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[In every period of the world, God has had a peculiar people. They have been distinguished with special tokens of his love"; and though they were not set apart for their holiness, they have invariably been made holy; moreover, when they were holy, God delighted in them as holy..] Nor is it a matter of trifling concern
[The Psalmist evidently speaks of it as deserving deep attention; and if it related only to this present state, it were worthy of notice. But the present separation of God's people for himself is a pledge and earnest of a future separation : in the day of judgment, God will complete what he here began. What distinguished honour will he then confer upon the godly! Then he will be their joy, and they his glory, for ever".]
Let the ungodly therefore know this to their shame
[The Psalmist suggests the thought peculiarly in this view; and well may they be ashamed who despise what God loves. In vain do any hope to be God's hereafter, who are not his now. Let the ungodly therefore be ashamed of their false confidences. Let them set themselves apart for God, if they would have God set them apart for himself. Let them learn to live the life of the righteous, if they would die his death.]
But let the godly know it, to their unspeakable consolation
[They who are beloved of God, have little reason to regard the contempt of men. God would have them assured of his superintending care. He would have them know their security, who take him for their Gody. Let the godly then rejoice in the honour conferred upon them. Let them look forward with joy to the final completion of God's gracious purposes towards them, and let them devote themselves more than ever to his service.]
Abel, Gen. iv. 4. Enoch, Noah, &c. Heb. xi. 5, 7. Paul, Acts ix. 15.
s 1 Pet. üi. 4. t Matt. xxv. 32, 83. u Mal. iii. 17. * Rev. xxii. 3, 4. y Rom. viii. 31.
A PRACTICAL EXHORTATION.
Ps. iv. 4,5. Stand in awe, and sin not : commune with your
own heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness: and put your trust in the Lord.
IN the Psalms of David there is a great diversity; some being expressive of his own experience, and abounding in petitions or thanksgivings, as the occasion required; others being simply historical, for the information of the Church; others prophetic of Christ and his kingdom in the world ; and others again being merely instructive, for the benefit of mankind. Of this last kind is the psalm before us; in which, after declaring the comfort he had found in God, and offering a petition for the continuance of it (v. 1.), he reproves those who derided religion, and sought happiness in the world (v. 2.). He assures them, that God is the friend and portion of all who seek him (v. 3.); and recommends them to seek him in a becoming manner (v. 4, 5.); and from his own experience attests, that no increase of worldly prosperity can ever afford them so rich a recompence as His presence (v. 6, 7.), in which all who enjoy it find perfect rest (v. 8.).
As there is no certainty respecting the occasion on which it was written, we may take the text in a general view, and found upon it a general exhortation. Nor will there be any occasion for an artificial arrangement of it, because the different parts of the exhortation lie in an easy and natural order, and may be most profitably noticed as they arise in the text.
Beware, then, of sin; or, as the text expresses it, “ Stand in awe, and sin not”
[The words “ Stand in awe" are, in the Septuagint Translation, rendered, “Be ye angry:" and it seems that the Apostle Paul referred to them, when he said, “ Be ye angry, and sin nota.” The original imports a violent commotion of the mind; and Bishop Horne translates it, “tremble.” Certainly sin ought to be an object of extreme fear and dread: we can never “ stand in awe" of it too much. See what it has done in the world, how it has deformed the whole face of nature, and more especially the soul of man, which was originally made in the image of God himself! See what was necessary for the expiation of it! Could nothing but the blood of God's co-equal, co-eternal Son make an atonement for it, and shall it appear
Eph. iv. 26.
a light matter in our eyes? Go, take a view of the Saviour in Gethsemane and on the cross; and then say, whether sin be not a formidable evil: or go down to those regions where myriads of our unhappy fellow-creatures are suffering the penalty due to it, and then announce to us your sentiments respecting it. One glimpse of it, in its true character, would be abundantly sufficient to convince you, that death, in its most terrific shapes, has no terror in comparison of sin.
How, then, should you “ stand in awe of it," even when presented to you in its most flattering dress! What if men tell you that it is harmless, and will bring with it no painful consequences? Will you listen to their delusions? Will you, through fear of their derision, or from a hope of their favour, give way to sin, and subject yourselves thereby to the wrath of an offended God? O! sin not, either in a way of commission, or of omission : and if a fiery furnace, or a den of lions, be set before you as the only alternative with sin, hesitate not to choose death in its most tremendous forms, rather than accept deliverance on the condition of committing any wilful transgression.]
That you may not be unwittingly offending God, be careful to live in habits of daily self-examination
[“ Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." Persons, at the moment that they are acting, are not always able to form a correct estimate of their conduct: they are blinded by self-love, and deceived by a partial view of the things in which they are engaged: and often find, on reflection, that they have reason to be ashamed of actions which, at the time of doing them, they conceived to be right. Not only did Paul, in his unconverted state, err, when “he thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus,” but all the Apostles of our Lord erred in matters which, at the time, appeared to them to be highly commendable. Who can doubt but that Peter, when he dissuaded his Lord from submitting to his approaching sufferings, and when he cut off the ear of Malchus, took to himself credit for his zeal and love? and that afterwards, when accommodating himself to the wishes of his Jewish brethren, in requiring from the Gentiles the observance of the Law, he supposed himself to be actuated by a condescending regard to the prejudices of his less-instructed brethren? Yet, on all these occasions he acted a part most displeasing to God, and was no other than · an agent of the devil himself. In like manner, when James and John would have called fire from heaven, to consume a Samaritan village, they “ little knew what spirit they were of.” And all the Apostles, when they joined with Judas in condemning the extravagance of her who poured a box of
ointment on their Master's feet, imagined that their regard for the poor was highly seasonable and praise-worthy. And it is probable that Thomas, too, considered his pertinacity, in requiring more substantial proofs of his Lord's resurrection, far preferable to the less cautious credulity of his fellow Apostles.
Thus it is, more or less, with all of us: we need reflection; we need instruction; we need to have the film removed from before our eyes: we need a more thorough knowledge of the motives and principles by which we are actuated. Things may be substantially right, yet wrong in the time and manner in which they are carried into effect : or they may
be essentially wrong, and yet, through the blindness of our minds, appear to us highly commendable. This is particularly the case with many who spend their time in prosecuting offices which do not belong to them, whilst they overlook and neglect the duties which are proper to their calling. We are not to set one table of the Law against the other; or to trample upon acknowledged duties for the purpose of augmenting what we may fancy to be our religious advantages. Doubtless, where unreasonable men reduce us to the alternative of offending God or man, we must make our stand against the usurped authority, and be content to bear the consequences: but if we were more willing to exercise self-denial for the Lord's sake, we should find that the path of duty would in many instances be more clear, and that we should on many occasions have less ground for self-reproach.
Let us, then, at the close of every day, review with candour the events in which we have been engaged, and the dispositions we have exercised: and, not content with examining ourselves, let us beg of God to search and try us, and to shew us whatever there has been in our conduct that was sinful, or erroneous, or defective; that so we may be humbled for the past, and be more observant of our duty for the future.]
Yet must we not so lean to the side of contemplation as to become remiss in action
[We are to "offer," and that with ever-increasing diligence," the sacrifices of righteousness." We are all“ a holy priesthood, who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Under the Law, there was a great variety of sacrifices; some for humiliation and others for thanksgiving. But, under the Gospel, every thing becomes a sacrifice, when it is done for God, and presented to him in the name of his dear Son. Doubtless the first offering which we are to present to God is our own heartb. Without that, no other can come up with acceptance
b 2 Cor. viii. 5.
before him. But, when we have presented ourselves to him
a living sacrifice," there is not any service which we can offer, which will not be pleasing in his sight. Let us then abound in every good work, and seek to be filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are, by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” The duties of the closet demand our attention in the first place: for, if they be neglected, nothing can go well: the soul will be left to its own resources, and will of necessity fall a prey to sin and Satan. Then come the duties of our place and station, whether in social or civil life. To neglect these, is to sin grievously against God, and to bring great disgrace upon religion. Every person in the family has his proper office, which he is bound to fill, not from necessity only, but for the honour of his God. Whilst the head of it is prosecuting his proper business, the mistress is to be superintending the concerns of her family; and, whether occupied with her children or domestics, is to be discharging her duties with care and diligence; whilst the servants, each in his proper place, are to be executing their part with fidelity and zeal. The time that can be spared from these more appropriate avocations may well be devoted to the service of the public, in any line that may be thought most conducive to the welfare of mankind. But it is possible for men to be so engaged in cultivating the vineyards of others as to neglect their own.
And this, in the present day especially, when so much time is consecrated to the maintenance of religious or benevolent societies, is a danger to which many are exposed. Care must be taken, that none who are entitled to our services be neglected; and that, whilst some rejoice in what we do, none have reason to complain of what we leave undone. The public assemblies, too, must not be neglected: they are the appointed means of honouring God, and of bringing his blessing on our own souls. In a word, our duties both to God and man are to be harmoniously and diligently performed: and it must be the labour of all, according to their respective abilities, to “abound in every good word and work."]
But, in whatever way our own efforts are directed, we must “put our trust in the Lord”—
[It is to his grace alone that we must be indebted for strength; to his mercy must we look for acceptance before him; and on his truth and faithfulness must we rely for our ultimate reward.
Of ourselves we can do nothing. In vain will be all our efforts to escape from sin, or to fulfil our duty, if God do not
strengthen us with might by his Spirit in our inward man."
c Rom. xii. 1.