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a Bible passage
Human Wickedness and Divine Goodness
To the leader. Of David, the servant of the Lord.
Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
before their eyes.
1. Ungodliness saith to the wicked in the midst of my heart Commentators are not agreed as to the interpretation of the first verse. Literally it is, The saying [or speech] of transgression, or rather, Transgression saith to the wicked As, however, the letter ל, lamed, is in Hebrew sometimes used for מן, min, some translate it thus, Ungodliness or transgression speaketh of the wicked in my heart; as if the prophet had said, I clearly perceive from the wickedness which the ungodly commit, that they are not influenced by the fear of God. But as there is no need to depart from the proper signification of the words, I rather agree with others in supposing that the language of the prophet is to this effect: The malice of the wicked, though seemingly hidden and unknown, speaks aloud in my heart, and I am a sure witness of what it says or suggests.
And, first, it is to be observed, that the prophet speaks not of outward faults, but penetrates even to the very source; as if he had said, Although the wicked cloak their malice with wily dissimulation, yet I know it so well that I seem to hear it speaking. It is indeed true, that as the ungodly and profane rush headlong into every kind of wickedness, as if they were never to be called to render up an account of it, the judgment which David here expresses may be formed even from their life; but his language is much more emphatic when he says, that the servants of God openly perceive the depravity of such persons hidden within the heart. Now David does not speak of the wicked generally, but of the abandoned despisers of God. There are many who indulge in their vices, who, notwithstanding, are not intoxicated by the wretched infatuation which David here censures. But when a man becomes hardened in committing sin, ungodliness at length reduces him to such a state of insensibility, that, despising the judgment of God, he indulges without fear in the practice of every sin to which his depraved appetite impels him. A reckless assurance, therefore, in the commission of sin, and especially where it is associated with a contempt and scorn of every holy admonition, is, as it were, an enchantment of Satan, which indicates that the condition of such a person is indeed hopeless. And although true religion has the effect of keeping the hearts of the godly in the fear of God, and drives wicked thoughts far from their minds, yet this does not prevent them from perceiving and understanding in their hearts how the ungodly are agitated with horrible fury when they neither regard God nor are afraid of his judgments.
There is no fear of God before his eyes David shows in these few words the end of all evil suggestions; and it is this, that the sense both of good and evil being destroyed or suppressed, men shrink from nothing, as if there were not seated in heaven a God, the Judge of all. The meaning therefore is, Ungodliness speaks in my heart to the wicked man, urging him to the extremity of madness, so that, laying aside all fear of God, he abandons himself to the practice of sin; that is to say, I know as well what the ungodly imagine in their hearts, as if God had set me as a witness or judge to unveil their hypocrisy, under the mask of which they think their detestable malice is hidden and deeply buried. When the wicked, therefore, are not restrained by the fear of God from committing sin, this proceeds from that secret discourse with themselves, to which we have referred, and by which their understanding is so depraved and blinded, that, like brute beasts, they run to every excess in rioting. Since the eyes are, as it were, the guides and conductors of man in this life, and by their influence move the other senses hither and thither, it is therefore said that men have the fear of God before their eyes when it regulates their lives, and by presenting itself to them on every side to which they may turn, serves like a bridle to restrain their appetites and passions. David, by using here a contrary form of expression, means that the ungodly run to every excess in licentiousness, without having any regard to God, because the depravity of their own hearts has completely blinded them.
2 For he flattereth himself in his own eyes Here the Psalmist shows by their fruits or the marks of their character, that there is no fear of God among the wicked, seeing they take such pleasure in committing deeds of wickedness, that, although hateful in the sight of all other men, they
still cherish the natural obstinacy of their hearts, and wilfully harden themselves in their evil course. First, he says that they nourish their vices by flatteries,
The verb חלף, chalak, which is rendered flattereth, signifies to smooth, and means here, that the wicked man described endeavors by plausible arguments to put a soft, smooth, and
fair gloss on his wickedness, as if there were nothing repulsive and hateful about it, nothing amiss or blame-worthy in it; and in this way he deceives himself. This is the sense expressed in the literal translation of Montanus, which seems very forcible: “Quoniam lenivit ad se in oculis ipsius, ad inveniendum iniquitatem suam ad odiendam.” — “For he has smoothed over [or set a polish] to
himself in his own eyes, with respect to the finding out of his iniquity, [that is, so as not to find it out,] to hate it.” Horsley reads,
“For he giveth things a fair appearance to himself,
In his own eyes, so that he discovers not his own
iniquityto hate it.”
“He sets such a false gloss,“ says this critic, “in his own eyes, upon his worst actions, that he never finds out the blackness of his iniquity, which, were it perceived by him, would be hateful even to himself.” The wicked in all ages have thus contrived to put a fair appearance upon the most unprincipled maxims and pernicious practices. It will be seen that Montanus’ and Horsley’s translation of the last clause of the verse gives a different meaning from that given by Calvin. The original text is somewhat obscure and ambiguous from its brevity; but it seems to support the sense given by these critics. The Hebrew is, למצא עונולשנא, limtso avono lisno, to find, or to, for, or concerning the finding of, [the first word being an infinitive with the prefix ל, lamed,] his iniquity to hate [it.] “The prefix ל,” says Walford, “cannot, I imagine, be translated with any propriety by until.” His rendering is,
“For he flattereth himself in his own sight,
That his iniquity will not be found to be hateful:”
That is, will not be viewed by others as the hateful thing which it really is. The original words will easily bear this sense as well as that given by Montanus and Horsley. that they may not be dissatisfied with themselves in sinning. But when he adds, until their iniquity be found to be hateful, by these words he is to be understood as referring to their determined obstinacy; for the meaning is, that while they falsely flatter themselves, they proceed to such an extent in their evil course, that their iniquity becomes hateful to all men. Some translate the words thus: So that he himself finds his own iniquity to be hateful; and understand them as meaning, that the wicked persist in rushing headlong into sin without restraint, until, satiated or glutted with the indulgence of their depraved desires, they begin to loathe it: for even the most depraved are sometimes dissatisfied with themselves on account of their sinful conduct. The first interpretation is, however, the more natural, namely, that the wicked, though they are hateful to all men on account of their iniquity, which, when once discovered and made manifest, excites a general feeling of displeasure, are not affected by any displeasure against themselves, but, on the contrary, rather applaud themselves, whilst the people despise them, and abhor the wickedness of their lives. The prophet, therefore, condemns them for their infatuation in this, that while all others are offended at their disgraceful conduct, they themselves are not at all affected by it. As far as in them lies, they abolish all distinction between good and evil, and lull their conscience into a state of insensibility, lest it should pain them, and urge them to repentance. Certainly the infatuation here described ought to be the subject of our serious consideration, the infatuation which is manifested in this, that men who are given up to a reprobate mind, while they render themselves hateful in the sight of all other men, are notwithstanding destitute of all sense of their own sins.