I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: see, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, you know.
The psalmist here tells not only of what was an actual fact, but what is more, that he could not help thus testifying of God's salvation. What I propose, accordingly, at the present time, is to speak of the necessary openness of a holy experience; or, in other words, of the impossibility that the inward revelation of God in the soul should be shut up in it, and remain hid or unacknowledged. I shall have in view especially two classes of hearers that are widely distinguished one from the other; first, the class who lude the grace of God in their heart undesignedly, or by reason of some undue modesty; and secondly, the class who, pretending to have it, or consciously having it not, take a pleasure in throwing discredit on all the appropriate expressions of it, such as are made by the open testimony and formal profession of Christ before men. The former class are certainly blameable in no such sense or degree as the others. They are naturally timorous and self-distrustful persons, it may be, and do not see that they are distrusting God rather than themselves. They seem to themselves to have been truly renewed in the love of God, but they have some doubts, and they make it appear to be wiser that they should not, just now, testify their supposed new experience. In opposition to both these claims we would affirm the necessary openness of a holy experience. For —
1. Such experience is even an impulse to self-manifestation, as all love and gratitude are. It wants to speak and declare itself as naturally as a child will utter its first cry. Thus, if one of you had been rescued, in a shipwreck on a foreign shore, by some common sailor who had risked his life to save you, and you should discover him across the street in some great city, you would rush to his side, seize his hand, and begin at once, with a choking utterance, to testify your gratitude to him for so great a deliverance. Or, if you should pass restrainedly on, making no sign, pretending to yourself that you might be wanting in delicacy or modesty to publish your private feelings by any such eager acknowledgment of your deliverer, or that you ought first to be more sure of the genuineness of your gratitude, what opinion must we have, in such a case, of your heartlessness and falseness to nature? In the same way how can the young convert keep from saying, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare," etc. etc.
2. Such an inward change is in its very nature the soul and root of a corresponding outward change. It is the righteousness of God revealed within, to be henceforth the actuating spring and power of a righteous and devoted life. It will inform the whole man. It will glow in the countenance. It will irradiate the eye. It will speak from the tongue. It will modulate the very gait. The good tree will show the good fruit. It cannot go on to bear the old, bad fruit out of modesty, or a pretended shrinking from ostentation; it must reveal the righteousness of God within, by the fruits of righteousness without, else it is only a mockery.
3. If any one proposes beforehand in his religious endeavours, or in seeking after God, to come into a secret experience and keep it a secret, his endeavour is plainly one that falsifies the very notion of Christian piety, and if he succeeds or seems to succeed, he only practises a fraud in which he imposes on himself.
4. It is not less clear, as I have already said incidentally, and now say only more directly, that the grace of God in the heart, unmanifested or kept secret, as many propose that it shall be, even for their whole life, will be certainly stifled and extinguished. The thought itself is a mockery of the Holy Spirit. The heart might as well be required to live and not beat as the new heart of love to hush itself and keep still in the bosom. Nothing can live that is not permitted to show the signs of life.
5. This is the express teaching of the Gospel, which everywhere and in every possible way calls out the souls renewed in Christ to live an open life of sacrifice and duty. He calls upon them to endure hardness, to make a loss of all things for His sake, to be His witnesses before men; leading always the way by their own bold, faithful testimony. The nearest approach to such encouragement anywhere given, is that which is afforded by the ease of the two senators, Joseph and Nicodemus. One of them, we are told, was a disciple secretly, for fear of the Sews. And the other came to Jesus by night, to inquire of Him, that he might not be counted a disciple. Both of them appear to have kept silence on His trial before the council, letting the decision go against Him there, and taking no responsibility on His account. But after He was crucified, they came to ask the body, and brought spices to embalm it. They were good, as disciples, to bury Jesus, but not to save His life, or serve Him while living. The truth is, that there is a very heavy shade over these two delicate and courtly friends of Jesus. They were men of society, and therefore saw the dignity of Jesus; but if you would like to be reasonably confident of your salvation, it certainly becomes you to do something a great deal more positive than to let your Master die, making no stand for Him oven in the council where His death is voted, and then come in with spices to bury Him. The most fragrant spices are those that honour one's life, and not the posthumous odours that embalm His body. How singular is it, too, that not even the Pentecost calls out these disciples of the tomb. It is as if they had been buried with their Master and had not risen. In that wondrous scene of fellowship, where so many from all parts of the world are surprised to find themselves confessing and embracing, in open brotherhood, strangers of all climes and orders, and selling even their goods to relieve the common wants, it does not appear that any spices of the heavenly charity are brought in by these two. The real truth is, in respect to almost all these pretenders to a secret religion, that they are persons who know nothing of it. They are moralists, it may be, practising at what they call a virtue by themselves, but they do nothing that brings them into any relationship with God. It is not the righteousness of God which they have hidden so carefully, but it is their own — which, after all, is not hid. What value there may be in discoveries of Christian experience. Some of the best and holiest impulses ever given to the cause of God in men's hearts are given by testimonies of Christian experience. They may be abused, but that is no reason against their proper use. Besides, there is a higher view of these personal testimonies and confessions. All these experiences, or life-histories of the faithful, will be among the grandest studies and most glorious revelations of the future. Exactly as an apostle intimates in those most hopeful, inspiring words of his, "When lie shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." May He not be glorified in them here, and, in some feebler measure, admired for the testimonies yielded by their experience as their warfare goes on. How many are there in our Christian communities that are living afar off and apparently quite inaccessible, who, if, at a certain time in their life, they had gone forward and taken the places to which they were called, would now be among the shining members of the great body of saints. Then testify freely, act but naturally, live openly the grace that is in you.
(Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.