Righteousness Without Works

Psalm 32; Romans 4:6  •  1.1 hr. read  •  grade level: 9
Introduction: Gospel Truth Illustrated in Psalm 32
“David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Rom. 4:66Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (Romans 4:6)). I believe it will be found that the first and simplest truths of the Gospel become of growing value to our souls as we advance onward along the narrow road which leadeth unto life. Truths which are at first received authoritatively, because of the evidence of Scripture for them, become commended to us by their own beauty. And what we received at first, as it were by force of our own necessity, becomes in our progress that which manifests the glory of Christ; so that we are able in a measure to contemplate it apart from selfishness, and to see it in the light in which God Himself sees it. I think I discern this feature in apostolical teachings; while they unfold mysteries, or develop practical truth, they also designedly connect all with the primary truths of the Gospel — thus bringing them into constant prominence.
And this marks the teaching of the Holy Ghost. It is human to handle a particular truth as a subject; but the object of the Holy Ghost is to hold up prominently to view the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The soul becomes unsettled from its steadfastness when the mind takes the lead in learning even the truth of God. The Spirit who leads into all truth, connects everything in His teaching with those great primary truths, the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mind may get hold of something new, and be interested in it, as if it were more wonderful than the truth already received. I do not wonder at the Apostle saying, "so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:2424But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)) — there he saw the deepest truth; or, in after-times, saying to Timothy, "Do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry; for I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." It is an unhealthy symptom, when the simple gospel is not relished. It shows that the mind is rather at work than the conscience exercised before God, or the affections engaged with Christ. There are indeed wonderful discoveries made to us of the grace and purpose of God, and this too as that in which we are specially interested; yet when all is manifested and enjoyed without hindrance, then the primary truths of the gospel will be seen in all their brilliancy, even the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the Object of adoration, admiration and praise throughout eternity. It is with these thoughts I now turn to the great fundamental truth of the gospel — "righteousness without works" — a doctrine we know which has not only been controverted by Christians, and sneered at by the wise and the moralist — but which many who hold it, have only become settled in, after much bitter experience of themselves. It is indeed needful for all to learn it in this school of experience. But we may also learn its beauty by looking forward to that day, when the righteousness of the one Man, as the Fountain of all blessedness to the redeemed, shall be as illustriously displayed in heaven and in earth, as the sin of the one man as the source of all misery has been sorrowfully displayed in the history of this world. But there is another light in which the doctrine of "righteousness without works" may be regarded, namely, as leading us into present intercourse with God, and enabling us to walk in His presence. It is the bearing of this great truth as a present influential principle, which the Spirit of God Himself has carried out in the Thirty-second Psalm. And the blessedness predicated of the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works is a blessedness, not confined to the wondrous truths of "transgression forgiven, sin covered, and iniquity not imputed"; but this blessedness is carried on into the exercises of soul, which result from being freely and fully justified. I would now turn to the Psalm itself.
Forgiveness
First, the great oracular declaration — "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (v. 1-2). On this statement the Holy Ghost Himself, by the Apostle Paul, has thus commented: "Even as David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:66Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (Romans 4:6)). "The blessedness" — we almost need to have this English word translated to us; so slow of heart are we to believe His goodness, when God Himself proclaims it to us. Happiness, "our being's end and aim," is proclaimed by this oracle; and yet men are deaf to it. "Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven!" This is happiness — the alone happiness of which man as a sinner is capable; because nothing but this can bring a sinner to God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy. There is indeed a happiness proclaimed in the first Psalm, "Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful" (Psa. 1:11Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1)). But where is such a man to be found? This blessedness only attached to the righteous One, the Holy One of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was what He did; because He is what He is. But as for us, it is not anything that we can do which can make us happy, but that which God does for us. It is man's impossibility to make himself happy; it is God's possibility to make a sinner happy. And this oracle is the declaration of a sinner's happiness by means of the work of God Himself.
The distinction between transgression and sin is made sufficiently clear by the statements of the Apostle in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression" (Rom. 5:1414Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Romans 5:14)). Adam sinned by transgressing a positive commandment of God; and thereby incurred the penalty of death. Others were liable to the same penalty who had never sinned by transgressing a positive commandment of God; therefore, there may be sin where there is not such transgression. And the Holy Ghost announces this oracle, according to the usual order of the awakening of conscience. In most cases, it is awakened to a sense of positive acts of sin against the known commandments of God. And so the Apostle, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, adduces proof of the practical ungodliness and immorality of both Gentile and Jew, before he opens the source from whence it all proceeds: original and indwelling sin. Man may draw out a theory of christian doctrine; but the divine way is, not to teach a theory, but to grapple with the conscience, and to make man sensible of his wretched condition as in the presence of God, and that nothing short of God's own provision of Christ can meet his necessity. "Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh to Me" (John 6:4545It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. (John 6:45)), says Christ. The oracle before us regards man as he is, an enemy to God in his mind “by wicked works” (Col. 1:2121And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (Colossians 1:21)).
Repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in the name of Christ among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. "Beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:4747And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)) shows the character of transgression which the Divine remedy can reach. There was acted out "the great transgression" (Psa. 19:1313Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. (Psalm 19:13)). The testimony against them was, that they had denied the Holy and the Just One, and had killed the Prince of Life. Yet, in the name of Jesus, whom they had crucified, whom God had raised up, there was forgiveness even for this great transgression. Who need despair of finding forgiveness in the same name, in which alone there is salvation? If we turn to a different and more frequent character of transgression, we find it written, "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-119Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9‑11)). It is to man, therefore, as a proved and convicted transgressor before God, as already condemned by the righteous judgment of God, and when awakened by the quickening power of God condemned in his own conscience, that forgiveness of transgression in the name of Jesus is proclaimed by God Himself. And blessed, by God's own testimony, is the man who has an ear to hear it.
I much question if the bare idea of forgiveness of transgression, apart from the solid groundwork on which it rests, namely, the infinite atonement of Christ — "forgiveness in His name" — would always satisfy the conscience. The groveling thought of escape is, indeed, the careless thought of the unbelieving mass; without one just thought, either of the character of God, or of the evil of sin. But if such a manner of forgiveness were possible, it would leave the recipient of it in that state of uneasiness which a man feels who finds himself in the presence of one whom he had injured, yet who had forgiven him. He would be under the conscious sense of degradation. Such a condition would be the very opposite of being "blessed." It is the mode of the forgiveness, bringing the person forgiven to stand at ease in the presence of God, declared to be just, while He is the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, which constitutes the blessedness. The atonement of Christ is indeed the remedy, the only remedy, the divine remedy for the forgiveness of transgression; but it is more, it is the great medium of the display of the moral glory of God. "Angels look into these things," and learn the glory of their God by means of His dealings with sinners. And it is a wondrous thought, that man's necessity as a sinner and the manifestation of the divine glory, find their one and only meeting point in the cross of Christ. Yea, blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven; and so forgiven as that God is glorified. Oh, what riddance of anxiety to the soul, when its salvation is thus taken from off its own responsibility, and it is no longer the question, Shall I be saved? but, Shall God be glorified? Blessed peace, indeed, surpassing all understanding, when God and the conscience are all alike satisfied!
"Blessed is [the man] ... whose sin is covered" (v. 1). It is not the manner of the Holy Ghost to use redundant expressions. We often use many words where few would suffice. But "the words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times" (Psa. 12:66The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6)). And man lives “by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:44But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)).
Now, I believe as the conscience becomes alive to God, and exercised before God, it necessarily draws the distinction between transgression and sin. Outward reformation is seen by others, but the soul itself cannot rest on this. There is a very wide difference between reformation of character and conversion to God. Reformation of character will necessarily follow conversion to God; but for a soul "to believe and turn to the Lord" is something far more deep than outward reformation of character: it brings us to Him with whom we have to do, before whom all is open and naked. And there it is that we learn the difference between transgression and sin. In human thought sin is an act; in divine judgment it is a principal. And this discovery is so appalling that transgressions appear thrown into the shade by the discovery of what sin really is — namely, a settled principle of insubjection to God; a desire to do what God has forbidden, because He has forbidden it, even when there is no positive act of disobedience; a reluctance to do what God has commanded, because He has commanded it. Yes, we have a will contrary to the good, perfect and acceptable will of God, and this is very experimentally known after we are made willing, by the grace of God, to come to Christ; so that to do the will of God is more or less connected with denying self. "Whose sin is covered" (v. 1). Who would not faint under the struggle, if it were not so? God Himself has covered sin up, out of His own sight. This is what we need. How man tries to cover the evil of his heart from his fellow-man; yet, even human sagacity can often pierce through the hollow covering. And man himself is ill satisfied with it; witness his round of religious duties to try to cover it, and his natural proneness to superstition. But it is the atonement of Christ which covers sin before God. It is God Himself who has set forth Christ as a propitiation through faith in His blood. Here, when we discover sin, we can yet meet God, not in anger, but in mercy; for the sin which we have discovered is covered up before Him. I do not believe that there can be settled peace in the soul, till, taught of the Spirit, it finds the emphatic meaning of such texts as these: "Our old man has been crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)) — "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)) — God "hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)). The mighty moral necessity of the Son of God becoming the substitute for a sinner alone meets the case of the conscience alive to what sin is. And I have admired the wisdom of divine teaching, as well as the infinite grace, that it is after shewing sin in the shape of transgression, sin in connection with death, sin as dwelling in us, the announcement follows — "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:11There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)). Let the conscience be ever so alive to what sin is in its various phases, the moment Christ is regarded as the object held out by God Himself to faith — "No condemnation," is the answer.
This distinction between transgression and sin helps to solve a phenomenon not infrequently brought under the notice of those who are watching for souls. The deepest sense of sin is by no means always found where there has been the greatest amount of transgression. The transition from a state almost of remorse on account of transgression, to peace with God through faith in Christ, may well lead the soul to put its Amen to the apostolic declaration — "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:1515This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)). Now, when such are led on in exercise of conscience before God, to know sin as a principle, they find that the outward conduct has but too faithfully represented the inward principle. They find, too, the need of not trusting in the outward reformation; and that the heart, from whence all evil proceeds, has to be diligently watched. But when persons who have been happily kept free from gross vice, gentle, kind and amiable, are awakened by the Spirit of God to a sense of sin, the judgment they form of sin is not so much by its injuriousness to themselves and others — which may, even apart from the quickening power of the Spirit of God, affect the conscience — but they measure sin by its contrariety to God; and instead of being able to rest complacently in the blamelessness of their lives, or in the praise bestowed on them by others, their very lives appear to them as one act of hypocrisy; the motives of action and conduct being now judged in the light of God's presence. And the result often is such self-loathing of sin, and needs the fullest application of all that Christ is to the conscience. There may be a measure of loathing oneself on account of transgressions committed, even from a generous impulse of nature; but to loath self because we have discovered what it is before God, marks the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, and will be found a deepening work as we go on.
"Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (v. 2). How needed is this clause for the peace of an awakened soul. There is the consciousness of iniquity; and the announcement is, that although the Lord knows iniquity to be there, He does not impute it. And wherefore? Surely, because God hath imputed it to Jesus: "He hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:66All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)). He hath seen it there, and judged it there. "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him [Jesus], and by His stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:55But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)). It is the greater wonder that God should have imputed iniquity where He only saw righteousness, than that He should not impute iniquity where He sees it to be. And I repeat again, that nothing short of the truth of the actual substitution of Christ for the sinner, gives full relief to an awakened conscience. The cross of Christ is to us the marked expression of the love of God towards sinners. "God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:8-108He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8‑10)). The Cross, further, is the declaration to us of the righteousness of God. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness" (Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25)).
Again, it shows the infinite hatefulness of sin in the judgment of God. The cup could not pass away from Jesus. He bowed His head and drank it. And God hid His face from Him, and made Him to know on the cross, in bitterest experience, what sin was — "God made Him to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)).
The Cross is both the way for God to come nigh to man as a sinner without destroying him by His presence — "And having made peace by the blood of His Cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself" (Col. 1:2020And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20)) — and the Cross is also the way for man as a sinner to come near to God. "Ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:1313But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)). All these several aspects of the Cross, deeply important and interesting as they are, would fail of giving settled peace to the soul; if the truth of the actual substitution of Christ for the sinner were kept out of sight. "He loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)). Here we find such solid ground on which to rest our souls — the wonder of the Holy One of God being made sin on the Cross, is far greater, than the wonder that any measure of guilt should be answered by it to God.
Justification
But there is more than this. The idea of simple pardon is at the best negative — blessed indeed, even in that view, that iniquity, although committed, is not imputed. Speaking humanly, we have the idea of a free pardon emanating from the grace of the Sovereign; we have the idea also of an amnesty; but we cannot get the idea of justification. It is the idea which God alone can present, because He alone can justify the ungodly; and this is the new and blessed idea here presented. David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works, saying, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity" (v. 1-2). Now in these words we have not the actual statement of the imputation of righteousness. It could not be clearly and fully announced (although it was the only principle on which God had acted from the beginning), because the great groundwork, The Cross, was not an accomplished fact. However it may have been anticipated by faith, still there was all the difference as to perception, between a promise made and a promise accomplished. Everything was suspended on the death and resurrection of Christ. "We," says the Apostle, speaking to the natural heirs of promise and natural children of the Kingdom, "declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made to the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same to us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus" (Acts 13:32-3332And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:32‑33)). The proper person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection, is the key by which we are able to unlock all Scripture. The Holy Ghost, Himself the Inditer of all Scripture, the Spirit which moved the prophets, is especially known to us as "the Spirit of truth" (John 15:2626But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: (John 15:26)), and Glorifier of Jesus. His great testimony is to the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. And as soon as the death and resurrection of Jesus became a matter of fact, the Holy Ghost brought it to bear on His own precious Scriptures; and in this light we clearly discern, that iniquity not imputed, is righteousness imputed. "God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)). There is nothing simply negative in the Gospel. It is not a prohibitory system. It is a gracious system of conferring positive blessing. To forgive sin may be negative; but to give righteousness is a positive and inalienable blessing. This marks the genius of the Gospel. "Whosoever believeth in Him [Jesus] shall not perish;" it stops not here, "but have everlasting life" (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)). "That they may receive forgiveness of sins" — but it goes on, "and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (Acts 26:1818To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18)). If we are "delivered from the power of darkness," it is by translation into the Kingdom of God's dear Son (Col. 1:1313Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Colossians 1:13)). Alas, our narrow minds and dull hearts deprive the Gospel of its glory. It is "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" (1 Tim. 1:1111According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (1 Timothy 1:11)): it represents God in the gracious place of the Giver, and sets man in his only place of possible blessing, that of a simple recipient. Receiving Christ, that is, "believing on His name," we receive from Him "power [authority] to become the sons of God" (John 1:1212But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12)). We receive forgiveness of sins, abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness. We receive eternal life. Christian action follows on this reception of Christ. The teaching of the Holy Ghost unfolds to us what we have received in having received Christ. It is well to keep this principle constantly before the soul: it is not that which we renounce, any more than that which we do, which makes us Christians, but that which we receive. And this principle runs through the Christian life: it is a life which has its affections, sensibilities, energies and activities. Our Christian life is not a system of negation any more than is our natural life. This marks it so forcibly from the common notion of religion. It is said, "Abhor that which is evil" — it is added, "Cleave to that which is good" (Rom. 12:99Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. (Romans 12:9)).
"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:28-2928Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:28‑29)). Hence arises the danger to Christians from misusing even the good, holy and righteous law of God. It is not for the righteous (1 Tim. 1). Their need is to have the life already received nurtured by the ministry of Christ, the true and living Head; in order that the energies of that life may be called forth in its varied and appropriate activities. We have Christ Himself for our standard, and the righteousness which we have in Him, as our standing before God, presented to us as our highest but certain final attainment. "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after; if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:1212Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)). Hence it is that the one hope of our calling, which is so certain, because according to the purpose of God, becomes so formative of the Christian character. To be conformed to the image of God's Son, as the Firstborn among many brethren, is the blessed destiny of those whom God has already justified. It is upon the certainty of this, that the Holy Ghost acts in our conscience and affections, not making what we shall be to depend on what we practically are, I mean as Christians; but, taking the certainty of what we shall be, as the mighty moral lever, now to elevate our affections; and even now beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is; and every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-32Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2‑3)).
This hope, grounded on Christ, is the great power of present purification. "Desiring to be teachers of the law" (1 Tim. 1:77Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:7)), was, in the Apostle's judgment, the result of ignorance in those who undoubtedly thought to promote holiness thereby. And so there is even a way of pressing conduct and service, which, instead of strengthening the life of Christ in the saint, turns him back on the question of his own salvation. Such is not the way in which the Spirit leads. He glorifies Christ, and takes great care to establish the soul in Him, when leading it on into practical holiness. Such is the order of instruction for the most part in the Epistles. And I believe the wondrous truth of "righteousness without works" to be the very groundwork of righteousness and true holiness. It is the positive blessing received, recognized and enjoyed — God delivered Christ for our sins and raised Him for our justification (Rom. 4:2525Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25)), which calls the Christian life into activity.
No Guile
Secondly, "And in whose spirit there is no guile" (v. 2). It is written of Jesus, "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:2222Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: (1 Peter 2:22)). Of all others the description is but too true — "With their tongues they have used deceit" (Rom. 3:1313Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: (Romans 3:13)). This is indeed a humbling condition of being — to dissemble what we are, to pretend to be what we are not — to use the tongue, or to put on an outward demeanor, to conceal the thoughts of the heart — and at the same time, on every moment of serious reflection, to be conscious that we are not before God what we seem to be, or profess to be before others. This is a condition which makes the thought of God insupportable. It is too much of restraint for man always to be acting a character, and "the idle" off-hand word betrays the condition of the heart, which perhaps more studied speech had concealed. It was by the idle word "This man casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils" (Matt. 12:2424But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. (Matthew 12:24)) — that He, who “knew what was in man” (John 2:2525And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:25)), made manifest from His very words what was in their hearts. Whence then the remedy for so evil a condition? Whence the blessedness of having no guile in the spirit? It is alone the result, the first and blessed result, of the great truth of "righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:66Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (Romans 4:6)). This doctrine at once cuts off all effort at concealment, and all pretensions to be what we are not. The very groundwork of the doctrine is that the very God, before whom all things are naked and open, who knows us thoroughly (Heb. 4:12-1312For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12‑13); Compare Psa. 139:1-121<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>> O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. 5Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. 7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 11If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. 12Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:1‑12)), and has taught us to see ourselves in measure as He sees us, is the One who has covered up our sin — yea, He has covered-up all the sin which His omniscience knoweth to be in us; for He has not acted toward us on our estimate of sin, but on His own. None can condemn — since God Himself justifieth (Rom. 8:33-3433Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:33‑34)). God has not put us in the place of justifying ourselves; He does that Himself. And He takes our part much more effectually than we could take our own. Hence there is no guile in the spirit. So to speak, it is not needed. All anxiety about making out a case for ourselves is removed, since God Himself declares His righteousness in covering our sin, and making us righteous (Rom. 3:24-2624Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:24‑26)). If we search ever so deeply (and it is well to do so), as to what sin is, God knows it more deeply, and has dealt with it in judgment on the Cross of Christ according to His own estimate of it. There is no guile in the spirit, where there truly is faith; because the truthfulness of our own character, and the truthfulness of the character of God are alike maintained by the marvelous mode of God's dealing with us in and through Christ.
There is no guile in the spirit of him who at one and the same time takes his place as the chief of sinners, and yet also as perfectly righteous in Christ. There is no guile in the spirit of him whose object is to glorify Christ and not himself. Hence it follows that when self-vindication becomes needful for a saint, which is but rarely, he is placed in the most humiliating position; because he has to speak of himself instead of Christ. The Apostle was thus compelled to speak "as a fool" (2 Cor. 11:2323Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. (2 Corinthians 11:23)). But as a general rule confession and not self-vindication is the path of a saint. An over sensitiveness about our own character argues a state of soul little occupied with Christ. If our care be His glory, He will in due time vindicate us. And what is not cleared up now will be in that day (1 Cor. 4). And I do admire the grace of Christ in the Apostle, which could make him turn all the aspersions cast on his own character to establish the faithfulness of God (2 Cor. 1); and thus turn the thoughts of the Corinthians away from himself to a better object.
Relief for the Conscience
Thirdly, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long; for day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (v. 3-4). Where can a guilty conscience find relief? The very effort at concealment only aggravates the burden. How many broken hearts are there, and how many heavy spirits, who dare not tell their sorrow to another. How many who have found bitter disappointments in everything, and in themselves also, who are ignorant of the real cause, because they are ignorant of their real condition as lost, and think their own case peculiar. They know not that God has thought upon their case and considered it; and provided the remedy. They think not of telling their case to God any more than to their fellows. God, they think, would spurn them for their unworthiness, and man ridicule them for their singularity. They keep their case to themselves. They keep silence, although it be only to aggravate the raging fever within, by being thus thrown on themselves. They know not that they are only realizing what the constitution of man as a moral creature is. He is insufficient for his own happiness; and the creature too is insufficient to make him happy. This may not, in the ordinary acceptation, be felt as though it were sin; yet, it is the deepest principle of sin, because it is in fact worshipping and serving “the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever Amen" (Rom. 1:2525Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 1:25)). How many aching hearts are there, how many sensible of a void which refuses to be filled, where there is no conviction, properly speaking, of sin; nothing which makes manifest the need of an all-sufficient atonement. They think not of the Gospel as the remedy for them. They know not that Jesus, heartsick in a weary world and rejected by it, in the conscious possession of everything man needed either as a creature or a sinner, turned to such and said, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:2828Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)). How has the Gospel been degraded in being regarded merely as a remedy for sin, which it assuredly is: but it is far more; it is the manifestation of God Himself in such a way to man as a sinner, as to make him happy in God, whilst God is glorified in thus making him supremely happy. The state above described is that which knows not God as the blessed One; and knows not the blessedness announced by the Oracle of God, "Blessed is he ... " And herein is the crying evil of the professed Christianity of the world — a mere system of ordinances, nullifying the necessity of the Gospel. These broken-hearted ones are hindered from seeing that there is a remedy of God's own providing for their misery. They want the Gospel in its simplest form; but they hear it not. They attempt to act out Christian duties, or even to assume Christian privileges, without knowing its first principles — free intercourse with God on the ground of the propitiation of Christ.
There is no relief till the soul can tell out its sorrow to God. Even the very hand of God may be felt and acknowledged, and yet God Himself is regarded as inaccessible. The soul goes on bearing its own burden because it dare not cast it upon God. The whole spirit is gone, just as the natural moisture is dried up under a raging fever. In such a case it is sometimes found that the hand of God (acknowledged and felt, because it has touched some idol or other in which the soul was seeking rest or at least diversion from its misery, instead of graciously subduing the soul) produces fretfulness against God. God is regarded as an enemy, as having gone forth against the sufferer, at the very time He may only be removing the obstacles in the way of the desired relief. He waits “that He may be gracious" — He "will be exalted that He may have mercy" (Isa. 30:1818And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)). Here is much of the controversy between God and man — whether the remedy for man's misery is to be found in man or in God. The first thing under all circumstances of misery is the acknowledgment of God. Man finds out many ways of accounting for his misery, and applies his various remedies; but until he acknowledges God, he always accounts for it on wrong ground, and never discovers the real remedy for it.
There are certain principles which apply with equal truth to man as a sinner, and to one born of God. And this is one — "When I kept silence ... " (v. 3). It is a condition of exquisite misery to the sinner, because he is ignorant of the revealed character of God, and knows not the relief it would be to tell everything to God; and to the saint, because knowing God in grace, he does not use the truth aright to deepen himself in self knowledge. He has so far forgotten his standing, as to have guile in his spirit, by not being open with God. The statements of the Apostle are generally applicable: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-108If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8‑10)). When God is really known as the One who imputeth righteousness without works, any concealment from Him must necessarily produce heaviness of spirit. We cannot come near Him by reason of the concealment; and then comes on coldness. And how often in such a state of uneasiness of soul do we find the fault laid anywhere, even on God Himself, rather than on ourselves for keeping silence. When we have been restless in spirit, downcast and unhappy, have we not often been unable to solve the difficulty? Frequently it arises from mortified pride. Our self-esteem has been lowered on discovering some unsuspected sin; as if our blessedness consisted in our character, instead of our having righteousness imputed to us without works. God will not allow us to have confidence in our character, or in our faithfulness to Him, but in His own revealed character and His faithfulness to us. This tendency in the saint to self-righteousness, accounts in very great measure for the misery found in Christians; when in any degree entertaining it in ever so subtle a form, they have departed from the real and only ground of their blessedness. But if there be sin unconfessed, or made light of in confession, or only generally, and not specially confessed, it must induce misery; if God has told out to us all His grace in forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, it is that in the knowledge of this, we may have no concealments, or rather attempts at concealment, from Him. He would have us look at ourselves as we really are, and justify Him in so dealing with us as He has done in the Gospel of His Son.
Characters of Judgment
Fourthly, "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (v.5).
What relief is here — full immediate relief; the sense of forgiveness accompanying the very act of confession. Silence was broken by confession — no longer is effort made at concealment. The very One whose hand was felt to be so heavy, is the One to whom the heart is opened and poured out; "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee ... I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord." There is no "creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:1313Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)). It is a solemn thought that we have to do with God; and when once this truth gets fast hold on the conscience, the effort at concealment from Him produces the exquisite misery described in the two preceding verses. Confession gives relief, because it at once puts us in the actual place of having to do with God. It practically acknowledges that all things are naked and opened unto His eyes, that He is the rightful and truthful Judge, that what His Word says of the evil of our hearts is true. Then is God justified by confession. This is true if God were regarded only in the character of a Judge. But how much more is God justified, when confession is made, under the sense of His love as known in the Gospel of His grace. There is it deepest, and fullest, and most truthful; then the forgiveness of the iniquity of transgression, leads the same heart and lips which have confessed unto sin, to make confession unto salvation. And in this we find the deepest elements of the character of the saint. He had before but one subject of thought and study; that was himself: he has now another, the Christ of God. Has he to speak of the first, it is the language of confession, ever deepening as he advances in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; but is he in his proper and happier element, has he to speak of Christ — it is to confess Him as all his salvation and all his desire. How happily do confession and praise unite; happily because truthfully; no language is sufficient to express the real degradation of a sinner; no language sufficient to tell out the grace and glories of the Savior. And when confession and praise are so united, what fervency they give to prayer and intercession.
Now, I doubt not that a great deal of the trial of spirit to which saints are subject arises from their not exercising themselves in self-judgment and confession, under shelter of the blessed truth of ''righteousness without works." It is the right apprehension of this blessed truth which puts us in the place of self-judgment — a place exceedingly high and wonderful. If God, the Judge of all, has become the Justifier of those who believe in Jesus, is it that they shall make light of sin? Far from it; it is that they may judge themselves. The blood of Jesus gives us access into the holiest; there we are in the light; there we are in the privileged place where Israel's High Priest could only enter once in the year, but which is always open to us by Jesus, our great High Priest. Entering into the very presence of God, with unshod feet consciously touching the sand of the desert — there it is we address ourselves to one part of our priestly ministry, self-judgment, separating between the precious and the vile; judging between things that differ. We are in the light, and the light in which we are detects that which is inconsistent with itself; and we could not stand there, unless under the shelter of that very blood which has introduced us there; and we learn there more and more the value of that precious blood. We have found in it remission of sins — it has washed us, and keeps us clean. Now, I believe "the uprightness of heart" mentioned in the last verse of this Psalm to be very intimately connected with self-judgment; for this eventually turns us back on the blessedness announced in the Psalm, that the very evil which we have only now detected God doth not impute to us — God has covered it. It is thus that the heart is kept humble, and the conscience tender and lively. I believe the uprightness and honesty of confession which may have been manifested at conversion, is frequently impaired from neglect of self-judgment before God. A saint may become too solicitous about his own character in the eyes of his fellow-saints, or of the world, and thus unconsciously be led to act a part, instead of getting his life strengthened from the Spring and Source of life. There was a truthfulness in the exercise of heart which led first to Christ, but this is impaired when the maintenance of our character becomes our object, instead of Christ. Now, by self-judgment truthfulness is maintained, and our need of Christ in new and various ways becomes manifest. Let the exercise of soul be ever so personally humbling, yet if it leads to Christ, it leads to a larger apprehension of the blessedness declared in this Psalm—we are really strengthened. At times I marvel at the grace of God in permitting us to judge ourselves. He can never give up His title as ''Judge of all"; we have come to Him as such (Heb. 12:2323To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23)), but so completely has He, by His grace, justified us through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, that He would have us arraign ourselves before the judgment-seat, and be the judges of our own selves. The right apprehension of standing in complete righteousness before God in Christ can alone qualify us for this. Self-judgment may have been carried on by us in our ignorance on a different principle — namely, seeking to find some ground in ourselves for acceptance with God. But now it is to search and see how just and holy is the way of God in dealing with us, so as to make us debtors alone to grace, and yet this very grace reigns through righteousness by Jesus Christ; since redemption displays the holiness, justice and truth of God in strict accordance with His mercy.
There are three characters of judgment with which the saint has to do — self-judgment — the judgment of the church — the judgment of the Lord. These are very distinct in their character. Attention to the first necessarily precludes an individual from falling under the judgment of the church, whose province is to judge those within, while those who are without God judgeth (1 Cor. 5:12-1312For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:12‑13)). The failure of the church to exercise judgment, in its own proper province, on overt acts of evil — such as occurred at Corinth — brings on the judgment of the Lord in some outward and manifest form. "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:3030For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:30)). It is equally the province of the church to judge the doctrine of those within. The Lord had it against Thyatira — that Jezebel, which called herself a prophetess, was suffered to teach her seducing doctrine. And the Lord must judge in this case also, if the church tolerates evil doctrine. But the Judgment of the Lord is always supreme, and we are always, individually and collectively, amenable to it. Self-judgment, indeed, would prevent us, as individuals, from falling under the Lord's judgment in a marked and manifest manner: "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged, but when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:31-3231For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31‑32)). The rod for willful disobedience need not be applied, because self-judgment would prevent such outbreaks, the principle of which would have been secretly judged. But although the judgment of the Lord, in the shape of present punishment, would thus be avoided, this does not interfere with the general truth, that ''whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Heb. 12:66For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. (Hebrews 12:6)). The difference of the Lord's dealing, even where there might be outward sorrow, would be very apprehensible to the conscience of those who came under it. To the soul exercised in self-judgment it would readily be interpreted as the interference of love, the wisdom of which would be discerned. To the careless saint it would be felt as punishment, and regarded as a warning to bring him to a sense of his actual condition. Nor must we forget how much the needed discipline of the Lord is preventive; and this, too, is learned in self-judgment, in the holiest of all. The "thorn in the flesh" might have been interpreted by the Apostle very differently from what the Lord intended, had his soul been unexercised before God about it: "Lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Cor. 12:77And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)). He had not been so exalted; but there was the unsuspected danger and tendency to be guarded against; and this the Apostle discovered, not by revelation, but by exercise of soul before the Lord. And have we not all had occasion, not only to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God for something positively wrong in our ways, but also to justify His love and wisdom in some special discipline the preventive character of which has been taught to us by Himself in the holiest of all? I feel increasingly the importance of deep searching self-judgment, under the shelter of the blessed oracle: "Transgression forgiven — sin covered — iniquity not imputed." I say not that we are always able to interpret the Lord's dealings with us, but I believe self-judgment as to the springs of evil, leading to confession before God, to be the means of attaining this interpretation. God is always right — a simple but deeply practical truth. We put God in the right by confession; and we not only get relief, but we actually learn that God is right, and understand His ways. O if saints did know the toilsome process of self-vindication, and instead of justifying themselves were to justify God, what sorrow would they avoid! And it betrays so much want of confidence in God to be anxious to vindicate ourselves; as if, after all, it was our own character, and not His grace, which was the real power of blessing. I think we see — the design of the Apostle in using the word "discern," not simply judge in the Greek (1 Cor. 11: 31). If we would "discern" ourselves, we should not be judged. Self-discernment, getting a positive insight into the real moving springs of the activity of the flesh. Who can bear to look too closely into it, unless he know the blessed truth that God had judged the flesh in the cross of Christ: "Our old man has been crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)). The new evil which we discern in it God had seen from the beginning, and allows us now to see, that we may justify Him in His total judgment of it. The flesh cannot discern itself — it cannot stand before God. It is by the power of life, communicated directly from Christ, brought into this exercise by the Holy Ghost Himself, that we thus discern ourselves; and this in the immediate presence of God Himself. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are Spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things" (1 Cor. 2:14-1514But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. (1 Corinthians 2:14‑15)). It is a human aphorism that "the proper study of mankind is man," but deeply fallacious. Man knows not himself by studying himself, but by studying God: "This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)). It is by this divine science that man really knows himself; not by measuring himself by himself (Compare 2 Cor. 10:1212For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (2 Corinthians 10:12)), but by measuring himself by God — by God as He is revealed in and through Christ. And I have often thought that the annals of history dark as they are, or the record of crime black as it is, would not together present such a picture of the depravity of man, as would the secret confessions of saints to God, if they were laid open to us as they are to Him. Nothing but the consciousness of complete justification could ever embolden the saint to confess before God those secret springs of evil which he detects when judging himself immediately in the presence of God. We wonder not at the most devoted saint speaking of himself as the chief of sinners.
Hiding Ourselves in God
"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found surely, in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance" (v.6-7). It is indeed a blessed encouragement to the soul to be assured that there is nothing we may not tell God. He has done everything to win our confidence, even delivering His Son “for our offences, and [raising Him] again for our justification" (Rom. 4:2525Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25)). And it is by confession that we practically maintain our confidence in Him. It is because of the connection between confession and forgiveness that every one that is godly can pray unto God in a time when He may be found. If sin freshly discovered in ourselves need not bar access to God — if He does not hide Himself away from us, but is always to be found — what can hinder? And, practically, what does hinder intercourse with God? It is not God Himself. It is not that either a sacrifice or a Priest are to be sought — all is ready. But the unreadiness is in ourselves. There the real hindrance is to be found. We often try anything rather than the right thing. We may become more diligent in outward service — more regular in outward worship — more keen in judging the evil of others — when the one thing needful is confession. It is indeed a bad state of soul, when things most blessed in their place are used by us to interrupt our intercourse with God. God requires truth in the inward parts; and if there be alienation of heart from God, the restoration must be truthful. God must be justified, no blame must be laid on Him, all must be taken on ourselves; and this is just what confession does. He who is godly must regard God as the only justifier, and must know Him, even when we have to go before Him with the confession of iniquity. And is it not in this way that we foil Satan as the accuser? If there be readiness of confession, is there not the consciousness that it is God who justifieth? Who, then, can lay anything to the charge of God's elect? That which the accuser would lay to their charge they have already laid to their own charge before God — and it is forgiven. It is thus, by experience, that the exercised soul knows God Himself as its hiding-place — "Thou art my hiding-place" (v. 7). There may be many ways in which the blessedness of faith in Jesus may be experienced; but I question if any way is more vivid than the difference between hiding ourselves away from God, as Adam did in the garden after he had sinned, and hiding ourselves in God. What a thought it is, that God should present Himself, as He does in the Gospel of His grace, as the only refuge for a sinner; as the alone One who is able to take his part, and can effectually take his part. Is not this one blessed aspect of the glory of God? He makes all His goodness to pass before us, and proclaims His own name as just, yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus — the only God — because He is a just God and a Savior; and has thus given His challenge that there is no God beside Him; because He is a Savior God. There is a refuge from the accusations of Satan — from the frowns of the world — from that which is more bitter than either, self-condemnation; and this refuge is in God Himself. He has laid Himself out to us as the Depository of our every woe, the Sympathizer with our every care, the One who pitieth every infirmity, the patient Listener to every complaint we have to make against ourselves. All this is learned under the knowledge of the blessedness of the truth of "Righteousness without works"; yea, is comprised in that blessedness. It is confidence in this divine way of righteousness which emboldens us to say, "Thou shalt preserve me from trouble" (v.7). And is any trouble equal to soul trouble? How few are able to take the honorable place of suffering either for Jesus, or for righteousness' sake! Such may rightfully rejoice. But spirit-broken, heartsick, self-weary, whither can we go? God is our hiding-place; He "comforteth those that are cast down"; He is "the Father of mercies [pitifulnesses] and the God of all comforts" (2 Cor. 7:6; 1:36Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; (2 Corinthians 7:6)
3Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; (2 Corinthians 1:3)
); He can make us rejoice out of our sorrow. And surely it is not right for the song of redemption to be sung once only on the shore of the Red Sea, and then the notes of praise to die away, and to be succeeded by murmurings. Alas, it is often so practically; the joy of conversion is frequently followed by murmuring and complaining. The beginning of our confidence is not held fast. The truth of the blessedness of God's imputing righteousness without works is let slip, as though we no longer needed it. Saints have to learn to justify the wisdom of God in redemption in all its fullness, by learning, in the progress of their own experience, that nothing short of it would meet their need. We do not, as we might expect, find saints singing the new song, new and ever varied, yet in substance the same. And wherefore? Because grace alone can be the ground work of our song; and if the heart be not established in grace, we have no heart for song. But when a saint goes on under the shelter of the blessedness of "righteousness without works," learning it as he goes on his way, how frequent the boast of thanksgiving — "Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance." There is a "singing and making melody in the heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:1919Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)); and this not publicly, but privately in the closet. For great, unquestionably, as is the transition from darkness to light, by faith in Christ Jesus, at the outset, yet, what is the experience of the saint afterward? Is it not constant deliverances? "He that is our God is the God of salvations" (Psa. 68:2020He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. (Psalm 68:20)). It is a happy school into which we are brought to learn God in the character in which He has revealed Himself to us. The history of each individual saint will tell out the same truth — that where "sin abounded grace [has superabounded]" (Rom. 5:2020Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (Romans 5:20)); and the end of each saint individually will show forth the same truth as the church collectively, "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:66To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)). O that we may be honest and upright in heart with God, and then the marking His ways will issue in frequent songs of deliverance.
Guidance
"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with Mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee" (v. 8-9). Under the blessedness of transgression forgiven, sin covered, and iniquity not imputed, comes in a new order of guidance; the guidance of the eye of Him who has justified us freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
When it pleased Jehovah to redeem Israel out of Egypt, He Himself became their Guide. Israel needed guidance; and Jehovah went before them in a pillar of a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. He thus went before them to search out a resting place for them in the wilderness: They pitched or struck their tents at the moving or settling of the Pillar of the cloud. "The cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys" (Ex. 40:3838For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:38)). This surely was blessed guidance — in strict keeping with the character of redemption then manifested — a shadow of a deeper reality — but it was not intelligent guidance. There was no communion of soul with Jehovah needed to apprehend this guidance: ''the cloud of the Lord was in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys."
But now the very end of redemption is to bring us into communion with the thoughts and ways of God, and such a guidance would not be suitable to our standing: "The servant knoweth not what his master doeth" (John 15:1515Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15)). He goes and comes at his bidding, but he knows not the reason of either. Such a character of obedience would not suit those who know the blessedness of transgression forgiven, and are thereby admitted into the very thoughts and counsels of God. "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:1616For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)). The obedience now suitable is intelligent obedience: "Understanding what the will of the Lord is""Proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Eph. 5:1717Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:17); Rom. 12:22And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)). Now just in proportion as the guidance is of a higher order, so is it more difficult; and there is ever a readiness in us from this very difficulty, to take the lower order of providential guidance, instead of the guidance of the eye. The "Directorship" practiced in the Romish church, may as readily be accounted for, on the principle of being a relief from the exercise of conscience before God, as on the principle of priestly domination. It is far more congenial to the natural heart to have the conscience kept by another, than to have it exercised before God. And the plea of infallibility has a charm in it, because it saves us the trouble of judging before God, what is truth, and what is error — what is right and what is wrong. If the real power against the fundamental doctrine of Popery is found alone in the doctrine of "righteousness without works," the practical use of this truth in leading our souls into habitual intercourse with God, is the alone preservative from the principle of "directorship." It is not the guidance of the eye of God, when we follow an individual Christian, or a congregation of Christians. The provision of God in the blessed truth of righteousness without works, is that the conscience of each individual should be in direct connection with Himself. And is there any instance on record where even Christian legislation for the Church has not trenched on God's prerogative, of having to do with the consciences of individuals. Apostolic authority dare not come in between God and the conscience. I utterly repudiate the idea of each man doing what is right in his own eyes, but I do most strenuously assert the truth of God's right to have to do with the conscience; and of the believer's privilege, I say not duty, to have his conscience exercised before God. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:5, 235One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
23And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
). And is it not the necessary fault of every establishment, that it arrogates to itself the right to settle those things which God has left to be settled before Him. And thus the very obedience of saints is regulated not by God, but by the convention of the religious Society to which they belong. We are members of one body, and members one of another; and our healthful corporate action must be hindered, if we leave out the important truth, that we are members of Christ. How needed is intercourse with God to guide the conduct of a saint. And is it not for neglect of this that we bring much discipline on ourselves? God will have His way with us. But how often are we as the horse and mule, which have no understanding: not understanding the will of God because we study not the guidance of His eye. We are led by circumstances, and not by the Spirit. We walk in a large place when we walk before the Lord; but how apt are we to turn each one to his own way, and God has His bit and bridle for us. This He is wont to use for His enemies: "Because thy rage against Me, and thy tumult is come up into Mine ears, therefore will I put My hook in thy nose, and My bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest" (Isa. 37:2929Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. (Isaiah 37:29)). And how constantly do we as His saints, to our shame be it spoken, need the bit and bridle to turn us back by the way we have come. Who is there who has not to confess that the right path has been reached by painful and humbling discipline, which would have been readily found had heed been given to the guidance of the eye. Amidst the manifold proofs of present conscious weakness, this appears to me very prominent, the little confidence which the saints have of spiritual guidance in their several paths. They walk not as those consciously led of the Spirit. Among many, indeed, such guidance is not acknowledged even as a principle; providential guidance, if so it may be called (for providential control over circumstances, or even our own waywardness, can hardly be called guidance), is alone regarded. But where the principle of intelligent spiritual guidance is maintained as the privilege of the saint, how readily do we take hold of providential ordering as our ground of action. Hence we tread uncertainly: or we follow the steps of others; but this is walking by sight and not by faith. This arises from the habit of only using our blessedness as a shelter, and not as that which introduces us into the presence of God. It is a beautiful description of the Thessalonians, that their "work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," was "in the sight of God and our Father" (1 Thess. 1:33Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; (1 Thessalonians 1:3)).
To Israel God shewed His acts, but He made His ways known to Moses, the one with whom He conversed familiarly, as a man talked with his friend (Psa. 103:77He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. (Psalm 103:7); Ex. 33:1111And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:11)). Surely God has by His grace introduced us into intimacy with Himself that we too might know His ways.
Mercy and Rejoicing
"Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" (v. 10-11).
Nothing can be more hollow than the mere conventional righteousness of men; it is based on human convenience or selfishness; without any regard to the holiness of God at all. It is simply character as man estimates character, the most fatal hindrance to the reception of the truth. "How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor which cometh from God only" (John 5:4444How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only? (John 5:44)). And so strongly does this regard for character act, that even when the judgment is convinced of the truth of God, man is too cowardly to avow his conviction: "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also, many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42-4342Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:42‑43)). There is one way in which we find the Word of God frequently detecting this hollowness, and that is, by the remarkable contrasts which it draws: "Everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:20-2120For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:20‑21)). Here the human contrast to doing evil, would be doing good; but that would simply be man's estimate of himself, by comparing himself with his fellow men; but God contrasts man with himself, and "he that doeth truth" forms his estimate of himself from God. This is the thing needed. The light lays man open to himself as he is; naked and open before God. So again, God will send strong delusion on many to believe a lie, because they loved not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11-1211And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11‑12)). And here in the Psalm before us we find "the wicked" contrasted with him "that trusteth in the Lord."
And surely the wicked is he who "hath not submitted himself unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:33For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:3)), — the one who will not submit to be saved as a sinner by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:2424Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Romans 3:24)), but seeks for righteousness in some other way. To trust in the Lord — how simple, yet how sure — how honoring to God, and yet how happy for ourselves — to give Him credit for having all in Himself which we find not in ourselves — to go out of ourselves for everything, and to find every craving answered in Christ. God knows our need as sinners, and He has provided for that need in Christ. Yes, "We are the circumcision, which worship God in [by] the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)). Such have obtained mercy — such know their need of it. "God is rich in mercy" (Eph. 2:44But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, (Ephesians 2:4)) — He is able not only to add mercy to mercy, but to multiply mercy; yea, to surround them with mercy; or, as it is beautifully expressed in another translation of the Psalms, "mercy embraceth him on every side." This is our truthful place. If we look back, it is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:55Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5)). And it is "according to His mercy" that He still deals with us; there will be discipline and correction by the way, because it is for our profit; but God's rule of dealing with us is according to that which is in Himself, — "His mercy." And if we look forward, does the thought arise of glory, as connected with our faithfulness or service? — and the thought does arise sometimes to dispirit, and sometimes to set us on a wrong ground of service — how suitable the word, "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 2121Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jude 21)). We have earned no title to glory. Glory shall come to us in the shape of mercy. God will "make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath afore prepared unto glory" (Rom. 9:2323And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, (Romans 9:23)). When Israel came into possession of houses full of all good things which they filled not, and wells digged which they digged not, vineyards and olive trees which they planted not — then the danger was of their forgetting the Lord (Deut. 6:10-1210And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, 11And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; 12Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 6:10‑12)), and assuming that as their own right for which they were merely debtors to the grace of God. This is too true a picture of our own hearts. We take as a right that for which we are debtors to mercy alone. We rejoice in the blessing which we have reached by trusting in the Lord; and then we trust in the blessing and forget the Lord. We only and always stand in grace, we live by faith, we stand by faith, we are constant debtors to mercy; and in glory we shall know ourselves eternal debtors to mercy. And a great part of our most humbling discipline is designed to keep us in our right and no less blessed standing. "He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about" (v. 10).
It is interesting to follow the line of thought of the Spirit of God — if the expression may be allowed — to see the connection between one part of His utterance and another. It is of great advantage to have a solid substratum of Christian doctrine, such as we frequently find in the Protestant confessions of faith. But this, however valuable to detect error and to prevent headiness and high-mindedness, does not meet the need of the soul. The soul is not satisfied with an accurate theory; it needs the truth to be applied in its wondrous variety. In this Psalm the Spirit of God is not treating a subject, but rather carrying out into its blessed results the oracle with which the Psalm commences. The "righteous" are not previously mentioned in the Psalm; and if we were to take our own thought of righteous, instead of the thought of the Spirit, we should sadly mistake. But the comment of the Holy Ghost Himself, by the mouth of His apostle in Romans 4, immediately leads us to connect the last verse of the Psalm with the first verse, and to identify the righteous here spoken of with those whose blessedness is declared in the oracle with which this Psalm commences. And thus, too, we see that the Holy Ghost, throughout the Psalm, is describing the blessedness of those to whom God imputes "righteousness without works"; and closes all, with calling on such to "be glad in the Lord and rejoice" (v. 11). Just as, by the Apostle, He says, "Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:44Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)). There is a time coming when "all the earth" will be called upon to "rejoice before the Lord" (Deut. 27:77And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God. (Deuteronomy 27:7)), even after He shall have made known His salvation, and after His righteousness shall have been openly shown to the heathen (Psa. 98). But we wait not for circumstances. Knowing the Lord, we can and ought to rejoice. And wherefore is it that others judge, through us, of the Gospel, as though it were a system of privation and renunciation, instead of one of the richest acquirements? Is it not that we try to be glad in ourselves, or in circumstances, instead of in the Lord? — and thus we are subject to much variableness, instead of living by faith in the Son of God; learning what He is of God made unto us: and what we are, and what we have, in Him. In the most truthful confession before God of what we are, we can still "rejoice in the Lord." Before He shows Himself publicly — before He manifests in glory to the eyes of all what the sons of God really are (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)) — believing, we can rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. And wherefore our deplorable lack of such joy? Is it not that we fail in discerning and carrying out the blessedness of "righteousness without works?" We do not know it experimentally; we do not see its moral beauty; it does not shine with increasing luster on our souls; — because they are not exercised as they should be before God. We are, somehow or other, more occupied with that which displays us before men, than that which displays God to us. Hence, we drink not at the Spring Head of joy. Oh that we could practically tell out to others that God Himself had made us happy, that we "joy in God" (Rom. 5:1111And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:11)).
And again, the upright in heart are connected with the blessedness declared in the first verses of this Psalm. We read of one whose "heart was not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:2121Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. (Acts 8:21)). He had the base thought — "that the gift of God [might] be purchased with money" (Acts 8:2020But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. (Acts 8:20)). Now, no real Christian can entertain the thought that such a gift as Simon coveted is purchasable by money. But the base thought is in our hearts, to earn something from God, and this hinders uprightness of heart: Surely, uprightness of heart is to maintain our character before God as sinners saved by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, and to carry with us that character before men. If we forget what we are in ourselves, or what grace has made us to be in Christ, we are not upright in heart. It is blessed indeed not to have a part to act before God (for such is human religion), but to go before Him in the character which He has given to us, in the righteousness with which He Himself hath clothed us. To be upright in heart is not to draw a line between religions and other duties, but to come to the light to learn ourselves, and learn the glory of God in His grace. Where there is human sincerity and human uprightness and conscientiousness, it cannot perhaps well be said that there is hypocrisy; but, such natural uprightness is apart from God, and may exist, and has existed, where God has not been known or revealed. But now light has come into the world. Men may know their real character in the estimate of God. And the condemnation is, that he ''cometh not to the light" (John 3:2020For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:20)). And before God all will be found hypocrites — that is, acting a character — save those who, coming to the light, and learning what they are in God's judgment, have sheltered themselves under the blessedness of "righteousness without works." Such are upright in heart; in their spirit is no guile. They may "shout for joy" (v. 11).