"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." (Psalm 32:1,2)
THE heading of this Psalm is "A Psalm of Instruction." It is a Psalm which details much of the experience of the Lord's people, and it has been a precious portion of "instruction" to the family of God in all ages.
I desire to treat this portion of the Psalm as containing a most important doctrine--the most important that a poor man can set before his fellow-sinners--even the great doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. Hear it, any poor sinner whose heart the Lord may be pleased to touch this night, our message is, that there is forgiveness of sins. But we do not stop here. We shall, in the first place, speak of what we have learned of the nature and character of Gospel forgiveness. We shall then speak of the blessedness ensuing from the forgiveness of sins. And then from the last clause of the second verse which, I believe, is not always comprehended rightly--"In whose spirit there is no guile"--I shall endeavor to show you some of the hindrances in the way of receiving this message of the forgiveness of sins.
We speak first of the doctrine that is here presented--the forgiveness of sins. Observe the three expressions that are used, "transgression," "sin," "iniquity." We have these expressions frequently put together in the Scriptures. You will remember a passage in the 34th of Exodus, where the Lord reveals Himself to Moses as a God "keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin."
I might, perhaps, profitably enter into the distinction that has been drawn, and is to be drawn, between those several terms, "transgression," "sin," "iniquity," as implying something wrong in man, or done wrong by man. That great scholar, that master in Hebrew literature, Bishop Horsley, renders these words differently; he thus renders the opening of the Psalm, "Blessed is he who is eased of the burden of his transgression or wilful sin;" he renders the next term "sin," "trespass;" and lastly, "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity," or "perverseness."
It would seem that he took this threefold view of the corruption that is in man, and of the streams of evil that flow out from that polluted fountain. First, that there is a rebellious bearing that man at times assumes--a lifting up boldly of the banner of his disloyalty in the face of God. Again, that there are sins that we would desire to have crushed, so that they should not travel, as they do, making a thoroughfare of our breast--that inward sin that cleaves to us, which works its way subtilely through all the departments of the inner man--that sin that dwells within, and we wish to have done with it; but it is there; we try to stop its progress, yet we find it roaming through the whole inner man. Again, when Bishop Horsley speaks of the perverseness of "iniquity," it would seem to denote the relative failure that there is in the intercourse of man with his fellow-man.
I have presented to you, brethren, what I suppose he means by his translation of these words. I honor his learning, and I honor his piety; he was a man of God; he was, as I said, a master in Hebrew learning. But leaving him and his interpretations, we come to fact.
We may hide it, we may try to cloak it, but yet there is this threefold monster in every one of us, and exhibited by every one of us. There is the working of sin in the inner man, there is that of which the Apostle Paul speaks when he says, "I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me." There were seasons when his heart went out in love to God, but there was that which dragged down his soul. "Evil," he says, "is present with me." All of us have this sin, though we have not all the "when I would do good." There are those who wallow in sin, who have nothing to check them but the fear of man, pride, honor, reputation, and so on. We all know what it is to have entered into willful transgression, we all know what it is to have done that which conscience tells us is wrong.
And then, in our intercourse with others, we know how the world teems with the wickedness of man towards his fellow-man. We often hear men speak of that to which they give a wrong name, that which they term, "restraining grace." Grace, brethren, is too precious a thing to be thus scattered abroad. Wherever grace is at work in the heart of a poor sinner, there follows in its train the sealing of the Spirit unto the day of redemption. The proper language to use is, that God, for the sake of His own cause, for the sake of His Church, binds, and holds, and restrains the evil dispositions of men by the force of His own sovereign power and purpose.
Therefore, when we find men saying, that there are very amiable dispositions in men of the world who have never known Christ--when we hear of the fine qualities that there are in men--and we hear enough of these things in the present day, when men want us to be in love with nature, rather than with grace--when we hear of these things, let us turn to the 3rd of Romans, the 3rd of Titus, and the 2nd of Ephesians: we do not there find that there is so much as one redeeming quality in man, though men are so fond of speaking of their fellow-men as beautiful specimens of what is good. I believe, brethren, that God makes one man kind, He makes another man liberal, all for His own purpose, and in order that this world may not be a very hell, which it would be if God did not restrain and mold the dispositions of men as He pleases. We have now told you what we believe is meant by these expressions in our text. I was going to say, that to follow out this subject would fill a volume, but it does fill a volume, for the whole Bible, from beginning to end, presents to us man as a sinner; sin, as you know, runs through every pore of his moral system.
Now were it not for the message which I am sent here to proclaim, and which every minister of the Gospel is sent to proclaim, man would be in a desperate condition. Were it not for the message which this verse presents to us this night, man would be in a desperate condition--"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven." So that here we have the Gospel coming to this rebel--this man wrong in his heart, wrong to his neighbor, wrong personally, wrong relatively: the Gospel tells him that transgression is forgiven, or as it is in the 130th Psalm, "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared."
The meaning of the word transgression being forgiven is, that the sinner is eased of his burden--that his sins are lifted off his shoulders. The Gospel tells us by whom those iniquities have been borne--"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Again, Peter says, in the 2nd chapter of his 1st Epistle, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness, by whose stripes ye were healed."
These are the declarations of the Gospel, brethren. Mark the freeness, the fullness of the redemption that there is through the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Apostle Paul is proclaiming this to the Ephesians, he says, in the 1st chapter, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins"--unconditionally, fully, freely. And woe be to that man who presumes to proclaim a Gospel clogged with bargains or conditions.
Let us now observe the next expression, "Blessed is the man whose sin is covered." What a precious word is this! How it marks out the peculiarity that there is in the character of God! Perhaps some here have never thought that "He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity." Wrath will come down in showers upon the transgressor. "Blessed," then, "is the man whose sin is covered." He can come boldly into the presence of God, because he is without sin. I take these expressions in all their fullness. I believe that there never was a sinner who believed the Gospel, whose iniquities were not laid on the Lord Jesus, and borne away by Him. I believe it to be the privilege of the sinner who believes the record which God has given of His Son, to know that his sins shall never meet him again.
It would be to me a painful thought, if I were to believe that, at the last day, there is to be an opening out of my transgressions. I could not bear to think that the enormities of my breast should be brought out before any of you in this congregation. And would not you, the most hardened sinner here present, would not you turn pale--would not your lips quiver, your knees shake, if you were forced to stand in the face of this congregation, and to hear the secrets of your heart read out? Which of you would not wish the earth to open beneath your feet, that you might sink into it? Therefore I say, the Gospel is a message of great comfort, because it tells us, "Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more." It is one of the most extraordinary expressions in the Scriptures, as if God would present some failure in His own memory. O the comfort upon a dying bed to a poor sinner, to believe that his iniquities shall never more be brought into remembrance, but that they shall be cast into the very depths of the sea! This is the Gospel which gives me comfort, as the Word says, in the 103rd Psalm--"As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." I would never see one of my transgressions again. I hate the iniquities that have grieved the Holy Spirit of God.
But let us look at another expression. "Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity." Now mark, it is God that does not impute sin. How little do the ungodly people of the world think of this, when they would throw a stone at one of God's precious ones. O that they would remember that the people who are in Christ, are a people to whom the Lord will not impute iniquity! Why? Because "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." If Iniquity could be imputed unto the man whose sins have been borne by the Lord Jesus Christ, it would be saying that the Lord Jesus was not able to make an atonement--that there was some failure in His work; it would be saying--we speak it with reverence--that God was not just to His engagements. If the iniquity of His people has been borne away, it can never be laid to their charge.
There is a precious view of this subject taken by the Apostle Paul, in the 4th chapter of Romans. When he is speaking of the justification of the sinner, he says--"David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works." Where does David say any such thing? See how the Apostle quotes Scripture. He quotes from this very Psalm--"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." If there is a passage in the Bible that more completely than another overthrows that system that is so prevalent in the world--that an atonement has been made for every sinner, but that sinners may not get any good from it--this is the passage. Righteousness is here presented as co-extensive with atonement; justification as co-extensive with sin-bearing. In order to be consistent, we must either admit this, or we must say that the Lord Jesus Christ died for every man, and that therefore every man is saved. Wherever atonement has been made, righteousness follows.
We pray that the Lord may apply the Word that has been spoken to the hearts of those who have heard it this night. We are not afraid of its fullness and freeness. I say this in the hearing of men who are amazingly anxious for the moral effects of the Gospel. No man more dreads to see men walking inconsistently and unsteadily than I do; but this I say, the only thing that can make a man walk rightly is receiving the message of the Gospel.
But let me address a word to some poor sinner who, it may be, came into this Church this night thoughtless, ungodly, hating the truth of Christ. Such a one has heard proclaimed to him free and present pardon, full and everlasting redemption, through the Lord Jesus Christ; he has been enabled this night to receive this message; he has been enabled to say, I see from this Word that there is forgiveness for such a sinner as I am. I know who has done this, brethren. It is not the preacher; it is God the Holy Ghost who has done this, and therefore I am not afraid of the consequences. Let him return to his home, and if he there meet his ungodly family idling by his fireside, talking about trifles, and follies, and the business of the world, not having been able to venture to their place of worship, he will go in amongst them as if he was the messenger of strange tidings; he will feel very uncomfortable while he listens to their conversation; he may, perhaps, be afraid at first to tell what God has done for his soul; but his breast will heave, he will feel some stinging of conscience, and that man will go to bed a new creature in Christ Jesus; he will rise tomorrow morning and meet his family a changed man; and before many days his family will begin to suspect him; they will begin to ask what company he has been keeping; they will begin to think that he is mad; and very soon that poor man will have hard things said of him; very soon his family will show that they suspect he is a master of a secret that they know nothing of. And if I had time, I might follow that man until the day when his tongue shall be loosed for the Lord, and when he shall be made to witness for His name. God will carry on His own work in that soul, and the Gospel which he has heard this night will cheer him all his way through this wilderness world.
The Lord knows your hearts, brethren; He knows whether you have received the message of the Gospel this night; the day will declare it. The Lord grant that in that day when the Son of Man shall be revealed in His glory, that you and I may rejoice before His throne, and praise and bless His name for ever and ever.
We speak, secondly, of the blessedness of the state and condition of the Lord's people. It is a very large department of things to travel over, to tell you what a happy man he is who has no sin, whose sins have all been laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ. When I say he has "no sin," I mean no sin in the sight of God, because his sins have all been laid upon his Surety.
First, I should like to say a little of the blessedness of the believer as to his standing before God. He is a happy man of whom it may be said, as the Apostle says to the Corinthians, after he had been traveling over some of the foulest and vilest places that one can conceive, "Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified," and all this "in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." So that we hold this to be the position that a man occupies who stands before God, not only as a criminal whose chains have been struck off, and who has been made a free man of Christ, but as one who stands before God, justified in the Lord Jesus; one who can look to Him who is at the right hand of God, and say, He is "The Lord my Righteousness." This is what every believer in the Gospel ought to say, for he is not only a pardoned sinner, but he is a righteous man in the sight of God. You often hear the word, that "God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity;" therefore when God takes us, and brings us into union with Himself, He must see us to be "without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." And not only this--God's people are also His sanctified ones; every child of God is born of the Holy Ghost; he is taken out of the mass of the ungodly world, and he is consecrated to the service of God, who wrote his name in the book of life before the foundation of the world, and who has made him to be "a vessel sanctified and meet for the Master's use."
A second feature of this blessedness is, the everlasting security of it. What a Gospel it is to bring before the poor sinner, in which there is not one particle of contingency, or of uncertainty! When we tell him of the great mercy of God, according to the tenor of the everlasting covenant of Jehovah--Father, Son, and Spirit--why we wrap him in a panoply of security, we lodge him in the arms of Jehovah; none can pluck him thence. You remember Him who said, "My Father which gave them Me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."
Again, a third item in this blessedness is, the preciousness of each one of God's dear children to Him. We may be speaking in the hearing of some tried and trembling one, who thinks that he or she is not fit to crawl the earth. We say to him or to her, There is not one upon whom the precious blood of Jesus has been sprinkled, that is not very precious to God; so that when God condescends to speak of us, He speaks of us as His "jewels," "the apple of His eye." And you remember that word in the 17th of John, where the Lord Jesus says, "I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them," as if He would throw Himself, with all His merits and worthiness, into His poor people, that thus the beams of His Father's countenance might rest on them.
So much as to the blessedness of their state--the blessedness of their standing before God--the blessedness of their everlasting security--the blessedness of the preciousness of each one of God's dear children unto Him.
But we must say something of their blessedness as to their experience. It was not for nothing that the Holy Ghost wrote as He did by the pen of Paul the Apostle, "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice." These are the words of the Holy Ghost, and if I am a believer in the Lord Jesus, it is as much my duty to rejoice, as it is my duty to keep any one of God's commandments. What a word did we hear this evening in the 1st chapter of the 1st Epistle of Peter--"Whom having not seen ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." And then are we, through timidity and the fear of man--the fear of being thought presumptuous--are we to say, We do not rejoice, when God the Holy Ghost has been pleased to make us rejoice? Is there one who knows Christ, and does not rejoice in the thought of what Christ has done for him? And are we to think lightly of what God the Spirit has done for us? O, brethren, the Lord's people are the only happy people.
We will go into that region that the people of the world call their own, and we say, in time of prosperity, the Lord's people are the happiest people; they are taught not to forget God in prosperity. The time of prosperity is sometimes a time of temptation to the Lord's people; but they learn to walk warily when the sun shines upon them. They are always afraid of themselves, but never afraid of the Lord; the Lord is their guardian and their guide.
And they have blessedness in that in which people of the world never have it--they have blessedness in seasons of trial and of affliction. We speak in the hearing of some of God's children, who know something of deep waters, who have tasted something of the bitterness of affliction, and when they look at the dealings of God in those seasons, they can praise Him for the many precious lessons that He has taught them. He has never told us that affliction is "joyous;" He has told us it is "grievous." We have learned better than to tell a child of God, You should not grieve and mourn; you should trample upon those visitations, and show that you are above them. "Jesus wept." We are told that "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous." God knoweth how His children are sometimes exercised in the season of trial; but we say they learn many profitable lessons in those seasons; they learn to see a Father's hand in all their afflictions.
We sometimes hear it said by ignorant persons, that it is in this way that God cleanses His people from sin. Brethren, the time of affliction is a time in which the devil is very busy with the Lord's people. If he can, he will throw into the mind hard thoughts of God, and if he cannot do this, very often he makes it a self-righteous season, he makes them think, These afflictions will surely do me good, they will remove from me more of my sin. Be most jealous of such false doctrine, brethren. Nothing takes away sin but the blood of Christ. And then, when you remember this, let me tell you what the effect of affliction will be: you will look to the Lord Jesus, who has borne all your sin, and there will be no estrangement of your heart from God.
And again, the child of God has blessedness in the hour of death. I have known people of God who have had a deeper sense of their own sin as they drew near to the close of their earthly pilgrimage, than they ever had before. It would seem as if when they were about to enter into the presence of God, they were given such conceptions of the holiness of the character of God, that their own vileness seemed to stand out more prominently than ever--they felt that there was no one spot on which they could rest their feet, but the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And if we could follow these blessed people on, after they have left the things of time, if we could follow them on until the day when them that "sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him," the day when He shall present to His Father every one for whom He is responsible, what blessedness they then shall have! They have blessedness in their pilgrimage state, they have blessedness in death, and they shall have blessedness in the glorious future.
But we said we would mention some of the difficulties in the way of God's children, as to their drawing near to the Lord in the comfortable assurance of having the forgiveness of their sins. We thought that the passage "in whose spirit there is no guile," was sometimes not understood. One has heard interpretations of it sometimes, which would make it appear that the meaning of the Psalmist was this, "Blessed is the man whose sin is covered," and who has no sin--that "no guile" means nothing wrong in the man.
We think that the context explains the meaning of the passage--"When I kept silence," says the Psalmist, "my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." All seemed to be withered and blackened. We believe that what the Psalmist here speaks of is, the unreserved, honest, open, believing confession of sin before the Lord.
Brethren, we speak now of an experience with which, it may be, many in this congregation who know the Lord are well acquainted. I believe all the Lord's people know more or less of the experience here described. There is often guile--I mean by "guile," reserve, dishonesty, want of straightforwardness, or openness with God in this matter of the confession of sin. I might give you some of the causes of it, some of the circumstances which tend to this dishonesty with God.
There are seasons, and there have been seasons, and there have been circumstances, in which a child of God has been placed, in which he has been too proud to confess his sin before God. I do not speak of that general confession of sin--"All we like sheep have gone astray." I speak now of an experience with which the people of God are familiar. Something is wrong in the believer's breast, something which Satan has made use of to estrange him from God: why does he not go into his room, shut his door, fall upon his knees, and tell the Lord, There, Then, So, I transgressed, and it worked thus, and it went to this extent, and it worked through every department of my heart. There is difficulty, brethren, in thus acknowledging to the Lord the very thing that the soul is grieved by.
I have often thought that one of the most mysterious passages in the whole of Scripture is the long period in the history of David that intervened between the time when he transgressed and the time when Nathan the prophet was sent to speak to him. O, if we could have read his heart during those months, when probably something of this experience was felt, which is recorded in this 32nd Psalm; perhaps there was many a time when his soul was dried up and withered, and proud spirit filled his breast, which increased day by day, and which made it more and more difficult to come to the Lord, and to acknowledge to Him his sin.
I do not now speak of transgression that men of the world can see, but I speak of those things that are in the heart, that sometimes do estrange the child of God from the throne of grace. And then there is an unwillingness to confess the details, the minutiae to God, and God will have it all. We know the deceitfulness of the heart. We know what is said by the prophet Jeremiah--"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?" It is very easy to say, Satan tempted me; it is very easy to say, The devil did this, or the devil did the other. It is not the devil very often, it is ourselves. The devil may tempt us, but the sin is ours. Eve took care to tell the Lord it was the devil tempted her, but the transgression clave to her. It is very easy to say, These are some of the infirmities of my nature, and very often in saying this, we are on the very edge of thinking, God put such and such things into my heart, God made me thus, and I cannot help it. This is daring opposition to God, brethren.
I could give you another reason why I speak of the dishonesty of the Lord's people. Have they never passed through such an experience as this, that they are not always anxious to get rid of the sin that rankles in their consciences? Perhaps not always ready to answer the question, "Wilt thou be made whole?" And therefore, they wish to come to some truce with the evil that is in their breasts. It will not do, brethren. There must be honesty with God.
If time permitted, we could take you to other departments of the guile which is in the human heart, and which God's people suffer much hindrance from.
But before we close, we remember that we may be speaking in the hearing of some thoughtless ones in this congregation, to whom much of what we have been saying is strange. It may be that God, in the exercise of His sovereign power, may have said of you, "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone." You may go on your way, perhaps, sneering at the truths that God's people delight in; the Lord comes, His kingdom is revealed, and in that day, "where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" The Word tells us that the wicked will then "call on the mountains and on the rocks to fall on them, and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." But it may be that God may have sent some of you here this night to hear the Gospel message of forgiveness. And what a message you have heard! Do us the justice to say you have heard forgiveness for the sinner, freely bestowed by God, for Christ's sake.
But let us, in conclusion, address a word of warning to the Lord's people, who understand something of what we have said as to their experience. Brethren, you have need of prayer at every step against your own deceitful hearts. Take heed of self-righteousness. It is this that prevents us seeing the glory of God "in the face of Jesus Christ." Take heed of low views of Gospel truth. There is plenty of false doctrine abroad under the name of Gospel--take care of it; never let go the high standard of Gospel truth, never let it be lowered. Take care of wrong thoughts of God's character. Remember it is the glory of God to pardon the sinner, for the sake of Christ. Remember this, the Lord who knows our hearts knows the deceitfulness of them. May the Lord give us honesty! may the Lord give us unreserved, free communion with Himself, that when we enter our chamber, and shut the door, there to hold converse with Him, we may feel it our privilege to tell what passes in the inmost region of our breast. May we keep our eye fixed on the blood of Jesus, and may we rejoice much in Him!