« PreviousContinue »
lowest place. For they are indeed low in the deep, who do not cry from the deep.
“The Scripture saith (he continues),‘a sinner despiseth when he cometh into a depth of evils?.'”
[Now we observe here, that these words which occur in the Latin version of the Bible, used by St. Augustine, are differently translated, and probably more exactly with the original Hebrew, in our Bibles thus :-" When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach.” But the meaning of both seems to be the same, viz. to this effect, that persons of bad principle, if they are not made the better by the thought of their sins and wickedness, are made the worse, grow even into a scornful, reproachful temper towards Almighty God. And so St. Augustine goes on to explain it :-)
Consider now, brethren, what a deep that must be where God is despised. When a man perceives himself to be overwhelmed with daily sins, pressed down with heaps and loads of iniquities, if a person tells him he ought to pray to God, he only laughs at him. Why (says he) if my life is so displeasing to God as you say, how comes it that He lets me live? If God takes account of men's actions, how comes it that I not only am alive, but am also prosperous and successful ?
* For this is wont to be the unhappy condition of those who are low in the deep, and prosper in their iniquities.
“And the more happy and prosperous they appear to be, the more utterly are they overwhelmed; for a false, deceitful happiness, is, of all, the greatest unhappiness.
Again, this also is what people will say or think. 'I have done very many wicked things, and I am sure to be eternally lost, why then should I trouble myself to abstain from such or such a thing which I have a mind to ?'
“The language this (says St. Augustine) of a desperate thief or murderer, who says, The punishment is the same whether I am convicted of ten, or five, or only one crime; therefore I will go on without fear or scruple.”
And to the same purpose, in his commentary on the fortieth Psalm :-"Those who cry out of the deep are not utterly in
I Prov. xviii. 3.
the deep. Others there are deeper in the deep, who yet do not feel themselves to be in the deep at all.”
“ Thus it is that 'the sinner despiseth when he is in a deep of evils.' Nevertheless the LORD JESUS CHRIST did not despise the depths in which we were sunk; He vouchsafed to come down into this our life, promising forgiveness of all sins. He aroused and startled man even from the deep, that from the deep he might cry under the heavy weight of his sins, and so the voice of the sinner might reach unto God.
“And now see how the voice of the sinner cries from the deep. Out of the deep have I called unto Tare, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice. O let TAINE ears consider well the voice of my complaint.'
Whence does he Out of the deep. Who then is it that crieth ? The sinner. And in what hope can he cry? Because He who came to pay the penalty of our sins gave hope to the sinner, even when sunk in the deep. Therefore, what next follows? If Thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O LORD, who may abide it?'
Behold, he here sheweth what that deep is from which he crieth. It is from under the violent, overwhelming waves of his own iniquities that he crieth.
· He considers himself—he considers his past life-he sees it all covered over with sins and wickednesses ; whichever
he turns his eyes, he finds in himself nothing that is good-no calm and peaceful spot of righteousness meets his view.
“And when he sees on all sides sins so many and so greatsuch bands (as it were) of his own iniquities rushing against him—he is fain to cry out like one in most fearful alarm, “If Thou, LORD, shalt be extreme to mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall abide it?' He does not say, 'I shall not abide it,' but who shall abide it?' For he saw that almost all the life of man is terrified by his sins, that the consciences of all are accused by their own thoughts, that no heart is so pure as to presume on its own righteousness.
“ And if so, then the heart of all can only trust to the mercy of God, and say, 'If Thou, RD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O LORD, who shall abide it?'
“ But what is the ground of hope? • For there is mercy with THEE ;' or (Latin Version), 'For there is with THEE a propitiation
or atonement.' And (asks St. Augustine) what is this propitiation, but a sacrifice? And what sacrifice can it be, but that which was offered for us? The innocent blood which was shed blotted out all the sins of those who had offended; so great a price was paid as to redeem all the captives from the hand of that enemy who carried them away captive.
“Therefore, there is mercy (or a propitiation or atonement] with THEE. For if there were not with Take a propitiation [atonement], if Thou wert willing to be only a judge, and not willing to be merciful also, if Thou wert extreme to mark our iniquities, and to search them out, O LORD, who could abide it? Who could stand before Thee and say, 'I am innocent ?' Who could stand at Thy judgment-seat? Our only hope therefore is—For there is with Thee a propitiation.”
Such is the eloquent commentary of this most holy father, and renowned Bishop of the ancient Church. It now only remains that we endeavour, by God's grace, to apply to our own real edification and amendment warnings and instructions offered to us on such high authority. For what, it may well be asked, can be higher authority than the words of Almighty God Himself, speaking in His Scripture, and explained and illustrated for us by the primitive bishops, saints, and martyrs of the Christian Church?
It is evident that the writer of this one hundred and thirtieth Psalm, whether it were King David or some later prophet (but most probably it was King David), was, like St. Augustine, of that humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient disposition, which, as St. Peter says, is in the sight of God of great price. Men they were second to none in wisdom, zeal, and unwearied diligence in the service of ALMIGHTY God, yet withal so lowlyminded and self-distrustful, so deeply impressed with a sense of the Divine perfections and their own unworthiness, that they would have fully sympathized with that humble penitent before spoken of, who expressed his sense of our condition su naturally (if one may so apply the word) when he said, I repent of all ·my life, except what I spent in communion with God, and in doing good.'
So like the tone of the inspired Psalmist, under the like sense of his imperfection, “ If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquity, O LORD, who shall stand ? But there is forgiveness with THEE, that Thou mayest be feared."
If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity.” What, then ? does He not mark iniquity? Yes, certainly; “God shall bring every work into judgment.” “Of every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment;" yea, of every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil, man shall give account before Him who is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The meaning therefore cannot be, that our Heavenly FATHER takes no account of our faults and sins, for to say this would be to go contrary to the whole tenour of the Divine revelation.
But what the Holy Spirit would here set before the thoughts of men is, our extreme and pitiable imperfection; and this (as we shall, I trust, presently see), not in order that we may go on quietly and fearlessly in sinful or thoughtless ways, but that we may be led, by the consideration of His mercy, to fear Him, that so (as St. Paul says) “the goodness of God may lead us to repentance."
For, continues the holy Psalmist, "there is forgiveness with Thee;" “ forgiveness,” mercy (our translation] ; a propitiation [Saint Augustine); there is forgiveness. You see, the expression implies the preciousness, and therefore the difficulty, of obtaining so great, so inestimable a blessing.
Once for all, the LORD JEsus appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of HIMSELF. Once for all, as many of us as were baptized into CHRIST have put on Christ. For as there is but one LORD and one faith, so there is but one Baptism, and that of repentance for the remission of sins. But then after forgiveness of sins in holy. Baptism, how too often has it been and is with Christian people, that it “ happens unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” But then, reasons the Apostle in that same startling passage, “ If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning."
Such warnings as these are startling, and are meant to be so. They are meant to waken the drowsy, to alarm the self-confident, and to humble and keep down low in the dust even the sincerest and most devoted of God's children.
Nevertheless, they need not despair, no, not even the most thoughtless, and the most abandoned; provided only that they turn without delay from their evil ways, their worldly, thoughtless, presumptuous confidence, and endeavour in earnest to correct and amend whatever they find amiss in themselves, in the state of their hearts, and the course of their practice.
For such, you see, is the holy Psalmist's reasoning—“There is forgiveness with Thes, therefore shalt Thou be feared.” As St. Paul, in a passage before mentioned, urged the goodness of God as a motive, not (as some might expect) for hope and confidence, but for repentance—"The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance,”–
-so here the same doctrine is taught us by the Holy Spirit: because God is merciful, therefore we ought to fear Him. We might have expected that he would have said, There is mercy with THEE; therefore shalt Thou be trusted, loved, and adored,-and so of course it might; nevertheless, the word is—"therefore shalt Thou be feared,” or, “that Thou mayest be feared.” And this surely is a truth of great importance, to be dwelt on by all persons who do not wish to delude themselves with false pretences, and to say to their souls, “ Peace, there is no peace, saith the LORD God.”
As, for instance, when the most humble and devoted of God's saints can look upon themselves only with shame and remorse, at one time saying, “I repent of all my life, but that part of it which I spent in communion with God, and in doing good ;' and at another, of the best and holiest of their actions, “They be good works, if they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and not otherwise ?: when this is the lowly frame of mind of the most devoted Christians, what can we think of ourselves, too often
1 See the Life of Mr. G. Herbert.