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prayers which are poured forth in the presence of God for pardon and mercy, or see the tears which flow from the pangs of a wounded spirit; for this case, this miserable condition, not only may be, but most certainly is our own: these tears, these cries for mercy, should be ours, since the cause is ours from whence they proceed; nor can we well help partaking in them, nor be altogether insensible of the grief of our fellowsufferers.
There is the same reason for our being affected with the praises of God, and joining to give glory to his name, whenever we read the songs of thanksgiving recorded in Scripture, as instances of the tribute which God expects, and which the saints are used to pay; for his mercies are dispensed with an equal hand, he maketh the sun to rise on the just and the unjust; and when we share the blessings, and partake in the same mercies, how can we refuse to bear our part in offering up the incense of praise; or how resist the motions of gratitude, which arise from the sense of those enjoyments which are the gift of heaven? This Psalm of David, in how exalted a strain is it penned ! how nobly is the song raised from circumstances which at once set forth in equal beauty the majesty and the mercy of the Almighty! and yet there is not one act of providence mentioned, one instance of grace recorded, that you do not as largely reap the benefit of, and are as much in duty and gratitude bound to be thankful for, as even David himself. Nay, the advantage is certainly on your side in this respect : the heavens indeed are the same they were in David's time; and the day and night, constant to their Maker's law, have walked the same unwearied round: the sun shines out with the same beauty and light to animate and refresh the world: the material sun I mean; for since David's time the Sun of righteousness himself has arose in our firmament, and shed forth the choicest blessings of heaven on the inhabitants of the earth : the glories of the Messiah's reign, and the happiness of his days, were prospects, which at a distance, and but darkly seen, could fill the mouths of the saints and prophets with the praises of the Lord! And can we be silent, who enjoy the fulness of those mercies, to whom the Saviour of the world has opened the richest treasures of God's bounty and goodness? Look back
and see with what pleasure and rapture the holy Psalmist speaks of the laws and judgments of God; 'more desirable,' they were to him, than the finest gold; sweeter than honey. and the honey-comb;' and yet he lived under the Mosaic law, a yoke hard to be borne. Had he seen the days of the gospel, and tasted the righteousness of this new law, I am at a loss even to imagine in what strains of holy eloquence his joy would have flowed. When he applies to God for pardon and forgiveness for past offences, for strength and assistance to preserve him for the future, with what a noble resignation of soul, and sure trust in God, does he discharge this part of his devotion! And yet he had not all the encouragements for this duty which we enjoy he had never heard the melody of that heavenly voice which daily calls us to repentance, 'Come unto me all ye that travel and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you' nor had he received those express promises of grace and spiritual assistance, which have since been confirmed to us by the blood of the new covenant. To return therefore to the thought which made way for these reflexions: we have all imaginable reason to join with all our hearts, and all our minds, in these exalted forms of prayer and praise: we on whom the blessings of heaven have been doubled, who have been made the children of God by the Spirit of adoption, who have had the charter of God's pardon granted to us by his blessed Son, and have received the promises of a kingdom, which shall remain as long as time endureth. As our theme has been thus exalted, so should our praises be likewise; so should the affections of our souls be raised to acknowlege and adore the giver of these good and perfect gifts. We need not fear being too lavish on this occasion; let the tide of joy run ever so high, it cannot swell beyond the dignity of the subject: our praises are but a poor tribute for what we have received; our prayers a price of
no value for what we ask and even those too have their imperfections, when performed in the best manner; that were we not in the hands of a merciful God, who is not extreme to mark what is done amiss, we should not dare to open our mouths before him, either in prayer or in praise. And this reflexion seems to have led the holy Psalmist to that petition which is contained in the words read to you for the text, and with
which this excellent composure is closed up, Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.'
If we consider these words with a retrospect on what went before, and suppose the holy Psalmist here to reflect on what he had been doing, the meaning of them then must be that which I have suggested: he had been praising God for all his goodness to the children of men; had been by fervent prayer imploring his protection against the snares and allurements of sin: but what were his prayers or his praises to God? or what valuable sacrifice could dust and ashes offer up to the Almighty? Struck with this just sense of humility, he stirs not from the place or subject of his devotion, till he had first begged pardon for the lameness of his sacrifice, for the imperfections even of his prayers and praises, and implored God's acceptance of the poor tribute he was able to pay him. He knew how imperfect the best of his actions were; how unworthy his praises were of God; and how dangerous a subject prayer is, since we know not what we should pray for as we ought.' Prayer, if not directed by the Spirit, will be influenced by the passions, and taught the unworthy language of self-love: far therefore from being exalted with his performance, the saint retires excusing his devotion, and begging one farther mercy of God, that he would accept the service he was able to offer. An example worthy of our imitation! and which yet we are hardly worthy enough to imitate: for if we consider with what coldness we pass through our prayers and praises, with what inattention we are present at the service of God, how our thoughts wander, and our hearts are surprised into the pursuit of vain and idle conceits, or are possessed with worldly thoughts and care, we must needs think it an act of the highest presumption to desire God to receive such devotion, or to accept the meditation of such idle roving hearts. This was not the Psalmist's case: when he began the praises of God, he launched out into his course with the life and vigor of the sun, which he describes, like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing as a strong man to run his race:' when his subject naturally changed on his hand, and prayer took place of praise, his mind followed his subject, and the
petitions themselves show with what zeal and fervor of spirit they were offered up. And if such devotion as this was to beg admittance to the presence of God, and not to appear without an excuse, what must become of ours? since, without injuring our own merit, many of us have reason to say, when we leave the Church, Lord, lay not this sin to our charge! For surely to approach the throne of God with indevotion, with hearts not disposed to seriousness, to sit out the prayers of the Church as if something were doing in which we have no concern, is one of those offences which are noted down in the book, and for which God will call the sons of men into judgment.
But, secondly, the words of the text are capable of a more enlarged sense the Psalmist had begged for mercy for his secret faults; had implored the assistance of God to preserve him from presumptuous sin; and if you continue the thought to the words of the text, in them he beseeches God to take under his direction likewise the words of his mouth, and the thoughts of his heart, that he might be continued innocent and blameless in thought, word, and deed. This sense expresses the greatest regard to virtue and innocence, and the fullest dependence on the grace and protection of God: he knew that God not only saw all his actions, his open and notorious sins, but that he spied out all his ways, and knew his thoughts long before; and that it was in vain for him to wash his hands in innocence, unless he purged his heart likewise from all filthiness of spirit: to him therefore he applies, that he would guard the passage of his heart, and set a watch on the door of his lips, that nothing unclean might enter into one, or proceed out of the other. Our Lord has told us, That for every idle
word men shall give an account in the day of judgment:' and his Apostle St. Paul has taught us, 'That there will be a day in which God will judge the secrets of all men by Christ Jesus;' which are sufficient cautions to us to be watchful over our tongues and our hearts, that they rob us not of the fruit of all our labor and hope. Unchaste thoughts and loose desires are the beginning of lewd and impure actions; and if they are generated and conceived in the heart, that fruitful womb of iniquity, they will soon be born into the world, and grow up to
the full stature of sin. To secure the heart is therefore the
ground-work of virtue: it is almost the one thing necessary, since without it no other care can be effectual; it is that only which can render our praises or prayers acceptable to God, and give us courage to offer up our imperfect devotions before his throne. The best of men have their failings, and an honest Christian may be a weak one: but weak as he may be, the goodness and sincerity of his heart will entitle him to put up the petition of the text, which no hypocrite or cunning deceiver can ever make use of, Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.'