Discourse 623

THE GOODNESS OF GOD TO ISRAEL

Psalms 73:1

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

THE aversion which men usually feel to a vindication of God’s absolute sovereignty, proceeds from an idea, that the exercise of it would be repugnant to his other perfections of goodness and mercy. But there is no just foundation for this conceit: nor is there any reason why we should doubt the sovereignty of God, any more than any other of his attributes. That God does dispense his favours according to his own will is an undeniable truth: how else can we account for his taking one nation from the midst of another nation, and forming them for his peculiar people, and giving them his righteous laws, and expelling seven nations from the land of Canaan in order to give it to his chosen people for their inheritance? But however freely he exercises his own prerogative in this respect, he will take care that his final appointment of men’s states shall accord with perfect equity: he even calls the day in which that decision shall pass, “The day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The truth is, that though God has no respect to men’s moral characters in the first communications of his mercy, he invariably transforms the objects of that mercy in such a manner, as to make it suitable and proper that he should confer upon them the ultimate and everlasting tokens of his love. The Israel of old, and those to whom that name at this time belongs, were, and are, a chosen people: but all the true Israel are renewed in the spirit of their minds; they are “such as are of a clean heart;” and therefore they are such as may reasonably hope to experience the transcendent goodness of their God.

The words before us will naturally lead us to consider,

I. The Character of Israel

“All are not Israel, who are of Israel [Romans 9:6.].” The true Israel are widely different from those who are only “Israelites after the flesh.” They cannot however be known from others by their outward appearance. Others may be as modest in their apparel, and as humble in their looks, as they; and yet have no part with them in their more distinctive characters. They cannot be distinguished from others by their language. There certainly is a mode of speaking which religious people will adopt: they will be sincere, modest, inoffensive; and will accustom themselves to such speech as, “being seasoned with salt,” is calculated to “administer grace to the hearers.” But hypocrites may vie with them in this particular also. Nor can they be altogether known from others by their actions: for though their actions will doubtless be holy, and just, and good, and extremely different from those of the ungodly world, yet Pharisees and formalists may “cleanse the outside of the cup and platter,” and be as punctual and correct in all external duties as any persons whatever.

The true Israelite is known by no external badge, but by “the circumcision of the heart” only [Romans 2:28-29.]. He is of a clean heart: he is clean,

1. From idolatrous regards

[The very best of ungodly men has some idol in his heart which usurps the throne of God. Pleasure, riches, and honour are the common objects of men’s regards: but some, who seem indifferent to these things, are no less in subjection to a carnal love of ease, wherein their happiness principally consists. But the true Christian has taken the Lord for his God; and has determined, through grace, that no rival shall ever be harboured in his bosom. He makes his adorable Saviour the one object of all his trust, his love, and his obedience [Psalms 73:25.].]

2. From allowed lusts

[None but those who have embraced the promises of the Gospel have been able to “cleanse themselves from all fleshly and spiritual filthiness:” but “all who are really Christ’s, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” We say not, that Christians have no lusts remaining in them; (for a man that is crucified may still continue to live a considerable time; and the lusts that are crucified may still live and act:) but their lusts shall never regain the liberty which they once had: the death of their corruption is irreversibly decreed; and their strength is gradually weakening; and in due time they shall utterly expire. In all other persons, sin of some kind has dominion; but over the Christian “it shall not; because he is not under the law, but under grace.”]

3. From sinister and selfish motives

[All, even the most refined hypocrites, are under the influence of self-seeking and self-complacency. But the true Christian endeavours to consult the glory of his God. He is as jealous of his motives, as of his actions. He knows that self is but too apt to mix with what we do; and therefore he labours to counteract its influence, and to do his most common actions to the glory of his God. To please God, to serve God, to honour God, these are the ends which he proposes to himself; nor is he ever satisfied with any one action which has not these objects as their true and ultimate scope. He that is “an Israelite indeed, is an Israelite without guile [John 1:47.].”]

Let us now proceed to contemplate,

II. The Character of Israel’s God

“God is good to all, and his tender mercy is over all his works:” but he is more especially good to Israel: for,

1. He is reconciled to them

[They once were under his displeasure, even as others: but he has given them repentance unto life; he has accepted them in and through his beloved Son; he has blotted out all their transgressions as a morning cloud; and “he has given them a name better than of sons and of daughters.” These are peculiar mercies not vouchsafed to others, whatever be their profession, or whatever their character.]

2. He admits them to most familiar communion with himself

[Others may have prayed in some peculiar extremity, and may have obtained deliverance from their distress; but “they will not always call upon God:” prayer is not their delight; nor have they any freedom of access to God in it. But “the true Israel” are “a people nigh unto God.” It is their delight to draw nigh to God at all times, to make known to him their requests on all occasions, and to walk continually in the light of his countenance. He, on the other hand, like a tender parent, condescends to hear and answer their petitions, and reveals himself to them as he does not unto the world. Thus, while others perform prayer as a mere service which they would think it criminal to neglect, they account it their highest privilege to say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”]

3. He makes all things to work together for their good

[Many dark and afflictive dispensations do they meet with; but not one more than shall issue in their good. Under the pressure of their trials they may be ready to say, “All these things are against me:” but they shall at last see reason to confess, that “it is good for them that they have been afflicted.” God has expressly promised, that “all things should work together for their good;” and he sooner or later fulfills the promise, to every one that loves him, and that trusts in him. The persecutions of men and the temptations of Satan shall ultimately conduce to this end: “The wrath of men and devils shall praise him; and the remainder of it,” which would counteract his designs, “he will restrain.”]

4. He has prepared for them a glorious and everlasting inheritance

[To others he generally gives a greater measure of earthly wealth: but “for these he has prepared a city;” being “not ashamed to be called their God.” The very hope and prospect of that far outweighs all earthly possessions; What then must the actual enjoyment of it be! With what emphasis do those in heaven say, “Truly God is good to Israel!” Well does David exclaim, “O how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee [Psalms 31:19.]!” But we must wait till we come to heaven, before we can form any adequate idea of this glorious subject.]

Address—

1. Those who are ignorant of God

[You are ready to think of God only as a harsh Master, and a severe Judge: but if you knew him aright, you would cry out, with the prophet, “How great is his goodness! how great is his beauty!” The fact is, that while your heart is so corrupt, you cannot form any correct judgment concerning God: your eyes are jaundiced, and you behold all his perfections, yea, and his dispensations too, under false colours: “the light shines; but your darkness doth not comprehend it.” If you would know him as he is, pray that he would “create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you.” Then shall you be disposed to admire the justice and holiness which you now hate, and, instead of denying his distinguishing grace, you will seek to obtain an interest in it [Note: See Psalms 106:4-5.].]

2. Those who are tempted to think hardly of God

[This had been the state of the Psalmist’s mind, just before he penned this psalm: and it was on finding his error, that he abruptly exclaimed, “Truly God is good,” notwithstanding all I have been tempted to think to the contrary. The same temptations are common with us: and when we see the ungodly triumphing and the righteous afflicted, we are ready to say, “I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” But go into the sanctuary, as David did, and then you will learn the different ends of the righteous and the wicked. Take eternity into your estimate, and the delusion will vanish; and you will see, that no state in which an ungodly man can possibly be, is any more to be compared with yours, than the twinkling of a taper is with the light and splendour of the meridian sun.]