The Appeal of the Upright
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in my integrity. I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slip. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart. For Your loving-kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth. I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with hypocrites. I have hated the congregation of evil-doers and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash my hands in innocence, so will I go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all Your wondrous works. Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house and the place where Your honor dwells. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men in whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in my integrity; redeem me and be merciful unto me. My foot stands in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord.
Was David, then, a self-righteous man? Did he pride himself on his own goodness? Never! In many of his other psalms we see most fully his deep humility — and even here we find words that show plainly that his trust was not in himself: "I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slip"; and again, "Redeem me and be merciful unto me." Yet we certainly do find in this psalm a kind of justifying of himself, an appeal to God that he had walked with integrity and had not been like the wicked. How are we to understand this?
He had many enemies, wicked men — enemies to God, as well as to him; and these enemies are evidently here in his mind. They had spoken much against him and had laid to his charge many things of which he was innocent. In his thoughts and prayers he appeals to God against them: "Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in my integrity. . . . Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart. For Your loving-kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth." Thus he appeals from the judgment of men — to the judgment of God. His enemies accused him falsely. He lays his cause before the Searcher of hearts.
But does he venture to make this appeal as if he were pure in God's sight and free from sin? Not so. He speaks throughout as one in need of mercy. However free he might be from those crimes of which his enemies accused him, yet he knew himself to be a sinner in the sight of God. We all are. None can approach God in any other character. Men may accuse us falsely, and we may appeal to Him who knows our hearts for our innocence. But we must still draw near to God as sinful and unworthy creatures, needing His pardoning mercy and His strengthening grace.
Yet David does venture, in all humility, to appeal to God as to three things:
his integrity or sincerity,
his forsaking the company of the wicked,
and his delight in the worship of God.
Many around him had no religion but in external forms — thus in their worship they were but pretenders, hypocrites, dissemblers with God. But David was not such. He was no hypocrite or dissembler. At least he was sincere. He could appeal to God Himself for this: "Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity."
Again, he had shunned the company of the wicked, the careless, and the false: "I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with hypocrites. I have hated the congregation of evil-doers and will not sit with the wicked." The very persons who accused him, were of this number. He had refused to join himself to them, and perhaps on that very account they were his enemies. For so it often is. But he chose rather to bear their ill-will, than to join them in their sinful life; and now he humbly prays to God not to reckon him among their number or to deal with him as with them: "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men in whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes." He had never loved the company of the ungodly — and he prays to be preserved from their fate. We too, if we would not share their condemnation, must not walk in their ways. Balaam's wish was, "Let me die the death of the righteous!" But David's was a far better wish. He would have neither the death nor the life of the wicked.
Another thing about which he humbly appeals to God is his love for His house and worship: "Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your honor dwells." This was a main point in David's character. To worship God in His temple was his greatest delight; to be shut out from doing so was his greatest sorrow.
If we at any time are kept from the house of God by sickness or any other cause, it is comforting to look back upon the great pleasure and profit we have found there in times gone by. The benefit of public worship and of the hearing of the gospel is not past when we leave the house of God. A sweet savor of prayer and of praise and of God's Word still remains in the mind, and long after we can recall such times.
It is grievous when the case is otherwise, and when he who is now cut off from the means of grace has to look back upon past neglect of them. Many a sick person thinks sadly of years gone by, when he was called continually to the house of God, but seldom or never went. He cannot go now. Such a person is unable to address God as David did: "Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house." He must come in a far different way: "Lord, forgive me for my past neglect. For Jesus Christ's sake pardon me, that I have turned away from Your worship and refused to listen to Your Word. Blot out my sin from Your book." The God of mercy and patience will hear that prayer, for Christ's sake.
Another thing to be noticed is that David does not speak of the past only, but of the future also. A self-righteous man is well satisfied with himself as he is, and makes no resolutions and puts up no prayers for the future. Not so with David. Not only had he in time past been upright and sincere and kept himself from the company of the wicked and loved the worship of God — but he would follow the same course in time to come, and that more earnestly than ever. He would not go in with dissemblers or sit with the wicked; he would still walk in his integrity. "I will wash my hands in innocence," he says, "and so will I go about Your altar, O Lord." Whatever of sin there was in him, if there was anything wrong in his life or in his habits — he would strive to cleanse himself from it, and thus to approach God with pure hands and a pure heart. He would wash his hands in innocence; that is, he would put away completely everything that was evil.
We who walk in the light of the gospel should use these words in a gospel sense. There is only one thing which can wash us clean — the blood of Jesus. Thanks be to God for that fountain which has been opened for sin and for all impurity! Let us wash and be clean; let us go to it again and again, as fresh need arises; let us never bear about with us the burden of unconfessed sin, while the blood of sprinkling is ready to be bestowed.
Yet always bearing this in mind, we may also use David's words in David's sense: "I will wash my hands in innocence" — I will strive to put away all sin. This should be our humble, earnest, prayerful resolution.
Many such resolutions are indeed made in a time of sickness. Never again will he live wickedly or carelessly — so the sick man resolves. If he has kept bad company — he will forsake it. If he has neglected the house of God — he will neglect it no more. Should God raise him up again — he will be a different man. These are good resolutions — yet too often they come to nothing, because made in a man's own strength. Never let them be made so. Let there be a true and humble looking to God for His grace. The blood of Jesus alone can take away the guilt of past sin; the Holy Spirit alone can strengthen us against sin for the future. Only he who can say, "I have trusted in the Lord," can say also with any truth, "Therefore I shall not slide." "My foot stands in an even place." By all means let the sick resolve that henceforth he will live to God; but let him make the resolution with a deep sense of his own frailty, a casting aside of all self-dependence, and an earnest and full reliance on God's promised help. Thus he will be able to say, "When I am weak — then am I strong."