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structive of reason, as much as these terrors are of religion : they are both destructive : they are evils to which we must submit: and if we cannot account for the reason of them, it becomes us to be dumb, and not open our mouths in his presence, whose ways are past finding out.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXVIII.
PSALM XIX.-VERSE 14.
This text chosen for the purpose of laying open the scheme of thought running through the whole psalm, which contains one of the completest and most useful forms of devotion to be found in this part of Scripture. When a king stands before the altar, we are led to expect a royal sacrifice, and songs of praise conceived in no common strain : but here the crown and sceptre are laid by, the royal dignity is forgotten, and the Psalmist's whole mind is employed in contemplating the mighty things of Providence, displayed in the works of nature and of grace.
The piety of this Psalm is so natural and yet so exalted, so plain and so pathetic, that it is hardly possible to read it, without feeling something of the spirit in which it was indited : The heavens declare the glory of God, says the pious king, and the firmament showeth his handy work, &c. He begins with the works of creation, to magnify the power and wisdom of the Creator : this topic enlarged on. From the mighty scene of nature the Psalmist turns to consider the still greater works of grace. The rational world, as in itself the noblest, so has it obtained the more peculiar care of Providence in preserving and adorning it: this topic enlarged on. The holy Psalmist next sings the triumphs of grace, and the mercy of God in the restoration of mankind: the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple, &c.
Is it possible, while we praise God for all his mercies, to forget how undeserved they are? Can we help reflecting, that although God has thus secured us with a law that is perfect, with commandments that are pure, with judgments that are true and righteous, yet still our own folly or wickedness is perpetually betraying us into error, or driving us into sins. The Psalmist saw the justness of this reflexion ; and while his heart glowed with a sense of God's mercies, he turned short on himself with this complaint, W'ho can understand his errors ?
This is followed by a fervent prayer to God for pardon and protection : from the prospect of God's power and goodness, and our own weakness and misery, the soul easily melts into sorrow and devotion, lamenting what it feels, and imploring what it wants from the hand which alone is able to save. O cleanse thou me, says the royal penitent, from my secret faults : secret he calls his faults, not to extenuate them, but with respect to their number; so often had he offended, that his memory was too frail to keep an exact register of his errors : this sense well expressed in our old translation.
But though our sins are very numerous, yet some are distinguished by uncommon guilt, and will ever be present to our minds when we approach the throne of grace for pardon : these we should particularly lament; against these we should particularly pray; and in this strain the Psalmist continues his devotion : keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, &c. Having thus extolled his Maker for his
and humbled himself on account of his own iniquities, he closes the scene in the language of the text.
The scheme of thought which runs through this excellent composition, sets in a fine light the beauty of praise and prayer, when duly performed, and accompanied with proper affections of the heart. A scene of misery, drawn by the poet's or the painter's skill, has force to move our pity and compassion ; much less can we stand by unconcerned, when we behold the misery of a soul afflicted for sin, hear the ardent prayers poured forth to God for pardon and mercy, or see the tears which flow from the pangs of a wounded spirit; for this case, this condition, is our own; and those tears and cries for mercy should be ours also.
There is the same reason for our being affected with the praises of God, and joining to give glory to his name, when we read the songs of thanksgiving recorded in Scripture ; for his mercies are equally dispensed; and when we share the blessings, how can we refuse to bear our part in offering up the incense of praise ? This Psalm, how nobly is it penned ! yet there is not one act of providence mentioned, of which we do not as largely reap the benefit, and for which we are not as much in duty bound to be thankful, as David himself. Nay, the advantage is on our side : the heavens indeed, and all the works of creation, have remained the same since David's time; but the Sun of Righteousness himself has risen in our firmament. And can we be silent, who enjoy the fulness of God's mercies, whilst the holy Psalmist speaks with such rapture and pleasure of his laws and judgment: more desirable, they were to him, than the finest gold; sweeter than honey, &c.; and yet he lived under the Mosaic law, a yoke hard to be borne. Had he known the gospel, and tasted the righteousness of this new law, what strains of holy eloquence would have flowed : this point enlarged on. As our theme has been thus exalted, so should our praises be likewise ; so should the affections of our souls be raised.
Our praises are at best a poor tribute for what we have received; and they have their imperfections even when best performed : and this reflexion seems to have led the Psalmist to the words which close his excellent composition: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. If these words are considered with a retrospect on what went before, the meaning of them must be what has been suggested : he had been praising God for all
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXVIII.
his goodness; had been fervently imploring his protection from the allurements of sin : but what were his prayers and praises in the sight of the Almighty? what valuable sacrifice could dust and ashes offer up? Struck with this just sense of humility, he stirs not from the place or subject of his devotion, before he has begged pardon for the imperfection of his sacrifice, and implored God's acceptance of the poor tribute he was able to pay him. An example worthy of our imitation ! and which yet we are hardly worthy enough to imitate : for if we consider our coldness in prayers and praise, our inattention, and the obtrusion of worldly thoughts in our worship of God, we must needs think it the highest presumption to desire his acceptance of such a tribute. This was not the Psalmist's case : and if even his devotion required an excuse to appear before the presence of God, what must become of ours ?
But, secondly, the text is capable of a more enlarged sense : the Psalmist had begged mercy for his secret faults ; had implored God's aid to preserve him from presumptuous sin : and if the thought be continued to the words of the text, in them he beseeches God to take under his direction likewise the words of his mouth, and the thoughts of his heart, that he might continue blameless in thought, and word, and deed. This sense expresses the greatest regard to virtue and innocence, and a full dependence on God's grace and protection. He knew that the Almighty not only saw his open acts, but spied out all his secret thoughts : he knew that it was in vain to wash his hands in innocency, unless he also purged his heart from evil desires : to God therefore he applied to guard the passage of his heart, and the door of his lips, that nothing unclean might enter into one, or proceed out of the other : this topic enlarged on to the end.