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[It is not by negative virtues, no, nor by positive virtues of an external kind, that we are to judge of ourselves, but by the disposition of our minds towards God. We may be able to say with the Pharisee, “I am no extortioner, not unjust, no adulterer;" and may be able to add with him, “I fast twice in the week, and give tithes of all that I possess ;” and yet be odious characters in the sight of God. If we would not deceive ourselves, we must inquire into the sense we have of our obligations to him, the determination we feel to approve ourselves faithful to him in the whole extent of our duty, and the confidence with which we are enabled to cast our care on him for body and for soul, for time and for eternity. Without this, whatever else we may possess, we are only “as sounding brass, and as tinkling cymbals : ” and “if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. We must therefore prove our own selves, that so we may have rejoicing in ourselves and not another".']
2. How to secure a favourable testimony from your God
[Man may easily be deceived: but God will assuredly judge according to truth. He "weigheth,” not the actions only, but “ the spirits” of men. And when he shall come at the last day, as he certainly will, in majesty and glory infinitely more terrible than that displayed at Sinai, he will testify of us before the assembled universe: and it will be a small matter that he has not to lay to our charge a neglect of outward services, if he have to accuse us of a want of those holy dispositions which we should have entertained and exercised towards him.
We entreat you then, Brethren, to look well to the state and habit of your minds: see to it, that you “delight yourselves in God;" that your whole life be a life of faith in him, of love towards him, and of zeal for the glory of his name: and, whilst you are presenting to him your own bodies and souls as a living sacrifice, present to him that great Sacrifice which was once offered on Mount Calvary for the sins of the whole world, and which alone can avail for your final acceptance with him. Much as he despises the blood of bulls and goats, he will not despise the blood of his only dear Son; but will, for the sake of it, pardon all your sins, and accept, yea and reward too with everlasting happiness and glory, all your imperfect services.]
r Gal. vi. 3, 4.
TRUE PENITENCE DESCRIBED. Ps. li. 1–3. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy
loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions! Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
SIN is, for the most part, thought a light and venial evil, especially amongst the higher ranks of society : as though the restraints of religion were designed only for the poor; and the rich had a dispensation granted them to live according to their own will. But sin, by whomsoever committed, will, sooner or later, be as the gall of asps within us; nor can all the charms of royalty silence the convictions of a guilty conscience. View the Psalmist. He had been elevated, from the low condition of a shepherd's boy, to a throne: yet, when he had offended God in the matter of Uriah, there was not found in his whole dominions a more miserable wretch than he. Before his repentance became deep and genuine,“ his bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long : for day and night God's hand was heavy upon him; and his moisture was turned into the drought of summer.” Even in his penitence we may see how heavy a load was laid upon his mind. This psalm was written on that occasion : and the words before us, whilst they declare the workings of his mind, will serve to shew us, in a general view, the true penitent: I. In his occasional approaches to the throne of grace
Mercy” is the one object of his desire and pursuit. Observe, 1. His petitions
[“ Have mercy upon me, O God; blot out my transgressions! wash me throughly from mine iniquities; and so cleanse me from my sin,” that no stain of it may remain upon my soul! Here he views his sins both individually and collectively; and, spreading them before the Lord with conscious guilt, he implores the forgiveness of them: dreading lest so much as one should be retained in the book of God's remembrance, as a ground of procedure against him in the last day - Thus will every true penitent come to God: and plunge, as it were, into the fountain of the Redeemer's blood, “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness --] 2. His pleas
a Ps. xxxii. 3, 4, and xxxviii. 248.
[Though David had, till the time of his grievous fall, served God with a more than ordinary degree of zeal and piety, he makes no mention of any past mcrits, nor does he found his hope on any future purposes. He relies only on the free and sovereign grace of God, as displayed towards sinners in the gift of his only dear Son: and to that he looks, as the ground and measure of the blessings he implores. This is the view which every true penitent must have.
He should see that God is of his own nature inclined to mercyb; and that all which Christ has done for us is the fruit of the Father's love, Such are the pleas which God approves; and such will surely prevail in the court of Heaven.]
But, view the penitent farther, II. In the daily habit of his mind
Repentance is not a mere occasional expression of the mind, but a state or habit that is fixed and abiding in the soul. The true penitent, wherever he goes, carries with him, 1. A sense of guilt
[" His sin is ever before him :" indeed, he wishes it to be so: he desires to be humbled under a sense of it: and though he longs to have his transgressions blotted out of God's book, he would never have them effaced from his memory; or cease, if he could help it, to have as deep an impression of their odiousness and malignity, as if they had been but recently committed -- To his latest hour he would " walk softly" before God, in the remembrance of them.) 2. A sense of shame
[He is ashamed when he reflects on his conduct throughout the whole of his life ; yea, “he blushes and is confounded before God," and even lothes and abhors himself in dust and ashes €.” Nor does a sense of God's pardoning love produce any difference; except, indeed, as enhancing the lothesomeness of his character in his own eyesf.” The name which, in sincerity of heart, he acknowledges as most appropriate to him, is that which the Apostle Paul assumed, “The chief of sinners."]
b Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7. © John iii. 16. Eph. ii. 4,5. Tit. iii. 4, 5. d Ezra ix. 6. e Job xlii. 6. f Ezek. xxxvi. 31. and xvi. 63. secure?
1. Those who are not conscious of having committed any flagrant transgression
[Many, doubtless, are of this character. But have they, on that account, any reason to boast? Who is it that has kept them?
66 Who is it that has made them to differ?" Will they themselves deny that the seeds of all evil are in them? or that, if they had been subjected to the same temptations as others, they might have proved as frail as they? Are they better than David previous to his fall? Let them, then, confess their obligations to God; and remember, that if in outward act they have less reason for humiliation than others, they have the same depravity in their hearts, and are in reality as destitute of vital piety as others; and, consequently, have the same need of humiliation and contrition as they.]
2. Those who are deeply sensible of their guilt before God
[What a consolation must it be to you, to see that there was mercy even for such a transgressor as David. Greater enormity than his can scarcely be conceived: yet not even his prayers were poured forth in vain. Two things, then, I would say to you. The first is, Do not attempt to extenuate your own guilt, as though you would thereby bring yourselves more within the reach of mercy. The other is, Do not presume to limit God's mercy, as though it could not extend to such a sinner as you. You never need be afraid of beholding your wickedness in all its extent, if only you will bear in mind that God's mercy in Christ Jesus is fully commensurate with your utmost necessities or desires. “ The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin :" and the more you feel your need of it, the more shall you experience its unbounded efficacy. Only humble yourselves as David did; and, like him, you shall experience all the riches of redeeming grace.] 3. Those who have obtained mercy of the Lord
[Happy, beyond expression, are ye! as David says; “ Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sin is covered.” Be joyful, then, in God your Saviour. But still remember, that you have need at all times to watch and pray. If David, after all his high attainments, fell, who is
“ Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” And learn from him to guard against the very first approaches of evil. It was by a look that his corruptions were inflamed: and from the progress of evil in his heart, you may learn to make a covenant with your eyes, yea, and with your hearts too. You see in him “ how great a matter a little fire kindleth.” Walk humbly, then, before God; and cry to him day and night, “ Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not !”]
SIN AN OFFENCE AGAINST GOD. Ps. li. 4. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this
evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
THE occasion of this psalm is well known: it refers to one of the most melancholy transactions that ever took place in the world. In point of enormity, the deed is almost without a parallel ; because it was performed by a man who till that time had made the highest professions of religion, and had been characterized even by God himself as “the man after God's own heart.” But it is not the crime which David committed, but only the repentance which followed it, that is the subject of our present consideration. For a long time his heart was hardened: but after that Nathan had come from God to accuse and condemn him, he yielded to the conviction, and humbled himself before God in dust and ashes. In this psalm is recorded the prayer which David offered unto God on that occasion : and it was given by David to the Church, that it might be a pattern, and an encouragement, to penitents in all future ages. The particular declaration in our text is introduced as an aggravation of his guilt. We are not however to interpret it so strictly, as if the crime which David had committed were really no offence against man; for in that view it was as heinous as can possibly be conceived: it was a sin against Bathsheba, whom he had defiled : against Uriah, whom he had murdered; against Joab, whom he had made an instrument to effect the murder; against all the soldiers, who were murdered at the same time; against the friends and relatives of all
a If this were the subject of a Magdalen Sermon, it would be proper in a delicate manner to enlarge somewhat on the crime itself.