The Effect of the True Knowledge of God

Psalm 51

I want to show you the effect upon a man of the knowledge of the living and true God. I lay the emphasis upon the living and true God, for in these days it is almost necessary to ask what a man means when he speaks of God. It has been said by a popular writer that the word "God" is the vaguest word in the English language, and as used by some people that is certainly true, for they have a God of their own imagination and not the living and true God at all. Voltaire, the French Atheist, in jeering at the Christian Faith, said that "man had created God in his own image and after his own likeness, " and he spoke truer than he knew of some people; in Psalm 50 God charges this very thing against the wicked. He says to them, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself." This is the way of the modernist who declares that he accepts the revelation of the God of the Bible so far as it "harmonizes with the thoughts and ideals which he already has."

But it is not difficult to discern between the man who has a false god of his own imagination and the one who has had to do with the living and true God; a man who has evolved his own god will be well satisfied with himself and have no sense of his own deep need as a sinner, he really bows down and adores himself, glorified; but the man who has come face to face with the living and true God develops a deep conviction of his own nothingness and sin; self-condemnation is a marked feature of him. He becomes aware of his own sinfulness, for divine and searching light has shone upon him.

Describing this experience Martin Luther said, "When a man like me comes to know the plague of his own heart he is not miserable, he is misery itself; he is not sinful only, he is absolute sin itself." And he realises that a mighty work is necessary if he is to be saved and made right with God; it was this that made Samuel Rutherford say, "When I look at my own sinfulness, my salvation is to me my Saviour's greatest miracle, He has done nothing greater in heaven or on earth than my salvation." Thank God, He is equal to the demand that our sinfulness makes upon Him.

The great examples of the effect of the knowledge of God are given in the Scriptures. There we read of Daniel whose "comeliness was turned into corruption;" of Isaiah who cried "woe is me, " of Simon Peter, and of Paul, the Apostle, and perhaps more convincing than all, of Job, who had no rival on earth — "a perfect and an upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil." How tenaciously he clung to his own goodness before he saw God. He even challenged God to produce his life's record; said he. "I would take it upon my shoulder and bind it as a crown to me. I would declare the number of my steps, and as a prince would I go near to Him. . . The words of Job are ended." Oh, no, Job, they are not, you could not possibly say more on your own behalf, but you will most surely speak again — and he did. Hear him as he lies prostrate in the dust, a broken and a contrite penitent, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes."

In all these men we have the conclusion to which they were brought when they had to do with God clearly given, but when David uttered his great repentance he analysed his sin and sinfulness, he saw it in its varied and terrible characters, he shows us the way of true penitence, and the words that he spoke in his soul's agony have become the language, in greater or lesser measure, of all who have been brought to know God since his day.

Let us first consider the way in which he describes his sins. He uses three words — transgressions, iniquity and sin. And these words are not mere synonyms, that can be used interchangeably without any loss of force, each has its own terrible meaning. Transgression is revolt, rebellion. God says "Thou shalt not, " I say, "I will." God says, "Thou shalt, " I say, "I won't." In pity He lays His hand upon my shoulder and says, "Don't": I pull away my shoulder and flout His pity. That is transgression. And this strange conduct had been multiplied in David's history as in ours, for he says, not, my transgression, but "my transgressions."

Iniquity means that which is crooked, perverted, twisted. God had a way for David and for us, as straight as His righteous sceptre, but David and everyone of us preferred a crooked way. "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way." Independence of God, and the way of death rather than confidence in God and the way of life, is the deliberate choice of all the children of Adam, and the prophet, who cried, "Thou art the man" in David's startled ear, turns also the accusing finger at every one of us. Sin, as David used the word, means missing the mark. God had set up His mark for men to aim at, for not a man ever entered this world who was not responsible to glorify God and live to His praise; if God is God, it must be so, for being God, He cannot claim less than that the aim of every intelligent creature, be he angel or man, should be in harmony with His will, David confessed his failure in this; he had missed God's mark; in his blind self-will and self-gratification he had refused to see God's mark and had set up his own in the hope that it would yield him a greater happiness; he missed his own aim and got misery instead of happiness, "his moisture was turned into the drought of summer." And here we all have stood with him. David and we failed to gain even what we aimed at, so that he and we were not only sinners but wretchedly disappointed sinners. Sin is a boomerang that misses the target but most surely returns and smites the soul of the thrower.

What could David do, when the full horror of his position broke upon him, when light from God exposed his sin? He cannot undo the past but he yearns to have it blotted out; he had no means of ridding himself of the deep stain in his soul, but he pleads to be thoroughly washed from his iniquity and to be cleansed from his sin. Nothing could quieten his aroused conscience and put his troubled soul at rest but this threefold action on his behalf; but who could do this? His first desire was to have the heavy indictment obliterated. There it stood against him, a charge sheet crowded with his transgressions, which with united voice condemned him; he felt that his iniquity had defiled the very texture of his soul and character, and as a fuller would beat and scrub a filthy garment in washing it so he felt that he needed to be washed; and he longed to hear the word pronounced over him that the priest pronounced over the cleansed and healed leper, when he declared that he was cleansed from his plague.

To whom could he turn for this? Not to Nathan the prophet, nor to Zadok the priest, nor could he, though possessing kingly power, relieve himself of his burden of sin; his only hope was in God, and herein is the gospel; the light that had exposed his sin had revealed to him the very thoughts and heart of God so that he looked up in his misery and cried to God. It is good to hear him plead, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness, according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies." God's loving kindness was His pity for men in their distress; the multitude of His tender mercies, spoke of His inward feelings, of the bowels of His compassions. David made his appeal to the very heart of God; He pleaded what God is in His very nature, and according to that he besought that God would deal with him and his sins. We may well listen to David's cries and learn that God is greater in His grace than the greatest sins, and is the sinner's one and only hope in his distress. We have another Old Testament witness to this. Nebuchadnezzar, the great king, because of his pride, had been degraded to the level of the beasts of the field, and eaten grass as an ox for seven years, until his hair had grown like eagle's feathers and his nails like the claws of birds; what could he do when he discovered how low he had sunk? He would shrink from men and would be an object of loathing to the meanest of his subjects, what could he do? Hear his confession "I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up my eyes to heaven, " and he did not look up in vain. God did not despise him, for he was able to add, "I blessed the most High." And think of the prodigal; everything and every man had failed him; his sin and folly had reduced him to the swinefield and food, to whom could he look in his dire need? "I will arise, " he said, "and go to my father."

Who is a pardoning God like Thee!
And who has grace so rich so free!

But have we New Testament answers to David's threefold desire? Yes, thank God! for our souls' everlasting relief and for His glory, we have. The heavy indictment is met by Romans 3:24. "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" — "Being justified by His blood" (chap. 5:9) — thus are the transgressions blotted out. The desperate need of a thorough washing from all iniquity is met in 1 Corinthians 6:11, "But such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God, " and the declaration that the sinner who believes is cleansed and cleared, and free from all imputation of sin is made in Romans 8, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."

I am not supposing that David knew the fullness of this three-fold blessedness, and we must go to Psalm 32 to learn that he even knew the joy of forgiveness, he had not reached that point in our psalm, and we have still to follow him into a deeper agony and a fuller confession. As the light of God searches him every other being passes from his thoughts and he understands that it is against God that he had sinned, against His holy law, His inexorable justice, His mercy, His long-suffering and love. And further in his sins he had become the justification of solemn words that God had spoken concerning men. It is remarkable that the details of the full length description of sinful men (Jew and Gentile) given to us in Romans 3:9-18, are taken chiefly from David's own psalms. He had been the mouthpiece of God for the utterance of these things, and it may be that as they flowed from his lips he congratulated himself that he was not as others, but now he finds that he has become an exemplification of every evil; the germs were there hidden in his very nature and only waiting the opportunity to break out. And this brings him to the point of his deepest agony; and the most poignant cry in the Old Testament bursts from his soul, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." He is not making an excuse for his sins, or casting the blame of them upon his mother; he is saying, "My very nature is corrupt, the springs of my being are polluted." It is not now what he had done, but what he is, his eyes are fully open now, he has come to the root of the tragedy. This heartbroken cry is paralleled in the New Testament, and by the man who "touching the righteousness of the law was blameless, " when he said, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, good does not dwell, " and "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death." There is no difference between the worst and the best, between David and Saul of Tarsus, or you and me.

I am not undertaking to give you in detailed teaching the way of deliverance for which David yearned and Saul of Tarsus prayed. I am showing you the experience through which a man goes who has been brought face to face with God; He abhors himself, but he finds in God his one hope, he confesses the truth as to himself but cleaves to God; he has none other to whom he can turn in his distress. And if a man told me that he had never known such an experience, in some measure at least, I should gravely question whether he had ever had to do with God at all.

As light breaks upon David's soul, he discovers that God is not indifferent to him, He does not abandon him to misery and despair; He has desires and designs in regard to him. When he has come to the end of himself and made a full confession as to what he is, he can say, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom." "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). And David's desire has been brought into full accord with God's, he wants truth and wisdom to be in him, the chief characteristics of a nature that he did not possess by natural birth. But in regard to this he also casts himself upon God and prays: Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. A humbling process this purging with hyssop, but as he goes through it his confidence in God grows. God can accomplish this miracle of cleansing, in which a new nature supersedes the old, and from the truth and wisdom in his hidden parts resulting from this renewal, joy and gladness would surely spring forth. Creative power, possessed only by God, could bring it about, hence he pleads, "Create in me a clean heart, O God." The New Testament speaks of "the pure heart, " and we know well that this can only be by the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost and obedience to the truth.

No intelligent Christian would pray "take not Thy Holy Spirit from me" for we know that in this gospel day all that believe the gospel of our salvation are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30); but if by our backsliding we have grieved the Spirit, we have certainly lost the joy of our salvation, and need indeed to pray for its restoration. And if ever we knew a brighter hour in our soul's history or a day of greater devotion to Christ than now, we are backsliders. The right spirit means a steadfast spirit, purpose of heart, and "Thy free spirit" is the spirit of liberty "God hath not given to us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Now notice the light and liberty and holy happy service that David anticipates as a result of God's gracious work towards and in him. "I will teach transgressors Thy ways." "My tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness." "My mouth shall show forth Thy praise." Out of the fullness of his heart his mouth shall speak, and his theme shall be, not himself, but the God of his salvation; he will sing, and show forth, and teach. He will not fear God's righteousness, but will make it the subject of his song; he who at the beginning hoped only for His mercy, shall exult in His righteousness! We who know the gospel of God can do this in a way not given to David, for now God hath set forth Christ Jesus, a propitiation through faith in His blood: to declare His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus (Rom. 3:24, 26). Shall we be less ready to speak than David was? Shall our lips be silent? Are we growing tired of the gospel, and losing our interest in John 3:16? Are sinners converted to God when we open our lips to speak? They will not be if the Spirit is grieved and quenched within us, or if we have lost the joy of our salvation, or if we are not exulting in God's righteousness.

David learnt great things as God brought him out of the slough through which he had passed; he learnt that not outward show and ornate sacrifices such as he had offered before the ark in Zion, pleased Him, but a broken and a contrite heart, a lesson of immense value; he learnt also to forget his own interests and think of God's; he was no longer a mere suppliant at God's feet pleading for mercy, but an intercessor in communion with God about God's interests on earth, and he could look forward in a joyful and satisfying expectation to the time when a ransomed people would offer sacrifices of righteousness unto God such as He could accept and delight in. Happy indeed is the man who has been brought to know the living and true God, who has learnt the lesson of his own sinfulness, and who can make his boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.