Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
I. MAN FEELS THAT HE IS UNDER LAW TO GOD. He knows that there is a power above him to which he is subject. He may try to deliver himself and claim independence, but ever and anon he is made to see that there is a moral law commanding him to do this and avoid that. He may refuse to obey only to find that it imposes a penalty in the shape of a reproach of conscience, or thwarting of his plans, etc. He may drown it in folly, but it will take its revenge when the hour of reflection comes. Under this feeling every man is made to realise that he "must give an account of himself to God."
II. THERE IS A FEAR IN EVERY ONE THAT HIS CONDUCT CANNOT STAND A SIFTING INSPECTION. So he has an apprehension at times that the power above him may be hostile. Our own consciences condemn us, and we cannot but see that God, who is purer than our conscience, must also condemn us. So we shrink from the law which we have broken and from the lawgiver. "When I remembered God, I was troubled." We are troubled, as the boy is by the presence of his father whose command he has just disobeyed. We strive to press down the thought, but it is unsuppressible. So, in consequence of the pressure of these two feelings on each other, a third feeling is brought forth. This may be one or other of two sorts.
III. WE MAY BANISH GOD AND HIS LAW FROM OUR THOUGHTS. This may be our first impulse. We act as the disobedient child who flees from his father. It was thus with Cain and Jonah. True, there will be times when God appears to allure or warn, but sinners do not wish to be disturbed, and they pray to Him, as the Gadarenes did when Jesus visited them, to "depart out of their Coasts"; and He left them, never to return.
IV. ANOTHER CLASS act in an equally unworthy manner. They GO ABOUT TO ESTABLISH THEIR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS. They know that God requires His intelligent and responsible creatures to give obedience to His royal law of love. According to the first covenant every man was to work out a righteousness for himself. But man has failed in this; he is not able to present a perfect obedience. He has only to search himself to discover that he has sinned. But then he would in future make amends for the past. See the self-righteous man as he goes about so diligently in working out a righteousness of his own. Listen to him as he talks to himself in the chamber of his thoughts. When he does a smart act, he, as it were, says, "How clever I am!" He relieves distress, and it is followed by the thought, "How tender-hearted I am!" He engages in a religious service, and then feels that he is so pious. This self-righteousness is all along offensive to God, and apt to be offensive to our fellow-men. It shows itself in a haughty manner, and in the perpetual narratives of our ability and prowess. A ploughman, whom Hervey once addressed to the effect that it was our first duty at once to abandon our sins, answered, "There is a prior duty, and that is to abandon the trust in our own righteousness." There was true philosophy in this. As long as we are trusting in our own righteousness we have little motive to search out our sins and destroy them. Let a man feel that his deeds are as filthy rags before God, and then he will be disposed to give them up and seek for a better clothing. This self-righteous spirit is that of the Pharisees, so severely condemned by our Lord. It is embodied in the prayer, "Lord, I thank Thee," etc. It was the spirit of the Stoics which seized on some of the highest minds in Greece and Rome. The meditations of Marcus Aurelius contain very lofty moral precepts, but his ethics are self-righteous throughout; the good man stands before God in the strength of his own merits. This being so, we can understand how the philosophers of this school should have been unwilling to submit to the humbling doctrines of the Cross, which require us to trust in the righteousness of another. What a humiliation must it have been to Saul of Tarsus when he was arrested on the road to Damascus, when not only his person but his pride were cast down to the ground! But his humiliation was a step necessary in order to his exaltation. He gave up trusting in his own righteousness, and went forward in the strength of Him who there and then conquered him, and thereby enabled him to conquer himself, and sent him forth to proclaim a doctrine which conquered the Roman world. Every man needs to pass through such a crisis. As long as the man is cherishing a self-righteous spirit he feels himself restrained on all hands. He cherishes a sense of merit, and yet is not satisfied, He makes now and greater exertions, only to find that they do not come up to the full requirements of the law. And the unforgiven sin will ever trouble the sinner till it is forgiven. Better at once submit, and instead of the prayer of the Pharisee put up the prayer of the publican. When the ground is as it is in winter, we might try to soften the hardness and remove the cold by shovelling away the frost and snow. But there is a better way. Let us have the returning sun of spring, and the coldness will disappear, and the earth will array itself in the loveliest green. So when we feel our hearts to be chilled and hardened, let us seek that the light of God's countenance shine upon us, and the hardness will be dissolved, and the graces of peace and love will flow forth as the streams do in spring.
(J. McCosh, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.