The Pathway of Holiness.
An Address Delivered at the Convention for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life,
held at Ontario, Canada on Tuesday Evening, October 25th 1898.
Dear friends, I have been stirred to-night. You have been stirred to-night. Now, may God guide us, so that we may lose nothing of the blessing He has already given us. It has been a humbling blessing, but oh! how blessed it is to be humbled by God's blessing; how awful to be humiliated by man. The danger with us just now will be that we shall not see ourselves. Yes, we will admit, there has been failure, but not, perhaps, all the way. There have been the first steps of declension. “I see that,” you will confess, and you will say, "I will arise and go up." Dear friends, it is not to be done that way. We must arise and go down if we are really to get up. When in the past, we have been set face to face with the reality of our spiritual condition, and have been stirred up to seek better things, we have not realized the better things because we did not go down deep enough—we did not dig out the evil, root and branch. But the past shall not dishearten us. There is a highway of holiness in this blessed Book; a straight way even for "that which is tame," thank God, right into a land of rest, possession and victory—the land that God loveth. I am going to ask you to tread that old pathway of holiness to-night. It is the only possible pathway to that land. No soul ever rises in any other way to the serene heights of victory and power. But this does not scale those heights until it has first dipped into a lowly valley, and the heart which is not willing to go down into the valley first, will never reach these heights of holiness. "I have given you the valley of Achor for a door of hope." That road is the Fifty-first Psalm. Let us read it.
Dear friends, this Psalm is the alone pathway to holiness. It begins with a cry out of a convicted heart, and ends in the highest, serenest, sweetest fellowship with God.
Now, I want you to note, first of all, that this is not the case of a sinner coming to a God whom he does not know, but a dear saint of God coming back to a God he knows well. Do you remember the caption of this Psalm? To the Chief Musician; a Psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." Always read the captions. God lavished gifts upon King David. He gave to King David, first of all, a large and gracious and beautiful nature. We are all won by David from the moment he appears on the scene to the end of his life. There is something humane about David—a broad sweetness of spirit, a manly courage about David. There was a great genius for song in David, and I am not forgetting that every word of the songs David sang for us was given to him by the Holy Spirit; David was one of the three great world's poets. He was an able General and administrator; one of earth's lovable and great-hearted sort. All this God did for David.
God never gave David a better gift than Nathan the Prophet. I wish God could give me a Nathan. Perhaps He could, if I would receive him. Perhaps God knows I should lash back at my Nathan if I had him, and say, "Thou liest: I am not the man." Some of you might venture for the position. We like to call someone down. It is a thing we do, with many apologies, but we rather like it. I do not want you for my Nathan, because you do not love me as Nathan loved David. Nathan would not fail in rebuking David's sin; he loved him too well.
We wonder how David—of all men, could sin as he did. Nathan wondered, and Nathan went to him. God stirred him up to go, and he told him that little parable about the poor man with one ewe lamb; he told the story to David the King, the Judge. How his soul was aroused within him when he heard of the wrong done to the poor man in the parable. How his eyes flashed with indignation! "And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die." And then Nathan said, "Thou art the man."
O David, my soul trembles for thee now! God has joined issue. And this is the issue: Will King David be as wrathful against himself as he was but a moment ago against the unknown oppressor of the poor man? That is God's issue with you and with me. Will we still say: "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die," now that we know it is we ourselves who have done it?
Now, I want you to note that what David did is described in that wonderful Psalm, the fifty-first. He went to pieces before God. He put himself into God's hands; he let God break his bones, break his heart. He received the sentence of death in himself. He let the Spirit of God interpret all the hatefulness of sin, all the fathomless evil of self, and then he wrote that Psalm that we might judge ourselves in the depth and darkness of it, and follow in his footsteps back into the white light of God's fellowship and face.
Three questions will arise in thoughtful minds when they remember that sin of David's. First, we wonder how David could have done it. We begin by saying, We never could have done it. No—no. Not that! That is certainly going too far. The thing is too shocking, too unutterably vile. We might have gone a little way; been guilty of a bit of worldliness, a little indiscretion. Well, now, my friend, you ask how David happened to do that thing—David, the sweet psalmist of Israel—the man who was God's anointed, who sat on high Israel's throne, who was selected out of Israel by God Himself, through a prophet, to be His representative on that throne—that sweet-tempered, loving-hearted man—how did he happen to do that dreadful thing? That is the question you ask, but who are you, and who am I, to say that if we had been in David's place, we could not have done anything so wicked? There is, indeed, a great mystery of the human heart here, but the answer is right to hand how David did it. He did it little by little. That is how he did it—little by little. The David of the old, wandering life, the David who called himself a flea upon the mountains of Israel; who was hunted like a partridge by his hater, Saul—that David could not have done it. But David at ease; David prosperous; David comfortable; David at the head of affairs; David writing beautiful Psalms for the chief singers to chant; David arranging the worship of Israel; David dividing the priests into their twenty-four courses, and making everything beautiful and harmonious and imposing in the ritual of temple worship; David administering equal justice from the throne—that David could do it, but only then little by little.
They tell me that in tropical forests, a traveller may sometimes hear a sudden, crackling sound, and, looking about to ascertain the cause, sees a giant of the forest begin to topple, and then come down with a crash to the ground. No wind blowing, no upheaval beneath! And when he looks for the cause of the fall of that giant of the centuries, he finds that the little white ants have eaten its heart out. John Newton says, "We are startled now and again by the fall of some great professor; but before God, the man was gone long before." David began by doing what you have done or I have done—by using his eyes! Well, he was a little ashamed of it at first; but through the eye came the defiling thought. And then the eye began to rest longer, and the thought to linger longer, until little by little, all the pure manhood in the heart of the King of Israel was eaten out. It was all gradual, until there came the last nibble of the ant, and down came the tall and beautiful tree.
That was how David did it, and here is the serious matter, friends. The first steps, and the many steps of all conceivable wickedness are in you and me and may be taken by you and me. Who are we to sit in judgment on King David, and say, How could David do that cruel thing, that vile thing? No, rather let us turn our judgment of David back upon our own hearts and be ready to exclaim with him: "Have mercy upon me. My feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped." You and I are filled with the potentiality of the very sin which smote David to the earth.
What a catastrophe! Here is the undying record of it. When we see David in the glory, we shall think of the 51st Psalm. We shall think of that awful story in 2nd Samuel—unless God blots it out of our memories. I do hope He will. Brother, how could David do such a thing? Turn your heart inside out and answer your own question. How could you do it? We may be nearer to the last push than we think.
Then there is a second question. How could David live on in his sin without conviction? I think that must have puzzled Nathan. It is only my supposition; but I cannot doubt that he watched David day after day, and pleaded for him before Jehovah, and always saying in his heart, "O surely, to-day David will come to himself, and the waves and billows of shame and grief will go over him." But no. Day after day, he saw David sitting on the throne, as an Oriental monarch, administering personal justice; punishing wrong-doers; holding high the standard of righteousness; and he wondered how the royal adulterer, the royal murderer, could have done what he did without any conviction of it in his own heart. I wish you might all read Alexander Whyte's profound sermon, ''David in his sins." There is a profound mystery in it all. We wonder how such a man as David could have done that. But, dear friends, suppose you and I look into our own hearts. How have you and I managed to live in the measure of our sin, and always in the pew, or always in the pulpit, or always in the Sunday school? When you and I have heard of some grievous wrong, how our souls have kindled with anger! And when the public meeting was called, at which, possibly, you have been chairman, how inflamed you have been with a sense of indignation, and with your hearty cheers, you have vouched yourself as being out and out on the side of the right; and all the time that sin has been there. How have you managed to do it? Well, there is an answer to that question, and it is hidden away back in that Bible sentence, "The deceitfulness of sin." Sin can lie so and is so plausible. But still, again you say, "David's case was so very flagrant." Do you think no kind of case could have been made out by David for himself? He might have said about Uriah, "I told Joab to put him out in the battle, of course, but have I not men about me for years who would have welcomed such an opportunity for military glory? Men quite capable of fighting their way through the Philistine host, and of coming back covered with glory? I gave this man the chance of his life. I did not tell anybody to kill him. Why did he not make a hero of himself, a husband that any woman would be proud of? Then, besides, there was no affinity whatever between Bathsheba and Uriah. She was a superior being, quite unfit to be the wife of a common soldier. Now she is a queen. It is all right. Things go wrong in this world; I always thought that marriage was most unfit, but I have straightened it out. "You and I like to palliate our sins in this way. There is no end to the deceitfulness of sin—no end to the capacity of the natural heart to find justification or excuse for its wrong-doing. If we bring ourselves to say, with David: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity," it is that we may add, "Therefore I am not responsible." Oh, that, like David, we would, instead, go to pieces before God!
And now the third question. I tell you fairly, friend, it has troubled a good many dear souls, sodden with "respectable" sin and worldliness, but keeping scrupulously the outward semblance of religion, and who ask, "How could such a sinner as David ever get back to God?"
Well, I am glad, for my own sake, there is a way back to God for every one of His sinning children. I am sorry that Peter denied Him, and cursed and swore; but oh, I am glad that when the Lord came back among the living from His entombment, His first work was to go after His sheep that was lost; that He had that private interview with Peter, the details of which have never been reported, and never will be. I am glad we have such a Lord; and I am glad to read of that interview by the lake side, when Peter got his shepherd mission, and of how Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost, and preached so mightily, that three thousand souls were added to the Church in one day. I am glad we have that kind of a God, and that there is a highway straight back to Him.
When David fell before God and cried for mercy, his eye was on the right place, the heart of God, and he was going right there. Like the prodigal son in a far country, he said, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." Is it not beautiful that when the prodigal got to his father, the father never let him complete that speech? He said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;" and right there the father's voice broke in, ''Bring forth the best robe and put it on him." The orders were flung right and left. ''Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet and bring hither the fatted calf;" and then the music began to sound. Now, do you think his father would be happy with his returned son out in the back shed? Would any of you fathers be happy, sitting with your slippered feet by the fire, book in hand, and your son ''as one of the hired servants?" No, no—you could not be happy if you had a father's heart. When David saw his sin and ruin, he started straight for the heart of God, and he got there, and he went by the only road that leads to the heart of God.
Now, I want you to note that David began with his sins. "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness, and according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions." There is first a sense of something wrong which David has done, and he gets hold of God and he asks that mercy may be according to the lovingkindness of God. He needs so much mercy that he asks that God take the measure of it according to something in Himself. He does not say according to the depths of my contrition, the multitude of my tears—the awful humiliation I am undergoing. It is according to the tender mercies, according to the larger measure, the completer measure of God's love. Always get the measure of a blessing out of the measure of God's heart, and not of your own. Look at the 1st chapter of Ephesians, and you will find five marvellous "accordings" there. Someone has said, "according" is God's yard-stick. Do not ask Him to deal with you by the measure of your own "according."
"Have mercy on me, O God," cried David. Dear friends, that word "mercy" in the original is sometimes translated "moan." It is as if David said, "O God, moan over me." I humbly think God did moan over David. "Blessed—happy—be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," says Paul. We have power to make God happy. The fatherhood of God interprets that. And I believe we who are the sons of God have the awful power to make Him moan over us.
"Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." David wants to be rid, not merely of penalty, but of the sin itself. I wish I could dwell upon that passage. Dear friends, it is thus we get a conception of a sin as something to be got completely rid of. How constantly we claim the first half of that promise in the first Epistle of John, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," and there our thought of it stops; but the promise goes beyond forgiveness, "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." David wanted not only to have forgiveness of his sin, but also to get rid of it. "Wash me thoroughly from my sin." We must want to do more than merely confess our sins before God. We must want the thing itself gone from us. Now I see a spectre rise up in your minds. You say, "But is not that sinless perfection?" No, it is not. It is deliverance from a sin which is known, identified, confessed, judged. Alas! many more sins await that process. I do not know how it is here, but in New England, I am accustomed to see farmers cultivating stony fields. They plow them, and turn up whole crops of stones, and they pick up these stones and throw them into the ravines, or along fences, and then the ground is smooth. But do they look upon that as a stoneless field? No, no. There are stones still there, and deeper plowing will turn them up. It is just so in the Christian life. If some Christians fancy they have got all the stones out, I suggest that they plow deeper! Between contentedly, living on in the filth of a known sin, and pretending to have been delivered from all sin, there is a distinction world-wide.
And now David makes a discovery: "Behold" (an exclamation of surprise), "I was shapen in iniquity." This is the discovery which Paul describes in the seventh of Romans—that back of any particular sin is self, the fountain of sin. He is beginning to see himself! There is a great deal of judgment of sins, but one does not always get back to the judgment of self. We think if there were no temptation, we should be such good Christians! People become hermits, and live in caves and solitary, places, that they may get away from the impact of temptation; but they soon discover that they have carried evil with them in their own hearts. We never reach the serene heights of victory until we come to this double consciousness of sin and of self; until we are willing to face our sins, and let God put them out of our lives—until we are willing to condemn sin in the flesh as David did. "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity;" and, "Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts."
Now, see how David begins to find remedies—"purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." Hissop, you know was the little shrub with which sacrificial blood was sprinkled. It was saying, "Let atoning blood be applied to me." That is first, that is foundational. Then, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." These two remedies go together; blood, for guilt and penalty; washing for cleansing—atonement which puts away our sins before God—cleansing which puts them away from us. We go to the brazen altar for atonement, and then to the laver for cleansing. "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow." When a man wants to be whiter than snow before God, he is on his way up the hill of Zion. He begins to see the power of cleansing.
And next, he longs for restored communion. "Cast me not away from Thy presence." I can do nothing if Thou are not with me; but I can do all things through Thy power. There, now, is the secret of victory and of peace. "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." Let me sing again like that restored woman in Hosea.
Next, he yearns for service: "Uphold me with Thy free Spirit, then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted." I will just go and tell them, "Look here, poor sinner, you have never sinned as I have done, and, behold, I am saved!"
Then he thinks of praise. "O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise." "I shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness." Aye, there's no song like the song of a forgiven saint.
And now David goes outside of himself entirely, and gets into the large, world-embracing fulness of God's thoughts." Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion; build Thou the walls of Jerusalem, then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering, and whole burnt offering; then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar." And so we leave King David in unbroken, unhindered fellowship with God.
There, dear friends, is a restored man, and that is the pathway of holiness, and there is no other. Shall we enter upon it? We cannot put our sins away; but He can, if we are willing that He should do so—willing to have the sentence of death upon ourselves—to know that we should not trust in ourselves, but in Him who has risen from the dead. Then shall we begin to offer the sacrifices of the heart, and to cry, "Lord, teach me how to lead men; give me my song back again; now I will go out and tell men what Thou hast done for me. I have something to tell them now—I know what Thou canst do for a sinner now—I know what Thou hast done for me." We may all have David's experience. Surely, we have sins enough to qualify us if we are only willing to try that humble pathway that leads from confession of sin, and judgment of self, up into the fellowship of the Father and of the Son. Then, indeed, shall this Convention prove a blessing to us and to the world.