There is a reproach, which we have no cause to fear, but rather to glory in. It is one of the chief privileges of the Gospel—the honorable badge of our profession. But it was the "reproach" of bringing dishonor upon the name of his God, that David feared, and deprecated with most anxious, importunate prayer. The fear of this reproach is a practical principle of tender watchfulness and circumspection, and of habitual dependence upon an Almighty upholding power. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe,"—will be the constant supplication of one, that fears the Lord, and fears himself. We do not, perhaps, sufficiently consider the active malice of the enemies of the gospel, "watching for our halting;" else should we be more careful to remove all occasions of "reproach" on account of inconsistency of temper or conversation. None, therefore, that feel their own weakness, the continual apprehension of danger, the tendency of their heart to backslide from God, and to disgrace "that worthy name by which they are called," will think this prayer unseasonable or unnecessary, "Turn away my reproach which I fear."
Perhaps also the conflicting Christian may find this a suitable prayer. Sometimes Satan has succeeded in beguiling him into some worldly compliance, or weakened his confidence, by tempting him to look to himself for some warrant of acceptance (in all which suggestions he is aided and abetted by his treacherous heart): and then will this "accuser of the brethren" turn back upon him, and change himself "into an angel of light," presenting before him a black catalogue of those very falls, into which he had successfully led him. Bunyan does not fail to enumerate these "reproaches," as among the most harassing assaults of Apollyon. In his desperate conflict with Christian, he taunts him with his fall in the Slough of Despond, and every successive deviation from his path, as blotting out his warrant of present favor with the King, and blasting all hopes of reaching the celestial city. Christian does not attempt to conceal or palliate the charge. He knows it is all true, and much more besides! but he knows that this is true also, "Where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded." "The blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanses from all sin." Believers! In the heat of your conflict remember the only effective covering. "Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." Do you not hate the sins, with which you have been overtaken? Are you not earnestly longing for deliverance from their power? Then, even while the recollections of their guilt and defilement humble you before the Lord, take fresh hold of the gospel, and you shall "overcome by the blood of the Lamb." Victory must come from the cross. And the soul that is directing its eye there for pardon, strength, and consolation, may sigh out the prayer with acceptance, "Turn away my reproach which I fear."
But how deeply is the guilt of apostasy or backsliding aggravated by the acknowledgment, which all are constrained to make, "Your judgments are good!" How affecting is the Lord's admonition with us!, "What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they are gone far from Me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? O My people! what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? testify against Me. I have not caused you to serve with an offering, nor wearied you with incense." No, surely we have nothing to complain of our Master, of His work, or of His wages: but much, very much, to complain of ourselves, of our unwatchfulness, neglect, backsliding; and to humble ourselves on account of the consequent reproach upon our profession.
Never, however, let us cease to cry, that all the reproach which we fear on account of our allowed inconsistencies of profession, may, for the Church's sake, be "turned away from us." Meanwhile, "let us accept it as the punishment of our iniquity;" and, in the recollection of the goodness of the Lord's judgments, still venture to hope and look for the best things to come out of it from our gracious Lord.
"Turn away my reproach which I fear" He feared just reproach, trembling lest he should cause the enemy to blaspheme through any glaring inconsistency. We ought to fear this, and watch that we may avoid it Persecution in the form of calumny may also be prayed against, for it is a sore trial, perhaps the sorest of trials to men of sensitive minds. Many would sooner bear burning at the stake than the trial of cruel mockings. David was quick tempered, and he probably had all the greater dread of slander because it raised his anger, and he could hardly tell what he might not do under great provocation. If God turns away our eyes from falsehood, we may also expect that he will turn away falsehood from injuring our good name. We shall be kept from lies if we keep from lies.
The judgments of the wicked are bad, and we may therefore appeal from them to the judgment of God. If, however, we have so acted as to come under the just censures of men, what cause we have to fear the juster judgments of the Lord!
"For your judgments are good." Therefore he is anxious that none may speak evil of the ways of God through hearing an ill report about himself. We mourn when we are slandered; because the shame is cast rather upon our religion than ourselves. If men would be content to attribute evil to us, and go no further, we might bear it, for we are evil; but our sorrow is, that they cast a slur upon the word and character of God, who is so good, that there is none good in comparison with him. When men rail at God's government of the world, it is our duty and privilege to stand up for him, and openly to declare before him, "Your judgments are good"; and we should do the same when they assail the Bible, the gospel, the law, or the name of our Lord Jesus Christ But we must take heed that they can bring no truthful accusation against us, or our testimony will be so much wasted breath.
This prayer against reproach is a parallel to verse 31, and in general to many other of the seventh verses in the octaves, which usually imply opposition from without and a sacred satisfaction within. Observe the things which are good: "your judgments are good" (39); "you are good, and do good" (68); "good for me that I have been afflicted" (71); teach me good judgment" (66).