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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 139

 

 

Verses 1-24

Psalms 139:1-24

O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.

God’s exhaustive knowledge of man

This lyric has always been the subject of praise. Aben Ezra said there was none like it in the five books. Lord Brougham spoke of it as “that singularly beautiful poem” Herder said that language utterly failed him in its exposition. Erskine of Llinlathen wanted this to be before him on his death-bed. The title ascribes it to David, an ascription corroborated by its originality and majesty and its correspondence with psalms undoubtedly Davidic. Probably the Aramaic colouring is a mere dialectic variation, existing during the whole period of Hebrew history, and occasionally coming to the front as circumstances suggested it.

I. The Divine omniscience (verses 1-6). The poet multiplies expressions to indicate how complete is God’s knowledge of him. Whether he be at rest or in motion, in every posture and state, God knows him. Not only his outward acts, but the thoughts from which they spring are at once discerned. Nothing can escape Jehovah’s eye, for He is behind and before, i.e. on all sides of man, and His hand is upon him to restrain and control. The strophe closes with a frank confession of the writer’s impotence and awe. He cannot comprehend it, which is not strange, for how is the finite to comprehend the infinite? But he knows it and bows in reverence before the sublime truth.

II. The Divine omnipresence (verses 7-12). God is everywhere; not only above all as transcendent, but also through all and in all as immanent in nature. This thought is expanded and enforced by its application to all measures of space. Were man to scale the azure vault overhead, it would only confront him with the Divine personality; were he to sound unimaginable depths in the other direction, the result would be the same. H a man mounted on wings, not those of the sun (Malachi 4:2), nor of the wind (Psalms 18:10), but of the dawn, and pursued the farthest flight westward, if he should fly with the same swiftness as the first rays of the morning shoot from one end of the heavens to the other, still he would not get beyond the Divine presence. Beyond the sea, and far out of the sight of man, God’s hand would lead him, and God’s right hand grasp him.

III. Omnipotence in the creation of man (verses 13-18). The singer revolves in mind the secret processes of man’s birth and development, and gratitude overflows into praise. He sees how he has been made to differ from the inferior creation in constitution and destiny. It is a fearful distinction (Genesis 28:17). Any signal manifestation of Jehovah’s presence, however favourable, inspires awe. The consideration of this single ease leads to the general statement that all God’s works are marvellous, a statement which the writer reaffirms as from an experimental conviction of its truth. In the next verse the curious growth and unfolding of the embryo is referred to. It goes on in secret, as far from human vision as if it were deep down in some subterraneous cavern, but God sees it and directs the mysterious and complicated tissue, as if it were a piece of delicate embroidery. Even in its most rudimental form, invisible to any other ken, it is still open to His eyes, and He determines all its subsequent development, recording in His book the days to come, i.e. the various events and vicissitudes of life, even before one of them existed. Struck by this view of God’s omniscience as embracing the beginning, the unfolding and the completion of all things, the singer bursts out into a recognition of its value. To him God’s thoughts, i.e. His plans and purposes as displayed in these miracles of creation, are precious beyond measure. Nor are they few or slight, but amount to a vast sum, more numerous than the sands of the sea. They are ever before David as an object of adoring wonder, not by day only, but by night; not merely in the watches of the night, but even in his sleep. His meditations are continuous. His communion is unbroken.

IV. The practical application (verses 19-24). The greater any man’s nearness to God, the more intense is his abhorrence of the impiety which disowns or despises the living God. Nor does such a feeling indicate malevolence. “When a foul crime has been perpetrated, tender-hearted Christian women who would not harm a hair of the enemy’s head, but would rather feed him, will express keen resentment, and will be disquieted in mind till they hear that the perpetrator has been convicted and duly punished.” The conclusion of the strophe is striking. The poet returns to the opening words of the psalm, and prays for a new experience of Jehovah’s searching scrutiny, that he may not be given over to self-conceit. The petition is a proof of humility. Although he had averred so strongly his aversion to the wicked, he prays that this may be no mere outward separation. The All-seeing Eye may detect in him some way that leads to sin and sorrow, though he is unconscious of it. Hence he entreats God to see and disclose it, and then taking his hand to lead him in a way which, unlike the way of the wicked (Psalms 1:6), does not perish, but ends in everlasting life. (T. W. Chambers, D. D.)

God’s omniscience and omnipresence

I. Some Scriptural views of the Divine omniscience and omnipresence. God is everywhere present--

1. By His presence.

2. By His power or agency.

3. In the immensity of space.

4. In highest heaven.

5. In hell.

6. We cannot get away from God’s presence.

7. Human inspection is very limited. But God’s eye penetrates the darkest abode, the deepest cell, the obscurest corner, the blackest night.

8. Men only see what a man says and does; God sees all that a man is. “To Him all hearts are open, all desires known.” God knows us, not relatively, but personally.

9. Specially with His people. “Where are you going?” said Collins, the infidel, to a poor but pious man. “To church, sir,” was the reply “What to do there?” “To worship God.” “And can you tell me,” said the infidel, “whether your God is a great or a little God?” “He is both, sir.” “How can He be both?” “He is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and so little that He can dwell in my heart.”

II. Lessons.

1. If God is omniscient and omnipresent, then the moral character of His creatures is unveiled to His gaze, and clearly and distinctly known to Him.

2. If God is omniscient and omnipresent, then the final judgment will be a time of full and complete revelation, as well as a time of righteous retribution (Sirach 11:14; Revelation 20:12). Will the disclosures of that day fill us with joy, or cover us with shame?

3. The importance of an interest in Christ.

4. Try to cherish an abiding sense of God’s presence.

5. Pray at all times and in all places.

6. Be comforted in every time of trouble. (H. Woodcock.)

The all-seeing God

I. Is there an all-seeing God? If not, whence our own existence? Whence our expectations of reward for doing right, of punishment for wrong-doing? Whence the material universe? Whence the original plan, stupendous beyond conception, more minute than the most powerful microscope can reveal, which must have preceded the first act of creation? Whence the march and trend of history, always revealing “a power not ourselves, which makes for righteousness,” and which sweeps away opposition like dust before the oncoming storm? Who conceived the character of Christ, in an age overlaid and penetrated through and through with error? Whose works of grace, in that same earth, have steadily built up a kingdom of love, of peace, of righteousness? If there is a creator of the universe, He must also be its sustainer: He cannot press material forces into service and go and leave them, as we do a windmill to draw water, for all force depends upon Him for its existence. He who superintends all must be all-seeing, and He who presides over all history must take cognizance of every event.

II. What concern has our life, here and hereafter, with the omniscience of God?

1. That exquisite pleasure in sin, which comes from its fancied concealment, is utter folly.

2. God is patient with wrong and sin, because He sees the end from the beginning.

3. Patience under trial and strength in adversity thrive under the all-seeing eye.

4. The friends of God are glad in the sure hope of being more and more consciously under His eye.

5. Corresponding judgments await those who, shrinking from that all-seeing eye, with a repugnance predominant and increasing, must abide its searchings for ever.

6. How priceless the blood of Calvary, in which the saints have “washed their robes and made them white”! (Monday Club Sermons.)

The all-seeing and all-present One

I. The all-seeing One.

1. He sees the whole of an object. At best we can only see the outside of a thing, the curve, the angle, the colour.

2. He sees the whole of every object. How few are the objects we see even thus externally and partially! Some are too small and some too distant. But He sees all, His eye takes in the immeasurable universe.

3. He sees the whole of everything at the same time.

II. The all-present One.

1. He is present everywhere, in the entirety of Himself.

2. He is present in all things, yet distinct from all things.

Practically, this subject serves three important purposes.

1. To refute some popular errors of human life.

2. To reprove some prevalent impieties in human conduct.

3. To reveal the supreme interest of human life. Cultivate a loving affection for Him. (Homilist.)

God and ourselves

This psalm sings of--

I. God.

1. His omniscience.

2. His omnipresence. He is in--

3. His omnipotence (Psalms 139:13-16).

4. The separate, personal thinking of God toward every one of us.

II. Ourselves. Our relation toward such a God should be--

1. That of adoring and constantly thoughtful reverence (verses 17, 18).

2. That of siding with Him against evil (Psalms 139:19-22).

3. That of welcoming the Divine searching (verses 23, 24). Said Milton, speaking of his travels abroad when a young man: “I again take God to witness that in all places where so many things are considered lawful, I lived sound and untouched from all profligacy and vice, having this thought perpetually with me, that though I might escape the eyes of men, I certainly could not the eyes of God.”

4. That of a prayerful seeking of the Divine guidance (verse 24). (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

God’s knowledge of man

One of the most remarkable characteristics of a rational being is the power of self-inspection. Like the air we breathe, like the light we see, it involves a mystery that no man has ever solved. Self-consciousness has been the problem of the philosophic mind in all ages; and the mystery is not yet unravelled. But if that knowledge whereby man knows himself is mysterious, then certainly that whereby God knows him is far more so. That act whereby another being knows my secret thoughts and inmost feelings is most certainly inexplicable.

I. God accurately and exhaustively knows all that man knows of himself. He may be an uncommonly thoughtful person, and little of what is done within his soul may escape his notice; nay, we will make the extreme supposition that he arrests every thought as it rises, and looks at it; that he analyzes every sentiment as it swells his heart; that he scrutinizes every purpose as it determines his will; even if he should have such a thorough and profound self-knowledge as this, God knows him equally profoundly and equally thoroughly. Nay, more, this process of self-inspection may go on indefinitely, and the man grow more and more thoughtful, and obtain an everlastingly augmenting knowledge of what he is and what he does, so that it shall seem to him that he is penetrating so deeply into those dim and shadowy regions of consciousness where the external life takes its very first start, and then he may be sure that God understands the thought that is afar off, and deep down, and that at this lowest range and plane in his experience he besets him behind and before.

II. God accurately and exhaustively knows all that man might, but does not, know of himself. Though the transgressor is ignorant of much of his sin, because, at the time of its commission, he sins blindly as well as wilfully, and unreflectingly as well as freely; and though the transgressor has forgotten much of that small amount of sin, of which he was conscious, and by which he was pained, at the time of its perpetration; though, on the side of man, the powers of self-inspection and memory have accomplished so little towards this preservation of man’s sin, yet God knows it all, and remembers it all. He compasseth man’s path, and his lying down, and is acquainted with all his ways. And here let us look upon the bright as well as the dark side of this subject. For if God’s exhaustive knowledge of the human heart waken dread in one of its aspects, it starts infinite hope in another. If that Being has gone down into these depths of human depravity, and seen it with a more abhorring glance than could ever shoot from a finite eye, and yet has returned with a cordial offer to forgive it all, and a hearty proffer to cleanse it all away, then we can lift up the eye in adoration and in hope. The worst has been seen, and that too by the holiest of beings, and yet eternal glory is offered to us! It is perfectly plain from the elevated central point of view where we now stand, and in the focal light in which we now see, that no man can be justified before God upon the ground of personal character; for that character, when subjected to God’s exhaustive scrutiny, withers and shrinks away. Before the Searcher of hearts all mankind must appeal to mere and sovereign mercy. Justice, in this reference, is out of the question. Now, in this condition of things, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The simple question, then, which meets us is, Wilt thou know thyself here, and now, that thou mayest accept and feel God’s pity; or wilt thou keep within the screen, and not know thyself until beyond the grave, and then feel God’s judicial wrath? The self-knowledge, remember, must come in the one way or the other. It is a simple question of time; a simple question whether it shall come here in this world, where the blood of Christ “freely” flows, or in the future world, where “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)

God’s presence

The fact that God is always present and knows every minute trifle in our lives, and that His unerring judgment will assuredly take count of every detail of our character and our conduct, neither exaggerating nor omitting, but applying absolute justice; this truth is one of those which lose force from their very universality. God has made us so. We become unconscious of everything by long use. We could never discharge our duties properly if we were to be perpetually distracted by the consciousness of what was around us: and, above all, we might be daunted by the perpetual thought of the presence of God, and so be paralyzed instead of helped. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in our forgetting that we are in the presence of God any more than there is anything foolish in our forgetting that we need air to breathe or light to see by, or that if we fall we may hurt ourselves: just in the same way as we very often, and quite rightly, forget that we are in the company of men who will take notice of our faults. The right state of mind plainly is to have the thought of God’s presence so perpetually at hand that it shall always start before us whenever it is wanted. So that whenever we are on the point of doing or saying anything cowardly, or mean, or false, or impure, or proud, or conceited, or unkind, the remembrance that God is looking on shall instantly flash across us and help us to beat down our enemy. This is living with God. This is the communion with Him, and with Christ, which unquestionably helps the struggling, the penitent, the praying, more than anything else. And this perpetual though not always conscious sense of God’s presence would, no doubt, if we would let it have its perfect work, gradually act on our characters just as the presence of our fellow-men does. We cannot live long with men without catching something of their manner, of their mode of thought, of their character, of their government of themselves. Those who live much in a court acquire courtly manners. Those who live much in refined and educated society acquire refinement insensibly. Those who are always hearing pure and high principles set forth as the guides of life learn to value and to know them even faster than they can learn to live by them. From the just we learn justice; from the charitable we catch an infection of charity; from the generous we receive the instinct of generosity. So, too, by living in the presence of God and, as it were, in the courts of heaven, we shall assuredly learn something of a heavenly tone, and shake off some of that coarse worldliness, that deeply ingrained selfishness, that silly pride and conceit which now spoils our very best service. In short, to live with God is to be perpetually rising above the world; to live without Him is to be perpetually sinking into it, and with it, and below it. And lest the presence of God should be too much for us, Christ has taken human nature on Him, and has provided that He will be always with us as long as the world shall last. How shall we learn to walk by His side? The daily prayer in the closet, the endeavour to keep the attention fixed when praying with others, either in our regular services or in family worship the regular habit of reading the Bible at a fixed time, the occasional reminders of ourselves that God is looking on,--these are our chief means of learning to remember His presence. But yet there is another, not less powerful than any, which deserves special mention. Our hearts will put us in mind of God’s eye being upon us every now and then involuntarily. The thought will flash across us that God sees us. And this will generally be just when we are tempted to do wrong, or perhaps just when we are actually beginning to do it: some secret sin of which no one knows or dreams perhaps, some self-indulgence, which we dare not deny that God condemns. Then is the moment to choose whether or not we will live in the presence of God; then when the finger of conscience is pointing to Him and saying, “He is looking at you.” (Archbishop Temple.)

God all-seeing

In the mythology of the heathen, Momus, the god of fault-finding, is represented as blaming Vulcan, because in the human form, which he had made of clay, he had not placed a window in the breast, by which whatever was done or thought there might easily be brought to light. We do not agree with Momus, neither are we of his mind who desired to have a window in his breast that all men might see his heart. If we had such a window we should pray for shutters, and should keep them closed.

God omniscient

While the Americans were blockading Cuba, several captains endeavoured to elude their vigilance by night, trusting that the darkness would conceal them as they passed between the American war-ships. But in almost every case the dazzling rays of a searchlight frustrated the attempt, and the fugitives’ vessel was captured by the Americans. The brilliant searchlight sweeping the broad ocean and revealing even the smallest craft on its surface is but a faint type of the Eternal Light from which no sinner can hide his sin. (Weekly Pulpit.)


Verses 1-24

Psalms 139:1-24

O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me.

God’s exhaustive knowledge of man

This lyric has always been the subject of praise. Aben Ezra said there was none like it in the five books. Lord Brougham spoke of it as “that singularly beautiful poem” Herder said that language utterly failed him in its exposition. Erskine of Llinlathen wanted this to be before him on his death-bed. The title ascribes it to David, an ascription corroborated by its originality and majesty and its correspondence with psalms undoubtedly Davidic. Probably the Aramaic colouring is a mere dialectic variation, existing during the whole period of Hebrew history, and occasionally coming to the front as circumstances suggested it.

I. The Divine omniscience (verses 1-6). The poet multiplies expressions to indicate how complete is God’s knowledge of him. Whether he be at rest or in motion, in every posture and state, God knows him. Not only his outward acts, but the thoughts from which they spring are at once discerned. Nothing can escape Jehovah’s eye, for He is behind and before, i.e. on all sides of man, and His hand is upon him to restrain and control. The strophe closes with a frank confession of the writer’s impotence and awe. He cannot comprehend it, which is not strange, for how is the finite to comprehend the infinite? But he knows it and bows in reverence before the sublime truth.

II. The Divine omnipresence (verses 7-12). God is everywhere; not only above all as transcendent, but also through all and in all as immanent in nature. This thought is expanded and enforced by its application to all measures of space. Were man to scale the azure vault overhead, it would only confront him with the Divine personality; were he to sound unimaginable depths in the other direction, the result would be the same. H a man mounted on wings, not those of the sun (Malachi 4:2), nor of the wind (Psalms 18:10), but of the dawn, and pursued the farthest flight westward, if he should fly with the same swiftness as the first rays of the morning shoot from one end of the heavens to the other, still he would not get beyond the Divine presence. Beyond the sea, and far out of the sight of man, God’s hand would lead him, and God’s right hand grasp him.

III. Omnipotence in the creation of man (verses 13-18). The singer revolves in mind the secret processes of man’s birth and development, and gratitude overflows into praise. He sees how he has been made to differ from the inferior creation in constitution and destiny. It is a fearful distinction (Genesis 28:17). Any signal manifestation of Jehovah’s presence, however favourable, inspires awe. The consideration of this single ease leads to the general statement that all God’s works are marvellous, a statement which the writer reaffirms as from an experimental conviction of its truth. In the next verse the curious growth and unfolding of the embryo is referred to. It goes on in secret, as far from human vision as if it were deep down in some subterraneous cavern, but God sees it and directs the mysterious and complicated tissue, as if it were a piece of delicate embroidery. Even in its most rudimental form, invisible to any other ken, it is still open to His eyes, and He determines all its subsequent development, recording in His book the days to come, i.e. the various events and vicissitudes of life, even before one of them existed. Struck by this view of God’s omniscience as embracing the beginning, the unfolding and the completion of all things, the singer bursts out into a recognition of its value. To him God’s thoughts, i.e. His plans and purposes as displayed in these miracles of creation, are precious beyond measure. Nor are they few or slight, but amount to a vast sum, more numerous than the sands of the sea. They are ever before David as an object of adoring wonder, not by day only, but by night; not merely in the watches of the night, but even in his sleep. His meditations are continuous. His communion is unbroken.

IV. The practical application (verses 19-24). The greater any man’s nearness to God, the more intense is his abhorrence of the impiety which disowns or despises the living God. Nor does such a feeling indicate malevolence. “When a foul crime has been perpetrated, tender-hearted Christian women who would not harm a hair of the enemy’s head, but would rather feed him, will express keen resentment, and will be disquieted in mind till they hear that the perpetrator has been convicted and duly punished.” The conclusion of the strophe is striking. The poet returns to the opening words of the psalm, and prays for a new experience of Jehovah’s searching scrutiny, that he may not be given over to self-conceit. The petition is a proof of humility. Although he had averred so strongly his aversion to the wicked, he prays that this may be no mere outward separation. The All-seeing Eye may detect in him some way that leads to sin and sorrow, though he is unconscious of it. Hence he entreats God to see and disclose it, and then taking his hand to lead him in a way which, unlike the way of the wicked (Psalms 1:6), does not perish, but ends in everlasting life. (T. W. Chambers, D. D.)

God’s omniscience and omnipresence

I. Some Scriptural views of the Divine omniscience and omnipresence. God is everywhere present--

1. By His presence.

2. By His power or agency.

3. In the immensity of space.

4. In highest heaven.

5. In hell.

6. We cannot get away from God’s presence.

7. Human inspection is very limited. But God’s eye penetrates the darkest abode, the deepest cell, the obscurest corner, the blackest night.

8. Men only see what a man says and does; God sees all that a man is. “To Him all hearts are open, all desires known.” God knows us, not relatively, but personally.

9. Specially with His people. “Where are you going?” said Collins, the infidel, to a poor but pious man. “To church, sir,” was the reply “What to do there?” “To worship God.” “And can you tell me,” said the infidel, “whether your God is a great or a little God?” “He is both, sir.” “How can He be both?” “He is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and so little that He can dwell in my heart.”

II. Lessons.

1. If God is omniscient and omnipresent, then the moral character of His creatures is unveiled to His gaze, and clearly and distinctly known to Him.

2. If God is omniscient and omnipresent, then the final judgment will be a time of full and complete revelation, as well as a time of righteous retribution (Sirach 11:14; Revelation 20:12). Will the disclosures of that day fill us with joy, or cover us with shame?

3. The importance of an interest in Christ.

4. Try to cherish an abiding sense of God’s presence.

5. Pray at all times and in all places.

6. Be comforted in every time of trouble. (H. Woodcock.)

The all-seeing God

I. Is there an all-seeing God? If not, whence our own existence? Whence our expectations of reward for doing right, of punishment for wrong-doing? Whence the material universe? Whence the original plan, stupendous beyond conception, more minute than the most powerful microscope can reveal, which must have preceded the first act of creation? Whence the march and trend of history, always revealing “a power not ourselves, which makes for righteousness,” and which sweeps away opposition like dust before the oncoming storm? Who conceived the character of Christ, in an age overlaid and penetrated through and through with error? Whose works of grace, in that same earth, have steadily built up a kingdom of love, of peace, of righteousness? If there is a creator of the universe, He must also be its sustainer: He cannot press material forces into service and go and leave them, as we do a windmill to draw water, for all force depends upon Him for its existence. He who superintends all must be all-seeing, and He who presides over all history must take cognizance of every event.

II. What concern has our life, here and hereafter, with the omniscience of God?

1. That exquisite pleasure in sin, which comes from its fancied concealment, is utter folly.

2. God is patient with wrong and sin, because He sees the end from the beginning.

3. Patience under trial and strength in adversity thrive under the all-seeing eye.

4. The friends of God are glad in the sure hope of being more and more consciously under His eye.

5. Corresponding judgments await those who, shrinking from that all-seeing eye, with a repugnance predominant and increasing, must abide its searchings for ever.

6. How priceless the blood of Calvary, in which the saints have “washed their robes and made them white”! (Monday Club Sermons.)

The all-seeing and all-present One

I. The all-seeing One.

1. He sees the whole of an object. At best we can only see the outside of a thing, the curve, the angle, the colour.

2. He sees the whole of every object. How few are the objects we see even thus externally and partially! Some are too small and some too distant. But He sees all, His eye takes in the immeasurable universe.

3. He sees the whole of everything at the same time.

II. The all-present One.

1. He is present everywhere, in the entirety of Himself.

2. He is present in all things, yet distinct from all things.

Practically, this subject serves three important purposes.

1. To refute some popular errors of human life.

2. To reprove some prevalent impieties in human conduct.

3. To reveal the supreme interest of human life. Cultivate a loving affection for Him. (Homilist.)

God and ourselves

This psalm sings of--

I. God.

1. His omniscience.

2. His omnipresence. He is in--

3. His omnipotence (Psalms 139:13-16).

4. The separate, personal thinking of God toward every one of us.

II. Ourselves. Our relation toward such a God should be--

1. That of adoring and constantly thoughtful reverence (verses 17, 18).

2. That of siding with Him against evil (Psalms 139:19-22).

3. That of welcoming the Divine searching (verses 23, 24). Said Milton, speaking of his travels abroad when a young man: “I again take God to witness that in all places where so many things are considered lawful, I lived sound and untouched from all profligacy and vice, having this thought perpetually with me, that though I might escape the eyes of men, I certainly could not the eyes of God.”

4. That of a prayerful seeking of the Divine guidance (verse 24). (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

God’s knowledge of man

One of the most remarkable characteristics of a rational being is the power of self-inspection. Like the air we breathe, like the light we see, it involves a mystery that no man has ever solved. Self-consciousness has been the problem of the philosophic mind in all ages; and the mystery is not yet unravelled. But if that knowledge whereby man knows himself is mysterious, then certainly that whereby God knows him is far more so. That act whereby another being knows my secret thoughts and inmost feelings is most certainly inexplicable.

I. God accurately and exhaustively knows all that man knows of himself. He may be an uncommonly thoughtful person, and little of what is done within his soul may escape his notice; nay, we will make the extreme supposition that he arrests every thought as it rises, and looks at it; that he analyzes every sentiment as it swells his heart; that he scrutinizes every purpose as it determines his will; even if he should have such a thorough and profound self-knowledge as this, God knows him equally profoundly and equally thoroughly. Nay, more, this process of self-inspection may go on indefinitely, and the man grow more and more thoughtful, and obtain an everlastingly augmenting knowledge of what he is and what he does, so that it shall seem to him that he is penetrating so deeply into those dim and shadowy regions of consciousness where the external life takes its very first start, and then he may be sure that God understands the thought that is afar off, and deep down, and that at this lowest range and plane in his experience he besets him behind and before.

II. God accurately and exhaustively knows all that man might, but does not, know of himself. Though the transgressor is ignorant of much of his sin, because, at the time of its commission, he sins blindly as well as wilfully, and unreflectingly as well as freely; and though the transgressor has forgotten much of that small amount of sin, of which he was conscious, and by which he was pained, at the time of its perpetration; though, on the side of man, the powers of self-inspection and memory have accomplished so little towards this preservation of man’s sin, yet God knows it all, and remembers it all. He compasseth man’s path, and his lying down, and is acquainted with all his ways. And here let us look upon the bright as well as the dark side of this subject. For if God’s exhaustive knowledge of the human heart waken dread in one of its aspects, it starts infinite hope in another. If that Being has gone down into these depths of human depravity, and seen it with a more abhorring glance than could ever shoot from a finite eye, and yet has returned with a cordial offer to forgive it all, and a hearty proffer to cleanse it all away, then we can lift up the eye in adoration and in hope. The worst has been seen, and that too by the holiest of beings, and yet eternal glory is offered to us! It is perfectly plain from the elevated central point of view where we now stand, and in the focal light in which we now see, that no man can be justified before God upon the ground of personal character; for that character, when subjected to God’s exhaustive scrutiny, withers and shrinks away. Before the Searcher of hearts all mankind must appeal to mere and sovereign mercy. Justice, in this reference, is out of the question. Now, in this condition of things, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The simple question, then, which meets us is, Wilt thou know thyself here, and now, that thou mayest accept and feel God’s pity; or wilt thou keep within the screen, and not know thyself until beyond the grave, and then feel God’s judicial wrath? The self-knowledge, remember, must come in the one way or the other. It is a simple question of time; a simple question whether it shall come here in this world, where the blood of Christ “freely” flows, or in the future world, where “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)

God’s presence

The fact that God is always present and knows every minute trifle in our lives, and that His unerring judgment will assuredly take count of every detail of our character and our conduct, neither exaggerating nor omitting, but applying absolute justice; this truth is one of those which lose force from their very universality. God has made us so. We become unconscious of everything by long use. We could never discharge our duties properly if we were to be perpetually distracted by the consciousness of what was around us: and, above all, we might be daunted by the perpetual thought of the presence of God, and so be paralyzed instead of helped. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in our forgetting that we are in the presence of God any more than there is anything foolish in our forgetting that we need air to breathe or light to see by, or that if we fall we may hurt ourselves: just in the same way as we very often, and quite rightly, forget that we are in the company of men who will take notice of our faults. The right state of mind plainly is to have the thought of God’s presence so perpetually at hand that it shall always start before us whenever it is wanted. So that whenever we are on the point of doing or saying anything cowardly, or mean, or false, or impure, or proud, or conceited, or unkind, the remembrance that God is looking on shall instantly flash across us and help us to beat down our enemy. This is living with God. This is the communion with Him, and with Christ, which unquestionably helps the struggling, the penitent, the praying, more than anything else. And this perpetual though not always conscious sense of God’s presence would, no doubt, if we would let it have its perfect work, gradually act on our characters just as the presence of our fellow-men does. We cannot live long with men without catching something of their manner, of their mode of thought, of their character, of their government of themselves. Those who live much in a court acquire courtly manners. Those who live much in refined and educated society acquire refinement insensibly. Those who are always hearing pure and high principles set forth as the guides of life learn to value and to know them even faster than they can learn to live by them. From the just we learn justice; from the charitable we catch an infection of charity; from the generous we receive the instinct of generosity. So, too, by living in the presence of God and, as it were, in the courts of heaven, we shall assuredly learn something of a heavenly tone, and shake off some of that coarse worldliness, that deeply ingrained selfishness, that silly pride and conceit which now spoils our very best service. In short, to live with God is to be perpetually rising above the world; to live without Him is to be perpetually sinking into it, and with it, and below it. And lest the presence of God should be too much for us, Christ has taken human nature on Him, and has provided that He will be always with us as long as the world shall last. How shall we learn to walk by His side? The daily prayer in the closet, the endeavour to keep the attention fixed when praying with others, either in our regular services or in family worship the regular habit of reading the Bible at a fixed time, the occasional reminders of ourselves that God is looking on,--these are our chief means of learning to remember His presence. But yet there is another, not less powerful than any, which deserves special mention. Our hearts will put us in mind of God’s eye being upon us every now and then involuntarily. The thought will flash across us that God sees us. And this will generally be just when we are tempted to do wrong, or perhaps just when we are actually beginning to do it: some secret sin of which no one knows or dreams perhaps, some self-indulgence, which we dare not deny that God condemns. Then is the moment to choose whether or not we will live in the presence of God; then when the finger of conscience is pointing to Him and saying, “He is looking at you.” (Archbishop Temple.)

God all-seeing

In the mythology of the heathen, Momus, the god of fault-finding, is represented as blaming Vulcan, because in the human form, which he had made of clay, he had not placed a window in the breast, by which whatever was done or thought there might easily be brought to light. We do not agree with Momus, neither are we of his mind who desired to have a window in his breast that all men might see his heart. If we had such a window we should pray for shutters, and should keep them closed.

God omniscient

While the Americans were blockading Cuba, several captains endeavoured to elude their vigilance by night, trusting that the darkness would conceal them as they passed between the American war-ships. But in almost every case the dazzling rays of a searchlight frustrated the attempt, and the fugitives’ vessel was captured by the Americans. The brilliant searchlight sweeping the broad ocean and revealing even the smallest craft on its surface is but a faint type of the Eternal Light from which no sinner can hide his sin. (Weekly Pulpit.)


Verse 3

Psalms 139:3

Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

God knows and takes strict and accurate notice of all our ways

This is so, because--

I. God rules and governs men. But this could not be without such knowledge. And so at times He governs men’s secret projects.

1. By discovering them, making them known to others.

2. By preventing them.

3. By turning them to other ends than men purposed (Isaiah 7:7; Genesis 45:5).

II. He gives laws to regulate them.

III. He will judge them.

1. He does so in this life where He often gives foretaste of the future (Deuteronomy 29:18),

2. In the day of judgment (Luke 12:2).

IV. He is omniscient and omnipresent (Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13). Then--

1. Presumptuous sin is atheism.

2. Let secret sinners be afraid.

Such are those who sin in thought and desire only. God judges such, for they are the roots of sin. Spiritual wickedness is worst wickedness. And they are the product of the man himself, as his actions sometimes are not. And there are secret sins not only thought, but acted, only concealed from men (2 Samuel 12:12; Habakkuk 2:11; Genesis 4:10). God will judge them.

3. Let sincere-hearted Christians be comforted. The same sun-rising and break of day that terrifies the robber is a comfort to the honest traveller. Thou that, art sincere, God sees that sincerity in thee that others cannot discern; perhaps thou canst not fully discern it thyself. And He will exalt thee. (R. South, D. D.)

The record of our lives: -

I. That record is complete.

II. That record may be presented to our condemnation. Men are making efforts to recover the secrets of another’s brain. It is hard to conceive what the possibility means, as suggested by the results of rapid photography in the vitascope. It is not position that is presented, but action; even the change of face with change of thought. It is the publication of a partial set of records. Who could risk the scrutiny of their whole lives with such publicity?

III. But that record can be blotted out. A photographer can remove the sensitive salts in a bath. The picture then has no existence and cannot be exhibited; But we cannot trust our forgetfulness to do this, nor man’s charity. But God in mercy has provided a cleansing flood. (W. J. Gregory.)

God’s winnowing

The word in the Hebrew original for “compassest” is “winnowest.” This calls up before the mind an image which helps to illustrate the meaning of the verse in a most interesting manner. The mere compassing of our path by God is an elementary, commonplace truth which requires no argument or proof. It is a truism which loses very much the power of truth through our familiarity with it. But when we substitute the winnowing of our path by God’s dealings with us, we have not in that case a commonplace fact, but a most suggestive and instructive metaphor. Harvest operations in the East are all carried on in the open air, for the weather at that time of the year is uniformly fine. When the corn is reaped it is not piled into stocks, or gathered into barns, as with us, but threshed on the spot, on some piece of rising ground, beaten hard and smooth, and exposed to the wind. The sheaves are heaped on this spot, arranged in a circle, and over them are driven rude, heavy sledges of wood, having their under-surface stuck full of sharp pieces of hard basalt. Oxen are yoked to these sledges, and a man stands on them to increase their pressure, while another man drives the oxen round and round upon the sheaves until they are mashed to pieces, the straw being broken and crushed, and the grains of corn separated from it. When the grain is all threshed out in this manner, the heaps of mixed corn and broken straw are tossed up before the breeze with a shovel; and then the grain, being heaviest, falls straight down, and the broken straw and chaff, being lighter, is carried by the wind, and forms a heap a little farther on. This explanation will make perfectly clear the allusion of the psalmist: “Thou compassest, or winnowest, my path.” It refers to the oxen going round and round on the sheaves laid on the threshing-floor, in order to separate the corn from the straw and chaff. In like manner, the psalmist, by a bold figure, represents God going round and round our path by His dealings with us in providence and grace, in order to purify our nature, and to separate the good from the evil. God humbles Himself to do for us the work which the oxen do for the corn. We are valuable to Him as the corn is to the husbandman. How patiently do the oxen plod on hour after hour, going their constant round, treading down the corn until their task is accomplished. And so how patiently and unweariedly does God compass your path with His providences and gracious dealings, till He has fulfilled in you the good pleasures of His goodness, and prepared you for being presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. Life to every one is a common round of continual beginnings and endings. Each day is a little circle returning where it began. Our range is as narrow as that of the ox that treadeth out the corn among the heap of sheaves. And all this is apt to become monotonous and wearisome. Some are so consumed by ennui that life has lost all relish for them; and some have grown so tired of pacing the irksome daily round that they have put an end to it by violent means. But surely it gives a new zest to life if we realize that all this constant doing of the same things, this constant going round and round the same little circle of daily duties, is not a treadmill penance, a profitless labour like weaving ropes of sand, but is designed to bring out and educate to the utmost perfection of which we are capable all that is best and most enduring in us. And surely it heightens the interest immeasurably to be assured that God has not merely ordained this long ago as part of His great providential plan for the world, but that He is daily and hourly superintending the process of our discipline and education by His personal presence, compassing our path, going round with us in the circle of life’s toils and duties, and causing all our experiences, by His blessing, to work together for our good. He will not go round on your sheaves with His heavy dispensations oftener than is required to separate the chaff from the wheat; and you may be certain that not one grain of good in you will be destroyed, not one element of lasting benefit will be injured--only the chaff will be blown away and the straw removed. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)


Verse 6

Psalms 139:6

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

God’s all-knowledge

If we had to take our trial for our lives before the tribunal of an earthly judge, there are probably three questions which we should ask ourselves with no little anxiety: Has the judge himself the power, or does he represent some one who has the power, to enforce the sentence which he may pronounce? Is the judge a man of that integrity of character which is fearless when interpreting the plain sense of the law that is to be administered, and equitable when some indistinctness in that law obliges the interpreter to fall back on his own sense of what is probably right? Can the judge command the means of knowing enough of those facts upon which his decision must be based to judge righteous judgment, to have himself and to inspire others with the assurance that innocence is acquitted and that guilt is punished? When we turn our thoughts upwards to the Judge of all men, we know how a serious believer in God must answer such questions as these.

I. But, as we look more closely at the subject, certain features of the knowledge which is possessed by the Divine mind stand out before us more distinctly. They show how that knowledge differs from knowledge as it exists in ourselves, and they enable us to understand how the knowledge which belongs to God, as God, is knowledge of an extent and of a kind which makes it certain that when seated on the throne of judgment the Holy Judge of all the earth does right.

1. And first of all, then, so far as we know, all, or nearly all, of our knowledge is acquired, and most of it is acquired at very considerable cost of time and labour. Now, nothing corresponding to this can hold good of the mind of God. God does not acquire His knowledge; He ever possessed it. Acquisition implies ignorance to begin with; it implies a limited prospect which is gradually enlarged by effort; it implies dependence upon intermediate sources of knowledge, upon books, teachers, the testimony of others, evidence, experiment. All this is inadmissible in conceiving of the Divine Mind which never could have been ignorant, never dependent upon anything or any person external to itself for obtaining information. Man may be very--nay, utterly ignorant--not, indeed, without grave loss, but certainly without forfeiting his manhood. In man, knowledge, however important, is yet an accident of his life: it is conceivably separated from it. In God, on the other hand, knowledge is not a separable accident, a dispensable attribute of His existence. As God, He cannot but know, and know on an infinite scale. In God, as St. Augustine finely says, to know is the same thing as to exist. There can be in Him no progress from a lower to a higher plane of knowledge, still less from ignorance to knowledge. In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge have ever been exactly what they are. Now, consider how this bears on the duties of a judge. A human judge, whatever his knowledge of the statute book, whatever his experience of proceedings in the courts, is dependent upon the evidence which is brought before him, when charging the jury or when forming his own judgment. If the evidence is confused or imperfect, if it is perjured or untrustworthy, still it is all he has to go upon; he must do the best he can with it; he has no means of arriving at a bound at the truth of the facts independently of that which is deposed to before him. Alas! however excellent his intentions, however absolute his integrity, he cannot escape a liability--the human liability--to make mistakes. In the Divine Judge this liability does not exist, because His knowledge of facts, not being acquired by weighing evidence, is ever and immediately present to His mind. He sees everything--men, events, characters--at a glance, and as they are.

2. And as human knowledge is acquired, so it is liable to decompose in our minds. It is less easily acquired than it is forgotten. Here, again, we must see that nothing corresponding to this process, so familiar in the experience of the human mind, is even imaginable in the mind of God. It knows “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” All that is, all that might have been and is not, all that might yet be, whether it is to be or is not to be, is eternally present to it, and it could not forfeit its hold upon any part of this, to us, inconceivably vast field of knowledge without ceasing to be itself. And here, again, the Divine Judge must differ from any human judge. No human judge can prudently trust his memory even to retain what is brought before him in a case that lasts but a few hours; he can only trust his notes. Memory, he knows, is treacherous; it gives way just when we need it most; it refuses to recall a date, a name, a figure, a fact, unimportant generally, but of critical importance then and now Its impotence is, so we think, as capricious as are its good services. In the Awful Mind above and around us nothing like this is possible, because it does not ever, as we do, look back upon any fact as upon something past; it is always in contact with all facts, whether, from our point of view, they be past or present or future, as eternally present to it.

3. And, once more, human knowledge is very limited. “We know in part.” As the generations of men who devote themselves to the work of marshalling and increasing the stock of human knowledge succeed each other, each generation is largely occupied in showing how defective was the knowledge of those who immediately preceded it, while it knows that in turn it, too, will be exposed to a like criticism on the part of its successors. So far are we men from possessing the field of universal knowledge that a man never entirely masters any single subject. In the Divine Mind, on the contrary, we cannot conceive partial knowledge of any subject whatever. God knows all, because He is everywhere. The Omnipresent cannot but be also omniscient. What need is there to say that the knowledge of the human judge is, I will not say partial, but very limited indeed? Were it otherwise, how superfluous would be the machinery which now justice adopts in order to achieve its ends. How different with the Divine Judge! He can gain nothing from any external source of knowledge, and nothing can intercept or divert His all-surveying, all-penetrating, all-comprehending intelligence.

II. Of this knowledge possessed by God there are some features which, from their bearing on life and conduct, deserve special attention.

1. Thus God knows not only what is known to the world, or to our relations about each one of us; He knows that which each of us only knows about himself. His eye surveys our secret thoughts and words and ways. He has sometimes revealed this knowledge through the mouth of an inspired servant, as when Elisha discovered his double-dealing with Naaman to the astonished Gehazi, or when St. Peter proclaimed their crime and its punishment to the terrified Ananias and Sapphira.

2. He knows, too, the exact measure of our individual responsibility for the corporate acts of the societies to which we belong--the Church, the nation, the parish, the family.

3. And, once more, He knows what each one of us would be in other circumstances than those with which He has surrounded us. He knows this because He sees our inmost dispositions, and sees us as we are. Yes, in thinking of the judgment we have to think not only of the power, not only of the goodness of the Judge, but of His limitless knowledge, that awful attribute of a knowledge which searches us out in the depths of our being, which plays upon us, around us, within us, every moment of our lives with a penetrating scrutiny that nothing can elude; that knowledge before which the night is as the day, and the future as the present, and the possible as the actual, and the secret things of darkness as the most ordinary facts of daylight; that knowledge which nothing can impair, nothing can disturb, nothing can exaggerate or discolour; the calm, majestic, resistless outlook of the Eternal Mind will become real to us--real to you and to me--as never before in our experience. There are two resolutions which the thought of that meeting should surely suggest. The first resolution, if we can, to know something really about ourselves before we die, to dwell no longer, if hitherto we have so dwelt, on the surface of life, to see ourselves with eyes not of our friends, not of our own self-love, but, so far as may be, as the holy angels see us, as He sees us who is the Lord of angels, our Maker and our Judge. Each day some few minutes should surely be spent in the regular and fruitful practice of self-examination. And the second resolution is to fly for refuge to that one Friend who can make a true knowledge of self bearable to each of us. We can dare to be true not only because our Redeemer and our God is Himself the Faithful and the True, but because He is the All-merciful, because, if we so will, He has searched us out and known us even here, that at the last great day He may make us trophies not of His awful justice, but of His redeeming grace. (Canon Liddon.)


Verses 7-10

Psalms 139:7-10

Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?

The omnipresence of God

I. Lay down some positions.

1. God is intimately and essentially in all parts and places of the world. One of the heathen, being asked to give a description of what God was, tells us most admirably, “God is a sphere, whose centre is every-where, and whose circumference is nowhere”: a raised apprehension of the Divine nature in a heathen! And another, being demanded what God was, made answer, that “God is an Infinite Point”; than which nothing can be said more (almost) or truer, to declare this omnipresence of God. It is reported of Heraclitus the philosopher, when his friend came to visit him, being in an old rotten hovel, “Come in, come in,” saith he, “for God is here.” God is in the meanest cottage as well as in the stateliest palace; for God is everywhere present and sees all things.

2. God is not only present in the world, but He is infinitely existent also without the world, and beyond all things but Himself (1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1-2).

3. As God exists everywhere, so all and whole God exists everywhere, because God is indivisible.

II. Rational demonstrations.

1. God is present everywhere.

2. But God exists not only in the world, but infinitely beyond the world also.

III. Answer some objections.

1. These places which speak of going to, and departing from, places, seem to oppose God’s ubiquity, because motion is inconsistent with God’s omnipresence (Genesis 18:21; Habakkuk 3:3). I answer: These and the like Scriptures are not to be taken literally, but as accommodate to cur capacity and conception, even as parents, when they speak to their little children, will sometimes lisp and babble in their language; so God oftentimes condescends to us in speaking our language for the declaring of those things which are far above cur reach.

2. The Scripture tells us that hereafter in heaven we shall see God as He is: but is not that impossible? I answer, Such Scriptures are not to be understood as if the capacities of angels, much less of men, are, or ever shall be, wide and capacious enough to contain the infinite greatness of God. No, His omnipresence is not comprehended by angels themselves, nor shall be by man for ever; but it must be understood comparatively. Our vision and sight of God here is but through a glass darkly; but in heaven it shall be with so much more brightness and clearness that, in comparison of the obscure and glimmering way whereby we know God here, it may be called a seeing of Him face to face, and knowing Him as we are known by Him.

3. It may seem no small disparagement to God to be everywhere present. What! for the glorious majesty of God to be present in such vile and filthy places as are here upon earth? To this I answer--

IV. Application.

1. Is God thus infinitely present everywhere, and thus in and with all His creatures, then what an encouragement is here unto prayer. The voice in prayer is necessary--

2. As the consideration of God’s omnipresence should encourage us in prayer, as knowing that God certainly hears us, so it should affect us with a holy awe and reverence of God in all our prayers and duties, and in the whole course of our lives and conversations. Certainly it is an excellent meditation to prepare our hearts to duty, and to compose them in duty, to be much pondering the omnipresence of God, to think that I am with God, He is present in the room with me, even in the congregation with me, and likewise in my closet, and in all my converse and dealings in the world. How can it be possible for that man to be frothy and vain that keeps this thought alive in his heart? (Bishop Hopkins.)

Omnipresence of God

I. The important truth which is here set forth.

II. The striking and emphatic manner in which this great truth is here presented (verse 7).

III. The effects which the contemplation of this sublime theme should produce.

1. Let the believer draw from it the consolation which it is so peculiarly adapted to impart. “Fear not, for I am with you.”

2. The omnipresence of God is adapted also to admonish.

3. This subject is full of terror to the ungodly. (Expository Outlines.)

The encompassing, all-pervading God

This psalm is as near an approach to Pantheism as the Bible ever gets; yet it is wholly distinct from Pantheism. It does not make everything a part of God, but insists that God is in everything and every place. The writer feels Him in every movement of the circling air, and hears Him in every sound. God is here, and there, and everywhere, in the heights and in the depths, in the darkness and the light, filling all star-lit spaces and searching each human heart.

I. The spirit and presence which no man can escape. It is a bit of his own story. He had not always found peace and joy in the overshadowing of Divine love. There had been a load upon his conscience, and torturing guilt in his heart. He had endeavoured to run away from the wrath which his sin had provoked, from the unsleeping justice which pursued him, from the witness of God in his own reproaching conscience. He had tried to silence the rebuking voice, to quiet the disturbing fears, to forget his own thoughts and hide himself from himself. And the effort had been vain, impotent, impossible. Everywhere he heard the still small voice, and felt the Unseen Presence. Everywhere God makes Himself felt by men, in kindness, if possible, and if not, then in wrath. Men must believe in Him; they cannot help it. Kill their religion a hundred times, and it has a hundred resurrections. It is in all men. It is the fire which never goes quite out. Atheism is never more than a wave on the sea of humanity, which rises, falls, and quickly disappears. God will not let Himself be denied and forgotten. He speaks in too many voices for that; through nature and conscience, sins, penalties, and guilty terrors; through life’s changes, uncertainties, sorrows, and misfortunes; through pain, and death, and human gladness, and human mystery; through returning seasons and unerring laws; through the works of righteousness and the wages of iniquity, He is ever about us. His presence is in every heart, and He laughs at the folly which thinks to escape Him.

II. Rest and confidence and joy which His Spirit and presence give to those who recognize Him every-where, and walk in His light and love. If a man aspires after goodness, he will wish to be always near the one Source of goodness. If he is making a brave fight against his sins, he will always want to feel the mighty hand upon him from which alone comes victory; and if he is worn and worried with the dark problems and mysteries of life, nothing will satisfy him but the thought that Divine light and wisdom are moving and working in all that darkness. Get to feel that His light and wisdom are everywhere, that His love, pity, and forbearance are everywhere, that His providential care is everywhere, that His ear is everywhere open to your prayers, and His mercy is everywhere on the wing to bring you answers, and then your remotest thought will be how you can escape Him. Your every-day cry will be, “Come nearer, make Thyself felt. Compass me about, hold me fast.” It is the all-pervading presence of God that makes life bearable to him, and the one thing which makes the Christian life possible. If God were not in your place of business your hearts would grow hard as nails. If God were not in your homes your sweetest affections would become stale and sour. If God were not in your places of temptation you would never enter them without falling. If the Spirit of God did not visit you in the thronging streets and the giddy world you would degenerate into coarse worldliness. If He were not everywhere, painting Himself afresh on your hearts and minds, you would lose all sense of His beauty. If He were absent from your scenes of sorrow, if you did not feel His hand holding yours in hours of pain, and by the death-bed side, you would be overcome with fear or die of heart-break. We live because He lives everywhere. We hope because He revives His promises in us everywhere. (J. O. Greenhough, M. A.)

The cry of the sage, the sinner, and the saint

Look at this language as used--

I. By the sage The philosopher has asked a thousand times, is God everywhere? Or is there a district in immensity where He is not? Taking the language as his question, he assumes--

1. That He has a “presence,” a personal existence: that He is as distinct from the universe as the musician from his music, as the painter from his pictures, as the soul from the body.

2. That His presence is detected as far as his observations extend. He discovers Him far up as the most powerful telescope can reach, and down in the most infinitesimal forms of life: and he concludes that He is present where the eye has never reached, and where the imagination has never travelled.

II. By the sinner. In the mouth of the sinner this language means--

1. Thy presence is an evil. His presence makes the hell of the damned. The rays of His effulgent purity are the flames in which corrupt spirits burn and writhe.

2. Escape from Thy presence is an impossibility.

III. By the saint. In the impossibility of escape I rejoice; for “In Thy presence there is fulness of joy,” etc. (Homilist.)

The omnipresent God

I. God in all modes of personal existence. These are all covered by the contrast between heaven and hell, than which no words would suggest a completer contrast to every thoughtful Hebrew. Heaven was the scene of the highest personal activity; it was the abode of Him with whom was “the fountain of life”; there dwelt cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, all rejoicing in the highest exercise of thought and the noblest powers of service. Hell--or the grave, the place of the dead--was the end of thought, the cessation of employment, the abode of silence and corruption. And yet, dark and lonesome as was the thought of dying, there was this one ray of comfort in the prospect--that death was of God’s appointment; as much as the heaven of His own abode, it was beneath the rule of God. There are times when to us, too, there is unspeakable rest in the assurance that God is in the appointment of death as truly, though not as clearly, as He is in His own heaven. How many who dreaded the desolation of bereavement have found that God is there. They are not alone, for the Father, the Saviour, the Comforter, is with them; the discipline of bereavement is as Divine as the sweeter training of companionship. Did we but see what noble issues have been wrought for men by death; how it has refined affection and chastened passion, and given scope to patience, and cultured hope; how it has surrounded men’s pathway with angels, and breathed a saintlier spirit into common lives; we should gain a nobler vision than before of the presence and meaning of God in death.

II. God in the yet untrodden ways of human history. The ninth verse gives us an image of the psalmist, standing by the sea-shore, watching as the rising sun broadens the horizon, and brings into view an islet here and there, which, by catching the sight, serves but to lengthen still more the indefinite expanse beyond. The fancy is suggested, half of longing, half of dread, what would it be to fly until he reached the point where now the farthest ray is resting, to gaze upon a sea still shoreless, or to land in an unknown region and find himself a solitary there? But he is not daunted by the vision; one presence would still be with him. Vast as the world may be, it is contained within the vaster God; his fancy cannot wander where he would be unguarded and unled. He still could worship; he still could rest. How wonderfully history confirms faith. The lands towards which the psalmist strained his wondering vision have come at length into the record of civilization. Even while he was musing God was preparing the countries in which, in due time, the Gospel was to develop, and the races by whom it should be spread. Could he now take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, he would find God here, revealed in the progress of Christendom, and the force of Western civilization. When Christ sent the apostles on their untrodden way He gave them a blank page on which to write their history. He did not reveal to them “the times and the seasons”; He only assured them that wherever they went He was with them. All was obscure except their faith that, as seed will grow, and leaven will spread, so the kingdom of God should advance. The presence of God in human history meant the reign of Christ in human history; where have the faithful gone and not found their God?

III. God in the perplexities of our experience. Most men probably look on spiritual conflict at first as a necessary evil; something which it were well if we could avoid, but which, since we cannot avoid it, we must go through with what heart we may; and they look to God to keep, and, in due time, to deliver them. But when, in the review of their struggles, they perceive what progress they have made by reason of it; how it has enriched their character, not only strengthening their piety, but also enlarging its scope and adding to their graces; when they find what a wise and benignant influence it has enabled them to exercise; what power of comfort it has given them, they begin to see that the conflict itself was of Divine appointment, and to cherish a larger, nobler view of God’s purpose and of man’s discipline. They perceive that the obscurity, equally with the clearness, of a spiritual experience is ordained of God. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The present God

There was something almost to be envied in the simple, easy, undoubting faith in the ever-present Spirit of God that breathes in the devotional portions of the Old Testament. Science had not begun to be. Men saw and felt circumambient force on every side, and with the instinctive wisdom of their ignorance this force was to them the varied yet immutable God, Himself unchanged, yet in manifestation ever new. We think ourselves, in point of intelligence, at a heaven-wide distance in advance of them. But has not our ignorance grown faster than our knowledge--as every new field that we explore in part abuts upon regions which we cannot explore, and every solved problem starts others which cannot be solved? If science has ever been antagonistic to faith, it has not been by superseding it, or even by interfering with it, but simply because the new knowledge of nature that has flashed with such suddenness and rapidity upon our generation has so filled and tasked the minds of not a few, that they have ignored for the time the regions where light still fails and faith is the only guide. But there are among the grand generalizations of recent science those that help our faith, and furnish analogies that are almost demonstrations for some of the most sacred truths of religion. Among these truths is that suggested by our text--the presence of the Divine Spirit with and in the human soul. Now, to the soul of man, bathed in this omnipresence, receiving all thought and knowledge through its mediation, living, moving, and having its being in it, what can be more easily conceivable than that there should also be conveyed to it thoughts, impressions, intimations, that flow directly from the Father of our spirits? It has been virtually the faith of great and good men in all time. They have felt and owned a prompting, a motive power, from beyond their own souls, and from above the ranks of their fellow-men. Inspiration has been a universal idea under every form of culture, has been believed, sought, recognized, obeyed. At all other points there has been divergence; as to this, but one mind and one voice. You could translate the language of Socrates concerning his demon into the most orthodox Christian phraseology without adding or omitting a single trait, and not even St. Paul was more confident than he of being led by the Spirit. But there is no need of citing authorities. Who of us is there that has not had thoughts borne in upon him which he could not trace to any association or influence on his own plane, seedling thoughts, perhaps, which have yielded harvest for the angel-reapers, strength equal to the day in the conflict with temptation, comfort in sorrow, visions of heaven lifted for the moment above the horizon like a mirage in the desert? These experiences have been multiplied in proportion to our receptivity. As the message on the wires is lost if there be none to watch or listen at the terminus, so at the terminus of the spirit-wire there must be the listening soul, the inward voice, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” But while we thus acknowledge God in the depths of our own consciousness, can we not equally feel His presence in the glory, beauty, joy-giving ministry of His works? Are they net richer to our eyes every year? Has it not happened to us, over and over again, to say, “Spring, or summer, was never so beautiful before”? This is true every year to the recipient soul. Not that there is any added physical charm or visible glory; but it is the Spirit of our Father that glows and beams upon us, that pours itself into our souls; and if we have grown by His nurture, there is in us more and more of spiritual life that can be irradiated, gladdened, lifted in praise and love, with every recurring phase of the outward world. Is not this ordained, that the vision of Him in whom are all the archetypes of beauty, and whose embodied thought is in its every phase, may be kept ever fresh and vivid--that there may be over new stimulants to adoration and praise--that with the changing garb of nature the soul may renew her garment of grateful joy, her singing robes of thanksgiving to Him who has made everything beautiful in its time? But God is still nearer to us than in the world around us. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” When I reflect on the mysteries of my own being, on the complex organism, not one of whose numberless members or processes can be deranged without suffering or peril; when I consider my own confessed powerlessness as to the greater part of this earthly tabernacle in which I dwell, and the narrow limits of my seeming power as to the part of it which I can control; when I see the gates and pitfalls of death by and over which I am daily led in safety; when I resign all charge of myself every night, and no earthly watch is kept over my unconscious repose--oh, I know that omnipotence alone can be my keeper, that the unslumbering Shepherd guides my waking and guards my sleeping hours--that His life feeds mine, courses in my veins, renews my wasting strength, rolls back the death-shadows as day by day they gather over me. Equally, in the exercise of thought and emotion, must I own His presence and providence. (A. P. Peabody, D. D.)

Universal presence of God

The laws and forms of nature are only the methods of God’s agency, the habits of His existence and the turns of His thought. Each dewdrop holds an oracle, each bud a revelation, and everything we see is a signal of His presence, present but out of sight. Every colour of the dawning or the dying light; every aspect of the changing seasons and all the mysteries of electricity make us feel the eternal presence of God. “Shores,” says one, “on which man has never yet landed lie paved with shells; fields never trod are carpeted with flowers; seas where man has never dived are inlaid with pearls; caverns never mined are radiant with gems of finest forms and purest lustre. But still God is there,” (R. Venting.)


Verse 8

Psalms 139:8

If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.

God’s presence in the under-world

We are told that the Jew had no knowledge of a heaven for the soul, that the only future he knew was that of a mysterious under-world where the spirits of the dead reposed. It is this under-world which the psalmist here designates by the word translated “hell”; it is the universal Old Testament name for the place of the dead. But, in the hands of this writer, the under-world becomes well-nigh as fair as the upper; it receives the very glory of heaven. What is the glory of heaven? Is it not the fact that to depart is to be with God? The heaven of Christianity is not beautiful to its votaries by reason of its pearly streets and golden gates; it is beautiful because it is conceived to be the home of God. Now, this is the thought which the psalmist makes his own. He, too, recognizes that the joy of heaven is the joy of being with God; but, to him, God is everywhere. To say that at death the soul does not ascend is not necessarily to say that it is banished from heaven. God is in the under as well as in the upper world; and the pure soul will find Him there as in all places. Death cannot rob a good man of his God; whither can he flee from His presence? That presence will follow him equally whether he ascend up into heaven or whether he make his bed in the unknown under-world. However unknown it may be, it is not outside of Him; and whatever is not outside of Him may be the heaven of the soul. Such is the thought of the psalmist, a thought which flashes a ray of glory around the Jewish vision of death and throws back its light on the Jewish doctrine of immortality. We see that the Judaic faith in God had enclosed within itself a hope of eternal life. The Jew did not, like the Greek, conjure up the images of a locality which the disembodied soul would inhabit after death; he had no figure in his imagination wherewith to body forth his conception of the dark vale. But he knew of a Presence that belonged alike to his own world and the under-world, the Being of the Eternal God; and, in that knowledge, death itself ceased to be a foreign land. It lost much of its strangeness. It held something which the earth held, and that the source of all that is in earth or heaven, the very life of the universe. (G. Matheson, D. D.)

God’s omnipresence

If you were called to take some such awful journey as Virgil and Dante have fabled in their poems when their heroes descended into the dread Avernus, you need not tremble, though it were said of you, as of them:--

“Along the illuminated shade,

Darkening and lone, their way they made.”

If, I say, you were bound to traverse the sepulchral vaults, and all the gloomy dungeons of Hades, yet you need not fear, for “underneath are the everlasting arms.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 9-10

Psalms 139:9-10

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.

Christianity the universal religion

The traveller who passes from one quarter of the globe to another feels that the encircling sky which girdles in the ocean is but a type of the unseen power that surrounds us all. It is the expression of the same truth as that which drew from the first navigator who, from the shores of England, reached the shores of America, “Heaven is as near to us on the sea as on the land.” The philanthropist whose wide charity embraces within its grasp the savage and the civilized man--the white man and the negro--feels that the hand of God is with him in his enterprises, because in the face of all his fellow-men he recognizes, however faintly and feebly expressed, the image of the likeness of God. The philosopher who endeavours to trace out the unity of mankind, and the unity of all created things, consciously or unconsciously, expresses the same truth--namely, that the Divine eye saw our substance yet being imperfect, and that in His book were all our members written, which day by day were fashioned and evolved, while as yet there were none of them--while all was as yet rudimental and undeveloped, alike in the individual and in the race. The heart-stricken, lonely, suffering, or doubting soul, who sees only a step before him, who can but pray, “Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom”--he, too, can echo the old psalmist: “The darkness is no darkness to Thee; the darkness and light to Thee are both alike. Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” But in the especial form of the words of the text there is a peculiar force, which it is my purpose to bring before you . . . The psalmist wishes to indicate that God could be found in those regions of the earth into which it was least likely that any Divine influence should penetrate, and he expresses it by saying, If I were to take the wings of the morning; if I were to mount on the outspreading radiance which, in the eastern heavens, precedes the rise of dawn, if I were to follow the sun on his onward course and pass with him over land and ocean, till I reach the uttermost parts of the sea, far away in the distant and unknown west, even there, also, strange as it may seem, the hand of God will lead me, the right hand of God will hold me; even there, also, beyond the shadows of the setting of the sun; even there, beyond the furthest horizon, the furthest west of the furthest sea, will be found the Presence which leaps over the most impassable barriers. That which seemed to him so portentous as to be almost incredible, has become one of the familiar, we might almost say one of the fundamental, truths of our religious and social existence. Not only in the East, so we may venture to give his words their fullest and widest meaning--not only in the East, consecrated by patriarchal tradition and usage, but in the unknown and distant islands and seas of the West, the power of God shall be felt as a sustaining help and guiding hand.

I. The contrast between the East and the West is one of the most vivid which strikes the mind of man. Of the great geographical impressions left on the most casual observer, none is deeper than that which is produced when a child of the Western civilization sets foot on the shores of the Eastern world. And so in history, two distinct streams of human interest have followed always the race of Shem and the race of Japhet; and the turning-points, the critical moments of their history, have been when the two streams have crossed each other and met--as on a few great occasions--in conflict or in union.” It is the very image which is presented to us in the splendid vision of the evangelical prophet in Isaiah 60:8-9. “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” They are the “isles”; that is, the isles, and coasts, and promontories, and creeks, and bays of the Mediterranean and Atlantic shores. “The isles shall wait for Him, and the ships of Tarshish first.” Tarshish--that is, the West--with all its vessels of war and its vessels of merchandise. The ships of Tarshish first, and of Venetia, and Carthage, and Spain--these first brought the shores of Cornwall, the name of Britain, within the range of the old civilized world. All these, with their energy and activity, were to build up the walls and pour their wealth through the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem. And so, in fact, it has been. Christianity, born in the East, has become the religion of the West even more than the religion of the East. Only by travelling from its early home has it grown to its full stature. The more it has adapted itself to the wants of the new-born nation which it embraces, the more it has resembled the first teaching and character of its Founder and of its followers. Judaism, as a supreme religion, expired when its local sanctuary was destroyed. Mohammedanism, after its first burst of conquest, withdrew itself almost entirely within the limits of the East. But Christianity has found not only its shelter and refuge, but its throne and home, in countries which, humanly speaking, it could hardly have been expected to reach at all. The Christian religion rose on the “wings of the morning”; but it has remained in the “uttermost parts of the sea,” because the hand of God was with it, and the right hand of God was upholding it.

II. Consider what were the peculiar points of Christianity which have enabled it to combine these two worlds of thought, each so different from the other. In its full development, in its earliest and most authentic representation, we see gathered the completion of those gifts and graces which East and West possesses separately, and which each of us is bound, in his measure, to appropriate and imitate. And, first, observe, on the one hand, in the Gospel history, the awe, the reverence, the profound resignation to the Divine will, the calm, untroubled repose which are the very qualities which the Eastern religions possessed, at a time when, to the West, they were almost wholly unknown, and which, even now, are more remarkably exhibited in Eastern nations than amongst ourselves. Christ has taught us how to be reverential, and serious, and composed. He has taught as no less how to be active, and stirring, and manly, and courageous. The activity of the West has been incorporated into Christianity, because it belongs to the original character and genius of its Founder, no less than its awe and its reverence. Again, in every Eastern religion, even in that which Moses proclaimed from Mount Sinai, there was darkness, a mystery, a veil, as the apostle expressed it--a veil on the prophet’s face, a veil on the people’s heart-a blind submission to absolute authority. There was darkness around the throne of God; there was darkness within the Temple wall; there was in the Holy of Holies a darkness never broken. To a great extent this darkness and exclusiveness must prevail always, till the time comes when we shall see no longer through a glass darkly. This we have in Christianity, in common with all the East; but yet, so far as the veil can be withdrawn, it has been withdrawn by Jesus Christ and by His true disciples. He is the Light of the world. In Him we behold the open face, the glory of the Father. Again; there was in all Eastern religions, whether we look Godward or manward, a sternness and separation from the common feelings and interests of mankind. We see it, as regards man, in the hardness and harshness of the Eastern laws. We see it, as regards God, in the profound prostration of the soul of man, displayed first in the peculiarities of Jewish worship, and to this day in the prayers of devout Mussulmans. And this, also, enters in its measure into the life of Christ and the life of Christendom. The invisible, eternal, irreproachable Deity, the sublime elevation of the Founder of our religion above all the turmoils of earthly passion and of local prejudice--that is the link of Christianity with the East. And, on the other hand, there was another side of the truth which, until Christ appeared, had been hardly revealed at all to the children of the older covenant. In Christ we see how the Divine Word could become flesh, and yet the Father of all remain invisible and inconceivable. In Christ we see not merely, as in the Levitical system of Christianity, man sacrificing his choicest gifts to God; but God, if one may so say, sacrificing His own dear Son for the good of man.

III. What do we learn from this? Surely, the mere statement of the fact is an almost constraining proof that the religion which thus unites both divisions of the human race, was, indeed, of an origin above them both; that the light which thus shines on both sides, so to speak, of the image of humanity is, indeed, the light that lighteth every man. There is no monopoly, no sameness, no one-sidedness, no narrowness here. The variety, the complexity, the diversity, the breadth of the character of Christ and of His religion is, indeed, an expression of the universal omnipresence of God. It is for us to bear in mind that this many-sidedness of Christianity is a constant encouragement to hold fast those particles of it we already possess, and to reach forward to whatever elements of it are still beyond us. Say not that Christianity has been exhausted; say not that the hopes of Christianity have failed, nor yet that they have been entirely fulfilled. In our Father’s house are many mansions. In one or other of its many mansions each wandering soul may at last find its place, here or hereafter. (Dean Stanley.)


Verse 12

Psalms 139:12

The darkness and the light.

The changes of the sky

What is the lesson conveyed by the great alternate changes of the sky? Now it is sweetly luminous, and now a solemn darkness. Strictly speaking, as we all know, there is no change in the sky at all. It is always an infinite darkness, and always lit up by myriads of stupendous suns. But we should not know this if the earth did not turn on her axis, and successively face the sun, and again turn away from him. To the turning of our planet from the sun we owe our knowledge of the universe. In the symbolism of its darkness and light we have our sublimest revelation of God. Light which is called God, and is God, issues for ever from the Infinite Bosom of His darkness. Darkness and light are both alike to Him; for He is as much one as the other. The Son of God, the only-begotten Light, reveals the “Father of Lights,” as suns reveal the ether. God presents Himself in the light, but also conceals Himself; as we both present ourselves, and hide ourselves, in our garment. “Thou coverest Thyself with light as with a garment.” As the infinite ether is hidden by the daylight, even so is God hidden by the light of the angelic heavens which reveal Him. Therefore, all those who dwell in the Eternal Light worship the unseen God, and live “as seeing the invisible.” They know that light is but His effluence. They worship the Light as God, and, again, with silent, ineffable adoration, they worship what is behind the Light. (John Pulsforal, D. D.)


Verses 13-18

Psalms 139:13-18

For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.

God as the Creator of man

I. He created man, who is a wonder to man’s self (verses 13, 14).

II. He created man, who comes by the process of evolution (verses 15, 16). The oak is not less a Divine creation because it came out of the acorn, nor the acorn a less Divine production because it is composed of various substances of the earth: and man is not less the creation of God because he came by a process of evolution.

III. He created man, who appears by a Divine plan (verse 16). Everything in the universe, from the smallest to the largest, is constructed on a fixed and unalterable type. In truth, the whole creation existed in His mind in archetype millions of years before it took its present form. “In Thy book,” metaphorically, God is represented as having written a “book”; it is the book of an architect, full of plans. There are the plans of worlds and systems that have all been and are no more. The plans of all that now exist, and the plans of all that are yet to appear.

1. Because God works by method, we should study all His works as revelations of Himself.

2. Conformity to His methods should be the supreme aim of all our activities. Whatever we do out of keeping with His plans will come to ruin, and involve us in distress.

IV. He created man, who is capable of appreciating his thoughts (verses 17,18). God’s thoughts are indeed absolutely “precious.” They are original, all comprehensive without succession, infinitely beneficent, immutable, and essentially holy. (Homilist.)


Verse 14

Psalms 139:14

I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Man adoring his Maker

I. The expressive declaration--“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

1. The wonders and mysteries of the human frame are little thought of, or understood, by the children of men; yet surely we may say, “The finger of God is here.” Our body is a congeries of wonders from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. The different parts are so finely, delicately, and exquisitely made that it seems as if the least thing must disjoint, disorder, or derange them. Our life is an affair of beauty, symmetry, utility, and of mystery. The configuration and the construction, the composition and the articulation, the perforations, the compressions, the expansions, the attrition, the compensation, the exhaustion, the restoration, the secretion, and the excretions of the body all prove it to be “fearfully made.” The mouth, the eye, the ear, the head, the brain, and the lungs, with the heart contracting four thousand times in an hour, and sending out with unerring accuracy at every contraction one ounce of blood, are all proof of the fact. The varied apparatus for breathing, for nourishing the system, for moving the limbs, for the reception of aliment, and for the ejection el waste, all demonstrate the truth of the text. The varied secretions of the system, and the gastric juice, all of them being different in consistency, in colour, in taste, in smell, and in their uses in the animal economy; some of them thick, others transparent, some bitter and others sweet, all adapted either to cleanse, to lubricate, to defend, to digest, or to nourish, are so many confirmations of the statement that we are “fearfully made.”

2. The language of the text also applies to the soul. Man is not only an animal, but also a spirit. That spirit is in the body, but not of it. So different from it, it yet influences it, and is influenced by it. It is lodged in it for “an appointed time,” and then to leave it, to be again reunited indissolubly to it, and there to abide for ever. This is the most wonderful part of man; it is mind, spirit, soul; the breath of God “breathed into his nostrils, and man become a living soul.” The first man, Adam, was made a living soul. Mentally, he is fearfully and wonderfully made. As a spirit he possesses the power to think, to learn, to know; he is capable of intermeddling with all wisdom, of receiving continuous supplies of wisdom and knowledge. What a power is this! It allies us to angels, to Deity! Do we value sufficiently our mental endowment? Are we careful to improve our power of reflection? Do we act as thinking beings--as creatures who must go wrong unless we exercise our minds in relation to the past, the present, and the future?

3. Socially; we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are linked one to another, all the world round, and from generation to generation. We are ever being brought under the influence of others, and in our turn influence those around us. We may forget it, may doubt it, or deny it, and neglect it, yet it is so; all through our existence, in childhood, youth, manhood, or old age. This influence is being ever exerted, wherever we are, whatever we do, wherever we go--at home, abroad, in quiet or in active life. Oh! how it becomes us to be guarded, lest our being shall be a curse to any immortal spirit instead of a blessing; lest we lead them astray, and cause them suffering here and hereafter; or lest it be thus with ourselves! Let us indeed “watch and pray, lest we lead or fall into temptation.”

4. Morally, man is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” These natures of ours are distinguished by a moral sense, as well as by a mental power and a social influence. We are gifted with a sense of right and wrong, of which we can never be divested to all eternity. We can understand the difference; can choose the evil and reject the good; or we are at liberty to choose the good and repudiate the evil. The choice is our own act; the praise, the blame our own. We may be driven to choose between conflicting duties; never obliged to choose between criminal acts, or to act criminally at all. We may be virtuous or vicious; range ourselves on the side of heaven or hell; walk with the wise, or choose to be the companions of fools. Do we regard aright this fearful responsibility? Do we live as if thus distinguished from the rest of the terrene creation?

II. A becoming resolution. “I will praise Thee.” Let us not forget that we have much to praise God for. He is our Maker, He has blessed us with existence, and it will not be His fault if that blessing be turned into a curse. He it is that has so long held our souls in life. He has rightly framed us. He has endowed us with reason, He has favoured us with health, He has provided for our comfort, and supplied our ever-recurring necessities. We should praise Him for His marvellous wisdom, skill, power, and benevolence in thus building our “house of clay”; and endowing us with such mental powers, and for putting us into such social relations with each other, and in blessing us with such astounding spiritual possibilities for time and eternity; fully meeting and providing for the wants of our fallen spiritual natures as He has done also for the physical. We should praise Him for opening up to us through Jesus Christ His Son all the stores of Divine wisdom and knowledge, and giving us through Him free and constant access, “the fulness of the Godhead,” “the unsearchable riches,” the riches of His grace, the treasures of His love, and the immensity and eternity of His love. (Thomas Lord.)

The growth and perfection of the natural man’s body and mind

I. The progress of man’s natural and intellectual life from its first principles to maturity.

II. Practical lessons.

1. Here, then, you will find, if you have hearts to perceive, overwhelming proofs of the power, the providence, the wisdom, and the goodness of God.

2. If God has made these wonderful provisions for the formation and growth, the perfection and happiness of man; if He has endowed him with talents for comprehending the excellence of the work and the glory of its Maker, with a principle of self-action, deliberation, and choice of measures, man is bound to employ his parts and properties of body and mind with a special regard to God’s glory, as the main end and purpose of His own creation.

3. The formation, increase, and maturity of our bodily parts and intellectual faculties, the provisions that are made for their sustenance and development, and the wondrous processes by which they attain to their measure of perfection are strong presumptions of the truth of what the Scriptures teach us of the resurrection of the body: and may be considered as a pledge and assurance that this portion of God’s counsels and prophecies will be fulfilled. (Bishop Bethell.)

Man fearfully made

1. The expression imports the dignity of man in comparison with other creatures in this lower world. Man is so made that the sight of him impresses a terror on the beasts of the earth. Many of these are superior to man in strength and activity; and, were it not for this dread of man which is impressed on them, our life would be a state of anxiety and terror. Now, if God has given us dominion over the beasts of the earth, we ought to exercise it with justice and humanity. And if man is made superior to the beasts, he should conduct himself in a manner becoming his natural superiority. Reason is the dignity of man. Then only we maintain our dignity when we act as reasonable beings. If passion and appetite triumph over reason, we lose our superiority to the beast, and become as the horse or mule, which has no understanding.

2. We are fearfully made, as our frame demonstrates the power, wisdom, and presence of God. Such a wonderful composition as man could not be the effect of chance. It must be the work of an infinite, independent, all-wise Creator. And God demands, “will ye not tremble at My presence? Ye have a revolting and a rebellious heart.” But we need not go out of ourselves. Shall we not tremble at His presence, when we see Him around us, and feel Him within us? He is not far from every one of us. Shall not His excellency make us afraid? Let us fear, love, and obey Him. This is our whole duty.

3. We are fearfully made, as the Creator has impressed upon us evident marks of our immortality and accountableness. In the present state we find ourselves capable of progress and improvement: but we never rise to the perfection to which, in a longer space, we might attain. Must there not, then, be another state in which we may reach the perfection of which our nature is capable, but which is unattainable here?

4. In respect of our frailty. Such is the tenderness of our frame, that in this rough and dangerous world in which we live, we are always exposed to casualties and wounds, diseases and death. It may, therefore, with much propriety be said, “we are fearfully made.” Let religion possess our hearts, and peace will attend our path, and hope will brighten our prospect. We may take pleasure in infirmities, for the power of Christ will rest upon us. For us to live will be Christ, and to die will be gain. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

The fabric of the human body

Wonderful as a piece of architecture, as Solomon’s Temple was, the fabric of the human body is far more wonderful and far more exquisite in its beauty. It is passing strange that while men can be passionate enthusiasts in the matter of being collectors and students of moths, of first editions of books, or even of postage stamps, such vast numbers of them are content to remain in ignorance of that cabinet of marvels which is nearer to them than anything else, which they carry about with them everywhere, and upon the well-being of which depends not only so much of their comfort, but also the highest effectiveness of their lives. (R. G. A. Bennets, B. A.)


Verse 15-16

Psalms 139:15-16

My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret.

Daily growth

God, being one, the author of nature as of grace, worketh harmoniously in both His kingdoms. And as in other ways, so in this: in both He createth and hath created by a single act; in both He carrieth on His work, silently yet in majesty. God created us, gave us life once, and then preserves it. Men grow in stature (blessed are they if in wisdom, too), they know not how; they eat, they drink, they sleep, are nourished, they know not how; and so day by day, and year by year, pass through the stages of life, through childhood, youth, to manhood, and mature years. So should it be in our re-creation. In Holy Baptism He re-creates us in His own image; passes His hand upon us, puts the first germ of spiritual life within us, to grow, be nourished, expand, flower, bear fruit, until it take into itself all our old nature, and we become wholly new. “Fearfully indeed and wonderfully are we made;” a marvel to the blessed angels and to ourselves. Strange, through what variety of accidents, griefs, joys, terrors, fears, death, life, His encircling providence girding us round shall have fenced in our way; and He who has all creation at His command shall have made all creation, good and bad, great and small, natural and moral, the holiness of angels and men and the malice of Satan, work together to the salvation of His elect. And this amazing everlasting work is going on continually. “Which day by day were fashioned.” It is the very marvellousness of God’s works in nature, in the Church, in each single soul, that they go on so noiselessly. “Axe and hammer are not heard,” but the house of the Lord is raised without hands. Day by day we rise, and night by night tie down, and see not, except rarely, the growth of others or our own. Did we make ourselves, we might well be concerned that we see not what we are becoming; now we may trust that, although in secret, still we are being fashioned into “a vessel fit for the Master’s use.” Still, although we know not where we are, how much has been, or is being, wrought in us; what our progress, we must know that something is being wrought. We may not be conscious that we are growing in grace, but we must be that we are acting under grace. We may not see how direr our path is (that we shall see as it becomes straighter), but if we are moving upward we must make efforts, and feel them. Pray we for the grace of God to do each single act, as He shall will, to His glory, and He will lead us whither as yet we know not. But although God forms us day by day, yet are there, from time to time, seasons of larger growth, as in nature so in grace. God, in His mercy, gives us fresh starting points in our Christian race. Some such most of us perhaps have passed; too many, it is to be feared, have wasted. Such are childhood’s earliest trials. The bitter fruits we have felt in ourselves from some one sin of childhood, some neglect of God’s loud warning or His call, may make us sorrowfully estimate the deep value of such calls, had we obeyed. Such periods, again, when used aright, are Holy Confirmation and the first Communion. Yea, so full is this of the richness of God’s treasure, that thoughtful persons have said that none ever went far astray whose first Communion was diligently prepared for, and received and treasured holily. And when these and other seasons have been wasted, God in His mercy visits us anew, but mostly in an austere form. “A mighty and strong wind” must “rend the rock” of our stony heart “before the Lord” ere He can speak to us in the “still small voice.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)


Verses 17-24

Psalms 139:17-24

How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God.

Thoughts of God

The sense of God’s nearness brings thoughts of God. The devout soul cherishes these thoughts, and they become to it a joy unspeakable. One thing arrests attention. It is the sense of God as a “fellow-person” which this good man had.

I. How precious to me are my thoughts of Thee. The Jew associated the thought of God with everything. To him the grand things of nature were full of God. The mountains were the “hills of God”; the winds were the “breathings of God; the thunder was the “voice of God.” The saints of God, in all the ages, have found one Being who is in everything, who is the life of everything, but they have found that they could enter into personal relations with Him.

1. Our thoughts of God are started by the history of His dealings with our fathers through the long ages.

2. By our studies of His handiwork.

3. Our best thoughts are started by our own personal experiences of His gracious dealings. For our lives have been so full of God. That seems to us now to be the supreme charm of them.

4. Our thoughts take on some new forms since we have had the helps and suggestions of our saving relations with the Lord Jesus.

II. How precious to me are Thy thoughts of me. It is a joy unspeakable to be assured that God is thinking about us, and is even enjoying His thoughts about us. Nothing can be more delightful than to feel that by our loving obediences, our sweet spirit of submission, and our devoted services to others, we are starting happy thoughts in the mind of God. We forget that as He “takes pleasure in His people,” we must be giving Him pleasure. There can be little comparison between God’s thoughts of us and our thoughts of God. We can get to know something of the thoughts of God, and fill our souls with the richest consolations, as we read His mind and heart. The smile on His face shines through the veil of nature, and we can tell what He is thinking that makes Him smile. His whisperings are heard in the sighing of the evening breeze, and the tender tones tell us what love-thoughts are cherished in His heart. Have we made enough of the signs which help us to read the thoughts of God? His thoughts take shape as “exceeding great and precious promises.” When we are cherishing loving thoughts concerning some earthly friend, we find that we cannot satisfy ourselves without devising and bestowing some gift. And it is just the same with God. He could not satisfy Himself with merely cherishing loving thoughts about us. He must do something for us. He must give something to us. He must give Himself to us in some gift. And what shall it bey It shall be His most cherished possession, His dearest and best, His only-begotten and well-beloved Son. That is indeed an unspeakably precious gift. Cannot we read the thoughts of God by the help of that gift? How the Father-heart of God must have yearned over His lost children! “How precious are Thy thoughts.” We are wrapped about with God’s loving thoughts, and they keep us warmed and cheered. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)

The precious thoughts of God

I. Thoughts of mercy.

1. That mercy is free--free as yon arch of heaven above our heads; free as the sunlight that shines upon all and everywhere.

2. That mercy is full. It never asks how many or how black are our sins.

3. That mercy is exhaustless. If I may say so, it has no superlative. Whatever in all the past ages of the Church He has done for any soul He can exceed that.

4. That mercy is ready.

5. That mercy gets glory to itself out of the very sins which it forgives.

II. Thoughts of love. He knows our frame. He remembers that we are but dust. He tempers the trial, and brings good out of it. And He is always doing this all our lives through.

III. Thoughts of glory. To fit us to mingle in the society of heaven is God’s purpose--a purpose which He keeps steadily in view in all His providential dealings with us. (A. C. Price.)

God’s thoughts concerning us

To think is to exercise the prerogative of an immortal soul; thus are we distinguished from the lower animals, who certainly cannot carry on any continued process of thought. By this power we reflect the image of God. The human intellect is man’s crowning possession, that which makes him immortal. But if it is so wonderful, the power and possibility of thought to man, what shall we say of the thought of God? It is this fact which has inspired this sublime psalm and culminates in our text. No wonder David was carried out of himself at the thought of God’s thoughts concerning man. The infinite shone in upon him, and ha caught a vision of the limitless expanse beyond. Of these thoughts he declares--

I. They are precious. “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God;” costly, highly valuable. Who shall measure the value of God’s thoughts to man? What currency could express their preciousness? For His thoughts are not vagrant like ours, going a-wool-gathering hither and yon, without direction or purpose. Every one becomes a creation, a star, a living creature, a cataract, a gleaming cliff, a beautiful human soul.

II. The sum of them is great. Great in their totality. The summary of them is beyond us. If we consider them in their generic outline they are great. We may fathom one little fact in God’s world, a single thought, bug how can the human mind take in the whole outline? Who knows the mind of God? What can we do with our finite minds to compass divinity? How vain and weak is man face to face with the Author of all life. How humble and reverent it should make us when we consider the works of His hands and our own feeble undertakings. “How great is the sum of them.”

III. They are incomprehensible. David felt as Milton after him, that he was only picking up shells on the shore of that vast ocean he must sail so soon. How wonderful is life, in its minute forms. What delicate beauty. What exquisite harmony. What undeviating law runs through all life. (G. F. Humphreys.)

God’s thoughts of us

I. Loving. He thought of us when we were plunged in hopeless ruin, and His great heart of pity went out, after us. But with what complacent love He thinks of those who heed His calls and are loyal to His leadership!

II. Constant. He never forgets. Husbands and wives think of each other often and tenderly when separated. So the fond mother and her darling child. But their thoughts are interrupted by necessary attention to other matters. By the very limitations of their own nature they cannot hold their minds incessantly upon one person, however dear. Not so with God. Great events do not divert Him. He may have worlds to create and govern, but He is not so absorbed in them as to forget us. No exigency can arise for which He is not fully prepared. Nothing can fake Him by surprise.

III. Personal. God does not think of us in a crowd, as forming indefinite parts of a great mass-meeting. He singles us out and thinks of us individually--as if there were no other person in the universe. We are compelled to divide our thoughts and loving attentions between the different ones that come into the charmed circle of our friendship. But God thinks of me as really, as definitely, as personally as He does of the seraph nearest the throne.

IV. Helpful. We may think of a person, but have no disposition to help him. But God has a disposition to help and the ability to help, and He lives and thinks of us on purpose to help. The outgoings of His loving heart are benedictions upon our heads and benefactions upon our daily pathway. (H. Johnson, D. D.)

Our thoughts about God’s thoughts

I. God’s thoughts of us.

1. That the infinite Jehovah thinks of us is absolutely certain. I know that the notion of some men is that the world is like a watch, and that God has done with it as we do with our watches--that, is, wound it up, put, it under His pillow, and gone to sleep. But it is not so; for in this great world-watch--to keep up the figure--God is present with every wheel and every cog of every wheel; there is no action in it apart from His present putting forth of power to make it move. Now, as God thinks and must think of the whole material universe which He has created, much more does He think of men, and most of all of us who are His chosen people. God must think of us; the blood would not flow in our veins, nor would the breath make our lungs to heave, nor would our various bodily processes go on without the perpetual exercise of His power. God must think of us especially in all the higher departments of our being, for they would speedily come to nothing apart from His constant care.

2. God’s thoughts of us must be very numerous. One or two thoughts would not suffice for our many needs; if He only thought of us now and then, what should we do in the meantime? But He thinks of us constantly.

3. His thoughts of us are very tender. He looks upon His people as a father upon a child. How often He has screened us from trouble! How frequently He has prepared us for a trial, so that, when it came, it did not crush us! How often He has rescued us out of sore perils! How often He has visited us in the night, and given us songs amid our sorrow!

4. Very wise.

5. Very practical. His thoughts are really His acts, for with Him to will is to do.

II. Our thoughts upon God’s thoughts.

1. There is no other thought that can for a moment be compared with it.

2. How delightful it is to he thought upon by God.

3. How consoling.

4. The thoughts of God often move the souls of Christians, strengthening them in faith, arousing them to love, bestirring them to zeal.

III. Our thoughts upon God himself.

1. They bring us near to God.

2. They help to keep us near to God.

3. They help to restore to us God’s presence if for a while we have lest it. “When I awake” that means, “I have been asleep, and so have lost the consciousness of God’s presence.” Have you never known what it is, at night, to be quite sorry to go to sleep because you have been so full of holy joy that you were afraid you might lose it while you were unconscious? “When I awake, I am still with Thee.” I think it means also, “When I wake up from any temporary lethargy into which I may have fallen, I am still with Thee.” We all get into that state sometimes; sleeping, though our heart is awake. We wish to be more brisk, more lively; but we cannot stir ourselves up. We have fallen into a kind of stupor. What a blessing it is to be roused out of it, possibly by a severe affliction, perhaps by an earnest discourse! Then the awakened one says, “Now I have come back to Thee, my God. There was a something within me that could not forget Thee, even for a while, though it lay still and dormant.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The thoughts of the Infinite appreciated by man

I. They must be discovered.

1. There must be a revelation of them.

2. There must be a capacity to interpret the revelation. That is the distinction of man.

3. The capacity must be rightly employed. We must study the revelation. What is the scientist in quest of with his lenses, retorts, laboratories? The thoughts of God in nature. What is the Biblical critic in search of in investigating the meaning of Scripture? The thoughts of God in the Bible.

II. They must be compared. We get the impression that one fabric is more precious than another, one stone more precious than another, one life more precious than another by comparison. Thus we are to get the impression of God’s thoughts by comparing them with ours. They are--

1. Absolutely original. All human thoughts are derived.

2. Comprehensive--taking in the whole of a thing, and the whole of everything.

3. Unsuccessive.

4. Infinitely useful.

5. Everlasting.

6. Essentially holy. Thus His thoughts are not as our thoughts.

III. They must be appropriated. As light is precious only to the man who sees, food only to the man who participates, beauty only to the man who admires, so God’s thoughts are only precious to the man who appropriate them. (Homilist.)

Precious thoughts

God has thoughts, and they are infinite in number, in compass, and in importance. Some of His thoughts are expressed, many more remain unexpressed. There are at least three modes of expressing thought. One is by acting them. Creation, with its complicated laws and systems, is nettling more than God’s thought expressed in act. Another mode of expressing thought is by speech. God has gifted man above the brute creation with the power of speech. God has conveyed some of His thoughts to men through the medium of speech. Moses heard His voice on Sinai; He spoke to Abraham, to Jacob, to Samuel, and others, and to these, His servants, the Divine voice was a vehicle to convey Divine thought. Under the dispensation of the Incarnation, God made extensive use of speech, in the Person of our Blessed Lord, to convey His thoughts to the children of men. Another mode of expressing thought is by writing. Men convey thoughts through the medium of books. In the Bible you have a volume of God’s thoughts in writing.

I. Thoughts, in order to be precious, must be good.

morally good--good in themselves, and good in their influence on those who embrace them, pure and purifying. Millions on earth, and millions more in heaven, can bear testimony that God’s thoughts have elevated the mind, given to the heart quickening impulses towards virtue, and kindled aspirations after God and purity.

II. Thoughts to be precious must be true--great intellects sometimes waste their energies on the untrue and unreal. They live in an ideal world, a creation of their own fancy, and by their writings allure many into the same world of dreams and allegory. You must give the intellect reality, substance, truth, in order to satisfy its deeper cravings. In the Bible we have a volume of God’s thoughts, and they are all true. Some portions have been written in poetry, but it is not the poetry of fiction or fancy, but the poetry of truth, eternal truth.

III. Thoughts are sometimes precious because of their originality. It is truly refreshing to come in contact with a great mind, who conducts you into loftier mental altitudes than usual, opens out landscapes of thought where the mind may revel with a transport of joy over thoughts which are fresh, noble, and pure. In the Bible we have a volume of God’s thoughts, many of them original, belonging exclusively to God. They were hidden in the bosom of God before the beginning of creation, and God only could make them known to the intelligent universe.

IV. Thoughts, in order to be precious, must be benevolently related to me. The Bible assures me that God’s thoughts are benevolent and merciful. The Gospel is the out-breathing of the great Father’s love towards His rebel children, the yearnings of His heart over His prodigal family, the advertisement of His anxiety to see His alienated creatures return, and of His willingness to forgive and forget their infinite wrong.

V. Thoughts, in order to be precious, must be practicable. The scheme which the Gospel reveals is not hypothetical; it is not the offer of a boon on conditions which are impossible. It is gloriously possible. It is the proclamation of an all-sufficient remedy, that redemption is effected, that it is free for all, that every difficulty has been removed, every claim met, and that now nothing is wanting on the part of man but an open heart to receive and welcome the gift Divine. This is God’s thought, and it is precious. (R. Roberts.)

God’s unexpressed thoughts

Some of God’s thoughts are expressed, but many more remain unexpressed. His unexpressed thoughts, we believe, infinitely exceed both in number and grandeur His expressed thoughts. Some think science is making very rapid progress in the discovery of God’s thoughts in the realm of matter, but the progress is slow when compared with the infinite multitude of thoughts which yet remain to be disclosed. Think of the sunbeams. They have been irradiating the world from the very beginning of creation. Think, again, of the iodine in the seaweed. It has been there ever since the sea lashed its shores first. The sunbeam is God’s thought, the iodine is God’s thought; but there is a third thought, springing from the combination under certain conditions of the ray of light and the iodine. You take the iodine from the seaweed, sprinkle its vapour on a piece of glass, hold that glass in the sunlight, stand in front of it, and you have yourself photographed. This third thought of photography has only been recent]y discovered. The thought was present to God when He created the first ray of light and put the first drop of iodine in the seaweed, and yet it has taken man thousands of years to discover that thought, so simple now that we know it. So still there are infinite abysses which we cannot fathom, and infinite heights which we can never reach. We have only reached the alphabet of knowledge as yet. We are in the infancy of our being, mastering with difficulty our elementary primer. Neither the youth nor the manhood of mind will be reached by us in this world. We shall all die mere infants in knowledge. But there is mental manhood in store for us somewhere in the universe of God. We fondly hope and firmly believe that in heaven God will reveal to us His deeper and higher thoughts. We are now groping outside and knocking at the door of the temple of truth. Then we shall be admitted into the interior, and perhaps feel ourselves at first bewildered with its infinite vastness, The universe, with its infinitude of worlds and its unknown immensity, is that temple, and it is full of God’s thoughts. Those thoughts are expressed in endless variety in every star and system, in perhaps myriads of systems never yet brought within the range of any telescope. They are written on orders of beings and intelligences of which now we have no conception, and of which the universe may be full. In our vast explorations we shall meet God’s thoughts at every step we take, in the very atmosphere which souls breathe, in the canopy which encompasses them, in every spirit that flits by, or that pauses to commune with us, in the fresh and novel scenes which every system will open out to us. When we travel over infinite space, when the universe is laid open to our inspection, when there is no limit placed on our scrutiny of its infinite mysteries except the limit which a finite creature must ever feel when he has to do with the Infinite, fresh revelations of the Godhead will burst upon us, and with greater rapture than now we shall exclaim, “How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” (R. Roberts.)


Verse 18

Psalms 139:18

When I awake, I am still with Thee.

A Christian awakening with God

I. His disposition.

1. It is the care and endeavour of a good man when he awakes to be still with God.

(a) When not asleep, and so hindered by the necessities of nature. A godly man is careful to be with God in every performance and in every condition, both in regard to--

(i.) Habitual inclination. He is always with God in disposition and affection; and--

(ii.) Actual application. He is careful still to repair to God, and to draw near to Him, whensoever he can.

(b) As soon as I awake.

2. In what respects a Christian, when he is awake, may be said to be with God.

(a) Our thoughts are precious things, being the immediate issue of our souls, and are not to be lightly bestowed by us, especially our first, thoughts. And on whom can we better bestow them than on Him that helps us to them, and without whom we are not sufficient of ourselves so much as to think (2 Corinthians 3:5)?

(b) This is to be understood especially of such thoughts as are settled and deliberate and composed such thoughts as a man sets himself to with intention, and suffers to abide in him; these are for the most part suitable and agreeable to the frame of his heart. Now, because a godly man has his heart full of heaven, and God, and goodness, and the graces of the Spirit, therefore are such things as these very often and early in his thoughts.

(a) Confession of sin.

(b) Petition and supplication.

(c) Praise and acknowledgment.

3. The ground and equity of it.

II. His privilege.

1. It secures from dangers (Psalms 26:1; Psalms 3:5; Psalms 4:8; Psalms 91:5; Psalms 23:4).

2. It quickens to duty; keeps the heart in a holy frame and temper all the day after.

3. It prevents from sin and temptation--at least the prevalencies of it.

III. How we may attain to this blessed condition.

1. Walk with God in the day. The duties of religion are linked together, and come off more easily in the conjunctive performance of each other. Thus reading and hearing, and meditation and communion of saints, conscionably and religiously performed, do so much the better dispose to more immediate communion with God; and the actions of the day have their impressions and reflections upon the night.

2. Lie down with God in the evening. That which we think of last we shall be ready to think of first; and as we conclude the foregoing day, so we are likely to begin the following. Therefore it should be our care, as much as may be, to have God and the things of God in our thoughts when we set ourselves to rest. This is the happiness of a Christian that is careful to lie down with God, that he finds his work still as he left it, and is in the same disposition when he rises as he was at night when he laid to rest. As a man that winds up his watch over night, he finds it going the next morning; so is it also as I may say with a Christian that winds up his heart. This is a good observation to be remembered, especially in the evening before the Sabbath.

3. Observe God in the morning. A man that would be with God when he wakes must observe how God is with him. We shall find sometimes that God Himself doth awaken us, and does desire communion with us (Isaiah 50:4). (T. Horton, D. D.)

Morning thoughts

To an earnestly devout mind there is no hour in She day to compare with the morning hour. “Evening calms the mind” when the heat and the tumult of the day are past. Not without good reason did that ancient figure meditate “in the fields at eventide.” But the morning hour largely determines what he shall meditate upon as he walks those grassy slopes. Let me show you how, by a godly man, that morning hour may be used to do at least something towards flinging into the day a light sweeter and pleasanter than its own.

I. It may be so used as to impart, in some sort at least, a spiritual tone to the entire day. Busy men are wont to complain, “In crowded street and busy mart the mind cannot get itself fixed on higher things.” Much, however, can be done, and in this way. When that light--so sweet, so pleasant for the eyes to behold--looks in upon us, and the tasks and duties of the day begin to marshal themselves before us, let the mind be imbued with the Christian temper--let it be pitched, so to speak, in a Christian key; and though God through the day may not be “in all our thoughts,” He will not be far from every one of them.

II. A day begun in this fashion acquires a certain practical steadiness. You have noticed, I am sure, how a day entered upon without thought, without prayer, has invariably turned out a very confused and unsatisfactory thing. There are more battles to fight than those which are won and lost on fields of blood; and the bravest, steadiest soldiers are not the men who have leaped from their beds and rushed into action. They are the men whose heads have been cleared and cooled, and whose mental and spiritual nerves have been braced by meditation and prayer.

III. This kind of prayerful forethought gives a certain desirable speciality to the day. We cannot, it is true, make every day a feast-day, but we can redeem our days from a spiritless sameness. Is my work monotonous? (and whose work is always teeming with freshness of interest?) let me redeem it from being anything like drudgery by baking it up every day as a new trust. Is it uncongenial? (and whose work is always to his taste?) let me place it day by day on the highest grounds. Oh, how often would many of us turn from the incumbent disagreeable, if we did not carry it to a loftier tribunal than any our personal feelings can furnish. (J. Thew.)

Morning meditation

Accustom yourself to a serious meditation every morning. Fresh airing our souls in heaven will engender in us a purer spirit and nobler thoughts. A morning seasoning will secure us for all the day. Though other necessary thoughts about our calling will and must come in, yet, when we have despatched them, let us attend to our morning theme as our chief companion. As a man that is going with another about some considerable business,--suppose go Westminster,--though he meets with several friends on the way, and salutes some, and with others with whom he has some affairs he spends some little time, yet he quickly returns to his companion, and both together go to their intended stage. Do thus in the present case. Our minds are active and will be doing something, though to little purpose; and if they be not fixed upon some noble object, they will, like madmen and fools, be mightily pleased in playing with straws. The thoughts of God were the first visitors David had in the morning. God and his heart met together as soon as he was awake, and kept company all the day after. (S. Charnock.)


Verses 19-22

Psalms 139:19-22

Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me, therefore, ye bloody men.

Indignation against the wicked

I. Here is a fact in relation to the moral government of God. That fact is the ultimate ruin of the wicked. “Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God.” The wicked will ultimately be ruined.

1. This fact agrees with the dictates of conscience. The consciences of mankind the world over proclaim it.

2. This fact agrees with the principle of moral causation. Sin brings ruin, every act of transgression carries with it its penalty, and tends to death.

3. This fact agrees with the declaration of the Bible, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” “He that soweth to the flesh,” etc.

II. Here is a fact in the experience of pious men. “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?” Whether these words breathe piety or not, they suggest a fact in the experience of all godly men. It is this--antipathy to the character that is opposed to God.

1. The fact is a necessity. From the laws of our mental constitution it is impossible for us go love those who hate the object we most love. Love makes the twain one, hence it is impossible for a man truly to love God and not hate that which is opposed to Him.

2. This fact is an excellence. It is morally right and grand to see the godly man rising up in indignation against all that is opposed to the character and will of God. (Homilist.)


Verse 22

Psalms 139:22

I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them mine enemies.

Righteous hatred

What, then, is a perfect hatred? What may there be which is right, worthy, and fruitful of good, in the perfection of hatred? If we look go the Hebrew psalms for an answer, we notice that such expressions of hatred as occur in them are usually of an official character; they are expressive, that is, not so much of personal feeling as of the kingly consciousness. They are portentous with the indignation of a people against wrong. But even when we read some of the imprecations of the psalms as expressions of a national sense of wrong we cannot always, with our gentler Christian training, prevent the feeling that the royal psalmist did not entirely succeed in his desire to attain to the perfection of hatred. We must look to Him in whom all the moral energies as well as prophetic strivings of the life of the true Israel were fulfilled, if we would learn in what spirit of hatred of all wrong may itself reach perfection. In the light of His life we may say, then--

1. That a perfect hatred of evil proceeds from love. A perfect hatred will be an expression of a tremendous love. It cannot be perfect if it does not proceed from love, as nothing can be right without love. The great hatreds of sin among prophets, reformers and martyrs have always been characterized by this pure flame and passion of love for man. All thought of self was consumed in their intense sense of justice. Because they loved the people, because they loved their city, because they loved their country, they faced the evil, they defied the wrong, they gave their lives in grand protest of their death against the sin of the world. So was it superlatively with the Christ. Because God so loved the world, the Son of His love came from heaven to live a life of daily protest against all its suffering and shame. This, then, is one note and test of any hatred of evil, by which we may search our conduct and purify our passion of righteousness: Does our sense of wrong proceed from love? Does our rebuke of any evil express love?

2. It will be an orderly hatred. Anger, which is to be condemned, is an outburst of feeling, a tumult of words, a violence of deed; but no sign of our disorder of passion ever appeared in the Christ’s condemnation of sin. His wrath against human wrong was as orderly as His love of the Father. It was the pure calm of a soul at white heat. Herein, then, lies another test for us to use in searching our hearts. Are our judgments outbursts of feeling, or are they revealings of the moral order of our lives? If mere outbreakings of passion, they may belong to the whole company of the powers of confusion in the disorder of our world’s sin; but if really Christlike, there will be in them both the restraint and the power of the moral order of Christ’s life against the sin of the world,

3. It is a working hatred. This follows both from the motive of it, which is love, and from the orderliness which is always distinctive of the law of love. Christ’s hatred of sin was a working hatred. He did more self-exhausting work in His three years of life for men and against their sins than any human soul before or since has ever endured. Right hero is the difference too often between us and our Christ. We speak the momentary word of right and do no more. He spoke the word of eternal right, and put the love of His life behind it. We feel the evil and pass on; He felt the sin, and did not pass by on the other side. We express our feeling of moral indignation, and leave the poor world to right itself; He spoke the words of eternal life, and gave Himself to be crucified that the wrong world might be made right.

4. It is a sacrificial hatred of sin. The psalmist had not comprehended this diviner element of it. His Messiah was the Lord coming to judgment, not to bear the cross. But the true Messiah, when He came, was the suffering Son of God. He bore our sins; He suffered in our stead. What is the mightiest protest against wrong ever witnessed in this or any possible world? What but the Cross of Christ. Wherein lies the Divinest condemnation of sin to the eternal ages? In the sufferings of Christ, the just for the unjust. What is the satisfaction of the law by which sin is condemned with a perfect condemnation? Oh, not in punishment, though eternal punishment were its due; but in the infinite pathos of the suffering for it of the Son of God’s love. Thus we come in the end to the same characteristic of perfect hatred which we found at the beginning and motive of it; it ends as it began, in love. It ends in forgiveness, as it began in condemnation; both forgiveness and condemnation being part and process of the same eternal love of God in Christ. We might say with equal truth, God so loved the world, or God so hated the sin of the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. For our God is one God, and in loving righteousness and hating iniquity He is the same God over all, blessed for ever. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)


Verse 23-24

Psalms 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.

Man addressing God

I. Man requesting Divine scrutiny.

1. Reverence manifested. “O God.” He realized God’s presence, and his soul was filled with awe.

2. Thorough investigation invoked. “Search me,” etc. Not that God was to thus obtain information unknown to Him before; but the asker, penetrated with a sense of sinfulness, desires God to search his heart, that the heart--with all its tendencies, passions, evils--may become known to himself through God’s inquest.

II. Man desiring Divine discipline.

1. Severe testing. “Try me.”

2. Moral discrimination. “Know my thoughts,” etc.

III. Man imploring Divine leadership.

1. Spiritual ignorance confessed.

2. Divine condescension besought.

3. Perpetual guidance implored. (M. Braithwaite.)

God the heart-searcher

This is the language of prayer; but it is prayer almost in the tone of a challenge. Taken in connection with its context, it is a claim on the part of the speaker to a spotless innocence. The words of the psalmist are, in the full sense, proper only in the mouth of His Divine Son and Lord. Has, then, the text no meaning for the sinful, struggling followers of Christ? Yea! the followers of the Messiah are His members as well as followers. The prayer of our text, then, is not out of place in the mouth of a true-hearted Christian. He may offer it. In the name and strength of his Divine Surety and Head he is bound continually to cherish the spirit of one whose soul will break forth into the prayer, “Search me, O God,” etc.

I. To know hearts belongeth only to the Lord. This is an attribute distinctively His own, not shared in any measure with any created being.

1. God’s knowledge of the heart differs from that which man or angel has in this, that it is immediate. God knows,--as it were, sees, the very spirit, and its every act and state. Man knows only certain outer signs which the spirit makes, from which he infers its thoughts and feelings.

2. The knowledge of God, and of God alone, is unintermittent and all-piercing. It alone is eternal in duration of exercise, and it alone is able to compass the infinite relations even of one spirit. And to be the Searcher of hearts is to have an incessant and all-piercing glance into the inner being and most extended relations, not only of one spirit, but of all spirits, human and angelic. To form, therefore, a truthful estimate of the moral character of any one soul, the Searcher of hearts must know the attitude it would assume if brought into the presence of each creature, and also the attitude it would assume to every manifestation of His own infinite nature.

II. He knows the heart necessarily: He cannot but know it.

1. Then to Him are known all the dark mysteries of iniquity which men carry about locked up in their breasts. You yourself may sometimes forget it; He never does; and He intends with a changeless purpose to discover you to the whole world in due time, to put you to open shame, and bring you to condign punishment. Struggle no more in the fruitless labour to conceal your sin. In shame and sorrow of deep repentance hasten to make confession to the Searcher of hearts; to make confession not only of your black secret, but of all the ills with which your life is filled. Cast yourself upon His mercy. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.”

2. Then all hypocritical profession of the faith is vain. You may be wickedly deceiving yourselves as well as your fellow-men, like the young man in the Gospel ready to say of the commandments, “All these have I kept from my youth up,” and in truth very near the kingdom of heaven; but the Lord marks with unerring certainty that beloved lust, that precious thing of earth, reserved, which you will not give up for Christ. And it, no matter how trivial, no matter how godlike, digs a gulf fathomless and bridgeless between you and life.

3. The Lord searcheth the heart; and, if so, “the Lord knoweth them that are His.” With this truth Paul comforted himself and Timothy amid the desponding thoughts with which the apostasy of certain flaming professors in the Church of Ephesus was crushing them. With this truth, too, comfort yourself, O child of God, amid the painful doubts which the humble heart is so ready to entertain of its own sincerity and steadfastness. (James Hamilton, M. A.)

Prayer to God to search the heart

Note the psalmist’s--

I. Intrepidity. Here is a man determined to explore all the recesses of his own heart. Did Bonaparte, did Nelson, did Wellington ever propose to do this? Were all the renowned heroes of antiquity present I would ask them all if they ever had courage to enter into their own hearts. If you stood upon some eminence and saw all the ravenous and venomous creatures that ever lived collected before you, it would not require such courage to combat them as to combat with your own heart. Every sin is a devil.

II. Integrity. He wished to know all his sins, that he might be delivered from them.

III. Wisdom.

1. He prefers his prayer to God Himself. God is the only Being in the universe that knows Himself--that peruses Himself in His own light. In the same light He sees all other beings; and hence it follows that, if other beings see themselves truly, it must be in the light of God.

2. He begins with his principles: his desire is to have these tried by a competent Judge, and to have everything that is evil removed from them. This is an evidence of his wisdom. The heart and its thoughts must be made right before the actions of the life can be right.

IV. Earnest desire. “Lead me in the way everlasting.”

1. The way Thou hast marked out for salvation.

2. The way of Thy law, in all the purity and spirituality of its requirements. (W. Howels.)

God’s search

This heart is a labyrinth more intricate than the mausoleum of the ancient kings. There are in our souls doors that have never been opened, languages which have never been translated, enigmas that have never been solved, monsters that have never been hunted down, and it was in the appreciation of that fact that the author of my text cried out, “Search me, O God, and try me.” I propose to show some of the ways in which God explores a man, and the use that comes of it.

1. God searches a man by His Holy Spirit. Here is a man who feels he is all right. A few inconsistencies, perhaps, and a few inaccuracies; but upon the whole he is in tolerably good condition. The Holy Spirit seizes him. Why now does he tremble? Why now that grief-struck look? Why now can he not sleep at nights? The Holy Spirit has come upon him. He finds there are inhabitants in his soul that he never dreamed of. The reptiles begin to uncoil and to hiss at him. The man says, “Can it be that I have been carrying such a nature as this forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years?” And he immediately begins to apologize, and he reviews the better points of his character. He says, “I don’t owe a man a dollar.” God says by His Holy Spirit, “You have robbed me of your whole lifetime.” The man says, “I am not arrogant, I don’t take on airs.” The Holy Spirit says, “You are too proud to kneel.” The man says, “I am moral.” The Holy Spirit says, “You have had many an unclean thought.” The man rouses up. He says, “I must get away from this; I must get into the fresh air. I must go to business.” The Holy Spirit says, “You cannot go to business; this is the mightiest of all businesses--the business of the soul.” Then all the past sins of the man’s life come before him troop by troop. From that point many repent and live. From that point many turn back and die.

2. God searches a man by prosperity. He was amiable, he was kind, he was generous, he was useful, while he was in ordinary circumstances; but by sudden inheritance, or by the opening of railroad communication with his land, or by some stroke of commercial genius, he gets a fortune. God is going to search that man by his prosperities; He is going to see whether he will be as humble in the big house as he was in the small one; He is going to give him enlarged resources, and see whether his charities will keep pace with those resources. When he was worth so much he gave so much. He is worth twice as much now. Does he double his charities? God says, “I will explore that man, I will try that man, I will search that man.” Fifteen years ago the man said, “What good I would do if I only had the means!” He has the means now. What does he do? Of every dollar we make God demands a certain percentage. If we keep it back, it is at our peril. The old story of the miser who died in his money-chest, because the lid accidentally fell down and fastened him in, was a type of ten thousand men in our day who are in their own money-vault finding their sepulchre. Whatever be the style of your prosperity, by every dollar Shall you make, by every house that you own, by every commercial success that you achieve, God is searching you through and through.

3. God explores a man by adversity. Some of you are going through that process now. You say, “How beautiful it is when a man’s fortunes fail to see him throw himself back on spiritual resources.” Yes, it is very beautiful, but it is hard to do. There are many people who suppose they have Christian faith, when it is only confidence in government securities. They think they have Christian joy, when it is only She exhilaration that comes from worldly successes. God, after a while, sweeps His hand across the estate, and it is all gone. The man first scolds the banks. He says they are not clever; they ought to have allowed him a discount. Then he scolds the Congress, because it imposed a tariff. Then he scolds the gold-gamblers, because they excited the markets. He does not understand that all the time God has him personally in the crucible.

4. God explores us often through the persecutions of the world. How we admire all those pictures which represent the sufferings of Christi Why? Because we admire patience, and we admire it although we may have but very little of it ourselves. And we sit down on the Sabbath, and we study patience, and we say, “Give us patience. What a beautiful grace it is--patience!” and on Monday morning a man calls you a liar, and you knock him down! That is all the patience you have. How little we understand how to bless those who curse us. It is the general rule--an eye for an eye,. grudge for grudge.

5. God sometimes explores us by sickness. From other misfortunes we can run away, but flat on our backs, pain in the head, in the heart, in the limbs, we cannot run away. No school, however well endowed, however supplied with faithful instructors and professors, can so well teach you as the school of a sick-bed. People wonder at the piety of Edward Payson, and Richard Baxter, and Robert Hall. How did they get to be so good? It was sanctified sickness.

6. God tries us with bereavement. He searches a man by taking away his loved ones. An author describes a mother who had lost her children, saying to Death, “Why did you steal my flowers?” Death said, “I didn’t steal them; I am no thief; I transplanted them.” “Well,” said the mother, “why did you wrench them away so violently?” And Death said, “They would never be wrenched away but that you held on to them so violently.” Oh! how hard it is when our friends go away from us to realize that they are not stolen, not wrenched, but transplanted, promoted, irradiated, emparadised. But unless you have had bereavement you do not know what a bad heart you have. We do not know how much rebellion of soul we possess until God comes and takes some of our loved ones away. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Our Searcher

You may say to your clerks, “Now let us search into our accounts and balance our books,” but while you are doing it do not forget to pray, “Lord, search me.”

I. Let us ask the Lord to search our principles. Our government have now appointed officers to see that ships which are outward-bound are not deeper in the water than the “load-line” of safety. Now, like a ship, every man has a load-line; and he says within himself, “Beyond that line I will not go.” Nevertheless, many men do go beyond their lead-line, and founder in the sea of vice. Every man draws the line somewhere; and, alas! it is generally as far off the standard directed by Christ as it can possibly be. Men make “load-lines” for themselves, and say, “I am all right on this side the line.” But what does the Bible say about it? Is your line in the correct place for the salvation of your soul? A thief will steal, and draw his line, saying, “I will not hurt or murder anybody.” Most men draw a line of conduct somewhere, and say, “I am all right so long as I do not pass beyond that line.” How important to pray this prayer, “Search me, O God!”

II. Let us ask of God to search our profession. You may say, “Ah, I have got you there; I make no profession.” Don’t you? Why, you must be a rogue indeed if you make no profession of honesty or gratitude. What, have you never told anybody you were thankful to God for having created you? Are you not thankful to Jesus for having died for you? Christianity means honesty, virtue, truth, gratitude to God, and helpfulness to our neighbour; and do you make no profession of these? Well, if you don’t I should not like to meet you in a lonely road at night. Of course you make professions. You profess to be honest, upright, and lovable. Now, let us ask God to search our professions. Do we act accordingly?

III. We also should ask God to search our lives. We often fall and wander from the way. The text goes on to say, “and see if there be any wicked way in me.” But we need not say “if”; we know full well that there is much wickedness in us. It may be the Lord will show us that we need to be more resolute. O brothers, be decided to give up sin. Rouse yourselves! It is all nonsense for you to complain clay after day, saying, “I cannot help myself!” Have you not the power of God to help you?

IV. We ought to ask God to search our character. Do you remember reading of the Californian mine swindle? Some men went into the interior and plastered pieces of silver upon the rocks. Then they got up a grand Mining Co. Limited, and people believed them. Engineers saw the silver on the rocks and then reported favourably of it: it was all a sham. But it is not so in your case. You are not barren rock. There is a streak of gold in every man. If it were not so Christ would not have told us to preach the Gospel to every creature. God has given you the power of noble manhood, and you shall not be disappointed if you press towards it. If you strive for the manhood that thinks nobly, speaks truthfully, and lives virtuously, you shall attain it.

V. Ask God to search your soul. Is it pardoned? (W. Birch.)

Prayer for self-knowledge

I. True religion has its seat is the heart. The man of real godliness has not only “a name to live,” but he lives. There is a consistency in his character. The Gospel not only enlightens his understanding, but shines into his heart; not only delights his imagination, but captivates his affections. It makes his conscience tender, his thoughts humble, peaceful, holy.

II. Hence the truly religious man is anxious to know the real state of his heart. True, he may find this self-examination painful and humiliating, but this makes no matter to him. He feels that he has the salvation of an immortal soul at stake, and he is not to lose that soul for the sake of being kept easy in his follies and proud in his sins.

III. The sincere Christian is not conscious of having within his heart any one cherished sin, It is one thing to have iniquity entering the breast, and another thing to harbour it and have it reigning there. St. Paul felt a sinful “law in his members,” but he felt it as “warring against the law of his mind,” as opposed to the habitual frame of his soul, to that holy and heavenly principle which made him “delight in the law of God after the inward man,” and enabled him to “walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Every Christian also feels the same warfare within. Sin tempts and harasses him, and sometimes brings him into captivity, but it cannot hold him in bondage; it cannot make him quietly submit to its hated laws. We soon see the prisoner struggling with his vile oppressor, and bursting its bonds. Trampling his lusts underneath his feet, we hear him exclaim, “I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord.”

IV. Yet he often suspects himself of some undetected iniquity. The best of our actions, the brightest of our graces, the most holy of our dispositions, the most fervent of our prayers, and the most ardent of our praises, are blended with so much that is evil that we despair of separating the one from the other, and are often ready to faint with disquietude and fear.”

V. Is the midst of his perplexities the sincere Christian has a firm and lively belief that God knows his heart. Like David, he knows that “the Lord searcheth the hearts,” and “understandeth the thoughts,” and “compasseth the path,” and is “acquainted with the ways” of the children of men; and, like David, he is willing to be searched, and prays to be tried by this omniscient God.

VI. He applies to God for self-knowledge and instruction, He can show us wherein we are right in our judgment of ourselves, and wherein we are wrong; what there is to be brought low in us, and what to be raised up; what we must endeavour to get rid of, and what to obtain. Laying open our hearts, He can discover to us the sin which is lurking there, and, like a worm at the root, secretly marring our comforts and withering our graces; and, shining on the work of His own hands, He can make visible to us the wails of that spiritual temple which He has begun to raise up for Himself within our souls.

VII. He who seeks instruction of God must be willing to submit himself to God’s guidance. We often pray for instruction without being mindful of the necessity of this submission. Our supplications are sincere, but we know not what we ask. We forget that the Saviour employs various methods of showing His children their hearts. Affliction, frequent and severe affliction, is the school into which prayer often brings a man, and in which he first learns to know himself and his God. It is in the furnace that the gold is proved and distinguished from the secret dross. But the path of tribulation is not the only path which we must be content to enter. If we wish our prayers to be answered, we must be prepared to walk in “the way everlasting.” And what is this way? It is that way of access to the Father in which the patriarchs and prophets, the glorious company of the apostles and the noble army of martyrs drew near to Him--the way of reconciliation through the blood of His Son. It is that highway which is called in the Scriptures “the way of holiness.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)

On being known of God

This psalm is a psalm of gladness, or deep and tranquil satisfaction in the all-searching God. It is full of humility, the profound humility of one who feels that he cannot hide himself from God. But profound as is the lowliness, equally marked is the joy of David that God knoweth him altogether. The end of the psalm is a prayer; David does not deprecate the searching of his heart by the all-seeing One, he invokes it.

I. The blessedness of God’s knowledge of our loyalty. This is the subject suggested by the context. David is declaring that he has neither sympathy nor part with the wicked. “Do not I hate them,” etc. He appeals to God whether this is not so. “Search too,” etc. Am I not right in affirming my love for Thee? Is not my heart set upon my God? Are not all my thoughts for Thine honour? The consciousness of sin, rather than that of righteousness, is the distinguishing mark of Christian experience; nor will this contrast between Jewish and Christian piety seem strange to those who compare the Gospel with the law. The sanctity of Jesus makes all our righteousness appear as filthy rags. The love of God is far more searching than the precepts of the stony table; the heart that might have been unmelted at the demands of law is broken by the claims of affection. The loyalty that might pass unreproved, did we but think of what we are bidden, proves but poor as an expression of our gratitude, our response to God’s affection. The Hebrew saint contrasted himself with the sinner; Christians, searched by the Spirit of holiness and love, rank themselves among transgressors. We have to bewail many a failure, many an imperfection, but a loyal-hearted Christian should be true to himself and declare his devotion too. At least the heart is firm in its allegiance; whatever your folly and your weakness, you mean, with all sincerity, to serve God. Now, it is an immense comfort to us to be able to rest on God’s perfect knowledge of our loyalty to Him. He knows the heart that is set on serving Him; He can distinguish between ignorance and ill-intent; He is not misled by the result; He sees integrity of purpose, and marks the desire to hold true to Him; and He will bring out the righteousness of His servants, making it clear as the light. He will also correct the hidden faultiness (verse 24).

II. The blessedness of God’s knowledge of our struggles. One of the reasons why we should not judge our fellows is that we do not know the men. We see the temptation yielded to; we know not the many temptations that have been resisted, how hard was the struggle to resist. The compassionate God takes account of all this; and hence, for the returning sinner, it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. Signs of feeble piety, too, we can mark. God knows all that makes even that feeble piety a very victory of faith. We note the uncertainty of temper, we hear the captious phrase; only one eye takes note of the depression and bitterness of soul out of which this is wrung. How hard is the ignorance of the world; how hard, too, the inconsideration of the Church! God does not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. Here, too, mark--the refuge of the struggling spirit is not in self-sufficiency, not in self-justification. It is a perilous thing to balance our failures with our temptations. We are not the proper judges of ourselves; our leniency would be our undoing. We need not only to be searched but also to be purged, and He is at once compassionate and firm. “Search me, O God, and know my heart”--see it all; what is pitiful as well as what is evil try me, and know my thoughts: and see,” etc.

III. The blessedness of God’s thorough knowledge of our sins. You know how frank confession becomes when all motive to concealment is gone. A wise parent who has detected his child in a fault which must be taken notice of will at once tell the little one he knows all. With fatherly sensitiveness for a child’s conscience, he will remove the motive for concealment, that the confession may be full. God’s perfect knowledge of our sins takes away the motive, because it removes the possibility, of concealment. He who has feeble conceptions of God’s searching vision will be full of evasions; he will be full of self-deceit. The complete conviction of transgression follows, and does not precede, the feeling that God knows it all; for honesty in our dealings with ourselves we need to be searched of God. The Gospel offers immediate cleansing to the conscience; and its cleansing virtue lies very much in the fact that it brings so near to the sinner the God who has searched him, and who knows him altogether. It begins by speaking to us of our sins, with most considerate sympathy our Father shows Himself aware of all the pollution we would confess. The Cross of Christ supplies us with the self-condemnation we require, and with the condemnation speaks of tenderness and pardon.

IV. The power which our every good resolve derives from the fact that we can make it known to God. Such things crave an utterance; we are more faithful because we are pledged. But we may not speak of them to men: lest we become vain; lest after failure put us to shame; lest our good resolutions evaporate in mere talk. There is sweetness, too, and force in our uttering our love to God, our devotedness to Him. Of these things, also, we may not speak to our fellows, yet they must be breathed into some ear. We can ask our God to mark them, and we are confirmed in them by the fact that they have been noted of Him.

V. The blessedness of the fact that He who knows us thoroughly is our helper and our leader. A map is something for the traveller, but children-travellers as we are, we want the guide and controller of our way with us. “See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” There is one way, and only one, to blessedness and goodness. God’s way is the same and everlasting. Why, then, are we wanderers? Why are we not always making progress therein? Alas! there are ill ways within us; it is our way to be indolent, wilful, to run after deceitful pleasures, to stray in folly, to sit down in sloth: and our leader knows it; and He will search these out and bring us past our perils. God will help us; that is our confidence and joy. We shall go on, well and truly on, for we have One above to lead us. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

“Search me, O God”

Why should the psalmist ask for what he has just declared to be necessary from the very relation of men to God? Is he asking anything more than he declared to exist apart from his asking? Or, what is the meaning of his prayer? Now, the answer to these questions must be guided by two considerations. One is that the prayer for searching is only a part of the psalmist’s desire, and the answer to it will be but the first step in the process of which he longs to be the subject. Search, in order to cleansing, is what he asks; and that is more than necessary to Divine omniscience. Again, the prayer is not merely a petition. It is the expression of a willingness to submit to the search. He began by recognizing the fact; he ends by welcoming it; rejoicing in it and desiring to experience it in his own case.

I. The longing for the Divine search. There used to be a contrivance in some prisons, where solitary confinement was the rule, by which somewhere or other in the wall there was a little hole at which, at any moment, the eye of the jailor might be glued. And men have gone mad because they sat there and felt that they were never free from possible inspection. To a great many of us, “Thou God seest me” is as unwelcome as the consciousness of the little hole in the wall and the jailor’s eye was to the criminal. We think of God as an inspector, a spy, a jailor; and we shrink and shut up all the petals of our hearts that He may not see what is there. Adam and Eve concealed themselves in the garden; and their sons and daughters are made cowards by their consciences, so that “Thou God seest me” is an unwelcome thought to very many of us. But it may be made a welcome one. If we are quite sure that the Eye that looks upon us is the Eye of a loving Father we shall not shrink from it, but turn to Him, and say, “There must be wisdom with Thee; Thou lookest with other and clearer eyes than ours, and Thou shalt look me through and through.” But we have here not only the thought of welcome, but I think there is suggested, too, that of helping God in His search by frank confession. A man that says truly, “Search me, and know my heart,” will not be unwilling to go to God and make a clean breast of it, and tell all that he knows of his weakness and his sin.

II. The longing for the discovery of hidden sin, “I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified,” said the apostle; “but He that judgeth me is the Lord.” Similarly the psalmist does not know what there may be lying, lurking and skulking in the depths of his heart; wherefore he refers himself to God, and asks that He will come and dig into its depths. That suspicion of unrecognized evil in myself is one that we should always carry with us. By arrangement of mirrors a man can see his outward form all round. But you cannot do like that with your souls. The difficulty is that the inspector and the inspected and the instrument of inspection are all one and the same, as if star and astronomer and telescope were one. So no wonder that we make--as every autobiography that ever was written shows that men make--huge mistakes in estimating what we are. There are secret faults in us all. And so the psalmist said, “Lord, I see a bit of myself, but it is only a little bit; and there must be, deep down, many things that I have not detected yet. See, then, if there be any wicked way in me.” This prayer for the discovery of the hidden evil is based also on the confidence that God can and will cast out from us all the evil that He discovers in us, and the search for which the devout heart is eager is a search with a view to a purpose--viz. the ejection of the detected evil. There is another thing to be remarked about this prayer for the detection of undiscovered evil, and that is that one way of answering the prayer is by making us more quick to see the hidden sin. The thought that He is searching my heart will make my conscience more sensitive. And one of His ways of answering the petition is to open my eyes that I may behold the unsuspected evil in myself.

III. The longing for a Divine leading unto the everlasting way. Into that way we shall be led if we have spread our hearts out before God, and loyally helped Him in His search, and welcomed the blessed light of His face. He will lead us, partly by Providence’s pointing our course, partly by ejecting the evil, partly by giving to us new aims, aspirations, and desires; partly by strengthening our feet to run in the paths of holiness which He has before prepared that we should walk in them. The end of the Divine search is the Divine cleansing. God looks upon us in order that He may lead us into the way of peace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Self-examination

I. What is implied.

1. That he had searched and tried himself.

2. That his own searching was ineffectual, or at least not perfectly satisfactory.

3. A firm belief of God’s omniscience.

II. The springs of this desire.

1. We are liable to be mistaken in the ideas we entertain as to our state.

2. Such mistakes are very dangerous. The house built upon the sand not only falls, but falls when it is too late to build another.

3. If God do not search us in a way of mercy, He will do it in a way of wrath, either in this world or the next. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Self-examination: -

I. “see if there be any wicked way in me;”--any corruption concealed, any lust harboured, any vicious appetite indulged, any sinful course persisted in. It may refer either to mental errors, or evil practices.

1. It does not imply that the psalmist thought himself entirely free from sin. He knew there was much sin in him, and committed by him: and hence his pathetic lamentations (Psalms 38:1-22; Psalms 51:1-19.).

2. He hoped that sin was not predominant.

3. Though sin did not reign, yet he was afraid that more sin remained in him than he was aware of.

4. What of this nature he was ignorant of, he desires to be taught (Job 13:23).

II. “and lead me in the way everlasting.”

1. The object he had in view.

2. The desire.

Self-examination

It is a good sign when we are afraid of self-deception and court the scrutiny of God; when we are willing to know the worst of our own case, and desirous to judge impartially. For by thus examining ourselves, and submitting to Divine examination, believers are distinguished--

I. From the formalist, who will take no notice of the state of his heart in religion. Many, like the Jews of old, go to the sanctuary of God, and sit as His people sit, and hear as they hear, but “their hearts are far from Him.” This is no sweeping charge, for if their hearts were “right with God” they would worship Him at home as well as in their sanctuary, and in the sanctuary by sacraments as well as by prayer or praise. It is, therefore, a good sign when the claims of all duties are seriously weighed, and the state of the heart towards and in them is chiefly regarded.

II. From the reckless--those who dare not search their heart before God; they are afraid of its whispers, and conscious that a full disclosure of its secrets even to itself would be almost as humiliating as the exposure of them to others. Thus the matter will not bear thinking of, and therefore appearances are kept up at all hazards.

III. From the inconsistent, or those who are unwilling to be led out of every “wicked way.” It is the grand characteristic of “faith unfeigned” that it is willing to be kept back from all sin and to be led in the way everlasting. “Examine yourselves, therefore, whether ye be in the faith, prove yourselves,” etc. (Robert Philip, D. D.)

Imperfections detected

Here is a beautiful diamond, it is apparently pure white, and it sparkles with lustre. A look with the naked eye and you are satisfied the stone is without fault, a most precious and costly gem of the first water. The expert now puts into your hand a magnifying glass of great power and tells you to look at the centre of the stone, and inquires what you can see, and in reply you say there is a black speck at its very centre. To the natural eye the stone was pure white, entirely without fault; but with the assistance of this powerful glass some startling revelations are brought to light. It is equally true respecting the life of a believer, without any exception. There is a class of people in existence who claim they are capable of a perfect life in this world, and are very enthusiastic in advancing their views in public; but if the mirror of God’s truth were put to its proper use it would surely introduce them to the painful mystery of human life, and, under the powerful search-light of the Word, they would be surprised to detect the hidden faults and specks of imperfection in the holiest life. (R. Venting.)

And know my thoughts.--

Man accountable for his thoughts

I. While no one can read the thought of another, he cannot understand perfectly the processes and character of his own. The most occult of all sciences is that which concerns itself with questions how we perceive any truth, or receive any impression, or think at all. No object to which you can turn your attention is so full of perplexity as the attention itself that you pay. Whence arise these thoughts, that are drawing their trains perpetually through the mind? What are the laws that govern their intricate and disturbed order? How far are they involuntary and beyond our strongest efforts of control? What sets them in such opposition to one another, and often to our own wish? What makes them so easy and so intractable; so clear and confused; so rapid and slow; bewildered with dreams and delirium, and true and radiant as the light? We have little to answer to questions like these. There is One that knoweth. “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

II. But, impenetrable as are the thoughts of man, he is accountable for them to an extent which it is serious to consider, and which he does not consider enough. There is a proverb that “thoughts pass toll-free.” And it is a truth that would be worth the mentioning, where a just liberty is brought into question; where either a political or a religious tyranny has set up the barriers of its proscription against the rights of the mind. It would show that no “receipts of custom,” and no iron hindrances can stop the progress of the understanding, which moves on with the confidence of an invisible being, and stays no question. But it is a proverb very ill applied when it gives licence to every roving imagination; when it pretends to hide us from the heavenly inspection; when it encourages the heart to grow libertine; when it denies that we are amenable in this secret region to Him from whom nothing is concealed. What are worldly thoughts but worldliness itself; and corrupt ones but corruptness of mind; and proud ones but haughtiness of heart? Who shall say, then, that thoughts cost nothing?

1. They may cost us our liberty; that very freedom which they profess to enjoy in the greatest perfection. They have their habits, like everything else in man, and may be brought slavishly under the dominion of them. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” is a striking example in the prophet of that figure of speech which reserves for the final word the most emphatic expression. For long after the foot and the hand, and the will itself, are withdrawn from iniquity, these subtle agents may be about their usual work of evil suggestions. They may refuse to retire, haunt with their empty shades the spots where they once stimulated to action, and torment the conscience that they can no longer betray.

2. They may cost us our reason. And what a price to pay for their mismanagement is that I They may be so ardent as to grow wild; or brood upon one point till they have no sight nor power for any other, and the healthy mind shall lose all its soundness.

3. They may cost the innocence of the mind, as well as its sanity;--they alone, though confined ever so closely within the breast. Man does not always judge so, for he is satisfied if the claims he makes are answered. He looks but at the outward appearance. But there is One who looks deeper than that, and to that One the great account is due. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Only they can. The heart is the eye that is made to gaze towards Him; and if that be clouded, the whole heaven is hid, however circumspectly the steps may be directed along the earth. No need of any purpose to do mischief. No need of any perpetrated guilt. Where the thoughts are base, the soul is polluted; where they will acknowledge no discipline, it is nigh to be undone.

III. We make of great account the climate in which we live; and the air and the weather are unfailing topics everywhere. Why will we not make of still greater that inward temperature and breath of the spirit by which we are continually surrounded;--that can carry sunny remembrances through rainy days, and need not mind much the troubles that are abroad and the east wind, since they themselves are “at rest and quiet”? We esteem it of high consequence what house we occupy, and what its accommodations are,--where it is situated, and how it fronts. But the house of his own thoughts is the true dwelling of man. Let it receive none but worthy guests. Let it face the sky where the light is the longest. Let it be built for the ages to come. (N. L. Frothingham.)


Verse 24

Psalms 139:24

See if there be any wicked way in me.

Secret sins

I. The true Christian may plainly be known from all others by three things:--

1. He does really rejoice in all the attributes of God. He adores His justice, loves His mercy, confides in His power, bows to His wisdom, is glad that He knows all things.

2. tie is anxious to know the worst of his case. He is candid with himself. He greatly desires that his aims, his heart, and his motives should be right. He fears the treachery of his own heart.

3. He hates all sin, wars against it, loathes it, and never will be satisfied till he is rid of it. He would not follow any wicked way. He would do nothing contrary to the law of God.

II. That we may deal aright with our secret sins, let us--

1. Think much of the all-seeing purity of God. His holiness is a flaming fire.

2. Often compare our acts, and words, and hearts with the perfect law of God. The commandments are spiritual. If you have wrong views of the law you cannot have right views of sin, and so you may lose your soul.

3. Hide no sin from your own eyes, and refuse not to confess it before God.

4. Be careful not to subject your principles to needless trial. “We cannot hinder the birds from flying over our heads, but we must not let them light and build nests in our hair.”

5. Set a double guard against those sins to which you are very liable. Are you easily made angry? Then avoid men who are apt to provoke you. Are you inclined to undue sadness? Then study the promises and seek the society of cheerful Christians. Are you fond of high living? Rather shun than seek convivial gatherings.

6. Remember that there is no danger of your hating sin too much, or of your being too watchful against it.

7. Cease to hew out broken cisterns which can hold no water. Cease to rely on human wisdom, power, or goodness. Cast your care on Him who careth for you. Often commit your soul to Christ.

8. When you have done your best, remember that you may be mistaken. Earnestly offer the prayer, “Search me,” etc. (W. S. Plumer, D. D.)

The way of sin is the way of grief

It is worthy of remark that “wicked way” may be translated “way of grief.” The way of sin is the way of pain and grief: it is a grief to God who would save you from it; a way of grief and pain to you if you walk in it; a way of grief and harm to others who suffer by your deeds. Get rid of it, come out from it, for it is the way of death. The way of unbelief, the way of vanity, the way of selfishness, the way of worldliness, the way of sluggishness, the way of self-dependence, the way of disobedience, the way of forgetfulness. Oh, how many, many are the ways, the tastes, the leanings within us that bring us peril, pain and grief. Let us seek a holy riddance of them, one and all, that we may move steadily, only, undistractedly, in the way of purity and peace! The everlasting way! All other ways end in sorrow, finish in gloom, suddenly terminate in night. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is death. The old, true, tried way has no terminus. It leads from grace to grace, from glory to glory.

Discovery of concealed sin

Those people in India, in the last plague, gave no end of trouble to the sanitary authorities because they would hide away the corpses in the back of their hovels, and when the dead-cart came round said that there were no dead in the house; and so the corpse remained to poison the atmosphere and kill some more of them. If we keep our sins huddled up in the back premises of our nature and try to put a screen between them and God by impenitence and locking our lips against confession, then God cannot cast out the sins that we cling to, and will keep. But if we go to Him and say, “See if there be any wicked way in me. Come into the very innermost recesses of my soul, and whatsoever is there smite with Thy searching light,” which, like the old Greek legend of the arrows of Apollo, will slay the pythons, then God will answer the petition, and we shall be delivered. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Lead me in the way everlasting.--

The way everlasting

Since we must have a way, it is of the highest importance that our way should be a right one; important, because if it be not right we shall not long be happy in our course, since the happiness of those who follow the path of evil is fleeting as a meteor, mocking as a will-o’-the-wisp, deceptive as the mirage, frail as a bubble on the wave, and unsubstantial as a phantom of the night.

I. A remarkable attribute of the right way--it is “the way everlasting.”

1. It is most certain that the way of many men cannot be everlasting.

2. The right way--the way of faith in God and of a life that flows out of faith in God--the way indeed which Jesus trod, is the way everlasting--

II. The confession. This remarkable confession and prayer should suggest two Things--ignorance and impotence. When we say, “Lead me,” if it is a blind man, it means ignorance; he cannot see the way, and therefore he needs to be led, though he may be strong enough to walk if he only knew the way. “Lead me, Lord,” also signifies impotence if it be judged of as the child’s case; he needs to be led in another sense, because he has not strength enough in his little feet to go without the help of his mother’s hand.

1. Our want of knowledge.

2. Our want of strength. We need to ask of God to give us will, which is the real power.

III. The prayer. How comprehensive it is!

1. Because of its object--the whole man, his intellect, emotions, tongue, actions.

2. Its modes. God leads by the law, by the life of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, by ministers, by good books, etc.

3. Its issues. “The way everlasting”--a holy life, a happy death, and a heaven to crown it all.

4. The persons who may fitly use it. Who is there whom it would not suit? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
.

Psalms 140:1-13

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 139:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-139.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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