Safe and quiet in his hiding-place, and behind his shield, David deprecates all attempts to disturb his peace—Depart from me, you evil-doers. He had found them to be opposed to his best interests; and he dreaded their influence in shaking his resolution for his God. Indeed such society must always hinder alike the enjoyment and the service of God. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" And can we be "agreed," and walk in fellowship with God, except we be at variance with the principles, the standard, and conduct of a world that is "enmity against Him?" Not more needful was the exhortation to the first Christians than to ourselves, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." True fellowship with God implies therefore a resolute separation from the ungodly. Secure in the hiding-place, and covered with the shield of our covenant God, let us meet their malice, and resist their enticements, with the undaunted front of "a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Not that we would indulge morose or ascetic seclusion. We are expressly enjoined to courtesy and kindness; to that wise and considerate "walk towards them that are without," which "adorns the doctrine of God our Savior," and indeed in some instances has been more powerful even than the word itself, to "win souls to Christ." But when they would tempt us to a devious or backsliding step—when our connection with them entices us to a single act of conformity to their standard, dishonorable to God, and inconsistent with our profession—then must we take a bold and unflinching stand—Depart from me, you evil-doers for I will keep the commandments of my God.
This resolution gives no countenance to the self-delusive notion of maintaining an intimate connection with professed evil-doers, for the kind purpose of recommending our religion to their acceptance—a scheme, which requires a rare degree of caution and simplicity to attempt without entangling the conscience; and which, for the most part at least, it is to be feared, is only a specious covering for the indulgence of a worldly spirit. If the men of the world are to be met, and their society invited, for the accomplishment of this benevolent intention, it must be upon the principle of the Lord's command to his prophet, "Let them return unto You: but return not You to them." The amiable desire to "please our neighbor" is limited to the single end, that it should be "for his good to edification." And whenever this end and restriction has been overlooked, it is sufficiently evident that self-gratification has been the moving principle: and that the distinctive mark of the Christian character—bearing the cross, and confessing the name of our Divine Master—has been obscured.
Sometimes, however, in the struggle of conscience, an apprehension of danger is not altogether forgotten, and the question is asked, with some trembling of spirit, "How far may I conform to the world, without endangering the loss of my religion?" But, not to speak of the insincerity and self-deception of such a question, it would be better answered by substituting another in its place, "How far may I be separate from the world, and yet be destitute of the vital principle?" Scrutinize, in every advancing step toward the world, the workings of your own heart. Suspect its reasonings. Listen to the first awakened conviction of conscience. Though it be only a whisper, or a hint, it is probably the indication of the Divine will. And never forget, that this experiment of worldly conformity, often as it has been tried, has never answered the desired end. However this compromise may have recommended ourselves, no progress has been made in recommending our Master; since His name—whether from unwatchfulness or cowardice on our part, or from the overpowering flow of the world on the other side—has probably in such society scarcely passed over our lips with any refreshment or attentiveness. Indeed, so far from commending our religion by this accommodation, we have succeeded in ingratiating ourselves in their favor, only so far as we have been content to keep it out of sight; while at the same time, our yielding conformity to their taste, and habits, and conversation, has virtually sanctioned their erroneous standard of conduct; and tended to deceive them with the self-complacent conviction, that it approaches as near to the Scriptural elevation, as is absolutely required. The final result, therefore, of this attempt to recommend the Gospel to those who have no "heart for it," is—that our own consciences have been ensnared, while they retain all their principles unaltered.
It must surely be obvious, that such a course is plainly opposed to the revealed declarations of Scripture, and bears the decisive character of unfaithfulness to our Great Master. We might also ask, whether our love to the Lord can be in fervent exercise, while we "love them that hate Him?"—whether our hatred of sin can be active and powerful, while we can find pleasure in the society of those, whose life "without God in the world," is an habitual, willful course of rebellion against Him?—whether we can have any deep or experimental sense of our own weakness, when thus venturing into temptation?—whether by unnecessary contact with the world, we can expect to "go upon hot coals," and our "feet not be burned?"—or, in fact, whether we are not forgetting the dictates of common prudence in forsaking the path of safety for a slippery, but more congenial path? Is no harm to be anticipated from a willful, self-pleasing association? Is it likely to be less dangerous to us than it was to an Apostle? or, because we conceive ourselves to have more strength, shall we use less watchfulness, and show more presumption?
But, supposing Scripture not to determine the path of duty with infallible certainty; let this line of conduct be subjected to the impartial scrutiny of our own hearts, and of the effects, whether neutral or positively detrimental, which have resulted from it to ourselves, or to the church. Have we not felt this fellowship with evil-doers to be an hindrance in keeping the commandments of our God? If it has not always ended in open conformity to their maxims; or if, contrary to our apprehensions, it does not appear to sanction their principles, yet have we realized no deadening unfavorable influence? Has the spirit of prayer sustained no injury in this atmosphere? Have we never felt the danger of imbibing their taste—the spirit of their conversation and general conduct; which, without fixing any blot upon our external profession, must insensibly estrange our best affections from God! And have we never considered the injury of this worldly association to the Gospel in weakening by an apparent want of decision "on the Lord's side," the sacred cause which we are pledged to support; and obscuring the spiritual character of the people of God as a distinct and separate people? In a providential connection with evil-doers, we go safely in the spirit of humility, watchfulness, and prayer; and this connection, felt to be a cross, is not likely to prove a snare. But does not union of spirit with them, to whom David says, with holy determination—Depart from me—and to whom David's Lord will one day say, "Depart!"—prove a want of fellowship with his spirit, and an essential unfitness for communion with the society of heaven? The children of this world can have no more real communion with the children of light, than darkness has with light. As great is the difference between the Christian and the world, as between heaven and hell—as between the sounds, "Come, you blessed," and, "Depart, you cursed." The difference, which at that solemn day will be made for eternity, must, therefore, be visibly made now. They must depart from us, or we from God. We cannot walk with them both. 'Defilement'—as Mr. Cecil remarks—'is inseparable from the world.' We cannot hold communion with God, in the spirit of the world; and, therefore, separation from the world, or separation from God, is the alternative. Which way—which company—is most congenial to our taste? Fellowship will be a component part of our heavenly happiness. Shall we not then walk on earth with those, with whom we hope to spend our eternity, that our removal hence may be a change of place only, not of company? May we have grace to listen to our Father's voice of love, "Therefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord; and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
"Depart from me, you evildoers." Those who make a conscience of their thoughts are not likely to tolerate evil company. If we fly to God from vain thoughts, much more shall we avoid vain men. Kings are all too apt to be surrounded by a class of men who flatter them, and at the same time take liberty to break the laws of God: David purged his palace of such parasites; he would not harbor them beneath his roof. No doubt they would have brought upon him an ill name; for their doings would have been imputed to him, since the acts of courtiers are generally set down as acts of the court itself; therefore the King sent them packing, bag and baggage, saying, "Depart from me." Herein he anticipated the sentence of the last great day, when the Son of David shall say, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity." We cannot thus send all evildoers out of our houses, but it may upon occasion be our bounden duty to do so. Right and reason require that we should not be pestered with incorrigible servants or discreditable lodgers. A house is all the better for being rid of liars, pilferers, lewd talkers, and slanderers. Where we can have our own choice of company, we are bound at all hazards to keep ourselves clear of doubtful associates. As soon as we have reason to believe that their character is vicious, it will be better for us to have their room than their company. Evildoers make evil counselors, and therefore we must not sit with them. Those who say unto God, "Depart from us," ought to hear the immediate echo of their words from the mouths of God's children, who should say to them, "Depart from us." We cannot eat bread with traitors, lest we be ourselves attainted of high treason.
"For I will keep the commandments of my God." Since he found it hard to keep the Lord's commandments in the company of the ungodly, he gave them their marching orders. He must keep the commandments, but he did not need to keep the company of evildoers. What a beautiful title for the Lord this verse contains! "My God." The word God only occurs in this one place throughout this lengthened psalm, and then it is attended by the personal word "my"—"my God."
"My God! how charming is the sound!
How pleasant to repeat!
Well may that heart with pleasure bound,
Where God has fixed his seat."
Because Jehovah is our God, therefore we resolve to obey him, and to chase out of our sight those who would hinder us in his service. It is a grand thing for the mind to have come to a decision, and to be steadfastly fixed in the holy determination, "I will keep the commandments of my God." God's law is our delight when the God of the law is our God.