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The words of the verse explained, and their meaning opened.
The general frame of a gracious soul, in its perplexities about sin, hath been declared. Its particular actings, what it doth, what it meets withal, are nextly represented unto us.
First, then, in particular, it cries out, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
There is in the words a supposition, and an inference on that supposition. In the supposition there is, — 1. The name of God, that is fixed on as suited unto it; and, 2. The thing itself supposed. In the inference there is expressed the matter of it, to “stand;” and the manner of its proposal, wherein two things occur — 1. That it is expressed by way of interrogation. 2. The indefiniteness of that interrogation, “Who shall stand?”
“If thou, Lord.” He here fixes on another name of God, which is Jah; — a name, though from the same root with the former, yet seldom used but to intimate and express the terrible majesty of God: “He rideth on the heavens, and is extolled by his name Jah,” Ps. lxviii. 4. He is to deal now with God about the guilt of sin; and God is represented to the soul as great and terrible, that he may know what to expect and look for, if the matter must be tried out according to the demerit of sin.
What, then, saith he to Jah? אִם־עֲוֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר, — “If thou shouldest mark iniquities.” שָמַר is to observe and keep as in safe custody; to keep, preserve, and watch diligently; so to remark and observe, as to retain that which is observed, to ponder it, and lay it up in the heart. Gen. xxxvii. 11, Jacob “observed” Joseph’s dream; that is, he retained the memory of it, and pondered it in his heart.
The marking of iniquities, then, here intended, is God’s so far considering and observing of them as to reserve them for punishment and vengeance. In opposition unto this marking, he is said not to see sin, to overlook it, to cover it, or remember it no more; that is, to forgive it, as the next verse declares.
360I need not show that God so far marks all sins in all persons as to see them, know them, disallow them, and to be displeased with them. This cannot be denied without taking away of all grounds of fear and worship. To deny it is all one as to deny the very being of God; deny his holiness and righteousness, and you deny his existence. But there is a day appointed, wherein all the men of the world shall know that God knew and took notice of all and every one of their most secret sins. There is, then, a double marking of sin in God; neither of which can be denied in reference unto any sins, in any persons. The first is physical, consisting in his omniscience, whereunto all things are open and naked. Thus no sin is hid from him; the secretest are before the light of his countenance. All are marked by him. Secondly, moral, in a displicency with or displeasure against every sin; which is inseparable from the nature of God, upon the account of his holiness. And this is declared in the sentence of the law, and that equally to all men in the world. But the marking here intended is that which is in a tendency to animadversion and punishment, according to the tenor of the law. Not only the sentence of the law, but a will of punishing according to it, is included in it.” If,” saith the psalmist, “thou, the great and dreadful God, who art extolled by the glorious name Jah, shouldst take notice of iniquities, so as to recompense sinners that come unto thee according to the severity and exigence of thy holy law;” — what then? It is answered by the matter of the proposal, “Who can stand?” that is, none can so do. Τὸ γὰρ τίς ἐνταῦθα οὐδείς ἐστιν, says Chrysostom. This “who,” is none; no man; not one in the world. מִי יַעֲמֹד, “Quis stabit?” or “consistet,” — “Who can stand?” or abide and endure the trial? Every one on this supposition must perish, and that eternally. This the desert of sin, and the curse of the law, which is the rule of this marking of their iniquity, doth require. And there is a notable emphasis in the interrogation, which contains the manner of the inference.” Who can stand?” is more than if he had said, “None can abide the trial, and escape without everlasting ruin;” for the interrogation is indefinite; not, “How can I?” but,” Who can stand?,” When the Holy Ghost would set out the certainty and dreadfulness of the perishing of ungodly men, he doth it by such a kind of expression, wherein there is a deeper sense intimated into the minds of men than any words can well clothe or declare: 1 Pet. iv. 17, “What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospels.” and verse 18, “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appears.” So here, “Who can stand?” There is a deep insinuation of a dreadful ruin as unto all with whom God shall so deal as to mark their iniquities. See Ps. i. 5.
The psalmist then addressing himself to deal with God about sin, 361lays down in the first place, in the general, how things must go, not with himself only, but with all the world, upon the supposition he had fixed: “This is not my case only; but it is so with all mankind, every one who is partaker of flesh and blood. Whether their guilt answer that which I am oppressed withal or no, all is one; guilty they are all, and all must perish. How much more must that needs be my condition, who have contracted so great a guilt as I have done!” Here, then, he lays a great argument against himself, on the supposition before laid down: “If none, the holiest, the humblest, the most believing soul, can abide the trial, can endure; how much less can I, who am the chiefest of sinners, the least of saints, who come unspeakably behind them in holiness, and have equally gone beyond them in sin!”
This is the sense and importance of the words. Let us now consider how they are expressive of the actings of the soul whose state and condition is here represented unto us, and what directions they will afford unto us, to give unto them who are fallen into the same state.
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