Psalm 36:1


It has been thought by some that this psalm was written about the time when Saul gave his daughter Michal to David with a treacherous design (see Walford, in loc.); by others, that it is a general description of some of the wicked men - such as Saul, Absalom, Ahithophel, etc. - with whom David was brought into contact (see Fausset hereon). But there is no clue in the psalm itself to any such specific historical reference. We see a special significance in the title of the psalm, which tells us that it was written by David as a servant of Jehovah, and banded by him to the choirmaster for use in the songs of the sanctuary. We may regard it as a description of the heart of the ungodly, written in the piercing light of Divine revelation (see ver. 9), affording us a striking illustration of Hebrews 4:12, showing us that "the Word of God is" indeed "living and strong, sharper than any two-bladed sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow," being "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." We find, too, that the Apostle Paul regards the words, "There is no fear of God before his eyes," as a part of the Divine indictment against a sinful race, whether of Jew or of Gentile origin (cf. Romans 3:18). Hence the inspection of the human heart, the results of which are here stated, is one that has been carried on under the searching light of Heaven. And a terribly painful discovery it is, to find how much iniquity God sees hidden in the nooks and corners of the heart. For us to be always carrying on this introspection would be more than we could bear. Yet the wicked may well be asked to study their own hearts in the light of this description, that they may see how much they need deliverance from their dark and sinful selves; while the believer may well look into this description again and again, that he may see from how much he has been delivered by the grace of God.

I. LET US STUDY THIS SEARCHING INVESTIGATION OF THE SECRETS OF A HUMAN HEART. (Ver. 1.)

1. The heart of an ungodly man has an oracle of its own. The Hebrew word translated "saith" is a noun, and means "oracle." Some would regard the phrase as elliptical, and as meaning, "The oracle [of God, concerning] the transgression of the wicked in his heart, is," etc. (so Cheyne and Olshausen). But it seems to us rather a satirical contrast. The righteous have their oracle, which is Divine. The wicked have their oracle, even transgression. The dislike of being governed by another is the governing principle of their lives. "Our tongues are our own: who is lord over us?" (Psalm 12:14; 2:3). Hence their "oracle" is dictated, not by loyalty, but by rebellion against God.

2. There are terrible negations in the godless man's life. (Ver. 1, "There is no fear of God before his eyes,") There is no desire of the Divine approval, nor dread of the Divine displeasure. It was reserved for the nineteenth century, however, to develop the most impious forms of this denial of God. There are not wanting novels, such as George Eliot's and others, which present model characters in social life on the basis of non-theism, and which depict it as a virtue to be without any fear of God whatsoever. This psalm deals with an evil which is by no means a thing of the past. It is developed to-day in frightful form, and puts on a guise of virtue to hide its ghastliness. There is a second negation (ver. 4): "He hath left off to be wise and to do good." The absence of the fear of God will soon be followed by the loss of respect for man, and the deterioration of general intelligence and of social virtue. There is no sustaining impulse for the highest excellence when God ceases to be enthroned in the heart. For a third negation here specified shows clearly enough the drift of the godless man (ver. 5): "He abhorreth not evil." The issue of a materialistic denial of God, and of a materialistic view of man, must be the denial of evil as evil. Evil cannot exist if atoms of matter be all. For molecules never break the ranks, and can never get out of harness. And he who first abhors not evil, out of senseless bravado, will come to deny evil altogether, and will let his passions hurry him whither they will, on the inward plea that he is "acting according to nature."

3. There are equally terrible positive evils in the godless man's life. First, evils in thought (ver. 3). The psalmist means either that, in spite of his godlessness, he has a very good opinion of himself, or else that he flatters himself his sins will never come out to light, and be found out in all their naked ugliness. Nor is this all. But he positively deviseth mischief upon his bed (ver. 5). Even in the night he is pursuing schemes of serf-gratification, altogether regardless of righteousness or of the good of others. A second form of positive ill is found in his words (ver. 4). Truthlessness will soon follow godlessness. And when in his eye God ceases to be, it will not be long ere right ceases to be right, and truth to be truth. And a third form of ill will develop itself. "He setteth himself in a way that is not good." He plants his feet, he takes a determined stand, in the direction of gratifying self rather than in the direction of pleasing Cod. And will aim at nothing but "utility," in the narrow sense of hedonism. Right as right will have disappeared from the gaze of his eye, and will cease to govern either deed, word, or thought. How terrible a picture is this of unchecked human depravity!

II. WHAT PRACTICAL USE SHOULD BE MADE IN OUR DAY OF SUCH A TERRIBLE EXPOSURE OF THE SECRETS OF DEPRAVED HEARTS?

1. It is a very solemn thought that we are thus being inspected, at every moment, by an all-searching gaze. It is only where Divine revelation has been vouchsafed that sin is dealt with so very seriously, and that the heart is thus depicted so minutely.

2. How fearful the descent of sin, and how encroaching are its inroads on character! Yet, after all, we need hot fall into the error of supposing that the Word of God regards all as equally guilty or as equally corrupt. Yet, as the Apostle Paul shows in the second and third chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, where he is handling the indictment which stands in God's Law against us, we are "all under sin." If the Jew has sinned against a written Law, the Gentile has sinned against an unwritten law. Hence both are "guilty before God;" although the measure of each one's guilt, and the depth of each one's corruption, can be judged accurately by God alone.

3. Let us be devout/y thankful that we may know the worst of ourselves by comparing what we are with the pure and holy Law of God. To know the disease is an important step in seeking for a cure.

4. Even if we have not gone such lengths is guilt and maddened sin as are here described, let us thankfully acknowledge that we owe it to the restraining providence of God. For, alas! the germs of all ill are in each of us.

5. We need a deliverance from ourselves. We need forgiveness for guilt, and cleansing from corruption.

6. Since all are under sin, how righteous is the retirement of the gospel! "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent." No man is as good as he ought to be, nor yet as good as be knows he ought to be. And for this he ought to be sorry and to mourn his guilt persistently before God. When he is thus ready to put sin away by repenting of it, God is ready to put it away by forgiving it.

7. It is the glory of the gospel that it takes into account all our needs, from every possible point of view. In Christ we have pardon for the penitent's sin, and cleansing from the foulest corruption. Yea, through the Spirit of God we may be regenerated, and sanctified, and snatched from the power of darkness to the kingdom of God's dear Son.

8. It is only in that very Word which looks at sin most seriously that man is regarded most hopefully. Man and his sins are not inseparable They may be parted. And when this blessed effect is brought about, "being made free from sin, and become servants unto God," they will "have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." - C.









My soul shall he joyful in the Lord.
It is not often that we meet with a truly joyous face. We see many a brow curved with humour, and lips with their wreath of mirth, but the eyes seldom beam the glory of that quiet delight which is named in our text. Everybody has some joy; but in many cases it is spurious like a bad shilling, and unreliable like the grass which grows over the marsh on a moor. But real joy is wholesome, beneficent and abiding; and it is for all. It is seldom or never found in external things; it is an inward state of the soul. Joy may be likened to a seat under the shade of a tree to which you can go at once for rest, and it is as free as a street fountain with the cup hanging ready for the thirsty traveller to drink; anybody may take the cup and drink. True joy is not a fiction; to be expressed, it must be felt. As you cannot have a river without a spring or source, neither can you have true joy without its fountain which flows from the heart of God.

I. THE SECRET CAUSE of joy in the Christian is —

1. That he possesses all things. The great cry of the human heart is — "I want this; O that I could have that!" Our failing is discontentedness; the glory of Christianity is contentment, not empty and fleeting, but full, overflowing, and everlasting. Under the Atlantic ocean is a cable through which passes a wire connecting the coast of England with that of America, and though there are great storms and crashing icebergs on the ocean, the cable under the sea is undisturbed; the lightning message passes along the three thousand miles of wire silently and in the twinkling of an eye. Likewise, the soul of the Christian, no matter whether he may be in a dungeon, awaiting a martyr's death, or upon a throne, the object of the people's praise, is serene because it is in communion with God.

2. That our sins are all forgiven.

3. The sense of salvation also inspires one's soul to be joyful in the Lord.

4. The promise of heaven. Some of you may say, "What you have said is of no use to me, for I am not a Christian; I am not good; there is no chance for me." You think God must draw the line somewhere, that He cannot take you in; that He may receive other people, but He cannot admit you. Now the Bible says, "Whosoever will." You cannot be too wicked for God to save; for He is able to save to the very uttermost all that pray unto Him. Therefore, come.

(W. Birch:)

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