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Such is the construction which God himself puts
II. The expostulation itself
The question in our text is manifestly an indignant expostulation. I ask then,
1. What assurance has any man that God will not require sin ?
[Supposing it possible or even probable, who can be certain of it? What folly then must it be to continue in sin through hopes of impunity, when the mistake, if it be one, will be irrevocable, and the consequence of it irremediable! We are bound, in common prudence, to choose the safer side.] 2. Has not God said that he will require sin ?
[The testimonies to this effect are most indubitablek. Can we suppose that God will falsify his word'?] 3. Has not God already in many
instances required sin ?
[Have not individuals, companies, cities, nations, the whole world, yea, man in Paradise, and angels in heaven, been made monuments of divine vengeancem? Why may he not manifest his indignation against us also?]
4. Will not the account be dreadful if he should require sin ?
[No heart can conceive the terrors of the final judgment. Who, in his right mind, would risk the loss of heaven, and the suffering of hell?]
5. Can any power or policy of men prevent his requiring sin ?
[Let us first avert death from our bodies, or provide an answer to Job's question"; “Who hath hardened himself against God and prospered ?" Not earth and hell combined can prevent the punishment of one sinnero.] APPLICATION
[Let us see how deeply we have been involved in this guilt. If our outward actions have been correct, still have we, to an incalculable amount, committed sin by our very thoughts. O let us flee for refuge to the hope set before us! Happy am I to declare that there is a way wherein a person may not only think this in his heart, but express it with his lips. If we believe in Christ, God will never require sin at our hands P; and to express it, so far from pouring contempt on God, will greatly honour him. God is not more honoured by any thing than the humble confidence of a believer Let us all therefore lay our sins on the head of the true scape-goat, so shall they never be required of us in the day of judgment".]
i 1 Sam. ii. 30. Rom. ii. 4.
k 1 Cor. vi. 9. John iii. 3.
P Acts xii. 39. 9 Rom. iv. 20. Mic. vii. 19.
THE WORKINGS OF UNBELIEF AND OF FAITH.
Ps. xi. 147. In the Lord put I my trust : how say ye to my
soul, “ Flee as a bird to your mountain: for, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart: if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple ; the Lord's throne is in heaven : his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous : but the wicked, and him that loveth violence, his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest : this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness : his countenance doth behold the uprighta.
THE Psalms are a rich repository of experimental knowledge. David, at the different periods of his life, was placed in almost every different situation in which a believer, whether rich or poor, can be placed: and in these heavenly compositions he delineates all the workings of his heart. He introduces, too, the sentiments and conduct of the various persons who were accessary either to his troubles or his joys; and thus sets before our eyes a compendium of all that is passing in the hearts of men throughout the world. When he penned this psalm, he was under persecution from Saul, who sought his life, and hunted him “ as a partridge upon the mountains.” His timid friends were alarmed for his safety, and recommended him to flee to some mountain where
a The three first verses of the psalm should be read as one continued speech, just as they are here printed : then the force and spirit of the passage is made clear.
he had a hiding-place; and thus to conceal himself from the rage of Saul. But David, being strong in faith, spurned the idea of resorting to any such pusillanimous expedients, and determined confidently to repose his trust in God.
Thus in this psalm we see, in a contrasted view, I. The counsels of unbelief
Unbelief always views the dark side of a question; and not only keeps out of view those considerations that should animate and encourage the soul, but suggests others which are most injurious to its welfare:
1. It magnifies the difficulties we have to encounter
[Doubtless the dangers which encompassed David were great and imminent: the arrows with which his enemies sought to kill him, were already on the string, pointed at him, as it were, and needing only to be drawn, in order to pierce him to the heart: the foundations also of law and justice were so entirely subverted under the government of Saul, that there was nothing to prevent the wicked from executing their murderous plots. But still there is no sufficient ground for that desponding question, “ What can the righteous do?” Methinks the question under any circumstances is not only unbelieving, but atheistical: for if there be a God, and that God be a hearer of prayer, the question would rather be, 'What cannot the righteous do?'” Let us look at an instance or two, as a specimen of what one righteous may do, even when, according to human appearance, the circumstances may be most desperate. The whole army of Israel is appalled at the sight of one gigantic warrior: yet a young stripling, with his sling and stone, destroys the giant, and puts to flight the whole army of the Philistines. Again: at a period when idolatry so prevailed in Israel, that Elijah thought himself the only worshipper of Jehovah in the whole land, one righteous man stems the torrent, destroys the priests of Baal, and demolishes all his temples and altars throughout the country. But another instance of singular importance is that of Oded; who, by his own unaided expostulation, liberated two hundred thousand captives, and constrained their victorious enemies not only to restore them to their homes without injury, but to treat them with a tenderness truly parental — Shall any one, after such instances as these, and many others that might be mentioned, ask, “ What can the righteous do?" We should remember, that, as "with God all things are possible," so "all things are possible to him that believeth;” yea, “ if we have faith only as a grain of mustard-seed, we may root up trees or mountains, and cast them into the depths of the sea."]
b 2 Chron. xxviii. 9-15.
2. It prompts to the use of unbecoming expedients
[However it might be proper for David to use prudential cautions, and not to put himself directly into the hands of Saul, it did not become him to “ flee as a bird to his mountain,” just as if he had no refuge in his God. His duty was, to repose a confidence in God, and to expect assuredly the accomplishment of all God's promises towards him, in spite of all the efforts of his most malignant enemies. But such is constantly the voice of unbelief: it bids us not wait God's time, but contrive some way for ourselves, lest peradventure God should have forgotten his engagements, or not be able to fulfil them. Thus it operated in Rebecca. She knew that God had designed the blessings of the birthright for Jacob, her younger son: but when she saw that Isaac's intention was in the
space of an hour or two to give them to Esau, she conceived that the Divine purpose would be frustrated, if she did not instantly interpose for its accomplishment. To what a system of falsehood and treachery she had recourse, is too well known to need any recital: but it is a striking instance of the tendency of unbelief. And who does not feel this tendency in his own heart? Who has not at some unhappy moment sought, by dissimulation or concealment, to avoid the cross, which a more faithful confession of the Saviour would have brought upon him? But to use any indirect means either to avoid an evil or to obtain a good, is a certain proof of an unbelieving heart: for, “He that believeth will not make haste."]
In the noble reply of David to his friends, we behold, II. The dictates of faith
It is the peculiar province of faith to “see Him who is invisible;" and in all situations to have respect to God, 1. As an Almighty Sovereign
[Mark the answer which David, with holy indignation, gives to his timid advisers : “ How say ye to my soul, Flee?" How say ye with desponding apprehension, “What can the righteous do?” This is my answer to all such vain fears; “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven." What plots can men or devils form, which God does not see? or what can they essay to execute, which he cannot defeat ? He that sitteth in the heavens “ laughs them to scorn.” “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that they cannot perform their enterprize ;" yea, “he taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” It is not possible to find a more beautiful elucidation of this subject than that which is recorded in the history of Elisha. When the king of Syria was warring against Israel, behold, all his plans were made known to the king of Israel ; and were thereby defeated. But how were these secrets made known? Was it by treason? No: God revealed to Elisha the things which the king of Syria spake in his bed-chamber. The king of Syria determined therefore that he would kill Elisha, and sent an army to encompass the city wherein Elisha was. Elisha's servant, just like David's friends, cried, “ Alas, my master! how shall we do?” But, when God opened his eyes, he saw the whole surrounding atmosphere filled with horses of fire and chariots of fire: and soon afterwards he saw the whole smitten with blindness, and led by the prophet into the very heart of their enemy's country. Thus are all the saints watched over by an Almighty Power; and under his protection they are safe.] 2. As a righteous Judge
[It may be that God sees fit to let the enemies of his people prevail over them: but their success is only for a moment: the time is near at hand when the apparent inequality of these dispensations will be rectified; when God, as " a righteous Judge, will recompense tribulation to those who trouble us; and to us who are troubled, rest.” narrowly inspects', not the actions only, but the dispositions also, of men, in order to render unto them according to their works: “ the wicked his soul hateth ;” and in due time “ he will rain
them snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest,” even as he did upon Sodom and Gomorrha: yes, " this shall be the portion of their cup;” and they “shall drink it to the very dregs.” On the other hand, “ he loveth the righteous, and beholds them with delight;" and reserves for them a weight of glory proportioned to all that they have done and suffered for him. The believer is persuaded of this: whom then shall he fear? He knows that no weapon formed against him can prosper, unless Infinite Wisdom has ordained that it shall; and that no evil can be suffered to approach him
c 2 Kings vi. 8—20. d“ His eyelids try” as persons narrowly inspecting some very minute object, almost close their eyelids, to exclude every other object.