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into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness m."]
The whole preceding context, whilst it declares God's mercy, sets also before us, II. Our duty in the contemplation of it
As having experienced mercy, we are called to sing, and praise our God. But, as we are not all in the holy frame of David, and as the text itself suggests views somewhat different from those of joyous exultation, I shall adhere rather to the words before us, and point out our duty, not so much in the contemplation of mercy enjoyed, as of mercy needed and desired.
Though God so delights in the exercise of mercy, yet he requires that we seek it at his hands". We must seek it, 1. Supremely
[“ In his favour is life:" and the enjoyment of it must be our one object of pursuit. Not only must all earthly things be as nothing in our estimation, but life itself must be of no value in comparison of it. To have our interest in his favour a matter of doubt, must be as death to our souls: and we must live only to obtain reconciliation with him. What the frame of our minds, in reference to it, should be, we may see in those words of David: “ I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Hear me speedily, O Lord! my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit! Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me."] 2. Humbly
[“ Weeping may endure for a night.” We should certainly weep and mourn for our sins, as our blessed Lord has told us in his sermon on the mount P. And who amongst us has not just ground to weep? Who is there that has not reason to smite upon his breast with grief and shame for his past life, and, like David, to say, “ I am weary with my groaning: all the night make I my bed to swim: I water my couch with my tears??” This should be the experience of us all: we must sow in tears, if ever we would reap in joy.” Shall this be thought suited to the Mosaic dispensation only? It is not a whit less necessary under the Gospel dispensation : "Be afflicted, and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord; and he shall lift you up."] 3. Confidently
m ver. 10, 11. For the further elucidation of this, see Jer. jii. 12, 13, 14, 22. and iv. 1. n Ezek. xxxvi. 37.
o Ps. cxliii. 6-8. p Matt. v. 4. with Luke vi. 20, 21.
[We should never doubt God's readiness to accept us, when we return to him. Whether our night of weeping be more or less dark, or of a longer or shorter duration, we should feel assured that " a morning of joy shall come,” when “there shall be given to us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." In the contemplation of God's mercy as revealed in the Gospel, we should see, that he can be " a just God, and yet a Saviourt;” yea, that because “he is faithful and just, he will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness u.” To the exercise of his mercy He has assigned no limit: and we should assign none. We should be perfectly assured that “the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cleanse from all sin*;" that“ God will cast out none who come to him in his Son's namey;" on the contrary, that “though our sins have been red like crimson,” we shall, through the Redeemer's blood, " be made white as snow?."]
In this view of our subject, I would call your attention to the following obvious and salutary reflections
1. How deeply to be pitied are the blind impenitent world!
[They will not believe that God is angry with them, or that they have any need to dread his displeasure: and, if we attempt to convince them of their danger, they account us no better than gloomy enthusiasts. But, whether they will believe it or not, God's eye is upon them for evil; and if they turn not to him in penitence and faith, they shall ere long feel the weight of his avenging arm.
Who that should see a multitude of persons enclosed, like Baal's priests, and unconscious of their impending fate, would not pity them? Yet here are millions of immortal souls soon to be summoned into the presence of their Judge, and setting at defiance the doom that speedily awaits them: should not “rivers of tears run down our eyes for thema ?" Yes, verily: as our Lord wept over Jerusalem in the view of the destruction that awaited it, and as the Apostle Paul had “great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart" on account of his unbelieving brethren“, so should we mourn bitterly for those who will not mourn and be in bitterness for themselves.]
q Ps. vi. 6.
r Ps. cxxvi. 5.
s Isai. lxi. 3.
2. How richly to be congratulated is the weeping penitent!
[His carnal friends perhaps pity him for his weakness, or deride him for his folly. But the angels around the throne are of a very different mind: they, even in the presence of God himself, have an augmentation of their joy from one single spectacle like this: and God himself is not so intent on the heavenly hosts, but that he spies out such a poor object as this, and looks upon him with complacency and delightd. Is there, then, here present one weeping penitent? I congratulate him, from my inmost soul. My Brother! crowns and kingdoms are of no value in comparison of the blessing conferred on thee. Be content to go on weeping, as long as God shall see fit to keep thee in that state of discipline: but know, that “joy is sown for thee;" and that, in due season, it shall spring up to an abundant harvest: for thus saith the Lord: “He that goeth on his way and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
3. What praises and thanksgivings are due from the pardoned sinner !
[At present you can have but little conception of the blessings conferred upon you : for you cannot see one thousandth part of your guilt, or conceive one thousandth part of the glory that awaits you: and still less can you comprehend the wonders of love and mercy that have been vouchsafed to you in the gift of God's only dear Son for your redemption. What indeed you do already know, is abundantly sufficient to fill your souls with unutterable joy, and your lips with incessant praise. But what will be your feelings at the instant of the departure of your soul from this earthly tabernacle, and of its admission into the presence of your God? Then you will see somewhat of the depth of misery from which you have been redeemed, and of the height of glory to which you are exalted; and will behold your Redeemer face to face; and join in all the songs of the redeemed: and look forward to eternity as the duration of your bliss. Surely these things should be ever on your minds: they should make you to be “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of that blessed day.” But, suppose that your night of weeping were to continue to the
c Luke xv. 10.
a Ps. cxix. 136.
b Rom. ix. 2.
hour of your dissolution, how short would it appear, when once that morning burst upon your view! Are you not ashamed that you should ever grudge the seed for such a harvest ? Will not one hour of that glory be an ample recompence for all the exertions you ever made for the attainment of it? Go on, then, with heaven in your view: and live in the sweet anticipation of the glory that awaits you. Methinks the very prospect of such a morning constitutes its very dawn, and will be to your souls the commencement of heaven upon earth.]
CAUSE AND CURE OF SPIRITUAL DESERTION. Ps. xxx. 6—12. In my prosperity I said, I shall never be
moved : Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me! Lord, be thou my helper! Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent: 0 Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.
AMONGST all the friends of vital godliness it is supposed that Christian experience is well understood: but it is a lamentable truth, that those in general who think themselves best acquainted with it, are exceedingly mistaken with respect to some of its most important parts. The distinctive offices of faith and unbelief, of confidence and fear, are by no means clearly defined in the minds either of ministers or people; on the contrary, they are often so confounded as to produce very serious evils; for by the misconceptions respecting them many are instructed to shun what God approves, and to cultivate what he abhors. For instance; A persuasion that we are God's elect people, and that we are in no danger of perishing, is recommended by many as the root and summit of Christian faith; whilst a fear lest we should have deceived ourselves, or should
ultimately perish, is characterized as an evil heart of unbelief: and thus, a godly jealousy over ourselves is discouraged as a sin, and an unfounded confidence respecting our state is encouraged as a virtue. These mistakes arise partly from a blind following of human authorities, and partly from being confined by the trammels of human systems. To have just views on these subjects is of great importance both for ministers and people; for ministers, that they may know how to discriminate between good and evil in their flocks; and to the people, that they may form such an estimate of themselves as God himself forms of them.
The psalm before us will afford us an occasion for marking the distinctions which we conceive to be so eminently useful, and yet so generally wanted. It is said in the title to have been written at the dedication of David's house ; but we apprehend it was rather at the second dedication of it, after it had been shamefully defiled by Absalom. To this period of time, rather than to any other, we are directed by many parts of the psalm. It should seem that about that time the prosperity of David had lulled him into a state of undue security; and that God sent him this affliction to rouse him from it. The successive frames of his mind are here clearly marked; and must successively be considered as they are here presented to our view : I. His carnal security
[There being to all appearance perfect tranquillity in his kingdom, David conceived that no evil could arise to disturb his repose: and it seems that a similar confidence was also indulged by him in reference to his spiritual enemies. This is, indeed, the common effect of long continued prosperity: but it is a state of mind highly displeasing to God. We are dependent creatures: and ought at all times to feel, that whatever we have, whether of a temporal or spiritual nature, is but lent to us from hour to hour, according to the good pleasure of Him, “ in whom we live, and move, and have our being." The very continuance of our lives should be regarded in this view; so that we should never think of what we will do in the next year, or even on the morrow, without an express reference to