Most High. So it is here, The first line sets forth the continuous action of the transparent vault which arches over the earth. Its order and beauty and splendour are not the work of chance or the product of blind unconscious forces, but bear willing witness to the perfections of the one Supreme Creator. He made them, and they are forever telling the story of His unsearchable riches. There is no pause, no interruption in the testimony. Day after day, night after night, the unbroken succession goes on. It is poured out as from a copious, gushing fountain. The sentiment is as true as it is poetical. In every age and land the starry heavens have proclaimed to the thoughtful observer: “It is He that hath made us.” The fact that this is done without the use of articulate language, so far from weakening the testimony makes it stronger. A modern critic coolly expunges this couplet on the ground that it is prosaic and that it directly contradicts the preceding verse, whereas it is a fine statement of the fact that words are not literally used; and there is no more contradiction in it than in the common proverb, “Actions speak louder than words.” The heavens “have a voice, but it is one that speaks not to the ear but to the devout and understanding heart,” as Addison has well expressed it in the well-known stanzas, according to which the radiant orbs, though they move in solemn silence, still in reason’s ear rejoice. In the next couplet the poet proceeds further. Not only is the testimony of the heavens distinct and clear and unbroken, but it is also universal. Their “line” means their measuring line, for this is the established meaning of the word, and there is neither need nor justification for changing the text. The province of these witnesses for God is co-extensive with the earth. Everywhere the heavens compass the globe, and “everywhere they preach the same Divine sermon.” In the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 10:18) the Apostle employs these words to express the wide diffusion of the Gospel among the Gentiles, and its freedom from all national or ecclesiastical restrictions. As Hengstenberg well says, “The universal revelation of God in nature was a providential prediction of the universal proclamation of the Gospel.” The Apostle says their “sound” instead of their “line,” because he followed the Septuagint version. The sense is, of course, the same. In Paul’s day the Gospel occupied the central position in the Roman world: it is for Christians now to make it actually as universal as the witness of the heavens. To carry still further forward the figure, the sun is introduced because his apparent course indicates clearly the width of the domain covered by the testimony of the heavens. In them is his position. All talk of sun gods in this connection is simple folly. David is not reciting mythology, but writing poetry. In this view he compares the bright reappearance of the morning sun to that of a bridegroom coming forth from the nuptial apartment, and his steady ongoing through the skies to the rapid course of a hero on his joyful way to the goal of victory. Nothing can be more striking than these figures. The king of day starts from one end of heaven and never pauses till he reaches the other, and his presence is one that can be felt as well as seen, for nothing can hide itself from his heat. Here comes a quick transition from God’s revelation of Himself in nature to the similar revelation in the written Word. Its abruptness is quite excusable in view of the analogy, the law being in the spiritual world what the sun is in the natural. (Talbot W. Chambers, D. D.)
God’s works and Word
The Bible recognises no conflict between science and religion. It asserts a unity of origin for the Word and the world. Faith takes God’s word; science takes man’s. But
“Science walks with humble feet
To seek the God that faith has found.”
I. That the Bible nowhere contradicts established science.
This is an amazing statement, for the Bible was written by unlearned men. Every truth of today has been opposed by men, not by Scripture. No doubt the Bible often speaks of things as they appear to the eye, as sunrise and sunset. But these are not contradictions to science.
II. The Bible always has been, and is yet, far in advance of the discoveries of science. Ere science discovered the order of progress in the developed world, or that the strata of the earth were formed by the action of water, and that the mountains were once under the sea; or that the earth was a sphere; or that the earth was upheld by no visible support; or that the stars were innumerable; or that light makes music as it flies; or that the sun had an orbit of its own--the Bible had said all these things. The Word is as full of undiscovered wisdom as the world.
III. Very few scientific men recognise any antagonism between the revelation by word and that by works. The American Association for the Advancement of Science embraces the great names in this country. At its last meeting it was found that seven-eighths of these were professing Christians. The greatest of them see God in nature today.
IV. Nature is a universal revelation of God, but of the lowest kind. The heavens so declare the glory of God that even a heathen savage is without excuse if he do not discern God. The law of the Lord is the next higher revelation. See what is here said of it. But the highest revelation is Christ. He brings life and love to light; reveals a greater power in spiritual realms than gravitation is in material realms. But all revelations are one and of one God. (Bishop R. W. Warren.)
The revelation of the prophecy of the heavens
I. The heaven’s a revelation of God. They show God’s character, as all works show character. The fault has been in men if they have not apprehended the declaration of the heavens. Paul said it could be “clearly seen.” This revelation is--
2. Wordless. The Hebrew rightly rendered reads--“No speech nor language; their voice is not heard.” That is, they utter no articulate words.
3. Universal. “Their line”--the measuring line used for the determining the boundaries of estates--takes in the whole earth; throughout this vast territory the signs which proclaim God are found.
II. This revelation a prophecy of that of the Gospel. For it also is universal. Hence Paul quotes this Psalm. But how came Paul to see this meaning in David’s words? Because the heavens are Christ’s handiwork. “Without Him was nothing made that was made.” And they manifest and declare Him. It is plain, therefore, that if He thus send His heavens to proclaim Him through all lands, and to sing His praise, much more will He desire that the Gospel of His grace by which far more glory will be His should be known far and wide, to the ends of the earth, that none may be hid from its saving light and heat. What a teacher, then, we have in the heavens. They sing to us of God, and of God in Christ. They declare the glory of Him whom not having seen we love. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
God’s two great preachers
I. Nature as a preacher. It continues its eloquent discourse from age to age, and its aim in all is to draw the mind of man from the visible to the invisible, from the material to the spiritual, from itself to universal being.
II. The Bible as a preacher. This preacher is called by different names, “law,” “testimony,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “fear of the Lord,” “judgments of the Lord.”
1. The character of this preacher. Perfect, established, righteous, holy, thoroughly sound, precious.
2. The work of this preacher.
(1) A soul-restoring work.
(2) A mind-enlightening work.
(3) A heart-gladdening work.
(4) A life-regulating work.
(5) A sin-convincing work.
(6) A prayer exciting work.
The Psalmist prays against sin, and he prays for holiness. The text implies three facts concerning human words and thoughts--
1. That God takes cognisance of them.
2. That God is pleased with right words and thoughts.
3. That God aids man in the promotion of right words and thoughts. (Homilist.)
Nature a preacher
Five subjects for thought.
I. The subject of the discourse. “The glory of God.” Nature proclaims God’s existence, government, and attributes.
1. The fact of nature reveals the being of God.
2. The vastness of nature, the immensity of God.
3. The uniformity of nature, the unity of God.
4. The regularity of nature, the unchangeableness of God.
5. The arrangements of nature, the wisdom of God.
6. The happiness of nature, the goodness of God.
7. The purity of nature, the holiness of God.
8. The beauty of nature, the tastefulness of God.
9. The variety of nature, the exhaustlessness of God.
II. The incessantness of its delivery. Nature as a preacher never tires, never pauses. Whilst generations come and go, this great preacher continues his sublime discourse without a break or pause.
III. The intelligibleness of its language. Its language is that of symbol; the easiest language for man to understand. A language of signs, addressed to eye and heart. So intelligible is the language that there is no excuse for ignorance of God.
IV. The vastness of its audience. Their “line”--that is, their instruction. All men live under those heavens, all of which are vocal with discourse of God.
V. The immensity of its resources.
1. The greatest light dwells in the heart of this preacher.
2. The greatest light circulates through the whole being of this preacher. From the subject learn--
(1) Man’s capacity to study and to worship God.
(2) Man’s obligation to study and to worship God. Study nature scientifically and religiously. (Homilist.)
Nature in Scripture
The scientific contemplation of nature is wholly absent from Scripture, and the picturesque is very rare. This Psalmist knew nothing about solar spectra, or stellar distances, but he heard a voice from out of the else waste heavens which sounded to him as if it named God. Comte ventured to say that the heavens declare the glory of the astronomer, not of God; but if there be an order in them, which it is a man’s glory to discover, must there not be a mind behind the order, and must not the Maker have more glory than the investigator? The Psalmist is protesting against stellar worship, which some of his neighbours practised. The sun was a creature, not a god; his “race” was marked out by the same hand which in depths beyond the visible heavens had pitched a “tent” for his nightly rest. We smile at the simple astronomy; the religious depth is as deep as ever. Dull ears do not hear these voices; but whether they are stopped with the clay of earthly tastes and occupations, or stuffed with scientific wadding of the most modern kind, the ears that do not hear God’s name sounded from the abysses above have failed to hear the only word which can make man feel at home in nature. Carlyle said that the sky was a “sad sight.” The sadness and awfulness are taken away when we hear the heavens telling the glory of God. The unscientific Psalmist who did hear them was nearer the very heart of the mystery than the scientist who knows everything else about them but that. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God revealed in nature
Is the picture to be accepted as a revelation of the artist’s genius? Is the poem to be regarded as a test of the poet’s mental power? Then carry this rule with you in all your contemplations of the universe--as you walk beneath the dome of heaven, as you tremble in the shadows of the everlasting hills, as you rise into rapture while gazing on the swelling grandeur of the great deep and feel yourself wrapt in the presence of God. The universe is the thought of God made visible. (R. Venting.)
God seen in nature
The immortal Newton exclaimed, “Glory to God, who has permitted me to catch a glimpse of the skirts of His garments. My calculations have encountered the march of the stars.” So sang Copernicus, Volta, Galileo, and Kepler. How truly did Young write, “the undevout astronomer is mad.”
The firmament sheweth His handiwork.--
The comet and its teachings
Not often during the lifetime of a generation does a comet present itself. Give thought to the bright vision which no doubt engages the attention of other worlds beside our own, and on which the gaze of the unfallen inhabitants of celestial spheres may be fixed in reverent admiration.
1. Notice its beauty. In the exhaustless provision which God has made for our love of the beautiful we recognise an assurance that He regards with yet tenderer care our far deeper longings, the moral wants of our souls. 2, As we gain from science a knowledge of the movements of the comet we are impressed with the supremacy of law. No portion of the universe is more completely under the control of law than these comets, which were once supposed to be so erratic. Whatever is within the attraction of the sun moves upon one of three curves. As soon as a sufficient portion of the course of any body is known its whole curve can be ascertained. It is to the universal supremacy of law that all the achievements of science have been due. The supremacy of physical is a guarantee for the authority and permanence of moral law. The same Being who has established the one has pledged His veracity to the maintenance of the other.
3. Further knowledge of this comet impresses us with the magnitude of the universe. How numberless are the bodies inhabiting the measureless expanse. Of these worlds, is it likely that ours alone is inhabited?
4. Viewed in the light of these considerations, how insignificant does the world appear! And how insignificant is man! It is his soul alone that gives him dignity in the scale of being.
5. What a conception does a just view of the universe give us of the greatness and dignity of God! Who can escape His eye? Who can defy His power?
6. How great is the Divine condescension, especially as manifested in the atonement! (H. L. Wayland.)
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
Instruction to be derived from the revolution of day and night
I. The almighty power of the Creator and Preserver of the universe. The very act of creation, or the producing of any being out of nothing, gives us the most enlarged idea of Omnipotence. The Almighty not only at first created, but continually upholds, the work of His hands. His mighty energy is continually displayed in the preservation of all the creatures He hath made.
II. The goodness of God. Attend particularly to man, the noblest work of God. Every faculty of our nature and every circumstance of our condition afford abundant evidence of the goodness of God. Through the faculty of reason we are blessed with moral perception: we know what is right and what is wrong. The exercise of our mental powers is accompanied with pleasure. In the scheme of redeeming grace unfolded in the Gospel we have the most illustrious display of the Divine benignity which men or angels have ever witnessed. And if we consider ourselves as creatures in a state of trial we find ourselves furnished with all the direction, assistance, and encouragement that such a state requires.
III. The wisdom of God. Wisdom, whenever it is employed, must have happiness for its object; and when that is promoted by fit means, wisdom shows itself to the utmost advantage. Every object that contributes to our happiness is admirably contrived for that end; and every evidence of Divine goodness brings with it a concomitant proof of Divine wisdom, The body and the mind want the rest of night, and partake of this refreshment, The faculties of the soul cannot long bear intense application. Attend now to the religious and moral instructions which this subject suggests.
1. Let every revolution of day and night raise our thoughts to God. Let us attend to the daily revolution, not with the coldness of a philosophic inquirer, but with the ardent piety of devout worshippers of the God of nature and grace. But it is in the scheme of redemption, unfolded in the Gospel, that we behold the Divine perfections shining with the most resplendent lustre. The light of the sun of righteousness throws new beauty upon the creation of God.
2. Consider the experience we have had of the power, goodness, wisdom, and mercy of God in the by-past of our life. It were endless to enumerate the instances of the Divine goodness and mercy in which we have shared.
3. Every revolving year, every revolving day, tells us that the period of our probation is hastening to an end. Then watch against a worldly temper and disposition of mind. Watch against building our hopes on general truths and promises, without any evidence of our interest in them. (James Ross, D. D.)
It sounds rather curious, does it not, to hear about one day speaking to another? Though you have listened ever so hard, yet you have not been able to hear a day speaking. That is true; and David, who wrote this Psalm, knew that also, for he says in the very next verse, “No speech, no language, their voice is not heard”--and yet, “day unto day uttereth speech”! How can theft be? Because there are more ways of speaking than one. There is the way the deaf and dumb speak--on their fingers. Their voice is not heard, yet they speak. Then a book speaks. The moment it is open, and you see the words, you understand what they mean--they speak to you. There is a tribe of savage people tar away, and what do you think is the name they give to a book? They call it “the whisperer.” But it does not whisper; it has no voice nor sound, and yet it speaks. Now, how do you come to understand what people say--when they speak on their fingers? or how do you ever come to know what a book says? Isn’t it by first learning how to understand? And you carry the way to understand inside yourself. So is it that we understand thousands of things round about us, and that tells us of God, The way, then, to understand what the days speak is to get much of God’s spirit into our hearts. The days say--
I. There’s nothing new! Today is just like yesterday. Yesterday came up beautiful, became brighter, had clouds and sunshine, and then faded away. So it will be with today. Yesterday carried away on its white wings the spirits of thousands of men and women, and wee, wee children too; and the night came, and covered their bodies, and they were seen no more. So it will be today. There’s nothing new. But as you listen again you hear the days say--
II. Everything is new! There is nothing new about the day, but everything is new about you. The temptations you will have today won’t be the same that you had yesterday; the night has come like a black wall between you and yesterday, and today you get a fair start again; and today you may do better than yesterday, or today you may do worse, but you can’t blame yesterday. It is gone; this is a new day, but, take care! you will be tempted today in another way. So, you can t afford to forget Jesus: a new day means a new way, and only Jesus can guide you rightly upon it. But this also the days say--
III. Time tells of eternity! As the days pass away, we pass away with them--passing away, out into eternity. When you are in a train or a tramcar you notice that all the people do not go to the journey’s end. Some go only a little way, others go farther, new ones come in; perhaps you yourself get out before the whole journey is done. Anyway, they are very few who go all the way. It is just the same with our lives. Some only go a short distance through the days--God calls them away when they are young. Some go a little farther, others a little farther still; but they are very few indeed who come to be very old. Shouldn’t every day, then, make us think of what is to be the end of all? (J. Reid Howett.)
Night unto night sheweth knowledge.
The teaching of the night
God divided the sovereignty of time between day and night.
I. Night teaches the individuality of our being. For more than the day, it shows us what it is to be alone with ourselves and God. It drives all the faculties and sensibilities of the soul inward upon itself. The hours of darkness are fearful to those who are afraid to be with themselves and God. Jesus used to retire to desert places, that He might, during the night time be alone with the Father. I have myself spent the hours of night alone upon high mountains. A solemn experience.
II. The retirement of the soul, in which God’s presence is most felt, need not take us away from the crowded paths of life. Where we see most of man, there we can see most of God. A spiritually minded man once said that he felt God’s presence with him in walking the crowded and noisy streets of New York as really as he did in the sanctuary or in the solemn hour of devotion.
III. The night of the natural world is the symbol of the deeper night of sorrow and disappointment that settles down upon the soul. God surrounds us with both, that we may feel for His hand in the darkness, and find ourselves safe with His protection. We learn from the night of affliction and trouble many lessons which we could never master in the light of broad day. In the awful night hour of death we need not find ourselves alone. He has been all the way through the valley of the shadow of death, and He will not leave us to grope in vain for His hand. (D. Marsh, D. D.)
No speech nor language; their voice cannot be heard.
The Psalmist, like a true poet, had a keen eye and ear. He saw in the firmament the glory of God, and he heard, around him and beneath, a chorus of praise to the Most High. Two interpretations have been put upon this verse. The first, that there is no country or clime, “no speech or language,” where the voice of the firmament, etc., is not heard, seeing their “line” or instruction “is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” The other is, that there is no audible voice, no sound that falls upon the ear. Addison writes, “What though in solemn silence,” etc.
I. Silent voices have often a most powerful influence.
1. They may move a man more than uttered words. The voices of nature, the music of the spheres, as it is called, is silence. Lectures have their place, but audible voices are not so soul-stirring as voices inaudible.
2. The spring, and every season of the year, brings many lessons, and yet “there is no speech or language, its voice is not heard.” No man ever heard, with his bodily ear, the language of either day or night, yet every day speaks of God’s infinite resources--of His goodness, of His power and glory--more articulate than any man could speak.
3. Solitude speaks to the soul. The mountain top, the dense forest, the restless sea; but their “voice is not heard.” The expression of human feeling is often more powerful when inarticulate.
II. In order to apprehend silent voices we must ourselves be silent. Put away distracting thoughts, and humbly listen only to God as He speaks to the soul and conscience. Men cannot even hear music unless they are still, silent, and undistracted. With the soul men hear God, and not with the physical ear, unless they are still and undistracted. It is very desirable that men should commune with God in their work, and be still before Him with their souls, and not with their intellects only. The active intellect is more often used against God than for Him. But God cannot be reached by intellectual processes any more than love, or than the beauties of a landscape can be explained by argument, or than music can be brought home to the soul by logical syllogism. (James S. Swan.)
The silent testimony
Language is always a difficulty, a snare, a temptation, an inconvenient convenience. It brings us into all our troubles; it is when we speak that we create heterodoxies; could we but be silently dumbly good--could we look our prayers, and cause our face to shine with our benevolence, and our hand do a quiet work of beneficence, how happy would the world be! Words do not mean the same thing to any two men; they may be accepted for momentary uses and for commercial purposes, but when it becomes a matter of life and death, time and eternity, truth and error, words are base counterfeits, that should be nailed to the counter of creation, as things by which a false commerce has been kept up amongst earnest and ardent men. Blessed be God for the silent testimony, for the radiant character, for the eloquent service. All history is silent; it is only the immediate day that chatters and talks and fusses about its little affairs. Yet the dead centuries are eloquent: the characters are all gone; the warriors are dead and buried, the orators have culminated their eloquence in the silence of death, the great solemn past is like a banquet hall deserted, but it is eloquent, instructive, silently monitorial. Silent history--great, sad, melancholy, impartial history--the spirit of the past should govern the unrest and the tumult of the present. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Their line is gone out through all the earth.
The Christian brotherhood the support of Christian missions
All tradition has interpreted this Psalm of the goings forth of the Spirit in the everlasting Gospel. Nor could a nobler image of the diffusion, the all-pervading and all-penetrating progress of the Gospel of peace be conceived than what the visible heavens present. In antiquity there was no more favourite emblem of the all-pervading presence of Christ than the sun, which, set in heaven, is yet, in its infinite and ceaseless communications of life, present on earth also. Nor does any emblem more frequently occur in Holy Scripture of the bright and peaceful outgoings of the teachers of the faith than the stars; nor any of the streaming in of Divine grace upon the souls of men, in their onward course, than that of light. The Psalmist expresses the view of the Catholic Church, not as man has marred it, but as existing in the eternal mind. And, indeed, the first promise of its fulfilment seemed to foreshow such an end. Who would not have expected from the Acts of the Apostles a very different conclusion from what we now see? Even after the apostolic age there seemed no check in the wondrous progress of the unearthly faith. If the united voice of the Church Catholic, with one undeviating witness for her Lord, had sounded out unceasingly during the fifteen centuries that have since passed, would not the full scope of the prophetic vision have been fulfilled? But a change soon came over the Church’s course. What is our prospect now? To us--the English portion of the Catholic communion--a wider field has been opened and ampler powers given for our extension, than ever since the days when the Apostles dispersed themselves from Jerusalem, have fallen to the lot of any single people We are comparatively powerless when we work alone. We are bound together on the principle that mutual intercessions are the strength of the Church’s work. But all efforts fail unless Christ be within us as our life and power. How can we move onward unless He go forth with us? (T. T. Carter, M. A.)
The being of God proved from universal consent
David does in this place affirm the universality of religion. He supposes the heavens to speak, an universal language, heard, and understood, by all. Hence we argue the existence of God. The argument is, according to Lactantius, that universal and unanimous testimony of people and nations, through all courses of time, who, otherwise differing in language, customs, and conceits, only have agreed in this one matter of opinion. Opinion of Aristotle as to degrees of probability: that which arises from this source approaches near to demonstrable truth, Testimonies of ancient philosophers to this agreement, as well as to its force and efficacy. That men should thus conspire in opinion must needs arise either--
1. From a natural light implanted in man’s nature; or,
2. From a common inclination in his soul; or,
3. From some prevalent reason, obvious to all men; or,
4. From some common fountain of instruction or primitive tradition.
And from any one of these ways being allowed our argument will gain weight and force. If we acknowledge either of the two first we do in effect yield the question: if nature forcibly drives men into this persuasion, how extravagant will it be to oppose her! And if we grant that plain reason, apparent to the generality of men, hath moved them to this consent, do we not, by dissenting from it, renounce common sense? But if we say that it arose in the last manner, from a common instruction or primitive tradition, we shall be thereby driven to inquire who that common master or author of the tradition was: of any such we have no name recorded; we find no time designated when it began to arise. Who, then, were the teachers, but the first parents of mankind? Thus does this consideration lead to another very advantageous to our purpose: first, as proving the generations of men had a beginning; secondly, as affording us their most weighty authority for the doctrine we assert. For--
1. Supposing mankind had a beginning on this earth, whence could it proceed but from such a Being as we describe?
2. Supposing this notion derived from the first men, who instilled it into them? Why should they conceive themselves to come from God if He that made them did not discover Himself to them? Thus do these two notions, that of general tradition concerning God, and that concerning man’s origin on earth from one stock, mutually support each other. As to His eternity: if God made all things, He could not receive being from another; and what reason is there to suppose that He should? But as nothing can receive a being from itself, or from mere nothing spring up into being, therefore the Maker of the world must be eternal. Something of necessity must be eternal, otherwise nothing could have been at all; other things show themselves to have proceeded from the wisdom, power, and goodness of One: whence that One is eternal; and so all nations have consented that God is. That He is immortal and immutable doth also follow plainly: for He, not depending for His being, or anything thereto belonging, or any other thing, neither can He depend for His continuance or conservation; having power superior to all things, as having conferred on them whatever of power they have, nothing can oppose Him, or make any prevalent impression on Him, so as to destroy or alter anything in Him. Also, from His making, His upholding, His governing all things, is consequent, that He was ever and is everywhere: where His power is, there His hand is; for every action with effect requires a conjunction of the agent and patient; nothing can act on what is distant. That with His presence and power He doth penetrate all things, operating insensibly and imperceptibly, doth argue the spirituality of His being; and that He doth consist of such matter (so extended, so divisible) as those things do, which we by sense perceive. His overreaching wisdom implies Him incapable of being deceived; and His overbearing power signifies that He doth not need to deceive; and His transcendent goodness proves Him unwilling to deceive: the like we may say of doing wrong; whence are consequent His perfect veracity and justice. Lastly, the excellency of His nature, the eminency of His wisdom and power, the abundance of His goodness; as also, His having given being, then preserving it to all things, do infer His rightful title to supreme dominion; and accordingly, that all love, all obedience, all praise and veneration are due to Him; according to the devout acknowledgment of those blessed elders: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive the glory and honour and power (or authority), because Thou hast made all things; and for Thy will they are and were created.” (I. Barrow, D. D.)
In them hath He set a tabernacle for the stem.--
The gifts of nature
There was once a time, in the history of the world, when it was the strongest possible temptation to mankind to worship the great objects of nature, but especially those in heaven, and of these especially the sun. In those countries more particularly where the sun is so bright, so powerful, so omnipresent throughout the year the temptation was stronger than anywhere else. Wherever in the Old Testament we hear of the worship of Baal, it is the worship of the sun; and of all the temples so dedicated, this is the most splendid, and the ancient city was called from this worship “Baalbec,” or “the City of the Sun.” We know from the Bible, we know also from the history of this very temple, that this worship was corrupted into the most shameful sensuality; so that, to the Israelites first, and to Christians afterwards, it became a duty to put it down altogether. And this corruption is in itself instructive, as teaching us that the highest love of art and the keenest appreciation of what is beautiful, if left to itself without some purer and higher principles, may and will degenerate into mere brutal self-indulgence and cruelty. But it is always better, if we can, to see what was the good element which lies at the bottom of any character or institution--what there was in the thoughts that raised these solid foundations and these towering columns, which we may also imitate for ourselves. Without falling into those dark errors and sins with which they were once connected. Therefore we could have chosen no more fitting text than the one read to you. Its words tell you of the genial life-giving power of the great light of day, of the glory of his rising, of the strength of his rays, of the regularity of his course, of the penetrating power of his heat, and they spring from a feeling common to the Hebrew Psalmist and to those who raised this heathen temple. What, then, are the good points in that ancient belief which the true religion has adopted for its own and sifted from the surrounding evil? This temple itself is connected with the history and traditions both of the wisest and greatest thoughts of ancient times, and with the basest and most foolish. Its earliest foundations are said to go back to the days of Solomon, the wisest of men. In its latest times it had for its High Priest the most infamous and effeminate of all the Roman emperors--the miserable Heliogabalus. Between the two there was at first sight but little in common. Little, indeed, there is; but it is that little which is so useful to consider.
I. The sense of deep thankfulness for the gifts of nature. Those who lived in old time expressed, as we see, their gratitude and reverence for the gifts of nature by this magnificent temple. Let us express our gratitude and reverence in the offering of pure hearts and good lives to Him who has thus graciously guided us so nearly to the close of our pilgrimage.
II. And this brings me to the second truth which the contemplation of the natural world--of the sun in his strength--suggested to the Psalmist: the order, the regularity, the law of their operations. And this law immediately recalled his mind to the highest example of all law--the unchangeable moral law of God. He tells us how the law of God (the revealed law of goodness, the natural law of conscience) is not only what we are bound to follow as our duty, but is the surest source both of our wisdom and our happiness. See how he expatiates on this theme in the remainder of the Psalm. (Dean Stanley.)
The sun of righteousness
There is no doubt that this verse describes the nativity of our Lord. The sun, that we see in the eastern heavens, is made to us an image of our incarnate Lord and Saviour, issuing from the Virgin’s womb to be the light and life of the Church. It is not a new or strange thing for Holy Scripture to give such a turn as this to the works of nature, the things which we see daily. Compare the figure in Malachi. “Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise, with healing in His wings.” And the figure used by Zacharias, “The Day spring from on high hath visited us.”
1. Everyone may understand that as the sun is beyond comparison the brightest object in these outward and visible heavens, so the great privilege of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom and Church of God’s saints, is to have the Sun of Righteousness, God-made man, especially present, abiding and reigning in it. The same is true of every soul which is inwardly and spiritually conformed to God’s holy Church. It is lull of Christ, of Jesus Christ Himself, silently and mysteriously coming in and dwelling there.
2. As Christ is a sun to his Church by His glorious abiding in it, so the manner in which He came to be so is likened to “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,” a figure for Christ’s marrying the nature of God to the nature of man, by taking on Him our flesh. Our Saviour, God made man for us, born for us, crucified and risen again, fills the whole Church and the whole world. Christ is whole in His whole Church, and in every part and member of it, as the sun in the firmament shines impartially on the whole world beneath him, and in his circuit visits each part in turn with his warming and life-giving beams. But Christ’s faithful people are more particularly made aware of His presence by the outward means of grace and the visible ordinances of His holy Catholic Church. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
The tabernacle of the sun
It was not till the fourth day that God gathered the light together into the sun, and set the sun in heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule the day. Like to this was the course which the same wisdom of God took in manifesting the light of truth, without which there can be no spiritual life or peace or joy. Such is the waywardness of man, that he can turn God’s choicest blessings into curses. The darkness was fighting against the light, his sin went well-nigh to choking it. But, in the fulness of time, God gathered the light together, as with the natural sun at the creation, and in His Son, to the end that all might see and know from whence and from whom the true spiritual light came If there was music in heaven when the Eternal Son left His throne, and departed to clothe himself in the weakness of humanity, what joy there must have been when He returned as conqueror. It was in the heavens that God set a tabernacle for the sun; and so in the heaven of heavens He set a tabernacle for His only-begotten Son. The Gospel, which till His ascension had been like a young half-fledged bird, which never ventured but a few paces from its nest, now suddenly put forth its wings, and flew to and fro over the earth, and ever and anon returned to its ark with an olive leaf in its mouth, telling that the waters of sin were abating. And as the sun gives not only light but heat, so does Christ soften, melt, and warm the heart by His grace There are eclipses of the sun; the shadow of the moon comes between the earth and the sun, and cuts off its light. This is like the reason of man. It was intended to give us light, but, like the moon, it can only give light as it reflects light from the sun, Christ. There are many things by which the light of Christ may be eclipsed from us. If we pray to Him diligently and heartily be assured He will not leave us in darkness. (J. C. Hare.)
There is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
The moral uses of the weather
1. The contrasts and the changes of the season’s. What a picture of the vicissitudes of human life is in them! The experience of thousands has ranged from the extreme severity of winter’s poverty to the scorching blaze of midsummer prosperity. The man of wealth yesterday has become the beggar of today. Such contrasts and changes seem to have been far more numerous of late years than formerly.
2. Doubtless the extremes of heat and cold have their part to play in the beneficent economy of nature; yet no one doubts the physical evils that arise from them. To some, no doubt, the cold of winter seems invigorating and bracing, but to multitudes severity means death. So, too, there may be those to whom poverty and trial are stimulants to patient endurance, and develop some of the nobler qualities of the soul. We question, however, whether those are not the exceptions rather than the rule. Many of those around us are what they are largely because of their surroundings. When a man loses the stimulus of hope it is not very likely that his life will blossom into much moral beauty. We often hear it said, that prosperity is more dangerous to a man’s virtues than adversity; but we question whether there is not far more moral evil traceable to human poverty than many well-to-do philosophers are apt to imagine.
3. The poets have been influenced by something more than fancy when they have associated the ideas of cold and death, heat and life. Cold is only a relative term. Heat is essential to life.
4. The sun is the chief source whence heat is derived. The resistless energies of this omnipotent and all-pervading agent are in constant operation. There is not an instant or time that heat is not performing some important duty in fulfilment of the Divine purposes.
5. How dependent we are upon the weather for a bountiful harvest! Every summer brings us within a measurable distance of absolute want. The harvest, at best, does but provide for the wants of the year. It is seemly, then, that we should pray to the Lord of the harvest, that our “garners may be full.” Practical lessons--
(1) Earthly prosperity may be a legitimate object of desire. There is a cheap affectation of virtue which pretends to despise wealth.
(2) Do not overlook the connection between circumstance and condition.
(3) Recognise the lesson that spiritual, not less than physical, life, is dependent upon heat. It is so in the individual soul; it is so in the Church. Some men lament their own spiritual deadness, yet never take any steps to increase their store of vital heat. Death is the absence of life; cold is the absence of heat. Nothing can quicken the life of the soul, or produce in us the beauty of holiness, but the direct influence of the Sun of Righteousness. Only as we can get more perfectly into the presence of God, and have our cold natures warmed and our languid pulses quickened by His life, shall we have that for which we yearn. (F. Wagstaff.)
The law of the Lord is perfect.
The best book
I would not have you forget the true and proper mission of the Bible,--to reveal saving truth. But it is well to remember that, even as a classic, no book equals the Word of God. The Bible has exercised a remarkable influence in the department of literature. “The English tongue would lose its grandest monument if the works which the Bible has inspired were blotted from it.” Religious books, of course, get everything from the Bible; but writers with no distinctly religious object are enormously beholden to its inspiration. There is not a notable book--a book of transcendent genius or power--which has not culled from the Word of God either thought or illustration or telling phrase. We need not, even in an age of advanced education and culture, be ashamed of the Bible. Its study will confer as much credit on our intellect as on our piety. We are not such Bible readers as were our fathers. This is one evil of the multiplication of books. In this generation we are better educated, we know more than our fathers. But have we the same robust and vigorous intellects? It seems to me that there is a deterioration in this respect along with our neglect of Bible study. There are three things which should make the Bible popular among young people--
1. Its fervid style. There is not a dull passage, if we except a few chronologies and such like, from Genesis to Revelation.
2. Its exuberance of illustration. It is a book of pictures.
3. Its practical wisdom. If you live seventy years you will not have gathered all the practical wisdom you may learn now from studying the Bible. Do not forget that you may find in the Bible eternal life. (A. F. Forrest.)
The Bible a book for all nations
Of what is not the Bible the foundation and the inspiration? To what interest of human life does it not give its great benediction? The system of doctrine and duty which the Bible contains is a fixed final system, not a progressive one, and one introductory to a higher, and the Bible will never become obsolete, and will never be supplemented by any other revelation. This proposition has been most flatly contradicted. It is argued that the Bible has accomplished a very good purpose in the world, but it cannot long satisfy the world’s need, because it does not keep pace with the world’s progress. By and by we shall need a broader basis on which to construct the religion of the future. A time, it is said, must come when the theological will be too narrow in its range for the demands of the race, and too dogmatic in its tone for the more liberal, general, comprehensive religion of the future. We are invited to mark the universality of this beautiful law of progressive development in nature, in literature, in the fine and in the useful arts, in human laws and institutions. But those who reason thus overlook the distinction between the apparent and the real progress of man. The true progress of man is the progress of mail’s self, apart from all organisation. Those who eulogise modern progress confine their attention to what man does to promote his convenience and comfort. How absurd it is to mark the progress of a man by that which a man manipulates and moulds and makes subservient to his use! The Bible is the book for the soul, and God put into it exactly those truths that He knew were calculated to regenerate the soul. Unless the soul needs to be made over, and given new facilities, you do not want a new Bible, or any annex to the old one. There is another great distinction to keep in mind. While the Bible is fixed and will never be supplemented, the principles contained in it are admissible of universal and of endless application, and for that reason the Bible will never need to be supplemented. It is with the Bible as it is with nature. No new laws have been given to nature from the beginning. And yet how constantly are men discovering laws that for long ages were hidden from human eyes: and men of science will tell you that there are now many latent forces in nature awaiting the genius of the occasion when they shall be discovered and applied to the use of man. What the world wants is not a new Bible, or new principles, or new truths, but the recognition of the old, and the legitimate application of the old to the purposes for which they were intended. So when new forms of old errors arise, we do not want a new Bible to find new truths with which to antagonise these old errors. The fact is, there are no new forms of scepticism. We do not need any other Bible, or a supplement to the old, because the Bible is a book that has a friendly voice and a helping hand to every race. Here is a book equally adapted to the Oriental and the Occidental mind; adapted alike to the Mongolian and the Circassian mind; adapted to all the different divisions into which society is divided. The Bible is sufficient for the world’s need, because it goes down to the very foundation of man’s mental and moral structure, and takes hold of that which is sinful in his soul’s life. As long as sin and sorrow are in the world, so long will this book take hold of that which is deepest, and truest, and profoundest in the soul’s immortal life. And the Bible gives us a perfect ideal in the character of our blessed Saviour. Moreover, we do not need a new Bible, because we do not want any new motives to the practice of the greatest virtue. (Moses T. Hoge, D. D.)
The perfect law
“The law of the Lord” is the Bible phrase for describing the duty which God requires of man. This law embraces all those principles by which our inward life of disposition and desire and our outward life of word and action ought to be guided. It is an expression of the Divine will respecting human conduct. But perhaps the most correct view of the Moral Law is that contained in a sentence which has often been used in the pulpits of Scotland, “the Law is a transcript of the character of God.” Justice and truth and love are the very elements, so to speak, of His own moral being; they have an inherent rightness, and so, while it is true that they are right because He wills them, a deeper truth is that He wills them because they are right. In other words, while the authority of the law rests upon the Divine will, the law itself has its basis in the Divine nature. The law of the Lord is woven into the very nature of the universe. It is graven in indelible lines on the conscience of man. But we must turn to the Holy Scriptures for the fullest exhibition of the Moral Law. The Bible, however, is not a hand book of morals after the common style. We do not find in it a systematic exposition of law for national or individual life; and even those parts of it which, to some extent, have this appearance, come far short of being a full expression of the perfect law. The Mosaic economy, for example, looked at in the light of the higher attainments and the wider wants of Gospel times, is admittedly an imperfect economy on its moral as well as on its ceremonial side. No one would dream of introducing into modern law its enactments respecting (to take a case) usury or divorce. In the same way the moral lessons taught by those histories of nations and individuals of which the Bible is largely composed are often doubtful. All this impresses us with the necessity of some guiding principle to enable us to gather from the rich variety of Holy Scripture the law of God--His will for our guidance. Where, then, shall we go for this guiding and testing principle? We answer without hesitation--to Jesus Christ Himself. The chief cornerstone of the Church is also the chief cornerstone of Christian morality. He came “to show us the Father,” and so in Him, in His own character and conduct and teaching, we have the clearest and most authoritative revelation of the Father’s law. We cannot overestimate the value of having the law of God exhibited in a life as opposed to any statement of it in words. Ill the life of our blessed Lord, as recorded in Holy Scripture and interpreted to His followers by the Holy Spirit and by the providence of God, we have the final standard of moral theory and practice. He is the incarnate Law. Having defined what the law of the Lord is, we pass on to see wherein its perfection lies, and for one thing, it exhibits the quality of harmony. Every lover of art knows that the chief excellence of a painting lies in the consistency of its various parts and their subordination to the main design. A similar principle applies to music. What is true of beauty presented to the eye or ear holds good of truth and righteousness, the beauty which the mind only can perceive. The ultimate test of any new doctrine lies in its harmony with those Scripture sustained convictions which we have already formed. The law of the Lord has this crowning element of perfection--it is a harmonious unity whose parts never jar or clash. Of course, we are quite familiar with the objection that one precept of Holy Scripture sometimes comes into antagonism with other precepts. The obedience which a child owes to God, for example, can only be rendered sometimes by disobedience to a parent whom God has commanded the child to obey. We revert to our definition of the law, and reply that this objection confounds the law which is perfect and eternal with particular commandments which are from the nature of the case inadequate and temporary expressions of the law. The commandment may be inadequate, for it is only the verbal form in which the spiritual principle is clothed, and the letter can never exhaust or completely unfold the spirit. The commandment, moreover, may be only the temporary form of the eternal law. The Decalogue is indispensable on earth, but how many of the relations which it is intended to regulate will have ceased to exist, or be radically changed, in heaven! Thus the particular precepts of the law may be temporary, but the law of the Lord which is perfect abides in all its force wherever intelligent beings are. (D. M’Kinnon, M. A.)
A tribute to the law of God
The law is characterised by six names and nine epithets and by nine effects. The names are law, testimony, statutes, commandments, fear, judgments. To it are applied nine epithets, namely, perfect, sure, right, pure, holy, true, righteous, desirable, sweet. To it are ascribed nine effects, namely, it converts the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, enriches like gold, satisfies like honey, warns against sin, rewards the obedient. The central thought or conception about which all gathers is that of law. There is a profound philosophy in this passage. It presents Jehovah as Lord, i.e. “Law-ward, or guardian of law. We are to conceive of God’s law as--
1. A perfect rule of duty, having a basis of common law beneath all its statutory provisions, an eternal basis of essential right and wrong. “Thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” based upon eternal principles, not upon an arbitrary will. We are to think of this fabric of law as--
2. Supported like a grand arch, upon two great pillars: reward and penalty.
The whole passage is therefore a challenge to our adoring homage and obedience.
1. The law is a perfect product of infinite wisdom and love, (Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14) “holy, just, good, spiritual.”
2. It is enforced by Divine sanctions of reward and penalty, and these are each equally necessary to sustain the law and government of God. The testimonies and the judgment are equally perfect. The love that rewards and the wrath that punishes are equally beautiful and perfect.
The transcendent thought of the whole passage is that obedience is a privilege.
1. Law is the voice of love, not simply of authority, therefore only love can truly fulfil.
2. Obedience is self-rewarding and disobedience self-avenging.
The general thought of this whole passage is, obedience the highest privilege.
1. The law is the expression of Divine perfection; hence leads to perfection.
2. Of the highest love; hence must be interpreted by love and fulfilled by love.
3. Of the highest bliss--key to blessing; hence the door to promises.
4. “Our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.” Cannot justify, but only conduct to the obedient One who can justify. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The perfect law of God
By the law we may understand the entire written Word.
I. The character of the law. Perfect, that is, complete and entire. See the testimony--
1. Of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-8).
2. David, throughout the Psalms, as here in our text.
3. Jesus, the Son of God.
4. Paul (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
II. Its effects. “Converting the soul.” Note what conversion is, the great spiritual change in a man’s heart.
III. Practical lessons.
1. That it is not enough to have a mere intellectual acquaintance with the Word of God.
2. The vast criminality of those who would withhold the Word of God from men.
3. How dangerous and wicked to turn from it to the lying fables of deluded or designing men. (J. Allport.)
The light of nature
It was not in the material heavens, which with all their grandeur the Psalmist had been contemplating, that he found the lesson of perfection. He turned from them to the law of the Lord, and there he found it. With all that the contemplation of nature is able to do, it cannot regenerate the spirit. Neither poetry nor philosophy can help man in the great exigencies of life. None of them can do any good to a dying man. The damps of the sepulchre put out their light. Nor is this to be wondered at. The works of nature were not made to last; hence how can they teach lessons for immortality? They may serve man in many ways here, and aid his piety too, if he be a converted man. But they will never convert him. Man needs the Bible to convert him to God and to fit him to die. This truth has to be insisted on in our day which speaks so much of “the light of nature,” and which subjects the Bible to its pretended discoveries. But we maintain that it is insufficient, and for proof we appeal--
I. To fact--history. Glance--
1. At the heathen world--the people are in gross darkness.
2. At antiquity--they knew nothing of immortality, or the holiness of God. They never had any natural religion; what they had was all unnatural, monstrous. Reason failed them. They knew nothing certainly, though they made many conjectures; what little light they had came from tradition and through the Jews.
II. The scriptures themselves. These teach that the heavens declare the glory of God, but they do not say that man was ever converted thereby.
III. The inconclusiveness of the arguments employed by the disciples of nature. They say, nature teaches the existence of one God. But until the Bible has taught you this you cannot know it. What we see would rather teach that there are two deities, a good and a bad one. And, in fact, without the Bible men never did believe in the unity of God. And so of the Divine attributes. His unchangeableness and goodness, His spirituality and His will, the sanctions of His law and the ,immortality of the soul. The real utility of all the light of nature on the subject of religion consists in this: that it demonstrates its own insufficiency for teaching us a single important truth, and thus turns us over to the Word of God; and having done so, shines as a constant witness, and everywhere, to impress the lessons of Bible teaching upon us. It strikes the infidel dumb, and aids the devotions of the Christian, living or dying. But alone it teaches nothing. God never said it could. And its reasonings, proudly called in the schools “science” and” philosophy,” vanish into smoke when we touch them. You will never read God’s world rightly till His Word teaches you how. After it has taught you you may gather proofs of religion from nature which you could not gather before. The lesson is in nature; but nature is a sealed book to a sinner. It may silence a sceptic, it cannot satisfy a soul. She has no Christ to tell of, no atonement, no pardon, no firm foothold on immortal work. She cannot make men wise or good or happy, or inspire with blessed hope. (J. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Converting the soul.--
The restoration of the soul
I. What is here meant by conversion? In margin it is rendered “restoring.” This restoring the soul is from its fall in Adam to its salvation in Christ.
1. From the darkness of ignorance to the light of Divine knowledge. Ignorance is general where the means of knowledge are not realised. The light of Divine knowledge, employing and enriching the understanding, is essential to the restoration of the soul.
2. From the oppressive weight of contracted guilt to a state of conscious acceptance with God (Romans 5:1).
3. From inward depravity, derived from our first parents, to a conformity to the moral image of God. The removal of guilt from the conscience, and the being “sanctified wholly,” are distinct attainments in the Christian life.
4. From a state of misery to the possession of real happiness. How can men but be miserable in sin!
II. The means by which this restoration is effected. By the perfect law of the Lord. For law read doctrine. This doctrine is--
1. Divine in its origin.
2. Pure in the means of its communication.
3. Harmonious, and well adapted to the condition of man in all its parts.
4. Energetic in its operations. Improvement,--ministers must understand the doctrine of the Lord before they can make it known to others. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The Word of God converting the soul
The text might be read, “The doctrine of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul.”
I. The soul of man in its natural state requires to be converted or restored. See how abundant is the Scripture testimony to this truth. Even the best men have confessed their need: David says of himself, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity,” etc. There has been but one bright exception amongst men, and that is “the Man Christ Jesus. He alone “knew no sin.’ It is the exception which proves the rule.
II. But many take exception to this by denying the fact of the perversion of the human soul. “As for God, His way is perfect,” as may be clearly seen from those of His works which sin has not depraved. But as for man, Scripture and experience alike attest that he has “corrupted his way.”
III. By denying that man’s recovery is possible. But wherefore? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Cannot He who at first made man upright remodel him after His own image?
IV. By denying the adequacy of the means of recovery. It is said the Word of God is not an adequate instrument. But experience has proved the contrary. For the word, or doctrine, of the Lord is perfect, complete. It will never fail of the desired issue in those who come to the study of it in a right spirit. (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
The excellency of Holy Scripture
There are two methods which God has taken for instructing mankind. He has taught them by the glories of creation and by the words of Holy Scripture. But man as a sinner has no ear to hear the voice of God in His works. It is only by the revealed works of Scripture that he can find the way of pardon and holiness.
I. The excellent properties of the word of God. As a law it is perfect. Nothing can be added to it, nothing taken from it. It contains all our duty and all our consolation; all that is necessary to make us happy and holy. The writings of the heathen philosophers contain a few mutilated principles and some fine sentiments, but they are not directed to any great end, nor are they complete in themselves. As a testimony the Word of God is sure. Considered as the solemn witness and attestation of God to all those truths which concern man’s everlasting salvation, it is sure. It comes with a force and authority to the conscience. It follows that the statutes of the Lord are right. The equity and holiness of them equal their completeness and certainty. They are in all respects true and just and excellent. There is nothing harsh, nothing defiling, nothing erroneous, nothing arbitrary in them. They have not only authority, but goodness on their side. It is a further property of the Word of God that, as a commandment, it is pure. The Bible is a clear and perspicuous rule of duty. Its pure light has no need of proofs, reasonings, evidences, or study. When considered producing the fear of the Lord it is eternal. The obligations of revealed truth are perpetual.
II. The surprising effects which the word of God produces.
1. It converts the soul. This is the first thing the fallen creature needs. Scripture begins, where man’s necessities begin, with the heart. It unfolds the depravity of our nature. It exhibits the astonishing scheme of redemption in the death of the incarnate Saviour.
2. After conversion follows joy.
3. The sincere student will advance in knowledge.
4. It induces a holy, reverential fear of God. Impress the high and affectionate regard which we should pay to Holy Scripture. (Daniel Wilson, M. A.)
Revelation and conversion
Trees are known by their fruit, and books by their effect upon the mind. By the “law of the Lord” David means the whole revelation of God, so far as it had been given in his day. It is equally true of all revelation since. We may judge by its effects upon our own selves.
I. The work of the word of God in conversion. Not apart from the Spirit, but as it is used by the Spirit, it--
1. Convinces men of sin: they see what perfection is, that God demands it and that they are far from it.
2. Drives them from false methods of salvation to bring them to self-despair, and to shut them up to God’s method of saving them.
3. Reveals the way of salvation through Christ by faith.
4. Enables the soul to embrace Christ as its all in all, by setting forth promises and invitations which are opened up to the understanding and sealed to the heart.
5. Brings the heart nearer and nearer to God, by awakening love, desire for holiness, etc.
6. Restores the soul when it has wandered, bringing back the tenderness, hope, love, joy, etc., which it had lost.
7. Perfects the nature. The highest flights of holy enjoyment are not above or beyond the Word.
II. The excellence of this work. Its operations are altogether good, timed and balanced with infinite discretion.
1. It removes despair without quenching repentance.
2. Gives pardon, but does not create presumption.
3. Gives rest, but excites the soul to progress.
4. Breathes security, but engenders, watchfulness.
5. Bestows strength and holiness, but begets no boasting.
6. Gives harmony to duties, emotions, hopes, and enjoyments.
7. Brings the man to live for God and with God, and yet makes him none the less fitted for the daily duties of life.
III. The consequent excellence of the word.
1. We need not add to it to secure conversion in any case.
2. We need not keep back any doctrine for fear of damping the flame of a true revival.
3. We need not extraordinary gifts to preach it, the Word will do its own work.
4. We have but to follow it to be converted, and to keep to it to become truly wise. It fits man’s needs as the key the lock. Cling to it, study it, use it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.
Joy in God’s statutes
Not content with celebrating the eternal fitness and rectitude of the Divine statutes, the Psalmist recommends them by an argument of a less abstract nature, more closely adapted to our feelings and interests, by adding that in consequence of their inherent rectitude they tend to rejoice the heart. The word “statutes” includes the whole system of Divine precepts contained in the Scriptures. Such is the goodness and condescension of God, that with our duty He has strictly connected not only our happiness in general, but even our present pleasure. Two things are necessary ill order to produce true and rational joy in the human mind, namely, objects suited to its faculties, and faculties in proper disposition to receive impressions from them. In each of these views the Holy Scriptures, as they contain the Divine laws, are calculated to produce this happy temper. What has here been asserted of all the discoveries and demands of God’s revealed will is particularly applicable to its perceptive part, which has a tendency to rejoice the heart of the sincerely pious, in theory, in practice, and on reflection. What further evinces the excellence of the Divine statutes is, that the joy they inspire is pure and unmixed. The religious joy which arises immediately from reflection on a virtuous practice increases the sublime pleasure which springs up in the mind of a good man when he contemplates his relation to his God and Saviour. (P. C. Sowden.)
The Bible right.
Old books go out of date. Whatever they were about, men no longer care for them. Books are human; they have a time to be born, they grow in strength, they have a middle life of usefulness, then comes old age, they totter and they die. Many of the national libraries are merely the cemeteries of dead books. Some were virtuous, and accomplished a glorious mission. Some went into the ashes through inquisitorial fires. Not so with one old book. It started in the world’s infancy. It grew under theocracy and monarchy. It withstood the storms of fire. It grew under the prophet’s mantle and under the fisherman’s coat of the apostles. In Rome, and Ephesus, and Jerusalem, and Patmos tyranny issued edicts against it, and infidelity put out the tongue, and the papacy from its monasteries, and Mohammedanism from its mosques, hurled their anathemas; but the old Bible lived. It came across the British Channel and was greeted by Wycliff and James
I. It came across the Atlantic and struck Plymouth Rock, until, like that of Horeb, it gushed with blessedness. Churches and asylums have gathered all along its way, ringing their bells, and stretching out their hands of blessing. But it will not have accomplished its mission until it has climbed the icy mountains of Greenland, until it has gone over the granite cliffs of China, until it has thrown its glow amid the Australian mines, until it has scattered its gems among the diamond districts of Brazil, and all thrones shall be gathered into one throne, and all crowns by the fires of revolution shall be melted into one crown, and this Book shall at the very gate of heaven have waved in the ransomed empires--not until then will that glorious Bible have accomplished its mission. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The Bible right
I. The Bible is right in its authentication. I say, if the Bible had been an imposition; if it had not been written by the men who said they wrote it; if it had been a mere collection of falsehoods, it would have been scouted by everybody. If that book has come down through the centuries without a scar, it is because there is nothing in it disturbable. When men began their opposition to it there were two or three thousand copies; now there are two hundred millions, so far as I can calculate. Would that have been so had it been an imposture? Further, suppose there was a great pestilence, and hundreds of thousands of men were dying of that pestilence, and someone should find a medicine that in one day cured ten thousand people, would not all men say that was a good medicine? But just so it has been with the Bible. It has cured men of the worst leprosy, the leprosy of sin. Modern discoveries in Petra, Nineveh, Palestine have all gone to prove its truth.
II. The Bible is right in style. I know there are a great many people who think it is merely a collection of genealogical tables and dry facts. That is because they do not know how to read the Book. You take up the most interesting novel that was ever written, and if you commence at the four hundredth page today, and tomorrow at the three hundredth, and She next day at the first page, how much sense or interest would you gather from it? Yet that is the very process to which the Bible is subjected every day. An angel from heaven reading the Bible in that way could not understand it. The Bible, like all other palaces, has a door by which to enter and a door by which to go out. Genesis is the door to go in, and Revelation the door to go out. These Epistles of Paul the Apostle are merely letters written, folded up, and sent by postmen to the different Churches. Do you read other letters the way you read Paul’s letters? Suppose you get a business letter, and you know that in it there are important financial propositions, do you read the last page first and then one line of the third page, and another of the second, and another of the first? Besides that, people read the Bible when they cannot do anything else. It is a dark day and they do not feel well, and they do not go to business, and after lounging about awhile they pick up the Bible--their mind refuses to enjoy the truth. Or they come home weary from the store or shop, and they feel, if they do not say, it is a dull book. While the Bible is to be read on stormy days, and while your head aches, it is also to be read in the sunshine and when your nerves, like harp strings, thrum the song of health. While your vision is clear, walk in this paradise of truth; and while your mental appetite is good, pluck these clusters of grace. Note its conciseness. Every word is packed full of truth. Nine-tenths of all the good literature of this age is merely the Bible diluted. See also its variety; not contradiction or collision, but variety. Just as in the song, you have the basso and alto, and soprano and tenor--they are not in collision with each other, but come in to make up the harmony--so it is in this book, there are different parts of this great song of redemption. The prophet comes and takes one part, and the patriarch another, and the evangelist another, and the apostles another, and yet they all come into the grand harmony--the song of “Moses and the Lamb.” God prepared it for all zones--arctic and tropics, as well as the temperate zone. The Arabian would read it on his dromedary, and the Laplander seated on the swift sledge, and the herdsman of Holland, guarding the cattle in the grass, and the Swiss girl, reclining amid Alpine crags. Thus suited to all is it, and hence I cannot help saying, The statutes of the Lord are right.
III. And the Bible is right in its doctrines. Man, a sinner; Christ, a Saviour--the two doctrines. All the mountains of the Bible bow down to Calvary.
IV. And in its effects. I do not care where you put the Bible, it just suits the place. Whether in the hands of a man seeking salvation, or one discouraged, or one in trouble, or one bereaved--it is the grand catholicon for them all. Father and mother, take down that long-neglected Bible. Where is it now? Is it in the trunk, or on the upper shelf, or is it in the room in the house where you seldom go save when you have company, and then not to read the Bible? In the name of the God who will judge the quick and the dead, and by the interests of your immortal soul and the souls of your children, I charge you today to take up that old Bible, open it, read for your own life, and read for the life of your children. How can you go out on the dark mountains of death, and take your children along with you, when you have such a glorious lamp to guide you? Put that Bible on every rail train, until all the dark places of our land are illuminated by it. Put it on every ship that crosses the sea, until the dark homes of heathenism get the light. While I speak, there comes to us the horrid yell of heathen worship, and in the face of this day’s sun gushed the blood of human sacrifice. Give them the Bible. Tell them, “God so loved the world that He gave,” etc. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The Word of God rejoicing the heart
I. The statutes of God are the first principles of religious duty, or the means of grace. They are rules of life and action relating, first, to our communion with God, our religious service; and then, to our intercourse with one another. And they are “right” in many different senses--counteracting the tendency of man’s sinful heart, supplying a stimulant to duty; right, too, in their operation and in their consequences, both as to this world and the next. What they engage to do they accomplish. Infidelity can make no such boast.
II. They rejoice the heart.
1. What is rejoicing, the joy of the heart? We should base it upon natural affection, mutual harmony and confidence, rendering and receiving to and from all what is due. It operates in the home, and amongst our neighbours, and throughout society. Such are a happy people.
2. And the statutes of the Lord do effect this; hence God’s statutes have been our songs in the house of our pilgrimage. (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
The Bible always right
If my compass always points to the north I know how to use it; but if it veers to other points of the compass, and I am to judge out of my own mind whether it is right or not, I may as well be without the thing as with it. If my Bible is right always, it will lead me right; and as I believe it is, so I shall follow it and find the truth.
A wrong and a right standard
It is stated that when the United States Government’s dock at Brooklyn was finished, on inspecting it, it was found to be two feet too short to take in the vessels which needed repairs. This involved a reconstruction of the work at great expense. How it occurred was a mystery, but it appeared on investigation that the contractor, in making his measurements, used a tape line which was a fraction of an inch too short. Either it had shrunk, or it was imperfectly made at first; in some way the tape was too short, and so the dock was too short also. The importance of a correct standard can hardly be exaggerated. Whether it be a standard of weights, measures, values, or moral qualities, a slight variation from that which is right and true produces disastrous results.
The Bible right, the reader may be wrong
As a mirage is mistaken for a reality, because of the effect of the sun’s rays upon the organs of vision; so with those that are detecting flaws in the Bible. It is because the eye is diseased, and sees double where the object is single. The fault is in the eye, not in the Bible.
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The spiritual nature and enlightening efficacy of the moral law
The purity of the law, if there were no other evidence, is sufficient to establish the fact, that it is the commandment of the Lord. We wish to set before you the moral law in its essential and Divine purity. During the patriarchal ages there was no written document bearing the sanction of a Divine moral law. Tradition, so long as man is eider fallible or fallacious, cannot possibly, for any length of time, from a channel for truth. By and by it pleased God to inscribe with His own finger upon tablets of stone the substance of those floating intimations which He had made from time to time to His servants of old. The law was ordained for something beyond the mere curbing of transgressions; its further object was to detect, expose, and condemn the transgressing principle; in other words, by the purity which it developed and enforced to enlighten man’s eyes upon the character of God, the extent of his own moral ruin, and the absolute necessity of the restoration of the moral principle. The human soul never was suffered to lose an intuitive sense of the simple fact that there is a God; but having assented to this simple fact, the human mind, by its own light, made no further progress towards the discovery of the Divine character. We attribute this failure to moral rather than physical causes. The intellect was not so much in fault as the heart. Man’s favourite sins were thought by him not only to experience the Divine toleration, but even to form no insignificant elements in the Divine character, so that he had nothing to do but to turn over the records of the pagan theology, whensoever he wished to place some act of crime under the protection and the patronage of the god of lust, or fraud, or violence. It was in order to afford some remedy for this dreadful evil--in order to vindicate His own character as well as to elevate that of His creatures, that God published His moral law. The tenor of the law proclaimed at once the high strain of moral perfection belonging by right of nature to the God with whom we have to do. But does man like these ordinances? Do these definitions of duty suit his feelings? If he confess the truth he will confess that he hates such instruction. Many, however, even with the law of God in their hands, are never brought to this confession. They have not been led to see the mighty moral difference between the mind that originated and the minds that received the law. This comes of carelessness and prejudice. Upon the careless generalising of human with Divine systems of law the whole mistake hinges about Christian morals. But human laws only touch actions. Divine laws touch morals, that is, touch motive and action in conjunction. Therefore I am a transgressor of Divine laws if motive as well as action do not tender homage and obedience. Bring human perfection, of whatever nature, side by side with the perfection of the moral law, and of the first the end appears at once. The law shows us our moral ruin, our spiritual death But “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” (T. E. Hankinson M. A.)
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.
The Word of God enduring forever
We are to consider the abiding and habitual effect of the Word of God upon believing hearts. And this effect is expressed in this phrase, “the fear of the Lord.” Note what is said of it.
I. It is clean--its purity. It is so, because it is the only true and sound basis of a due social regard to man, and the only valid bond of union, whether domestic, private, or public. Every believer ought to bear witness to the cleansing, purifying power of the fear of the Lord.
II. Its perpetuity--“enduring forever.” This tells of the effect of the principle rather than of the principle itself, though this latter is not to be omitted. But in its effects it is consistent, unswerving, abiding, all-powerful. It enters into the man, and goes with him wherever he goes. He cannot and would not shake it off. And its effects are eternal, they can never pass away. And all may possess it, through Christ. It shall be for your peace here and happiness hereafter. (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
The Word of God altogether true and righteous
I. Consider these judgments as matters of fact. Take--
1. The expulsion of our first parents from Eden. None can understand why God created man capable of falling, and foreknowing that he would fall. But this does not say that God made him on purpose that he should fall. This would be to assume that we know all God’s purpose in creating man, which we do not. We cannot reconcile the supremacy of God and the free agency of man. It is of no use to attempt to be “wise above what is written,” but our duty is to take man as he is--capable of understanding and obeying God’s command, which Adam unquestionably was. There was in him no moral difficulty as in us, since the imagination of his heart was not, as ours, “evil continually.” We must deplore the instability of the man, bat we cannot on that account take exception to the judgments of the Lord. And the transmission to offspring of the properties of the parent--this law had been ordained before this fatal event, and what right have we to think that He who made all things “very good” should remodel or reverse His laws in consequence of that event? Hence, although “in Adam all die,” was it unrighteous in God to act in accordance with His own previously established law? Adam himself caused, of his own choice, that it should work ill to him and his. But are we to blame God for that?
2. The judgment upon Cain. Surely this was far less than he deserved. And the gate of mercy and of grace was not closed upon him.
3. The deluge, the overthrow of Jerusalem, and many others. In reference to each of these we might prove it to be “altogether righteous.” For by righteous we understand perfect consistency with previous revelations given by God--with the laws enacted and bearing on each case, and with the penalties threatened by God and consciously incurred by man. And when men object to these judgments they do not attempt to justify the conduct of the sinner, but only to condemn the law under which, and the Judge by whom, he was condemned. They affirm that God is without compassion for human frailty, and without consideration for human folly.
II. As matters of faith--they are altogether true. Necessarily, many of the judgments of God are matters of faith. For the interpositions of God, though sometimes seen in the crisis and agony of nations, are, in the case of individuals, scarcely, if at all, discernible.
III. In their bearing upon ourselves. As we cannot impeach God’s righteousness in His judgments in the past, can we, in what we expect in the future, doubt His truth? Meantime “the victory that overcometh the world is this, even our faith.” (Thomas Dale, M. A.)
More to be desired are they than gold.
The Holy Scriptures
I. The excellence of the holy scriptures. None are ignorant of the value of money. Money gives access to every other possession. Point out the vanity of riches. They cannot benefit the possessor beyond this life. They are unsatisfying in their nature. The attainment of them is only within the reach of a few in every community. And they bring temptations to sin. Then, is not the Word of God more to be desired than gold?
II. The way to know the value of Scripture, and to taste its sweetness. Many are but formal readers. To read aright, you must be renewed in the spirit of your minds. There must be a Divine illumination. Pray more for the Spirit’s influence. If we would understand the value of the Scriptures, we shall find it useful to reflect upon their designs and our circumstances. And we must read them with patient perseverance. (Carus Wilson.)
The Bible valued above all else
On yon stormy shore, where, amid the wreck the night had wrought, and the waves, still thundering as they sullenly retire, had left on the beach, lies the naked form of a drowned sailor boy. He had stripped for one last, brave fight for life, and wears nought but a handkerchief bound round his cold breast. Insensible to pity, and unawed by the presence of death, those who sought the wreck, as vultures swoop down on their prey, rushed on the body, and tore away the handkerchief--tore it open, certain that it held within its folds gold, his little fortune, something very valuable for a man in such an hour to say, I’ll sink or swim with it. They were right. But it was not gold. It was the poor lad’s Bible--also a parting gift, and the more precious that it was a mother’s.
The priceless worth of the Bible
A Christian soldier told us of a comrade who called the Bible “his Klondyke,” and, as samples of what he called “good lumps of gold,” gave us Psalms 91:15. “I will answer him. I will be with him . . . I will deliver him . . . satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” Let us put in for a claim in this Klondyke, and dig for its hid treasures.
The excellence of the Scriptures
I. The important discoveries which the Scriptures contain. They make known to us the glory of the invisible God, as a pure and perfect Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. An explicit revelation of His will to man, and of the manner in which He requires to be worshipped and served. Here is discovered to us our once innocent and exalted, but now guilty and fallen, state. Here is made known to us the way of salvation, by which we may be restored to the favour, the image, and the enjoyment of God.
II. The effects which they produce upon the condition of mankind. Even in respect of outward civilisation much advantage has arisen to the world from the introduction of the Scriptures. Even where they are not attended with saving efficacy they are often seen to produce a considerable influence upon the external manners, and sometimes too upon the inward dispositions of men. But the transcendent excellence of the Scriptures is peculiarly manifested in their efficacy, when accompanied with the influence of Divine grace. The Scriptures are the means of spiritual illumination, of conversion and regeneration, of sanctification and a meetness for eternal life.
III. The admirable adaption of the scriptures to the various circumstances of men. Here is something suited to every rank and every age. The Scriptures set forth a perfect rule of duty, with which no system of heathen morality is once to be compared, and they exhibit incitements and encouragements, as well as examples of holiness, which are nowhere else to be found. Their excellency is especially seen in their tendency and efficacy to afford consolation in time of trouble and in the prospect of death. Lessons--
1. Admire the distinguishing goodness of God toward us.
2. Diligently use God’s gift.
3. Recognise the obligation to circulate the Scriptures among our fellow men. (D. Dickson.)
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
The Bible sweeter than honey
Among the insects which subsist on the sweet sap of flowers there are two very different classes. One is remarkable for its imposing plumage, which shows in the sunbeams like the dust of gems; and as you watch its jaunty gyrations over the fields, and its minuet dance from flower to flower, you cannot help admiring its graceful activity. In the same field there is another worker, whose brown vest and straightforward flight may not have arrested your eye. His fluttering neighbour darts down here and there, and sips elegantly wherever he can find a drop of ready nectar; but this dingy plodder makes a point of alighting everywhere, and wherever he alights he either finds honey or makes it. What is the end? The one died last October along with the flower; the other is warm in his hive tonight, amidst the fragrant stores which he gathered beneath the bright beams of summer. Honey is the sweetest of all substances, and the ancients, who were unacquainted with sugar, attached even more importance to it than we do. “A land flowing with milk and honey” presented the very strongest attractions to the Oriental taste. The idea conveyed by the text is this: that the truth of God, as revealed to us in the Bible, affords more real pleasure to the soul than that which epicures consider the most desirable luxury does to the palate. In that remarkable book, The Eclipse of Faith, there is a chapter entitled “The Blank Bible,” in which the author describes a dream, wherein he fancied that on taking up his Greek Testament one morning, to read his accustomed chapter, the old familiar volume seemed to be a total blank. Supposing that some book like it had, by accident, got into its place, he did not stop to hunt it up, but took down a large copy of the Bible, and this, to his amazement, proved also to be a blank from beginning to end. While musing on this unaccountable phenomenon, his servant came in and said that thieves must have been in the house during the night, since her Bible had been carried off, and another volume of the same size, but containing but blank paper, had been left in its place. The dreamer then went forth into the street, and heard a similar report from all whom he met. It was curious to observe the different effect of this calamity on the various characters whom he encountered. An interest, almost universal, was now felt for a book which had hitherto been sadly undervalued. Some to whom their Bible had been a “blank” book for twenty years, and who would never have known whether it was full or empty but for the lamentations of their neighbours, were among the loudest in their expressions of sorrow. In marked contrast with these was the sincere regret of an aged woman, long kept a prisoner in her narrow chamber by sickness, and to whom the Bible had been, as to so many thousands more, her faithful companion ill solitude. I found her gazing intently on the blank Bible (says our author), which had been so recently bright to her with the lustre of immortal hopes. She burst into tears as she saw me. “And has your faith left you too, nay gentle friend?” said
I. “No,” she answered; “and I trust it never will. He who has taken away the Bible has not taken away my memory, and I now recall all that is most precious in that book which has so long been my meditation. I think I can say that I loved it more than any possession on earth.” Even the warnings of the Bible are wholesome for us, for by them we are made to know our own evil. Merle d’Aubigne, during a visit to England, related an incident which happened in 1855, in connection with the circulation of the Bible among soldiers. A colporteur reached Toulon just as the French troops were embarking for the Crimea. He offered a Testament to a soldier, who asked what book it was. “The Word of God,” was the answer. “Let me have it, then,” said the man; and when he had received it he added most irreverently, “it will do very well to light my pipe.” The colporteur felt sorry that a book which might have been of service to somebody had been thus thrown away; but there was no help for it, and he went his way. About a year later he happened to be in the interior of France, and took lodging at an inn, where he found the family in great distress, from the recent death of a son. The poor mother explained that the young man had been wounded in the Crimean War, and had only been able to reach home to die. “I have much consolation,” she added; “he was so peaceful and happy, and he brought comfort to his father and to me.” “How was this?” asked the colporteur. “Oh,” she said, “he found all his comfort in one little book, which he had always with him.” So saying, she showed him a soiled copy of the New Testament (the very one which he himself had given to the reckless young soldier), and read on the inside of the cover, “Received at Toulon (with the date), despised, neglected, read, believed, and found salvation.” “Sweeter than honey” are these Divine oracles of God, and “in keeping of them there is great reward.” (Anon.)
By them is Thy servant warned.
We are not to confuse the imperfections of religious professors with the unchangeable sovereignty of the Divine laws.
I. Call attention to some of them thus connected with our own history, and the warnings they give.
1. Those which relate to the heart of man. We are told its deceitful character.
2. Examples in human character. They, as well as the words of Scripture, warn us against sin.
3. Those that come from the truth of eternity and of judgment to come.
II. The reward of obedience.
1. It is present in the conscience; and
2. Prospective, in heaven.
3. And it is great in comparison with our deserts.
4. And in obedience itself there is great reward. (W. D. Horwood.)
At Tramore, near Waterford, a place where the Atlantic breakers dash with sublime fury against the rocks, there are on the headlands three towers, and on the middle one stands what is called “The Metal Man.” This is a figure made of metal, and painted to resemble a sailor. With his finger he points to some very dangerous rocks that are to be shunned. There are rocks in life’s troublesome sea that are ready to shipwreck the bodies and souls of the young.
In keeping of them there is great reward.
The reward of keeping God’s commandments
In this Psalm David speaks of the two great books by which God administers instruction. The volume of nature. The volume of inspiration. Having enlarged on the excellent properties and glorious effects of the Divine Word, he illustrates its value by a comparison with the things of this world, by the results of his experience, and the infinite advantage connected with the observance of it. David possessed, in the Scriptures then extant, an abstract of all those glorious truths revealed to ourselves, and an abstract of sufficient clearness to guide him to God, to peace, to holiness, to heaven. The possession of the Scriptures, however, is not sufficient to bring the soul to God. These statutes must be kept as well as possessed, for it is in keeping them that there is great reward. The book not only supplies ideas, it also raises the character of the humble student. The Scripture is a book of privileges. There is not a Christian but is entitled to all the clustering promises which grow on this tree of life. Practice is necessary to complete our duty to the Scriptures. All religion hinges upon this point. The Psalmist says, “In keeping of them there is great reward.” Reward is that which is earned by an equivalent, or that which is a suitable recompense for the action performed. But the reward of observing the Word of God is not merely a consequence, neither is it earned by what can be claimed as an equivalent. They are rewards of grace, both in this life and in the future life. (T. Kennion, M. A.)
The advantages of religion to particular persons
I. Religion conduceth to the happiness of this life.
1. As to the mind; to be pious and religious brings a double advantage to the mind of man. It tends to the improvement of our understandings. It raises and enlarges the minds of men, and makes them more capable of true knowledge. It improves the understandings of men by subduing their lusts and moderating their passions. Intemperance, sensuality, and fleshly lusts debase men’s minds. Religion purifies and refines our spirits. Freedom from irregular passions doth not only signify that a man is wise, but really contributes to the making of him such. Religion also tends to the ease and pleasure, the peace and tranquillity, of our minds. This is the natural fruit of a religious and virtuous course of life. Religion contributes to our peace, by allaying those passions which are apt to ruffle and discompose our spirits; and by freeing us from the anxieties of guilt and the fears of Divine wrath and displeasure.
2. Religion also tends to the happiness of the outward man. The blessings of this kind respect our health, or estate, or reputation, or relations.
II. Religion conduceth to the eternal happiness and salvation of men in the other world. The consideration of future happiness is our most powerful motive. How religion conduces to happiness in the new life is seen from--
1. The promises of God; and
2. From the nature of the thing. It is a necessary disposition and preparation of us for that future life. When all is done there is no man can serve his own interest better than by serving God. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
On the pleasures of religion
“What is the chief good?” was the great inquiry of the ancient schools; and the different answers to this question formed the principal distinctions amongst the various sects of philosophy. Happiness is the end of all the pursuits of men; it is the object of all their sighs. Yet are they almost always disappointed in the means which are taken to obtain it. They follow the dictates of their passions. And it is not till after they have sought it in vain through every form of false pleasure that they come at length to find it, where alone reason and religion have concurred to place it, in obedience to God and a life of virtue. Here the anxious mind finds a calm and settled peace which it had not known, and which it could not know amid the agitations of the world. I purpose, in this discourse, to confine my view to the internal comforts that flow from religion. It offers the highest satisfactions to the mind; it yields the purest pleasures to the heart; it introduces serenity and peace into the breast; and finally, it affords a source of happiness which is always within our power, which is secure from the vicissitudes of life, and which shall be eternal. (S. S. Smith, D. D.)
The advantages of a religious life
Compare this text with the saying of Paul, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable.” Where, then, is the present reward of keeping God’s commandments? There might be a reward hereafter; how could there be one now? What are we to say to this apparent contradiction? St. Paul was supposing a case; we must ascertain what his supposition was not, and what it was. Take a man whose whole soul was in his religion, who upheld himself in every trial by the consolations of the blessed hope. He has staked everything on the truth, and having surmounted a thousand obstacles and made his way through a thousand foes, and offered his body on the altar of the living God, he is pressing on with rejoicing and elevated spirit. Tell him that there is no resurrection, and no hope in Christ for an after state of being, and what then? That man would be most miserable if he took into his heart your message. You may say that in shutting out the future we still leave the present; but the present is the foretaste of the future. In cutting off the streams you destroy the fountain. If such a man were told that after fighting through life he would be vanquished in death, what would be left him of gladness? Who, then, shall rival the Christian in misery if, after setting out in the expectation of a blessed immortality, he discovers that only in this life is there hope in Christ? Our object has been to show that there is nothing in the quoted words of St. Paul which militates against the fact alleged in our text, and in other parts of Scripture, that, in respect of present happiness--happiness during this life--the godly have the advantage over the ungodly. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Immediate reward of obedience
You will observe the Psalmist does not say after, but in the keeping of the commandments there is great reward. That reward is the pleasure which lies in God’s service now, not in the payment which is judicially made for it afterwards; just as the eye is regaled in the instant by sights of beauty, or the ear by the melody which falls upon it.
I. What are the ingredients of the present reward?
1. There is the happiness that flows direct from the sense of doing or having done what is right. The testimony of a good conscience. There is a felt and present solace in the taste of that hidden manna which it administers.
2. The affections of the heart which prompt to obedience. For love, whether it be towards God or towards men, is blessed. In its play and exercise there is instantaneous joy; there is delight in the original conceptions of benevolence, and delight also in its outgoings, whilst malignity, envy, and anger do but rankle the bosom. And we can confidently appeal, even to ungodly men, for the truth that in the grovelling pursuits, whether of sense or avarice, they never experienced so true a delight as in those moments when their spirit was touched into sympathy with other spirits than their own. And not only of love, but of all the other virtues, the same can be said. They one and all of them yield an immediate satisfaction to the wearer. The moralities of the human character are what make up the happiness and harmony of the soul. They are the very streams of that well which, struck out in the bosom of regenerated man, spring up there into life everlasting.
II. The advantage of the reward being in, and not after, the keeping of the commandments. Suppose it had been after, and quite distinct from that enjoyment of which we have spoken, and which lies directly and essentially in the obedience itself. This can easily be imagined--a heaven of gratification to the senses as a reward for holiness. Virtue then would be so much work for so much wages; heaven would not be looked for as a place of holiness, but as the price that is given for it. The candidates of immortality would be so many labourers for hire. And it would be no evidence at all of the love which you have for a work, that you have a love for its wages. It makes all the difference whether or no we love our work. Sordidness and sacredness are not wirier apart. This is so in common and ordinary work. How much more when it is the service of God that is in question!
III. How the Gospel of Jesus christ affects this question.
1. It releases you altogether from the law as a covenant. It tells you that you are not to work for heaven, because that heaven is secured to you in another way. Eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We could never pay for it, and therefore God gives it to us. And how blessed this is even for our characters as the subject of God’s will. The old economy of “do this and live” makes up the very spirit of bondage, and of low mercenary bargaining. With the fears of legality, the sordidness of legality is sure to make entrance again into the heart. Hence the only access to a sinner’s heart for the love of holiness in itself is by making him the free offer of heaven as an unconditional gift, and at the same time making him understand that it is, in truth, holiness and nothing else which forms the very essence of heaven’s blessedness. These are the things which constitute the difference between the real and the formal Christian. The inferior creatures may be dealt with by terror or by joy as well as he; his very obedience may proceed from the earthliness of his disposition. Much of the Christian may be put on; but the question is, if you delight in the law of God after the inner man, or whether you obey it because of consequences? Whether you are allured to holiness by the beauty of its graces, or by the bribery of its gains? Surely there is nothing noble in him who labours for the reward that comes after keeping the commandments, and thinks not of the “great reward” that comes “in keeping the commandments.” (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.
The tenacity and sophistry of sin
The vulgar vices reappear subtly disguised in cultured circles. The grossness of the vices has been purged, but the viciousness is not extinct. Is there not something like this in the saintly life as compared with the old life? All the vices to which the soul is heir strive to reassert themselves in the Christian believer, and too often succeed in disturbing his peace and injuring his character. They are not now gross, offensive, violent; they are smooth and subtle, filmy and tenuous; they may even fail to provoke the notice and criticism of those who know us best. Yet we recognise in them, through their profoundest disguises, the deadly vices which, seen in their nakedness, all men loathe. All the bad passions insinuate themselves into our life unless we steadily detect and reject them. Anger, covetousness, indulgence, pride, self-will, vanity, all these motions and outgoings of unrighteousness are ever striving to assert themselves in the Christian soul and life. The tenacity of sin is marvellous, so is its sophistry. These evil thoughts and imaginations of the saintly heart may appear faint and inoffensive sins when compared with the crimson transgressions of the actual world; but the true disciple will not think so, nor will he treat them tenderly. The desires, weaknesses, and sins of the natural life are greatly diminished in the spiritual life; they have altogether lost their alarming aspect; their capacious jaws seem no longer fringed with teeth; but they are none the less of the breed of monsters, and we must show them no mercy. (W. L. Watkinson.)
There is no kind of knowledge which it is so important for a man to possess as knowledge of himself. No man can be blind to himself without sooner or later having to pay serious penalty for such blindness. The best of the ancients regarded self-knowledge as the very beginning of wisdom, just as they regarded self-mastery as the very beginning of practical virtue. It is said that Socrates, on one occasion, excused himself from giving attention to some important questions, on the ground that he could not possibly come to know such things, as he had not yet been able to know himself. There, the grand old heathen felt, was the true starting place of all true knowledge. Wisdom, like charity, began at home. There are few things, judging at first sight, of which a man might be supposed to have fuller and more accurate knowledge, than he has of his own mind and character. The subject of study is always within his reach. To avoid self-thought is impossible. To the great majority of men the subject is one of perennial and engrossing interest. Nature has so ordained it that, in many important respects, the object of greatest concern to every one of us is himself. History may be a blank to a man, science a name, literature and art dark and mysterious as the grave; but himself!--here surely the man is at home, or he is at home nowhere. The Psalmist, however, is of a widely different opinion. Of course, a certain amount of self-knowledge is thrust upon us all. Much ignorance of self, too, is corrected by our contact with men and things. Many a false and foolish notion is thus ruthlessly swept away as the years pass on. Life and God are great teachers; and, unless a man be a hopeless fool, they compel him to learn something of himself. Still, the exclamation of the Psalmist hits off an universal fact. “Who can understand his errors?” There is a touch of pensive surprise in the words, as if he had just had an unwonted revelation of himself, as if he had just made discovery of faults and sins hitherto hidden from him. He had no idea that there was so much lingering mischief within. He is not quite sure that he has seen the worst yet. By “secret faults” the Psalmist does not mean guilty things, that is, things of actual wickedness done in secret. Open transgression is the path of death. Secret transgression is more deadly still. By “secret faults’ he means faults hidden away, not from others, but from ourselves. And it is more than probable that such “faults” exist in all of us. It is no uncommon thing to see a man blind as a bat to some infirmity of temper, some coarseness of manner, some infatuation or rooted prejudice, conspicuous as the sun at noonday to his friends, and not quite so pleasant! Another evidence of this lack of self-knowledge is to be found in the grave discoveries we sometimes make of our actual character and condition. The matter is sometimes brought home to us by the faithfulness of a friend. It may come through the home thrust of an enemy. Our hope is in God. The head need not have turned grey before we discover that, in a world like this, “it is not in man to order his steps aright.” Happy he who once and forever abandons the fruitless task, finds his way to a Saviour’s side, shelters beneath the Rock that is higher than he. (J. Thew.)
The difficulty of understanding our errors
At this point the Psalmist pauses. He has been looking at his life in the light of the holy law, and, realising how full of imperfection it was, he resumes again in a penitential strain, “Who can understand his errors?” There is not only the acknowledgment that life is full of error; there is corruption at the very spring of life. He also acknowledges the difficulty of understanding our errors. Sin destroys the power by which we detect it. It creates a false standard, by which we judge ourselves. There is a personal touch in this acknowledgment. “Who can understand his own errors?” The sinner is sometimes sharp in discerning the errors of other people, although blind to his own. Thus it was with David himself. We are all too ready to acknowledge sin in a general way, without trying to note the particular sins we are most guilty of. There follows the prayer, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” These include--
1. Faults unknown to ourselves. If we are trying to follow Christ, and live a straight and honest and pure life, we find difficulties at every turn. Temptations are strewn thickly around on every path. Unknown sins are the most dangerous to the soul. Sins noted and marked upon our memories are less likely to be ruinous to the soul than those secret sins which elude the observation.
2. Faults known to ourselves, but known only to ourselves. Each lives three lives: the life by which we are known to the world, the life by which we are known to our household, and the life known only to ourselves. All sins are, to a certain extent, presumptuous. Sins of presumption, properly speaking, are sins of will, knowingly and wilfully committed. It is a sin of presumption to act as if we needed no mercy. (T. Somerville, M. A.)
The deceitfulness of sin
The sense of sin, the joy of pardon, and the yearning for goodness are essential features in the religion of Christ. If the sense of sin gives the deepest pain, the joy of pardon is the sweetest joy. The thought of the Psalmist in this passage is the difficulty for each man of understanding his sins. Error means straying, wandering from the path. There are sins of ignorance and of infirmity, unconsciously, unintentionally done through lack of self-knowledge, or of zealous vigilance against the deceits of the world and the snares of Satan. There are also sins of presumption, done with deliberateness and hardened pride and a sort of insolence against God. There are also sins which do not usually come earliest in the moral history, but which are the inevitable result and penalty of sins of carelessness and infirmity; and which imply, nay, sooner or later create, that awful insensibility which is the sure symptom of spiritual death, and for which no forgiveness, because no repentance, is possible. The sinfulness of sin consists in its being done against the majesty and holiness, and authority and love, of God. The more we know of God the more shall we feel the depravity, the wickedness of sin. The incessancy of it is a very painful and humbling, but incontestable truth. Our sins of omission, which perhaps come most home to us in the riper years of the Christian life; the sins of commission, in which we actually violate the law of God--were they to be brought up against us at the end of a single day, might turn our hair white with shame and sorrow. Its deceitfulness is one of its most malignant and dangerous features. To call good evil is not to make it evil, and to call evil good is not to make it good. Yet we love to have it so, and God answers us according to the multitude of our idols. Nevertheless, when the moral sense is darkened it is on the way to be extinguished. How then shall we keep alive in our hearts the instinct of righteousness, and the sorrowful consciousness of having come short of it? This Psalm shows us that the key of the secret, and the instrument for each of us to use, is the Word of God.
1. Would we feel about sin as God would have us feel, let us pray earnestly and constantly for the Holy Spirit.
2. Let us be on our guard against an artificial, hysterical, self-inspecting, pusillanimous remorse. Let penitence come rather through the habitual contemplation of God in Christ, than by swelling the swamps of our own corrupt nature.
3. The sense of sin, if we would avoid unreality and a sort of complacency in our humbleness, should ever be accompanied with a continuous and strenuous effort to overcome it.
4. St. Paul never forgot his past. We need not forget that we have sinned, if only we have cause to believe that we are forgiven. We may be perfectly clean, though imperfectly holy. (Bishop Thorold.)
A man’s errors
1. Man’s ignorance of himself is the result of man’s ignorance of God; and the knowledge of God comprehends the knowledge of man. If a man would “understand his errors,” he must first know Him who can forgive, correct, and prevent them. A capacity of spiritual discernment is essential to man knowledge of himself.
2. Man’s knowledge of his ignorance is the first stage in his educational progress towards the possession of wisdom, and the first expression of that knowledge is prayer.
3. A tendency to err in thought, in word, and in action, combined with the inherent deceitfulness of sin, is the secret of the unfathomable mystery of human error,--unfathomable, that is, by any sounding line of mere human intellect or human conscience. A tendency to err produces error. A biassed ball cannot run straight. The deceitfulness of sin, however, rather than this tendency, is the preponderating element in the unknowableness of one’s own errors. Sin usually wears a disguise, and often a man does not know his own sin. The sinful heart is a cunning logician.
4. To “understand one’s errors,” one must know the fact of the universal defilement of sin consequent upon the fall.
5. The “errors” of a man include “secret faults” and “presumptuous sins.” To sin knowingly is to sin presumptuously. A secret fault is one unknown to others or ourselves--to either or to both. It is a mockery for a man who has not searched himself to ask God to search him.
6. All true wisdom, possessed or attainable by any one of the human race on earth, involves constant self-scrutiny and constant prayer. Men must be advised to look both within and without. It is because we look within that we also look without.
7. All true wisdom is increasing wisdom, for it involves increasing sanctification, and included in sanctification ,is the joy of a heavenly fellowship. (T. Easton.)
The searching power of God’s law
Notice David’s holy perplexity.
1. The occasion of it. David was now looking into the law of God, and a beam of that light had darted into his conscience. The Word of God has a secret, unavoidable power upon the soul to convince it of sin. In the Scripture is presented a transcendent rule of holiness, the infinite purity and sanctity which is in God Himself. The soul, seeing this, is at once convinced of infinite impurity. In Scripture there is an exact rule of holiness prescribed. The law forbids all sin, and enjoins all holiness. It is a spiritual rule, not resting only in an outward conformity. It keeps secret thoughts under awe. The law of God is operative, not as a dead letter: it has an active power to work upon the heart. The Spirit of God goes along with it, and makes it quick, and powerful, and sharp, and mighty in operation. As to the--
2. Nature and purpose of David’s perplexity; it may be resolved into these three expressions.
(1) It is the speech of a man who confesses his ignorance; he knows not his errors.
(2) It is the speech of him who sees many errors in himself, and suspects more, and is astonished at the consideration of them.
(3) He utters his thoughts with a sighing accent, and groans within himself at the sense of them. As to the matter of this question, take it thus--Who understands the nature of all his actions, whether they be erroneous or not? Or thus--Who ever yet kept such a careful account in his conscience as to register the just number of his sins? Or thus--Who understands the many aggravations that may make a seemingly small sin out of measure sinful? What is the ground whence arises this difficulty of discerning errors? Chiefly from these three. The Divine excellency of the law of God. The marvellous subtlety and closeness of man’s spirit. The falsehood of Satan, his depths of deceitfulness. Use the subject for conviction, and for consolation. (Bishop Browning.)
Knowledge of one’s sins
I. To acquire a knowledge of our sinfulness is exceedingly difficult. This may be inferred from the fact that very few acquire this knowledge, and that none acquire it perfectly. We learn, both from observation and from the Scriptures, that of those sins of the heart, in which men’s errors or sinfulness principally consist in the sight of God, they are all by nature entirely ignorant. Men will not come to the Saviour because they do not feel their need of Him. It is difficult to get a knowledge of our sin, for the influences of the Divine Spirit are represented as necessary to communicate this knowledge. But it would be needless to convince men of sin if they were not ignorant of their sins. Mankind are so blind to their own sinfulness, so ignorant of their true characters, that the Spirit of God alone can remove this blindness.
II. Show why it is so.
1. Because men are ignorant of the Divine law. By the law is the knowledge of sin. St. John says, sin is a deviation from the law. But mankind are naturally ignorant of the Divine law. They are alive without the law. He who would understand his errors must understand the Divine law.
2. Another cause is the nature of the human mind. It is like the eye which, while it perceives other objects, cannot see itself (save in a mirror). Men find it difficult to examine themselves.
3. Another cause is the prevalence of self-love. Every man is extremely partial ill judging himself, and exceedingly unwilling to discover his own faults.
4. The deceitfulness of sin is another cause.
5. Another is the effects which sin produces upon men’s understandings and consciences. These faculties are the eyes of the soul, without which he can discern nothing. Just so far as sin prevails in the heart and life, so far it puts out or darkens these eyes of the mind with respect to all spiritual objects; so that the more sinful a man really is, so much the less sinful does he appear to himself to be. (E. Payson, D. D.)
It is no supposition, but an unquestionable fact, that to not a few of us, from the first moment of existence, there has been present, not beneath the roof but within the breast, a mysterious resident, an inseparable companion, nearer to us than friend or brother, yet of whom, after all, we know little or nothing. Many are the reasons why we should be acquainted with our moral nature. Other portions of self-knowledge we may with comparative harmlessness neglect, but to neglect this is full of peril. And we can never depute the work to another. Unnoticed error in the heart, unlike intellectual deficiencies, not merely affects our temporal condition or our social reputation, but may issue in our eternal ruin. Yet a man’s moral defects are most likely to elude his own scrutiny. There is a peculiar secrecy, an inherent inscrutability, about our sins. It is the peculiar characteristic of moral disease, that it does its deadly work in secret. Sin is a malady which affects the very organ by which itself is detected. One reason why the sinful man does not understand his errors is--
I. That sin can be truly measured only when it is resisted. So long as evil reigns unopposed within it will reign m a great degree unobserved. Resistance m the best measure of force. Sin’s power is revealed only in the act of resistance. When the softening principle of Divine love and grace begins to thaw the icy coldness of a godless heart, then it is that the soul becomes aware of the deadly strength of sin. Then comes the feeling of an hitherto unrealised burden.
II. Sin often makes a man afraid to know himself. A man often has a latent misgiving that all is not right with his soul, yet, fearing to know the whole truth, he will inquire no further. Most men prefer the delicious tranquillity of ignorance to the wholesome pains of a self-revelation. Easily alarmed in other cases, men become strangely incurious here. With many, life is but a continuous endeavour to forget and keep out of sight their true selves.
III. The slow and gradual way in which, in most cases, sinful habits and dispositions are acquired. There is something in the mere fact of the gradual and insidious way in which changes of character generally take place, that tends to blind men to their own defects. Everyone knows how unconscious we often are of changes that occur by minute and slow degrees, as in the case of the seasons. How imperceptibly life’s advancing stages steal up on us! Analogous changes equally unnoted, because equally slow and gradual, may be occurring in our moral nature, in the state of our souls before God. Character is a thine of slow formation. Each day helps to mould it. In a thousand insignificant sacrifices of principle to passion, of duty to inclination, a man’s moral being has been fashioned into the shape it wears.
IV. As character gradually deteriorates, there is a parallel deterioration of the standard by which we judge it. As sin grows, conscience declines in vigour, and partakes of the general injury which sin inflicts on the soul. Sin, in many of its forms, has an ugly look at first, but its repulsiveness rapidly wears off by familiarity. The danger of self-ignorance is not less than its guilt. Of all evils a secret evil is most to be deprecated,--of all enemies a concealed enemy is the worst. However alarming, however distressing self-knowledge may be, better that than the tremendous evils of self-ignorance. (Principal Caird, D. D.)
What we know is as nothing compared with what we do not know. This is true of our errors.
I. Explain the question. We all own that we have errors, but who of us can understand them? They mingle with our good, and we cannot detect them so as to separate them. And this not only in our feelings, but in our actions. And their number, guilt, aggravation--who can understand this? Let each one think of his own errors and their peculiar wickedness.
II. Impress it on the heart. In order to a man’s understanding his errors he must understand the mystery of--
1. The fall. Here is a piece of iron laid upon the anvil. The hammers are plied upon it lustily. A thousand sparks are scattered on every side. Suppose it possible to count each spark as it falls from the anvil; yet who could guess the number of the unborn sparks that still lie latent and hidden in the mass of iron? Now your sinful nature may be compared to that heated bar of iron. Temptations are the hammers; your sins the sparks. If you could count them (which you cannot do), yet who could tell the multitude of unborn iniquities--eggs of sin that lie slumbering in your souls. And so we are not to think merely of the sins that grow on the surface, but if we could turn our heart up to its core and centre we should find it as fully permeated with sin as every piece of putridity is with worms and rottenness. The fact is, that man is a reeking mass of corruption. His whole soul is by nature so debased and so depraved that no description which can be given of him even by inspired tongues can fully tell how base and vile a thing he is.
2. God’s law especially in its spiritual application. It is exceeding broad.
3. The perfection of God.
5. The Cross. George Herbert saith very sweetly--“He that would know sin, let him repair to Olivet, and he shall see a Man so wrung with pain that all His head, His hair, His garments bloody be. Sin was that press and vice which forced pain to hunt its cruel food through every vein.” You must see Christ sweating, as it were, great drops of blood. You must drink of the cup to its last dregs, and like Jesus cry--“It is finished,” or else we cannot know the guilt of our sin.
III. The practical application.
1. The folly of hoping for salvation by our own righteousness.
2. Or by our feelings.
3. What grace is this which pardons sin! Blessed be God, the spotless flood of Jesus’ merit is deeper than the height of mine iniquities. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The soul’s error
“Error,” what a word, what a thing! It is the foundation stone of Satan’s kingdom in the world; ay, and by it be builds up and sustains his empire in the world. Two things are suggested here concerning the soul’s errors--
I. They are mysterious. “Who Call understand his errors?”
1. They are mysterious in their origin. Wire can explain the genesis of error?
2. They are mysterious in their number. Who can count them? They baffle all human arithmetic.
3. They are mysterious in their working. How Wondrously they work!
4. They are mysterious in their influence. Who shall tell the influence of one error, on one individual, on society, on the universe?
II. They are polluting. “Cleanse Thou me.” Errors stain the conscience and the heart, they are moral filth.
1. The cleansing of the soul from error is a work of supreme urgency. “Cleanse Thou me.” Without this cleansing there can be no true liberty, dignity, or happiness, no fellowship with God, no heaven.
2. The cleansing of the soul from error is the work of God. “Cleanse Thou me.” We cannot cleanse ourselves, though our agency in the matter is indispensable. “Create ill me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Homilist.)
The difficulty of attaining to a knowledge of our sin
We have here a question put and a prayer offered. But the implied answer to the question must be taken with some limitations; for--
I. Some knowledge of one’s errors is essential to salvation. Such as--
1. Will awaken the soul of man.
2. Drive him out of all the refuges of lies to which he will betake himself for salvation.
3. Convince him that he is utterly helpless and deserves to perish.
4. Make him come to Christ and accept the Gospel. But when men are brought to all this, then they ask--
II. Who can understand his errors? For--
1. He cannot understand the errors that he knows--their nature, their variety, their number, their aggravation, their demerit.
2. Of many of his errors he has no knowledge at all. See how long men remain in sin and are not disturbed by it. Conclusion: How humbled should we be. How forbearing is God. How precious Christ’s redemption. How mighty the work of the Holy Spirit. How thorough in its working true faith is. But how little of it there is. (J. R. Anderson.)
The foundation of all spiritual wisdom must be ]aid in self-knowledge. Yet men neither desire nor seek such knowledge. There is nothing that they desire less. Yet without there can be no true religion. The form may be maintained but the power will be unknown. But the good man will seek this knowledge, though he will not fully attain it.
I. The humiliating confession implied in the Psalmist’s question. It is implied that no man can understand his errors. And reasons for this are--
1. The infinite purity of God’s law, surpassing our comprehension.
2. Self-love, which makes him tender and partial in estimating his own faults.
3. The impossibility of recollecting every instance, even of undoubted transgression. They are so many, so varied, so secret.
II. The humble petition which follows this confession. David knew that none of his sins were hidden from God, though they might be from himself. And he knew that they defiled and polluted his soul. Hence his prayer. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which alone can cleanse us. Turn, therefore, in confession and penitence to Him. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Difficulty of knowing our faults
A small portion of light, it is said, only serves to render darkness more visible; so, when the light of truth begins to penetrate the mind, it shows that there is within us a dark abyss; and every additional ray discovers more of the intricate windings of the human heart. For there is not only dense darkness, but many false and deceitful appearances which turn out upon investigation very different from what they seemed to be. David felt this, and hence our text.
I. Inquire why it is so difficult to know our own faults. We may know an act to be a sin, and yet not know all the moral evil that is in it. But--
1. One reason why we know so little of ourselves is, that so few reflect.
2. Another is, our thoughts are so fugitive.
3. Our feelings are so mixed as to their character.
4. Pride and self-love.
5. Our dislike of that which excites, as our sins do--painful feelings. Remorse is an intolerable pain. And so is the “looking for of judgment.”
6. We judge ourselves by the flatteries of others;
7. And by the ordinary conduct of men.
8. Failure to apply to ourselves the true standard of rectitude. “I was alive without the law once.” How, then, ought we to watch our hearts and continually seek the grace of God.
II. The import of this prayer. It is for deliverance not only from known, but from hidden sins also. And there is a two-fold cleansing--
1. That of expiation.
2. That of sanctification. Not only do we need pardon, but the continual purification of our souls.
1. The best evidence of the existence of a holy nature is the sincere and prevailing desire of perfect holiness. A gracious state is not proved by the persuasion that we have attained it, but by the ardent, habitual desire after it.
3. When on account of sin the conscience is again burdened, we must turn again to the blood of Christ.
4. Remember many of our sins are hidden, but they lead on to presumptuous sins. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
Thy heart’s ignorance of itself
I. The question. “Who can understand his errors?” “Error” is one of the mildest words we use to describe wrong-doing. Sin, guilt, wickedness, iniquity, seem to be terms that carry heavy blame along with them; but when we say of a man merely that he is “in error,” we consider we are speaking leniently. And yet “error” really conveys, perhaps, a clearer idea of what sin in its essence is than any of the other words. For what is error but the straying out of a path, the wandering from a way? There is no better definition of sin. The soul has a way, a path, designed for it, just as a planet has an orbit. The difference between the star and the soul is, that the one keeps to its appointed course while the other wanders; but when we ask why this is so, when we try to find out the cause of such unlikeness of behaviour, we touch one of the deepest senses in which it is possible to ask the question, Who can understand his errors?
1. Who can understand error as such? Why should that be true of the human soul which is true of nothing else that is or lives, so far as we know, namely, that it is able to break the law?
2. Who can understand his errors, in the sense of understanding the way in which the principle of sin works in the heart, and manifests itself in the life?
(1) How often men, in the bitterness of their souls, cry, What can have possessed me that I should have said or done thus or so? They cannot imagine their true selves having said or done the thing, and so they fall back upon the fancy that some other being came in and took unrightful possession of the conscience, usurped it, thus making possible that which would have been impossible had the lawful sovereign continued on the throne. But this only shows how little we know ourselves, how hard it is for us to understand our errors.
(2) When we take into account hereditary tendencies and dispositions, when we consider how much easier it is for one person to resist the temptation to intemperance, or violence of speech, than for another, the problem becomes still more complicated.
(3) Letting go the past altogether, when we try to distinguish between the various sources from which, and channels through which, our temptations approach us, how embarrassed we find ourselves. We are conscious that some of our temptations come directly through the channels of sense; we see that others, such as the allurements of ambition and the attractions of praise, touch us from the side of “the world,” so-called, or society; while of still others we can only say that they either originate in our own spirits or else are communicated by contact with other spirits, of whose nearness at this time or that we are ignorant. Yet when we have conceded the justice of this analysis, it remains exceedingly difficult to decide, in any given instance, from Which one of the three possible sources the temptation which happens for the moment to be pressing us with its vehement appeals has come. It is a point in favour of a beleaguered army if the general in command only knows on which side to anticipate the next attack, but where there is uncertainty about this, or what is worse, where there is the fear that the assault may come from all quarters at once, there must be corresponding loss of heart.
II. The prayer. “Cleanse Thou me,” etc. Here is the help, just here. Invite the Saviour of the soul to enter in through the gateway of the soul, and to take up His dwelling there. There is no one who comprehends a piece of mechanism so well as the inventor and the maker of it. You may call this a rough figure of speech, and yet, up to a certain point, it is a just one. The soul is, indeed, something much better than a watch; but still the watch and the soul have this much at least in common: each has had a maker, and it is only reasonable to say that no one can possibly understand the thing made so thoroughly as the one who made it. But note carefully the precise point where the soul has the advantage of the watch. It is here; the watchmaker touches the wheels and springs from without. He handles them with most marvellous dexterity, to be sure, but still, after all, it is only handling. The Maker of the soul can do more than handle His workmanship. He has the added power of entering in and dwelling within it, yes, actually within it, as intimately as the life power dwells within the very juices of the plant, making it lily or carnation, anemone or violet, each after its kind. Those cures are the most effectual that heal the man from within. Surface remedies are proverbially disappointing. Defects of constitution, deeply concealed flaws of nature, yield only to healing forces that, like an atmosphere breathed in, penetrate to the very inmost sources of life. It is so with the secret faults, the hidden flecks, the unnoticed weaknesses which mar the wholeness and sap the strength of the spiritual man. We need to breathe in more of God if we would breathe out more of goodness. We need to have within our veins and bounding in our pulses more of the blood of Christ if we would have the blood of Christ save us indeed, for it is not by an outward washing that God is making ready a people for Himself, but by that inward cleansing which begins at the heart. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
By errors he means his unwitting and inconsiderate mistakes. There are sins, some which are committed when the sun shines, i.e. with light and knowledge, and then, as it is with colours when the sun shines, you may see them, so these a man can see and know, and confess them particularly to be transgressions; there are other sins, which are committed either in the times of ignorance or else (if there be knowledge) yet with inobservance: either of these may be so heaped up in the particular number of them that, as a man did (when he did commit them), take no notice of them, so now after the commission, if he should take the brightest candle to search all the records of his soul, yet many of them would escape his notice. And, indeed, this is a great part of our misery, that we cannot understand all our debts: we can easily see too many, yet many more, he as it were dead, and out of sight; to sin is one great misery, and then to forget our sills is a misery too: if in repentance we could set the battle in array, point to every individual sin, in the true and particular times of acting and re-acting, oh how would our hearts be more broken with shame and sorrow, and how would we adore the richness of the treasure of mercy which must have a multitude in it, to pardon the multitude of our infinite errors and sins. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Errors discovered to the heart
Nevertheless, though David saith, Who can understand his errors? as the prophet Jeremiah spake also, The heart of man is desperately wicked, who can know it? yet must we bestir ourselves at heaven to get more and more heavenly light to find out more and more of our sinnings: so the Lord can search the heart; and though we shall never be able to find out all our sins which we have committed, yet it is possible, and beneficial, for us to find out yet more sins than yet we do know: and you shall find these in your own experience, that as soon as ever grace entered your hearts you saw sin in another way than ever you saw it before, yea, and the more grace hath traversed and increased in the soul, the more full discoveries hath it made of sins: it hath shown new sins as it were, new sins, not for their being, not as if they were not in the heart and life before, but for their evidence, and our apprehension and feeling: we do now see such ways and such inclinations to be sinful which we did not think to be so before: as physic brings those burnouts, which had their residence before, now more to the sense of the patient: or as the sun makes open the motes of dust which were in the room before, so doth the light of the Word discover more corruption. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.--
Temptation comes to all men everywhere, and St. Bernard roundly says, “All life is a temptation,” which means that it is a history of attacks and resistances, victories and defeats, in spiritual things. How could we ever expect to hear the praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if we had gained no victories over self? And how shall we gain them without effort? Temptation has various sources--our own weakness, Satan’s plots, and God’s purposes. Examination shows that temptation is allowed for in God’s plan. Still, we are not to think God is Himself the author of temptation. The fact is, temptation has different meanings and objects, according to the different sources from which it comes. It was from mere malignity Satan tempted Job. It was from party spirit and self-sufficiency the lawyers questioned Christ, tempting Him. It is from coveting that those who would be rich fall into temptations; but when God allows us to be tempted, His trials are for our good, to disclose our weakness, to increase our strength, to rebuke our waywardness, or bring back our wandering steps. Even in their fails God’s love pursues and overtakes His children. The first thing for us to do is to discover what is our temptation and our tempter. There are inveterate habits of thought, speech, and conduct which are chronic temptations one has hardly a knowledge of, and no will to resist. And here, in these, are the great battlefields for us; and the discovery of these to us is a special occasion of God’s grace to us. When you have found out your special sin, the next thing is to enter the lists against it in a solemn way, a solemn and prepared way. We want the Holy Spirit’s help to know what cannot otherwise be known, the sin which doth most easily beset us. This is to be prayed for, and waited for, and worked for, and part of the prayer must be the attitude of the praying life, a watching soul, a secretly self-questioning soul, a retirement into a sort of inner oratory in one’s own self, there expecting and asking that God may show us ourselves, and enable us to discover, judge, and disapprove ourselves. (T. F. Crosse, D. C. L.)
In the Lateran council of the Church of Rome a decree was passed that every true believer must confess his sins, all of them, once a year to the priest, and they affixed to it this declaration, that there is no hope, else, of pardon being obtained. How absurd. Can a man tell his sins as easily as he can count his fingers? If we had eyes like those of God we should think very differently of ourselves. The sins that we see and confess are but like the farmer’s small samples which he brings to market when he has left his granary full at home. Let all know that sin is sin, whether we see it or not: though secret to us, it is as truly sin as if we had known it to be so, though not so great as a presumptuous sin. But we want to speak to those whose sins are not unknown to themselves, but still are secret from their fellow men. Every now and then we turn up a fair stone which lies upon the green mound of the professing Church, surrounded with the verdure of apparent goodness, and we are astonished to find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles. But that would not be just. Let me speak to you who break God’s covenant in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light, who shut the doors and sin in secret.
I. What folly you are guilty of. It is not secret, it is known. God knows it. This world is like the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looketh down and seeth all.
II. The misery of secret sins. They who commit them are in constant fear of discovery. If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a roystering sinner, who sins before the face of day: let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward. A mere profession is but painted pageantry, to go to hell in, the funeral array of dead souls; guilt is a “grim chamberlain,” even when his fingers are not bloody red. Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at.
III. Its solemn guilt. You do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? If somebody did see, then there would be evil. But to play a trick and never be discovered, as we do in trade, that is all fair. I do not believe that. A railway servant puts up a wrong signal, there is an accident, the man is tried and punished. He did the same thing the day before, but there was no accident, and so no one accused him. But it was just the same; the accident did not make the guilt, but the deed. It was his business to have taken care. Secret sin is the worst of sin, because in his heart the man is an atheist.
IV. The danger of secret sin. It will grow into a public one. You cannot preserve moderation in sin. The melting of the lower glacier in the Alps is always followed by that of the higher. When you begin to sin you go on. Christians, you dare not spare these secret sins; you must destroy them.
V. I beseech you give them up. You who are almost persuaded to be a Christian. Will you have your sin and go to hell, or leave your sin and go to heaven? Some say, “You are too precise.” Will you say that to God at the last? Secret sinner, in the great day of judgment what will become of thee? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The cry from the chasm
The Tay Bridge fell because of “secret faults,”--a few little blisters on a girder or two. David fell through “secret faults.” Three lives we live, concentric circles they are, within one another, connected yet separate.
1. The outside life, in society, among our fellow men. This outside life, comparing with the other inner lives, is lived with a dangerous facility. Society life is lived very easily. And yet it may be one seething mass of rottenness and hypocrisy. Yes, this outside life is easily lived, profession easily made, and easily and spotlessly acted up to, and because of that we find this prayer of the Psalmist does not refer in particular to this outmost circle, although, of course, to this outmost circle all the eddying movements for fouler or cleaner must in time extend.
2. An inner life we live when the door flings to its hinges on the world, the life in our home group, in our family circle. Here we manage to raise a little the society mask; we can almost lift it up and lay it down, and let our eyes look on our real selves. Our surroundings at home are more favourable to the revealing of our true character. The inspection of our home privacy is prejudiced in our favour. But here again there is a Pinchbeck imitation. A saint abroad, they say, may be a devil at home; true, but a devil abroad may be a saint at home. And a saint abroad and a saint at home too may be a devil at heart. The whole role of the saint we can easily act to minutest detail as a member or office bearer of the Church, and the “pious fraud” can be carried through without a hitch in our home circle. The imitation may defy detection from the search of the strongest household microscopes.
3. The inmost life, the region of David’s prayer for cleansing, is heart life. Into this privacy not another being is admitted. Here is solitude unbroken. If unbosom we would, we could not. God has walled round the spirit world with the walls unclimbable and unwingable. Nobody knows but Jesus--the battles of the soul, the halting, the stumbling, the fainting, the falling, the fleeing, the thoughts hard, the thoughts bad, the thoughts harsh and hateful, the temptings, the struggles, the sins, the uncleanness--the black poisoned streams pouring from the old death jets of the fountain day by day. Why does David pray for cleansing? What is prayer? It is the appeal to power from powerlessness, the strong cry from helplessness to help. Here in this inmost life faults are truly “secret”--secret from the man himself. That is the bidden plague-spot, and well may we wince when we touch the place. We cannot play the hypocrite here. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” No mask here. Entirely helpless; if we seek cleansing, we must get it outside ourselves. For it we must pray to God. Why, O burdened psalmist heart, needest thou pray for cleansing of secret faults? In most folk’s vocabulary “secret” is comfortable, quieting, secure, and safe. Well dost thou know that faults secret to others, and secret to thee, are not secret to God. The prayer is from David’s helplessness before the secret faults of his own soul; but the agonising timbre of the petition is from the overpowering sense of this inward depravity and corruption, secret and unknown to him, yet spread out in a terrible roll before Him who cannot look upon the shadow of sin. This staggering thought is one reason for the earnestness of this prayer. (J. Robertson.)
The Psalmist is thinking of the errors that we don’t understand, and of which we are not conscious.
1. There are faults which are secret, because they are bound up with our dispositions and characters. We see every day how blind men become to their own habitual faults.
2. There are secret faults which are due to the influence of our surroundings. There is a law known to naturalists as the law of protective colouring, according to which animals grow into the likeness of their environment. There is such a law in society. Human beings tend to assimilate themselves to the customs and opinions of the world around them. In the business world men do, without hesitation, what they could not do if they applied the law of Christ to the regulation of their daily calling. The society in which we live affects us. It tends to bring us down to its level, and imbues us with its opinions.
3. There are secret faults which consist of undeveloped germs and possibilities of evil that lie lurking in our hearts.
How are we to be delivered from these secret faults?
1. Set about the work of self-examination. Careful and judicious self-examination lies at the bottom of all progressive Christianity. It may be done in a morbid, introspective way, but it need not be.
2. We must apply ourselves to the study of the Word of God.
3. We should bring ourselves into the holy presence of Jesus Christ.
4. We must learn to pray the Psalmist’s prayer. We cannot cleanse ourselves, we need to be cleansed. Christ must live in us by His Holy Spirit if we are to be cleansed from our secret faults, and to become pure even as He is pure. (J. C. Lambert.)
Unless we have some just idea of our hearts and of sin we can have no right idea of a Moral Governor, a Saviour, or a Sanctifier. Self-knowledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge. Self-knowledge admits of degrees. No one, perhaps, is entirely ignorant of himself Most men are contented with a slight acquaintance with their hearts, and therefore a superficial faith. Men are satisfied to have numberless secret faults. They do not think about them either as sins or as obstacles to strength of faith, and live on as if they had nothing to learn.
1. A ready method of convincing ourselves of the existence in us of faults unknown to ourselves is to consider how plainly we see the secret faults of others.
2. Now reflect on the actual disclosures of our hidden weakness, which accidents occasion. Integrity on one side of our character is no voucher for integrity on another. We cannot tell how we should act if brought under temptations different from those which we have hitherto experienced.
3. This much we cannot but allow; that we do not know ourselves in those respects in which we have not been tried. But further than this: What if we do not know ourselves even where we have been tried, and found faithful? The recorded errors of Scripture saints occulted in those parts of their duty in which they showed obedience most perfect.
4. Think of this too: No one begins to examine himself, and to pray to know himself, but he finds within him an abundance of faults which before were either entirely, or almost entirely, unknown to him. That this is so we learn from the written lives of good men, and our own experience of others. And hence it is that our best men are ever the most humble.
5. But let a man persevere in prayer and watchfulness to the day of his death, yet he will never get to the bottom of his heart. Though he know more and more of himself as he becomes more conscientious and earnest, still the full manifestation of the secrets there lodged is reserved for another world.
Call to mind the impediments that are in the way of your knowing yourselves or feeling your ignorance.
1. Self-knowledge does not come as a matter of course; it implies an effort and a work. The very effort of steadily reflecting is painful to some men, not to speak of the difficulty of reflecting correctly.
2. Then comes in our self-love. We hope the best; this saves us the trouble of examining. Self-love answers for our safety.
3. This favourable judgment of ourselves will especially prevail if we have the misfortune to have uninterrupted health and high sprats and domestic comfort.
4. Next consider the force of habit. Conscience at first warns us against sin; but if we disregard it, it soon ceases to upbraid us; and thus sins, once known, in time become secret sins.
5. To the force of habit must be added that of custom. Every age has its own wrong ways.
6. What is our chief guide amid the evil and seducing customs of the world? Obviously the Bible. These remarks may serve to impress upon us the difficulty of knowing ourselves aright, and the consequent danger to which we are exposed of speaking peace to our souls when there is no peace. Without self-knowledge you have no root in yourselves personally; you may endure for a time, but under affliction or persecution your faith will not last. (J. H. Newman, B. D.)
Various causes contribute to conceal from a man his faults.
I. A defect of knowledge. Many sin against God without being conscious of it. Where ignorance is unavoidable there sin may be excusable; but a man who would avail himself of this plea must make it appear that his ignorance was not owing to any want of care on his part to find out the law. One principal cause that our sins are so much concealed from our view is, that we form our standard of what is right, not from the pure and holy law of God, but from the general opinion of our fellow sinners. The custom of the world is our guide.
II. The want of a right disposition of mind. While we were flattering our pride with the hope of having done everything right, we may have deceived ourselves in the very idea of right. The want of right dispositions is a subject little considered. We are often under the influence of desires and tempers positively evil, without knowing it, through the deceitfulness of sin and of our own hearts. Consider this subject as the means of rendering us humble. And let it make us watchful. (Christian Observer.)
Look at this two-fold deliverance asked for--grace to cleanse from secret or presumptuous faults. All sins come under the category of secret sins, or those of presumption. The conscience of David was becoming more sensitive; secret sins could be secret no longer. We may perhaps compare that development of moral sensitiveness which the law is always promoting within every right-minded man with those advances of physical science by which unknown worlds above and beneath us have been brought into view, and disease detected in stages in which its presence was unsuspected by our forefathers. A century ago man’s observations had not got very far beyond the range of his unassisted senses. Our astronomers have scarcely completed the sum of the stars brought into view by the newest telescopes. The biologist has discovered just as many new worlds as the student of the heavens. He finds sphere of marvellous life within sphere, and yet other spheres more deeply bidden within these, like ball within ivory ball in Oriental carving. An Italian doctor brings his microscope to bear, and, floating within a foot of the soil of the Campagna, finds the malignant bacillus which is at the root of the malarial fever of Rome. Our forefathers knew only the superficial facts of disease, corruption, decay. The biologist brings his concentrated lenses and his polarised light to bear, and he watches every movement of the tiny armies of iconoclasts as they undermine and break up the structure of the body at points where the ordinary observer did not suspect their presence. He projects an electric beam through tubes filled with stifled air, and the air is found to teem with spores that are undeveloped epidemics, with potentialities of worldwide disaster in them. Within recent times we have heard of the elaboration of instruments that may reveal new worlds of sound to us, as marvellous as the worlds of form revealed by the microscope. It is said that no man ever knows what his own voice is like till he hears it in Mr. Edison’s phonograph. We are told of another instrument by which the breathings of insects are made audible. The medical expert may yet be able to detect the faintest murmur of abnormal sound in the system that indicates the approach of disease. And in the same way there must be the growth within us of a fine moral science, that will bring home to our apprehension the most obscure of our secret faults. But of all the sciences it is the most primitive and the most neglected. All that we should know is known to the Searcher of our heart long before we become conscious of it. He not only detects the flagrant faults, but the hidden blight that poisons the vitality of religion. But how can there be responsibility for sins of which we are ignorant? And how can there be guilt without responsibility? If ignorance is fated and inevitable, there can be no responsibility. But ignorance is often self-caused. Many of our sins are secret because we insist upon judging ourselves by human rather than Divine standards of life and righteousness. Our sins assume popular forms and ramifications. No more striking illustration of what the naturalists call the “law of protective colouring” can be found than that which presents itself in the realm of ethics. You know what that law is. The arctic fox, it is said, assumes a white fur in the winter months, so that it may pass undetected over the snows. When the spring comes and the brown earth reappears, it sheds those white hairs and assumes a fur the colour of the earth over which it moves. Many fishes have markings that resemble the sand or gravel above which they make their haunts. You may watch for hours, and till they move you are unable to recognise their presence. The bird that broods on an exposed nest is never gaily coloured. However bright the plumage of its mate, it is always attired in feathers that match its surroundings, if it has to fulfil these dangerous domestic duties. Large numbers of insects are so tinted as to be scarcely distinguishable from the leaves and flowers amidst which they live. One insect has the power of assuming the appearance of a dried twig. And is there not something very much like this in the sphere of human conduct? Our sins blend with the idiosyncrasies of the age and disguise themselves. Of course, we do not sin in loud, flashing colours, if we make any pretension to piety at least. Our sins always perfectly compose with the background of our surroundings. As a rule, they are sins into which we fall in common with men we esteem, men who have established a hold upon our affections, men whose sagacity we trust, and who by their excellence in some things lead us to think very lightly of the moral errors they illustrate in other things. Oh, the blinding tendency of this judgment by popular standards to which we are so prone! All this was sure to be illustrated in the history of the Psalmist. In the rough and tumble of his wandering life and coarse associations he would be prone to forget the inner and more delicate meanings and obligations of the law. The moral atmosphere pervading the Cave of Adullam was not more wholesome than that pervading our unreformed bankruptcy courts. The cave was not the best possible place in which to school a man in the finer shades of right and wrong. Most of David’s sins in after life seem to have been lurid reflections of the brutality, the unthinking ruthlessness, the impetuous animalisms of his former companions in arms. He evidently felt the danger he was in of falling to the level of his surroundings and of forgetting by how much he had fallen. Let us beware of gliding into an unconfessed habit of testing ourselves by human standards, when God has given to us higher and holier standards by which to measure ourselves. It is said that all organic germs cease a few miles out at sea. Air taken from the streets or the warehouses of the city yields large numbers of these germs. The air circulating through the ship in dock is charged with them. After the shore has been left behind the air taken from the deck is pure, but they are still found in air taken from the hold. After a few days at sea the air on deck and in the hold alike yields no traces of these microscopic spores that are closely connected with disease. Let us be ever breathing the spirit of God’s love. Let us get away from the din and dust and turmoil of life, out upon that infinite sea of love that is without length or breadth or depth, and our secret faults will vanish away and we shall by and by stand without offence in the presence of God’s glory. Passion, prejudice, ambition often blind men to their faults. When great passionate forces hurry us on we are not more apt to see the shortcomings and specks of corruption in the motives and actions of the passing moment, than the traveller by a racing express to see the little ring of decay in the lily of the wayside garden past which he is flying. During the Franco-Prussian War a regiment of Prussian soldiers was deploying from the shelter of a wood, in full face of French fire. The appearance of the regiment as seen from a distance, said one of the war correspondents, was like that of some dark serpent creeping out from beneath the wood. The far-stretching figure seemed to leave a dark trail in its path. The correspondent looked carefully through his glass, and this trail resolved itself under close inspection into patches of soldiers who had fallen under French fire. Some of them were seen to get on to their feet, stagger on a few paces, and fall again. The passion of battle was upon them, and they were scarcely conscious of their wounds. And is it not thus with us? We are intoxicated by the passion of life’s battle, the battle for bread and place and power and conquest of every kind; and we stagger on, unconscious of the fact that we are pierced with many a hidden wound. The excitements that are in the air whirl us along, and we are all but insensible to the moral disaster He sees who watches the battle from afar. Our slowness to recognise the hurt that has overtaken us may be the sign that the pulse of vitality is fluttering itself out. “Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins.” It is restraint, not purification, from presumptuous sin that the Psalmist asks in the second portion of his prayer. Presumptuous sin has no place in a true child of God. “He that is born of God doth not commit sin.” Cleansed by the forgiving grace of God, we ought to need only deliverance from errors of inadvertence and infirmity. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” No hallowing process, however complete, can remove susceptibility to the temptation even to presumptuous sins. The work of cleansing from secret fault sometimes creates a new peril. We need to be kept back from it, as the restive horse needs the curb. David felt this, and therefore prayed this prayer. (Thomas G. Selby.)
On the duty of examining into our secret faults
The faculties of the human mind are never acknowledged to be more imperfect, or at least more inadequate, to the object proposed, perhaps, than when applied to estimate the real merit, or demerit, of men’s actions; for, in order to form an opinion on this subject that might have the sanction of strict justice, we must know the motives and intentions of the heart. The generality of men divide their service between two masters, and hence are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. And as we cannot fully understand or appreciate the real character of others, so neither can we our own. Hence the petition before us. Yet we can do something towards the understanding many of our errors and secret faults; and this is our duty. Therefore I would--
I. Recommend the important duty of examining into our latent imperfections. And this because the growth of character is so gradual. Not all at once do we become vicious, and certainly not all at once do we attain the summits of virtue. We are in a great measure the children of discipline, and therefore the sooner this begins the better. Our great perils are not from the temptations of the open day, but those which are from within. These are the parents, of almost every evil deed. How important, then, to attend to these “secret faults.
II. Specify some of those secret faults to which we are apt to be inattentive. They assume all manner of disguises, and the mind will throw false glosses over its own deformity. The mean rapacious wretch will call his conduct prudence, temperance, and provident wisdom. The gloomy bigot will despise the warm, steady devotion of the rational Christian. Pride will call itself independence of spirit; and meekness and gentleness will be branded as meanness and pusillanimity. But above all things, we should attend to the nature and the grounds of our satisfactions and pleasures, our griefs and vexations, in the intercourse we carry on with the world.
III. Point out secret faults which, though conscious of them ourselves, we industriously keep from the eyes of the world. There is hypocrisy in these, and hence they are worse than others. As, for instance, courtesy in order to deceive, a wicked affectation of Christian gentleness. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Such are religious from mere worldly motives. They are hypocrites. Yet those who take no care to cleanse themselves from errors of this sort must live and act under a state of the most wretched bondage to the world. All is sacrificed to appearance. The passions, indeed, may be often mortified and suppressed, though not from a sense of religious duty (for then it would be virtue), but from “respect of persons,” or the fear of losing some advantage. Men who are thus wedded, as it were, to sin are often as cruel and oppressive as they are selfish and hypocritical. Though they cringe to power, and flatter to deceive; yet they will frequently retire from the insults and vexations of the world within the circle of their respective authority, and there vent their angry and malignant passions with redoubled vehemence and malice.
IV. The correction of these evils. Live as in the sight of God, before whom the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed. We may deceive men, but we cannot deceive Him. A time will shortly come when we shall be convinced that there is but “one thing needful,” which is the mercy and protection of God, through the merits and atonement of Christ our Lord. The fashion and the appearance of this world will then be so strangely reversed that, among many good and faithful servants who are worthy to enter into the joy of their Lord, we shall see some whose merits we thought highly of shrink from the awful trial of the last day, and vanish like smoke before the wind; while the meek and humble virtues of those whom we might have overlooked and neglected, or perhaps despised, shall shine forth like the sun in His kingdom. (J. Hewlett, B. D.)
I. What are they?--They stand opposed to open and presumptuous sins. They relate particularly--
1. To the secret bias of the heart to evil. There is what may be called latent guilt; a propensity of the soul never yet developed, but which new circumstances may call forth.
2. To unholy thoughts which we intend no other person shall know.
3. To those sinful emotions and affections which rise up in the best hearts almost involuntarily, and against which the pure mind struggles. Old habits of evil will torture for a long while the renewed soul.
4. To these plans of evil which are not prosecuted to their completion. Providence hinders them, or else they would be carried out.
5. Those crimes which are perpetrated in darkness or under disguise.
II. Some of the ways in which sin is concealed.
1. Men design to conceal them. And we have the power to conceal our purposes. Society could not exist if we had not such power. The body becomes the shield of the soul, to guard our plans from the observation of all other minds but that of God. But this power of concealment may be abused for purposes of evil, and often is so. But such concealment of guilt is difficult. God has placed in the human frame by nature certain indications of secret guilt; and He meant that where that guilt existed it should betray itself for the well-being of society. He designed not only that the conscience should check the offender, but He implanted in the frame itself certain indications of guilt which He intended also to be a safeguard of virtue. Now, one great art in this world is to obliterate the natural marks of guilt from the human frame, and to counterfeit the indications of innocence. The object is so to train the eye that it will not reveal the secret conviction of crime; so to discipline the cheek that it will not betray the guilty by a sudden rush of blood there; so to fortify the hand and the frame that they will not by trembling disclose the purposes of the soul. But he drills and disciplines himself, and his eye is calm, and his countenance is taught to be composed, and he speaks and acts as if he were an innocent man, and buries the consciousness of the crime deep in the recesses of the soul. Soon the brow is like brass, and the frame is schooled not to betray, and the living indexes of guilt which God had affixed to the body are obliterated, and the conscience is seared, and the whole man has departed from the beautiful form which God made, and has become an artificial and a guilty thing. Again. The arts of polished and refined life, to a melancholy extent, have the same object. They are so arranged as to conceal rancour, and envy, and hatred, and the desire of revenge. They aim not to eradicate them, but to conceal them.
2. Many secret sins are concealed because there is no opportunity of carrying the purpose into execution.
3. Others, because the man has never yet been placed in circumstances which would develop his character. Were they so placed it would be seen at once what they were.
III. Some reasons why we should adopt this prayer.
1. Because we specially need the grace of God to overcome them. If only by the grace of God we can be kept in the paths of external morality, what protection is there in the human heart against secret sins?
2. Such secret faults are peculiarly offensive to God, and we should therefore pray to be cleansed from them. The guilt of the wicked plan is not annihilated or diminished in the view of the Searcher of hearts, because He chooses to arrest it by His own Providence or because He never allows the sinner the opportunity of accomplishing it.
3. And I add, finally, that we should pray for this, because if secret faults are indulged they will sooner or later break out like smothered fires, and the true character of the heart will be developed. Fires uncap a mountain, because they have been long accumulating, and can be confined no longer. A judge on the bench, like Bacon, shocks the world by the undisputed fact that he has been bribed. The community is horror-stricken, and we feel for the moment like distrusting every man, and doubting all virtue and all piety, and we are almost led to conclude that all our estimates of human character on which we have heretofore acted are false, and we begin to distrust everybody. But such painful disclosures are not departures from the great principles of human nature. There is a maxim that no one suddenly became eminently vile. These lapses into sin are but the exponents of the real character of the man, the regular results of a long course of guilt. And so our cherished faults will one day manifest themselves, unless they are checked and removed by the grace of God and the blood of atonement.
IV. In conclusion.
1. Distrust yourself, for “Who can understand his errors?”
2. Be humble. Others have fallen, so may you.
3. We have much to dread at the revelations of the day of judgment. With no consciousness of sinfulness but such as I believe common to man, with the recollection of the general aim of my life to do right, with great occasion for thanksgiving that I have been preserved from the open vices that have ruined so many who began the career of life with me, yet I confess to you that if there is anything that I should more than all other things dread, it would be that the record of all my thoughts and feelings should be exhibited to the assembled universe in the last day. That the universe would acquiesce in my condemnation on such a revelation I have no manner of doubt, And if there is any one thing for which I desire to give unfeigned thanks more than others, it is that through the blood of Christ those sins may be blotted out; and that through the infinite mercy of God the secret sins of which I am conscious may never--no never--be disclosed to assembled worlds. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Jesus Christ when on earth was sneered at by persons who considered themselves highly respectable, and on the whole very good sort of people. It is so now. As long as we are careless and well pleased with ourselves, so long must His message of loving forgiveness appear “foolishness” unto us. We cannot greatly desire to have the burden of sin taken from us if we never have felt it at all. The first thing to be done in order to appreciate the message of forgiveness of sin is to try and understand our errors. And do not be content with mere general confessions. It is easy to say vaguely, “I am a miserable sinner”; it is not quite so easy to say, “Last Monday I told that lie, on Tuesday I was guilty of that mean action, and neglected my duty on this or that occasion,” and so on. Those who feel most free from secret faults are just those who have most of them. The best men are the most humble. It is no easy matter to understand our errors, and to know ourselves even as other men know us, much less as God does. How clearly we can see failings in others which they do not see. Be sure that others see faults in us which we do not see. Ah, if some power would give us the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us. Help herein is to be found by keeping a steady eye on the suspicious part of our character. Ask yourself, “What in me would my enemy first fix on if he wished to abuse me, and what fault would my neighbours be most ready to believe that I had? One cannot but be touched by that story which some wise sanitary observer made known to the public. He noticed how a young woman who had come up to London from the country, and was living in some miserable court or alley, made for a time great efforts to keep that court or alley clean. But gradually, day by day, the efforts of the poor woman were less and less vigorous, until in a few weeks she became accustomed to, and contented with, the state of filth which surrounded her, and made no further efforts to remove it. The atmosphere she lived in was too strong for her. The same difficulty is felt in resisting our errors and secret faults; but not to resist is fatal. A man is tempted to lie, to steal, to wrong his neighbour, to indulge some bad passion, and resolves to do it only once, and thinks that “just once” cannot matter. Oh, pause! That one sin is the trickling rill which becomes the bounding torrent, the broad river, the waste, troubled, discoloured sea. Frequently during Lent we should ask ourselves what are the bad habits that are beginning to be formed in us? We should take the different spheres of life, and examine our conduct as regards each of them. Let us judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord in reference to our business, our home, our pleasures. Our duty to God and our neighbour is so and so, how have we done it? Above all, do we think of Christ as our King and personal Saviour, or is all we really know of Him the sound of His name and the words about Him in the Creeds? But some will ask, Why should I be troubled about my errors, why should I seek to be cleansed from my secret faults? Such thoughts do come to men. Help against them will be found in these facts--First, you have not to fight the battle alone. Christ is your very present help. Then next, struggle after self-improvement, because “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Our future destiny, our eternal life, depends on what we do now. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
Kinds of sin
The terms used in the Word of God to describe the life of the Christian believer show that it is not a path of ease, nor one of self-indulgence. Gurnall says, “The Christian’s work is too delicate and too curious to be done well between sleeping and waking, and too important to be done ill and clambered over, no matter how. He had need to be awake that walks upon the brink of a deep river, or that treads on the brow of a steep hill. The Christian’s path is so narrow, and the danger is so great, that it calls both for a nimble eye to discern and a steady eye to direct; but a sleepy eye can do neither.”
I. Confession of sin. There are--
1. Secret faults. The heart is deceitful above all things: who can know it? Amazed at the inward corruptions you discover, again and again in wonder you well may ask, “Who can understand his errors?--who can count the number of the one-fourth part of his secret faults?” Some persons think there is no harm in what they in their ignorance call “errors,” or “little sins.” But “little sins, suppose them to be so, are very dangerous. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. A little staff may kill a giant. A little leak will sink a man-of-war. A little flaw in a good cause mars it. So a little sin, if unforgiven, will bar up the doors of heaven, and set wide open the gates of hell. Though the scorpion be little, it will sting to death a lion; and so the least sin will destroy you forever, if not pardoned by the blood of Christ.” Watching, therefore, your heart, you will resist every kind of sin, and bring it into subjection to the obedience of Christ. But secret faults, if indulged, will break forth ere long into open sins. These are what David here confesses as--
2. Presumptuous sins. David knew what he said when he thus spake. He knew that lust, when it is conceived, bringeth forth sin, and that sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. David had not forgotten the deceit, the lying, the murder, the adultery, most awful sins of presumption, of which he himself had been guilty in the matter of the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
II. Supplication of pardon. He prays to be delivered--
1. From the guilt of sin.
2. The power of sin. “Keep back from presumptuous sins.” David knew that, were it not for the restraining grace of God, there was no sin which he might not be tempted to commit. 0h, what a scene of sin and misery this fallen world of ours would become were it not for this preventing power of God! See the ease of Abimelech in regard to Sarah. Laban in regard to Jacob. And yet more does He hold back His people; David from destroying Nabal.
III. Devotedness of life. He singles out two things.
1. Edifying discourse. “Let the words of my mouth,” etc.
2. Devout reflection.
3. He recognises the mainspring of all true religion. “O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” We all need a Redeemer. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
On insensibility to offences
These words express a rational and affecting prayer without entering into any interpretation of them. For who has not need to pray against his sins?
I. “Secret faults,” what are they? Not those which are concealed from mankind, but those which are secret from the offender himself. That these are meant is evident from the opening of the verse, “Who can tell how oft he offendeth?” There would be no reason in the question if the sins were only those which other people did not know of. He must mean those which he himself knew not off Looking back upon the sins of his past life, David finds himself, as many of us must do, lost and bewildered in their number and frequency. And besides these, there were many which were unnoticed, unreckoned, and unobserved. Against these he prays.
II. But can there be any such secret sins? Yes, because habit makes us so familiar with them by repetition, that we think nothing at all of them. These are not notorious crimes but ordinary sins, both of omission and of commission. We may neglect any duty till we forget that it is one. And so with sins of commission. Serious minds are shocked with observing with what complete indifference and unconcern many forbidden things are practised.
III. But are they not, therefore, sins? If there be no sense and perception of them, are they yet sins? If it be denied that they are, then it is only the timorous beginner who can be brought to account. It is not that the reasons against the sin have lessened or altered, but only that they, by frequent commission of the sin, have become insensible of it. If the sense be the measure of the guilt of sin, then the hardened sinner is well off indeed. These secret sins, then, are sins. Then--
1. Let us join in this prayer, “Oh, cleanse,” etc.; and
2. See the exceeding great danger of evil habits of all kinds. (Archdeacon Paley, D. D.)
We read in books about the West Indies of a huge bat which goes under the ugly name of the vampire bat. It has obtained this name, sucking as it does the blood of sleepers, even as the vampire is fabled to do. So far, indeed, there can be no doubt; but it is further reported, whether truly or not I will not undertake to say, to fan them with its mighty wings, that so they may not wake from their slumbers, but may be hushed into deeper sleep while it is thus draining away the blood from their veins. Sin has often presented itself to me as such a vampire bat, possessing, as it does, the same fearful power to lull its victims into an ever deeper slumber, to deceive those whom it is also destroying. It was, no doubt, out of a sense of this its deceiving power that the royal Psalmist uttered those memorable words, “Who can understand his errors?”
I. How is it that sin is able to exercise this cheating, deluding power upon us? Oftentimes great faults seem small faults, not sins but peccadilloes, and small faults seem no faults at all to us; or, worse than this, that men walk altogether in a vain show, totally and fatally misapprehending their whole spiritual condition, trusting in themselves that they are righteous, with a lie in their right hand, awaking only when it is too late to the discovery that they have fallen short altogether of the righteousness of God.
1. Sin derives its power altogether from ourselves. It has a friend and partisan in us all. Hence we are only too ready to spare it and to come to terms with it, and not to extirpate it root and branch as we should. Our love of ease leads to this. Obedience is often hard and painful. But compliance with sin is almost always easy. Then, again, there is our love of pleasure. The Gospel of the grace of God says, Mortify your corrupt affections; do not follow nor be led by them. They war against the soul; and you must kill them or they will kill you. Hard lesson to learn! unwelcome truth to accept! And then, there is our pride. Every natural man has a certain ideal self which he has set up, whether he knows it or not, in the profaned temple of his heart, for worship there--something which he believes himself to be, or very nearly to approach to being. And this ideal self, as I have called it, is something which he can regard with complacency, with self-satisfaction, and, on the whole, with admiration. Will a man willingly give this up, and abhor himself in dust and ashes?
II. How shall we deliver ourselves from these sorceries of sin, these delusions about ourselves?
1. And as a necessary preliminary to any such endeavour, I would say, Grasp with a full and firm faith the blessed truth of the one sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction made for your sins. You will never dare to look your own sins full in the face till you have looked up to the Cross of Calvary, and seen a Saviour crucified there for those sins of yours. Till then you will be always seeking cloaks, palliations, excuses for sin, playing false with your conscience, and putting darkness for light. You will be open to the thousand suggestions that it is not that horrible thing which indeed in God’s sight it is.
2. Then remember, that He who made the atonement for your sins, the same is also the giver of the Spirit which convinces of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. Throw open the doors and windows of the house of your soul. Let the light of God, the light of the Holy Ghost, search every nook, penetrate every recess, find its way into every chamber. Ask of God, ask earnestly and continually, for this convincing Spirit. There is nothing else which will ever show us to ourselves as we really are. Those Pharisees of old whom He who reads the secrets of all hearts denounced as whited sepulchres, do you suppose they knew themselves to be hypocrites, actors of a part, wearers of a mask, wholly different in the sight of God from that which they were in one another’s sight and in the sight of an admiring world? Ab, no! he is but a poor hypocrite who only deceives others; the true hypocrite has managed also, and first, to deceive himself. So it was, no doubt, with those whom I speak of. Probably nothing seemed more unjust to them than this charge of hypocrisy which the Lord persisted in bringing against them; so deceitful and desperately wicked are these hearts of ours. (R. Chenevix Trench, D. D.)
Self-examination is most necessary to the knowledge of our sins, but it of ten happens that with all our search some sins may escape our notice. As in temporal concerns, men often know that by a long course of prodigality, and many expensive vanities, they have contracted a great debt upon their estates, and have brought themselves to the very brink of poverty and distress, and yet, when they try to consider of their condition, find themselves utterly unable to state their accounts, or to set forth the particulars of the debt they labour under; but the more they endeavour to recollect, the more they are convinced that they are mere strangers at home, and ignorant of their own affairs. So in spiritual concerns likewise. Such was David’s feeling as expressed in the text. Whenever men doubt their own sincerity and due performance of religious acts it is extremely difficult to reason with their fears and scruples, and to dispossess them of the misapprehensions they have of their own state and condition. Such suggestions as bring ease and comfort to their minds come suspected, as proceeding from their own or their friends’ partiality; and they are afraid to hope, lest even to hope in their deplorable condition, should prove to be presumption, and assuming to themselves more than in reason or justice belongs to them. But when we can show them men of approved virtue and holiness, whose praise is in the Book of Life, who have struggled with the same fears and waded through even the worst of their apprehensions to the peaceful fruits of righteousness, it helps to quicken both their spirits and their understanding, and at once to administer knowledge and consolation. And for this reason we can never sufficiently admire the wisdom of God, in setting before us the examples of good men in their lowest and most imperfect state. Had they been shown to us only in the brightest part of their character, despair of attaining to their perfection might incline us to give over the pursuit, by throwing a damp upon our best resolutions. But when we see how God raised them up from their low estate, then heavenly joy and peace often spring from the lowest depth of sorrow and woe. Now let us observe--
I. That the security and efficacy of repentance do not depend upon a particular recollection of all our errors. What are secret sins? They are--
1. Negligences. These often surprise us in our devotions, for we find our fervour and attention gone. We are not conscious of it at the time; the fault is secret to us.
2. Ignorances also. There is no conscious intent, as in sins of presumption.
3. But our sins may partake of the malice of the will, and yet escape the notice of the understanding. For habit, custom, long usage in sin will so deaden conscience that we lose the very sense and feeling of sin.
4. Being partakers in other men’s sins, which we are when by our ill example they have been led to sin. Then we share with them in the guilt of their iniquity. How far our influence spreads, to what instances and what degrees of vice, how many we seduced by our example, or hardened by our encouragement, is more than we can tell, and yet not more than we shall answer for. Those who are thus entered in our service, and sin under our conduct, are but our factors. They trade for us, as well as for themselves; and whatever their earnings are, we shall receive our due proportion out of the wages of their sin. This is a guilt which steals upon us without being perceived; it grows whilst we sleep, and is loading our account even when our bodies are in the possession of the grave. The higher our station and the greater our authority the more reason have we to fear being involved in this kind of guilt; because in proportion to our authority will the infection of our example spread; and as our power is great, our encouragement will be the more effectual. But then, on the other side, the good men have done shall live after them, and be placed to their account. It shall be part of their joy to see how others have been blessed through their means.
II. The guilt we contract by them. There is guilt, else David had not prayed, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” They are sometimes the most heinous of all. The guilt of sin does not arise from the power of our memory, nor is it extinguished by the weakness of it. The consequence from the whole is this. That since many of our sins are secret to us, they can only be repented of in general; and since many of our secret sins are very heinous, they must seriously and solemnly be repented of. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)
Undiscovered sins. The Psalmist is thinking that, beyond the range of conscience and consciousness, there are evils in us all.
I. In every man are sins of which the doer is unaware. Few of us are familiar with our own appearance. Our portraits surprise us. The bulk of good men do not know themselves. Evil has the strange power of deceiving us, and hiding from us our acts’ real character. Conscience is loudest where it is least needed, and most silent where most required. Conscience wants educating. We bribe our consciences as well as neglect them. Down below every life there lies a great dim region of habits and impulses and fleeting emotions, into which it is the rarest thing for a man to go with a candle in his hand, to see what it is like. Ignorance diminishes criminality, but ignorance does not alter the nature of a deed.
II. The special perilousness of hidden faults. As with a blight upon a rose tree, the little green creatures lurk on the under side of the leaves, and in all the folds of the buds, and, because unseen, they increase with alarming rapidity. The very fact that we have faults in our characters, which everybody sees but ourselves, makes it certain that they will grow unchecked, and so will prove terribly perilous. Those secret faults are like a fungus that has grown in a wine cask; whose presence nobody suspected. It sucks up all the generous liquor to feed its own filthiness, and when the staves are broken there is no wine left, nothing but the foul growth. Many a Christian man and woman has the whole Christian life arrested, and all but annihilated, by the unsuspected influence of a secret sin.
III. The discipline, or practical issues, to which such considerations should lead.
1. They ought to take down our self-complacency, if we have any. It should give us a low estimate of ourselves.
2. It should lead us to practise rigid self-inspection.
3. We should diminish as much as possible the merely mechanical and instinctive part of our lives. The less we live by impulse the better. A man’s best means of knowing what he is is to take stock of what he does. If yon will put your conduct through the sieve you will come to a pretty good understanding of your own character.
4. One of the surest ways of making conscience more sensitive is always to consult it, and always to obey it. If you neglect it, and let it prophesy to the wind, it will stop speaking before long.
5. Compare yourselves constantly with your model. Do as the art students do in a gallery--take your poor daub right into the presence of the masterpiece, and go over it, line by line and tint by tint. Get near Jesus Christ, that you may learn duty from Him, and you will find out many of the secret sins.
6. Ask God to cleanse us. Revised Version has, “Clear Thou me from secret faults.” And there is present in the word, if not exclusively, yet at least predominantly, the idea of a judicial acquittal. So we may be sure that, though our eye does not go down there into the dark depths, God’s eye goes; and that where He looks He looks to pardon, if we come to Him through Jesus Christ our Lord. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The anatomy of secret sins
I. In what respect are sins called secret? For the resolution of thin know that sins hath a double reference. Either to God, and so really no sin nor manner of sinning is secret. Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? saith the Lord; do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:24); it is true, that wicked men with an atheistical folly imagine to hide themselves and their sinful ways from God, they seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? (Isaiah 29:15) But really it is not so, though the cloud may somewhat eclipse the light of the sun, and though the dark night may shut it forth altogether, yet there stands no cloud, nor curtain, nor moment of darkness or secrecy twixt the eyes of God and the ways of man. The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings (Proverbs 5:21). Or to man, and thus indeed comes in the division of sin into--
1. Open; and
2. Secret. Now, in this reset sin may be termed secret diversely--
1. In respect of the person sinning: when his very sinning is (formally considered) hidden from himself; he doth a thing which is really sinful, but to him it is not apprehensively so. What outrages did Paul breathe out against the Church in times of his ignorance which he did not know to be acts of sin.
2. In respect of the manner of sinning, and thus sins may be termed secret.
(1) When they are coloured and disguised, though they do fly abroad, yet not under that name, but apparelled with some semblances of virtues.
(2) When they are kept off from the stage of the world they are like fire in the chimney; though you do not see it, yet it burns; just as ‘twixt a book shut and a book opened, that which is shut hath the same lines and words, but the other being opened, every man may see and read them.
(3) When they are kept, not only from a public eye, but from any mortal eye. But what were those secret sins from which David desired to be cleansed? Nay, that is a secret; he doth not instance in anyone, because his desire is to be freed from everyone; he speaks indefinitely.
II. But what is that to be cleansed? There be two expositions of it.
1. One is that he desires to be justified, to be pardoned those sins. And indeed, the blood of Christ which justifies is a cleansing thing, it wipes off the guilt.
2. Another is that he desires more to be sanctified, and that inward actings or motions might be subdued. And observe, he doth desire to be cleansed, he doth not desire to be dipped only into the water, or sprinkled; he doth not desire only to be a little rinsed.
Where observe by the way three things.
1. First, he who hath received true grace needs more grace: our lives need to be still reformed, and our hearts still to be cleansed.
2. Again, the progress and perfection of cleansing the soul appertains to God as well as the beginning. The physician must go through with his cure, or else the patient will relapse.
3. Lastly, persons truly holy and sensible desire yet further measures of holiness.
III. But why should we desire to be cleansed from secret sins?
1. Because secret sins will become public sins if they be not cleansed. It is with the soul as it is with the body, wherein diseases are first bred and then manifested; and if you suppress them not in their root, you shall shortly see them to break out in the fruit: or as it is with fire catching the inside of the house first, and there if you do not surprise it, it will make way for itself to get to the outside. Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin (James 1:15). But when they come to public and visible actings, then they are a copy, they are exemplary sins; and like the plague infecting Other persons, others are capable to imitate them, and so more souls are tainted; and God now receives a common dishonour.
2. Secret sins are apt to deceive us most, and therefore cleanse these.
(1) Because we have not that strict and spiritual judgment of the inwards of sin, as of the outwards; many times we conceive of them as no sins at all.
(2) And because most men decline sin upon outward respects, which do not reach the actings of secret sins; shame and fear, and observance are great, and the only restraints to many. They do not live in and visibly commit such sins, because they like not shame and are afraid of punishment.
(3) The strength of sin is inward, therefore labour to be cleansed from secret sins.
The strength of a sin--
1. Lies in its nearness to the fountain, from whence it can take a quick, immediate, and continual supply; and so do our secret sins, they are as near to original sin as the first droppings are to the springhead.
2. It lies in the acceptance of the affections: love and liking set sin upon its throne.
3. It lies in the confidence of commission: now a man doth take more heart and boldness to commit secret sins than open.
4. It lies in the iteration and frequency of acting, for sin often repeated and acted is like a cable double in strength by the manifold twistings.
5. The principal object of God’s eye is the inward and secret frame of the soul, therefore labour to be cleansed from secret sins (Psalms 66:16). If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me (Psalms 51:6). Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
True holiness hath a contrariety to all sin
1. That true holiness hath a repugnancy and a contrariety to all sins. It is not contrary to sin, because it is open and manifest; nor to sin, because it is private and secret, but to sin as sin, whether public or whether private, because both the one and the other is contrary to God’s will and glory, as it is with true light, though it be but a beam, yet it is universally opposite to all darkness: or as it is with heat, though there be but one degree of it, yet it is opposite to all cold; so if the holiness be true and real, it cannot comply with any known sin; you can never reconcile them in the affection; they may have an unwilling consistence in the person, but you can never make then, to agree in the affection.
2. That sanctification is not perfect in this life; he who hath most grace hath yet some sin. Grace, though it may be sound and saving, yet is it not absolute and perfect.
3. Here you may understand the grounds and reasons of the many troubles and heavy complaints of Christians. The main battle of a Christian is not in the open field; his quarrels are most within, and his enemies are in his own breast. When he hath reformed an ill life, yet it shall cost him infinitely much more to reform an ill heart; he may receive so much power from grace at the beginning as in a short time to draw off from most of the former gross acts of sinnings, but it will be a work of all his days to get a thorough conquest of secret corruptions.
4. Then all the work of a Christian is not abroad, if there be secret sins to be cleansed. There are two sorts of duties. Some are direct, which are working duties; they are the colours of grace in the countenance and view of the conversation, setting it forth with all holy evenness and fruitfulness and unblameableness. Some are reflexive, which are searching duties; they appertain to the inward rooms, to the beautifying of them, and reforming of them; for not only the life, but the heart also is the subject of our care and study. I am not only to labour that I do no evil, but also that I be not evil, not only that sin do not distain my paths, but also that it doth not defile my intentions: not only that my clothes be handsome, but also that my skin be white, my inboard parts be as acceptable to God as my outward frame is plausible with man. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Sin destroyed in the cause
Now, as a man may deal with a tree, so he may deal with his sins; the axe may be employed only to lop off the branches, which yet all live in the root, and he may apply his axe to the very root, to the cutting of it up, and so he brings an universal death to the tree: so it is possible for a man to bestow all his pains to lop off sin only in the visible branches in the outward limbs of it, and it is also possible for a man to be crucifying the secret lust, the very corrupt nature and root of sinfulness. Now, this! say, he who bestows his study, his prayers, his tears, his cares, his watchings, his strength to mortify corruption in the root, in the nature, in the cause, how unquestionable is it that he doth desire to be cleansed from secret sins. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Beware of secret sins
I. Motives to enforce our care. There be many arguments which may justly stir us up to take heed of and to cleanse from secret sins.
1. The Lord knoweth our secret sinnings as exactly as our visible sinnings (Psalms 44:21).
2. The Lord will make manifest every secret thing (Mark 4:22). There is a two-fold breaking out of a secret sin or manifestation of it. One is natural: the soul cannot long be in secret actings, but some one part of the body or other will be a messenger thereof. Another is judicial; as when the judge arraigns, and tries, and screws out the close murder, and the dark thefts: so God will bring to light the most hidden works of darkness.
3. Thy secrets shall not only be manifested, but shall also be judged by God (Romans 2:16).
4. Secret sins are more dangerous to the person in some respects than open sins.
1. A man doth by his art of sinning deprive himself of the help of his sinfulness: like him who will carry his wound covered, or who bleeds inwardly; help comes not in because the danger is not descried nor known.
2. If a man’s sin breaks out, there is a minister at hand, a friend near, and others to reprove, to warn, to direct.
II. The aggravations of secret sins.
1. The more foul the sin naturally is, the worse is the secret acting of it.
2. The more relations are broken by secret sinning, the worse they are, and more to be wared.
3. The more profession a man makes, the worse are his secret sinnings; forasmuch as he carrieth not only a badge, but also a judge on his shoulders.
4. The more light a man hath meeting him in the dark, and secret actings of sin, the more abominable is the sin.
5. The more frequent a man is in secret sinnings, the deeper is his guilt; when he can drive a trade of sin within doors: when it is not a slip, but a course.
III. The means which help against secret sins.
1. If thou hast been guilty of secret sins, be humbled and repent.
2. Take heed of secret occasions and provocations.
3. Crush the temptations which come from the roots.
4. Get an hatred of sin, which will oppose sin in all kinds, and all times, and in all places.
5. Get the fear of God planted in thy heart. There are three sorts of sins which this fear will preserve a man against. First, pleasant sins, which take the sense with delight. Secondly, profitable sins, which take the heart with gain, but what shall it profit me to win the whole world and to lose my soul. Thirdly, secret sins of either sort.
6. Believe God’s omniscience and omnipresence.
7. Get thy heart to be upright. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The peril of secret sins
In some waters a man may drive strong piles, and build his warehouses upon them, sure that the waters are not powerful enough to undermine his foundations; but there is an innumerable army of minute creatures at work beneath the water, feeding themselves upon those strong piles. They gnaw, they bore, they cut, they dig into the poled wood, and at last a child might overthrow those foundations, for they are cut through and eaten to a honeycomb. Thus by avarice, jealousy, and selfishness men’s dispositions are often cut through, and they don’t know it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins.
A conjunction of requests
I. There may and should be a conjunction, even of great petitions and requests (at once) unto God. David ends not at that request (keep me from secret sins), but goes on also, O Lord, keep me from presumptuous sins; he multiplies his suits according to the multiplicity of his necessity and exigence. There be divers qualities about our prayers.
1. One is an urgent fervency.
3. Patient perseverance.
4. A variety or multiplicity of matter, like as a patient who comes to the physician, we may and should open not; only one want, but all our wants; and crave help not in one thing, but in every thing: we should multiply requests.
Reasons hereof are these:
1. God can hear every request as well as anyone. A multiplied request as well as a single request: for He takes not, nor observes things by discourse, where one notion may be an impediment to the apprehension of another, but all things (by reason of His omniscience) are equally at once present unto Him.
2. Nay, He can grant many and great requests as easily as the single and smallest petition. The greatest gift comes as freely and readily out of His hand as the most common mercy.
3. Christ is as ready and able to implead many and great requests as well as some and inferior.
4. God hath for this end made manifold promises; therefore we may put up many and great requests at once.
5. Lastly, God is rich in mercy, and plenteous in compassion; His mercies are often styled manifold mercies.
II. That even a good christian should have a fear of great sins as well as a care of secret sins. “Keep me also from presumptuous sins.” Reasons whereof may be these.
1. The latitude of original sin, which as it is yet remaining in the best, so it is in them an universal fountain naturally apt to any vile inclination.
2. The instances of great transgressions: even those saints who have been as the highest stars have left behind them their twinklings and sad eclipses. Now when cedars fall, should not the tender plants tremble? if the sins of others be not our fear, they may be our practice; what the best have done, the weakest may imitate if they do not hear and fear. He is a wise and sincere Christian who resists the smallest, and fears the greatest sins: Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins. I observe from the words absolutely considered--
III. That a good man is God’s servant. “Thy servant,” etc. Servants, not of force, but of affection.
IV. That we are God’s servants, should be used to move the Lord to help us against sins.
V. That our special relations to God should be special reasons to work a care not to sin against God. The very nature of sin carries along with it a condemnation of sinning, because sin formerly is a transgression, an enemy, and a rebellion, which alone is an inglorious thing. Again, the laws and threatenings of God should be “as forcible cords to draw off the heart from sin. And again, all the mercies and goodness of God should exasperate the heart against sin. Again, all the attributes of God might hold us. Now, with these this also may come in, namely, the specialty of our relation to God, that we are His children. Reasons whereof are these--
1. Admissions of sinnings here do diffuse a greater ingloriousness to God: sin is more darkening in a white cloud than in a black, as a spot is more eminently disgraceful in a fair than in a foul cloth.
2. Their great sinnings do make them the sorer wounds and work: no sinning wounds so deep as such which have more mercy and goodness to control them. Oh then, let us improve our interest in our God. Should such a man as I flee, said Nehemiah; so then, should such a man as I sin thus, walk thus, live, do thus? Why? God is my God, He is my Father; I am His child, His servant. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
1. This is a prayer to be delivered from gross and undisguised sins. “Secret sins” are subtle and hidden; presumptuous sins are open, glaring, outrageous. But are the people of God in any danger from coarse and notorious sins? It is well to remind ourselves that there is no temptation we can treat lightly. The world today is full of those who have grievously fallen.
2. Another act of presumption against which we must guard is the unnecessary exposure of ourselves to temptation and harm. The foolhardiness of some is surprising. They expose themselves to sceptical influences, to worldly entanglements, to animal indulgences, to many yawning abysses which threaten body and soul. Myriads perish through standing on the slippery places and dizzy heights of temptation.
3. A branch of presumptuous sin is to treat negligently our secret faults. The presumptuous sin is often first one of those secret faults mentioned in the preceding verse; it is the secret fault matured and ripened. The mistake is that we are not sufficiently impressed by the faint, hidden evil, and we do not make immediate and serious efforts to deal with it. It is thus that our faults increase in magnitude and deepen in colour. Safety lies in dealing with the earliest aberrations of our mental, emotional, and physical nature, and not giving them opportunity to strengthen and display themselves. The Kingdom of Heaven is first as a grain of mustard seed; but we forget that the kingdom of hell in its beginnings is equally microscopic. A medical authority has recently declared that elephantiasis is often occasioned by the bite of the mosquito.
4. Another sin of presumption is to face the natural and inevitable perils of life without availing ourselves of every possible advantage of vigilance and defence. The diver does not descend into the depth without being sure of his panoply. Nothing is more remarkable in nature than the way in which animals and plants are armed against their enemies. The most ferocious thorns and spines protect cacti from destruction by the wild quadrupeds of their desert home. Protective mechanics of a most complicated order are found in a number of plants, which would otherwise be endangered and perhaps entirely destroyed by the attacks of ravenous snails. And God has not left us without a “whole armour”; it would be very unlike Him if He had. But alas! we often neglect to fortify ourselves; we go into a dangerous world with sandals, sword, helmet, and breastplate missing.
5. It is essentially an act of moral presumption to live in a low state of spiritual power. There is no presumption greater than to live with a cold heart, a weak faith, a vacillating purpose. We invite failure and ruin. We are free from harm and condemnation as we live full of power and enthusiasm. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Of presumptuous sins
Everything evinceth the Almightiness of the great Creator. Three instances--
1. The glorious fabric of the spangled vault above us.
2. The vicissitude of day and night.
3. The excellencies of that great minister of nature, the sun; considered in the comeliness and beauty of his person, in the force of his incredible swiftness, in the largeness of his walk, in the universality of his influence. The Bible, or hook of holy writ, is described by its several names and titles. Note the terms and appellations, the qualities described, and the effects or operations. The third book is the conscience. What finds he there? A foul blurred copy, that he is puzzled how to read. The conscience being convicted of sin, where there is any sense of true piety, the soul will address itself to God for pardon, that it may be cleansed from secret faults; and for grace, that by its restraints and preventions and assistances it may be kept back from presumptuous sins, and, if unhappily engaged, that it may be freed at last from the dominion of them. There is here a request, and the ground of it, which is the advantage and benefit thence arising.
Consider two propositions.
1. That the very best of men, without Divine restraints, are liable to the worst of miscarriages, even presumptuous sins. Secret faults are such as hide themselves, the common errors and frailties of our life: sins of infirmity, constitution, and temper; sins of surprise. Deliberation and consent make any sin to be a presumptuous sin. The course of sin is, the invitation of the sensual appetite, the inclination of the will, a force upon the judgment, a full consent, the act itself. This is aggravated into presumption when the daring sin gets the dominion and power over a man. From act it proceeds to delectation; this leads to new acts, and at last objuration and final impenitence. Note the ways and means God uses either to restrain and keep back men from committing presumptuous sins, or to rescue and recover them from under the dominion of them. These are partly on account of providence, partly from common morality, and partly from special grace. The best of men are still men, partakers of the same common nature with other men. They have the same affections and passions, the same fleshly appetites, which many times betray them into the same inconveniences.
2. Presumptuous sins, even in the servants of God themselves, are offences of a damnable and desperate nature. They tincture them with a deep guilt, subvert their spiritual state, and throw them out of God’s favour into disgrace. And this reasonably, because of their ingratitude to God, and the great hurt of their example, as a scandal to religion, by the hardening of wicked men and the discouragement of the pious. (Adam Littleton, D. D.)
The means of moral preservation
What is it to sin presumptuously? The word means, “with a high hand.” Then, to sin presumptuously is to sin in an aggravated degree.
1. To sin in opposition to knowledge is to sin presumptuously. This is not characteristic of all sins. Some sins are products of ignorance.
2. To sin in contrariety to conscience is to sin presumptuously.
3. To sin in defiance of the common operations of the Divine Spirit.
4. To sin after having deliberated about the commission of it.
5. To sin when there is no strong temptation to the commission of it.
6. To sin notwithstanding adverse dispensations of Divine providence are loudly calling for sin to be abhorred and avoided.
7. To sin in the hope of ultimately obtaining mercy. (A. Jack, D. D.)
The nature and danger of presumptuous sins
They are such as have more of wilfulness and malice prepense than of ignorance and infirmity in them; when a man sins with a high hand against the dictates of reason and the checks of conscience, through the stubbornness and perverseness of a depraved, distorted will. Consider the malignant qualities and mischievous effects of presumptuous sinning.
1. They spring from the corruption of the heart, from some evil lust or affection, some predominancy of pride, avarice, or voluptuousness.
2. After sinning in this manner it is very hard to repent.
3. Supposing a man relents soon after, and is disposed to repent heartily and turn to God; yet it will be difficult for him so to heal the breach which those sins have made as to come with delight and humble confidence to God as before. Advice and directions how to avoid these sins.
(1) Be instant in prayers to Almighty God to preserve us by His preventing grace from failing into them.
(2) After prayers we must use our best endeavours to help ourselves. We must look well to our hearts, that they may be set right and kept with all diligence. Sinning presumptuously is, as it were, revolting from God and running off into another interest. Our hearts are not whole with God when we do it.
(3) We should be often reflecting upon the infinite value of heavenly things above all earthly enjoyments.
(4) Our care should be to keep out of temptations as much as possible.
(5) We should be watchful of our whole conduct, and especially beware of the beginnings of things. (T. Waterland.)
Avoiding presumptuous sins
1. Be sure never to do anything against the clear light of thine own conscience.
2. Strive to be master of thine own will. We count our horses to be unserviceable until they be broken. It is a great point in the art of education for parents betimes to break their children of their wills.
3. Beware of sinful engagements. A man may have already done some evil from which he cannot handsomely acquit himself, but to his loss and shame, unless he either cover it or maintain it by laying another sin upon it. Seldom doth a man fall into presumptuous sin, but where the devil has got such a hank over him. The only way to get free is to break out of the engagement.
4. Harden thyself with a holy obstinacy and wilfulness. (Bishop Sanderson.)
Some sins are greater than others. Every sin has in it the very venom of rebellion, but there be some which have in them a greater development of its essential mischief, and which wear upon their faces, as do presumptuous sins, more of the brazen pride which defies the Most High. Though under the Jewish law an atonement was provided for every kind of sin, there was none for this. “The soul that sinneth presumptuously shall have no atonement; it shall be cut off.” Very terrible, then, are these sins.
I. What are they?
1. Those that are committed wilfully against manifest light and knowledge. Conscience furnishes often such light; it is the voice of God in the heart. If conscience warn you, and yet you sin, that is presumption.
2. Deliberation is another characteristic of these sins. There are some who can think upon a sin for weeks, and dote upon the thought of it and plan for it, and then when opportunity comes, go and commit it.
3. Long continuance in it.
4. Design. See the punishment of the Sabbath breaker told of in the Book of Numbers. He was punished, not merely because he gathered the sticks on the Sabbath, but because the law had just been proclaimed, “In it (the Sabbath) thou shalt do no manner of work.”
5. The hardihood born of fancied strength of mind. “It won’t hurt me,” say many. But they find that they are hurt. It would be presumption for any man to climb to the top of the spire of a church and stand upon his head. “Well, but he might come down safe if he were skilled in it.” Yes, but it is presumptuous. You have heard how Dionysius the tyrant punished one who had displeased him. He invited him to a noble feast. Rich were the viands that were spread upon the table, rare the wines he was invited to drink. But he was utterly miserable, he sat in his chair in agony. For over his head, immediately over it, there hung a sword, bright and sharp, suspended by a single hair, and he had to sit all the tinge with this sword above him. He could not escape, he must sit where he was. Conceive the poor man’s misery. But you, who will procrastinate, are willingly placing yourself in a position as full of peril, and yet you make mirth.
II. The sinfulness of these sins. It is because they are against light and knowledge, are deliberate and wilfully done.
III. The appropriateness of this prayer. It was the prayer of a saint. “Hold me in, Lord, I am prone to these sins.” See how Paul warns saints against the most loathsome sins. There is enough tinder in the heart of the best of men to light a fire that shall burn to the lowest hell. But how much more have we need to pray this prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The anatomy of presumptuous sins
I. What presumptuous sins are.
1. That presumptuous sinnings are proud adventurings of the heart upon sin; there is a large difference ‘twixt foilings by temptation and adventurings by presumption. Temptation beats down that actual strength of grace resisting: but presumption tramples down the light of the Word opposing. A man doth even try it out with God, and provokes Him to His face; and maintains the devices of his heart against the purity and equity of God’s will.
2. In presumptuous sinnings a man knows the thing and way to be unlawful: and therefore the presumptuous sinner is opposed to the ignorant sinner; the presumptuous sinner holds a candle in one hand, and draws out the sword with the other.
3. The presumptuous sinner adventures against express threatenings.
4. Presumptuous sins do arise from a false confidence; there are two things upon which the presuming sinner doth embolden himself.
(1) One is the facility of mercy: when a man sets mercy against sin, he doth well; but when a man sets mercy against justice, now he offends. “‘Tis true, this is a sin, and Divine justice will not take it well, but I will adventure on it, hoping that Divine mercy will pacify the rigour of the threatening; I will sin and offend justice, but then I will decline that court by flying to the mercy seat” (Deuteronomy 29:19).
(2) Another is the self-possibility and strength of future repentance: he is one of the worst patients in a way of sinning who is confident that he can be his own physician: no soul wounds itself more than that which vainly thinks that it can presently cure them. There are two things which the sinner cannot assure himself of. One is the lengthening of his life; for this candle is lighted and put out, not according to our desires, but according to Divine pleasure: all life has its limits from the Lord of life and death. Another is the returning of the heart from sin.
5. In many presumptuous sinnings there is a slighting contempt (Numbers 15:30-31): presumptuous sinning is called a despising of the Word of the Lord.
6. Lastly, presumptuous sinning may rise higher than all this, as when a man sins not only knowingly and wilfully, but most maliciously and despitefully against God and Christ (Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 6:6).
II. What that strength is which keeps back regenerate persons prom presumptuous sins; and what difference ‘twixt the restrainings of evil men and this keeping back of good David.
1. Restraint is any kind of stop ‘twixt the inclination and the object; when the nature is inclined to such a thing, and a bar falls in to keep them asunder, this is restraint.
2. Restraint of any agent ariseth from a greater strength of a superior agent: whatsoever keeps a man back from a sinful acting, it is (at that time) whiles a restraint of more actually strong force than the present inclination is; as in the stopping of a stone or water, that which is unequal in strength, a lesser force is not able to keep in the stronger. Though sinful inclinations be strong, yet God can overrule and bound and bind it in.
3. All restraint presupposeth an aptness, a disposition ready to run and get out. The child whose desire is to lie in the cradle is not there said to be restrained; and the tradesman whose shop is his paradise is not therefore restrained from going abroad; but when a servant would be gadding, and yet is kept in, this is restraint.
4. All restraint of sin is from God.
5. All evil men are not equally restrained by God.
6. The restraining of any sinner is an act of a merciful Providence unto him.
7. God doth restrain the good and the bad from sin.
8. God doth diversely keep back or restrain men from particular sins and sinnings: sometimes--
(1) By enlivening the conscience.
(2) By self-reflecting apprehensions.
(3) By legal imprintings.
(4) By denying and crossing opportunities.
(5) By denying or withholding of temptations.
(6) By causing diversions, which may call aside the employment of the sinner another way.
(7) Lastly, by beginning and supporting and enlarging the principle of sanctification.
9. The restrainings of good men are exceedingly different from those of evil men. The restrainings of evil men are but as locks upon the out door; and the keeping back of good men is as the lock upon the closet. One is all impedite to the actions, the other is an impedite to the inclinations; one is a bridle upon the lips and bands, the other is a bond upon the heart and disposition. They differ in their efficacy: restrainings of evil men do not impair the state of sin, no more than chains and prisons do the nature of the thief or lions. Mere restraints do not deal justly with sins, they make a stop in one, and leave open a gap for other sins: like a vessel of many holes, though the water break not out in one place, because it is stopped, yet it freely flies out in the rest. So where a man is restrained only, though that sin cannot find a way in that vein, yet it will find a course (like the water which is hindered under ground) another way. But the holdings back by renewing grace do indispose generally and evenly. They differ in the fulness of duration; for mere restraints hold in the nature no longer than the things remain by virtue of which the mind was restrained. Let the fear of death expire, put aside the edge of the law, be sure that shams shall not follow, and the only restrained sinner breaks open school, so that he goes to the sin. But holdings back by renewed grace are cohibitions of the heart upon permanent grounds, namely, the perpetual contrariety twixt God and sin, twixt sin and His will and holiness and goodness and honour. They differ in this, that the heart of a man only restrained doth, being at liberty (like waters held up), pour forth itself more violently and greedily, as if it would pay use for forbearance. They differ thus. An evil man is kept back as a prisoner by force against his will; but a good man is kept back as a petitioner. It is his heart’s desire. Oh, that my ways were so directed that I might keep Thy statutes. It is an evil man’s cross to be restrained, and a good man’s joy to be kept back from sin.
Take what I conceive, briefly thus: God keeps back His servants from sin--
1. By preventing grace, which is by infusing such a nature, which is like a bias unto the bowl, drawing it aside another way.
2. By assisting grace, which is a further strength superadded to that first implanted nature of holiness, like a hand upon a child holding him in.
3. By quickening grace, which is, when God doth enliven our graces to manifest themselves in actual opposition, so that the soul shall not yield, but keep off from entertaining the sin: as when in the motions of sin He inflames the heart with an apprehension of His own love in Christ.
4. By directing grace, which is when God confers that effectual wisdom to the mind, tenderness to the conscience, watchfulness to the heart, that His servants become greatly solicitous of His honour, scrupulously jealous of their own strength, and justly regardful of the honour of their holy profession.
5. By doing grace, which is when God effectually inclines the heart of His servants to the places and ways of their refuge, safeties, and preservations from sin.
III. What causes or reasons there should be which might move David to put up this prayer: “Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.”
1. If he considered himself, there were sufficient grounds for such a petition, because--
(1) His aptness by virtue of original corruptions, even to presumptuous sins.
(2) His impotency and self-inability to keep off himself from such sins.
2. In respect of the sins themselves. Amongst which higher ranks of iniquity are presumptuous sins and sinnings, which may appear thus--
(1) The more shining light of grace is trampled over for to act the sin, the viler is the sinning.
(2) The more pride of heart accompanies any kind of sinning, this makes it the more vile.
(3) The more impudency and boldness attends a sinning, the worse it is.
(4) The more abuse of mercy concurs to the sinning, the more heinous it raiseth the sin.
3. In respect of others.
(1) Such sins would be exemplary and noted.
(2) Such sinnings from him would be trophies to evil men.
4. In respect of God.
(1) What God had been to him might cause him to pray against presumptuous sins.
(2) What he was to God. Why? David was His servant. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
A man is guilty of this sin when, without having sufficient strength, he undertakes to do something of himself; or, without warrant, reckons to receive some extraordinary aid from the mercy or power of God. Over-valuing of ourselves as to our own strength, as Peter did; or trusting to the mercy of God without the warrant of a promise, as did the sons of Sceva, is presumption. Sins are distributed into sins of ignorance, of infirmity, and of presumption, as related to the understanding, the will, and the sensual appetite or affections. If the fault lies in the understanding, the sin may be a sin of ignorance. If in the affections, the sin may be a sin of infirmity. Where sin has none of these excuses it is a wilful, that is, a presumptuous, sin. See the sins of Paul before his conversion, of Peter in his denial, of David in the matter of Uriah. Paul’s was a sin of ignorance, Peter’s a sin of infirmity, David’s a sin of presumption. Observe how great and mischievous, presumptuous sins are. They originate from a worse cause than other sins, and thence are more sinful; they produce worse effects, and so are more dangerous. They harden the heart They almost annihilate the conscience. Presumptuous sins cannot be removed by ordinary humiliations. A more solemn and lasting course of repentance is necessary. These sins leave scars behind, like bad wounds, when healed, leave in the flesh.
1. A presumptuous sinner rarely escapes without some outward affliction.
2. Presumptuous sins are often scandalous, leaving an indelible stain on the offender.
3. Presumptuous sins leave a sting in the conscience of the sinner. How may we avoid such sins?
(1) Never do anything against the clear light of thine own conscience.
(2) Strive to be master of thine own will.
(3) Beware of engaging thyself to sin. As in the case of Herod with Herodias. (Bishop Sanderson.)
The nature, danger, aggravations, and cure of presumptuous sin
I. When is a man guilty of this sin?
1. When sin is committed against the powerful dictates of his own conscience and the clear conviction of the Holy Ghost.
2. When sin is upon long deliberation and forecast, plotting and contriving how it may be accomplished. When the affections are calm and quiet, no hurrying and perturbation of passion to cause the sin.
4. The temptations, and our behaviour under them, will show when the sin is presumptuous. Were but sinners truly apprehensive of their wretched estate, how they stand liable every moment to the stroke of Divine justice, how that there is nothing that interposeth betwixt them and hell but only God’s temporary forbearance of them, truly it were utterly impossible to keep them from running up and down the streets like distracted persons crying out with horror of soul, “Oh, I am damned, I am damned”; but their presumption stupefies them, and they are lulled asleep by the devil; and though they live in sin, yet they still dream of salvation; and thus their presumption flatters them, till at length this presumption ends then, where their damnation begins, and never before.
II. Some aggravating considerations concerning these sins.
1. They do exceedingly harden and steel the heart to go on in them, making men resolute and secure, or else leaving them desperate They cry out with Cam, My iniquity is greater than can be forgiven. Despair of pardon oftentimes exasperates to more and greater offences. As if a thief, when he is robbing of a man, should argue with himself, “If I am detected of this robbery it will cost me my life; and if I murder him I can but lose my life”; just so do many argue: “My sins are already so many and so great, that I cannot avoid damnation for them; it is but in vain for me to struggle against my own fate and God’s decrees. It is too nice a scruple, since God hath given me up to the devil, for me not to give up myself to sin.” And so away they go to sin; and sin at random, desperately and resolvedly. Oh, horrid hardness!
2. They brazen the face with most shameless impudency (Isaiah 3:9; Jeremiah 6:15). For they will dare to commit foul sins publicly and knowingly. Others will boast and glory in them, and yet others will boast of wickednesses they never dared to commit. As cowards brag of their exploits in such and such a combat which yet they never durst engage in, so there are a generation in the world who dare not, for the terror of their consciences, commit a sin, that yet will boast that they have committed it; as if it were a generous and honourable thing to be called a daring sinner.
3. What if God should cut off such in the very act of their sin, giving them no space for repentance?
4. How hard it is to bring presumptuous sinners to repentance and reformation. Certainly, they that dare sin when they see hell before them, there is no hope that they will leave sinning till they see hell flaming round about them, and themselves in the midst of it.
III. The best christians are prone to them. This we may learn from--
1. The examples of others. See Noah, David, etc.
2. The pressing exhortations against them in the Bible.
3. The irritating power that the law hath (Romans 7:6). Our corruptions have made us combustible matter, that there is scarce a dart thrown at us in vain; when he tempts us it is but like the casting of fire into tinder, that presently catcheth; our hearts kindle upon the least spark that falls; as a vessel, that is brimful of water, upon the least jog, runs over. Satan hath got a strong party within us, that, as soon as he knocks, opens to him and entertains him. And hence is it that many times small temptations and very petty occasion draw forth great corruptions; as a vessel that is full of new liquor, upon the least vent given, works over into foam and froth; so, truly, our hearts, almost upon every slight and trivial temptation, make that inbred corruption that lodgeth there swell and boil and run over into abundance of scum and filth in our lives and conversations.
IV. It is God’s power only that can preserve the christian from presumptuous sin.
1. We should have thought that such dreadful sins would be easily kept at arm’s length. For such sins generally give notice and warning to prepare for resistance. And natural conscience doth especially abhor and more oppose them. And the fear of shame and infamy in the world often holds men back, as doth often the fear of human laws and penalties. And yet--
2. We still do greatly need this prayer, “Keep back,” etc., as Scripture and experience alike attest. But--
3. Some may object, if we have no power to keep from these vices, why doth God complain of us for doing what we cannot help doing, and which He only can preserve us from? But we say that a man has power, as, for example, to rise up if he be seated; no one would deny such power, and yet he cannot exercise it unless God excite and rouse it in him, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” All our powers are latent and sleepy until God rouse them up.
V. How God keeps men back from presumptuous sins.
1. Frequently by a strong hand of Providence upon them,--as
(i) shortening the lives of sinners (Psalms 64:6-7; Ecclesiastes 8:13); or
(ii) by cutting short their power (Psalms 76:5; John 7:30; Hosea 2:6); or
(iii) by raising up opposition to them, as when Saul would have put Jonathan to death, the people would not let him; or
(iv) by diverting men from their purpose (Daniel 11:30), as He did Joseph’s brethren from killing him.
(v) By removing the object against which they intended it, as Peter from Herod. And there are other ways still. But what woeful estate wicked men are in whom not grace but only Providence restrains. How we should thank God for such providences for others and for ourselves. But--
2. God keeps men back by His grace. And this He does by either restraining or sanctifying grace.
1. In respect of the subject. Restraining grace is common, and works upon wicked men as well as others. As in Esau, who was restrained from hurting Jacob (Genesis 20:6). But none but the children of God have sanctifying grace.
2. In their nature and essence. Sanctifying grace is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God (Jeremiah 31:33, and 1 John 3:9; Matthew 12:35). But restraining grace has no such habit and principle, but is only occasional and temporary.
3. In their operation. Sanctifying grace keeps the soul from sin by destroying it; restraining, only by imprisoning it. The former strikes especially at the sins of the heart, the latter only hinders the sins of the life. Sanctifying grace engages the will against sin; but restraining grace only rouses up the conscience against it. Now, a wicked man may Sill against his conscience; but it is impossible that he should ever sin against his will. That is continually set upon sin; and were it not that God sometimes raiseth up natural conscience in him to oppose his corrupt will, he would every moment rush into the most damning impieties without any of the least regret or sense of it. When the devil presents a sin to the embraces of the will, and when the will closes with it, and all the faculties of the soul are ready to commit it, God sends in conscience among them. “What, Conscience, art thou asleep! Seest thou not how the devil and thine own devilish heart are now plotting and contriving thine eternal ruin?” This rouses conscience, and makes it storm and threaten, and hurl firebrands into the face of sin, while it lies in the very embraces of the will; and, though it cannot change the will from loving it, yet it frights the will from committing it. This is the most usual way which restraining grace takes for the prevention of stir, by sending in conscience to make strong and vigorous oppositions against it.
VI. Application of all this
1. How erroneous to ascribe our preservation not to the grace of God, but to our own will.
2. How we ought to praise God if we are preserved from these sins.
3. How we should guard against provoking God to withdraw the influence of His grace from us. He will never utterly forsake us; but yet He may so far depart from us as that we may have no comfortable sense of His presence, nor any visible supports from His grace. We may be left a naked and destitute prey to every temptation; and fall into the commission of those sins out of which we may never be able to recover ourselves to our former strength, comfort, and stability. We may fall, to the breaking of our hones; and we may rise again, possibly, but it will be to the breaking of our hearts. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)
These stand contrasted with unconscious sins, or those committed ignorantly. See Deuteronomy 1:43, which contains a direct charge of wilful and intentional sins. Sins of ignorance are told of in Deuteronomy 4:2. But we speak of the former, and would note--
I. Their guilt. For--
1. They are the embodiments of forethought.
2. Are the result of desire.
3. Are prompted sometimes by circumstances.
4. Are committed with the hope of escaping the consequences;
5. And against the voice of conscience.
6. They are antagonistic to God; and are
7. The greatest of all sins.
II. Their restraints.
1. Providence (Genesis 20:6).
3. Divine influence.
4. Mediation, the intercessory life of Christ.
III. The relation of prayer to these restraints. Prayer is--
2. The greatest power.
3. It is exerted in harmony with a preconcerted plan of salvation.
IV. The value of prayer to him who prays against these sins.
1. Freedom--“Let them not have dominion over me.”
2. Rectitude--“I shall be innocent.” (J. H. Hill.)
It is a humiliating thought that even good men are prone to commit sins of presumption. Iniquity is of a progressive character, a growing evil, and from thoughtless sin we advance on until we come to these, the worst of all.
I. What are we to understand by “presumptuous sins”?
1. They are to be distinguished
(1) from the imperfections which attach to the obedience of good men. We all come short of the Divine glory. Our best services are imperfect. And
(2) from the sins of ignorance. Scripture admits the extenuating power of ignorance. And
(3) from sins of infirmity arising from the depraved condition of our being. To ascertain the presumptuous character of a sinful action, the temptation itself must be considered, and the way in which it assails a man. If the adversary comes in like a flood, and carries him down the stream before he has time to reflect on his position, the guilt is less than when he has deliberately considered the evil and calmly decided on its perpetration. If a man be suddenly provoked and conceives an injurious thought, or utters a passionate exclamation; if an unlawful or impure desire suddenly starts into existence in the soul, which the man shortly represses, he is not chargeable with a sin of presumption, but with a sin of infirmity. Let no one, however, from these remarks, seek a palliative for his guilt. Even those actions which a man seeks to excuse himself for, if he dwell upon all the extenuating circumstances of his sin, it is no longer his infirmity; it is a cherished evil, and the pains he takes to defend it to his own mind indicates it to be a sin which he has rolled under his tongue as a sweet morsel. Having thus cleared the way by these necessary distinctions--
2. Let us examine more particularly what are presumptuous sins.
(1) Presumption is unreasonable confidence, and, applied to sin, it is adventurous daring in iniquity. It is doing that which we know to be wrong, and yet persuading ourselves that we shall go unpunished, or determining to venture the risks and brave all hazards. Scripture speaks of it in the strongest terms to indicate its foul enormity. Presumption in sin is sin in its most malignant form But we go further, and say, if the action be of doubtful character, presumption attaches to it. If we are inclined to do that which we suspect is sinful, about which we doubt whether it be lawful, if we gratify our inclinations while our suspicions of its evil character remain, we are guilty of presumptuous sin.
(2) Deliberation and forethought greatly increases its presumptuous character. Some sins, as we have seen, come suddenly upon a man. The sin of Peter was of this kind; he had no intention of denying his Master, but to acknowledge Him. Though his sin was great, it was not presumptuous; but when a man considers with himself whether he shall sin or no, and he ponders over it, looks at the desired object, at the sin which is in his way to it, at the sanctions of the Divine law and the offence it will be to God, weighs each in his mind, and at length determines on the transgression, then that is indeed great and presumptuous sin. Do not imagine this is too great an evil for a Christian to commit.
(3) So also does defiance of conscience and the strivings of the Spirit of God with the soul.
(4) All perseverance in sin deserves this dreadful character.
(5) If men yield to slight temptations.
II. How necessary it is for us to be kept from presumptuous sins. Because of its virulence it is greatly to be dreaded. And there is great danger even of Christians falling into such sin. Man is prone to self-confidence. “Take heed to yourselves,” says our Lord. One sin allowed brings others. Of all sins this is most difficult to cure. For it benumbs the conscience and perverts the judgment. Cherish a deep sense of the sinfulness of these sins, and that will make you sincere and earnest your prayer. (E. Summers.)
I. What are presumptuous sins?
1. Sins committed against the light of our understanding and the plain dictates of our conscience.
2. When committed with deliberate contrivance--with purpose of heart. We “make provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
3. Sin upon slight inducements and small provocations.
4. Sin in spite of correction, rebukes, and obstacles which God throws in their path. Balaam. Ahaz.
5. Systematic sin, by an abuse of God’s free mercy in the Gospel. These are the worst of all.
II. Good men are liable to these sins. This is David’s prayer. He knew that he was liable. And so are nil good men. For--
1. See the exhortations addressed to them.
2. Facts recorded about them.
3. The prayers they offer.
III. How God answers this prayer.
1. By natural means, such as moral and religious education--a regard to reputation. Fear of public punishment and disgrace.
2. Providential restraints. God puts, at times, obstacles in our way; or diverts the mind; or renders it essential to us to practise diligence and frugality; or removes the object of temptation. A wise minister used often to say, “We ought to be thankful for the graces of providence as well as the influences of grace.”
3. Spiritual and gracious methods. Giving the new heart and causing us to delight in the law of God. (George Clayton.)
On the nature of presumptuous sins
I. What these presumptuous sins are. Three parts go to make up such a sin--
1. That a man undertake an action known by him to be unlawful or at least doubtful.
2. That, notwithstanding, he promise to himself security from the punishment due to it.
3. That he do this upon motives utterly groundless and unreasonable. He cannot plead ignorance nor surprise,
II. Instances of such sins. Of the most notable kind are--
1. To sin against the goodness of God manifesting itself to a man in great prosperity. What ingratitude this.
2. To sin when God is judging and afflicting us. When He is trying to hold us back from our sins. What is this but to wage war with God?
3. To sin when the sin is clearly discovered to us in the Word of God, and when God has wrought in us conviction concerning it.
4. To sin when God’s providence is seeking to thwart it and, as it were, lies cross to the commission of it. As when Pharaoh would go after the Israelites notwithstanding God made him know He would not have him do so.
5. When conscience has checked, warned, and remonstrated against such sin. It is to resist God’s Spirit.
6. When we know that by such sin we destroy all our joy in God, and all our happiness and power in serving Him.
7. When we go back again and again to the same sin. Flies are accounted bold creatures, for drive them off from a place as often as you will, yet presently they will be there again. But for a man who has by God’s grace been rescued from some gross sin to go back to it--what hope is there of that man’s being saved?
III. Consider some remedies against these sins.
1. Try to get deep apprehension and persuasion of the evil of sin generally. To this end see what evil sin hath wrought.
2. Then let a man reflect seriously upon God’s justice.
3. Think how men would be exasperated if we were to deal with them so.
IV. Why does David thus earnestly pray? He prays against them as so many pests, so many direful causes of God’s wrath, so many devourers of souls. And he thus prayed because--
1. Of the danger of falling into these sins. Our nature so prone to them. Men measure their beliefs by their desires. Most men are of a debonair, sanguine, jolly disposition, so that where despair has slain its thousands presumption has slain its ten thousands. And the greatness of the mercy of God leads men to presume, for it is more manifest than His anger, and Satan is ever busy to put men in such sins (1 Chronicles 21:1; Luke 22:3; Acts 5:8).
2. The sad consequences of them. They grow by indulgence. They waste conscience and so are hard to cure. They bring down greater judgments than any others. They are big with confusion, disaster, and curse. God must thus confound an audacious sinner in his course. (Robert South, D. D.)
Let them not have dominion over me.--
What dominion of sin doth import
Dominion is given sometimes to God, sometimes to Christ as Mediator, sometimes to man over man, sometimes to Satan over man, sometimes to death, which is said to rule, and sometimes to sin, when it is betwixt sin and the sinner, as betwixt a king and his subjects. As a reigning king hath dominion, so sin, it acts in all things like a king.
1. It hath possession: original sin of our hearts; actual sin of our lives.
2. Hath a title, our forsaking of God, and voluntary election and compact.
3. Hath a throne, our souls.
4. Hath servants, our members.
5. Hath a council, our carnal wisdom and corrupt reasonings.
6. Hath power to give laws, and see them executed. Paul speaks of the law in his members, and the law of sin (Romans 7:21-22).
But more distinctly for the better understanding this, observe these particulars--
1. That dominion properly is the right and power of a lord over a servant; it is a word implying superiority and subjection, one who hath authority to command, and another whose condition is obediential, and to serve.
2. Observe that dominion is two fold: it is--
(1) Original and absolute, and this is when the Lord hath a natural, and prime, and irrespective title.
(2) Derivative, and depending, and limited: such is the dominion which God hath given man over the creatures.
3. Observe that there is a two-fold dominion. One is lawful, such a dominion and subjection which the Word and will of God doth or will warrant. Another is unlawful, and as it were usurped.
4. Consider that the dominion of sin doth imply two things.
(1) One is singular power, and strength joined with authority.
(2) Another is quiet, willing, and total yielding of subjection to that authority, law, and command of sin: when a man is as cheerfully prepared to obey his lusts, as any subject is to embrace the commands of his prince.
Sin may be said to have dominion--
1. In reflect of assent: when the understanding subjects itself to his motions a man may apprehend sin as working, and yet he may not embrace, but resist that working of sin. And then it is not sill in dominion, but subjection puts up sin into the throne. And here, too, we must again distinguish of that subjection of assent which denominates dominion, that it is not a mere passive subjection (as when a man is taken prisoner), but an active subjection, a subjection of approbation, as when a servant hears the will of his master, and he likes it so.
2. In respect of the consent of the will, when the will declares itself expressly as a party for sin. Here now falls in a subtle and deep inquiry whether all resistance impairs dominion, and no resistance doth always infallibly argue it. I answer briefly to the first. That all resistance doth not prejudice dominion. A man may hold a firm league with sin in his heart, though sometimes in some particulars he may skirmish and quarrel. There is therefore a double resistance, or denying with sin. One is collateral and accidental; which doth not arise from an immediate contrariety of nature, but from a contrariety of effects. Another is natural and immediate; which depends on an holy nature implanted in the soul, which opposeth sin as a thing formally evil and displeasing to God. This resistance doth prejudice sin in its dominion, but the former doth not. No resistance. Both imply the consent to be plenary, and therefore sin to be in dominion: when the estate of the soul is such, that no contrary quality stands ‘twixt the command of sin and the obedience of a sinner, it is easy to point who is lord of the house; and indeed, what doth more palpably demonstrate dominion than a quiet subjection?
But yet another question is raised, whether a good man, in whom sin hath not dominion, may not yield a plenary consent of will: which if, then plenary consent argues not dominion.
1. It is possible that he may sin willingly.
2. That there is a double concourse of the will’s consent to sin. One is real, when in truth the whole inclination of the will is for sin, and where it is thus there sin is in dominion. Another is sensible, which is an observed acting of the will as embracing, and leaguing it with sin; when all is a corrupt inclination and consent. Now here I conjecture, that possibly sin may not always have dominion, where yet, for the present, and for a particular, the whole sensible part of the will seems only for sin. My reason is this, the resistances of grace are secret and more hidden; and again, when the soul is hurried to a sin in the heat of temptations and passions, it is not easily able to observe every secret and transient regretting and opposition.
3. You must distinguish ‘twixt dominion of sin, and twixt a strong inclination to sin: dominion of sin is a thing more natural, but the strong inclination may be preternatural.
4. Lastly, you must distinguish ‘twixt facts, and ‘twixt courses; and ‘twixt particular, and ‘twixt general intentions; and ‘twixt too much yielding, and a plenary yielding and resignation. The will may come on to sin (where it hath not dominion) in respect of facts; and by a particular intention, and by a partial yielding: but where the will comes on as to a course, and with a general intention, and with a plenary yielding, there is dominion. Thus of the dominion of sin in respect of the will. The dominion of sin may be considered in respect of the work or service; the working of sin, and obedient acting of it, doth also include and express its dominion; hence they, in whom sin hath dominion, are said to serve sin, and they are said to obey sin, and they are said to commit sin, and they are said to do the work of the devil (John 8:44). Again, we must distinguish of obedience to the commands of sin. One is simple and absolute: which is when to sin, though it be not every particular thing which a man doth, yet it is a principal thing unto which he applies himself: as that is a man’s trade, not presently which he looks upon or deals in, but wherein he doth principally and chiefly deal in, unto which he applies the current and strength of his stock. Another is cursory or transient: as a bee may light upon a thistle, but her work is to be gathering at flowers: or a sheep, may be in the dirt, but its work is to be grazing on the mountains, or in the meadows: or an honest traveller may be beside the way in a wood, or in an house, but his work is to go on in the king’s road. So is it possible for a man, in whom sin hath not dominion to touch upon sinful facts.
5. I conjecture: that it is fit to add one thing more in the general about the dominion of sin, as respecting its powerful commands that it is either--
(1) Habitual, where sin in the course behaves itself as a king, it rules, and commands, and disposeth of the person to its base services and lusts.
(2) Actual, and this is not properly its dominion, though it be miscalled so, yet to give a little scope to freeness of language, I will call it an actual dominion, which is rather a particular prevalency of acts, than a sovereignty or dominion in the nature, when though the heart and nature have surrendered themselves to Christ as the only Lord, and to His will as the only law, yet in many particulars sin gets the better over grace, though it cannot be said to rule, yet it may be said to conquer. Against which, if I mistake not, David doth here principally bend himself when he prays “Let not them have dominion over me,” that is, not only let them not rule, but which is beyond that, let them not so much as prevail over me. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Why David prays against sin in dominion
Remember that precedent distinction of actual dominion, which comprehended a particular prevalency over the soul for particular acts of sinning: and of habitual dominion which intimated the full resignation of the heart to the commands of corruption. In both respects there may be great reasons why any man should pray against the dominion of sin.
I. Against actual dominion.
1. Because though actual dominion doth not infallibly testify the person to be bad: yet it is ever a breaking forth of what is very bad; forasmuch as the action in this case is but sin acted. Now consider--
(1) That every sin (as acted) is therefore the worse: you know that sin, though it be a vile thing, yet it tends towards a perfection (in its kind); lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished, etc. (James 1:15).
(2) That the acting of the greater sin is always a greater kind of sinning: I mean, if things be equally set together. A high sin, a presumptuous sin in temptation, is not so guilty as the same presumptuous sin in dominion; for all sin in service is ever worse than any sin in conflict: though sin may trouble a man more when it inclines and tempts, yet it wounds a man more when it prevails and overcomes.
2. Actual dominion, though it doth not always conclude the absence of grace, yet it always impairs and weakens the strength of grace.
3. Because actual dominion though it doth not always cut off the union, yet it may and doth disperse and check the comforts. It is an eclipse, though it be not a night.
4. Because actual dominion (especially of great sins, and over a David) is accompanied with great prejudice to Divine glory: the better the man is, the more dishonourably foul his offendings are.
II. Habitual dominion.
1. Habitual dominion decides the estate: the question of a man’s soul is, whose servant he is, whether he belong to God and Christ, or to sin and Satan. Now, particular failings do not determine this, but the dominion of sin doth, his servants we are whom we obey.
2. There is no dominion in all the world so vile: whether you consider it--
1. In the commands of sin; or
2. In the service of the sinner. The commands of sin are the vilest commands.
1. They are illegal.
2. They are purely sinful: all its edicts and desires are but rebellions.
3. They are extremely unreasonable.
1. The service of sin: it is the most disloyal service in respect of God renouncing Him, denying Him His due, and conferring it on His only enemy.
2. It is the most injurious service to our souls.
3. It is the basest service.
4. It is the drudgingest service. A man who is a servant to sin, he is at the command of every lust.
5. It is a most unprofitable service. Though in some service there may be but an uncertain gain, yet in the service of sin there is a most certain and great loss; what profit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed (Romans 6:21).
6. It is a most uncomfortable service. How oft is the servant of sin in the depths of fear and in the heights of trouble; his very sinnings are more his torments than his joys. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
It is an hard thing to get off the dominion of sin.
Sin is a strong man, it hath possession, and goes not out by entreaty or bribe, but it must be by force, by one that is stronger. I assure you, that the almighty God must reveal His own arm, and He must cast down strongholds, He must work a kind of a miracle, or else sin will still be a lord, and the sinner will be a servant to his lusts. A man may change any master soever, and with more ease than sin. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
A man may deceive himself about the dominion of sin
There are many erroneous deceits.
1. One is the unsensibleness of its power: when a man feels no violence of sinful inclination, no stirrings, no opposition, no commands, but there is a calm and quietness in his spirit and in his way, which could not be as he thinks if sin had dominion and rule on him. Now, this is a deceit; for--
(1) It is most probable that sin hath the strongest dominion where the heart is most insensible of the law and commands of sin.
(2) This unsensibleness and quietness may arise, partly from the oneliness of sin, and partly from the ignorance of a sinful condition, and partly from the habitual custom of sin. Whether the sun doth shine or not, there are as many atoms and motes flying in the room, there they are really, though not sensibly till the light comes in to manifest them. When a man is in a deadly disease, he may be void of all sense of it. Nay, and as we see men in bondage and slavery, when they are long in the same, grow insensible, and the hand which is used to iron and nettles is not sensible of them.
2. Another deceit may be a freedom from many courses of sinful actings. Though a man doth not all evil, and his way or course is not universally spreading in all the kinds of sinning, yet sin may rule in that man, it may have dominion; forasmuch as--
(1) Particular subjection is sufficient to set up dominion. Though a servant hath but one master, and doth not serve every man in the parish, yet he is a true servant in respect of that one master; so though the sinner is not at the command of every lust, yet if he be the servant of any one lust, sin hath the dominion over him; for it is not the multitude of sins which doth absolutely and necessarily concur to dominion, but a subjection to the power of anyone.
(2) A man may do all that service to one sin, which others do to many sins; he may devise, and study to fulfil it, he may cheerfully and greedily receive its commands; he may heartily love it, and go on in it, and for its sake oppose the sceptre and dominion of Christ, he may consecrate all his strength to the obedience of it. So though in some men many sins do rule, and in others someone only, if the heart obeys many or few, or one, it is enough to declare dominion.
(3) Yet again, another deceit may be, not only declination of some sins, but also opposition; which a man thinks cannot possibly consist with dominion; for a kingdom is not, or should not be, divided against itself. To this I answer, that there may be notable deceit in this also; forasmuch as to that of exemption from great and gross sins: it is not the greatness, but the power of sin which makes it reigning; the princes in Germany have dominion, though the dominion of the emperor be more large. The least sin acknowledged, loved, served, sufficeth to dominion: the dominion of sin is most within the heart. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
No dominion in the world like that of Christ
1. None so holy.
2. None so gracious; He doth not exact beyond what He gives.
3. None so peaceable; His very service is a kind of wages to the obedient.
4. None so assisted; His commands are accompanied with strength and spirit.
5. None so rewarded; no man serves Christ too much or for nought.
6. Lastly, be thankful, for if dominion be off, then damnation is off. There is no condemnation (saith Paul). (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Differences ‘twixt the dominion and victory of sin
First, particular victory depends upon inequality of actual strength, but dominion depends upon the fulness of a corrupt nature. Secondly, particular victory is a sudden act, but dominion is a more sober work. Thirdly, where the sinning owes itself not to dominion, but to particular victory, or tyranny, there the person, when he comes to himself, feels the yoke and would shake it off. 4. Therefore in the fourth place, if it be but victory, the person is not only troubled at his fall, not only loathing of his actions, but he is actively working, he is using his victorious weapons to raise up himself, to free himself again; he is grieved at the bondage, desires liberty, and will fight hard for it. Lastly, if it be but particular victory, the soul will rise again, and it will not rise without revenge. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Differences ‘twixt acts germinated and custom in sin
1. Where the renewed acts of sin owe themselves to custom, there the possession is both strong and quiet.
2. Where the renewed acts are acts of custom, there the acting is natural and easy.
3. Where the renewed acts owe themselves to custom, there a man is not easily brought off. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
How to be kept from the dominion of sin
1. For the first let us inquire what keeps up and strengthens the natural dominion of sin, and accordingly work against it. There are four things which do it--
(1) One is ignorance. The blindness of the understanding is a principal guard of reigning sin. The devil is a prince of darkness.
(2) A second thing which keeps up the natural dominion of sin, is a violent love of sin.
(3) Another thing which keeps up the dominion of sin is error and deceit; there is a lie in every sin.
(4) A fourth thing which keeps up dominion is custom.
2. What may demolish and break down the natural dominion of sin.
(1) That which doth this, it must have a greater power than sin, for natural dominion goes not off but by a stronger hand.
(2) That which doth this, it must be a contrary nature unto sin.
(3) Again, it must be something which may gain the affections.
(4) Again, it must be something which may breed a stiff and courageous resolution, that the heart will not serve sin, but will go free. And hereupon, against all inward and outward opposition, breaks forth into the use of victorious means.
3. Against actual dominion. Thus for directions against the natural dominion of sin. Now I proceed to some helps against actual dominion, which is the particular prevalency of a Sin into act. Let me premise a proposition or two, and then you shall have the special directions themselves.
(1) Actual dominion (I speak in respect of gross acts) is usually in respect of some particular lusts: which works with more strength in the soul than any other lusts.
(2) Secondly, actual dominion is ordinarily by such a sin which hath the advantage of a natural complexion, and outward condition, and occasions, and affections; upon these doth sin set the temptation, as an engineer doth place his battery upon such a piece, of ground, which doth best advantage and further his shot against a city. A man’s natural temper and complexion doth mightily facilitate his acts. Now I come unto some special directions against the actual dominion of a particular lust. First, preserve in thy soul a constant and humble fear, and that will keep off the actual dominion of thy sin (Proverbs 28:14). There be some graces which are, as it were, the guard of other graces: look as faith is a grace which feeds all the rest: so fear is a grace which keeps all the rest.
2. Get a sound and uncorrupt judgment: there be three cases in which a man is apt to fall under the actual dominion of sin. One is, when he thinks or says that the sin is little. Another is, when he saith that his own strength is great. A third is, when he assures himself of easy pardon and recovery. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Then shall I be upright.
The anatomy of uprightness
That it should be the great bent, aim, desire, and endeavour of a man to be upright (Genesis 17:1). I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be thou upright.
I. What it is to be upright. The heart is upright when it is sincere, and then it is sincere when it is unmingled: there is a difference ‘twixt adherence and commixture. To the purest lana there may adhere some thread or spot uncomely, but in commixture the qualities or substances are in a sort mutually confounded; sin adheres or cleaves to the nature of the most upright person, but yet it mingles not, it is a thing which the renewed heart is thrusting off; it would be rid of it, the new nature, like a spring, is working it off, so that a man may be said to be upright whose heart will not suffer any sin to incorporate or settle itself. Uprightness is a sound and heavenly frame or temper of a gracious heart or spirit given by God, by which graces are acted, sins are opposed duties are performed affectionately, directly, and plainly, in reference to God, and not for by respects. It is a temper or frame of the heart, a composition, as it were, in which methinks two things may be observed. One, that uprightness is not a single or transparent act or motion: I think that even an hypocrite, whose heart is rotten, abominable, may yet, as step out into actions materially good, so feel motions within him both against what is evil, and unto what is good, he may (either through the force and power of evidence and conviction in his judgment, or through the unresistible actions of his inlighted and stirred conscience, or through the great desire of a glorious blessedness) have many fits and inward humours of being good and doing good. But all this is passion, and not temper: the philosopher in his rhetorics accurately distinguishes ‘twixt the readiness which springs out of a natural complexion, and that which ariseth out of a violent anger and passion which soon fades off, being not rooted in nature, but in distemper: so is it with the hypocrite. But uprightness is a temper and frame, like an instrument well tuned, or if that hit not full, like a complexion, which is a uniform (if not principle yet) instrument of actions. It is like that leaven, of which Christ spake, which invades the whole lump, it sweetly seasons and disposes the whole man for God, as the bent of the stone is to the centre, and of the fire to ascend. Another, that unrighteousness is rather a general influence in the graces than any distinct grace: I will not make this point a controversy, only, so far as I yet apprehend, uprightness is rather the temper of a grace, than the grace itself; it is not fear, but fear rightly tempered and ordered; it is not love, but love rightly set; it is not desire, but this orderly carried. It is a sound and incorrupt and heavenly frame of heart. A thing may be termed sound or solid either when it is real, not light, slight, superficial, or when it can abide trial: as true gold is really so and not in colour only, and if you reduce it to the touchstone you shall find it so: if you cast it into the fire, etc. The last thing which I would observe in uprightness is its end and scope. I pray you to remember that uprightness causeth a threefold reference of our services: one is to God’s precept, that’s the square and rule and compass of upright motions. Another is to God’s glory, that’s the spring which turns the wheels, the wind which blows the sails: it is for Christ’s sake, said Paul: and whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God, said he again. A third is to God’s acceptance and approbation, so that God will accept, and commend and approve (2 Corinthians 5:9); we labour that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him (2 Corinthians 10:18). Now I proceed to a second question, why we should strive and aim at (as David here did) and endeavour to be upright. There are abundant reasons thereof; I will deliver a few unto you. First, this uprightness is the great thing which God looks for (John 4:23). Nay, secondly, this is it which the Lord looks at (Jeremiah 5:3). Thirdly, this seems to be the only thing that God expects (1 Samuel 12:4); only, fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart (Deuteronomy 10:12). Fourth, uprightness doth bring the whole man unto God; it is that which commands all, and carries all with it. Fifth, God judgeth of a man by his uprightness. Would you be paid with counterfeit gold? doth the show please you without the substance? will the compliments of men satisfy you without a real friendship? will a gaudy rotten house content you, which hath no solidity and goodness? would you take the words of your servants, and their legs as sufficient? while their hearts are false in their callings. Nay, would you be content that God should make a show only, a pretence that he would pardon you, and help, and comfort, and save you; and yet deny you real love, real mercy, real comfort, real help and salvation, then think how God should take shows from you without uprightness of heart. Therefore I pray you take some pains with your hearts, bring them to the balance of the sanctuary, weigh them there, reduce them to the rule, try them there, whether they be upright or no. Let me premise a few particulars which may prepare and quicken you to this trial for uprightness of heart. First, there is no deceit or error in the world of more dangerous consequence than for a man to deceive himself, and to err about the right temper of his soul. A man may mistake himself in the depth of his riches, or the altitude of worldly friendship, or latitude of his intellectual qualifications and abilities; he may think himself rich, and favoured, and learned when perhaps he is not so; but these mistakes are about nostra, not about nos; ours, but not ourselves, and the danger may be only a tempest, but not a shipwreck. But for a man to deceive himself about his heart, about his soul; why, what hath he more? what hath he like them? They are fundamental errors; if a man lays a rotten foundation instead of a sound, all his building at length sinks to the ground. If a man sets forth in a fair ship, whose bottom is unsound and leaking, he loseth himself in the voyage. What a fearful day will judgment be! how will it make the soul to tremble, when it hath no more time now but to see, and eternally bewail its own errors and deceits w O Lord, saith that oppressed man, I have deceived my own soul, I thought myself thus and thus; but my heart hath deceived and beguiled me. Thirdly, an hypocrite may go very far, and therefore the more reason have we to see that our hearts be upright. Again consider, that it is a very difficult thing to be upright: though it be that acceptable frame of spirit so pleasing to God and so comfortable (as we may hear) to us, yet it is not so easy to be upright, whether you consider--
1. That deceitfulness which is in man’s heart (Jeremiah 17:9), q.d. there is not such a cunning thing as it, not a thing in all the world which can delude us so easily. Oh, how difficult! many by aims and indirect ends do often present themselves, that it is with us as with boys in writing, we draw many crooked lines, or as with them in archery, we shoot by hither or beyond or beside the mark; it is not easy to do good because God commands it, or only because He may be glorified.
2. That spiritualness which is required in upright motions; I tell you that the very soul must act itself, if the heart or way be upright: not only his lips, but his spirit must pray; not only his ear, but his heart must hear; he must not only profess against sin, but his soul must hate and abhor it. Lastly, to be upright is a possible thing, a man may attain unto it. But, you will say, if the case be so, how may one know that he is indeed upright? There are many discoveries of it; I pray you to observe them, and try yourselves by them.
(1) If a man be upright, he will mostly strive for an inward reformation of his heart.
(2) If a man be upright, then a little holiness will not serve his turn.
(3) If a man be upright, then a man will walk by a right rule.
(4) A person may know whether he be upright or no, by the conscionable disposition of his heart about all sins. David, speaking of such who were undefiled (Psalms 119:1), and sought the Lord with their whole heart (Psalms 19:2), he added (Psalms 19:3), They also do no iniquity. If you be upright you will make conscience of secret as well as open sins.
You will make conscience of the least sins. I conceive there are five things about our duties and services which may manifest the uprightness of our hearts, namely--
(1) Universality. David did take this for a special testimony of his uprightness; that he had respect unto all God’s commands (Psalms 119:6), and Paul thought it so, who did exercise himself to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and man (Acts 24:16; Hebrews 13:18). An hypocrite’s obedience cannot be universal.
(2) Constancy of obedience.
(3) Simplicity of obedience. The unsound heart will square out his work according to the pay; his eye is much upon this, how will this make for my profit? how will it advance my pleasure, my credit? these things fire and inflame an unsound heart. For it is God’s express will, and it will make for His glory: these (alone) are cold motives, and weak inducements to a false-hearted person. But come and say, God will have you to do it, and if you do it you shall be highly thought on, you will be esteemed for it, you shall have much applause, you may hap to get well by it: why, now the unsound heart stirs as the ship, which hath got a right wind to drive it, and carry it on.
(4) Spirituality of obedience. An hypocrite, he may do so much about duties as may manifest the excellency of his gifts, but he doth not that about duties which argues the efficacy of grace. But an upright person, there is fire and incense in his sacrifices; he must present living and reasonable services (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). If he prays, and his mind be drawn aside by distractions, and his affections work not with sorrow, hope, with earnest desire, and some confidence, he accounts that the work is not done, he hath said something, but he thinks he hath not prayed.
(5) Humility of obedience; why, this doth argue the uprightness of a person. There is no person more proud of his work than an hypocrite. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
How to obtain and maintain uprightness.
I. Motives to persuade us. Means to direct and help us.
1. God regards you not, if you be not upright; His eyes are upon the truth.
2. The Word of God condemns you; if you be not upright, it will not acquit you.
3. Your conscience will secretly reproach and vex you in the day of your calamity.
II. The means of uprightness. Directions for the getting of it.
1. If ever you would have upright hearts, you must then go to God for them.
2. If you would find uprightness in you, then get an exceeding and predominate love of God and His ways. Love is of great force and influence to a man’s ways and actions, is like the rudder which doth master the ship in the motion, it can turn and wind it any way; so doth love prevail with the soul; it hath a command over it. The want of uprightness comes from the want of love; as the falseness of a woman to her husband grows upon want of conjugal love; it is the love of the world which draws a man so often aside. If a man could love God above all, he would delight to walk with Him, he would be careful to please Him, fearful to offend Him, ready to obey Him, would be kept in for God, he would not make so many strayings, he would mind God’s glory more.
3. Get to hate sin; a secret love of sin will draw the soul aside.
For the second which respect the preserving means, take these directions.
1. First, if you would preserve uprightness, you must preserve an holy fear of God; I will put My fear into their hearts, and they shall not depart from Me (Jeremiah 32:1-44).
2. If you would preserve uprightness, then you must get and preserve humbleness of spirit.
3. If you would get and preserve uprightness, then get your hearts to be crucified to the world. Hypocrisy and worldliness are seldom far asunder.
4. Now, to all that hath been said, let me add a few daily meditations, which may be of great force to keep us in upright walking.
(1) That God searcheth my heart, and still looks upon my ways. Whither shall I go from Thy presence? said David (Psalms 139:1-24).
(2) That I must one day appear before God, and then all secrets shall be disclosed.
(3) A little unevenness will mar the comfort of a great deal of uprightness. There are two sorts of unevenness in walking. One is habitual and allowed, which mars the just hopes and expectations of glory. Another is actual, which is a trip, a stumble, an out-stripping in the course of a pious walking. I confess it may befall the best, yet it will embitter our souls. All the good course which a man hath led, and actions which he hath sincerely done, cannot so much comfort him as many particular obliquities and unevenness may sad and perplex him. As in a wrench of the foot, the present pain shuts out the sense of all former strength.
(4) That God is to be set up above all.
It is an hard thing to ascribe unto God the Original of excellencies, that He is God, and that power, might, and glory, and obedience belongs unto Him, that He made us, and not we ourselves, and that our beings as they are depending upon His power, so our ways upon His rule; and He is Lord of lords, all are under Him, and, being the universal efficient, He ought also to be our universal end. God is set up above all other--
(1) When His rule and Word sways us against all other.
(2) When His glory is singly or supremely aimed at above all other things, and both these complete uprightness. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart.
Words and thoughts
The prayer speaks for itself, as the prayer of a truly righteous man. One might almost call that man a perfect man whose whole life was lived in perfect accord with it. For the majority of us, it is far easier to control one’s actions than one’s words. What mischief is done by the exaggerated denunciations of violent language, and by the false position of guilt in which strong epithets and expletives are usually placed. All expressions of bad feeling are wrong, not because they are expressions, but because they spring from the bad feeling, and that is the thing of which we ought to be ashamed and afraid. The use of expletives has been put on a false footing altogether, and the way in which they have been condemned has done more to increase it than to stop it. Yet how very far better it would be for us never to use rash or violent or misplaced words. All habits of this kind are bad. What a safeguard the prayer of the text is against all corrupting influences of the tongue, and against lying. By the words of our mouth, how vast is the influence we may exercise for good or evil! Of all the common forms of sinning with the tongue, the most common, and perhaps the worst, is the sin of lying. There is an amazing amount of careless falsehood spoken. What gives religion its preeminence as a moral power, is its recognition of a holy God who looketh on the heart, and m whose sight the pious soul longs to be wholly and alway acceptable. The earnest desire to be right in the sight of God would give an immense impulse to the instinctive love of truth which belongs to our nature. The most vital part of religion is, intense desire to be made righteous, and entire trust in the strength and grace of God. (Charles Voysey.)
Meditations into which a man puts his heart will surely prove the spring of action. The depths of this prayer are reached in the petition concerning the meditations of the heart. Meditation is only unuttered speech. We think in words. Yet the words we utter have a separate existence, and most powerfully affect the thoughts of our mind. Language has a reflex influence upon our thoughts. Thought is revealed in speech, but speech reacts upon thought. The Bible is fully alive to the importance of right words. Consider some of the essentials of acceptable words,
1. They must be truthful words. Our words must be in harmony with our thought. Our speech should be photographic of our thought. There are thoughts which seem to reach beyond the capacity of language. Speech is the clothing of thought, and, like clothing, should fit. Right thoughts would exclude--
(1) All exaggerated words. This is a special failing of our own day.
(2) All unreal words.
(3) All flattering words.
2. They must he charitable words. There are men who have an instinct for searching out evil, just as hounds have for scenting out their prey. Evil ought so to sorrow our hearts as to make it impossible for us to blazon it abroad. Truth and goodness ought to be so attractive to us as to lead us to dwell thereon with delight and joy. Oh, that we had greater tenderness for sinful, wandering souls!
3. They must be godly words. Earthly speech may be seasoned with godly thoughts. Earthly things may be seen m a heavenly light. The spirit of a Christian may be seen in common ways, in ordinary work, in earthly speech. (W. Garrett Horder.)
The acceptableness of the words of the mouth and the meditation of the heart in God’s sight
It is a strong evidence of the love of God towards sinful man, that any thing such a frail and erring being can do or say can be acceptable to Him. There are few sins which can be less excused, or which are committed with less temptation, than the habit of uttering improper or indecent language. It is our duty to resist such temptations, and this duty is to be performed by making the meditations of our hearts acceptable to God. To this end we must begin with striving to acquire, and with earnestly praying for, purity of mind. Our minds become tainted before we are aware of the importance and the value of cleanliness of thought. The voluntary meditation of our hearts now form an image, an anticipated representation of the state in which “we shall be.” Whatever gives us most delight and heartfelt pleasure in this world is that which will give us strength in the next. (John Nance, D. D.)
Consecration of word and thought
I. The utterance of the text as an act of sacrifice. A dedication to God such as any devout man may make both of words and thoughts.
1. There is nothing so much in our power as are our words. We cannot change our heart, but we can our speech. Perhaps some man exclaims that his temper has overmastered him; that he is possessed by the devil; that he cannot govern his own thoughts; that volleys of wicked words issue from his lips, and that his words cannot be acceptable to God. I reply, as far as “words” are concerned, you have simply and solely yourself to blame, However hot your passion, you are not forced to speak; for God has given you power to hold your tongue. It is pure absurdity to put down those curses or those noisy slanderous words of yours to your own depravity, or to Adam, or to the devil. You have only your present self to blame, and neither Adam nor the devil will bear a particle of the responsibility. There are certain devilish words that even you would not utter ill the hearing of a child; there are others that you would repress if a holy man were standing by your side; there are many which your instinctive reverence for the sanctuary would have the power to hush. These simple facts may do much to convince you that dominion over the tongue is given you, and that it is within your power to present to God even words that may be acceptable to Him. The Scriptures contain many words which it were acceptable for the most vile to speak unto God.
2. The meditations of our hearts. These may seem to be less fitting for sacrifice; but they, too, can largely be brought into the control of our will; and then we may offer them to God on the altar of spiritual sacrifice.
II. How comprehensive the prayer. “All the words of my mouth.” These include--
1. All my soliloquies, my unuttered thinkings.
2. All my conversation, all my speakings whatsoever.
3. All I say unto God, in praise and prayer, in cries and ejaculations of gratitude and entreaty.
4. The meditations of the heart include even a larger share of human existence than the words of the mouth. These meditations reveal the habitual objects of reverence or distrust; the whole empire of fear, hope, and suspicion; of faith, prayerfulness, and love. Now, if this text is a prayer that all these things may be acceptable in the sight of God, it sweeps up into itself a large portion of our whole being. The prayer itself is a holy prayer, for “this is the will of God, even our sanctification.” (Henry Reynolds, D. D.)
The meditation of my heart.--
There are four kinds of prayer, distinguished by the purposes for which the soul approaches God: namely, to praise Him, to thank Him, to propitiate Him, or to invoke His help. But we note now another division of prayer. That which we have referred to depends upon the motive of the soul, this upon the maimer of the act of prayer itself. The Psalmist, having prayed that he might be cleansed from sin, and “innocent from the great transgression,” proceeds further to desire that he may become pleasing to God--“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight.” In these words he provides us with the main division of prayer, based on the organ or faculty which is employed in it: by “the words of my mouth,” vocal prayer is suggested; by “the meditation of my heart,” mental prayer is described. Mental prayer is transacted entirely within the soul; vocal prayer employs the ministry of the tongue, or in some other way finds expression. The order of the Psalmist is that of acquirement and attainment. We learn in childhood first to say prayers, afterwards to think them: we govern our words first, and then bring under subjection our thoughts. All prayer is either mental or vocal. Mental prayer includes meditation and contemplation. Vocal is such as is used in the services of the Church.
I. First, we will deal with the practice of meditation, and consider--
1. Its authority, which is derived from the Scriptures. We have instances of it in the Old Testament, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, of whom it is first expressly spoken (Genesis 24:63). In the New Testament it is twice told of Mary how she “pondered in her heart” the things that were told her. Christ Himself gives examples of this kind of prayer (John 18:2; Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). Mary of Bethany. The apostles also (Acts 1:14; 1 Timothy 4:15; Galatians 1:17-18). And so in the writings of the saints we have constant reference to the practice of meditation. St. Ambrose bids us “exercise ourselves in meditation before conflict, that we may be prepared for it,” and in a striking passage describes the nutritive effects of meditation; he says, “we ought for a long while to bruise and refine the utterances of the heavenly Scriptures, exerting our whole mind and heart upon them, that the sap of that spiritual food may diffuse itself into all the veins of our soul,” etc. St. Augustine enumerates the steps which lead up to “prayer,”--“meditation begets knowledge, knowledge compunction, compunction devotion, and devotion perfects prayer.” St. Basil enjoins mental prayer as a means of exercising the faculties of the soul. St. Gregory mentions the morning as a fitting time for meditation; he says, “as the morning is the first part of the day, each of the faithful ought at that moment to lay aside all thoughts of this present life, in order to reflect upon the means of rekindling the fire of charity.” St. Bernard represents meditation and prayer as the two feet of the soul, by which it ascends. St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercise, systematised it. St. Theresa declares it “essential to the Christian life.”
2. Its dignity. It involves a continuing in communion with God in tender and affectionate intercourse, growing into a holy familiarity and friendship. St. Augustine in his confessions records the joy which he experienced when his soul found its resting place in God--“Sometimes thou bringest me to certain feelings of tenderness, and to an extraordinary sweetness, which, should it still increase, I know not what would happen.” Such communion is surely a preparation for heaven and a foretaste of beatitude. It is said of St. Francis de Sales, that one day when he was in retreat, and holding continuous and close communion with God, he became so overwhelmed with joy that at last he exclaimed, “Withdraw Thyself, O Lord, for I am unable any longer to bear Thy great sweetness.”
3. Its importance. This is because of its rich productiveness in the fruits of prayer; we have found that, whether it be regarded as a good work which stores up favour with God, or as an act of compensation for past neglect, or as a means of adding force to our petitions, or as to its subjective effect on our life--it outstrips other kinds of prayer in the number and quality of its effects.
4. Its nature and exercise. There are preliminary acts, such as--
(2) Preparatory prayer that we may have the aid of the Holy Ghost.
(3) The endeavour to picture to yourself the event upon which you are to meditate.
Then there will be called into exercise: memory, that you may have the subject of meditation before the mind; understanding, that you may reflect upon it and investigate its meaning; the will, for we have to stir ourselves up to this exercise. The will acts On the body, by causing the muscles to contract; on the mind, by determining what trains of thought it shall pursue; on the spirit, by holy resolve: this its most wonderful power. Such resolve must be definite, and its execution not delayed. And the meditation will end with appropriate devotions and inquiries. But mental prayer includes also--
II. Contemplation. It is a gift which is very rarely possessed. It is said that, besides a peculiar elevation of soul towards God and Divine things, on the natural side contemplation requires certain qualities of mind and character, and is seldom attained except after a process of spiritual trial and purification; so that, in passing from the consideration of meditation to that of contemplation, we feel that we are going off the thoroughfare into the byways of religion. Some of its special features.
(1) There is no labour in it, as in meditation, but the soul beholds truth intuitively, and remains gazing upon God. The amazement of delight fills the soul as it beholds the things of God. So that it is
(2) a foretaste of eternal bliss, like to that which St. Peter enjoyed on the Mount of Transfiguration.
(3) Another feature is repose. It is restful calm, and closes the senses to the external world. It is ever associated with the idea of rest. Mary sat at Jesus feet and heard His word.
(4) The union of the soul with God is another mark, and is the first object of contemplative prayer.
III. A difficulty in the use of this mental prayer. It is dryness of spirit.
1. Its causes are--
(1) The condition of conscience,--some sin, perhaps hidden, may have come between the soul and God; or
(2) bodily health; or
(3) the providence of God. He sends it as a spiritual trial, and this form of it is the most severe. (Job 29:2-4; Psalms 22:1-31 :l, 42:5, 143:7.) If we find no sin in the conscience, after diligent search, it is best to leave the matter in the hand of God. Only, never let dryness of spirit cause us to give up mental prayer. Let us not think that because we have not happy feeling therefore our prayer cannot be acceptable to God. God may delight in that which gives us no delight. As when the moon is in crescent, there are a few bright points still visible upon its unillumined part; and those bright points art supposed to be peaks of mountains so lofty as to be able to catch the sunlight; so in the darkness of the soul, the withdrawal of grace is not total, but there are still, as it were, certain eminences, which the Sun of Righteousness now and then touches with His glory. But whatever the dryness or the darkness be, if we persevere, the light will return at last. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
All wish to please--
1. Some to please themselves. Whoever is offended, they must be indulged.
2. Some to please men. And this is not in all cases improper. “Let every one of us please his neighbour,” but it must be “for his good to edification.”
3. Some endeavour to please God. Such were Paul and his companions. “We labour . . . to be accepted of Him.” And such was David. He would dedicate all his powers to God. A natural man cares for his conduct as men see it. But he makes no conscience of his speech, or of his thoughts.
I. David’s prayer shows his humility, he asks only that his works may be acceptable.
II. His affection. He desires only to please Him.
III. Consciousness of duty. He knew that he was bound to seek God’s favour.
IV. Regard to self-interest. It could not but be well for him if he pleased God. Innumerable are the benefits of pleasing God. (William Jay.)
In these words we are taught--
I. The interesting light in which to contemplate the character of God.
1. God is His people’s strength. Of their bodies and of their souls.
2. Their Redeemer. He is so from the curse of the law; from sin; from the power of death and the grave. And at what cost of suffering was all this effected!
3. And we have individual interest in God. “My” strength: “My Redeemer.
II. The pious desire of those that fear the Lord.
1. It is an habitual desire, but felt more strongly at certain seasons, as in meditation.
2. What David was persuaded of, that to the Lord everything was perfectly known.
3. About what he was concerned, that his words and thoughts might “be acceptable in Thy sight.” God delights in such meditation of His people. (Anon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension