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PSALM CXlviii. 14.
A people near unto him: praise ye the Lord.
GLORIOUS things are spoken of Zion, the city of God. Glorious promises are made, glorious privileges are given, and glorious titles ascribed to her. Israel is called God's Hephzibah, his crown and diadem, his jewels, his portion and peculiar treasure. Yet nothing can be said of them more for their honour and comfort, than what is said in our text: "A people near unto him." While in an unregenerate state they were so base and miserable that they did not deserve even the name of a people: they were no better than a multitude of dry bones or dead carcases spread abroad in the valley: but now they are in the highest sense of the word," a people." "In time past they were not a people, but are now the people of God: they had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pet. ii, 10.) Their being called a people may also denote their number and their union. Comparatively they are few, but collectively they are many. They are separated from the rest of the world, but united among themselves, so as to form a distinct body. They have one heart and one way, one Lord and one faith. Being under a wise and holy government, they are not a disorderly banditti, but form a regular and harmonious society, seeking each other's welfare, and speaking peace to all their seed. It may also be said
of them, as of Israel of old, "The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be numbered among the nations." God hath distinguished them by his grace, and they distinguish themselves by their zeal and activity in his service. The world indeed may look upon them with contempt, and regard them only as the common people, as they did the disciples; as people of the lower order, and of the baser sort; and it may be true that they are generally poor and afflicted people: but their outward meanness is more than compensated by their spiritual privileges-for they are a people near unto God.
The words of the text may immediately refer to the Jewish nation, as God's peculiar people; but as they are applicable to true believers in all ages, we shall consider them in that view; and shall inquire-what is implied in this nearness-and why it is matter of joy.
I. In what respects are true believers near to God.
As creatures, "God is not far from every one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being. But as sinners, he is far from us, and we are far from him. Sin has created an awful distance between God and us he has left our world as a desolate heritage, and beholds its sinful inhabitants afar off. They also are alienated from him, through the ignorance that is in them, by reason of the hardness of their hearts. The language of sinners is concerning him, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;" But all his people are near unto him. That is,
1. The awful breach is healed, and they are reconciled. The separating wall of sin is broken down, and they have boldness and access with confidence to him, who would otherwise be a consuming fire. This was represented by the rending of the vail, at the death of Christ. The way into the holy of holies is now laid open. Christ entered by his own blood, and we enter
in the same way. All enmities were slain by him upon the cross; the enmity between man and man, between Jews and Gentiles, who for many ages had been at the greatest variance, and the enn ity between man and God. A holy God ever was and will be the enemy of sin: it is that which his soul hateth: but he is well pleased with the sinner who believes in Jesus, and returns unto God by him. All occasion of distance and dislike is now removed, and there is now no condemnation but in Christ Jesus, those who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of the cross. All the saints were virtually in Christ when he was brought near, and seated on the right hand of God; and when he was accepted, they were accepted in him. God is well pleased for his righteousness sake, justice is satisfied, the law magnified, wrath appeased, mercy exalted, and the sinner saved. “I will be a Father t unto them, and they shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Gracious promise! Blessed people to whom it is fulfilled! 2 Cor. vi. 18.
2. The power of sin is subdued, and they are near as to union and likeness. The pardon of sin removes that which hindered our approach to God, and the renewing of the mind draws us to seek after him. Nearness, as to the former, is by the blood of Christ the latter is by the influences of the Holy Spirit. It is he who subdues our stubborn wills, collects and fixes our scattered affections, reduces our wanderings, and guides our feet into the way of peace. God approaches to us by his grace, before we approach to him in a way of duty. As sinners we are without Christ, and without God in the world; and if he were not to change the native disposition of our hearts, we should always continue so. It is sovereign grace that turns the obstinate traitor into an obedient subject, and the bitter enemy into a cordial friend. This it is that brings the prodigal from a far country to his father's feet, and prevents his returning back again. The soul
when brought near, will be kept near. If others depart, and tempt them to do so too, their language is, "Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life-Whom have I in heaven but thee; and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee-Tell me, Oh thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one' that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?" John vi. 68. Psalm 1xxiii. 25.
Cant. i. 7.
3. They are near as to communion and fellowship. It is said of Mordecai that he was next unto king Ahasuerus, in dignity and honour, enjoying the most familiar intercourse. It is also the peculiar prerogative of Christ the Mediator to be near unto God, and to sit down with him on his throne; and the fellowship between the Father and the Son is such that they are one, and that in a higher sense than can possibly be said of any creature, however highly exalted, or honoured by the divine favour. Yet the saints are a people near unto him, not only as being the objects of his love, but as enjoying his presence, and having the most delightful assurance of his favour and regard. Individually considered, some are more highly favoured in this respect than others; but in a greater or less degree, this is the blessedness of all his people. The divine Father may sometimes turn away his face, but at others it is turned towards them. Though he often frowns, he will sometimes smile; and though he causeth grief, yet will he have compassion. "O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me." Jacob had his Bethel, David his hill Mizar, and Paul, though sometimes pressed out of measure, had also his raptures in the third heavens. Isai. xii. 1.
4. They are near to him in a way of endearment, being precious in his sight. Joseph would have Jacob to dwell in Goshen that he might be near to him, be
cause he loved him and delighted in him. Intimate friends wish to be near each other, to receive and impart their mutual kindnesses. How near and dear the Lord's people are to him, may be seen by the tender names by which he calls them. They are his children, the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty: Ephraim is his dear son, and Israel his first-born. By the manner in which he feels for them in their troubles. In all their afflictions he is afflicted; and like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. If they be afflicted, and mourn, his bowels are troubled for them; and though he sometimes speaks against them, yet he earnestly remembers them still. He will not always chide, neither will he be always wroth, lest the spirit should fail before him, and the souls which he hath made. He thinks nothing too good to bestow upon them; but in blessings he will bless them indeed. Their portion shall not consist of earthly things: they are like Isaac, the son of promise, and shall have the blessings of grace and glory. Yea, he will give his Son to die for them, his spirit to sanctify them, and himself as their eternal portion. They are dearer to him than all the world besides, and it is for their sake that the world is spared, as he would have spared Sodom for the sake of ten righteous. They are his jewels, and he will preserve them; yea, he will spare them as a man spareth his son that serveth him. "The Lord's portion is his people: Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." They are near to his heart, and to his eye, and his ear is open to their complaints. "Blessed are the people that are in such a case; yea, blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!"
5. They are so near to him that they will soon be with him. Like the weary pilgrim, they are near home, and will shortly be at rest. Faith brings God and the soul together, and carries on a sweet and holy intercourse on earth; yet while we are present in the body, we are absent from the Lord. Enoch walked