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3. Consolation to the timid—
[It is frequently amongst those who truly "fear God" a matter of doubt and anxiety, whether God can pardon them: they see their manifold imperfections in so strong a light, that God appears to them bound, as it were, in justice, to banish them from his presence, yea, and bound in truth also to execute his threatenings upon them. But let such persons view God, not as he is in himself, but as he is in Christ Jesus. There it is that he must be seen as a God of love and peace. There it is that the drooping penitent may behold him as a reconciled God, who will never impute to him his trespasses." Yes, in Christ Jesus, "God is not only merciful and kind, but faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness m." Dismiss then your fears, ye trembling saints; and put your trust in Him, who has in so wonderful a way removed all the obstacles to your salvation. The veil of the temple was rent in twain on purpose to shew you, that henceforth there is free access to God for every sinner upon earth, and that all who approach him in that new and living way, by faith in Christ Jesus, shall surely find acceptance with him. If God will be just in punishing the ungodly, he will be no less just to his Son in pardoning all who plead the merit of his blood: and if he will be true in executing his threatenings, he will be no less true in fulfilling his exceeding great and precious promises. Only rely on them, and plead them at a throne of grace, and you shall never, never be disappointed of your hope.]
1 2 Cor. v. 19, 20.
m 1 John i. 9.
A PRAYING SPIRIT EXEMPLIFIED.
Ps. lxxxvi. 1-5. Bow down thine ear, O Lord! hear me; for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul; for I am holy. O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee! merciful unto me, O Lord! for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
TRUE and genuine piety cannot always be certainly known by men's intercourse with their fellowcreatures. Appearances may be so plausible, that they cannot, except by Him who searcheth the heart, be distinguished from realities. But in their intercourse with the Deity, the truth or falsehood of their
profession may be clearly discerned. The most refined hypocrite may, by examining the state of his soul in his private devotions, obtain the certain means of discovering his proper character, provided he have his standard rightly fixed, and his test impartially applied. To furnish such a standard, is our object in the present discourse. We here behold the man after God's own heart drawing nigh to a throne of grace, and pouring out his soul in supplications before God: and we wish to call your attention especially to the spirit which he manifested in this sacred duty, since it will serve as an excellent criterion whereby to try and judge ourselves.
Let us then consider,
I. The subject-matter of his prayer—
It should seem that David was now under great affliction, either from the persecutions of Saul, or from the unnatural rebellion of his son Absalom: and his prayers may well be understood, in the first instance, as relating to his temporal trials. But, as it is of his soul that he chiefly speaks, we shall dwell upon his prayer principally in that view. Let us
1. His petitions
[St. Paul, in both his Epistles to Timothy, prays, that grace, and mercy, and peace" may be multiplied upon him. These three terms comprehend the substance of the Psalmist's petitions. He desired "grace," to " preserve and save his soul." He desired "mercy;" ;""Be merciful unto me, O Lord!" And he desired "peace;" "Rejoice the soul of thy servant, O Lord!” Now these are such petitions as every sinner in the universe should offer. There are no other that can be compared with them, in point of importance to the souls of men. As for all the objects of time and sense, they sink into perfect insignificance before the things which appertain to our everlasting salvation. To all therefore I would say, Seek what David sought. Cry mightily to God to have mercy upon you, and to preserve and save your soul: and when you have done that, you may fitly pray also for that consolation and joy, which a sense of his pardoning love will produce in the soul.]
2. His pleas
[These are taken, partly, from what he experienced in his own soul; and, partly, from the character of God himself.
Observe how he urges, what he experienced in his own soul. The things which God himself requires from us, in order to the acceptance of our prayers, are, a deep sense of our necessities, an entire surrender of our souls to him, a reliance on him for all needful blessings, and a continual application to him in a way of fervent and believing prayer. Behold, these are the very things which David at this time experienced, and which therefore he pleaded before God as evidences of the sincerity of his prayers: "Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me; for I am poor and needy!" And who is there that must not adopt the same acknowledgment? Who that considers, how destitute his soul is of all that is truly good, will not find these words exactly descriptive of his state? Again, the Psalmist prays, "Preserve my soul; for I am holy." We must not imagine that David here meant to boast of his high attainments in holiness: the term "holy" is applied in Scripture to every thing that is dedicated to God, though from its very nature it cannot possess any inherent sanctity: the temple of God, the vessels of the sanctuary, and all the offerings, were holy, because they were set apart for God. So David here speaks of himself as "set apart for Goda:" and his expression is exactly equivalent to that which he uses in another place; "I am THINE; save me." This then is another plea which it becomes us all to use. As the Israelites were a holy nation","
so are we and if we have given up ourselves unreservedly to God, we may well hope, that he will hear and answer our petitions. Once more David says, "Save me; for I trust in Thee." This also was a most acceptable plea. If we ask with a wavering and doubtful mind, we can never succeed: but the prayer of faith must of necessity prevail. The suppliant who truly and habitually trusts in God, can never be disappointed. Lastly, David says, "I cry unto thee daily:" "Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul." God "will be inquired of, to do for us the things that he has promised." "If we ask, we shall have; if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, it shall be opened unto us:" but, if we ask not, we shall not, we cannot, have1.
But David's chief plea is taken from the character of God himself and this is, in reality, the most satisfactory to the human mind, and most acceptable to the Divine Majesty, who "will work for his own great Name's sake," when all other grounds of hope are subverted and lost. Towards his creatures generally, whether rational or irrational, God is "good;" but towards the children of men he is "ready to forgive, and plen
a See Ps. iv. 3. d 1 Pet. ii. 9. f Matt. xxi. 22. h Jam. iv. 2.
c Exod. xix. 6.
b Ps. cxix. 94.
g Matt. vii. 7, 8.
Mark xi. 24.
teous in mercy unto all that call upon him." No mother is so tender towards her new-born child, as God is towards his penitent and believing people. He is far more " ready to forgive,' than they are to ask forgiveness; and will multiply his pardons beyond all the multitude of their offences. "Where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound." The freeness and fulness of God's grace should be clearly seen, and confidently relied upon but then we must never forget, that this glorious perfection shines only in the face of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ only that God can pardon sinners in consistency with his justice: but in Christ, "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." In Christ therefore, and in God as reconciled to us through the blood of his Son, must be all our hope. If we rest solely on Christ's obedience unto death, all will be well; for "in him all the promises of God are yea, and amenm." But, if we look at God in any way but as in the person of Christ, we shall surely find him "a consuming fire"."]
The prayer itself not calling for any farther elucidation, we proceed to notice,
II. The spirit manifested in it—
Here the subject is peculiarly important, because it exhibits in so striking a view the dispositions of mind which we should invariably exercise in our approaches to the Divine Majesty. In this example of David, then observe,
1. His meekness and modesty
[He approaches God, as a sinner ought to do, with reverential awe. He exhibits none of that unhallowed boldness, and indecent familiarity, which are so commonly to be noticed in the prayers of many at this day. It is much to be lamented that many address God almost as if he were an equal. We speak not now of that irreverence with which people, altogether ignorant of religion, conduct themselves in the public services of the church; (though that is deeply to be deplored;) but of the state of mind manifested by many religious people, ministers, as well as others, in their public and social addresses to the throne of Heaven. How different, alas! is it from that which is inculcated, both in the Scriptures, and in the Liturgy of our Church! In the Liturgy, the people are exhorted to "accompany their minister with a pure heart and humble voice to the throne of the heavenly grace:" and, in another place, " to make their humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling on their knees." i Isai. lv. 7-9. 1 Rom. iii. 24, 25. m 2 Cor. i. 20. n Heb. xii. 29. • Ps. lxxxix. 7. Eccl. v. 2.
k Rom. v. 20.
This is a lovely state of mind, and as opposite to that which many religious people manifest, as light to darkness. Many whose religious principles differ widely from the self-applauding Pharisee, resemble him very nearly in his spirit and conduct: but let us, on the contrary, imitate the publican, who, "not venturing so much as to lift up his eyes to heaven, smote upon his breast, and cried, God be merciful to me a sinner."]
2. His humility and contrition
of the Lord
[He felt himself a guilty and undone creature, deserving of God's everlasting displeasure: and hence he cried so repeatedly for mercy and salvation. And here again we see how the same views and dispositions are inculcated in the services of our Church. Let any one peruse the confession which is daily offered or that which we are taught to utter at the table or let him read the responses after every one of the Ten Commandments or the repeated cries, Lord, have mercy upon me! Christ, have mercy upon me! Lord, have mercy upon me!" and he will see at once, what a beautiful harmony there is between our Liturgy and the Holy Scriptures; and what distinguished saints all her members would be, if the Spirit of her Liturgy were transfused into their minds. This is the state of mind which, above all, we would recommend to those who desire to find acceptance with God: for "to this man will God look, even to him who is of a broken and contrite spirit P:" this is the sacrifice which, above all, God requires, and which he has assured "he will never despise."]
3. His faith and love
[David did not so view his own sinfulness as to distrust the mercy of his heavenly Father; but rather took occasion from his own sinfulness to magnify still more the free and superabounding grace of God. In this, his example is especially to be followed. Nothing can warrant us to limit the mercy of our God. O how "ready is he to forgive" returning penitents! Of this, the conduct of the father towards the repenting prodigal is a lively and instructive image. In that parable, the compassion of God towards returning sinners is, as it were, exhibited even to the eye of sense. Let us then, whatever be our state, bear this in mind, that unbelief is a sin which binds all our other sins upon us. Never, under any circumstances, should we harbour it for a moment. It is enough to have resisted God's authority, without proceeding further to rob him of the brightest jewels of his crown his grace and
mercy. The goodness of God, as described in our text, and in another subsequent part of this psalm',
P Isai. lvii. 15. and lxv. 2.
is a suffi