A considerable portion of the Sacred Volume (as the Books of Psalms and Canticles in the Old Testament, and a large part of the several Epistles in the New Testament) is occupied with the interesting subject of Christian Experience; and exhibits its character, under different dispensations of religion, and diversified with an endless variety of circumstances, as ever essentially the same. As the same features of countenance and elevation of stature have always marked the human species in the midst of the creation of God; so an identity of feature and "measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" has, in all ages, and under every shade of outward difference, distinguished the family of God as "the people that should dwell alone, and should not be reckoned among the nations." This indeed was to have been expected. Human nature has undergone no change since the fall. In its unrenewed state it is still captivated in the same chains of sin; and, when renewed, it is under the influence of the same Spirit of grace. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit." We might therefore have conceived, that the modern believer, when employed in tracing the records of Patriarchal or Mosaical experience, will mark in the infirmities of the ancient people of God a picture of his own heart, "answering, as in water face answereth to face;" and in comparing their gracious exercises with his own, will he ready to acknowledge, "All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."
In this view, it is the object of this work to exhibit an Old Testament believer in a New Testament garb, as one "walking in the same spirit, and in the same steps" with ourselves; and, in bringing his features of character to the Evangelical standard, it is presumed, that the correspondence will be found to be complete. "Faith which worketh by love"—the fundamental distinction of the Gospel—pervades the whole man; with at least an implied reference to the One way of access to God,and a distinct regard alike to the promises, and to the precepts, of Divine revelation. Nor are the workings of this principle delineated with less accuracy. In all the variety of Christian feelings and holy conduct, we observe its operations leading the soul into communion with God, and moulding every part into a progressive conformity to his image. When we view the "man after God's own heart"—taking God for his portion—associating with his people, and feeding upon his word; when we mark his zeal for his Master's glory:his devotedness and self-denial in his Master's work—when we see him ever ready to confess his name, to bear his reproach, and caring only to answer it by a more steady adherence to his service—do we not in those lineaments of character recognize the picture of one, who in after times could turn to the churches of Christ, and say, "Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me?" Or can we recollect the Psalmist's insight into the extent and spirituality of the law of God, and his continual conflict with indwelling sin—awakening in him the spirit of wrestling prayer, and confidence in the God of his salvation—and not be again forcibly reminded of him, who has left upon record the corresponding history of his own experience—"We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin: I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died; O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" In short let his instancy in prayer and praise be remembered—his determined and persevering cultivation of heart-religion and practical holiness, his hungering and thirsting after righteousness; his jealous fear and watchful tendernessagainst sin, and regard for the honour of his God;his yearning compassion over his fellow-sinners; his spiritual taste; his accurate discernment; the "simplicity" of his dependence, and the godly "sincerity" of his obedience, his peace of mind and stability of profession; his sanctified improvement of the cross;his victory over the world; his acknowledgment of the Lord's mercy: his trials of faith and patience; his heavenly liberty in the ways of God; his habitual living in his presence, and under the quickening, restraining, directing, and supporting influence of his word—let these holy exercises be considered—either separately, or as forming one admirable concentration of Christian excellence—and what do we desire more to complete the portrait of a finished servant of God upon the Divine model? Is not this a visible demonstration of the power of the word, in "perfecting the man of God, and furnishing him thoroughly unto all good works?"
Having explained the Evangelical character of this Psalm, we may notice its peculiar adaptation to Christian experience. It may be considered as the journal of one, who was deeply taught in the things of God—long practised in the life and walk of faith. It contains the anatomy of experimental religion—the interior lineaments of the family of God. It is given for the use of believers in all ages, as an excellent touchstone of vital godliness—a touchstone which appears especially needful in this day of profession; not—as warranting our confidence in the Saviour, or as constituting in any measure our ground of acceptance with God: but as exciting us to "give diligence to make our calling and election sure," and quicken our sluggish steps in the path of self-denying obedience. The Writer is free to confess, that his main design in the study of this Psalm was to furnish a correct standard of Evangelical sincerity for the habitual scrutiny of his own heart; and if, in the course of this Exposition, any suggestion should be thrown out, to call the attention of his fellow-christians to this most important, but alas! too much neglected duty, he will have reason to "rejoice in the day of Christ, that he has not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." Never let it be supposed, that a diligent, prayerful, probing examination of the "chambers of imagery," "gendereth unto bondage." Invariably will it be found to establish the enjoyment of Scriptural assurance. "Hereby, we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him." As therefore the preceptive part of the gospel thus becomes our guide in the happy path of filial obedience, our beloved rule of duty, and the standard of our daily progress: we shall learn in the use of it to depend more entirely upon the Saviour; fresh energy will be put into our prayers; and the promises of pardon and grace will be doubly precious to our souls.
These views of the Divine life cannot be found un-friendly to the best happiness of mankind. The Psalm opens with a most inviting picture of blessedness, and describes throughout the feelings of one, encompassed indeed with trials superadded to the common lot of men, but yet evidently in possession of a satisfying portion—of a "joy, with which a stranger does not intermeddle."Of those, therefore, who would affix the stigma of melancholy to evangelical religion, we are constrained to remark, that they "understand neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." The children of Edom have never tasted the "clusters of Canaan," and cannot therefore form any just estimate of that goodly land. They that have spied the land can bring a good report of it, and tell "Surely it floweth with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it." "The work of righteousness is peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever."
The structure of this Psalm is peculiar—divided into twenty-two parts—agreeing with the number of the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet—each part, and its several verses, beginning with the corresponding letter of the Alphabet. Intelligimus ideo per literas Hebræoram, Psalmum hunc esse digestum, ut homo noster, tanquam parvulus, et ab infantiâ per literarum elementa formatus, quibus ætas puerilis assuevit, usque ad maturiatem virtutis exerceat.—Ambrose. The whole Psalm is in the form of an ejaculatory address, with the exception of the first three verses, which may almost be considered as the preface to the whole, and one other verse in the course of it, where the man of God rebukes the ungodly from his presence, as if intruding into his "hiding-place," and interrupting his communion with his God. It is not always easy to trace the connection between the several verses; at least not beyond the several divisions of the Psalm. Probably nothing more was intended, than the record of the exercises of his own heart at different periods, and tinder different circumstances. If, however, they are not links on the same chain, in continuous and unbroken dependence; they may at least be considered as pearls upon one string, of equal though independent value. The prominent characteristic of the Psalm is a love for the word of God, which is brought before us under no less than ten different names, referring to some latent and distinguishing properties of the divine word, whose manifold excellences and perfections are thus illustrated with much elegant variety of diction. In many instances, however, the several terms appear to have been varied, to adapt themselves to the metre; while, perhaps, at other times they may be promiscuously used for the whole revelation of God, that the view of its inexhaustible fulness might thus conciliate a more attentive regard to its authority; and might add fresh strength to the obligation to read, believe, love, and live in it.
If the writer may be permitted to suggest the method, in which this Exposition may be best studied to advantage, he would beg to refer to the advice of the excellent Philip Henry to his children—that they should 'take a verse of Psalm cxix. every morning to meditate upon, and so go over the Psalm twice in a year:' 'and that'—said he—'will bring you to be in love with all the rest of the Scripture.' The writer does not presume to suppose, that this superficial sketch will supply food for meditation year after year. Yet he ventures to hope, that it may have its use, in directing the attention from time to time to a most precious portion of Holy Writ; which, however unfruitful it may have proved to the undiscerning mind, will be found by the serious and intelligent reader to he "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction, in righteousness."
The composition of this work has been diversified, with as much variety as the nature of the subject would allow. The descriptive character of the book will be found to be interspersed with matter of discussion, personal address, hints for self-inquiry, and occasional supplication, with the earnest endeavour to cast the mind into that meditative, self-scrutinizing, devotional frame, in which the new creature is strengthened, and increases, and goes on to perfection. Such, however as the work is, the writer would commend it to the gracious consideration of the great Head of the Church; imploring pardon for what in it may be his own, and a blessing on what may be traced to a purer source:—and in giving both the pardon and the blessing, may his holy name be abundantly glorified.
Old Newton Vicarage,
July 20th, 1827.
The Writer gratefully acknowledges the kind indulgence, with which his work has been received by the Church of Christ. Oh! may his God and Saviour have all the glory, while he is humbled in thankfulness for the high privilege of leading his fellow-sinners into the "ways of pleasantness and peace," and of ministering to the spiritual edification of the family of God!
He has once more carefully revised the work, and trusts that he has been enabled to give increased perspicuity to the style, and a deeper moulding of evangelical statement to the matter. He has desired, that every page should be lighted up with the beam of the "Sun of righteousness," who is the glory of the Revelation of God—the Christian's "All in all." He has endeavoured to illustrate true religion, as the work of the Divine Spirit, grounded on the knowledge of Christ, advancing in communion with Him, and completed in the enjoyment of Him, and of the Father by Him. He has also aimed to elevate the standard of Christian privilege, as flowing immediately from Him: by giving such a Scriptural statement of the doctrine of assurance, as may quicken the slothful to greater diligence in their holy profession, and at the same time encourage the weak and fearful to a clearer apprehension of their present salvation.
The work has been recently translated into German under the kind patronage of her Majesty the Queen Dowager. The writer requests the prayers of his Readers, that this new channel of usefulness may be abundantly blessed for the grand object of extending the influence of vital religion throughout the churches.
Old Newton Vicarage, October 12, 1842.
1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
This most interesting and instructive Psalm, like the Psalter itself, 'opens with a Beatitude for our comfort and encouragement, directing us immediately to that happiness, which all mankind in different ways are seeking and enquiring after. All would secure themselves from the incursions of misery; but all do not consider that misery is the offspring of sin, from which therefore it is necessary to he delivered and preserved, in order to become happy or "blessed."
The undefiled character described in this verse marks, in an evangelical sense, "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile"—not one who is without sin, but one who in the sincerity of his heart can say—"that which I do I allow not." As his way is, so is his "walk"—"in the law of the Lord." He is "strengthened in the Lord, and he walks up and down in his name"— his "ears hearing a word behind him, saying—this is the way,—walk ye in it"—when he is "turning to the right hand or to the left." And if the pardon of sin, imputation of righteousness, the communion of saints, and a sense of acceptance with God;—if protection in providence and grace, and—finally and for ever, the beatific vision, are the sealed privileges of his upright people, then there can be no doubt, that "blessed are the undefiled in the way." And if temporal prosperity,spiritual renovation and fruitfulness, increasing illumination, intercourse with the Saviour, peace within.and—throughout eternity—a right to the tree of life, are privileges of incalculable value; then surely "the walk in the law of the Lord" is "the path of pleasantness and peace." "Truly"—indeed may we say—"God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart."
But let each of us ask—What is the "way" of my heart with God; Is it always an "undefiled way?" Is "iniquity" "never regarded in the heart?" Is all that God hates habitually lamented, abhorred, forsaken? "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Again—What is my "walk?" Is it from the living principle of union with Christ? This is the direct—the only source of spiritual life. We are first quickened in him. Then we walk in him and after him. Oh! that this my walk may be steady, consistent, advancing! Oh! that I may he ever listening to my Father's voice—"I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect!"
Is there not enough of defilement in the most "undefiled way" and enough of inconsistency in the most consistent "walk" to endear to us the gracious declaration of the gospel—"If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous?"
2. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
The "testimony," in the singular number, usually denotes the whole canon of the inspired writings—the revelation of the will of God to mankind—the standard of their faith. "Testimonies" appear, chiefly, to mark the preceptive part of Scripture—that part, in which this man of God always found his spiritual delight and perfect freedom. Mark his language: "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. Thy testimonies have I, taken as an heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart."Not however that this blessedness belongs to the mere outward act of obedience; but rather to that practical habit of mind, which seeks to know the will of God in order to "keep" it. This habit is under the influence of the promise of God—"I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them." And in thus "keeping the testimonies of God," the believer maintains the character of one that "seeks him with the whole heart."
Oh! how many seek, and seek in vain, for no other reason, than because they do not "seek him with the whole heart!" The worldling's "heart is divided; now shall he be found faulty." The professor "with his mouth shews much love; but his heart goeth after his covetousness." The backslider "hath not turned unto me with his whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord." The faithful, upright believer alone brings his heart, his whole heart, to the Lord—"When thou saidst—Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee—Thy face, Lord, will I seek." For he only has found an object that attracts and fills his whole heart—and if he had a thousand hearts, would attract and fill them all. He has found his way to God by faith in Jesus. In that way he continues to seek. His whole heart is engaged to know and love more and more. Here alone the blessing is enjoyed, and the promise made good—"Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."
But let me not shrink from the question—Do I "keep his testimonies" from constraint or from love? Surely when I consider my own natural aversion and enmity to the law of God, and the danger of self-deception in the external service of the Lord, I have much need to pray—"Incline my heart to thy testimonies. Give me understanding—save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies." And if they are blessed, who seek the Lord with their whole heart, how am I seeking him? Alas! with how much distraction; with how little heart-work! Oh! let me "seek his strength" in order to "seek his face."
Lord! search—teach—incline—uphold me. Help me to plead thy gracious promise—"I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
3. They also do no iniquity; they walk in his ways.
This was not their character from their birth. Once they were doing nothing but iniquity. It was without mixture, without cessation—from the fountain-head.Now it is written of them—"they do no iniquity." Once they walked, even as others, in the way of their own hearts—"enemies to God by wicked works." Now "they walk in his ways." They are "new creatures in Christ; old things are passed away; behold! all things are become new." This is their highly-privileged state—"Sin shall not have dominion over them: for they are not under the law, but under grace." They are "born of God, and they cannot commit sin: for their seed remaineth in them, and they cannot sin, because they are born of God." Their hatred and resistance of sin are therefore now as instinctive, as was their former enmity and opposition to God. Not indeed that the people of God are as "the saints made perfect," who "do no iniquity." This is a dream of perfection—unscriptural and self-deluding. The unceasing advocacy of their Heavenly Friend evidently supposes the indwelling power of sin, to the termination of our earthly pilgrimage. The supplication also in the prayer of our Lord teaches them to ask for daily pardon and deliverance from "temptation," as for "daily bread."Yes—to our shame be it spoken—we are sinners still; yet—praised be God!—not "walking after the course," not "fulfilling the desires," of sin. The acting of sin is now like the motion of a stone upward, violent and unnatural. If it is not cast out, it is dethroned. We are not, as before, "its willing people," but its reluctant, struggling captives. It is not "the day of its power."
And here lies the holy liberty of the Gospel—not, as some have feigned,—a liberty to "continue in sin, that grace may abound;" but a deliverance from the guilt and condemnation of abhorred, resisted, yet still indwelling sin. When our better will hath cast it off—when we can say in the sight of an heart-searching God, "What we hate, that do we"—the responsibility is not ours—"It is not we that do it, but sin that dwelleth in us." Still let us enquire, is the promise of deliverance from sin "sweet to us?" And does our successful resistance in the spiritual conflict realize the earnest of its complete fulfilment? Blessed Jesus! what do we owe to thy cross for the present redemption from its guilt and curse, and much more for the blissful prospect of the glorified state, when this hated guest shall he an inmate no more! O let us take the very print of thy death into our souls in the daily crucifixion of sin. Let me know the "power of thy resurrection," in an habitual "walk in newness of life."
4. Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.
We have seen the character of the Man of God. Let us mark the authority of God, commanding him to a diligent obedience. The very sight of the command is enough for him. He obeys for the command's sake, however contrary it may be to his own will. But has he any reason to complain of the yoke? Even under the dispensation which "gendereth unto bondage" most encouraging were the obligations to obedience—"that it might he well with them, and with their children for ever." Much more, then, we, under a dispensation of love, can never want a motive for obedience! Let the daily mercies of Providence stir up the question—"What shall I render unto the Lord?" Let the far richer mercies of grace produce "a living sacrifice" to be "presented to the Lord." Let "the love of Christ constrain us." Let the recollection of the "price with which we were bought," remind us of the Lord's property in us, and of our obligations to "glorify him in our body, and in our spirit, which are his."Let us only "behold the Lamb of God;" let us hear his wrestling supplications, his deserted cry, his expiring agonies—the price of our redemption; and then let us ask ourselves, Can we want a motive?
But what is the scriptural character of Evangelical obedience? It is the work of the Spirit, enabling us to "obey the truth." It is the end of the purpose of God, who "hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." It is the only satisfactory test of our profession.
Then let me begin my morning with the enquiry—"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" "Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth; unite my heart to fear thy name." Let me trade with all my talents for thee: ever watchful, that I may be employed in thy work; setting a guard upon my thoughts, my lips, my tempers, my pursuits, that nothing may hinder, but rather every thing may help me, in keeping thy precepts diligently.
But why do I ever find the precepts to be "grievous" to me? Is it not that some indolence is indulged; or some "iniquity regarded in my heart;" or some principle of unfaithfulness divides my service with two masters, when I ought to be "following the Lord fully?" Oh! for the spirit of "simplicity and godly sincerity" in the precepts of God. Oh! for that warm and constant love, which is the main-spring of devoted diligence in the service of God. Oh! for a larger supply of that "wisdom which is from above," and which is "without partiality and without hypocrisy!"
5. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
The Lord has indeed "commanded us to keep his precepts." But, alas! where is our power? Satan would make the sense of our weakness an excuse for indolence. The Spirit of God convinces us of it, as an incitement to prayer, and an exercise of faith. If, Reader, your heart is perfect with God, you "consent to the law that it is good;" you "delight in it after the inner man;" you would not have one jot or tittle altered, mitigated or repealed, that it might be more conformed to your own will, or allow you more liberty and self-indulgence in the ways of sin. But do you not sigh to think, that, when you aim at the perfect standard of holiness, you should, at your best moments, and in your highest attainments, fall so far below it; seeing indeed the way before you, but feeling yourself without ability to walk in it? Then let a sense of your helplessness for the work of the Lord lead you to the throne of grace, to pray, and watch, and wait, for the strengthening and refreshing influences of the Spirit of grace. Here let your faith realize at one and the same view your utter insufficiency, and your complete All-sufficiency. Here behold Him, who is ever presenting himself before God as our glorious Head, receiving in himself, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the full supply for this and every successive moment of inexpressible need. Our work is not therefore left upon our own hands, or wrought out at our "own charges." So long as "He hath the residue of the Spirit," "grace" will be found "sufficient;"—Divine "strength will be made perfect in weakness." "Without him we can do nothing,"—"through Him, all things." Even the "worm Jacob shall thresh the mountains," when the Lord says—"Fear not, I will help thee."
In connecting this verse with the preceding, how accurately is the middle path preserved, equally distant from the idea of self-sufficiency to "keep the Lord's statutes," and self-justification in neglecting them! The first attempt to render spiritual obedience will quickly convince us of our utter helplessness. We might as soon create a world, as create in our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. Shall God lose his right, because sin has palsied our ability? Is not a drunken servant still under his Master's law? and is not the sin which prevents him from performing his duty, not his excuse, but his aggravation. Thus our weakness is that of an heart, which "cannot be subject to the law of God," only because it is "carnal enmity against God." The obligation therefore remains in full force. Our inability is our sin, our guilt, and condemnation.
What then remains for us, but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer, that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes, to which he requires obedience in his word?—"Thou hast commanded us to keep thy statutes diligently." We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation; but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us: we look unto thee, "O that our ways were directed to keep thy statutes!" "Give what thou commandest; and then command what thou wilt." "Da quod jubes, et jube quod vis."—Augustine. Now, as if to exhibit the fulness and suitableness of the promises of the gospel, the commands and prayers are returned back again from heaven with promises of quickening and directing grace. Thus does the Lord fully answer his end with us. He did not issue the commands, expecting that we could turn our own hearts to them; but that the conviction of our entire helplessness might cast us upon him, who loves to be sought, and never will be thus sought in vain. And indeed this is a part of "the mystery of godliness," that in proportion as we depend upon him, who is alike "the Lord our righteousness" and our strength, our desires after holiness will increase, and our prayers become more fervent. He who commands our duty, perfectly knows our weakness. And he who feels his own weakness is fully encouraged to depend upon the power of his Saviour. Faith is then the principle of evangelical obedience, and the promises of his grace enable us for duty, at the very time that we are commanded to it. "Quod lex imperat, fides impetrat." In this view are brought together the supreme authority of the Lawgiver, the total insufficiency of the creature, the full provisions of the Saviour, and the all-sufficiency of "the God of all grace." We pray for what we want; we are thankful for what we have; we trust for what is promised. Thus "all is of God." Christ "is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." Thus "grace reigns" triumphant. The foundation is laid in grace, and the head-stone will be brought forth with shoutings, crying, "Grace, grace unto it."—The Saviour's work is finished, and Jesus is crowned Lord of all for ever.
6. Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.
The Lord expects our obedience to be not only "diligent," but universal. Willingly to dispense with the least of the commandments, proves that we have yet to learn the spirit of acceptable obedience. Grace is given and suited for all, no less than for one of them, "that we might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." One lust "regarded in the heart" is sufficient to keep possession for the tyrant, however others may be restrained. Even Herod could "do many things;" and yet his adulterous wife cherished in his bosom, too plainly proved the sovereignty of sin to be undisturbed.Saul slew all the Amalekites but one; and that single exception to universal obedience marked his unsoundness, cost him the loss of his throne, and brought him under the awful displeasure of his God. And thus the corrupt unmortified member brings the whole body to hell. Reserves are the canker upon godly sincerity. A secret indulgence—"the rolling of the sweet morsel under the tongue"—"the part of the price kept back"—stamps our service as a robbery, not as an offering. We may be free, sincere, and earnest in many parts of our prescribed duty; but this "root of bitterness" renders the whole an abomination.
Sincerity therefore must be the stamp of my Christian profession. Though utterly unable to render perfect obedience to the least of the commandments, yet my desire and purpose will have respect unto them all. I shall no more venture to break the least than the greatest of them; much less shall I ever think of attempting to atone for the breach of one by the performance of the rest. They are indeed many commandments; yet—like links in a chain—they form but one law; and I know who has said—"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." However the professor may confine his regard to the second table (as if the first were ceremonial, or obsolete, or the regulation of the outward man was the utmost extent of the requirement,) I would fix my eye with equal regard to both; yet specially marking any command in either of them, that may appear most directly opposed to my besetting corruptions. Thus "walking in the fear of the Lord," I may hope to walk "in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" and "hereby shall I know that I am of the truth, and shall assure my heart before God."
But where, in my strictest walk, is my hope of acceptance, but in Him, whose obedience has "fulfilled all righteousness" in my stead, and whose death "has redeemed me from the curse" of my unrighteousness, when repentance, prayers, and tears, would have been of no avail? Yet it is only in the path of holiness that we can realize our acceptance. The heart occupied with this world's pleasure, knows nothing of this heavenly joy. Its brightness is dimmed—its freshness fades—its life withers—in the very breath of an unholy world. A godly assurance of the present favour of God must be weakened by self-indulgence, unwatchfulness, allowance of secret sins, or neglect of secret duties. "If thou return to the Almighty"—said a wise man,—"thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles. Then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God."
Let us then carefully examine the character of our assurance. Does it rest simply and exclusively upon the testimony of the Gospel? Will it abide the test of the word of God? Is it productive of tenderness of conscience, watchfulness, and circumspection of conduct? Does it exercise our diligence in adding grace to grace, that we may "make our calling and election sure," and that "an entrance may be ministered to us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?" How boldly can we plead our Christian confidence in the path of godliness.—"I have stuck unto thy testimonies; O Lord, put me not to shame. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed."
7. I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
The righteous judgments of God include the whole revelation of his word—so called—as the rule by which he judges our present state, and will pronounce our final sentence. David's attainments here seemed to be as nothing. So much remained unlearned and unknown, that he could only anticipate the time, when he should have learned them. "Thy commandment"—he exclaims—"is exceeding broad." When the Apostle, after twenty years' acquaintance with the gospel, expressed it as the one desire of his heart—"That I may know Christ"—evidently he entertained the same humbling views of his high attainments, and the same exalted apprehensions of the value of treasures yet unexplored, and progressively opening before him. Thus the wisest saints are only students in the Divine School. Yet whatever their learning be, it casts them into the mould and spirit of their doctrine. Conceit, however, of knowledge is the greatest enemy to knowledge, and the strongest proof of ignorance; so that, "if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know."—"He deceiveth himself."
But what is the motive, that enlivens the believer in this holy learning? Is it that he may live upon the airy breath of human applause? No, rather that he may "praise his God with uprightness of heart." When our mind is dark, our lips are sealed. But when "he opens our understandings" to "learn his judgments," he will next "open our lips, and our mouths shall shew forth his praise." And this indeed is the end, for which "his people are formed;" for which they "are called out of darkness into marvellous light." This is the daily frame, in which our God will be glorified.Yet must we live as well as sing his praise. "The praise of the upright heart will be shown in the holy walk and conversation."
But let us watch, that our praise really flows "out of the abundance" of what our hearts have "learned" of his "righteous judgments." For do we not sometimes speak of our Saviour with a secret lurking after self-exaltation? May we not really be seeking and serving ourselves in the very act of seeming to serve and honour him? Surely the very thought of the selfishness that defiles our holiest earthly praise, may well quicken our longings after that world of praise, where the flame burns active, bright, incessant; where we shall offer our sacrifices without defilement, without intermission, without weariness, without end.
8. I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.
The resolution to "keep the Lord's statutes" is the natural result of having "learned his righteous judgments." But how happily does David combine "simplicity" of dependence with "godly sincerity" of obedience! Firm in his purpose, but distrustful of his strength, instantly upon forming his resolution, he recollects that the performance is beyond his power; and therefore the next moment, and almost the same moment, he follows it up with prayer—"I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly." Oh! beware of self-confidence in the Christian course. We stumble or advance, as we lean upon an arm of flesh, or upon an Almighty Saviour. Temporary desertion may be the seasonable chastisement of spiritual wantonness. When grace has been given in answer to prayer, it was not duly prized, or diligently improved. The "Beloved"—in answer to solicitation—"is come into his garden;" he knocks at the door, but the spouse is "asleep." The answer to prayer was not expected, not waited for, and therefore not enjoyed; and the sleeper awakes too late, and finds herself forsaken by the object of her desire. Again—when we have given place to temptation; when "our mountain stands strong;" when love for our Saviour "waxes cold," and our earnestness in seeking him is fainting; we must not be surprised, if we are left for a time to the trial of a deserted state.
Yet we sometimes speak of the hidings of God's countenance, as if it were a sovereign act, calling for implicit submission; when the cause should at least be sought for, and will generally be found, in some "secret thing" of indulgence, unwatchfulness, or self-dependence. It was while David "kept silence" from the language of contrition, that he felt the pressure of the heavy hand of his frowning God; and may not the darkness, which has sometimes clouded our path, be the voice of our God—"Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God?
But in the engagement of the Lord's everlasting covenant, how clear is the warrant of faith!—how ample the encouragement for prayer—"Forsake me not utterly!" David knew and wrote of the Lord's unchangeable faithfulness to his people; and, while he dreaded even a temporary separation from his God more than any worldly affliction, he could plead that gracious declaration—"Nevertheless, my loving-kind-ness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." We would not indeed make the promises of grace an encouragement to carelessness: yet it is indispensable to our spiritual establishment that we receive them in their full, free, and sovereign declaration. How many fainting souls have been refreshed by the assurances—"For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee—with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer!" "My sheep shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." In a lowly, self-abased and dependent spirit we shall best, however, learn to "make our boast in the Lord," "confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." And even if awhile destitute of sensible consolation, still our language will be—"I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob; and I will look for him."
Great indeed is the danger and evil to the soul, if we apprehend the Lord to have forsaken us, because we are in darkness; or that we are out of the way, because we are in perplexity. These are the very hand-posts, that show us that we are in the way of his own promised leading—painful exercise—faithful keeping—eternal salvation;—"I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." Oh! the rest—the satisfaction of placing a blind implicit confidence in a covenant-keeping God!
Forsaken we may be—but not utterly. David was forsaken, not like Saul—Peter was forsaken—not like Judas—utterly and for ever. What foreboding have you of such desertion? Is your heart willing to forsake him? Have you no mournings and thirstings for his return? "If indeed you forsake him, he will forsake you." But can you forsake him? 'Let him do as seemeth him good (is the language of your heart;) I will wait for him, follow after him, cleave to his word, cling to his cross. Mark his dealings with you. Enquire into their reason. Submit to his dispensation. If he forsakes, beg his return: but trust your forsaking God. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."Though my comfort is clouded, my hope remains unchanging, unchangeable—such as I would not resign for the glory of an earthly crown. What are these earnest breathings—this abiding confidence, but his own work in us? And can the Lord "forsake the work of his own hands?" Sooner should heaven and earth pass, than the faithful engagements of the gospel be thus broken.