To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, to the blameless You show Yourself blameless,
1. The supreme importance which he attaches to moral distinctions amongst men. Such distinctions are often made light of in comparison with wisdom, might, and riches (Jeremiah 9:23); and those who possess the latter despise and trample upon the ignorant, the weak, and the poor (ver. 27). But God has chiefly respect to men in their moral attitude toward himself, their relation to the law of right, their personal character (1 Samuel 2:30). With him the great distinction is that between the righteous and the wicked (Psalm 34:15, 16). Whilst his infinite greatness dwarfs earthly power and honour into insignificance, his perfect righteousness exalts moral worth beyond measure.
2. The different treatment which he adopts toward men of different character. In himself he is always the same (1 Samuel 15:29); but the aspect which his character and dealings assume toward them is determined by their own character and conduct, and is the necessary manifestation of his unchangeable rectitude - on the one hand, toward the "loving," etc., full of love (all that is kind, desirable, and excellent); on the other, toward the "perverse," perverse (contrary, antagonistic, "as an enemy," Lamentations 2:5; Leviticus 26:23, 24; Hosea 2:6), inflicting severe chastisement. "There is a higher law of grace, whereby the sinfulness of man but draws forth the tenderness of a father's pardoning pity; and the brightest revelation of his love is made to froward prodigals. But this is not the psalmist's view here, nor does it interfere with the law of retribution in its own sphere" (Maclaren).
3. The signal change which he makes in their relative positions; saving and exalting the oppressed and afflicted, and humbling the proud oppressor; his purpose therein being to vindicate, honour, and promote righteousness, and to restrain, correct, and put an end to iniquity (1 Samuel 2:8, 10). "What is God doing now?" it was asked of Rabbi Jose, and the reply was, "He makes ladders on which he causes the poor to ascend and the rich to descend" (The Midrash). - D.
With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful.
(John W. Chadwick.)
I. In the first place, OUR LIFE IS EXPERIENCE OF GOD; for in Him most literally we live and move and have our being. If we find that this set of actions has one result and that set has another — this, as far as it goes, is a most authentic revelation to us of God. To say, therefore, that life is different to different men, above all as they differ in point of spiritual character, is to say that God shows Himself to them as so many different gods. To an honest man life is different from what it is to a rogue; different to a merciful man from what it is to a churl or a miser; different to a pure man from what it is to a sot or a debauchee. To take the illustration which is nearest at hand — David would have had a different experience from Saul whether he had or had not got Saul's place. The one man could be eminently happy with a shepherd's crook, and it mattered little to either so long as each was what he was in character. No two men could have had a more different experience in their lives; but the difference, such as it was, we can see, was in themselves — not made by their fortunes, but by their characters; not by the events of peace or war, but by the quality of mercy in the one case and of wilfulness in the other. Thus justice is done between man and man where justice is sure, and where it is perfect — in themselves. Many good people at the present time are haunted by an alarm which is altogether visionary. Look, they say, how many who live vicious lives know nothing of remorse! If there be no such thing as eternal punishment for the wicked, then there is no punishment; if there be no hell, there is no harm. But this is to take a very narrow view of human experience. There is much more remorse in people's hearts than they wear upon their sleeves. Many a smiling face, if you could get behind that mask, would show you grim enough features. At the same time, I grant readily that if remorse, so called, were all the difference between man and man on the score of character, the difference might seem to be trifling. It is the best and not the worst natures which know most of remorse. A good man falls into sin, and he knows what hell is. The wicked have no bands in their death. Consciences, which ought to burn, are seared; they should be live coals, and they are white cold ashes. I grant all this. But is there nothing besides remorse in question as between life and life? For apart from remorse and everything like it, and in the nature of things, and everywhere and always, it is one thing to be upright and another to be wilful, it is one thing to be a kind man and another to be an unkind, one thing to be pure and another to be impure. The good of being good is ill being so, and not in having no remorse; and the evil of being evil is in being so, and not in having remorse. Why will people so constantly forget this or overlook it? It is not that these different men have here and there, at odd moments, different or contrary experiences, but that the world in which each lives is a wholly different world. I know, for certain, that he who loves righteousness and truth and goodness would think that fate the cruellest of all possible which condemned him to be a rogue or a hypocrite. Thus, in the first place, because life is experience of God, to different men God is different. But I hasten now to remark that to different men —
II. HE IS ALSO DIFFERENT AS AN OBJECT OF STUDY AND REFLECTION. On many other subjects, or rather on most, if people agree they do agree, and if they differ they differ, and there is an end of it. But it is different with regard to the highest object of human thought — God. People may agree, and do agree, in their language respecting Him, who have little or nothing in common in their thought and meaning. In point of fact, I venture to say, in the first place, among us, who all profess the same creed, there are Gods many and Lords many. Wesley, it is said, remonstrated with Whitfield as to his ideas of God, telling him, "your God is my devil." And is it not obvious that something of the same sort might be said by sets of Christians at the present day to other sets? It is not what you read in sacred books, but the common notions of men that shape the common beliefs about God. Protestants do not believe in the God of the Romanist, nor he in heirs, though they have the same Bible and the same great articles of faith. To be condemned to think of God, as some men think of Him, and must think of Him, their life being stronger than their creed, not as a being to be loved, but as one to be feared or hated — this is punishment. If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness? If your religion is night, where is your day? If God is a bugbear, what is your life? What other gain, or reward, or happiness, on the other hand, would you desire than the religion of Christ — to love righteousness and truth and goodness with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and to believe that God, who is over all, and is the Beginning and the End of all, is all that you love? What other reward, gain, happiness would you have than that? Christianity is a sorry gain, I admit, to many who profess it, except it be the only escape from the bottomless pit, and from the lake of fire and brimstone. It is a sorry gain to those, and they are many, whose notion is that something which God can give them, or some place in which He can put them, will be heaven. But that which makes God Himself our heaven is great gain, without reference to any life but this. With this a man might live and die, and doubt if he is to live again, and with his last breath bless God — the merciful man's God, and his exceeding great reward.
III. I have but to add, then, last of all, as THE PRACTICAL LESSON WHICH WE GET FROM ALL THIS — a man may change his Church and his creed and not change his God; but he changes his God when he changes his life. Let us, by trying to do the will of God in our daily life, learn of the truth whether it be of God. Otherwise we shall never learn it.
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