The proud under the rebuke of God are usually distinguished by their enmity to His people. They delight to pour upon them "reproach and contempt," with no other provocation given, than that their keeping the testimonies of God condemns their own neglect. This must, however, be counted as the cost of a decided, separate, and consistent profession. Yet it is such a portion as Moses valued above all the treasures of the world; yet it is that reproach, which our Master Himself "despised," as "reckoning it not worthy to be compared with "the joy that was set before Him." For did He bear His cross only on the way to Calvary? It was laid for every step in His path; it met Him in every form of suffering, of "reproach and contempt." Look then at Him, as taking up His daily cross in breathing the atmosphere of a world of sin, and "enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself." Mark Him consummating His course of "reproach and contempt," by suffering "outside the gate;" and can we hesitate to "go forth unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach?"
The trial, however—especially if cast upon us by those whom we have loved and valued, or by those whom we wish to love and value us—proves most severe; and the spreading our case, after David's example, before the Lord, is the only preservation from faintness, "Remove from me reproach and contempt."
Perhaps "contempt" is more hard to bear than "reproach." Even our enemies think of us so much better than we deserve, that it strikes with peculiar poignancy. Yet when the submissive prayer of deprecation is sent us; doubtless some answer—and that the right answer—will be given; and whether the "reproach" be removed, or "grace" given "sufficient" to endure it, the outcome will prove alike for the glory of God, and the prosperity of our own souls.
But let us beware of that "way of escape" in returning to the world, which the insincere are ever ready to pursue. They dare not act according to the full conviction of their consciences: they dare not confront their friends with the avowal of their full determination to form their conduct by the principles of the word of God. This is hard—this is impossible. They know not the "victory which overcomes the world", and, therefore, cannot bear the mark upon their foreheads, "These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes." Far better, however, will be the heaviest weight of "reproach and contempt," than any such endeavor to remove it from ourselves.
The desire to escape the cross convicts the heart of unfaithfulness, and makes way for tenfold difficulties in our path. Every worldly compliance against the voice of God is a step into the by-path, which deviates wider and wider from the strait and narrow way, brings discredit upon our professions, proves a stumbling-block in the way of the weak, and will cause us, if not actually to come short, at least to "seem to come short, of the promised rest."
But is the weight of the cross really "above what we are able to bear?" He who bore it for us will surely enable us to endure it for Him, and, upheld by Him, we cannot sink. It is a sweet exchange, by which the burden of sin is removed, and bound to His cross; and what remains to us is the lighter cross of "reproach and contempt,"—the badge of our discipleship. If, then, we have the testimony of our consciences, that in the midst of the persecuting world we "have kept His testimonies," here is our evidence of adoption, of our Father's special love, of the indwelling, comforting, supporting Spirit. Here, then, is our warrant of hope, that the overwhelming weight will be removed from us; and that we shall be able to testify to our Master's praise in the Churches of God, that "His yoke is easy, and His burden is light."
"Remove from me reproach and contempt." These are painful things to tender minds. David could bear them for righteousness' sake, but they were a heavy yoke, and he longed to be free from them. To be slandered, and then to be despised in consequence of the vile accusation, is a grievous affliction. No one likes to be traduced, or even to be despised. He who says, "I care nothing for my reputation," is not a wise man; for in Solomon's esteem "a good name is better than precious ointment." The best way to deal with slander is to pray about it: God will either remove it or remove the sting from it Our own attempts at clearing ourselves are usually failures: we are like the boy who wished to remove the blot from his copy, and by his bungling made it ten times worse. When we suffer from a libel it is better to pray about it than go to law over it, or even to demand an apology from the inventor, O you who are reproached, take your matters before the highest court, and leave them with the Judge of all the earth. God will rebuke your proud accuser; be you quiet, and let your advocate plead your cause.
"For I have kept your testimonies." Innocence may justly ask to be cleared from reproach. If there be truth in the charges alleged against us, what can we urge with God? If, however, we are wrongfully accused; our appeal has a locus standi in the court and cannot be refused. If through fear of reproach we forsake the divine testimony we shall deserve the coward's doom; our safety lies in sticking close to the true and to the right. God will keep those who keep his testimonies. A good conscience is the best security for a good name; reproach will not abide with those who abide with Christ, neither will contempt remain upon those who remain faithful to the ways of the Lord.
This verse stands as a parallel both in sense and position to verse 6, and it has the catchword of "testimonies," by which it chimes with verse 14.