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STUDIES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
—INTERNATIONAL S.S. LESSONS—
SUGGESTIVE THOUGHTS DESIGNED TO ASSIST THOSE OF OUR READERS WHO ATTEND BIBLE CLASSES, WHERE THESE LESSONS ARE USED; THAT THEY MAY BE ENABLED TO LEAD OTHERS INTO THE FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL. PUBLISHED IN ADVANCE, AT THE REQUEST OF FOREIGN READERS.
GOD’S WORKS AND WORD
LESSON III., APRIL 17, PSALM 19:1-14
Golden Text—”The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”—Verse 7
It is good to meditate upon, to ponder, the Word of the Lord; for only in so doing can we receive the nourishment it is designed to give. A hasty reading of the Scriptures and a quick return of the mind to other thoughts and pursuits makes a spiritual dyspeptic, incapable of assimilating the spirit of the truth and lacking the strength and power of mature and developed Christian character. The Psalmist beautifully represents the proper attitude of all those who truly love the Lord, and who therefore delight in his Word and plan: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night;” “I will meditate of all thy work, and talk of thy doings;” “I will meditate in thy precepts and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word;” “Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors;” “I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands;” “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day; … therefore I hate every false way. … Thy testimonies have I taken as a heritage forever;” “My meditation of them shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.”—Psa. 1:2; 77:12; 119:15,16,24; 143:5; 119:97,104,111; 104:34.
Here, as well as in the lesson under consideration, the two great books of nature and of revelation are pointed out as special themes for the meditation of those who love the Lord and who desire to know more of him.
Verses 1-6 refer to the silent yet eloquent testimony of nature to the power and skill and wisdom and goodness and glory of its divine Author. Its testimony may be read by the thoughtful of every land and of every language, by day and by night, in all the earth. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” Job, considering the testimony of nature to the glory of God, says, “He is wise in heart and mighty in strength … which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.” (Job 9:4,9,10.) And the Lord, desiring to reassure Job of his superior power and grace, inquires of him, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of
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Orion? Canst thou bring forth the constellations of the Zodiac, each in its season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? or dost thou appoint its rule on earth?”—Job 38:31-33.
Thus, by their numberless multitude, their orderly grouping in various constellations, their continual yet never conflicting movements, their perfect harmony, their magnitude and their mutual benign influence, do the shining hosts of heaven declare the glory of God, by day and by night. He who meditates upon these things will scarcely be “the fool” who saith “in his heart, There is no God;” for all nature testifies to the Creator’s glory and power.
Verses 7-11 refer us to the yet superior glory of God’s special written revelation of himself, given through his inspired human agents, the prophets and the apostles. This testimony not only declares the existence and power and wisdom of God, with a silent intimation of his goodness and grace, but with overwhelming force it bears to the thoughtful mind the convincing testimony of all his glorious attributes and of all his love and grace toward us in Christ.
Hear the Psalmist: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Other influences may lead to temporary and partial changes of course and action, but nothing else equals God’s revealed Truth in producing a change—change of being, character, soul. It is because other converting agencies and powers are so often used (instead of this one which God has provided) that there are so many merely glossed-over, nominal Christians, as compared with the few whose entire beings are turned and fully consecrated to the Lord. People may be converted from savagery to civilization by a general knowledge; or from intemperance to sobriety by a study of the advantages of the latter over the former; or from dishonesty to honesty by learning that “Honesty is the best policy.” But none of these are soul conversions. Only God’s truth can produce soul conversion, as also our Lord indicates in his prayer, “Sanctify them through thy truth—thy word is truth.”
“The testimony of the Lord is sure [not doubtful, but clear and positive], making wise
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[not the heady and wilful who have plans and theories of their own and who do not submit themselves to the will and plan of God, but] the simple” [the single hearted who have no will or plan of their own which they wish the Lord to adopt, but who seek the Lord’s will only].
“The statutes [piqqudim—appointments: the appointed plans] of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” Yes, indeed, God’s glorious, appointed plan of the ages rejoices the hearts of all who have come to a knowledge of it.
“The commandments [mitsvah—precepts or teachings] of the Lord are clear, enlightening the eyes” [showing us the unmistakable course and end of righteousness and of unrighteousness].
“The fear [yirah—reverence] of the Lord is clean [a pure and lofty sentiment based upon love and gratitude, and not upon a servile recognition of tyranny and power], enduring forever.”
“The judgments [mishpat—ordinances or decrees] of the Lord are true; they are altogether righteous. More to be desired are they than gold; yea, than much fine gold: and they are sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb.” Once, following the leadings of mistaken teachers, and catechisms, we thought of God’s “Eternal Decrees” only with horror, supposing that they provided for the salvation of but a mere handful of our race and for the everlasting misery of the masses. But what a change since the eyes of our understandings are opened. God’s decrees are sweet to our taste, we appreciate them greatly, we see that he has decreed a Great Savior and a great salvation, open to every creature’s acceptance; and that he has provided that all shall be brought to a clear knowledge of the truth, that they may have the fullest opportunity for everlasting life upon the only condition God can make—righteousness.
“Moreover, by them [by the judgments or decrees of the Lord as to the course of righteousness and unrighteousness and their rewards and penalties] is thy servant [the thoughtful servant, who meditates on these things] warned; and in keeping them [in remembering and harmonizing with them] there is great reward.”
Thus the Book of Nature and the Book of Revelation, when rightly read, harmoniously declare the glory of God; and blessed is the man whose character is ennobled and purified and blessed by constant meditation on these glorious themes. How it refreshes and strengthens every noble and generous aspiration, checks every tendency to evil and sin, purifies the heart, kindles hope, awakens zeal and starts and keeps us in the heavenly race with its glorious end in view. The great Emperor of this wonderful universe upon which we daily and nightly cast our wondering gaze has called even us to be the bride of and joint-heir with his only begotten Son, the heir of all things; and in these glorious revelations of himself is supplied the inspiration and instruction necessary to enable us to run with patience the race set before us, if we make them the centre of our meditations.
Verse 12—”Who [in his own strength or by his own wisdom and foresight] can guard against errors?” Not one; for as the Apostle Paul tells us, we have our treasure, the new nature, in earthen vessels. Not only are we weak, mentally, morally and physically, but in addition we have a wily foe: we wrestle not merely with flesh and blood, but also against principalities and unseen spiritual powers, strongly entrenched in places of power and influence. (Eph. 6:12.) Who, indeed, is strong enough in himself to guard against errors of doctrine and practice strongly entrenched in a misguided and depraved public opinion, fortified by the tendencies of his own impaired conditions of mind and heart and skilfully glossed over by the great deceiver who, with untiring effort, seeks to accomplish our deception and overthrow? Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things? The inquiry of the Psalmist implies the answer—Not one. In our own strength we cannot presume to stand, and therefore how appropriate the prayer:—
Verses 12-13. “From secret faults do thou cleanse me. Also from presumptuous sins do thou restrain thy servant; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.”
Sins of presumption are such as result from undue self-confidence, ambition or pride. Many are guilty of them without seemingly being aware of the fact: They presume in prayer to direct the Lord how they want to have numbers join some sect, whose existence God never authorized; or they say how many they want to have converted at a certain meeting; or they instruct him how the Foreign Missions should be blessed and what results they shall expect.
Others presume to decide what God intends to do aside from what his Word authorizes, and will perhaps pass lightly over such a doctrine as that of the Second Death if it stands in the way of a favorite theory which they have prepared for the Lord to follow. This is presumptuous sin.
Others, on the other hand, tell that God will everlastingly preserve the wicked in torture, and thus they are in error from attempting to be wise above what is written. Is not this a presumptuous sin?
Such presumptuous sins bring natural consequences:
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the presumptuous lose respect for that which they can do without, or can twist and turn to their own convenience. As respect for the exactness of the Bible is lost the presumption naturally increases and finds more pronounced expression in their self-assurance. Some, indeed, go so far as to interpret the language of Scripture the opposite of the way in which it reads, to favor the ideas of the presumer, whatever they may be. Thus one will read that certain wilful sinners who sin against full light and knowledge “shall be punished with everlasting destruction,” and “in the second death,” and will unblushingly assert that these words mean the reverse—that they mean everlasting preservation in life and in torment. Others, to support an opposite theory, will claim that the Second Death means a second blessing, and that when it is declared that at the end of the Millennial age of trial all those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life—the fearful, the unbelieving, the abominable, those who in spirit are whoremongers, murderers, sorcerers, and idolaters, and all who love lies and take pleasure in making them—that when these are said to be cast into the Second Death, it means that they will be blessed, sanctified and ushered into glory.
Ah! yes, beloved, this sin of presumption is one into which many who have been enlightened by a knowledge of the plan of God are inclined to fall. Instead of carefully noting and thoughtfully considering those scriptures which, while they recognize their superior advantage and special favor from God in a knowledge of the truth, also warn them of the great danger of those thus enlightened (since the present is the judgment-day of all such, who stand on trial for life, with the alternative of the second death before them)—instead of carefully observing these (See Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; Rev. 2:11; 20:6), they ignore them, and, presumptuously leaning to their own understanding, proceed to reason in this wise:—They say, The Scriptures tell us that “God is love,” so loving that he has provided salvation for all mankind. So far they say truly; but here leaving the Scriptures they begin to reason—as they claim, to the glory of God, though nothing can be to the glory of God which perverts or denies any portion of inspired truth. They say, “Yes, and we have faith (?) to believe that his love is so powerful
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that not one rebellious sinner can ever get away from it; and if one millennium is not sufficient to reform him then he shall have another and another; for all must be saved.” But here are the Bible warnings of a Second Death for wilful sinners, and coupled with the statement, too, that Christ dieth no more and that, consequently, such can never be redeemed again, if found worthy of the second death for their own wilful sins, committed with full knowledge and with full responsibility. The redemption provided in Christ is complete and for all, providing full salvation for every child of Adam from all the penalties and weaknesses sustained through Adam’s disobedience and fall from divine favor. But having had such a salvation put fully within their reach, each is thereafter responsible exactly as was Adam; and each is subject to the same penalty—death—if wilfully disobedient. This is called the second death because it is the penalty of wilful sin under the second trial.
But the presumptuous ones grow more arrogant and self-assertive and take the further step of denying the necessity of a ransom, claiming that the death of Christ did not redeem us from the first death, that we were not bought with a price, that they had formerly made a mistake in thinking so, and that their imitation of Christ’s life is all that divine justice can demand of them or of any man. Thus they do despite to the spirit of grace manifested by Jehovah in the gift of his only begotten Son, our Redeemer, and presume to stand in the filthy rags of their own righteousness.—Isa. 64:6.
They fall into this great error in their attempt to establish their presumptuous theory. For they see that if it be admitted that the penalty of sin was death when Adam was tried, and if the death of Christ was necessary as the payment of that penalty before any could be pardoned, granted liberty to become sons of God or be resurrected (Rom. 3:24-26; Col. 1:20-22; 1 Cor. 15:21,22), then, since God changes not, there could be no hope of escape from the second death except by the payment of a second ransom-price for each one so sentenced.
Thus presumptuous sins pervert the judgment, make void the Scriptures and lead to “the great transgression” of “counting the blood of the covenant wherewith we were sanctified a common thing.” (Heb. 10:29.) In view of such temptations and tendencies, let the consecrated ever bear in mind that their only safety is in meekness and humility, clinging close to the word of the Lord; and in meditating on its precepts and pondering over all their solemn and momentous import.—”Then shall” they “be upright, and they shall be innocent from the great transgression.” And let the constant prayer of all such be—
Verse 14. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
— April 1, 1892 —