Verse 106. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep Your righteous judgments.
The blessing of the guidance of the Lord's word naturally strengthens our resolution to walk in its path. And as if a simple resolution would prove too weak, the Psalmist strengthens it with an oath. No more, as if an oath was hardly sufficient security, be seconds it again with a firm resolution--I have sworn, and I will perform it. 'There shall be but one will between me and my God; and that will shall be His, not mine.' Some timid Christians, under a morbid sense of their own weakness, would shrink from this solemn engagement. And some, perhaps, may have burdened their consciences with unadvised or self-dependent obligations. Still, however, when it is a free-will offering, it is a delightful service, well-pleasing to God. Such it was in the days of Asa, when "all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought Him with their whole desire; and He was found of them." Vows under the law were both binding and acceptable. Nor are they less so--in their spirit at least--under "the perfect law of liberty." A holy promise originating in serious consideration, and established by a more solemn obligation, so far from being repugnant to the liberty of the gospel, appears to have been enjoined by God Himself; no, His people are described as animating each other to it, as to a most joyous privilege; as a renewed act of faith and daily dedication.
Yet we would warn the inconsiderate Christian not to entangle his conscience by multiplied vows (as if they were--like prayer--a component part of our daily religion); nor by perpetual obligation--whether of restraint or of extraordinary exercises; nor by connecting them with trifles--thus weakening the deep solemnity of the purpose. Christian simplicity must be their principle. Our engagements to God must be grounded on His engagements to us. His faithfulness--not ours--must be our confidence. There is no innate power in these obligations; and except they be made in self-renouncing dedication, they will only issue in despondency and deeper captivity in sin.
But the inconsiderateness of the unwary is no legitimate argument against their importance. If Jephthah was entangled in a rash and heedless vow, David manifestly enjoyed the "perfect freedom" of the "service" of his God, when "binding his soul with a bond" equally fixed, but more advised, in its obligation. And have we; with "the vows of God upon us," baptismal vows--perhaps also confirmation or sacramental vows--found our souls brought into bondage by these solemn engagements? Does not a humbling sense of forgetfulness suggest sometimes the need of a more solemn engagement? And may we not thus secure our duty without being ensnared by it? Have not covenanting seasons often restrained our feet from devious paths, and quickened our souls in His service? Daily, indeed, do we need "the blood of sprinkling" to pardon our innumerable failures, and the Spirit of grace to strengthen us for a more devoted obligation. But yet in dependence upon the work and Spirit of Christ, often have these holy transactions realized to us a peace and joy, that leads us to look back upon such times and seasons of favored enjoyment. "If," therefore, "we sin" in a "perpetual backsliding" from these engagements, it is still our privilege without presumption to believe, that "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins." And as for necessary grace, there is One who has said, "My grace is sufficient for you;" and that One has given no less a proof of His interest in us, than by dying for us. May we not therefore trust, that He will "perfect that which concerns us;" that He will "work all our works in us" "to will and to do of His good pleasure?"
Perhaps however "a messenger of Satan "may "buffet us." "You have broken your bond; now will it be worse with you than before." But did not Jesus die for sins of infirmity, and even of presumption? Does every failing annul the marriage covenant? So neither does every infirmity or backsliding dissolve our covenant with God. Was our faithfulness the basis of this covenant? Rather, does not "the blood of this covenant" make constant provision for our foreseen unfaithfulness? And does not our gracious God overrule even our backsliding to establish a more simple reliance upon Himself, and a more circumspect and tender walk before Him?
But let us take a case of conscience. A Christian has been drawn away from a set season of extraordinary devotion by some unforeseen present duty, or some unlooked-for opportunity of actively glorifying God. Has he then broken his obligation? Certainly not. It was, or ought to have been, formed with an implied subserviency to paramount duty. It cannot, therefore, be impaired by any such providential interference. Yet let it not be a light matter to remove a free-will offering from the altar. Let godly care be exercised to discover the subtle indulgence of the flesh in the service of God. Let double diligence redeem the lost privilege of more immediate and solemn self-dedication. In guarding against legal bondage, let us not mistake the liberty of the flesh for the liberty of the Gospel. Let us be simple and ready for self-denying service; and the Lord our God will not fail to give "some token for good."
"Come" then, my fellow-Christian, "and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten" by God: never to be forsaken by us. Let each of us renew our surrender, "O Lord, truly I am Your servant;" I offer myself to You: "You have loosed my bonds;" oh! bind me to Yourself with fresh bonds of love, that may never be loosed. Glad am I that I am anything--though the lowest of all; that I have anything--poor and vile as it is--capable of being employed in Your service. I yield myself to You with my full bent of heart and will, entirely and forever; asking only, that I may be "a vessel for the Master's use."
Verse 107. I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according to Your word.
It would seem, that this holy saint's covenanting season was a time of deep affliction: while his determined resolution to keep God's word of obedience, gave boldness to his pleading, that God would perform His word of promise--Quicken me, O Lord, according to Your word. And this is our high privilege, that we are permitted to pour our troubles into the ear of One, who is able perfectly to enter into, and to sympathize with us in them; "who knows our frame," who has Himself laid the affliction upon us: yes, more than all, who in "all our affliction is" Himself "afflicted;" and who "suffered being tempted, that He might be able to support them that are tempted." There are none--not even those most dear to us--to whom we can unbosom ourselves, as we do to our heavenly Friend. Our wants, griefs, burdens of every kind--we roll them all upon Him, with special relief in the hour of affliction. An affecting contrast to those who are indeed afflicted very much; whose souls, "drawing near unto death," and knowing no refuge, are ready to burst with their own sorrows, "the sorrow of the world"--unmitigated--unrelieved, "working death!"
There is a "needs-be" for the afflictions of the Lord's people. The stones of the spiritual temple cannot be polished or fitted to their place without the strokes of the hammer. The gold cannot be purified without the furnace. The vine must be pruned for greater fruitfulness. The measure of discipline varies indefinitely. But such is the inveteracy of fleshly lusts, that very much affliction may often be the needful regimen. Yet will it be tempered by one, who knows the precise measure, who can make no mistakes in our constitutions, and whose fatherly pity will chasten "not for His pleasure, but for our profit." And need we speak of the alleviations of our trials, that they are infinitely disproportioned to our deserts--that they are "light, and but for a moment," compared with eternity--that greater comfort is given in the endurance of them, than we even ventured to anticipate from their removal--that the fruit at the end more than balances the trials themselves? Need we say--how richly they ought to be prized, as conforming us to the image of our suffering Lord; how clearly we shall one day read in them our Father's commission, as messengers of love; and how certainly "the end of the Lord" will be "that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy?"
Perhaps affliction--at least very much affliction--may not be our present lot. Yet it is our duty, and wisdom, as the good soldier in the time of truce, to burnish our armor for the fight. "Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he who puts it off. Because the wicked have no changes, therefore they fear not God." The continual changes in Christian experience may well remind us of the necessity of "walking humbly with God," that we may not, by an unprepared spirit, lose the blessing of the sanctified cross. How many of the Lord's dear children may bear Ephraim's name, "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction!" Sometimes they are so conscious of the present good, that they dread affliction leaving them, more, probably, than the inexperienced professor dreads its coming.
But great affliction is as hard to bear as great prosperity. Some whose Christian profession had drawn out the esteem of others--perhaps also their own complacency--have shown by "faintness in the day of adversity their strength to be small," and themselves to be almost untaught in this school of discipline--shaken, confused, broken. Special need indeed have we under the smart of the rod, of quickening grace to preserve us from stout-heartedness or dejection. We think we could bear the stroke, did we know it to be paternal, not judicial. Have we, then, "forgotten the exhortation, which speaks unto us as unto children?" Do "we despise the chastening of the Lord?" 'Quicken me, Lord, that I may be preserved in a humble, wakeful, listening posture, to hear and improve the message of Your blessing of the sanctified cross.' Do we "faint, when we are rebuked of Him?" "Quicken me, O Lord," that I sink not under the "blow of Your hand." Thus will this Divine influence save us from the horrible sin of being offended with God in our fretting spirit. We shall receive His chastisement with humility without despondency, and with reverence without distrust; hearkening to the voice that speaks, while we tremble under the rod that strikes: yet so mingling fear with confidence, that we may at the same moment adore the hand which we feel, and rest in mercy that is promised. Our best support in the depths of affliction is, prayer for quickening according to Your word! and which of the exercised children of God has ever found one jot, or one tittle of it to fail? "Patience working experience, and experience hope, and hope making not ashamed," in the sense of "the love of God shed abroad upon the heart by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us"--all this is the abundant answer to our prayer, "You who have shown me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side." Nothing will bear looking back to with comfort, like those trials, which though painful to the flesh, have tended to break our spirit, mold our will, and strengthen the simplicity of our walk with God.
Verse 108. Accept, I beseech You, the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord: and teach me Your judgments.
As the first-fruits of his entire self-devotion to the Lord; as the only sacrifice he could render in his affliction; and as an acknowledgment of his answered prayer for quickening grace, behold this faithful servant of God presenting the free-will offerings of his mouth for acceptance. Such he knew to be an acceptable service. For the sacrifices of the Old Testament were not only typical of the One sacrifice for sin, but of the spiritual worship of the people of God. To those who are interested in the atonement of Jesus, there needs "no more sacrifice for sin." That which is now required of us, and in which we would delight, is to "take with us words, and turn to Him, and say unto Him--Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips."
No offering but a free-will offering is accepted. Such was the service under the law: such must it be under the gospel. Yet neither can this offering be accepted, until the offerer himself has found acceptance with his God. "The Lord had respect," first to the person of "Abel," then "to his offering." But if our persons are covered with the robe of acceptance--if the "offering up of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" has "perfected" us before God: however defiled our services may be, however mixed with infirmity, and in every way most unworthy; even a God of ineffable holiness "beholds no iniquity" in them. No offering is so pure as to obtain acceptance in any other way; no offering so sinful as to fail of acceptance in this way. Most abundant, indeed, and satisfactory is the provision made in heaven for the continual and everlasting acceptance of our polluted and distracted services, "Another angel came, and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it, with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." With such a High Priest and Intercessor, not only is unworthiness dismissed, but boldness and assurance of faith is encouraged.
But, as we remarked, it was a free-will offering that we here presented--the overflowings of a heart filled with love. No constraint was necessary. Prayer was delightful. He was not forced upon his knees. Let me seek fellowship with Him in presenting my free offering before my God. Does not He love it? Does not His free love to me deserve it? Did not my beloved Savior give a free-will offering of delight and of joy? And shall not His free-flowing love be my pattern and my principle? Shall His offering be free for me, and mine, be reluctant for Him? Shall He be ready with His blood for me, and I be backward with my mouth for Him? O my God, work Your own Almighty work--make me not only living, but "willing in the day of Your power." Let the stream flow in the full tide of affectionate devotedness. Blessed Jesus! I would be Yours, and none other's. I would tell the world, that I am captivated by Your love, and consecrated to Your service. Oh, let me "rejoice for that I offered willingly." Great grace is it, that He is willing to accept my service. For what have I to offer, that is not already "his own?" But let me not forget to supplicate for further instruction--'Teach me Your judgments, that I may be directed to present a purer offering; that by more distinct and accurate knowledge of Your ways, my love may be enlarged, and my obedience more entire, until I "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."'
Verse 109. My soul is continually in my hand, yet do I not forget Your law.
Verse 110. The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I erred not from Your precepts.
Precarious health, or familiarity with dangers, may give peculiar emphasis to the phrase--My soul is continually in my hand. David, in his early public life, was in constant apprehension from the open violence and the secret machinations of his bitter enemy. Hunted down "as a partridge in the mountains," and often scarcely escaping the snare which the wicked laid for him; at one time he could not but acknowledge, "there is but a step between me and death;" at another time he was tempted to say, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul." Subsequently the hand of his own son was aimed at his throne and his life. Yet could no peril shake his undaunted adherence to the law and precepts of God.
What was the life of Jesus upon earth? Through the enmity of foes--various, opposite, yet combined--his soul was continually in his hand. Yet how wonderful was his calmness and serenity of mind, when surrounded by them all, like "lions" in power, "dogs" in cruelty, wolves in malice! A measure of this spirit belongs to every faithful disciple--not natural courage, but "the spirit of power," as the gift of God, enabling him in the path of the precepts "to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
Let us again mark this confidence, illustrated in the open trials of the servants of God. Mark the Apostle, when "the Holy Spirit witnessed to him in every city, that bonds and imprisonment awaited him. None of these things"--said he, "move me. I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." He could look "tribulation, or persecution, or peril, or sword," in the face; and, while he carried his soul continually in his hand, in true Christian heroism, in the most exalted triumph of faith, he could say in the name of himself and his companions in tribulation, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors." Nothing could make him flinch. Nothing could turn him back. Nothing could wring the love of the service of his God out of his heart. His principle was found invincible in the hour of trial--not, however, as a native energy of his heart, but "through Him that loved him." Did he not speak and live in the spirit of this fearless confidence--Yet do I not forget Your law? Daniel's history again shows the utter impotency of secret devices to produce apostasy in the children of God. When the wicked, after many an ineffectual attempt to "find occasion or fault," were driven to lay a snare for him in "the law of his God," this noble confessor of the faith continued to "kneel upon his knees three times a day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he did afore-time." The den of lions was far less fearful in his eyes than one devious step from the straight and narrow path. Sin was dreaded as worse than a thousand deaths. He surely then could have said--Yet I erred not from Your precepts.
But how striking must it have been to David, in his imminent peril, to have seen the "counsel of Ahithophel"--regarded as oracular, when employed in the cause of God--now, when directed against the church, "turned to foolishness!"--an instance, only "one of a thousand," of the ever-watchful keeping of the Great Head and Guardian of His Church. Thus does He over-rule the devices of the enemy for the establishment of His people's dependence upon Himself. "The wrath of man praises Him," and He "takes the wise in his own craftiness."
But the day of difficulty is a "perilous time" in the church. "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried." Have we been able to sustain the shock in a steady adherence to the law and precepts of God? This is indeed the time, when genuine faith will be found of inestimable value. In such a time, David experienced the present blessing of having chosen the Lord for his God. When clouds began to gather blackness, and surrounding circumstances to the eye of sense engendered despondency--faith realized All-sufficient support; and "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." And is not David's God "our God, the health of our countenance," the guide of our path, the God of our salvation? Oh, let us not rest, until his confidence becomes ours, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in You."
But the cross, which proves and establishes the Christian, sifts the unsound professor as chaff. Nothing but this solid principle of faith can resist either the persecution or the snare. Many desire conformity to Christ and His people in everything but in their cross. They would attain their honor without the steps that led them to it. Dread this flinching spirit. Reject it--as did our Lord--with indignation. It "savors not of God." It is the voice of Satan, who would promise a pillow of carnal ease under our heads--a path of roses under our feet--but a path of slumber, of delusion, and of ruin.
The time of special need is at hand with us all, when we shall need substance and reality for our support--the true confidence of a living faith. Those who have never felt the nearness of eternity, can have but a faint idea of what we shall need in the hour when "flesh and heart fail," to fix a sure unshaken foot upon "the Rock of ages." "Watch, therefore," for you know not how soon you may be ready to say, My soul is in my hand, quivering on the eve of departure to the Judge. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning! and you yourselves like men that wait for the Lord, when He will return from the wedding; that when He comes and knocks, they may open unto Him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when He comes, shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."
Verse 111. Your testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
'Precious Bible: what a treasure!' The testimonies of God--the declaration of his will in doctrine--obligation--and privilege! David had felt their value, as the stay of his soul in shaking and sifting trial. But how did he claim his interest in them? Not by purchase, or by merit, it was his heritage. As a child of Abraham, he was an "heir according to promise." They--all that is contained in them, "the Lord Himself," the sum and substance of all, "was the portion of his inheritance." Man looks at his heritage. 'This land--this estate--or this kingdom is mine.' The child of God looks round on the universe--on both worlds--on God Himself with His infinite perfections--and says, "All things are mine." My title is more sure than to any earthly heritage. Every promise is sprinkled with "the blood of the everlasting covenant," as the seal of its blessings, and the pledge of their performance.
But not only are they my heritage;--by my own intelligent choice I have taken them to be so. A blessing is it to have them. But the blessing of blessings is to have them made good--applied--sealed--made my own; so that, like the minor come to age, I take possession of my heritage, I live on it, I live in it, it is my treasure, my portion. If a man is known by his heritage, let me be known by mine. Let it "be known and read of all men," that I count not the world my happiness, but that I take my Bible, 'Here is my heritage. Here I can live royally--richer upon bare promises than all the treasures of earth could make me. My resources never fail when all besides fail. When all earthly heritage shall have passed away, mine endures forever.'
Let me not then entertain a low estimate of this precious heritage. "Heirs of promise" are entitled to "strong consolation." What belongs to a "joint-heir with Christ," interested in the unchanging love of Jehovah from eternity, but the language of triumphant exultation? The first view, as it passed before my eyes, was the rejoicing of my heart; and never could I be satisfied, until I had taken it as my soul-satisfying and eternal portion.
Need we then entreat you, believer, to show to the world, that the promises of your heritage are not an empty sound--that they impart a Divine reality of support and enjoyment--and that an interest in them habitually realized is a blessed, a heavenly portion? Should your heart, however, at any time be captivated by the transient prospect before your eyes: should you be led to imagine some substantial value in this world's treasures--you will have forgotten the peculiar preeminence of your heritage--its enduring character. But what are the gaudy follies--the glittering emptiness of this passing scene, in comparison with your heavenly prospects, or even of your present sources of enjoyment!
We can readily account for the affecting indifference with which "the men of the world" barter away these treasures, as Esau did his birthright, for very trifles. They have no present interest in them. "They have their portion in this life. They have received their consolation." But, oh! how soon, having spent their all, will they "begin to be in" infinite, eternal "want!" Yet, having no interest in this heavenly heritage, they can have no pleasure in surveying it. If, therefore, conscience imposes upon them the drudgery of casting their careless eye over it, what wonder if they should find nothing to enliven their hopes, or to attract their hearts? What communion can worldly hearts hold with this heavenly treasure? What spiritual light, as the source of heavenly comfort, can penetrate this dark recess? As well might the inhabitant of the subterraneous cavern expect the cheerful light of the sun, as the man, whose eyes and heart are in the center of the earth, enjoy the spiritual perception of an interest in the heritage of the people of God. If, however, the darkness and difficulties of the word are pleaded in excuse for ignorance; let those indolent triflers confess, how small a portion of that persevering devotedness, which has been employed in gathering together the perishing stores of this world, has been given to search into this hidden mine of unsearchable riches!
O my soul, if I can lay claim to this blessed heritage, I envy not the miser his gold! Rather would I adore that grace, which has "made me to differ" from him; and given me a far happier and far richer heritage. But let me be daily enriching myself from this imperishable store; so that, poor as I am in myself, and seeming to "have nothing," I may in reality be "possessing all things." Let the recollection of the rich heritage of light, comfort, peace, and strength, furnished in the word, be my abundant joy: and bind my heart to a closer adherence to its obligations, and to a more habitual apprehension of its privileges.
Verse 112. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes always, even to the end.
The Psalmist had just been rejoicing in his privileges. He now binds himself to his obligations--and that not for a day--but even to the end. Observe where he begins his work--not with the eye--the ear--the tongue--but with the heart, "for out of the heart are the issues of life." And yet this inclining of the heart to the Lord's statutes is as much the work of God as to create a world; and as soon could "the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots," as we could "do good, who are accustomed to do evil." David was very far from meaning, that any act of his own power could turn the channel of his affections out of their natural course. But prayer, such as he had often poured out, sets every principle of the soul in action, and, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, he inclines his heart. Thus we do what we do; but God enables us, 'preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will' (Are. X.)--not working without or against us, but in us--through us--with us--by us. His preventing grace makes the first impressions, and His assisting grace enables us to follow. Weak indeed are our purposes, and fading our resolutions, unsupported by Divine grace. Yet renewing strength is given to the "waiting" Christian, even to "mount up on eagles' wings, to run without weariness, and to walk without fainting." Conscious as we are, that "without Christ we can do nothing," it is no less true, that we "can do all things through Christ which strengthens us." Let us exercise, then, the grace already given, in dependence upon a continued supply; and turning to Him with freedom and delight, we shall incline our hearts with full purpose to perform His statutes always, even unto the end. This is God's way of quickening the dead soul to life and motion; alluring it by an inexpressible sweetness, and at the same moment, by an invincible power, drawing it to Himself.
Every step indeed to the end will be a conflict with indwelling sin, in the form of remaining enmity, sloth, or unbelief. But how encouraging is it to trace every tender prayer, every contrite groan, every spiritual desire, to the assisting, upholding influence of the "free spirit of God!" The continual drawing of the Spirit will be the principle to perseverance. The same hand that gave the new bias for a heavenward motion will be put forth to quicken that motion even unto the end. 'I can hardly hold on,'--the believer might say--'from one step to another.' How can I then dare to hope, that I shall hold on a constant course--a daily conflict to the end? But was it not Almighty power that supported the first step in your course? And is not the same Divine help pledged to every successive step of difficulty? Doubt not, then, that "He is faithful that has promised:" dare to be "confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And in this confidence go on to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
Verse 113. I hate vain thoughts, but Your law do I love.
The fall of man has misplaced his affections. Love was originally made for God and His law;--hatred, for sin. Now man loves what he ought to hate, and hates what he ought to love. The work of Divine grace is to restore the disordered affections to their proper center, and to bestow them on their right object;--hating vain thoughts, and loving the law of God. Few think of the responsibility of their thoughts; as if they were too trifling to be connected with any solemn account. The enlightened soul, however, learns to make a conscience of his thoughts. Here is the seminal principle of sin. How must a radical remedy be applied?
Vain thoughts are the natural produce of the unrenewed heart, and of the yet unrenewed part of the believer's heart. Who that "knows the plague of his own heart," and the spirituality of the Christian walk with God, does not constantly complain of their baneful influence? The child of God longs that his "every thought may be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." But he "sees another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind;" so that "when he would do good, evil is present with him." When he would "attend upon the Lord without distraction;" many times, even in a single exercise, does he forget his sacred employment. Sin seems to enter into every pore of his soul; and a cloud of vain thoughts darkens every avenue to communion with God. He would gladly say, "My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed;" but he finds his affections wandering, as "the eyes of the fool, in the ends of the earth," as if there were no object of Divine attraction to his soul. We do not hear the worldling, or indeed the servant of God in his worldly employments, complaining of this burden. He can bring to deep, important, and anxious concerns of this world, all that intensity and fixedness of attention which the emergency may demand. Indeed, the wily adversary would rather assist than hinder this concentration of mind, as diverting the soul from the far more momentous and interesting subjects of eternity. But never do the "sons of God come to present themselves before the Lord," except "Satan comes also among them."
Vain thoughts are his ceaseless hindrances to our spiritual communion with God. Are we aware of the subtlety, and therefore the peculiar danger, of this temptation? We should instinctively start from an enticement to open transgression. The incursion of defiling or blasphemous thoughts would be such a burden, that we should "have no rest in our spirit," while they remain undisturbed within us. But perhaps neither of these temptations are so formidable as the crowd of thoughts of every kind, incessantly running to and fro in the mind; the indulgence of which, though not actually sinful in itself, yet as effectually restrains the soul from communion with God, as the most hateful injections. These are "the little foxes, that spoil the tender grapes." No--the thoughts may be even spiritual in their nature, and yet vain in their tendency; because unsuitable to the present frame, and calculated, and indeed intended by the great enemy, to divert the mind from some positive duty. Who has not felt a serious thought upon an unseasonable subject, and an unseasonable time, to be in its consequences a vain thought--the secret impulse of the false "angel of light," dividing the attention between two things, so that neither of them may be wholly done, done to any purpose, done at all? If at any time "iniquity has been regarded in the heart;" if the world in any of its thousand forms has regained a temporary ascendancy; or if lusting imaginations are not constantly "held in" as "with bit and bridle;" these vain thoughts, ever ready to force their entrance, will at such seasons "get an advantage of us." Restless in their workings, they keep no sabbaths: and can only be successfully met by a watchful and unceasing warfare.
It may indeed be sometimes difficult, in the midst of this continual trial, to maintain a clear sense of adoption. But this is the distinctive mark of Christian sincerity:--Do we cordially hate them, as exceedingly sinful in the sight of God, hurtful to our own souls and contrary to our new nature? If we cannot altogether prevent their entrance, or eject them from their settlement, are we careful not to invite them, not to entertain them, not to suffer them to "lodge within us?" This active hatred is a satisfactory proof that they are not so much the natural suggestion of the heart, as the injections of the enemy of our peace. They are at least so directly opposed to our better will and dominant bias, that we may say, "If I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me." Our affliction and conflict with them prove that they dwell with us--not as welcome guests, or as the family of the house--but as "thieves and robbers." Their indulgence constitutes our sin. Their indwelling may be considered only as our temptation. They supply, indeed, continual matter for watchfulness, humiliation, and resistance; yet so far as they are abhorred and resisted, they are rather our infirmities than our iniquities, and leave no stain of actual guilt upon the conscience. An increasing sense of the sinfulness of sin, and of the extent of duty, will indeed show their deeper aggravations and more persevering opposition. Still, however, even while we groan under their defiling, distracting influence, in our best services, we may assure our confidence in Him, who "spares us, as a man spares his own son that serves him," and who will gather up the broken parts of our prayers with merciful acceptance.
But the subjugation of this evil--even though we be secured from its condemnation--is a matter of the deepest concern. Forget not--oh, may the impression be indelible!--that it was for these vain thoughts that the Savior was nailed to the cross. Here lies the ground of self-loathing--the quickening principle of conflict and exertion. Let the heart--the seat of this evil disease--be continually washed in the cleansing blood of Calvary; for until the corrupt fountain be cleansed, it must ever "send forth bitter waters." Let it be diligently "kept," and carefully filled, so that it may be a "good treasure bringing forth good things." Let there be the continued exercise of that "watchfulness" "which is unto prayer," combined with an unflinching adherence to plain and obvious duty. Let the temptation to desist awhile from services so polluted, that they appear rather to mock God than to worship Him, be met on the onset with the most determined opposition. Once admit this suggestion, and our active enemy will pour in successive incursions of vain thoughts into our perplexed and yielding minds, to turn us back step by step in our attempts to approach God. If, therefore, we cannot advance as we could wish, let us advance as we can. If a connected train of thought or expression fails us, let us only change--not surrender--our posture of resistance; substituting sighs, desires, tears, and "groanings"--for words, and casting ourselves upon our God in the simple confidence of faith, "Lord, all my desire is before You, and my groaning is not hid from You. You tell my wanderings: put my tears into Your bottle: are they not in Your book?" It is far better to wander in duty than from it. For if any duty be neglected on account of the defilement that is mingled with it, for the same reason we must neglect every other duty, and, as the final consequence, the worship of God would be abolished from the earth.
Much of our successful warfare, however, depends upon an accurate and well-digested acquaintance with our own hearts--upon a discovery of the bias of the mind in our unoccupied moments, and of the peculiar seasons and circumstances that give most power to temptation. This once known, set a double watch against those doors, by which the enemy has been accustomed to find his most convenient and unobstructed entrance.
But we must not forget the effective means suggested by David's experience--the love of God's law. Here rises the native enmity against God--not as the Creator, but the Law-giver--and therefore against His law as the dictate of His will. Here, then, is the power of grace subduing this enmity. Not only I fear, and therefore through fear I keep, but I love Your law. And 'He who loves a holy law'--remarks an excellent old writer--'cannot but hate a vain thought.' For if the law be the transcript of the image of God, the thoughts affectionately drawn out towards him must naturally fix the image of the beloved friend upon the mind, and by a sweet constraint fasten down the thoughts to Divine contemplation. Are we then ever winged with an elevating love to the Savior? And do we not find our hearts start out from their worldly employments with frequent glances and flights towards the object of our desire? And will not this communion of love gradually mold the soul into a fixed delight, exciting our hatred, and strengthening our resistance of every sinful affection? Thus, as love to the law stirs up the powers of the renewed man, "spiritual wickedness" will be abhorred, conflicted with, and overcome.
Yet these defilements will remain to die with the last breathings of the old man; which, though crucified indeed and expiring, will struggle with fearful strength and unabated enmity to the end. And let them remain, as humbling mementos of our unclean nature, "shaped in iniquity, and conceived in sin;" and as enlivening our anticipations of that blessed place, where "shall in no wise enter anything that defiles;" where vain thoughts, and whatever beside might "separate between us and our God," will be unknown forever. Meanwhile let them endear to us the free justification of the Gospel; let them lead us daily and hourly to "the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;" and enhance in our view that heavenly intercession, which provides for the perfect cleansing and accepting of services even such as ours.
Blessed contemplation! Jesus prays not for us, as we do for ourselves. His intercession is without distraction--without interruption. If we are then so dead, that we cannot, and so guilty, that we dare not, pray, and so wandering in our vain thoughts, that our prayers appear to be scattered to the winds, rather than to ascend to heaven--if on these accounts combined, we "are so troubled, that we cannot speak:" yet always is there One to speak for us, of whom "a voice from heaven" testified for our encouragement, "saying--This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." With such hopes, motives, and encouragements, let us "continue instant in prayer," until we pray, and that we may pray. Let us supplicate our Lord with restless importunity, that His omnipotent love would take hold of these hearts, which every moment sin and Satan seem ready to seize. At the same time, conscious of our hatred of every interruption to His service, and of the simplicity of our affection to His holy law, let us hold fast that confidence before Him, which will issue in perfect peace and established consolation.
Verse 114. You are my hiding place, and my shield; I hope in Your word.
We have seen the unremitting vigilance of the enemy pursuing the man of God in his secret retirement with painful distraction. See how he runs to his hiding-place. Here is our main principle of safety--not our strivings or our watchfulness, but our faith. Flee instantly to Jesus. He is the sinner's hiding-place, "the man,"--that wondrous man, "in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Yes, Jesus exposed Himself to the fury of "the tempest," that He might become a hiding-place, for us. The broken law pursued with its relentless curse--'The sinner ought to die'--But You are my hiding-place, who has "redeemed me from the curse of the law, being made a curse for me." "The fiery darts" pour in on every side: but the recollection of past security awakens my song of acknowledgment, "You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of 'the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." Our hiding-place covers us from the power of the world. "In Me"--says our Savior, "you shall have peace. Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world." Helpless to resist the great enemy, our Lord brings us to His wounded side, and hides us there. We "overcome him by the blood of the Lamb." To all accusations from every quarter, our challenge is ready, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" From the fear of death, our hiding-place still covers us. "Jesus through death has destroyed him that had the power of death." Against the sting of this last enemy, a song of thanksgiving is put into our mouth, "O death! where is your sting? O grave! where is your victory? Thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus is "the smoking flax," which the malice of Satan strives to extinguish, not "quenched;" nor is "the bruised reed," which seems beyond the hope of restoration, "broken."
But the completeness of our security is graphically portrayed--You are my hiding-place, to cover from danger--my shield, also to protect me in it. Either I shall be kept from trouble, that it shall not come; or in trouble, that it shall not hurt me. The hiding-place alone would be imperfect security, as being limited to one place. But my shield is moveable, wherever be the point of danger or assault. I can "quench the dart" that is aimed at my soul.
But a hiding-place implies also secrecy. And truly the believer's is "a hidden life," beyond the comprehension of the world. He mixes with them in the common communion of life. But while seen of man, he is dwelling "in the secret of the Lord's tabernacle," safe in the midst of surrounding danger, guarded by invincible strength. Often, indeed, must the world be surprised at his constancy, amid all their varied efforts to shake his steadfastness. They know not "the secret of the Lord, which is with them that fear Him." And never could he have had a just conception of the all-sufficiency of his God, until he finds it above him, around him, underneath him, in all the fullness of everlasting love--his hiding-place, and his shield. Thus in the heart of the enemy's country "he dwells on high, and his place of defense is the munitions of rocks."
But are we acquainted with this hiding-place? How have we discovered it? Are we found in it, and careful to abide in it? Within its walls "that wicked one touches us not." Yet never shall we venture outside the walls unprotected, but his assault will give us some painful remembrance of our unwatchfulness. And then do we prize our shield, and run behind it for constant security. Remember, every other hiding-place "the waters will overflow." Every other shield is a powerless defense. Surely then the word which has discovered this security to us, is a firm warrant for our hope. And, therefore, every sinner, enclosed in the covert of love, will be ready to declare--I hope in Your word.
Verse 115. Depart from me, you evil-doers; for I will keep the commandments of my God.
Safe and quiet in his hiding-place, and behind his shield, David deprecates all attempts to disturb his peace--Depart from me, you evil-doers. He had found them to be opposed to his best interests; and he dreaded their influence in shaking his resolution for his God. Indeed such society must always hinder alike the enjoyment and the service of God. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" And can we be "agreed," and walk in fellowship with God, except we be at variance with the principles, the standard, and conduct of a world that is "enmity against Him?" Not more needful was the exhortation to the first Christians than to ourselves, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." True fellowship with God implies therefore a resolute separation from the ungodly. Secure in the hiding-place, and covered with the shield of our covenant God, let us meet their malice, and resist their enticements, with the undaunted front of "a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Not that we would indulge morose or ascetic seclusion. We are expressly enjoined to courtesy and kindness; to that wise and considerate "walk towards them that are without," which "adorns the doctrine of God our Savior," and indeed in some instances has been more powerful even than the word itself, to "win souls to Christ." But when they would tempt us to a devious or backsliding step--when our connection with them entices us to a single act of conformity to their standard, dishonorable to God, and inconsistent with our profession--then must we take a bold and unflinching stand--Depart from me, you evil-doers for I will keep the commandments of my God.
This resolution gives no countenance to the self-delusive notion of maintaining an intimate connection with professed evil-doers, for the kind purpose of recommending our religion to their acceptance--a scheme, which requires a rare degree of caution and simplicity to attempt without entangling the conscience; and which, for the most part at least, it is to be feared, is only a specious covering for the indulgence of a worldly spirit. If the men of the world are to be met, and their society invited, for the accomplishment of this benevolent intention, it must be upon the principle of the Lord's command to his prophet, "Let them return unto You: but return not You to them." The amiable desire to "please our neighbor" is limited to the single end, that it should be "for his good to edification." And whenever this end and restriction has been overlooked, it is sufficiently evident that self-gratification has been the moving principle: and that the distinctive mark of the Christian character--bearing the cross, and confessing the name of our Divine Master--has been obscured.
Sometimes, however, in the struggle of conscience, an apprehension of danger is not altogether forgotten, and the question is asked, with some trembling of spirit, "How far may I conform to the world, without endangering the loss of my religion?" But, not to speak of the insincerity and self-deception of such a question, it would be better answered by substituting another in its place, "How far may I be separate from the world, and yet be destitute of the vital principle?" Scrutinize, in every advancing step toward the world, the workings of your own heart. Suspect its reasonings. Listen to the first awakened conviction of conscience. Though it be only a whisper, or a hint, it is probably the indication of the Divine will. And never forget, that this experiment of worldly conformity, often as it has been tried, has never answered the desired end. However this compromise may have recommended ourselves, no progress has been made in recommending our Master; since His name--whether from unwatchfulness or cowardice on our part, or from the overpowering flow of the world on the other side--has probably in such society scarcely passed over our lips with any refreshment or attentiveness. Indeed, so far from commending our religion by this accommodation, we have succeeded in ingratiating ourselves in their favor, only so far as we have been content to keep it out of sight; while at the same time, our yielding conformity to their taste, and habits, and conversation, has virtually sanctioned their erroneous standard of conduct; and tended to deceive them with the self-complacent conviction, that it approaches as near to the Scriptural elevation, as is absolutely required. The final result, therefore, of this attempt to recommend the Gospel to those who have no "heart for it," is--that our own consciences have been ensnared, while they retain all their principles unaltered.
It must surely be obvious, that such a course is plainly opposed to the revealed declarations of Scripture, and bears the decisive character of unfaithfulness to our Great Master. We might also ask, whether our love to the Lord can be in fervent exercise, while we "love them that hate Him?"--whether our hatred of sin can be active and powerful, while we can find pleasure in the society of those, whose life "without God in the world," is an habitual, willful course of rebellion against Him?--whether we can have any deep or experimental sense of our own weakness, when thus venturing into temptation?--whether by unnecessary contact with the world, we can expect to "go upon hot coals," and our "feet not be burned?"--or, in fact, whether we are not forgetting the dictates of common prudence in forsaking the path of safety for a slippery, but more congenial path? Is no harm to be anticipated from a willful, self-pleasing association? Is it likely to be less dangerous to us than it was to an Apostle? or, because we conceive ourselves to have more strength, shall we use less watchfulness, and show more presumption?
But, supposing Scripture not to determine the path of duty with infallible certainty; let this line of conduct be subjected to the impartial scrutiny of our own hearts, and of the effects, whether neutral or positively detrimental, which have resulted from it to ourselves, or to the church. Have we not felt this fellowship with evil-doers to be an hindrance in keeping the commandments of our God? If it has not always ended in open conformity to their maxims; or if, contrary to our apprehensions, it does not appear to sanction their principles, yet have we realized no deadening unfavorable influence? Has the spirit of prayer sustained no injury in this atmosphere? Have we never felt the danger of imbibing their taste--the spirit of their conversation and general conduct; which, without fixing any blot upon our external profession, must insensibly estrange our best affections from God! And have we never considered the injury of this worldly association to the Gospel in weakening by an apparent want of decision "on the Lord's side," the sacred cause which we are pledged to support; and obscuring the spiritual character of the people of God as a distinct and separate people? In a providential connection with evil-doers, we go safely in the spirit of humility, watchfulness, and prayer; and this connection, felt to be a cross, is not likely to prove a snare. But does not union of spirit with them, to whom David says, with holy determination--Depart from me--and to whom David's Lord will one day say, "Depart!"--prove a want of fellowship with his spirit, and an essential unfitness for communion with the society of heaven? The children of this world can have no more real communion with the children of light, than darkness has with light. As great is the difference between the Christian and the world, as between heaven and hell--as between the sounds, "Come, you blessed," and, "Depart, you cursed." The difference, which at that solemn day will be made for eternity, must, therefore, be visibly made now. They must depart from us, or we from God. We cannot walk with them both. 'Defilement'--as Mr. Cecil remarks--'is inseparable from the world.' We cannot hold communion with God, in the spirit of the world; and, therefore, separation from the world, or separation from God, is the alternative. Which way--which company--is most congenial to our taste? Fellowship will be a component part of our heavenly happiness. Shall we not then walk on earth with those, with whom we hope to spend our eternity, that our removal hence may be a change of place only, not of company? May we have grace to listen to our Father's voice of love, "Therefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord; and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Verse 116. Uphold me according unto Your word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.
Lest the Psalmist should seem to have been self-confident in his rejection of the society of the ungodly, and his determination to adhere to his God; here, as on former occasions, mindful of his own weakness, he commits himself to the upholding grace of God. He does not content himself with commanding the evil-doer to depart. He pleads for his God to come to him. He wants not only the hindrances to be removed, but the vouchsafement of present supporting grace. Such is our urgent continual need! Every circumstance has its temptation. Every change of condition is specially trying--and what is he in himself? unstable as water! Indeed the highest Archangel before the throne stands only as he is upheld by the Lord, and may unite with the weakest child in the Lord's family in the acknowledgment, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Much more, therefore, must I, pressed on every side with daily conflict and temptation, and conscious of my own weakness and liability to fall, "come to the throne of grace," for "grace to help in time of need." My plea is the word of promise--according to Your word, "as your days, so shall your strength be." "Fear not"--is the language of my upholding God, "for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you: yes, I will help you: yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness." Blessed be the goodness that made the promise, and that guides the hand of my faith, as it were, to fasten upon it!
But why do I need the promise? why do I plead it? but that I may live--that I may know that life, which is found and enjoyed "in the favor" of God? Nothing seems worth a serious thought besides; nothing else deserves the name. And therefore new life, "life more abundantly"--let it be the burden of every prayer--the cry of every moment. Thus upheld by the Lord's grace, and living in His presence, I hope to feel the increasing support of my Christian hope. Though I have just before expressed it in God's word--though I have "made my boast in the Lord," as my hiding-place and my shield, yet conscious helplessness leads me earnestly to pray--Let me not be ashamed of my hope.
Yes--Jesus is the sinner's hope, "the hope set before" His people, to which they "flee for the refuge" of their souls. And well may our "hope" in Him be called "an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast." How does the distressed church plead with the hope of Israel, and put her God in remembrance of this His own name, that she might not be ashamed of her hope! And how does she--with every member of her body--eventually learn by this pleading, to say in the confidence of faith, "I know whom I have believed!" And is there not a solid ground for this confidence? Is not the "stone that is laid in Zion for a foundation," a "tried stone?" Has it not been tried by thousands and millions of sinners--no, more, tried by God Himself, and found to be "a sure foundation?" Yet still, that I may "hold fast the beginning of my confidence," and "the rejoicing of my hope, firm unto the end," I must persevere in prayer--Uphold me according unto Your word.
David, when left to his own weakness, was ashamed of his hope:, "I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Your eyes." At another time, when upheld in a season of accumulated trial, "he encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Thus I see "wherein my great strength lies," and how impotent I am, when left to myself. What a mercy, that my salvation will never for a single moment be in my own keeping! what need have I to pray to be saved from myself! How delightful is the exercise of faith in going to the Strong for strength! The issue of my spiritual conflicts is certain. He who is the author, will ever be the upholder, of the "hidden life" in His people. It is a part of His own life, and therefore can never perish. The Tempter himself will flee, when he marks the poor, feeble, fainting soul, upheld according to the word of his God, and placed in safety beyond the reach of his malice. Not, however, that, as I once supposed, my weakness will ever be made strong; but that I shall daily grow more sensible of it, shall, stay myself more simply upon infinite everlasting strength; and "most gladly shall I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Verse 117. Hold me up, and I shall be safe; and I will have respect unto Your statutes continually.
Such is my sense of need and peril, that my only refuge lies in "continuing instant in prayer." I must send up one cry after another into my Father's ear for the support of His upholding grace. For not only the consciousness of my weakness, but the danger of the slippery path before me, reminds me, that the safety of every moment depends upon my upholding faithful God. The ways of temptation are so many and imperceptible--the influence of it so appalling--the entrance into it so deceitful, so specious, so insensible--my own weakness and unwatchfulness so unspeakable--that I can do nothing but go on my way, praying at every step--Hold me up, and I shall be safe. Often, indeed, can I remember, when "my feet were almost gone, my steps had well-near slipped:" that I have been enabled to record, "Your mercy, O Lord, held me up."
How beautiful is the picture given of the church of old! "Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" This state of dependence was familiar to the Psalmist, and aptly delineates his affectionate, though conflicting, confidence. "My soul follows hard after You: Your right hand upholds me." The recollection of the care of his God, from his earliest life, supplied encouragement for his present faith, and matter for unceasing praise, "By You have I been held up from the womb; You are He who took me out of my mother's affections: my praise shall be continually of You." We cannot wonder, then, that this confidence should sustain his soul in the contemplation of the remaining steps of his pilgrimage, and his prospects for eternity. "Nevertheless"--says he, "I am continually with You: You have holden me by Your right hand. You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory." And, indeed, the more lively my spiritual apprehensions are, the more I shall realize the Lord by the operations of His grace as well as of His providence, "compassing my path and my lying down;" lest any hurt me, keeping me night and day."
Is it inquired--how the Lord holds up His people in this slippery path? "Of the fullness of Jesus they all receive, and grace for grace;" so that "the life which they now live in the flesh, they live by the faith of the Son of God." And, therefore, if I am upheld, it is by the indwelling of the Spirit, who supplies from His infinite fountain of life all the strength and support I need throughout my dangerous way. By His Divine influence the dispensations of Providence also become the appointed means of drawing and keeping me near to my God. If, therefore, prosperity is endangering my soul, and strengthening my worldly bonds, may I not trust to the ever-watchful kindness of the Lord, to keep me low, and not to permit me to be at ease in my forgetfulness? If the pleasures of sense, if the esteem of the world, or the good report of the church, are bringing a bewitching snare upon my soul, my God will lead me into the pathway of the cross--in the "valley of humiliation."
Here, then, is the secret of an unsteady walk--the neglect of leaning upon an Almighty arm! How fearfully is the danger of self-confidence unveiled! Standing by my own strength, very soon shall I be made to feel, that I cannot stand at all. No "mountain" seemed to "stand stronger" than Solomon's: yet when he became the very "fool" that he describes, "trusting in his own heart"--how quickly was it removed!
Peter thought in the foolishness of his heart, that he could have walked upon the water unsupported by the arm of his Lord: but a moment's sense of weakness and danger brought him to his right mind: "and, beginning to sink, he cried, saying--Lord! save me!" Well would it have been for him, if his deliverance at that moment of peril had effectually rebuked his presumption. We should not then have heard from the same lips that language of most unwarranted self-confidence: "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I:--if I should die with You, I will not deny You in any wise." Poor deluded disciple! You are on the brink of a grievous fall! Yet was he held up from utterly sinking. "I have prayed for you"--said the gracious Savior, "that your faith fail not." And thus held up by the same faithful intercession of my powerful friend (whose prayers are not weak as mine, "nor will He fail or be discouraged" by my continual backslidings), "I" too--though in the atmosphere of danger, in the slippery path of temptation, shall be safe--safe from an ensnaring world--safe from a treacherous heart--safe in life--safe in death--safe in eternity. Thus does an interest in the covenant encourage--not presumption--but faith, in all its exercises of humility, watchfulness, diligence, and prayer; in this appointed way does the Lord securely "keep the feet of His saints."
Let me not, then, forget, either my continual liability to fall if left to myself, or the faithful engagements of my covenant God, to "keep me from falling." While I recollect for my comfort, that I "stand by faith," still is the exhortation most needful, "Be not high-minded, but fear." "By faith I stand," as it concerns God; by fear as it regards myself. As light is composed of neither brilliant nor somber rays, but of the combination of both in simultaneous action, so is every Christian grace combined with its opposite, "that it may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Hope, therefore, combined with fear, issues in that genuine, evangelical confidence, in which alone I can walk safely and closely with God. Let, then, the self-confident learn to distrust themselves, and the fearful be encouraged to trust their Savior; and in each let the recollection of grace and help given "in time of need," lead to the steadfast resolution--I will have respect unto Your statutes continually. However self-denying they may be in their requirements: however opposed in their tendency to "the desires of the flesh and of the mind," I take my God as the surety of my performance of them; and I desire to love them as the rule of my daily conduct, and the very element of heavenly happiness to my soul.
Verse 118. You have trodden down all them that err from Your statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.
Verse 119. You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore I love Your testimonies.
The Psalmist's determination to keep the statutes of God was strengthened by marking His judgments on those that erred from them. And thus the Lord expects us to learn at their cost. The cheerful, grateful respect to His statutes marks also a difference of character indicative of a difference of state. "His saints are in His hand, or sitting down at His feet;" His enemies are trodden down under His feet in full conquest, and disgraceful punishment. His own people He has exalted to be "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Even now "he has made them to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" and shortly will they "be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of their God;" while the ungodly are put away like dross from the precious gold. "Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord has rejected them." The same difference He makes even in chastening--upholding His own children under the scourging rod, lest they faint; but "breaking the wicked with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces."
This separation has been from the beginning; in His conduct to the first two children of men; and in His selection of Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, from the world of the ungodly, "as vessels of honor, meet for the Master's use." In after ages, He made Egypt "know, that He put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." They were His own "people, that should dwell alone," and not "be reckoned among the nations"--a people, whom He had "formed for Himself, that they should show forth His praise." And the same difference He has made ever since, between His people and the world--in their character--their way--their exercises of mind--their services--their privileges--and their prospects. At the day of judgment, the separation will be complete--final--everlasting. "'When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left; and these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal."
But mark the character--They err from God's statutes--not in their minds, through ignorance; but "in their hearts" through obstinacy. They do not say, 'Lord, we know not,' but, "We desire not the knowledge of Your ways." It is not frailty, but unbelief; not want of knowledge, but love of sin--willful, damnable. Justly, therefore, are they stamped as the wicked of the earth, and marked out as objects of the Lord's eternal frown--expectants of the "vengeance of eternal fire."
And is not this a solemn warning to those "that forget God"--that "they shall be turned into hell;" to "the proud"--that in "the day that shall burn as an oven, they shall be as stubble;"--to the worldly--that in some "night" of forgetfulness, their "souls will be required of them;"--to the "hypocrites in heart"--that they "are heaping up wrath?" Thus does the eye of faith discern through the apparent disorder of a world in ruins, the just, holy, and wise government of God. "Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." If the wicked seem to triumph, and the righteous to be trodden down under their feet, it shall not be always so. "The end" and "wages of sin is death." "The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous."
How awful, then, and almost desperate their condition! Their deceit is falsehood; "deceiving and being deceived"--perhaps given up to believe their own lie--perhaps one or another "blessing themselves in their own heart," saying, 'I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my own heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.' What, then, is our duty? Carnal selfishness says, 'Be quiet--let them alone'--that is, "Destroy them by our" indolence and unfaithfulness, "for whom Christ died." But what does Scripture, conscience, no more--what does common humanity say? "Cry aloud, spare not." Awake the sleepers--sound the alarm, "Now is the accepted time--the day of salvation!" the moment to lift up the prayer, and stretch forth the hand for plucking the brands out of the fire. Tomorrow, the door may be shut, never to be opened more.
How awful the judgment of being put away like dross! Look at Saul, when put away--going out, to harden himself in the sullen pride of despondency. Hear the fearful doom of Israel, "Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross; all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore says the Lord God--Because you are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem, as they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin into the midst of the furnaces to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in My anger and in My fury; and I will leave you there, and melt you." But how should this justice of the Lord's proceedings endear His statutes to us! It is such a sensible demonstration of His truth, bringing with it such a close conviction of sovereign mercy to ourselves--not less guilty than they! Add to this--If He were less observant of sin--less strict in its punishment as a transgression of His word--we should lose that awful display of the holiness of the word, which commends it supremely to our love, "Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it."
Verse 120. My flesh trembles for fear of You; and I am afraid of Your judgments.
The justice of God is a tremendously awful subject of contemplation, even to those who are safely shielded from its terrors. The believer, in the act of witnessing its righteous stroke upon the wicked of the earth, cannot forbear to cry out--My flesh trembles for fear of You. Thus did the holy men of old tremble, even with a frame approaching horror, in the presence of the Divine judgments. David trembled at the stroke of Uzzah, as if it came very near to himself. "Destruction from God"--says holy Job, "was a terror to me: and by reason of His highness I could not endure." Such also was the Prophet's strong sensation, "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at Your voice: rottenness entered into my bones." And thus, when God comes to tread down and put away His enemies for the display of the holiness of His character, and to excite the love of His people--those that stand by, secure under the covert of their hiding-place--cannot but "take up their parable and say--Alas! who shall live, when God does this!" The children of God reverence their Father's anger. They cannot see it without an awful fear; and this trembling at His judgments upon the ungodly covers them from the heavy stroke. Those that refuse to tremble shall be made to feel, while those that are afraid of His judgments shall be secure. "Only with Your eyes shall you behold, and see the reward of the wicked." "I trembled in myself," said the prophet, "that I might rest in the day of trouble." Even the manifestations of His coming "for the salvation of His people" are attended with all the marks of the most fearful terror--as if His voice would shake the earth to its very foundation, "You caused judgment to be heard from heaven--the earth feared and was still: when God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth."
To mark this trembling as the character of the child of God, we need only contrast it with the ungodly scoffing, "Where is the God of judgment? Where is the promise of His coming? The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil." Thus do men dare to "run upon the thick bosses of His bucklers;" instead of trembling for fear of Him! This "stoutness against the Lord," excites the astonishment of the hosts of heaven; so discordant is it to their notes of humble praise, "Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name; for Your judgments are made manifest!" Such is the special acceptance of this trembling spirit, that some shadow of it obtained a respite even for wicked Ahab, and a pardon for the penitent Ninevites; while its genuine "tenderness of heart" screened Josiah from the doom of his people, and will ever be regarded with the tokens of the favor of this terrible God. "To this man," says he, "will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at My word."
Believers in Christ! rejoice in your deliverance from that "fear which has torment." Yet cherish that holy reverential fear of the character and judgments of God, which will form your most effectual safeguard "from presumptuous sins." The very supposition, that, if God had not engaged Himself to you by an unchangeable covenant, His fearful judgments would have been your eternal portion, is of itself sufficient to mingle the wholesome ingredient of fear with the most established assurance. What! can you look down into the burning bottomless gulf beneath your feet, without the recollection--If I were not immovably fastened to the "Rock of Ages" by the strong chain of everlasting love, this must have been my abode through the countless ages of eternity. If I had not been thus upheld by the grace, as well as by the providence, of God, I might have dropped out of His hand, as one and another not more rebellious than I have fallen, into this intolerable perdition! O God! my flesh trembles for fear of You; and I am afraid of Your judgments.
Thus the dread of the judgments of God is not necessarily of a slavish and tormenting character. "His saints" are called to "fear Him;" and their fear, so far from "gendering unto bondage," is consistent with the strongest assurance; no, even is its fruit and effect. It is at once the principle of present obedience, and of final perseverance. It is the confession of weakness, unworthiness, and sinfulness, laying us low before our God. It is our most valuable discipline. It is the "bit and bridle" that curbs the frowardness of the flesh, and enables us to "serve God acceptably," in the remembrance, that, though in love He is a reconciled Father, yet in holiness He is "a consuming fire."
Now, if we are under the influence of this reverential awe and seriousness of spirit, we shall learn to attach a supreme authority and consideration to the least of His commands. We shall dread the thought of wilfully offending Him. The fear of grieving Him will be far more operative now, than was the fear of hell in our unconverted state. Those who presume upon their gospel liberty, will not, probably, understand this language. But the humble believer well knows how intimately "the fear of the Lord" is connected with "the comfort of the Holy Spirit," and with his own steady progress in holiness, and preparation for heaven.