There is something to touch us in seeing a soul open out to God without yet enjoying deliverance. It knows well that he who waits on God shall not be confounded; but peace is not there though seen from afar. We must remark the manner in which God receives this opening of heart. He takes cognisance of all that passes in the soul: fear, hope, sins, deliverance. God would have us understand that He occupies Himself with it all.
The Psalms, because of their prophetic character, are the expression of the Holy Spirit's operation in the soul before it finds peace. They do not give the definitive answer of the love of God. There is in our hearts a depth of hardness, of insensibility, of levity such that it is needful God should take pains with them to fix them and bring them down to the feeling of their incapacity. God fixes the soul by the sense of its wants. We are so miserable that the only means of giving us the idea of God's love is by fixing the heart through its wants on the contemplation of what God is; so that where the sense of want fails the love of God is totally unknown, as if it did not exist.
In verses 7-11 there is a deep principle. It is only when we are thoroughly convinced that our iniquity is "great" that we feel the need we have of God and of His pardon. One might think of a little iniquity that one had just to remedy oneself, or that God might pass it over. The heart of man upsets everything. He puts the uprightness of Jehovah before His grace, His truth before His mercy, and thinks that, if a man walk as he ought, God will be good toward him. That is just the contrary of what is said here. "Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great," v. 7-11. Jehovah who is "upright" loves uprightness; but before all He would have the wretched sinner know Him as "good." The ill-enlightened soul that knows its faults up to a certain point desires to arrive at enjoying the goodness of God by its own uprightness. It is the proof of a state of heart which knows not God and which hardens itself against all the history He has given of man's heart, as well as of Himself, in the word. Hardness of heart rises against the grace of God, and nothing more hinders grace from acting than the thought that, if one is upright, God will be good; and this, because the heart is neither lowly nor softened, and pride is not yet destroyed therein.
71 Man wishes that one should not speak to him of his sins. The action of the Holy Spirit, on the contrary, makes one own and confess sin in detail. We can speak of sin in general, or yet more of the sins of which we are not guilty; but otherwise a man does not speak of his own sins. Did not Peter say to the Jews, "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just," although he had done so himself in a manner still more shameful? Why did he speak of that sin without blushing? The Holy Spirit alone could give him to do so through Him who came by water and blood, Paul when converted and in peace speaks freely to the Lord Jesus of the sins he had done against His name and saints. An unconverted man can speak of evil or of other sins than his own, having no confidence in God's grace for eternal life or remission. A thief may blame a drunkard; but no one naturally speaks of his own sins, because the conscience avoids being upright before God. Men would hide their sins and shew their good qualities; they would pass as honest good sort of people, and get rid of God. In that case one has no need of the goodness of God. People will try to meet the goodness of God by a certain uprightness; but there is no true confidence in God, and every hope of rendering worship to God in this state of things is a fraud. God begins with what we are; He takes us such as we are; and man will not have it so.
God presents to us in the Bible the most extraordinary things. He lays out all His counsels and all His resources for the evil state in which man is found. We see then all the efforts and the pains God has taken to put Himself in relation with the heart of man. It is the greatest hardness of heart to see, without being thereby touched, all that which God has done, and the action of His Spirit in those who are saved. One sees hearts with God's goodness out before them, yet abiding far from Him, such as they are. The hard heart sees all that and goes its own way. The heart that is thus has not yet received the least seed of life.
72 But one may also be convinced of sin and seek to recover before God the place one has lost. This soul believes that there is some means other than pure pardon. It has not yet true relations with God. It cannot any longer seek the world; it observes the Lord's day; it attends meetings, and rests on the like. But then the soul is not convinced that God is love, any more than it is in the presence of God with a true knowledge of itself. Not being humbled, it chooses itself a way to arrive at God, and cannot say, "I wait on thee," as in verses 5, 21. It is when we are convinced there is no question of getting to God, but that we are in His presence and lost, that we can say, "For thy name's sake, O Jehovah, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great." There is no more thought of bettering the conduct in order to get to God; there is no more a way to pave. We no longer desire then to avoid God, but we see ourselves before Him such as we are. If God is revealed, we have to understand that which He is Himself, and then comes the knowledge of His grace. It is a question of knowing what God is in respect to the sinner who is always in His presence. God is always "good," and He will not sanction the wickedness of man in leaving him quiet though hardened. Instead of reproaching with the sin, God brings to the conviction of sin in making it felt that He has seen the sin, that He has thought of it, and that He has found a means of pardoning and of teaching sinners the way they should follow.
"For thy goodness' sake," "for thy name's sake"; there is ground on which the soul founds its confidence. Impossible that God should fail His own name (John 17:6). He is "good and upright." What does the goodness of God to a trembling and miserable sinner? It does not cast up to him his misery, but takes cognisance of it to inspire him with full confidence and give him courage. God would deny Himself if He failed in His goodness in this case. God cannot do otherwise; He sees to His own name, His glory, His truth, His grace, in a word to all that He is, as we read in the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20-25).
God makes us understand that He occupies Himself with our sins long before we ourselves were occupied with them. If the goodness of God is occupied with them, it must be that He is so to get rid of them altogether, and He has given Jesus for this purpose. To blot out our sins completely - there is what God's goodness would and must do. But if one would arrive at pardon by progress in holiness, it is to choose the road for oneself God puts the sinner at his ease in His presence by shewing him his sins on the head of Jesus. His glory would not be complete if the believer were not justified. It is a salvation accomplished for ever that God presents to us, and the soul is in peace. All this is for His name's sake.
73 If the soul is assured of the goodness of God, would it love to keep some sins? No; the conscience set free from the thick layer of old sins becomes more delicate. If we are truly quickened, what we find in ourselves after our conversion is much more painful to us than the sins were before conversion. But Jesus is dead, knowing what we were and because of what we are. Such as I am, God loves me; His name is here in question, and His name in goodness. God has condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), in that Christ, having become man, was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). He has been sacrificed for us (Heb. 9). The name of God who is love is thus revealed by everything that God has done for us in Jesus.
God is upright also, and He teaches the sinner and leads him. This comes after pardon. The first is He is good; then comes truth, though man's heart thinks the inverse. If we are in relation with a God of goodness, how will that appear? Up to what point should He be manifested to us? He will shew in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7). God has before Him the most wretched of sinners (take the robber on the cross); and what will He do to display to the angels, etc., in heaven the riches of His goodness? He will take us, once wretched, and set us in the same glory as Christ Himself.
It is in us God shews what He is. You who say you are most feeble and miserable, it is you God would choose, if He would shew the immense riches of His grace. He cannot stop in this goodness; and it is not humility to put limits to His goodness by saying we are too little and unworthy. He forgives for the sake of His own name (1 John 2:12). He restores and leads for His own name's sake. He begins, continues, and finishes up to heaven itself and always for the sake of His name (Phil. 1). There is the only thing which makes the soul upright, sincere, and open before God, because there remains no subject of fear with regard to sin, and there is never uprightness in the heart till our consciences have seen and felt what we are before God as sinners pardoned. The moment that the soul says, "For thy name's sake, O Jehovah, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great," it cannot but be that God manifests Himself. One then makes progress in Him, and one finds the sweet assurance that God is ever good and upright for the sinner.