By Horatius Bonar
"Preserve my soul, for I am holy." -- Psalm 86:2
SOME mountain-heights, whether of the Alps or Grampians, look very formidable and inaccessible, so that a traveller turns away from them in despair, perhaps in fear. But at length he learns that on one side there is a slope and pathway which make the ascent quite pleasant. So is it with this text; from which many turn away as terrible and repulsive, till they learn what it really means. Just as it was with Luther and the texts relating to "the righteousness of God." Let me shew that our text has really no terror in it; that it is just such as any believing man when coming to God should use; not David only, nor the Son of David, but all who own Him.
It is the word "holy" that makes many shrink. They say, I am not holy, I cannot use it. How then, I ask, could David use it, when he had to say, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity;" and in this psalm once and again casts himself on the God of mercy as a sinner. But this word has no reference to spiritual perfection or even any approach to it. It does not mean "free from sin." It means one on whom God's favour rests, or, as in the margin, "one whom thou favourest." The question then is, who are they on whom God's favour rests, and how do we enter into this favour.
There are some who have never been out of favour; the angels above. There are some who once were in favour, but have lost and shall never regain it nor taste it again,--Satan and his angels. There is only one on whom that favour rests in infinite measure, the Son of God, "this is my beloved Son," &c. But there are some who though they have lost it may regain it, and such are we. God has provided a way for this,-- for complete restoration to his favour, and that forevermore.
This restoration is not for the least depraved, but for the chief; not for those who have some strength left, but for those who have none. Nor is it on account of or in proportion to our freedom from sin. It is entirely through another, and on account of Him in whom God is well pleased; and in proportion to His good pleasure or satisfaction in Him and in His work. God's infinite favour towards and delight in Him is the foundation of his favour towards and delight in us. Our belief of God's testimony to his well-pleasedness in his Son brings us into the state of being well-pleasing to him.
Respecting this well-beloved Son, God has recorded a testimony; and in connection with it he has given a promise that whosoever receives the testimony is immediately brought into favour with himself. It is not a testimony without a promise, nor a promise without a testimony. It is a promise based upon a testimony; and so connected with it that we are to consider ourselves assured of the favour as soon as we receive the testimony. The moment then that we believe we enter into favour, and may use the cry of our text, "Preserve my soul, for I am one whom them favourest;" and this without hesitation and without presumption. So long as I do not credit the divine testimony and confide in the divine promise, I am not in favour; nay, the wrath of God abideth upon me; but as soon as I thus credit and thus confide, I am in favour, and I ought to know and rejoice in this.
There are thus, properly speaking, just two states in which a man can be before God, wrath or favour, according as he rejects or receives the testimony; and in one of these two he must come to God. Such is the alternative. He must either come saying, "Preserve my soul, for I am under wrath;" or with David, "Preserve my soul, for I am under favour."
Men have framed for themselves other states, less decided than these. There is,
1. Wrath. This is when there is an open and decided rejection of God's testimony. Then it is acknowledged that there is wrath.
2. Semi-wrath. This is when the open rejection has ceased, and there is what is called a wish to believe or a trying to believe. Then men hold that there is a modification of the wrath,--only half wrath; and with this they pacify their consciences.
3. Semi-favour. This is supposed to be when the sinner has taken some good steps in the right direction, made some advances to God, though he has not fully believed the testimony, or believed it in the right way, with the requisite quantity of feeling. He is reckoned as making progress in the way to favour.
4. Favour. This is supposed to be when the sinner has summed up his evidences and ascertained the excellent quality of his faith. Then looking to that quality of his faith he can count on God's favour, not because he has ascertained that "it is a faithful saying," &c., but that his faith is of sufficient substance and excellence.
5. Uncertainty. This is the general state of things. Men, professing to believe the gospel, do not know what they are, nor who they are, nor where they are. They are uncertain as to wrath; they speak as if there was such a thing as semi- wrath, or semi-favour. Nay, they rather glory in this uncertainty, as being true humility and genuine Christianity; whereas it is certainty that makes us humble and holy.
But all this is in contradiction to the Bible. In all this there is no right comprehension of either law or gospel. There is no approach to David's posture or David's cry, "Preserve my soul, for I am one whom thou favourest."
Ah, surely a believed gospel was meant to do more for this. It brings us at once out of wrath into favour; as such we live, speak, feel, and pray. We find that in His favour is life.