The Psalmist's determination to keep the statutes of God was strengthened by marking His judgments on those that erred from them. And thus the Lord expects us to learn at their cost. The cheerful, grateful respect to His statutes marks also a difference of character indicative of a difference of state. "His saints are in His hand, or sitting down at His feet;" His enemies are trodden down under His feet in full conquest, and disgraceful punishment. His own people He has exalted to be "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Even now "he has made them to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" and shortly will they "be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of their God;" while the ungodly are put away like dross from the precious gold. "Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord has rejected them." The same difference He makes even in chastening—upholding His own children under the scourging rod, lest they faint; but "breaking the wicked with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces."
This separation has been from the beginning; in His conduct to the first two children of men; and in His selection of Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, from the world of the ungodly, "as vessels of honor, meet for the Master's use." In after ages, He made Egypt "know, that He put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." They were His own "people, that should dwell alone," and not "be reckoned among the nations"—a people, whom He had "formed for Himself, that they should show forth His praise." And the same difference He has made ever since, between His people and the world—in their character—their way—their exercises of mind—their services—their privileges—and their prospects. At the day of judgment, the separation will be complete—final—everlasting. "'When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left; and these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal."
But mark the character—They err from God's statutes—not in their minds, through ignorance; but "in their hearts" through obstinacy. They do not say, 'Lord, we know not,' but, "We desire not the knowledge of Your ways." It is not frailty, but unbelief; not want of knowledge, but love of sin—willful, damnable. Justly, therefore, are they stamped as the wicked of the earth, and marked out as objects of the Lord's eternal frown—expectants of the "vengeance of eternal fire."
And is not this a solemn warning to those "that forget God"—that "they shall be turned into hell;" to "the proud"—that in "the day that shall burn as an oven, they shall be as stubble;"—to the worldly—that in some "night" of forgetfulness, their "souls will be required of them;"—to the "hypocrites in heart"—that they "are heaping up wrath?" Thus does the eye of faith discern through the apparent disorder of a world in ruins, the just, holy, and wise government of God. "Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." If the wicked seem to triumph, and the righteous to be trodden down under their feet, it shall not be always so. "The end" and "wages of sin is death." "The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous."
How awful, then, and almost desperate their condition! Their deceit is falsehood; "deceiving and being deceived"—perhaps given up to believe their own lie—perhaps one or another "blessing themselves in their own heart," saying, 'I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my own heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.' What, then, is our duty? Carnal selfishness says, 'Be quiet—let them alone'—that is, "Destroy them by our" indolence and unfaithfulness, "for whom Christ died." But what does Scripture, conscience, no more—what does common humanity say? "Cry aloud, spare not." Awake the sleepers—sound the alarm, "Now is the accepted time—the day of salvation!" the moment to lift up the prayer, and stretch forth the hand for plucking the brands out of the fire. Tomorrow, the door may be shut, never to be opened more.
How awful the judgment of being put away like dross! Look at Saul, when put away—going out, to harden himself in the sullen pride of despondency. Hear the fearful doom of Israel, "Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross; all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore says the Lord God—Because you are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem, as they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin into the midst of the furnaces to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in My anger and in My fury; and I will leave you there, and melt you." But how should this justice of the Lord's proceedings endear His statutes to us! It is such a sensible demonstration of His truth, bringing with it such a close conviction of sovereign mercy to ourselves—not less guilty than they! Add to this—If He were less observant of sin—less strict in its punishment as a transgression of His word—we should lose that awful display of the holiness of the word, which commends it supremely to our love, "Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it."
"You put away all the wicked of the earth like dross." He does not trifle with them, nor handle them with kid gloves. No, he judges them to be the scum of the earth, and he treats them accordingly by putting them away. He puts them away from his church, away from their honors, away from the earth, and at last away from himself. "Depart," says he, "you cursed." If even a good man feels forced to put away the evildoers from him, much more must the thrice holy God put away the wicked. They looked like precious metal, they were intimately mixed up with it, they were laid up in the same heap; but the Lord is a refiner, and every day he removes some of the wicked from among his people, either by making a shameful discovery of their hypocrisy or by consuming them from off the earth. They are put away as dross, never to be recalled. As the metal is the better for losing its alloy, so is the church the better for having the wicked removed. These wicked ones are "of the earth"—"the wicked of the earth," and they have no right to be with those who are "not of the world"; the Lord perceives them to be out of place and injurious, and therefore he puts them away, all of them, leaving none of them to deteriorate his people. The process will one day be perfected; no dross will be spared, no gold will be left impure. Where shall we be when that great work is finished? Shall we be treasured with the gold, or trodden down with the dross?
"Therefore I love your testimonies." Even the severities of the Lord excite the love of his people. If he allowed men to sin with impunity, he would not be so fully the object of our loving admiration. He is glorious in holiness because he thus rids his kingdom of rebels, and his temple of them that defile it. In these evil days, when God's punishment of sinners has become the butt of a proud scepticism, we may regard it as a mark of the true man of God that he loves the Lord none the less, but a great deal the more, because of his condign judgment of the ungodly. We greatly value those passages of Scripture which are most terrible in their denunciation of sin and sinners. We love those testimonies which foretell the overthrow of evil and the destruction of the enemies of God. A God more lenient would be a God less loving and less loved. Holy hearts love best a perfectly righteous God.