So contrary are the principles of God and the world! God chastens His people for their sin; the world persecutes them for their godliness. So it has been from the beginning, and will continue to the end. David had before mentioned his persecutors as many. Now he tells us, that they were, like those of David's Lord, the princes of the earth. In both cases, however, was it confessedly without cause. Had it been with cause, it would have been his shame. Now it was his glory. In the former case it would have been his own—here it was his Master's—cross.
His awe of God's word was the gracious restraint to his own spirit. And this godly fear has always marked the people of God. Witness Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, and the Jews, and the three Babylonish captives. Josiah also obtained a special mark of acceptance. For the man "that trembles at God's word," whether he be found on the throne or on the ash-heap, is the man, "to whom the Lord will look." And certainly where, as with David, the wrath of princes and the wrath of God are weighed against each other; who can doubt, but that it is better to incur the persecution of men by a decided adherence to the word of God, than the wrath of God by declining from it?
Our Savior, "knowing what was in man," had clearly fore-warned and fore-armed His disciples against these difficulties. The trial at the first onset proved too hard for them; Peter's heart stood in awe of the persecuting princes, and in a moment of temptation he disowned his Master: but when "the Spirit of power" was poured from on high, such was the holy awe, in which himself and his brethren stood of God's word, that they declared, in the face of the whole council, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you. We ought to obey God rather than men." 'I fear God,'—Colonel Gardiner used to say—'and I have nothing else to fear.'
Indeed the spirit of adoption—the Christian's distinguishing character and privilege—produces an awe of God; a dread of sinning against the tenderest Father, of grieving the dearest Friend. And this awe of God will naturally extend to His word; so that we shall be more tenderly afraid of disregarding its dictates, than the most faithful subject of breaking the law of his beloved Sovereign. There is nothing slavish or legal in this fear. It is the freedom and the holiness of the Gospel, the very soul of religion; the best preservative of our joys and privileges; and the best evidence of their scriptural character. We shall find, with David, this principle a valuable safeguard against the richest allurements, or the more powerful reproach of men, to go "beyond the word of the Lord to do less or more."
But what must be the state of that heart, where the word of the great God—the Creator and Judge of the earth—commands no reverence! Could the sinner hear a voice from heaven, addressed distinctly to himself, would he dare to reject it? Yet "we have a more sure word, whereunto we do well that we take heed;" that we receive it with silent awe, bow before it with the most unlimited subjection, and yield ourselves entirely to its holy influence. But if it does not stand infinitely higher in our estimation than all—even the best—books of man, we have no just perception of its value, nor can we expect any communication of its treasures to our hearts. The holiness of God is stamped upon its every sentence. Let us then cherish an awe of His word, "receiving it"—not as a common book, "not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God", in the true spirit of Cornelius and his company, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded you of God."
"Princes have persecuted me without a cause." Such persons ought to have known better; they should have had sympathy with one of their own rank. A man expects a fair trial at the hands of his peers. It is ignoble for any one to be prejudiced; but worst of all for noblemen to be so. If honor were banished from all other breasts it should remain in the bosom of kings, and certainly honor forbids the persecution of the innocent Princes are appointed to protect the virtuous and avenge the oppressed, and it is a shame when they themselves become the assailants of the righteous. It was a sad case when the man of God found himself attacked by the judges of the earth, for their eminent position added weight and venom to their enmity. It was well that the sufferer could truthfully assert that this persecution was "without a cause." He had not broken their laws, he had not injured them, he had not even desired to see them injured: he had not been an advocate of rebellion or anarchy, he had neither openly nor secretly opposed their power, and therefore, while this made their oppression the more inexcusable, it took away a part of its sting, and helped the brave-hearted servant of God to bear up under their oppressions.
"But my heart stands in awe of your word." He might have been overcome by awe of the princes, had it not been that a greater fear drove out the less, and he was swayed by awe of God's word. How little are crowns and scepters in the judgment of that man who perceives a more majestic royalty in the commands of his God! We are not likely to be disheartened by persecution, nor driven by it into sin, if the word of God exerts supreme power over our minds.