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It is the blessed privilege obtained by our Saviour for his people, that sincere though imperfect sanctification is graciously accepted of God the judge of all. This sincere holiness is strictly and indispensably required “ by the law of faith, in the hand of the Mediator :" without it we cannot partake of the treasures of mercy and of glory that are revealed in the gospel. It is therefore a matter that infinitely concerns us, both in respect of our present peace and future blessedness, to make a true discovery of our uprightness. And usually all the fears and inquiries about our spiritual state issue in this, whether we are upright or not? The assurance of our uprightness, is a fountain of relief in all perplexing jealousies about the favour of God : for notwithstanding our defects," he will spare us, as a father spares his son that serves him.”
This great question of our sincerity may be cleared by a due observing our hearts and ways : for conscience is an inseparable faculty of the soul, and even in the heathen accused or excused, as their actions were exorbitant or regular according to the internal law, and consequently gave testimonies of their wickedness, or moral integrity. The scripture indeed tells us, “ the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it ?" But this primarily respects the discerning it by others; as the apostle saith, " who knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him ?” There may be the affectation of the name of religion, joined with a disaffection to the thing: there may be solemn formality without cordial godliness ; an acting of piety and personating devotion for vile ends. But though the impure artist under a veil of hypocrisy may be concealed from others, yet he is not from the conviction of his own mind.
I shall add further, that many from ignorance or carelessness, may presume they are in a state of salvation, when they are “ in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity." There are many carnal shifts made use of to palliate the evil condition of men's souls, but their security proceeds from the neglect of due examining their hearts and lives. It will be a vain excuse at the last day, “ to plead, the serpent beguiled me : for it is not merely our deceivableness, but willingness to be deceived, that exposes us to mistake our spiritual condition by the insinuations of satan. As the wise philosopher observes, * a man is the first and principal flatterer of himself, and therefore apt to be deceived by other flatterers. But if we take " the candle of the Lord,” and impartially search ourselves, though the heart be such a dark labyrinth, that every secret turning cannot be discovered ; though all the deflections and errors of our ways cannot be exactly known, yet we may understand the habitual frame of our hearts, and the course of our lives.
It is the end of the following sermons, to direct men in the discussion of conscience, that they may not from an erring mind, and corrupt heart, deceive themselves in a matter that so nearly concerns them, and incur the double punishment in proportion to their guilt, as our Saviour foretels, “ When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.”
Many useful rules are laid down by divines, whereby true grace may be discerned from counterfeit : but the plainest trial and level to the perception of the lowest christian, is, whether there be a sincere respect to all God's commands, without the reservation of any known sin, how pleasant soever, to the carnal appetites, or the exception against any known duty that is displeasing to them. If men would retire from the vanities and business of the world into themselves, and search their spirits with that seriousness that is due to so weighty a matter; if with a resolution to know the state of their souls, if conscience were inquisitive as under God's eye, that has a full prospect into every breast, they might have an inward testimony of their sincerity or deceitfulness. The apostle refers the decision of our state with respect to God, to the testimony of the enlightened conscience: “ if our hearts condemn us not,” (of any habitual indulged sin) " then we have peace towards God. If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things." From the neglect of trying themselves, many live in a cloud of delusion, and from inward darkness pass to outer darkness for ever.
* Plut, de adul,
"I was also upright before him: and have kept myself from mine iniquity."
The title of this psalm declares the occasion of it: David “spake unto the Lord the words of this song, in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” It is a clear evidence of his heavenly mind, that after his victories and triumphs, when his throne was established in peace, he recounts the signal acts of divine providence with holy ecstacies of praise and thankfulness, and leaves an everlasting memorial of God's excellent goodness to him. Carnal persons in extremities, may be ardent in requests for deliverance, but when it is obtained, they retain but a cold remembrance of God's preserving mercy; nay, they often pervert his benefits: the affluence, and ease, and security of their condition, occasions the ungrateful forgetfulness of their benefactor. Selflove kindles desires for what we want, the love of God inspires a holy heat in praises for what we enjoy.
In the psalm, the inspired composer displays the divine per- .
fections in lofty figures of speech, suitable to sacred poesy, and in a relative endearing way as manifested in his preservation. He attributes such titles to God, as are significant of the benefits he received : sometimes God discovers the crafty and cruel designs that are formed against his people, his eye saves them, and he is styled their “ light :" sometimes he breaks the strength of their enemies, his hand and power saves them, he is styled their “defence.” Here the psalmist, with exuberant affections, multiplies the divine titles, " the Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer ; my shield, and my high tower, and my refuge, and my salvation :” a rock is a natural, a tower an artificial defence ; both are used to express the safe protection he found in God. He then sets forth the extremity of his danger, to add a lustre to the name of his
" the waves of death compassed me; the floods of ungodly men made me afraid : his ruin was imminent, and seemed to be inevitable: but in that distress, his fervent prayer, “ his crying to God” pierced the heavens, , God heard “ his voice out of his temple," and speedily in the best season came for his deliverance. “ He was seen upon the wings of the wind ; he rode upon a cherub,” (those swifter spirits) “ and did fly.” He describes the terrors of his coming against his enemies : “ the Lord thundered from the heavens ; he sent down his arrows, and scattered them : his lightning discomfited them.” The acts of justice reversed, have the ensign of mercy on them : the drowning of the Egyptians in the red sea, was the preserving of the Israelites. Briefly, he ascribes his deliverance to the favour of God as the sole mover, and the power of God as the sole worker of it. “He delivered me, because he delighted in me." His free and compassionate love was primarily active, and drew forth his power in its most noble exercise for the salvation of David. Such an ingenuous and grateful sense the psalmist had of the divine mercy : this gave the sweetest relish of his deliverance ; this was his true triumph after the final conquest of his enemies. Indeed his enemies were unjust and cruel, and God vindicated the justice of his cause against them : therefore he saith, “ the Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness ; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me." He declares the holiness of his conversation:
have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly de
parted from my God.” And as an eminent instance of this, he saith, in the words of the text, “ I was upright also before him: and kept myself from mine iniquity.”
In the text there is a solemn declaration of David's uprightness, by his attesting God the searcher and judge of the heart; “ I was upright before him :" and by an infallible proof of it, “ I kept myself from mine iniquity.”
There is one difficulty to be removed before I come to discourse upon the proposition, and that is, how this profession of uprightness is reconcileable with David's actions in the matter of Uriah? Whether we consider the quality of his sins, the crimson guilt, and killing circumstances that attended them ; especially the deliberate and cruel contrivance of Uriah's death : or whether we consider the fearful interval between his sin and repentance : for like some fair rivers that in their current suddenly sink under ground, and are lost in their secret passage, till at a great distance they rise and flow again : thus it was with David, he that was so conspicuous in holiness of life, sunk into a gulf of sensuality and cruelty, and for a long time was unrelenting and unreformed, till by a special message from God by the prophet Nathan, he was renewed to repentance, and restored to the forfeited favour of God.
To this objection some learned interpreters answer, that the declaration of his innocence and integrity, must be understood with a tacit exception according to the testimony of scripture concerning him, “ that he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah.” That sin, though a dreadful provocation, yet did not blast the uprightness of the rest of his life, and make it unacceptable to God. 2. This affirmation of David may refer to his afflicted state, when his conscience was tender and vigilant, and his passions so subdued, that though Saul, his most unrighteous and implacable adversary, was at his mercy, and he could as easily have cut off his head, as the lap of his garment; though he was provoked to take his full revenge on him, and put an end to his own fears, yet he rejected the motion with abhorrence; “ God forbid I should lift up my hand against the Lord's anointed :" he spared Saul, and would not by such an irregular act obtain the kingdom, though elected to it by God himself. By this