Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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remarkable body of pictures of the inner experi-
ences of a penitent soul, is that of Psa. 51. It
draws away the veil for us and permits us to look
in upon the spirit in the most characteristic act
of repentance, just at the turning point, as it de-
serts its sin and turns to God. Here is revealed
to us a sense of sin so poignant, a perception of the


grace of God so soaring, an apprehension of the
completeness of the revolution required in sinful
man that he may become in any worthy sense a
servant of God so profound, that one wonders in
reading it what is left for a specifically Christian
experience to add to this experience of a saint of
God under the Old Testament dispensation in
turning from sin to God. The wonderful depth
of the religious experience and the remarkable
richness of religious conception embodied in this
Psalm have indeed proved a snare to the critics.
"David could not have had these ideas," says
Prof. T. C. Cheyne, brusquely; and, indeed, the
David that Prof. Cheyne has constructed out of
his imaginary reconstruction of the course of re-
ligious development in Israel, could not well have
had these ideas. These are distinctively Chris-
tian ideas that the Psalm sets forth, and they
could not have grown up of themselves in a purely
natural heart. And therein lies one of the values
of the Psalm to us; it reveals to us the essentially
Christian type of the religion of Israel; it opens
to our observation the contents of the mind and
heart of a Spirit-led child of God in the ages agone,
and makes us to know the truly Christian charac-
ter of his experiences in his struggle with sin and
his aspirations towards God, and thus also to
iJnow the supernatural leading of God's people
through all ages.

For consider for a moment the conception of


God which throbs through all the passionate lan-
guage of this Psalm. A God of righteousness
who will not look upon sin with allowance; nay,
who directs all things, even the emergence of acts
of sin in His world, so that He may not only be
just, but also "may be justified when He speaks
and clear when He judges." A God of holiness
whose Spirit cannot abide in our impure hearts.
A God of unbounded power, who governs the
whole course of events in accordance with His
own counsels. But above all, a gracious God, full
of lovingkindness, abundant in compassion, whose
delight is in salvation. There is nothing here
which goes beyond the great revelation of Ex.
34:6, "a God full of compassion and gracious,
abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping
lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity
and transgression and sin." Indeed the lan-
guage of the Psalm is obviously modelled on this
of Exodus. But here it is not given from the lips
of Jehovah, proclaiming His character, but re-
turned to us from the heart of the repentant sin-
ner, recounting the nature of the God with whom
he has to do.

And what a just and profound sense of sin is
revealed to us here. The synonymy of the sub-
ject is almost exhausted in the effort to complete
the self -accusation. "My transgression, my in-
iquity, my sin;" I have been in rebellion against
God, I have distorted my life, I have missed the


mark; I have, to express it all, done what is evil
in Thy sight — in the sight of Thee, the Standard
of Holiness, the hypostatized Law of Conduct.
And these acts are but the expression of an inner
nature of corruption, inherited from those who
have gone before me; it was in iniquity that I
was born, in sin that my mother conceived me.
Shall a pure thing come from an impure? Nay,
my overt acts of sin are thought of not in them-
selves but as manifestations of what is behind
and within; thrown up into these manifestations
in act, in Thine own ordinance, for no other
cause than that Thy righteous condemnation on
me may be justified and thy judgment be made
clear. For it is not cleanness of act merely that
Thou dost desire, but truth in the inward parts
and wisdom in the hidden parts. Obviously the
Psalmist is conceiving sin here as not confined to
acts but consisting essentially of a great ocean of
sin within us, whose waves merely break in sinful
acts. No wonder the commentators remark that
here we have original sin "more distinctly ex-
pressed than in any other passage in the Old Tes-
tament." Nothing is left to be added by the
later revelation in the way of poignancy of con-
ception — though much is, of course, left to be
added in developed statement.

Accordingly, the conception of the radicalness
of the operation required for the Psalmist's de-
liverance from sin, is equally developed. No sur-


face remedy will suffice to eradicate a sin which is
thus inborn, ingrained in nature itself. Hence the
passionate cry: Create — it requires nothing less
than a creative act — create me a clean heart —
the heart is the totality of the inner life — and
make new within me a constant spirit — a spirit
which will no more decline from Thee. Nothing
less than this will suffice — a total rebegetting as
the New Testament would put it; an entire mak-
ing over again can alone suffice to make such an
one as the Psalmist knows himself to be — not by
virtue of his sins of act which are only the mani-
festation of what he is by nature, but by virtue
of his fundamental character — acceptable to Him
who desires truth in the inward part; nay, noth-
ing less than this can secure to him that stead-
fastness of spirit which will save his overt acts
from shame.

Nor does the Psalmist expect to be able, un-
aided, to live in the power of his new life. One
of the remarkable features of the doctrinal sys-
tem of the Psalm is the clear recognition it gives
of the necessity, for the cleansing of the life, of the
constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.
"Take not thy holy Spirit from me and uphold
me with a spirit of willingness." Thine to lead,
mine to follow. Not autonomy but obedience,
the ideal of the religious life. The operations
of the Holy Spirit in the sphere of the moral life,
the ethical activities of the Spirit, His sanctifying


work, are but little adverted to in the Old Tes-
tament, and when alluded to, it is chiefly in
promises for the Messianic period. Here, David
not merely prays for them in his own case, but
announces them as part of the experience of the
past and present. His chance of standing, he
says in effect, hangs on the continued presence
of the Holy Spirit of God in him; in the up-
holding within him thereby of a spirit of wiUing-

Thus we perceive that in its conception of God,
of sin, of salvation alike, this Psalm stands out
as attaining the high-water mark of Old Testa-
ment revelation. It was by a hard pathway that
David came to know God and himself so inti-
mately. But he came thus to know both his
own heart and the God of grace with a fullness
and profundity of apprehension that it will be
hard to parallel elsewhere. And it was no merely
external knowledge that he acquired thus. It
was the knowledge of experience. David knew
sin because he had touched the unclean thing
and sounded the depths of iniquity. He knew
himself because he had gone his own way and had
learned through what thickets and morasses that
pathway led, and what was its end. And he
knew God, because he had tasted and seen that
the Lord is gracious. Yes, David had tasted
and seen God's preciousness. David had ex-
perience of salvation. He knew what salvation


was, and He knew its joy. But never had he
known the joy of salvation as he knew it after
he had lost it. And it is just here that the spe-
cial poignancy of David's repentance comes in:
it was not the repentance of a sinner merely, it
was the repentance of a sinning saint.

It is only the saint who knows what sin is; for
only the saint knows it in contrast with salva-
tion, experienced and understood. And it is only
the sinning saint who knows what salvation is:
for it is only the joy that is lost and then found
again that is fully understood. The depths of
David's knowledge, the poignancy of his con-
ceptions — of God, and sin, and salvation — car-
rying him far beyond the natural plane of his
time and the development of the religious con-
sciousness of Israel, may be accounted for, it
would seem, by these facts. He who had known
the salvation of God and basked in its joy, came
to know through his dreadful sin what sin is,
and its terrible entail; and through this horrible
experience, to know what the joy of salvation is —
the joy which he had lost and only through the
goodness of God could hope to have restored.
In the biting pain of his remorse, it all becomes
clear to him. His sinful nature is revealed to
him; and the goodness of God; his need of the
Spirit; the joy of acceptance with God; the de-
light of abiding with Him in His house. Hence
his profound disgust at himself; his passion-


ate longing for that purity without which he
could not see God. And hence his culminat-
ing prayer: "Restore unto me the joy of Thy


Psa. 76:10: — "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee."

The Seventy-sixth Psalm is represented by a
very old tradition — it is already embodied in the
Septuagint version — as a hymn of praise to God
for the destruction of Sennacherib. There is no
reason why this tradition may not be supposed to
preserve the truth. But its truth or falsehood
does not particularly concern us. The Psalm
was in any case written upon some such occasion
as the destruction of Sennacherib. It celebrates
a great deliverance wrought by the power of God;
a deliverance beyond all expectation, wrought by
God alone. The essence of its representation is
that Jehovah is a man of war, above all comparison
great. When He enters the field, all the machin-
ery of conflict stops. The lightning-like arrows
which fly from the bow cease in their courses;
the shield and the sword fall helpless to the ground;
the stoutest-hearted with their chariots and horses
drop into the inactivity of death. For Jehovah
is terrible. None can stand before Him when
His wrath begins to bum but a little.

As the Psalmist contemplates the certain de-
struction that befalls all the foes of Israel, when
Jehovah speaks, he rises from the particular to



the general. He proclaims the praises of the
eternal and universal providence of God, as it is
illustrated in the great fact that even the most
violent passions of men are under His control,
and conduce only to the fulfilment of His ends.
"Surely," he cries, "the wrath of man shall praise
Thee, and the residue of wrath Thou wilt restrain,"
or "the residue of wrath wilt Thou gird upon
Thee." The fundamental sense is that the ebul-
litions of the wrath of man, however violent and
outbreaking they may be, are, nevertheless, like
all else that occurs, under the complete control of
God and are employed by Him as instruments for
working out His ends. Like all else that comes to
pass, then, they illustrate God's glory. For the
rest, the passage teaches, according as we con-
strue the last half of the verse, either that all the
wrath of man which would not conduce to the
divine glory God restrains and does not permit
to manifest itself in action, so that the complete-
ness of His control over man's wrath is what is
emphasized; or else, that after all the wrath of
man raging in its utmost fury has exhausted itself
in vain struggles against the rising wrath of Je-
hovah, there remains to Jehovah, in opposition
to it, the fullness of wrath, with which He girds
Himself for action, so that the resistless might of
Jehovah as over against the puny weakness of
man is what is emphasized. We need not now
attempt to decide between the two interpreta-


tions; it is enough to fix our minds on the main
declaration — this to wit: that the wrath of man
also is under divine control, and it too, like all
else that occurs in the world, conduces only to
the divine glory.

It is well for us to remind ourselves of this great
fact in a time like this. It may seem to us as if
the fountains of the great deep were broken up
and the world were on the point of being over-
whelmed by the violence of human passion. Men
seem to have broken away from the government
of conscience, and even from the guidance of the
common instincts of humanity. The whole earth
appears to have become a churning mass of rage.
We see millions of our fellow-creatures flying at
one another's throats in a ruthless struggle, and
whole countries harried and reduced to ruin.
Up from the battle-fields, and up from the v;asted
lands behind the battle-fields, rise only cries of
rage and despair. It is good for us to remember
that the Lord God Omnipotent reigns over all.
That all this welter of blood and iron He holds
well in hand. That none of it would have oc-
curred without His direction; that nothing can
occur in it apart from His appointment; and I do
not say merely that He will overrule it all for
His glory, but that all of it will conduce to His
praise. For, "surely the wrath of man is to Him
for praise, and the remainder of wraths will He


It may be hard for us to understand or even to
believe it — for our sight is dim and the range of
our vision is narrow — but all things work together
under God's governing hand for good. Even the
things which in themselves are evil, in all their
workings work together for good in this world of
ours; for it is God's world after all, and He is the
Governor of it, and He governs it for good, and
that continually. John Calvin reminds us that
though Satan may rage about like a roaring lion
seeking whom he may devour, yet he has a bit in
his mouth and it is God who holds the reins.
"Oh, Assyrian, the rod of My anger," cries Je-
hovah. It was for his own ends — lust of con-
quest, delight in power — that the Assyrian on his
part was doing it. He knew not that he was but
the instrument in God's hands for working higher
ends, and that when they were secured, the sword
would drop from his inert fingers and he would
himself fall on sleep. "Glorious art Thou and
excellent," sings the Psalmist, "more than the
mountains of prey: the stout-hearted are made a
spoil, they have slept their sleep; and none of the
men of might have found their hands. At thy
rebuke, O God of Jacob, both chariot and horse
are cast into a dead sleep." In the midst of the
turmoil of war, let us remember that war too is of
God, and that it, too, will in His hands work for
good: that even the wrath of man shall be to
Him for praise.


But there is more than even this in the Psalm
for our learning, at least by implication. We
read in it not only of the wrath of man, but also
of the wrath of Jehovah; and the wrath of Je-
hovah is set over against the wrath of man as
greater than the wrath of man — greater, more
lasting, more prevailing. None can stand when
the wrath of Jehovah only begins: when all other
wrath is quenched the wrath of Jehovah abides —
He girds Himself with it and is terrible to the
kings of the earth. We must not then fall into
the fancy that all wrath is evil, and that we must
always and everywhere suppress it. There is a
righteous anger, as well as an unrighteous. Else
we would not read, "Be ye angry, and sin not."
If to be angry were already sin, we could not be
exhorted not to sin in our anger. God is angry.
He is angry with the wicked every day. His
wrath is revealed from heaven against all that
work iniquity. If it were not so, He would not
be a moral being: for every moral being must
bum with hot indignation against all wrong per-
ceived as such. That is precisely what we mean
by a moral being : a being which knows right and
wrong, and which approves the right and repro-
bates the wrong. If we do not react against the
wrong when we see it, in indignation and avenging
wrath, we are either unmoral or immoral.

Therefore also, Christ was angry. The Gos-
pels are filled with instances of the manifestation


by Him of the emotion of anger in all the varieties
of this emotion: from mere annoyance, as when
He rebuked His disciples for forbidding the chil-
dren to be brought unto Him, to burning indigna-
tion, as when the imfeeling Scribes would not
permit Him to heal the suffering on the Sabbath
day — yes, even to what the Evangelists do not
scruple to call outbreaking rage which shook with
its paroxysm His whole physical frame, as when
He advanced to do battle with death and sin — the
destroyers of men — at the grave of Lazarus. Even
the Lamb feels and shows wrath. Christ is our
perfect example. And if we are to be His perfect
imitators, we not only may, but must, be angry;
we not only m.ay, but must, exhibit wrath — when-
ever, that is, good is assaulted and evil is exalted.
We too, must be found, on proper occasion, with
the whip of small cords in our hands; we too,
must not draw back when righteousness is to be
vindicated or when the oppressed are to be res-
cued. In this sense too, the wrath of man is to
God for praise. We please Him when we are
righteously angry. He who never feels stirring
within him the emotion of just indignation is not
like God in that high element of the image of
God in which he was made — His moral nature.
Indignation is an inevitable reaction of a moral
being in the presence of wrongdoing, and it is
not merely his right, but his duty to give it play
when righteousness demands it.


No doubt we are to seek peace and ensue it.
But this is the peace not of the condonation of
evil, but of the conquest of it. We are to con-
quer evil in ourselves. We are to know no in-
ordinate anger. We are to be slow to anger and
quick to put it aside: we are not to let the sun
go down upon our wrath. We are to remember
that anger is a short madness, and not trust our-
selves too readily in wreaking it on others — even
when we think it righteous: not avenging our-
selves, but giving place to the wrath of God,
knowing that in His own good time and way He
will avenge us. W^e are to conquer it in others:
by the soft word which takes away anger, by the
patient endurance which disarms it, by the un-
wearying kindness which dissolves it into repen-
tance and love. Love is the great solvent; and
love is the bond of peace. Where love is, there
wrath will with difficulty live, and only that
wrath which is after all outraged love can easily
assert itself. But so long as there is wrongdoing
in the world, so long will there be a place in the
world for righteous indignation.

It is only when the world shall have been re-
made and there is no longer anything in it that
can hurt or destroy that the lion and the lamb shall
lie down together — because now the lion has
ceased to be a lion. These things are to us an
allegory. They mean that peace is the crowning
blessing of earthly life and comes in the train of


righteousness. Peace is, in the strictest sense, a
by-product and is not to be had through direct
effort. He works best for the world's peace who
works for the world's righteousness. It is only
when the world shall come to know the Lord and
obey Him, that the peace of God can settle down
upon it. We may cry, "Peace, peace," and there
be no peace. But he who cries, "Righteousness,
righteousness," will find that he has brought peace
to the earth in precisely the measure in which he
has brought righteousness. Jesus Christ is the
Prince of Peace, because He takes away sin; and
you and I are workers for peace when we preach
His Gospel, which is the Gospel of peace just be-
cause it is the Gospel of deliverance from sin. Sin
means war, and where sin is, there will war be.
Righteousness means peace, and there can never
be peace where righteousness has not first been


Matt. 5:11:— "For My Sake."

"He came to his own and his own received him
not." Though they had been for generations
under the tutelage of the law, the schoolmaster
to lead them to Christ; though the forerunner
had come to prepare the way before Him, pro-
claiming repentance to be the gate to His spiritual
kingdom; yet He found the majority of the people
inflamed by earthly hopes and passions and
wedded to their expectation of a kingdom of
flesh, in which they as kings and priests should
revel in the discomfiture of all their enemies.
Consequently we find our Lord taking an early
opportunity in His ministry, w^hen He saw the mul-
titudes before Him, to teach them the real nature
of the kingdom which He came to found. In this
aspect, the Sermon on the Mount is closely anal-
ogous to the marvellous discourse on the Bread of
Life, recorded for us in the sixth chapter of John.
In both alike our Lord found Himself in the pres-
ence of a carnal-minded crowd whose hopes were
set upon an earthly kingdom of might and worldly
glory, and who sought Him only in the hope that
through Him they might gratify their ambitious
aspirations. In both alike the purpose of the



Divine teacher is instruction and sifting, or sifting
through instruction. They knew not of what
spirit they were; He would open to them the
nature of the work He came to do, the nature of
the spiritual kingdom He came to found.

By historical necessity, the Sermon on the
Mount is, then, the proclamation of the law of
the kingdom. How beautifully it opens! Not,
as the listening crowd, hanging eagerly upon the
lips of the wondrous teacher, expected, with a
clarion call to arms, or a ringing promise of re-
ward to him who fought valiantly for Israel.
Not as we might expect, with a stinging rebuke
to their carnal hopes and a stern correction and
repression of their ungentle spirit. But gently
and winningly, wooing Ihe hearers to the higher
ideal, by depicting in the most attractively simple
language the blessedness of those in whom should
be found the marks of the true children of the
kingdom. When the Lord speaks to His chil-
dren it is not in the voice of the great and strong
wind that rends the mountain and breaks in
pieces the rocks, nor in that of the earthquake, or
of the fire, but in that still small voice or "sound
of a gentle stillness" in which He spoke to Elijah
in the mountain. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
had come and He opens His mouth and blesses
the people in the voice of a Lamb.

Look at this ninefold twisted cord of the be-
atitudes and learn what the followers of the Lamb


must be. As we look does it seem a mirror giving
us back the lines and features of our own faces?
Or rather, some strange picture of an unknown
race brought home by some traveller to a far
country — a race of almost unhuman lineaments,
so different are they from our own? Indeed,
here is the portrait of the dwellers in a far land,
even a heavenly; here we trace in living charac-
ters the outlines of those who live with God; the
citizens of His kingdom whose home and abiding
city is above, where Jesus is on the right hand of
God. They are not of lofty carriage — but "poor
in spirit"; nor are they of gay countenance —
they "mourn" rather, and "hunger and thirst"
eagerly "after the righteousness" which they lack
within themselves; they are "merciful, poor in
heart, peacemakers." Surely then, they are well-
esteemed among men! Nay, this is another of
their characteristics. They are supremely lov-
able; but men hate them. They are persecuted
for their very righteousness' sake. But they have
their reward. Blessed are they — nay, "blessed are
ye — when men shall reproach you and persecute
you and say all manner of evil against you falsely
for Christ's sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad,
for great is your reward in heaven."

The promises of Christ are not earthly but
heavenly. He promises His servants evils here
below; so true is it that "prosperity is the blessing
of the Old Testament, adversity of the New."


Yet in the midst of all this lowliness and evil,
they are blessed. As heaven is higher than earth
so high is their blessedness above any earthly
success or glory or delight. Though they see
their earthly house of this tabernacle being hter-
ally worn away, then, by afflictions oft and en-
durances many they need not faint; for even this
affliction is light in comparison with the weight

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 2 of 27)