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in celebration of the happy return of him “ who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and is found."
Such is the portrait, drawn by a master's hand, of the boundless compassions of our heavenly Father. It presents, indeed, a strong contrast with the Calvinistic doctrine. There we have an avenging Deity, ready to devote a whole race to eternal torments, for the fault of one, and in which it is impossible in the nature of things that they could have any participation. Here, he is waiting to be gracious ; and, as he knows his children are liable to err, merely suffers them to taste the bitter fruits of their own misconduct, expecting those of re. pentance to follow. In the one case, nothing the sinner can do is sufficient to reinstate him in the favour of his Maker; in the other, even unfinished expressions of penitence are accepted. On the one hand, it is so absolutely impossible to deprecate his anger, that it must have its course, and, if it fall not upon an innocent person of infinite merit, it shall consume till it hath utterly destroyed; or, rather, it shall burn with eternal and inextinguishable fury. On the other, all is tenderness and love, and not the least traces of a vindictive disposition are discoverable. We are exhorted to be “ followers of God;" in which of these characters shall we imitate him? We are to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful;” shall it be according to the representations of the Saviour of the world, or of the unrelenting persecutor of Michael Servetus ?
ON THE ALLEDGED
Every one of them is gone back; they are altoge
ther become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.-Psalm liii. 3.
THE variety, and even opposition of sentiment contained in the 1st, 53d, and 112th psalms ought to operate as a caution against citing select and detached portions of scripture, and, without a proper regard to the connection in which they stand, making them authority for doctrines inconsistent with the general sense of revelation, and contrary to common observation and experience.
Such an use has been made of certain parts of the 14th and 53d psalms, which are almost verbatim alike. From them it has been inferred, that human nature is utterly depraved—that it is a soil in which nothing grows but the rankest and foulest weeds—and that, if any thing better be produced, it is by the immediate and supernatural influence of the Deity. Let us consider a little how far such an opinion is really countenanced by the passages referred to.
In the poetical compositions of David there is great inequality. Sometimes he rises to the ut. most height of sublimity in the contemplation of
the divine nature and works. At other times he speaks in the character of an inspired prophet; but often, merely as a man, subject, as his history sufficiently evinces, to many infirmities; and, when under the irritation produced by enmity and opposition, he expresses himself in a manner which no christian could consistently take for an example. He himself owns (P. cxvi. 11.) that he sometimes “ spake unadvisedly with his lips ;” and, though we should not put that construction on the general sentence of reprobation which he here appears to pass on his species, yet it is well enough known that poets, both ancient and modern, assume and are allowed what is termed a licence of expressing themselves in a way somewhat beyond the strict limits of fact. Such, apparently, is the case in the texts under consideration. The particular occasion upon which these psalms, or either of them, were composed, is not referred to; but it was probably at the beginning of David's reign, before the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, and while he met with much trouble and opposition from the adhe. rents of the house of Saul, the greater number of whom might be irreligious and atheistical persons. The probability of this conjecture will receive additional weight, if we look into the subjects of the adjoining psalms, as expressed in their titles from the 52d to the 59th. Under a keen sense of the injuries he was sustaining, and in the ardour of poe. tic composition, he describes all mankind as his bitter enemies, as not having the fear of God before their eyes, and their animosity against himself
and his people such as would lead them, if it were possible, to devour them. But he predicts their confusion and ruin; and anticipates the happiness which Israel in general should enjoy, when their “ salvation should come out of Zion,” when he should be settled upon the throne, and when they should be delivered from this painful state of persecution, which he emphatically compares to that of captivity and bondage.
Supposing however that this interpretation be not the true one, nothing is more clear than that David could not mean to apply these terms of degrada. tion to the human race in their unqualified and literal sense ; for in these very psalms he represents the persecutors and the persecuted as persons of opposite characters.
In the 1st psalm he places those of the good and the wicked man in strong points of contrast; and in the 112th largely de. scribes the excellent qualities of the upright.
These pictures must have been drawn from originals; and therefore there can be no colour for the interpretation modernly given to the words “there is none good, no not one,” unless as they are used by Christ in reference to the absolute good. ness of God. It is true that Paul cites them in his epistle to the Jews at Rome; but this is only one instance out of a great number, wherein the Gospel was recommended to the acceptance of the Jews by accommodated quotations from their own scriptures; and here, expressly with a view of convincing them that, notwithstanding their high opinion of themselves with respect to peculiar pri
vileges, they had no superiority in point of sanctity above the gentiles, but stood in equal need with them of the grace of the gospel. This kind of phraseology, then, should always receive the sober construction of reason, experience, and the general scope and tenor of revelation. We know indeed but too well that human nature is imperfect; that much vice and wickedness has in all ages been, and still is prevalent in the world. But it is the very design of revelation to rectify this disorder, to encourage righteousness and discountenance iniquity; and in almost every page of it the distinction between these characters and their opposite consequences are strongly pointed out. We are dealt with, although as fallen, yet as rational creatures, capable of being convinced by argument, of using efforts, and availing ourselves of the assistance offered, for our recovery. But to what end is the Gospel sent, if it be true, and is to remain so to the end of the world, that there nei. ther is nor can be one righteous—"no not one?” If its whole design be to tell us that we are utterly vile and depraved ; that our best works are odious in the sight of a holy God; that our righteousness is nothing better than filthy rags*; that, subject to
* It is strange that those who are so fond of using this phrase should have totally overlooked the passage, Rev. xix. 8. where the righteous acts of the saints are represented under the more appropriate figure of FINE LINEN, clean and white ! To understand the true application of its opposite, it is only necessary to turn to Isaiah Ixiv. 6. and compare that versé with the one immediately preceding.