The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew/Chapter 7
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III. IN RELATION TO CHRISTENDOM.
We now come to the last section of this psalm (verses 16-23), addressed to a third party which is distinct from " His saints " (verse 5) and " Israel " (verse 7). " But to the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth ? " Who are these ? Not the nations who have not heard of the fame or glory of Christ, but professors in Christendom who know in a manner God's statutes, and who unworthily take His holy covenant in their mouth (verse 16). This feature marks them off at once from the heathen, and from those who are truly God's. The distinguishing characteristic of those who are true subjects of the new covenant of grace is this : " I will put My law in their inward parts, and will write it in their hearts ; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people " (Jer. xxxi. 33) ; but these have the covenant only in their mouth.
1 The word is the same as in the command " Honour thy father and mother."
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They cry indeed, " Lord, Lord," and are often so like the real and true that it is impossible for man to distin- guish (Matt xiii. 24-30), but they are the tares among the wheat ; the foolish virgins, who merely imitate the wise ; the goats among Christ's true sheep, to whom He shall say in that day, " I never knew you ; depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity." They are those represented by the evil servant who says in his heart, " My Lord delayeth His coming," and begins to smite the true men-servants and maidens in Christ's Church, and to eat and drink and be drunken ; to whom the Lord will " come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the un- believers (Luke xii. 45, 46). They are the same of whom the apostle warns us as especially manifesting themselves in the perilous times of the " last days," when " men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, ostentatious, arrogant, defamers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, irreligious, without natural affection, truce- breakers, intriguers, without self-control, fierce, despisers of good men, traitors, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. iii. 1-5). The very fact of their knowing and speaking of God's statutes is an aggravation of their guilt, and will increase their condemnation, for they are like that servant who knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, and who shall be beaten with many stripes (Luke xii. 47). Better far had it been for them had they been born in heathen lands, and never heard of God's grace or covenant faithfulness, instead of hearing it and responding only with their mouth.
But the address continues : " And thou hatest in- struction, and castest My words behind thee." Here
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are other striking features of apostate professors. They have God's statutes in their mouth, and it may be are very careful in chanting the responses as the solemn words of the Ten Commandments are read out to them in the church on a Sunday. They know also that " instruction in righteousness " is one of the chief ends for which these statutes were given by God, yet in their heart they hate instruction ; nay, in wilful rebellion they cast God's words behind their back in contemptuous disregard. This is no poetic fancy or exaggeration, but a graphic picture of what may already be seen even in Protestant Christendom, and what is becoming more and more manifest as the time of the end draws nigh.
Alas ! Christendom is guilty of the very same things which characterised the last stages of Israel's previous apostasy which culminated in judgment. They also were disobedient and rebelled against God by " casting His laws behind their back " (Nehem. ix. 26), wherefore they were given into the hands of their enemies, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost ; and this to a more terrible degree will be the lot of Christendom.
The casting God's laws behind their back is naturally followed by definite breaches of the commandments, as is brought out in the following verses : " When thou sawest a thief then thou consentest with him, and with adulterers is thy portion. Thy mouth hast thou sent out to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest down deliberately to speak against thy brother, and thine own mother's son thou woundest by slander." Here is the direct violation of the commands, " Thou shalt not steal" ; "Thou shalt not commit adultery"; "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." Atheists and sceptics may insist that man can properly fulfil his obligations to his fellow-men without the recog-
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nition of the authority of God or His Word, and may attempt to separate faith from ethics, but Scripture, and also history and experience, testify to the contrary.
Men who turn their back upon the living God, and question the Divine authority of His revelation, are sure in time to break loose against their fellows. The commandments which the wicked are here accused of breaking, are all taken from the second table, on which is inscribed man's duty to man, and their violation is traced to the fact of their first alienating their hearts from all allegiance to God and then casting His law behind their back.
It would seem almost incredible that such flagrant wickedness could exist alongside outward profession of religion, but experience of what is actually going on in our midst, and the world's " progress " as chronicled even in the secular press of this Protestant country, where the Bible has been an open book for centuries, and where almost everybody takes God's covenant in their mouth, proves the literalness and accuracy of this Divine forecast. Is it not but yesterday that we read of a prominent legislator being convicted of the vilest un- cleanness only a few days after he had made a speech at the laying of the foundation-stone of a chapel ? And still more recently have we not read of one guilty of defrauding the public presenting a gold communion service to the Cathedral Church of London? 1
1 While preparing these notes my eyes are directed to an article in the current number of a widely-circulated news- paper, the usual tone of which is rationalistic and abstract Unitarian. I quote a few sentences as a testimony from a mouth- piece of the world concerning its morals : " The revelations of the past few weeks might well give pause to any one who strongly
believes in the progress of the world. The case (then
before the Courts), followed by an article in The Times, which it is not extravagant to term the most startling journalistic article
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And even among those who " declare God's statutes " as teachers and preachers, are there not some, even as in the apostle's time, who profess the truth in hypocrisy, and who, though transforming themselves as angels of light, and with feigned words make merchandise of many, are enemies of the Cross of Christ, " whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly," and whose real care is for " earthly things " ? Such are but samples and illustrations of " the wicked " in this solemn scripture to whom the words of warning are addressed.
But what shall be said of the still more apostate " Christian " nations of the Continent, where the most shameless immoralities are often found hand in hand with the most incredible superstition, and where the name " Christian " to a pious Jew is the very synonym of lawless wickedness ?
But we proceed to the solemn closing words of the address to this class of " the wicked " : " These things hast thou done, and I kept silence ; thou thoughtest therefore that I am become one altogether like unto thee, but I will reprove thee (or convince thee by reasoning), and set (all thy deeds and words) in order before thine eyes."
The word translated " these things " is emphatic, as if to express, " To such lengths didst thou presume in thy wickedness, and I kept silence." Man has always
of the year, revealed a deep-set corruption in our modern society more characteristic, we would fain hope, of old Rome, in its corrupt and licentious decay, than of modern England. . . . The Emperor Augustus vainly tried by law to stem the foul flood of gross degradation, which was the real cause of old Rome's down- fall. For that Niagara London society, or a portion of it which is called ' smart/ seems to be steering straight. ... If we turn from that sink of corruption to the financial world, the prospect is no brighter. . . . The race for wealth which characterises the present generation is not short of appalling."
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misunderstood and misinterpreted the marvellous patience and long-suffering of the everlasting God. " Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccles. viii. n). Because the thunderbolts of God's wrath do not immediately fall, even the righteous have been some- times tempted to say, " How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High ? "
The wicked, not knowing that it is infinite goodness which is the cause of infinite patience on the part of the Righteous and Holy One, have blasphemously insulted His majesty by lowering the standard of His absolute holiness, as the One who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and who cannot look upon evil except to abhor it They think, or hope, that they will find God altogether like unto themselves in their abominable complacency and compromise with sin. But God, who takes note of what man thinks, as well as of his words and deeds, warns him that he is mistaken. Far from thinking lightly of, or overlooking " the ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him," a full and minute record of them is kept in His book, and " in that day " when the book of God is opened, they will be " set in order " (or " in regular array ") before their eyes, and oh ! what a terrible indictment of professing Christendom, both collectively and individually, that record will be found to contain ! " The encouragement of anti-Christianity for the sake of gain, the coalition of Christian governments with the guilds of Mammon against justice, truth, religion, humanity, and liberty ; their covenants made and broken ; their rivalries and envies, highway robbery and rapacity ; their greed of gold and lust of supremacy ;
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their defiance of Christian sentiment and of every appeal to virtue ; their despotism, pride, mis-govern- ment, duplicity, oppression of the weak, and guilty trade with the strong, and, most of all, their shedding of innocent blood all are here recorded with a pen unerring. No injustice is forgotten, no massacre or devastated homes, no crimsoned fields strewn with upturned faces of the dead. Nor is the name of one who took part in producing such scenes, or consented to the wrongs that begat them, misspelled, or his place of residence misread. The whole apostasy of Christendom, the Horn's loud-mouthed arrogance, and the words of the cry, ' We will not have this Man to reign over us,' are written in the ' Books,' and judgment by the records must pass on the kingdoms whose boast was their Christianity, culture, civilisation." x
And not only these collective and national sins of Christendom, for which every member of the evil con- federacy is more or less responsible, will then rise up in judgment against them, but remember, man's individual open and secret sins, are recorded too, and will then be " set in order before his eyes," so that the opened book of his own conscience may attest the faithful accuracy of the terrible record kept by God, for although, as has been well observed, "sin does not purpose to remember or be remembered, it registers itself with perfect and unfailing regularity in two books the book of God, which shall be opened in that day, and on our own character, mind, and imagination. Only the blood of Christ can blot out sin from the one book, only the Spirit of God from the other." 2
We come now to the two last verses which form the epilogue to this wonderful psalm, and which are especi-
1 " Daniel's Great Prophecy," by Dr. Nathaniel West. 3 Adolph Saphir in " The Lord's Prayer."
ally addressed to the last two classes dealt with, namely, " Israel " and " the wicked." " Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
This is God's last word to the wicked, and it is a word of warning mixed with entreaty, for the first words of this verse might be properly rendered, " Con- sider, I entreat you," and shows God's heart of yearning even for the lost. Like the God of grace that He is, He cannot let them go on the way to perdition, even after they have spurned His authority, and cast His words behind their back, without a final appeal. " Con- sider," or be wise and repent, " for as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live : turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways ; for why will ye die, oh house of Israel ? " And oh sinners of all nations, " give glory to Jehovah your God before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." Oh, be wise and consider; flee for refuge to 1 the only hope set before you in the blood and righteousness of Christ, before God arises terribly to shake the earth, and to tear you in pieces with " none to deliver." But if ye will not hear, " My soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and Mine eye shall weep sore and run down with tears," because of the hardness of your heart, and because of your deliberate choice of darkness rather than the light, and of death rather than life.
The last words to Israel, which are also of application to us, are, " Whoso offereth (or ' sacrificeth ') praise glorifieth Me, and prepareth a way in which I may show him the salvation of God." *
1 This is the rendering of Delitzsch and the margin of the Revised Version, and I think it is the most satisfactory.
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The first part of this verse is a condensation of what He has already taught them in verses 14, 15, where, as we have seen, Israel's deliverance and salvation will come when they turn from mere outward and lifeless form and ceremony to worship God in the spirit and truth, and to praise Him for redemption already accom- plished. But thus also with hearts and souls humbled and attuned to God, a way will be prepared for more and more of the fulness of God's grace arid salvation to be revealed to them.
In connection with the building of Solomon's Temple we read : " It came to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord ; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good ; for His mercy endureth for ever : that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord ; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud : for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God" (2 Chron. v. 13, 14).
So also by and by, after Christ's manifestation to them, when Israel with one heart and voice lift up their sculs in praise and adoration to Jehovah, the God of their fathers, for all His wonderful dealings with them, and especially for His unspeakable gift of His only- begotten Son, and the individual and national blessings purchased by His precious blood, God's glory will appear in their midst and the fulness and riches of His salvation be manifested to them.