Psalm 15A psalm of David.
“LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow-man, who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”
People ask, “Who can join your church? Can anybody join your church? Could I attend holy communion and take the bread and wine? Can any person come to the church meetings and vote about what we are going to do?” Then, ironically, “Does someone have to be perfect to join your church?”
Those are questions people think and sometimes ask. Churches are, in a sense, voluntary societies. Nobody in our town has to become a member of any church. No one will be put into prison if they don’t join, and if they do join our church that doesn’t mean that they’ll get any favouritism in the community, openings into high society . . . promotion.
We’d be very pleased if you wanted to join our congregation, but you understand that we’d expect you to be in great sympathy with the Christian faith. If you were going to join the Aberystwyth Communist party, or the local Mosque, or the Freemasons, or the Green party, or the Mormons, or the Welsh Nationalists I am sure that each of those organizations would ask you if you supported what they stood for. No one has to join any of those groups. I don’t belong to any of them but to do so I suppose I’d be given some pamphlet summarizing what were their beliefs. Then I’d be asked to sign a declaration of my agreement with their goals and aims.
It is just the same with our congregation. In prime of place, we believe in God, and so it’s inappropriate for atheists to become members of our church – though they are welcome to attend all our meetings on Sundays and Tuesdays. We will answer your questions at any time, even if you interrupted me when I was preaching I would hope to stay cool, calm and collected and reply sweetly to you, but it would be less confrontational if you were sincere about your question to talk to me afterwards.
Let me explain to you what is the substance of our faith. We believe in God, I say; we believe that he is Lord, that is, that he has sovereign power over what he has created, having made and sustained the world, and yet he is also a personal God. He is one who made us in his image and so we can speak to him, and he speaks to us through his prophets and apostles and especially through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God is Triune. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, and these three are one God. This God has provided a way of reconciliation and forgiveness for us sinners. His Son became a man and made atonement for our sins as the Lamb of God, dying for our sins. This redemption was pictured in the Old Testament by the sacrifices of animals, but in the New Testament God the Son himself, having been conceived by the virgin Mary, came into this fallen groaning world to fulfil what those goats and bullocks and pigeons had been picturing. They were in fact signs and types that pointed to him, but he became the divine Lamb, the Lamb of God, and he took away the sin not just of Israel but of the world.
So because of this all men everywhere are called upon to entrust themselves to him and to trust in what he’s done for us. You can trust the Lord Jesus. This Christ alone is able to save us and take us into the presence of God, without any works which we have done. We come to Christ as paupers and then we are made rich by the grace of God through the Lord Jesus. These are our convictions about what a Christian is: they are summed up memorably in the words of this hymn:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul I to Thy fountain fly:
Wash me Saviour, or I die. (Augustus M. Toplady)
They tell us that the very worst of people may go to heaven by trusting in Another’s righteous life and death. This is what everyone who joins our church believes. This is the heart of the gospel.
Then there is one more demand we make, and that is that your profession of faith should be believable, that there should be in you some marks of this Jesus Christ who indwells you, some new life, the life of heaven in you. We don’t ask for perfection, but if you should join our church yet go on living scandalously then we’d have to speak to you. If you didn’t change then we’d have to talk about whether it were possible for you to be a real Christian while going on living like someone who had no love for Jesus Christ. This is the theme of this psalm, but what it says is not unique even in the Old Testament.
For example, you find the prophet Isaiah speaking to a professing believer in a very similar way to David here. Isaiah tells him how he was to behave if he hoped to live for ever on the heights with God: “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil – this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress” (Isa. 33:15&16). There is the expectation of a holy life. If you have put your hand on the head of the lamb and its blood has been shed and you have been forgiven for
all your sins then the love that pardons you at that cost demands your soul, your life and your all. In other words, if Christ is prepared to pardon you then he will also change you and make you a new person. He will not save you and leave you in your sins. No holiness? Then no dwelling on the heights with God.
Again you find the psalmist in Psalm 24 answering the question as to who may stand in God’s holy place. He says, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psa. 24:3&4). Again there is this same insistence that if we’re claiming that the Messiah is our hope and salvation, that his blood is our atonement, then that faith has to be demonstrated by new lives, clean hands and a pure heart; our lives will support what we believe. It is impossible for it to be any other way. How can you say, “It took the death of God the Son to deliver me from the guilt and shame and punishment of my sins” and then . . . and then go on living in a defiant and sin-loving way? Impossible!
It is just the same in our psalm. David raises this question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (v.1). Who is allowed to enter God’s home in heaven one day? Or who would feel at home in the Jerusalem temple and its courts? In other words, what does God expect of those who say, “Abba, Father”? There is hardly a more important and relevant question we could be answering today. If you are to join our church how are you to live? The issue is not what we might expect of you, but what expectations does God have. The answer to that question ‘What may go to God’s holy hill?’ is found in Psalm 15.
I. YOUR LIFE IS TO BE A LIFE OF INTEGRITY.
The first answer is this, “He whose walk is blameless”(v.2). This man used to walk according to the course of this world by that spirit of wickedness that now works in the children of disobedience, but now he is walking with Jesus; he is walking on the narrow path that leads to life. He has turned away from the broad road that leads to destruction. He has repented; he has turned around and is heading in a wholly different way. Does one of you remember discovering you were going the wrong way up a one way street? Three lanes of traffic were all heading towards you filling the road. You pivoted 180 degrees at the first opportunity. You turned around and went another way. That is repentance. What does repentance involve? It includes feeling the pain of those you hurt. It involves walking away from such blameworthy actions as immorality and theft and drunkenness and violence and lying and blasphemies and swear-words and greed. You walk away from all of that. It means keeping on walking with Jesus, going back to him when you have wandered away, putting you hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters. It means saying to yourself, “Yes, I can do this. I have the energy for this holy walk with Christ; I have the power of the Holy Spirit. I can walk a new and holy walk through life.”
Then the second verse goes on, “he does what is righteous.” It is not that he thinks about what is righteous, or that he meditates upon it and discusses it with others and prays about it. He does what is righteous. How did David know what was righteous? By the Ten Commandments. The law of God tells us what our Creator expects of us. They are a set of instructions for the new life of righteousness. The first four commandments tell us what righteousness toward God amounts to. First, God alone has a right to our worship: we must have no gods before him. Second, human beings are the only images of God that have God’s patent on them: we must make no other images of him. Third, God has a right to our reverence: we must not abuse his name. Fourth, God has a right to our weekly celebration of his great acts in the creation and deliverance: we must not abuse his holy day. The owner’s manual tells us that God must receive these things as they come from us. If we offer them, we are doing what is righteous. If we withhold them, we deserve a penalty. Penalties for unjust acts are themselves righteous. For when we are disobedient, we have punishment coming.
The second table of the law is a recipe for being righteous to other human beings. As persons in the image of God, others have a right to our respect. They have a right to be treated fairly – to be helped after a severe earthquake, for instance. If they are our parents or governors they also have a right to our obedience (fifth commandment). Other people have a right to many additional things. For example, (sixth commandment) others have a right to life: we may not murder the unborn child has its rights. They have a right (the seventh) to loyalty and promise-keeping in marriage: we may not commit adultery. They have a right (the eighth) to keep some private property: we may not steal. They have a right (the ninth) to the truth: we may not falsely accuse them. In fact, (tenth) all our desires for God, property, and persons should be shaped by God’s law. We can now see how the second table of the law is like a set of traffic regulations. These commandments tell us the only way in which millions of people can live together in righteousness. They tell us what rights others have and what obligation we have to respect those rights.
The Bible also tells us of God’s penalties for those who act unjustly, those who trample on the rights of others. God is jealous of his own rights as God (third commandment). But he is also jealous of the rights of his children— especially people in need like widows, the orphans, and the poor. The great Old Testament prophets often exhorted the people about that. So this is the life of integrity, a blameless walk and doing what is righteous. That is where David starts with the whole lifestyle that is full of righteous deeds. Then he turns to the tongue.
2. YOUR LIPS SPEAK TRUTH FROM THE HEART.
He speaks the truth from his heart. Of course it’s your words which give the game away. They are the barometer of the state of your hearts. What you say is not merely sounds made by larynx and lips, like the cooing of a baby or the gibber of a monkey. When a woman is pleading with a man menacingly approaching her that he doesn’t hurt her then that man may not dismiss her pleas as “just sounds.” When the words of Mao Zedong caused a famine in China in the late 1950s and tens of millions of people died, nobody is China could say, “those were just the vocables of Chairman Mao.” Words can kill. “Crucify him. Release unto us Barabbas.” Think of the words of a spy, or a liar, or a seducer, or a racist, or an unfaithful wife. Think of what you have said to those who love you the most, and upon whom you depend the most. Hurtful words, angry words, lying words, impatient words, unloving words, harsh words, cruel words. Words reveal the state of our hearts. It is by our lips that we are condemned. Our lips reveal our hearts.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple interviewed a murderer. “I asked the murderer if he’d regretted what he’d done. ‘Course I do,’ he replied. ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Well, it got me in here, didn’t it ?’” (‘Second Opinion’ Spectator, 31 October 1998, p.25). That is an example of a man’s words displaying the corruption of his heart. The Christian speaks truth from his heart.
Belonging to a religious group is no substitute for knowing truth in your heart. You dress in the morning; you belt and button and hang and zip up things securely around your body. You can’t afford accidents and embarrassments during the day. Do you also remember to put on the belt of truth? Do you do this at the beginning of each day? “I will speak the truth alone today.”
David says that one mark of speaking the truth from the heart is that he “has no slander on his tongue” (v.3). The Pharisees slandered Jesus, that he was full of the power of Beelzebub. There may be a person and we have a grudge against him or her and we very subtly put the knife in. Of course we do it with a show of reluctance, and modesty, quietly and with regret, but we still slander that person. Think how in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, Iago corrupts his master Othello and sows the seeds of distrust in his wife Desdemona. Finally the Moor kills his beloved wife. Slanderous words corrupted Othello, and they corrupted Iago himself. Again think of how Jonadab sees Prince Amnon utterly infatuated with his half-sister Tamar, and his words corrupted Amnon resulting in the rape of Tamar and the eventual murder of Amnon himself by Tamar’s vengeful brother (2 Samuel 13). The whole family were corrupted by Jonadab’s tongue. Our tongues are so tiny; you could hold yours in the palm of your hand and yet the impact of that little organ is immense. It corrupts the whole person. Hitler’s tongue and his horrid lies about the Jews resulted in the cattle trucks and the concentration camps and millions of them being gassed. The tongue, James says, is “a restless evil full of deadly poison.” Cast no slur on your fellow man.
3. YOU DO YOUR NEIGHBOUR NO WRONG.
How do we know what we must not do to him? How can we be careful to do our neighbour no wrong whatsoever? That is why God has given us his Word. There he tells us how we may love him above all and love our neighbours as ourselves, doing them no wrong, but rather doing them good. But what is ‘good’? What do we do that is good? Whatever is in accordance with God’s Word in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5, 6 and 7. The word of God is the actual formula for doing our neighbour no wrong.
Let’s think of a comparison. When people get to be a certain age they may apply for a driver’s license. Most teenagers can hardly wait. Beyond the sheer fun of driving, the reason of course, is that the person who can drive is free. When you learn to drive you can zip across to the beach at Borth and drive on the sand at low tide, or you can go east 65 miles and you’re in England. You can visit somebody north in Machynlleth or south in Aberaeron. You can watch the feeding of the kites, or go to a country restaurant. You can pick up friends and take them with you. When you learn to drive, you are free. But as you learn with a driving instructor then he teaches you how to use your new freedom well. You need a set of instructions for your new life.
First, you need an owner’s manual for the car that you drive. The manufacturer may have designed the engine to run on diesel, for instance. You may personally prefer to fill the tank with petrol, but then the car won’t run. It’s wise to know things like that before taking it on the road. In general, you need to know how your car operates and how to drive it in the way designed by the manufacturer.
Second, you need to learn the Highway Code so that you can pass your driving test and get along with other drivers out on the road doing them no wrong. Laws for stopping, turning, yielding at roundabouts, and merging are instructions which allow a whole town full of people to drive at the same time. Then they do one another no harm.
The Word of God is something like instructions for new drivers. Part of it tells us how to run our own cars: You shall have no other gods before me. Do not make an image to worship. Do not swear. Keep the Sabbath. Those first four commandments (the ‘first table’ of the law) are summed up in the first great commandment: You shall love God above all. The first great commandment is a kind of owner’s manual. It tells us that we were designed by our manufacturer to run on love for him.
The other part of the Word is like the Highway Code. It’s saying don’t do any wrong to others: Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet. These last six commandments (the ‘second table’ of the law) are summed up in the second great commandment: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The law of God is a set of instructions for all of us new drivers who find ourselves in possession of a new life of liberty.
Then David specifies one particular wrong; that he “casts no slur on his fellowman” (v.3). People said that Jesus claimed he would destroy the Jerusalem Temple and on top of that, build it again in three days. He was absolutely crazy! How can you trust anything a man teaches who can say something as stupid as that? They cast a slur on him. They said that you can tell a lot about a man from his friends and his were drunkards and quisling tax collectors, two of the most despised groups in Israel. They cast aspersions on the character of our Lord. They said of the apostle Paul that “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Cors. 10:10). Some people have a presence; the whole room of people seems to be conscious of them, but the apostle Paul could slip into a room and no one know that he’d entered. When he preached he did not have the eloquence or the voice of Peter, and so his opponents demeaned him. They cast a slur on him through those dismissals. He is not worth listening to because he is unimpressive. He is not worth listening to because he has a small congregation. That is as foolish as saying that someone is not listening to because he has a large congregation. It is easy to cast a slur on someone who is saying things that contradict your opinions. Love does not do that. You would cut out your tongue rather than demean a fellow Christian. So Christians set a watch on their tongues. That is one way, perhaps one of the chief ways, we do our neighbours no wrong at all.
4. YOU HONOUR ALL WHO FEAR THE LORD, BUT DESPISE A VILE MAN.
“Who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the Lord” (v.4). It is a great failing amongst evangelical Christians. They have an extremely small circle of men whom they honour. They know so few who are outside their little creek. Their hymns are all written after the year 1990; they are not honouring Wesley, Toplady, Watts and so on. They barely ever sing their hymns. Once a man is dead then he is forgotten. They don’t read J.C.Ryle, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, or Bunyan, or John Murray, or Robert Murray M’Cheyne because they are all history. Yet those men feared God to a degree that our fear of the Lord seems like a flickering candle. They were burning and shining lights, but they are not honoured.
One of our members was so impressed with the Christian preachers of the first ten centuries of the church in the British Isles that he wrote a long
epic poem about their exploits and he published it last year (S.K.Haddad, Celtic Saints and the English Church). What was he doing? He was honouring those who feared the Lord. Others of us are involved in pro-life activity and we are very impressed with the earnestness of our Roman Catholic friends who are engaged in this endeavour. We seek to honour an older generation who kept churches open, who’ve lived blameless lives, who have raised families without much money and who always kept the Lord’s Day. They were not strengthened by the preaching they heard on Sundays, but there was some fear of the Lord there and we should have honoured those men and women more than we did. We feel guilty about that at times. During his ministry Billy Graham preached the gospel; he had a blameless loving marriage, never put his hand in the till and became rich through his fame; he lived a modest life. We honour him. Christians operate under different labels from ourselves, they are Wesleyan Methodists, or Plymouth Brethren, or Assembly of God and so on but in all those denominations are men who fear the Lord and we honour them. They are our brothers and sisters.
Yet we who honour them must also “despise a vile man” (v.4). Again we think of our Lord Jesus Christ and how he referred to the vile king of Israel at his time as, “That fox Herod” and he was a cruel man who cut the head off a man of God to please a dancing girl. What a vile man. The Pharisees heaped burdens of hundreds of rules and regulations on ordinary people and yet these hypocrites found ways of getting out of their obligation to care for their elderly parents. What vile men! Jesus called them “whitewashed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones,” and he denounced them as “a nest of vipers;” how he despised them. If the gap between vice and virtue is a razor’s edge it is certainly one here, as we honour those in authority, and older people, and love our enemies and yet despise the cruelty of vile men. Yet if we do not despise the vile can we properly honour the God-fearer? Won’t our attitude be simply vaguely bland to everyone – like those enthusiastic for the ecumenical movement?
5. YOU KEEP YOUR OATH EVEN WHEN IT HURTS. (v.4)
David is referring here to a true oath, not a personal private feeling that comes to a Christian so that he announces, “I am making an oath that I will never marry.” That is not an oath, it is an emotional spasm. Confess your folly to God and go ahead and marry that godly girl. An oath is solemn, un-private and lawful. It is possible – you do not make an oath that you will climb Everest.. It is something that is not contrary to love and mercy and humanity. It is a weighty matter – you do not cite the name of God for a trifle. You may not make an oath if you are drunk or under medication or affected by anger or fear. You may not make an oath out of pressure from thieves.
If in agreement with all of the above you do make an oath concerning such things as the ones you are leaving your money to, or the one you are marrying, or your holy commitment to serve a congregation as the preacher. Then you are under high obligation to keep such oaths. You must not profane the name of the God you have called upon. You are immutably in covenant. Your word is your bond. You are dependable. What you have promised that you will do, and you will do it even when it hurts. If it means the loss of blood then you’ll do it. You have confessed that Jesus is Lord and so you cannot say that Caesar is Lord. You are faithful unto death. The three men in Babylon chose to be cast into the burning fiery furnace rather than break their oath to the Lord. You are utterly consistent; you never amend what you have said; you never alter your loyalty to the truth.
6. YOU LEND MONEY WITHOUT USURY (v.5).
In the Old Testament it was forbidden to lend with interest to a fellow believer, but you could lend with interest to a foreigner. There are men who are known as loan sharks. They will give you a loan of a hundred pounds to buy a car stereo but you must pay it back in a week plus twenty pounds usury. You fail to do that and the usury increases to a hundred pounds every few days, and soon you are in debt a thousand pounds and the loan shark is threatening to send in his men to break your legs. If a loan shark were converted he would have to stop doing what he is doing immediately. It is impossible to be a loan shark and a Christian. You have to choose. The Bible denounces such excessive greed and theatenings. But as the Bible with its history of redemption develops then we learn that the investment of your savings for interest is not condemned.
Let me turn this verse in a positive way. Consider a church that is in serious trouble; there is a fire or a flood and the insurance does not cover all the work needing to be done. No church should keep a vast amount of money merely ‘for a rainy day.’ All our money belongs to the Lord. So the officers approach one or two wealthier members and they give the church a loan to cover the work that has to be done. We call this an ‘interest free’ loan. The Bible says it is “without usury.” You do not take advantage of the plight of a fellow Christian to make money for yourself.
7. YOU DO NOT ACCEPT A BRIBE AGAINST THE INNOCENT.
This again is in the fifth verse. You remember how we started this psalm, by asking who could live on God’s holy hill, and you were expecting me to speak about qualifications about regular personal praying, or about knocking on doors more zealously than Jehovah’s Witnesses, or preaching in the open air, or tithing. But instead of that you are being addressed about keeping oaths to your own hurt, and lending money without usury and now not accepting a bribe against the innocent. Here we have a description of high morality, and we are not ashamed of that. We have a legacy of this teaching in Wales; this ethic has enshrined itself on the statue book of our nation. There are many nations where corruption and bribery are present at every single level of society. What a difference this message believed and acted upon would make in those lands.
The picture in this text is dramatic; there is an accused person and he is on trial, but it is generally known that he’s been set up; he is innocent. Money is secretly passed around to witnesses, jury and judge so that the verdict will be ‘Guilty.’ The innocent man is condemned. You are in financial straits, your husband is desperately ill; you are in great debt and you are in danger of losing not only your car but your house too, and being separated from your children. You get a call one night with the offer of a hundred thousand pounds if you will tell a lie about the man on trial, that in fact you did not see him at a certain place and did not hear him saying certain words. You think of how much you can do with that sum of money with your husband so ill and your debt so enormous. It will take heroic faith for you to cast yourself on God who promises to provide all we need, and refuse to accept a bribe against the innocent. There is no alternative if you would live on God’s holy hill.
8. DOING THESE THINGS YOU WILL NEVER BE SHAKEN (v.5).
That is the encouraging word with which this psalm ends. We have seen a whole lot of shakin’ going on in the past year. Parliament itself has been shaken to its foundations by lies and greed. The Church of England has been shaken by the appointment of homosexual and lesbian bishops. Different plagues and epidemi
c shake the world, while many people are shaken by illness, unemployment, desertion by their partners, being hurt by serious accident and suffering loss through the deaths of members of their families. What shaking we can experience, and Christians like Job were not exempt from it, but they were not shaken to pieces so that they simply disintegrated. That is the promise in this final verse. Yes we are going to buffeted but if you build your life on these holy and righteous laws then you will never be shaken to bits. You will hold together. Your family will hold together. Your church will hold together. You will be like the man who built his life on the foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ. The floods came and the winds blew on that life but it never fell. One day there will be the greatest of all shakings, the return of Christ and the day of judgment.
Men and women, let me remind you that there was just one person in all the world whose walk was utterly blameless, who only did what was righteous, who spoke the truth from his heart and never did wrong to his neighbour, who honoured those who feared the Lord and kept his word to his Father to pay the complete price for the salvation of all those the Father had given to him. That person was the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is his keeping of these commandments that saves us. It is the righteousness that he accumulated in living this blameless life that is imputed to every one who believes – the righteousness of Christ.
Euan Murray, the Scottish prop forward and British Lion, maybe the best tight head prop in the world, did not play against France this Sunday afternoon. He was interviewed in the Guardian on Thursday. The papers are so interested in his being an evangelical Christian, a man who attends the Banner of Truth Youth Conference. The reporter said, “In finding God Murray says he has been able to change his path. He picks up a mug of dregs of tea and a glass of water and holds them out in front of him. ‘This is the tea, all dirty and horrible, this is me, yeah? That’s Jesus,’ he says, motioning to the water. ‘Pure. He’s taken that filth upon himself and before God he says, ‘Punish me for it’. He’s been punished, and look what he’s given me. That perfect goodness in the eyes of God. He’s declared me innocent.” He swills the dregs of the tea and smiles, “I’m ashamed of the things I’ve done. Of course I am. But I’m thankful I have a Saviour. He’s saved me from that lifestyle. He’s given me a new life.” The reporter’s response was to ask, “Can it be that simple?” Yes it can be. We are simple people. We deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died in our place.
That is the Christian hope and all our salvation, and all who have that hope will never be shaken, even when in a little while God will arise and shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, the dry land and all the nations, yet we who are in Christ will not be shaken as we are taken to God’s sanctuary and holy hill.
7th February 2009 GEOFF THOMAS