SIN AND ITS CURE.
1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
2 The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?
Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.
In this Psalm (of which Ps. liii. may be regarded as a later edition), the complaints of the two previous deepen into a general view of mankind in their natural alienation from God. Accordingly, it is adduced by Paul (Rom. iii. 10-12), as Biblical evidence of the state of misery and condemnation both of Jew and Gentile. The question why such a picture should form the subject of 'one of the songs of Zion,' is answered not only by the spiritual contrast presented in the three last verses of our Psalm, but by the fact that this truth helps us to understand the present state of matters, and enables us to possess our souls in patience, while it leads us to humble ourselves and to ascribe all the glory to sovereign grace. 'Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek Jehovah: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged!' Thus, knowledge of sin is the way to faith. Having nothing, we require to receive all, and that of grace, and therefore by faith. Again, want of humility, which is the gracious reflex of self-knowledge, leads to impatience with men and matters. In measure as I know what I am and what I deserve, will I, to whom so much needeth to be forgiven, be able to bear with my fellow-debtors. In measure also as I have been taught my real position before God, will I submit to His dealings and leadings in providence, under a deep sense that I, 'who am less than the least of all saints,' 'am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.'
It is well to sound the depths of our corruption if we are to understand our state before God (ver. 1). At the root of all evil, deep in our hearts, lies atheism. This is the ultimate spring both of our thinking and acting, of our state of soul and of our state of life: 'They have been corrupt; they have done abominable works' (or, perhaps, 'they have caused corrupt; they have caused abominable works.') Luther very aptly points out here the accumulation of terms under which all are included in this charge. The expression 'corrupt' used in the text is the same as that applied to the earth before the judgment of the flood (Gen. vi. 12). It is sadly strange how similar the state of matters has become before each great interposition of God. All feeling, thinking, and acting of fallen man, however wise or clever it may seem in the eyes of the world, is characterized by Him who searcheth the hearts as folly. Scripture employs five different terms to denote folly, of which the one here used gives the idea of fading, of want of sap, or of reality—the fundamental view being that of a man substituting his own empty, unreal, and unsubstantial thoughts and ways for those of God. A fuller description of such persons (with the employment of the same word) occurs in Isa. xxxii. 6. The absolute want of substance and reality of such deceiving thoughts of the heart is thus set before us. And here it would be well to examine the spring of our own desires and actions, and to see whether or not the charge applies to us. Truly awful as it sounds, alas, here also it becomes us to plead: 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'
How general this corruption is, appears from vers. 2, 3: 'Jehovah from heaven has looked down to see whether there is any who understandeth, who seeketh' (asketh, careth for, inquireth) 'after God.' In opposition to the practical denial of the Most High—Elohim—of His personality, rule, providence, and claims, JeJwvah, the covenant God, has looked down from heaven. No one looked up to Him, but He looked down on them. See how anxiously, if we may use such terms, our God inquireth after and is ready to meet any who seek after Him. And what a dreadful spectacle, as viewed from heaven, is here presented !' All' (literally, the totality) 'have declined' (turned or gone aside from God), 'together have they become putrid' (a putrid carcass, as it were) ; 'there is not who doeth good, there is not even one.' And such were we, all of us, when sovereign grace found us; and such would we be, all of us, if sovereign grace were to leave us. Having declined from God, we are a dead, putrid mass, without a trace of good in even the most promising, kind, and benevolent. 'Son of man, can these bones live?' 'Lord, Thou knowest,' and Thou alone. 'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thine help.' Surely, it needed God's intervention in Christ to change this state of things. Oh, what an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from the living God! Now that we are pardoned can we understand, not only the state of nature but that of grace. 'Who hath delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver.' Well may we, like Job of old, abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes. And how can we go on in sin who have been delivered from it? What incredible power must sin have had over us—truly, sold under sin—if even now we can be so often attracted by it! Whenever I am tempted to laxity, to forgetfulness, or to sin, let me think of this description. And again, whenever I am tempted to faintheartedness and unbelief under the pressure of the ungodly, let me think of the suddenness of His promised interposition (ver. 8).
It is a positive relief to turn from this description to note a reference to His Church. Blessed be God, however small and persecuted, there is a people, whom Jehovah here calls 'My people.' The conduct of the world towards His Church is summed up as spiritual ignorance, as consuming the people of God, and that with the same indifference and apparent claim of right as if it were a matter of course, just as men eat their daily bread; and again, as non-acknowledgment of God, prayerlessness, and iniquity. In all these cases it seems as if primarily the misery rather than the guilt of sin were referred to, its folly rather than its sinfulness. For God condescendeth to reason as well as to warn. In the first clause their folly appeareth in their ignorance, and that in the face of such light. 'Do they not know,' (is it so, that they are so ignorant?) 'all the workers of naught?'1 In the second clause of the verse the bearing of their conduct upon the Church of God is considered. In reality, 'eating up my people, they eat bread.' The Church of God has always been oppressed and unresisting, and the world taketh it as a matter of course that we should be sneered at, hardly spoken of, and evil-entreated. But under these trials we have almost sufficient comfort in the designation applied to us, ' My people.' To belong to their number far outweighs everything else. But the fullest manifestation of the folly and sin of the world lies in their not calling upon Jehovah, or seeking after Him. If this is the topmost bough of the tree, have we not all sat under its branches? Yet the full misery and guilt of not seeking after Jehovah, none but a converted soul can realize. But again, even here, at the outset, when the conduct of the world is stripped of all fictitious appearances, and its real character is seen as in the light of eternal truth, the safety and happiness of God's people may already be inferred. For, even though there were not another promise in the Scriptures, I would, as against all enemies, be satisfied with the declaration and assurance from His lips, conveyed in the expression, ' My people.' 'Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.' Simply to believe is sufficient balm for every heart-sore, and sufficient help against all world-tribulation. Lord, if it be so, if Thou claimest and callest us Thy people, then are we safe, eternally safe, which is much more and much better than, though it also implies, temporally safe; even as also we covet no higher good, and seek no better name, than that of those who 'call upon Jehovah.'
i Our terms naught and naughty also embody the ideal connexion between nothingness and wickedness, only that the Hebrew also includes that of falsehood,—sin being presented alike as nothing, as false or deceptive, and as iniquity.
1. 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.' Yet will we not despair. We despair of it, but not of Thee. 'He saw that there was no man, and wondered that that there was no intercessor; therefore His arm brought salvation unto Him.' One of the first and one of the last lessons which we have to learn is the corruption of our whole nature. Law and grace, what we experience and what we have not experienced, teach it. Yet in this respect how slow are we—not to admit, but to submit! These practical inferences would I derive from it. Let me feel, and own myself, lost. Let me despair of self. For any holy motion, for any commencement of good, nay, even for any reception of good, I must wholly and solely depend upon 'the grace of God that bringeth salvation.' I need pardon; I need healing; I need One to die for me, and to raise me up, by infusing into my dead soul His life. And I need a provision which will come down to me and meet my case. Most precious is the offer of the gospel, in all its freeness and fulness. But I need more. I have not the power to receive it. I require the grace of the Holy Ghost. And even after I have received that grace, I require the constant aid and support of His Spirit. But all this is provided in His covenant; and all that is so provided is freely placed at my disposal. Let me examine myself in these respects. Have I ever felt the bitterness of sin, the lost condition of my soul, and the helpless sinfulness of my heart? Have I been led out of myself to Christ? Have I been taught to cleave to Christ, and to depend upon the daily supplies of grace? To all these questions let me return this practical answer of going anew to Christ, confessing my sin and mine unbelief. What I have not, He, and He alone, can give. Thus let the law be my schoolmaster; let it lead me to faith, and faith to praise.
2. Whatever may have been my past course, I am chargeable with practical atheism. In our carnality, being ever prone to judge of things by their visible consequences, this our fundamental sin is least noticed or accounted of. We are concerned in proportion as we see the effects of our sin— and this is another proof of our practical atheism. Yet 'seeing Him who is invisible' is'the paradox which forms the fundamental principle of our spiritual life. The latter must, in the present dispensation of things, be a constant negation of the visible. All sin springs from our alienation from God, and all good from assertion and realization of Him. For consider, O my soul, what would entice or allure thee into the paths of evil; what could shake thine allegiance or induce thee to place confidence in an arm of flesh; what could fill thee with doubts and fears, or lead thee to yield to carnal suggestions, if thou wert satisfied in God, still in God, and full of God? Has it not been so since we knew Him, that our never-failing remedy was to flee to Jesus, and that when we would vanquish sin we rather sought to be vanquished by Christ? We are elevated above those angry waves when our feet are placed upon the Rock. Return unto God is therefore the first and chief point of our change or conversion. O Lord, too long have I strayed from Thee ; I confess this as the point of my departure and as the constant cause of my offence; but in Thy grace return Thou unto me, and turn me unto Thyself. Let this be the point of my return; let this be the mainspring of my new life.
3. Yet He hath a people which He maketh, and owneth as His people. Their cause is dear to Him; it is His cause. O to belong to that number! What hinders it ?' For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.'
What father will deny his sons?
Or will the Lord His chosen ones?
Have I bestow'd My Christ indeed,
Mine only Son for them to bleed;
And shall I now withhold the grace
He purchased for Mine elect race?