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THE NATURE AND ADVANTAGE OF HAVING SIN ALWAYS BEFORE US.'
PSALM li. 3.
My sin is ever before me.
THESE words briefly but excellently express the nature of repentance : which consists not in a sudden compunction for sin: a violent and impassioned exclamation of sorrow, shame, and self-abhorrence, lasting, in too many cases, no longer than the occasion which called it forth ; but in having sin ever before us, in arraying it from time to time, in all its native and inherent deformity, its odiousness to a God of purity : its destructiveness to our inward peace of mind in this world: and the certainty and dreadfulness of the punishment awaiting its unrepented commission, in the next.
David had been guilty of two of the most heinous sins which human nature is capable of committing, namely, murder and adultery. We may well suppose that a mind like his, disciplined as it had been from his earliest youth with the lessons of religion and virtue, could not remain easy under such a load of guilt; that conviction flashed in his face; and represented to him his sins in a degree proportioned, not merely to their magnitude, but to the height of grace and privileges from which he had fallen. Under a deep sense, therefore, of his enormous guiltiness in the sight of God, he gives vent to his sorrow in the Psalm before us ; accompanying it at the same time (as all sorrow for sin, in order to prove its reality, ever should be accompanied) with deep acknowledgments of his guilt, devout prayers to God for forgiveness, deprecation of the divine wrath, and sincere desires for the renewing and sanctifying graces of his holy Spirit. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness : according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly
from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my
That these were the heartfelt desires of his soul, these the accents and breathings of genuine repentance, appears from the following circumstance : viz. that although this Psalm was the result of the visit he had had from Nathan, the prophet of the Lord, denouncing upon him the divine displeasure and judgment, still, a year had elapsed from the commission of the above mentioned crimes to the appearance of the prophet; and yet, so strong are the marks of real sorrow and repentance, as conveyed in every verse (I had almost said) every word of this Psalm, that we cannot imagine stronger proofs thereof, or couched in more penitential strains, had they been uttered immediately upon his sad fall into sin.
The words of the text, moreover, indicate no momentary feeling of compunction, no transient sorrow for sin, passing away as the morning cloud, or as the dew upon the tender grass ; but show as strongly as words can show, the permanence of his sorrow ; that his repentance was no sudden ebullition ; that his sin was, the constant subject of his thoughts. My sin is ever before me.
Hence we learn this important truth, viz.
" that sin, to be sincerely repented of, must be ever before us." Were it necessary further to explain what is meant by this expression, I might exemplify it by a corresponding expression of the same holy Psalmist, when he says, " I have set the Lord always before me.” Now, as in doing so consists the very essence and nature of religion, having Him in all our thoughts, as the inspector, reprover, and rewarder, of our conduct ; so also, in calling our sins constantly to remembrance, as committed against a Being of infinite purity and justice, consists the nature and spirit of true repentance. The reason, moreover, for both is the same. If God is alone an object worthy of our thoughts, he is worthy of all our thoughts. If sin requires sorrow for its commission at all, it requires constant sorrow, because committed against infinite purity and love : and therefore, as the sin is infinitely offensive in the sight of God, so ought it to be in our own. An offence against the laws of man may be expiated by a single act of punishment, nothing more being necessary than satisfaction for the outward and visible effects thereof. The law of man takes no cognizance of any thing more, in that it is weak and cannot. Motives and intentions, with a variety of circumstances operating in the mind of the offender, and
(when they can be known) greatly tending to aggravate his outward guilt, come not under the eye of a human tribunal. The act and not the intention is the object of human punishment, and when that is attained the law is satisfied. Not so with the offended majesty of God. A single act of repentance is not enough; will never be thought to be enough but by him who, thinking lightly of sin, thinks as lightly of repentance; that is, by him who does not heartily repent of his transgression. Not, be it carefully observed, that even the longest and sincerest repentance can atone for sin, in the true and scriptural meaning of that term : “ the blood of Jesus Christ alone, the atoning Lamb of God, cleanseth from all sin," and gives the crowning efficacy to our repentance, and makes it acceptable to God. The true and humble penitent, therefore, will have his sin ever before him. For what are his feelings ? What the circumstances which he takes into his view of the case ? Hear the Psalmist. “ Thou requirest truth in the in. ward parts.” God looks to the heart; to the hidden springs and motives of our actions. The sincere penitent, therefore, feels his sin to be doubly sinful, because, first, inwardly conceived ; and, secondly, openly acted.
In the next place, though his misery, under a