So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
~ John 8:7-9
And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
~ Genesis 42:21-22
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
~ Romans 2:15
On Psalm 130, Verses 3 and 4, by John Owen. The following is an excerpt from his work, “The Forgiveness of Sin”.
If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
~ Psalm 130:3
Secondly. From hence proceedeth an ingenuous, free, gracious acknowledgment of sin. Men may have a sense of sin, and yet suffer it to lie burning as a fire shut up in their bones, to their continual disquietment, and not be able to come off unto a free, soul-opening acknowledgment; yea, confession may be made in general, and mention therein of that very sin wherewith the soul is most entangled, and yet the soul come short of a due performance of this duty Consider how the case stood with David: Ps. 32:3, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” How could David keep silence, and yet roar all the day long? What is that silence which is consistent with roaring? It is a mere negation of that duty which is expressed, verse 5, that is intended: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.” It was not a silence of submission and waiting on God that he intends; that would not have produced a wasting of his spiritual strength, as he complains this silence did: “My bones waxed old.” Nor yet was it a sullen, stubborn, and contumacious frame that was upon him; but he notes, saith Calvin (and he says well), “Affectum qui medius est inter tolerantiam et contumaciam, vitio et virtuti affinis;”—”An affection between patience and stubbornness, bordering on the one and other.” That is, he had a deep sense of sin; this disquieted and perplexed him all the day long; which he calls his roaring. It weakened and wearied him, making his bones wax old, or his strength decay; yet was he not able to bring his heart to that ingenuous, gracious acknowledgment which, like the lancing of a festered wound, would have given at least some ease to his soul. God’s children are ofttimes in this matter like ours. Though they are convinced of a fault, and are really troubled at it, yet they will hardly acknowledge it. So do they. They will go up and down, sigh and mourn, roar all the day long; but an evil and untoward frame of spirit, under the power of unbelief and fear, keeps them from this duty.
Now, that this acknowledgment may be acceptable unto God, it is required, first, that it be free; then, that it be full.
1. It must be free, and spiritually ingenuous. Cain, Pharaoh, Ahab, Judas, came all to an acknowledgment of sin; but it was whether they would or no. It was pressed out of them; it did not flow from them. The confession of a person under the convincing terrors of the law or dread of imminent judgments is like that of malefactors on the rack, who speak out that for which themselves and friends must die. What they say, though it be the truth, is a fruit of force and torture, not of any ingenuity of mind. So is it with merely convinced persons. They come not to the acknowledgment of sin with any more freedom. And the reason is, because all sin hath shame; and for men to be free unto shame is naturally impossible, shame being nature’s shrinking from itself and the posture it would appear in. But now the returning soul hath never more freedom, liberty, and aptitude of spirit, than when he is in the acknowledgment of those things whereof he is most ashamed. And this is no small evidence that it proceeds from that Spirit which is attended with that liberty; for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Cor. 3:17. When David was delivered from his silence, he expresseth this frame in the performance of his duty: Ps. 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions.” His mouth is now open, and his heart enlarged, and he multiplies one expression upon another to manifest his enlargement. So doth a soul rising out of its depths, in this beginning of this address unto God. Having the sense of sin before described wrought in him by the Holy Ghost, his heart is made free, and enlarged unto an ingenuous acknowledgment of his sin before the Lord. Herein he pours out his soul unto God, and hath not more freedom in any thing than in dealing about that whereof he is most ashamed.
2. Full also it must be. Reserves ruin confession. If the soul have any secret thought of rolling a sweet morsel under its tongue, of a bow in the house of Rimmon, it is like part of the price kept back, which makes the whole robbery instead of an offering. If there be remaining a bitter root of favouring any one lust or sin, of any occasion of or temptation unto sin, let a man be as open, free, and earnest as can be imagined in the acknowledgment of all other sins and evils, the whole duty is rendered abominable. Some persons, when they are brought into depths and anguish about any sin, and are thereon forced to the acknowledgment of it, at the same time they are little concerned with their other follies and iniquities, that, it may be, are no less provoking unto God than that is from whence their present trouble doth arise. “Let not,” as James speaks in another case, “such a man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” It must be full and comprehensive, as well as free and ingenuous.
And of such importance is the right performance of this duty, that the promise of pardon is ofttimes peculiarly annexed unto it, as that which certainly carries along with it the other duties which make up a full returnal unto God, Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9. And that place in Job is remarkable, chap. 33:27, 28, “He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” He shall not only be made partaker of pardon, but of consolation also, and joy in the light of God’s countenance.
Thirdly. There yet remains self-condemnation with the justification of God, which lies expressly in the words of the verse under consideration; and hereof are two parts:—
1. Self-abhorrency, or dislike. The soul is now wholly displeased with itself, and reflects upon itself with all affections of regret and trouble. So the apostle declares it to have been with the Corinthians, when their godly sorrow was working in them, 2 Cor. 7:11. Among other things, it wrought in them “indignation and revenge;”or a reflection on themselves with all manner of dislike and abhorrency. In the winding up of the controversy between God and Job, this is the point he rests in. As he had come in general to a free, full, ingenuous acknowledgment of sin, chap. 40:4, 5, so in particular he gives up his whole contest in this abhorrency of himself, chap. 42:6, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” “What a vile, wretched creature have I been!” saith the soul. “I blush and am ashamed to think of my folly, baseness, and ingratitude. Is it possible that I should deal thus with the Lord? I abhor, I loathe myself; I would fly anywhere from myself, I am so vile and loathsome,—a thing to be despised of God, angels, and men.” And,—
2. There is self-judging in it also. This the apostle invites the Corinthians unto, 1 Epist. 11:31, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” This is a person pronouncing sentence on himself according to the tenor of the law. The soul brings not only its sin but itself also to the law. It puts itself, as to merit and desert, under the stroke and severity of it. Hence ariseth a full justification of God in what sentences soever he shall be pleased to pronounce in the case before him.
And these three things which we have passed through compose the frame and first actings of a gracious soul rising from its depths. They are all of them signally expressed in that place where we have a signal recovery exemplified, Hos. 14:1–3. And this makes way for the exaltation of grace, the great thing in all this dispensation aimed at by God, Eph. 1:6. That which he is now doing is to bring the soul to glory in him, 1 Cor. 1:31; which is all the return he hath from his large and infinitely bountiful expenses of grace and mercy. Now, nothing can render grace conspicuous and glorious until the soul come to this frame. Grace will not seem high until the soul be laid very low. And this also suits or prepares the soul for the receiving of mercy in a sense of pardon, the great thing aimed at on the part of the sinner; and it prepares it for every duty that is incumbent on him in that condition wherein he is. This brings the soul to waiting with diligence and patience. If things presently answer not our expectation, we are ready to think we have done what we can; if it will be no better, we must bear it as we are able;—which frame God abhors. The soul in this frame is contented to wait the pleasure of God, as we shall see in the close of this psalm. “Oh,” saith such a one, “if ever I obtain a sense of love, if ever I enjoy one smile of his countenance more, it is of unspeakable grace. Let him take his own time, his own season; it is good for me quietly to wait, and to hope for his salvation.” And it puts the soul on prayer; yea, a soul in this frame prays always. And there is nothing more evident than that want of a thorough engagement unto the performance of these duties is the great cause why so few come clear off from their entanglement all their days. Men heal their wounds slightly; and, therefore, after a new, painful festering, they are brought into the same condition of restlessness and trouble which they were in before.
Grounds of miscarriages when persons are convinced of sin and humbled—Resting in that state—Resting on it.
The soul is not to be left in the state before described. There is other work for it to apply itself unto, if it intend to come unto rest and peace. It hath obtained an eminent advantage for the discovery of forgiveness; but to rest in that state wherein it is, or to rest upon it, will not bring it into its harbour. Three things we discovered before in the soul’s first serious address unto God for deliverance,—sense of sin, acknowledgment of it, and self-condemnation. Two evils there are which attend men oftentimes when they are brought into that state. Some rest in it, and press no farther; some rest upon it, and suppose that it is all which is required of them. The psalmist avoids both these, and notwithstanding all his pressures reacheth out towards forgiveness, as we shall see in the next verse. I shall briefly unfold these two evils, and show the necessity of their avoidance:—
First, By resting or staying in it, I mean the soul’s desponding, through discouraging thoughts that deliverance is not to be obtained. Being made deeply sensible of sin, it is so overwhelmed with thoughts of its own vileness and unworthiness as to sink under the burden. Such a soul is “afflicted, and tossed with tempest, and not comforted,” Isa. 54:11, until it is quite weary;—as a ship in a storm at sea, when all means of contending are gone, men give up themselves to be driven and tossed by the winds and seas at their pleasure. This brought Israel to that state wherein he cried out, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God,” chap. 40:27; and Zion, “The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me,” chap. 49:14. The soul begins secretly to think there is no hope; God regardeth it not; it shall one day perish; relief is far away, and trouble nigh at hand. These thoughts do so oppress them, that though they forsake not God utterly to their destruction, yet they draw not nigh unto him effectually to their consolation.
This is the first evil that the soul in this condition is enabled to avoid. We know how God rebukes it in Zion: “Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me,” chap. 49:14. But how foolish is Zion, how froward, how unbelieving in this matter! What ground hath she for such sinful despondencies, such discouraging conclusions? “Can a woman,” saith the Lord, “forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” The like reproof he gives to Jacob upon the like complaint, chap. 40:28–31. There is nothing that is more provoking to the Lord, nor more disadvantageous unto the soul, than such sinful despondency; for,—
1. It insensibly weakens the soul, and disenables it both for present duties and future endeavours. Hence some poor creatures mourn, and even pine away in this condition, never getting one step beyond a perplexing sense of sin all their days. Some have dwelt so long upon it, and have so entangled themselves with a multitude of perplexed thoughts, that at length their natural faculties have been weakened and rendered utterly useless; so that they have lost both sense of sin and every thing else. Against some, Satan hath taken advantage to cast in so many entangling objections into their minds, that their whole time hath been taken up in proposing doubts and objections against themselves; with these they have gone up and down to one and another, and being never able to come unto a consistency in their own thoughts, they have spent all their days in a fruitless, sapless, withering, comfortless condition. Some, with whom things come to a better issue, are yet for a season brought to that discomposure of spirit, or are so filled with their own apprehensions, that when the things which are most proper to their condition are spoken to them, they take no impression in the least upon them. Thus the soul is weakened by dwelling too long on these considerations; until some cry with those in Ezek. 33:10, “Our sins are upon us, we pine away in them, how should we then live?”
2. This frame, if it abides by itself, will insensibly give countenance unto hard thoughts of God, and so to repining and weariness in waiting on him. At first the soul neither apprehends nor fears any such issue. It supposeth that it shall condemn and abhor itself and justify God, and that for ever. But when relief comes not in, this resolution begins to weaken. Secret thoughts arise in the heart that God is austere, inexorable, and not to be dealt withal. This sometimes casts forth such complaints as will bring the soul unto new complaints before it comes to have an issue of its trials. Here, in humiliation antecedaneous to conversion, many a convinced person perisheth. They cannot wait God’s season, and perish under their impatience. And what the saints of God themselves have been overtaken withal in their depths and trials, we have many examples and instances. Delight and expectations are the grounds of our abiding with God. Both these are weakened by a conquering, prevailing sense of sin, without some relief from the discovery of forgiveness, though at a distance. And, therefore, our perplexed soul stays not here, but presseth on towards that discovery.
Secondly, There is a resting on this frame that is noxious and hurtful also. Some finding this sense of sin, with those other things that attend it, wrought in them in some measure, begin to think that now all is well, this is all that is of them required. They will endeavour to make a life from such arguments of comfort as they can take from their trouble. They think this a ground of peace, that they have not peace. Here some take up before conversion, and it proves their ruin. Because they are convinced of sin, and troubled about it, and burdened with it, they think it shall be well with them. But were not Cain, Esau, Saul, Ahab, Judas, convinced of sin and burdened with it? Did this profit them? did it interest them in the promises? Did not the wrath of God overtake them notwithstanding? So is it with many daily; they think their conviction is conversion, and that their sins are pardoned because they have been troubled.
This, then, is that which we reject, which the soul in this condition doth carefully avoid,—so to satisfy itself with its humiliation, as to make that a ground of supportment and consolation, being thereby kept off from exercising faith for forgiveness; for this is,—
1. A fruit of self-righteousness. For a soul to place the spring of its peace or comfort in any thing of its own, is to fall short of Christ and to take up in self. We must not only be “justified,” but “glory” in him also, Isa. 45:25. Men may make use of the evidence of their graces, but only as mediums to a farther end; not as the rest of the soul in the least. And this deprives men’s very humiliations of all gospel humility. True humility consists more in believing than in being sensible of sin. That is the soul’s great self-emptying and abasing; this may consist with an obstinate resolution to scamble for something upon the account of self-endeavours.
2. Though evangelical sense of sin be a grace, yet it is not the uniting grace; it is not that which interests us in Christ, not that which peculiarly and in its own nature exalts him. There is in this sense of sin that which is natural and that which is spiritual; or the matter of it and its spirituality. The former consists in sorrow, trouble, self-abasement, dejection, and anxiety of mind, with the like passions. Of these I may say, as the apostle of afflictions, “They are not joyous, but grievous.” They are such as are accompanied with the aversation of the object which they are conversant about. In their own nature they are no more but the soul’s retreat into itself, with an abhorrency of the objects of its sorrow and grief. When these affections are spiritualized, their nature is not changed. The soul in and by them acts according to their nature; and doth by them, as such, but retreat into itself, with a dislike of that they are exercised about. To take up here, then, must needs be to sit down short of Christ, whether it be for life or consolation.
Let there be no mistake. There can be no evangelical sense of sin and humiliation where there is not union with Christ, Zech. 12:10. Only in itself and in its own nature it is not availing. Now, Christ is the only rest of our souls; in any thing, for any end or purpose, to take up short of him is to lose it. It is not enough that we be “prisoners of hope,” but we must “turn to our stronghold,” Zech. 9:12; not enough that we are “weary and heavy laden,” but we must “come to him,” Matt. 11:28–30. It will not suffice that we are weak, and know we are weak, but we must “take hold on the strength of God,” Isa. 27:4, 5.
3. Indeed, pressing after forgiveness is the very life and power of evangelical humiliation. How shall a man know that his humiliation is evangelical, that his sorrow is according to God? Is it not from hence he may be resolved, that he doth not in it as Cain did, who cried his sins were greater than he could bear, and so departed from the presence of God; nor as Judas did, who repented and hanged himself; nor as Felix did,—tremble for a while, and then return to his lusts; nor as the Jews did in the prophet, pine away under their iniquities because of vexation of heart? Nor doth he divert his thoughts to other things, thereby to relieve his soul in his trouble; nor fix upon a righteousness of his own; nor slothfully lie down under his perplexity, but in the midst of it he plies himself to God in Christ for pardon and mercy. And it is the soul’s application unto God for forgiveness, and not its sense of sin, that gives unto God the glory of his grace.
Thus far, then, have we accompanied the soul in its depths. It is now looking out for forgiveness; which, what it is, and how we come to have an interest in it, the principal matter in this discourse intended, is nextly to be considered.
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
~ Psalm 130:4
The words explained, and the design or scope of the psalmist in them discovered.
The state and condition of the soul making application unto God in this psalm is recounted, verse 1. It was in the “depths:” not only providential depths of trouble, affliction, and perplexities thereon; but also depths of conscience, distress on the account of sin; as in the opening of those words have been declared.
The application of this soul unto God, with restless fervency and earnestness, in that state and condition; its consideration in the first place of the law, and the severity of God’s justice in a procedure thereon, with the inevitable ruin of all sinners if God insist on that way of dealing with them,—have also been opened and manifested from the foregoing verses.
Being in this estate, perplexed in itself, lost in and under the consideration of God’s marking iniquity according to the tenor of the law, that which it fixes on, from whence any relief, stay, or supportment might be expected in such a condition, is laid down in this verse.
Verse 4.—”But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”
I shall first open the words as to their signification and importance; then show the design of the psalmist in them, with reference to the soul whose condition is here represented; and, lastly, propose the general truths contained in them, wherein all our concernments do lie.
“There is forgiveness.” Ἰλασμός say the LXX., and Jerome accordingly, “propitiatio,” “propitiation;” which is somewhat more than “venia,” or “pardon,” as by some it is rendered.
to spare, to pardon, to forgive, to be , ָס ַלח Condonatio ipsa,” “Forgiveness itself.” It is from” , ַה ְםלי ָחה propitious; and is opposed to ָח ַסל , a word composed of the same letters varied (which is common in that language), signifying to cut off and destroy.
Now, it is constantly applied unto sin, and expresseth every thing that concurs to its pardon or forgiveness; as,—
First, It expresseth the mind or will of pardoning, or God’s gracious readiness to forgive: Ps. 86:5, “Thou, Lord, art good, ְו ַס ָלח , and ready to forgive;” χρηστὸς καὶ ἐπιεικής, “benign and meek,” or ְס ִּליחוֹת “sparing, propitious,”—of a gracious, merciful heart and nature. So Neh. 9:17, “Thou art a God” “propitiationum,” “of propitiations or pardons;” or, as we have rendered it, “ready to forgive,”—”a God of forgivenesses;” or, “all plenty of them is in thy gracious heart,” Isa. 55:7, “so that thou art always ready to make out pardons to sinners.” The word is used again, Dan. 9:9, to the same purpose.
Secondly, It regards the act of pardoning, or actual forgiveness itself: Ps. 103:3, ַח ֹס ֵּל ַח , “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities,”—”actually dischargeth thee of them;” which place the apostle respecting, renders the word by χαρισάμενος: Col. 2:13, “Having freely forgiven you” (for so much the word imports) “all your trespasses.”
And this is the word that God useth in the covenant, in that great promise of grace and pardon, Jer. .31:34.
It is warrantable for us, yea, necessary, to take the word in the utmost extent of its signification and use. It is a word of favour, and requires an interpretation tending towards the enlargement of it. We see it may be rendered ἰλασμός, or “propitiation;” χάρις, or “grace;” and “venia,” or “pardon;” and may denote these three things:—
1. The gracious, tender, merciful heart and will of God, who is the God of pardons and forgivenesses; or ready to forgive, to give out mercy, to add to pardon.
2. A respect unto Jesus Christ, the only ι̇λασμός, or propitiation for sin, as he is expressly called, Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2. And this is that which interposeth between the gracious heart of God and the actual pardon of sinners. All forgiveness is founded on propitiation.
3. It denotes condonation, or actual forgiveness itself, as we are made partakers of it; comprising it both actively, as it is an act of grace in God, and passively, as terminated in our souls, with the deliverance that attends it. In this sense, as it looks downwards and in its effects respects us, it is of mere grace; as it looks upwards to its causes and respects the Lord Christ, it is from propitiation or atonement. And this is that pardon which is administered in the covenant of grace.
Now, as to the place which these words enjoy in this psalm, and their relation to the state and condition of the soul here mentioned, this seems to be their importance:—
“O Lord, although this must be granted, that if thou shouldst mark iniquities according to the tenor of the law, every man living must perish, and that for ever; yet there is hope for my soul, that even I, who am in the depths of sin-entanglements, may find acceptance with thee: for whilst I am putting my mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope, I find that there is an atonement, a propitiation made for sin, on the account whereof thou sayest thou hast found a ransom, and wilt not deal with them that come unto thee according to the severity and exigence of thy justice; but art gracious, loving, tender, ready to forgive and pardon, and dost so accordingly. There is forgiveness with thee.”
The following words, “Therefore thou shalt be feared,” or “That thou mayest be feared,” though in the original free from all ambiguity, yet are so signally varied by interpreters, that it may not be amiss to take notice of it in our passage.
The Targum hath it, “That thou mayest be seen.” This answers not the word, but it doth the sense of the place well enough. God in his displeasure is said to hide himself or his face: Isa. 8:17, “The LORD hideth his face from the house of Jacob.” By forgiveness we obtain again the light of his countenance. This dispels the darkness and clouds that are about him, and gives us a comfortable prospect of his face and favour. “There is forgiveness with him that he may be seen.” Besides, there is but one letter different in the original words, and that which is usually changed for the other.
The LXX. render them, Ἔνεκα τοῦ ὀνόματός σου,—”For thy name’s sake,” or “thy own sake;” that is, freely, without any respect unto any thing in us. This also would admit of a fair and sound construction, but that there is more than ordinary evidence of the places being corrupted: for the Vulgar Latin, which, as to the Psalms, was translated out of the LXX., renders these words, “Propter legem tuam,”—”For thy law’s sake;” which makes it evident that that translator reads the words ἕνεκα τοῦ νόμου σου, and not ὀνόματος, as now we read. Now, though this hath in itself no proper sense (for ,תוֹ ָרה .forgiveness is not bestowed for the law’s sake), yet it discovers the original of the whole mistake “the law,” differs but in one letter from ת ָוּ ֵּראִּ , “that thou mayest be feared;” by a mistake whereof this ἔνεκα τοῦ νόμου, “for thy law’s sake,” crept into the text. Nor doth this any thing countenance the corrupt figment of the novelty of the Hebrew vowels and accents, as though this difference might arise from the LXX. using a copy that had none,—that is, before their invention, which might occasion mistakes and differences; for this difference is in a letter as well as in the vowels, and therefore there can be no colour for this conceit, unless we say also that they had copies of old with other consonants than those we now enjoy. Bellarmine, in his exposition of this place, endeavours to give countenance unto the reading of the Vulgar Latin, “For thy law’s sake;” affirming that by the law here, not the law of our obedience is intended, but the law or order of God’s dealing with us,—that is, his mercy and faithfulness;—which is a mere new invention to countenance an old error, which any tolerable ingenuity would have confessed, rather than have justified by so sorry a pretence; for neither is that expression or that word ever used in the sense here by him feigned, nor can it have any such signification.
Jerome renders these words, “Ut sis terribilis,”—”That thou mayest be dreadful or terrible;” doubtless not according to the intendment of the place. It is for the relieving of the soul, and not for the increasing of its dread and terror, that this observation is made, “There is forgiveness with thee.”
But the words are clear, and their sense is obvious. ְל ַמ ַען ִּח ָוּ ֵּרא ,—”Therefore thou shalt be feared;” or, “That thou mayest be feared.”
By the “fear of the LORD,” in the Old Testament, the whole worship of God, moral and instituted, all the obedience which we owe unto him, both for matter and manner, is intended. Whatever we are to perform unto God, being to be carried on and performed with reverence and godly fear, by a metonymy of the adjunct, that name is given to the whole. “That thou mayest be feared,” then, is, “That thou mayest be served, worshipped; that I, who am ready to faint and give over on the account of sin, may yet be encouraged unto, and yet continue in, that obedience which thou requirest at my hands:” and this appears to be the sense of the whole verse, as influenced by and from those foregoing:—
“Although, O Lord, no man can approach unto thee, stand before thee, or walk with thee, if thou shouldst mark their sins and follies according to the tenor of the law, nor could they serve so great and holy a God as thou art; yet because I know from thy revelation of it that there is also with thee, on the account of Jesus Christ the propitiation, pardon and forgiveness, I am encouraged to continue with thee, waiting for thee, worshipping of thee, when, without this discovery, I should rather choose to have rocks and mountains fall upon me, to hide me from thy presence.”
“But there is forgiveness with thee, and therefore thou shalt be feared.”
The words being thus opened, we may take a full view in them of the state and condition of the soul expressed in this psalm; and that answering the experiences of all who have had any thing to do with God in and about the depths and entanglements of sin.
Having in and from his great depths, verse 1, addressed himself with fervent, redoubled cries, yea, outcries to God, and to him alone, for relief, verses 1, 2; having also acknowledged his iniquities, and considered them according to the tenor of the law, verse 3; he confesseth himself to be lost and undone for ever on that account, verse 3. But he abides not in the state of self-condemnation and dejection of soul; he says not, “There is no hope; God is a jealous God, a holy God, I cannot serve him; his law is a fiery law, which I can not stand before; so that I had as good give over, sit down and perish, as contend any longer!” No; but searching by faith into the discovery that God makes of himself in Christ through the covenant of grace, he finds a stable foundation of encouragement to continue waiting on him, with expectation of mercy and pardon.
Propositions or observations from the former exposition of the words—The first proposed to confirmation—No encouragement for any sinner to approach unto God without a discovery of forgiveness
From the words unfolded, as they lie in their contexture in the psalm, the ensuing propositions do arise:—
First, Faith’s discovery of forgiveness in God, though it have no present sense of its own peculiar interest therein, is the great supportment of a sin-perplexed soul.
Secondly, Gospel forgiveness, whose discovery is the sole supportment of sin-distressed souls, relates to the gracious heart or good will of the Father, the God of forgiveness, the propitiation that is made by the blood of the Son, and free condonation or pardon according to the tenor of the covenant of grace.
Thirdly, Faith’s discovery of forgiveness in God is the sole bottom of adherence to him, in acceptable worship and reverential obedience.
The first of these is that whose confirmation and improvement I principally aim at; and the others only so far as they have coincidence therewith, or may be used in a subserviency to the illustration or demonstration thereof.
In the handling, then, of this truth, that it may be of the more advantage unto them whose good is sought and intended in the proposal and management of it, I shall steer this course, and show,—
First, That there is not the least encouragement to the soul of a sinner to deal with God without this discovery.
Secondly, That this discovery of forgiveness in God is a matter great, holy, and mysterious; and which very few on gospel abiding grounds do attain unto.
Thirdly, That yet this is a great, sacred, and certain truth, as from the manifold evidences of it may be made to appear.
Fourthly, That this is a stable supportment unto a sin-distressed soul shall be manifested, and the whole applied, according to the several concernments of those who shall consider it.
First. There is not the least encouragement for the soul of a sinner to entertain any thoughts of approaching unto God without this discovery. All the rest of the world is covered with a deluge of wrath. This is the only ark whereunto the soul may repair and find rest. All without it is darkness, curse, and terror.
We have an instance and example of it, beyond all exception, in Adam. When he knew himself to be a sinner (and it was impossible for him, as we shall show afterward, to make a discovery of any such thing as forgiveness with God), he laid aside all thoughts of treating with him; the best of his foolish contrivance was for an escape: Gen. 3:10, “I heard thy voice,” saith he to God, “in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I HID myself.” Nothing but “Thou shalt die the death,” sounded in his ears. In the morning of that day, he was made by the hand of God; a few hours before, he had converse and communion with him, with boldness and peace; why, then, doth nothing now but fear, flying, and hiding, possess him? Adam had sinned, the promise was not yet given, no revelation made of forgiveness in God; and what other course than that vain and foolish one to fix upon he knew not. No more can any of his posterity, without this revelation. What else any of them hath fixed on in this case hath been no less foolish than his hiding; and in most, more pernicious. When Cain had received his sentence from God, it is said “he went out מ ִּל ְפ ֵּני ְי ָהוֹהִּ , from the presence” or face “of the LORD,” Gen. 4:16. From his providential presence he could never subduct himself: so the psalmist informs us at large, Ps. 139:7–10. The very heathen knew, by the light of nature, that guilt could never drive men out of the reach of God:—
“Quo fugis Encelade? quascunque accesseris oras Sub Jove semper eris.”
They knew that δίκη (the vengeance of God) would not spare sinners, nor could be avoided, Acts 28:4. From God’s gracious presence, which he never enjoyed, he could not depart. It was, then, his presence as to his worship, and all outward acts of communion, that he forsook, and departed from. He had no discovery by faith of forgiveness, and therefore resolved to have no more to do with God, nor those who cleaved to him; for it respects his course, and not any one particular action.
This also is stated, Isa. 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” The persons spoken of are sinners, great sinners, and hypocrites. Conviction of sin and the desert of it was fallen upon them; a light to discern forgiveness they had not; they apprehend God as devouring fire and everlasting burnings only,—one that would not spare, but assuredly inflict punishment according to the desert of sin; and thence is their conclusion, couched in their interrogation, that there can be no intercourse of peace between him and them, there is no abiding, no enduring of his presence. And what condition this consideration brings the souls of sinners unto, when conviction grows strong upon them, the Holy Ghost declares: Micah 6:6, 7, “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Sense of sin presseth, forgiveness is not discovered (like the Philistines on Saul, Samuel not coming to his direction); and how doth the poor creature perplex itself in vain, to find out a way of dealing with God? “Will a sedulous and diligent observation of his own ordinances and institutions relieve me? ‘Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old?’ ” Alas! thou art a sinner, and these sacrifices cannot make thee “perfect,” or acquit thee, Heb. 10:1. “Shall I do more than ever he required of any of the sons of men? O that I had ‘thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil’ to offer to him!” Alas! if thou hadst all the “bulls and goats” in the world, “it is not possible that their blood should take away sins,” verse 4. “But I have heard of them who have snatched their own children from their mothers’ breasts, and cast them into the fire, until they were consumed, so to pacify their consciences in expiating the guilt of their iniquities. Shall I take this course? will it relieve me? I am ready to part with my ‘firstborn’ into the fire, so I may have deliverance from my ‘transgression.’ ” Alas! this never came into the heart of God to approve or accept of. And as it was then, whilst that kind of worship was in force, so is it still as to any duties really to be performed, or imaginarily. Where there is no discovery of forgiveness, they will yield the soul no relief, no supportment; God is not to be treated upon such terms.