Two Innumerable Things
Psalm 40:5
Many, O LORD my God, are your wonderful works which you have done, and your thoughts which are to us-ward…

(with ver. 12): — So, then, there are two series of things which cannot be numbered. God's mercies; man's sin. We always should begin with grateful remembrance of God's mercy. His wondrous dealings seem to the psalmist's thankful heart as numberless as the blades of grass which carpet the fields. They come pouring out continuously, like the innumerable undulations of the ether which make upon the eyeballs the single sensation of light. He thinks not only of God's wonderful works, His realized purposes of mercy, but of "His thoughts which are to us-ward," the purposes, still more wonderful, of a yet greater mercy which wait to be realized. As he thinks of all this "multitude of His tender mercies," his lips break into this rapturous exclamation of my text. But there is a wonderful change in tone in the two halves of the psalm. The deliverance that seems so complete in the earlier part is but partial. The psalmist sees himself ringed about by numberless evils, as a man tied to a stake might be by a circle of fire. "Innumerable evils have compassed me about." His conscience tells him that the evils are deserved; they are his iniquities transformed, which have come back to him in another shape, and have laid their hands upon him as a constable does upon a thief. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me." They hem him in so that his vision is interrupted, the smoke from the circle of flame blinds his eyes. "I cannot see." His roused conscience and his quivering heart conceive of them as "more than the hairs of his head." And so courage and confidence have ebbed away from him. "My heart faileth me," and there is nothing left for him but to fling himself in his misery out of himself and on to God. Draw some of the lessons from the very remarkable juxtaposition of these two innumerable things — God's tender mercies, and man's iniquity and evil.

I. To begin with, if we keep these two things both together in our contemplations, THEY SUGGEST FOR US VERY FORCIBLY THE GREATEST MYSTERY IN THE UNIVERSE, AND THROW A LITTLE LIGHT UPON IT. The difficulty of difficulties, the one insoluble problem is, given a good and perfect God, where does sorrow come from? And why is there any paid? And men have fumbled at that knot for all the years that there have been men in the world, and they have not untied it yet. Is it true that "God's mercies are innumerable"? If it be, what is the meaning of all this that makes me writhe and weep? Well, when such moments come to us, do not let the black mass hide the light one from you, but copy this psalmist, and in the energy of your faith, even though it be the extremity of your pain, grasp and grip them both; and though you have to say and to wail, "Innumerable evils have compassed me about," be sure that you do not let that prevent you from saying, "Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works," etc. Remember, the one does not contradict the other; and let us ask ourselves if the one does not explain the other. If it be that these mercies are so innumerable as my first text says, may it not be that they go deep down beneath, and include in their number the thing that seems most opposite to them, even the sorrow that afflicts our lives? "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," makes a bridge across the gulf which seems to part the opposing cliffs these two sets effect, and turn the darker into a form in which the brighter reveals itself. God's innumerable mercies include the whole sum total of my sorrows.

II. THE BLENDING OF THESE TWO THOUGHTS TOGETHER HEIGHTENS THE IMPRESSION OF EACH. All artists, and all other people know the power of contrast. White never looks so white as when it is relieved against black; black never so intense as when it is relieved against white. Only observe that, whilst the psalmist starts from the "innumerable evils" that have compassed him about, he passes from these to the earlier evils which he had done. It is pains that says, "Innumerable evils have compassed me about." It is conscience that says, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me." His wrongdoing has come back to him like the boomerang that the Australian savage throws, which may strike its aim but returns to the hand that flung it. It has come back in the shape of a sorrow. And so "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me" is the deepening of the earliest word of my text. God's mercies never seem so fair, so wonderful, as when they are looked at in conjunction with man's sin. Man's sin never seems so foul and hideous as when it is looked at close against God's mercies. You cannot estimate the conduct of one or two parties to a transaction unless you have the conduct of the other before you. You cannot understand a father's love unless you take into account the prodigal son's sullen unthankfulness, or his unthankfulness without remembering his father's love. So we do not see the radiant brightness of God's lovingkindness to us until we look at it from the depth of the darkness of our own sin. The stars are seen from the bottom of the well. Man's sin has heightened God's love to this climax and consummation of all tenderness, that He has sent us His Son. Man's darkest sin is the rejection of Christ. The clearest light makes the blackest shadow; the tenderer the love, the more criminal the apathy and selfishness which opposes it.

III. THE KEEPING OF THESE TWO THOUGHTS TOGETHER SHOULD LEAD US ALL TO CONSCIOUS PENITENCE. The psalmist's words are not the mere complaint of a soul in affliction, but they are also the acknowledgment of a conscience repenting. In like manner the contemplation of these two numberless series should affect us all. It is a very defective kind of religion that says, "Many, O Lord my God, are Thy thoughts which are to us-ward"; but has never been down on its knees with the confession, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me." But defective as it is, it is all the religion which many people have. I would press on you all this truth, that there is no deep personal religion without a deep consciousness of personal transgression. Have you ever known what, it is so to look at God's love that it smites you into tears of repentance when you think of the way you have requited Him? I, therefore, urge this upon you that, for the vigour of your own personal religion, you must keep these two things well together.

IV. LOOKING AT THESE TWO NUMBERLESS SERIES TOGETHER WILL BRING INTO THE DEEPEST PENITENCE A JOYFUL CONFIDENCE. There are regions of experience the very opposite of that error of which I have just been speaking. There are some of us, perhaps, who have so profound a sense of their own shortcomings and sins that the mists rising from these have blurred the sky to them and shut out the sun. Some of you, perhaps, may be saying to yourselves that you cannot get hold of God's love because your sin seems to you to be so great, or may be saying to yourselves that it is impossible that you should ever get the victory over this evil of yours because it has laid hold upon you with so tight a grasp. If there be any inclination to doubt the infinite love of God, or the infinite possibility of cleansing from all sin, bind these two texts together, and never so look at your own evil as to lose sight of the infinite mercy of God. It is safe to say — aye! it is blessed to say" Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of mine head," when we can also say, "Thy thoughts to me are more than can be numbered." There are not two innumerable series, there is only one. There is a limit and a number to my sins and to yours, but God's mercies are properly numberless. My sins may be as the sand which is by the sea-shore, innumerable, the love of God in Jesus Christ is like the great sea which rolls over the sands and buries them. My sins may rise mountains high, but:His mercies are a great deep which will cover the mountains to their very summit.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.

WEB: Many, Yahweh, my God, are the wonderful works which you have done, and your thoughts which are toward us. They can't be declared back to you. If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.

Two Innumerable Series
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