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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, that any words can well clothe or declare. 1 Pet. iv. 17. “What shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel?' and ver. 18. “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" 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 Psal. i. 5. The psalmist then addressing himself to deal with God about sin, lays 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.
What first presents itself to a soul in distress on the account of sin. This opened in four propositions. Thoughts of God's making sin, according to the tenor of the law, full of dread and terror.
WHAT depths the psalmist was in, hath been declared; in them, what resolution he takes upon himself to seek God
alone for relief and recovery, hath been also shewed; and what earnestness in general he useth therein; addressing himself unto God in that frame, with that purpose and resolution, the first thing he fixeth on in particular is the greatness of his sin and guilt, according to the tenor of the law. It appears then, that,
First, In a sin-perplexed soul's addresses unto God, the first thing that presents itself unto him, is God's marking sin according to the tenor of the law. The case is the same in this matter with all sorts of sinners; whether before conversion, or in relapses and entanglements after conversion. There is a proportion between conversion and recoveries. They are both wrought by the same means and ways; and have both the same effects upon the souls of sinners, although in sundry things they differ, not now to be spoken unto. What then is spoken on this head, may be applied unto both sorts; to them that are yet unconverted, and to them who are really delivered from their state and condition; but especially unto those who know not whether state they belong unto, that is, to all guilty souls. The law will put in its claim to all. It will condemn the sin, and try what it can do against the sinner. There is no shaking of it off; it must be fairly answered, or it will prevail. The law issues out an arrest for the debt; and it is no purpose to bid the serjeant be gone, or to entreat him to spare. If payment be not procured, and an acquaintance produced, the soul must to prison. I am going unto God, saith the soul. He is great and terrible, a marker of sin, and what shall I say unto him? This makes him tremble, and cry out, O Lord, who shall stand ? So that it appears hence, that,
Secondly, Serious thoughts of God's marking sin according to the tenor of the law, is a thing full of dread and terror to the soul of a sinner. But this is not all; he is not swallowed up in this amazement, crying out only, who can stand ? there is included in the words, a thorough sincere acknowledgment of his own sin, and the guilt thereof. Mentioning the desert of sin, in his own case, he acknowledgeth his own. So that,
Thirdly, Sincere sense and acknowledgment for sin, with self-condemnation in the justification of God, is the first peculiar especial working of a gracious soul rising out of its
entanglements. All this is included in these words. He acknowledgeth both his own guilt, and the righteousness of God, if he should deal with him according to the demerit of sin.
And these things lay in the words absolutely considered; but the state of the soul here represented, carries us on farther. He rests not here, as we shall see in the opening of the next verse, the chief thing aimed at in the whole. And as a transition from the one to the other, that we may still carry on the general design at the entrance laid down ; we must take along with us this farther observation.
Fourthly, Though self-condemnation be an eminent preparation for the discovery of forgiveness in God; yet a poor distressed soul is not to rest in it, nor to rest upon it, but to pass on to the embracing of forgiveness itself.
There is yet a general proposition lying in the words, that we may make use of in our passage, and it is this ; God's marking of iniquities, and man's salvation, are everlastingly inconsistent. I mean his marking them in the persons of sinners, for the ends before-mentioned.
Of some of these I shall farther treat, according as the handling of them conduceth to the purpose in hand.
That which I shall begin withal, is that which was first laid down about the effects of serious thoughts concerning God's marking sin according to the tenor of the law; which, as I said, is the first thing that presents itself unto a sin-entangled soul in its addresses unto God.
But this shall not pass alone. I shall draw the two first observations into one, and make use of the first only in the confirmation of the other; which will express the sense of the words absolutely considered. The third and fourth will lead us on in the progress of the soul, towards the relief sought after and proposed. That, therefore, which is to be first insisted on, comes up to this proposition.
In a sin-perplexed soul's addresses unto God, the first thing that presents itself unto him, is, God's marking of sin according to the tenor of the law, which of itself is apt to fill the soul with dread and terror.
I shall first somewhat speak unto it in this; as considering in itself, and then inquire into the concernment of the soul in it, whose condition is here described.
The Lord speaks of some, who when they hear the word of the curse, yet bless themselves, and say they shall have peace, Deut. xxix. 19. Let men preach and say what they will of the terror of the Lord, they will despise it; which God threatens with utter extermination. And he notes it again, as an amazing wickedness, and the height of obdurateness, Jer. xxxvi. 24. Generally it is with sinners, as it was with Gaal the son of Ebed, Judg. ix. when he was fortifying of Sichem against Abimelech; Zebul tells him that Abimelech will come and destroy him. Let him come, saith Gaal; I shall deal well enough with him: let him bring forth his army, I fear him not. But upon the very first appearance of Abimelech's army, he trembleth for fear; ver. 36. Till obdurate sinners [tremble for fear] of the wrath of God, and that he will come to plead his cause against them; for the most part they take no notice of what you say, nor have any serious thoughts about it; but go on as if they were resolved they should deal well enough with him. Notwithstanding all their stoutness, a day is coming wherein fearfulness shall surprise them, and make them cry out, ‘Who amongst us shall dwell with devouring fire, who amongst us shall inhabit with everlasting burnings?’ Yea, if the Lord be pleased in this life in an especial manner to draw nigh to any of them, they quickly see, that their ‘hearts cannot endure, nor can their hands be strong; Ezek. xxii. 14. Their hands hang down, and their stout hearts tremble like an aspen leaf. He who first sinned, and had first occasion to have serious thoughts about God's marking of sin, gives us a notable instance of what we have affirmed. And the first in every kind, is the measure of all that follows, in the same kind. Gen. iii. 8. “He heard the voice of God:’ so he had done before, without the least trouble or consternation of Spirit; he was made for communion with God; and that he might hear his voice was part of his blessedness. But now, saith he, “I heard thy voice and was afraid, and hid myself.” He knew that God was coming in the inquest of sin, and he was not able to bear the thoughts of meeting him. Could he have gone into the bowels of the earth from whence he was taken, and have been there hid from God, he would not have failed to have attempted it. Things are now altered with him. In that God whom he loved before, as a good, holy,
powerful, righteous creator, preserver, benefactor, and rewarder, he saw nothing now, but wrath, indignation, vengeance, and terror. This makes him tremble out those dreadful words, 'I heard thy voice and was afraid, and hid myself.'
The giving of the law afterward, evinces what effects the consideration of God's proceeding with sinners, according to the tenor of it, must needs produce, Exod. xx. 18, 19. ! All the people saw the thundering and the lightnings, and the voice of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking ;' as the apostle also describes it, Heb. xii. 18. In this manner came forth from the Lord that fiery law, Deut. xxxiii. 2. So that all who are concerned in it, did exceedingly quake and tremble. And yet all this respects but the severity of the law in general, without the application of it unto any soul in particular. There is a solemnity, that carrieth an awe with it, in the preparation of an assize to be kept and held by poor worms like ourselves; but the dread of it is peculiar to the malefactors, for whose trial and execution all this preparation is made. When a soul comes to think, that all this dreadful preparation, this appearance of terrible majesty, these streams of the fiery law are all pointed towards him, it will make him cry out, Lord, who can stand ?' And this law is still in force towards sinners, even as it was on the day wherein it was given on mount Sinai. Though Moses grew old, yet his strength never failed. Nor hath his law, the law given by him, lost any thing of its strength, power, or authority towards sinners. It is still accompanied with thunderings and lightnings, as of old. And it will not fail to represent the terror of the Lord to a guilty soul.
Among the saints themselves I could produce instances to manifest that they have found it to be thus. The cases of Job, David, Heman, are known. I shall only consider it in Christ himself. From himself he had no occasion of
any discouraging thought; being holy, harmless, undefiled. He fulfilled all righteousness, did his Father's will in all things, and abode in his love. This must needs be attended with the highest peace, and most blessed joy. In the very entrance of his trials, he had a full persuasion of a comfortable issue and success; as we may see, Isa. 1. 7,8. But yet,