Prof. Kenneth McMullen preaches on Psalm 19 at RTS Charlotte. The message is entitled “Presumptuous Sins.”
Could you turn in your Bibles to the 19th Psalm, one of the psalms of David? Before we read God’s Word together, let us seek his blessing in prayer. Our heavenly Father, even as you fed the children of Israel upon the manna day by day, so feed us now on your heavenly Word as your Holy Spirit applies it and also interprets our own hearts as well. Father, we ask that you would be lifted up and glorified and we ask through Christ, our Lord, amen.
Psalm 19, beginning in verse 7:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightning the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much find gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
The Word of the Lord.
There was a time when the state of North Carolina was pretty much synonymous in people’s minds with tobacco. It may be hard for some of you who are younger to put your mind around that, that that was the case, but it truly was. Now, imagine you’re a native Tarheel—also an increasingly rare find these days, at least in Charlotte—and perhaps both of your parents smoked heavily and maybe even died of lung cancer. Perhaps your grandparents also smoked—it just was a common thing—and maybe some of them also suffered with lung cancer. But in spite of that kind of family heritage, you decide to start smoking as well at a young age. Unfiltered camels even, just to make it a worse example. I guess they still sell those, I don’t know.
Now a couple generations ago, some people might have thought, “Maybe smoking all these cigarettes is not the best thing for my health.” But amazingly, a lot of people just didn’t give it much thought. In fact, it was almost expected socially in many situations. But now you would have to be the hermit of all hermits to not understand that smoking is not good for you. There are dire warnings all over the packaging. There are endless ad campaigns telling people the obvious: it’s bad for you. And yet, I think there has been an uptick in incidents of cigarette smoking in some parts of the population, and some people still smoke a pack or more a day. That is what you might call the height of presumption. Presuming to know better than all of those doctors out there telling you that this is not a good thing, presuming that you’re going to be the person that beats the odds on cancer. But there’s another sort of presumption that is far, far more dangerous than being a heavy smoker, and we see that in this psalm this morning.
Now, as is often the case with passages in Scripture, in the Psalms in particular, it would be helpful if, in addition to the inscription that says this is a psalm of David, it had told us, “David wrote this at x point in his life.” But that is not the case. So you wonder. Was it written before the events which he reacts to in Psalm 51 of his adultery with Bathsheba? If it was written before that, he at least had some inkling at that point of his own particular weakness in regard to sin. But if it was written afterwards, it would carry the sad but knowing confession of a man whose presumptuous sins had nearly destroyed him.
We’ll be focusing on verse 13 this morning where his declarations about the law of God turn into a prayerful petition, but note first, briefly, the surrounding context of this psalm. By the way, I do think this is a unified psalm, though some critics disagree, but we’re only focusing on the last half this morning. David is extolling the glories of the law of God, his written, his explicit revelation. He does so as a redeemed child of God’s grace. He’s almost stumbling over himself to find adequate words to describe God’s law. He says it’s reviving the soul. It rejoices the heart. It is enlightening to the eyes. It is enduring. It is righteous. It is to be desired. It is sweeter than honey. And it brings great reward.
The only people that can express that kind of delight in the law of God are believers. [00:06:59]Legalists may have a odd sort of delight in the law, but it is joyless legalism. [8.2s] But even as David celebrates God’s law, he also realized, as he looks at the perfect law, his own struggles to keep it, to obey it as God would desire. And thus the heart of his prayer.
Christians Should Humbly Rely on the Lord
In verse 13, he talks about, keep me back, Lord. Let them (these presumptuous sins) not have dominion over me. In the previous verse, verse 12, he said, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” [00:07:46]One mark of the person who has tasted the grace of the Lord is a realization of the magnitude of our sin, [10.8s] as well as its deceitfulness, our deceitfulness, our ability to imagine that we are better than we really are, that we are more righteous than we think we are. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” David’s been reminded of God’s character, which is holy and God’s law, which is perfect as a reflection of God’s holiness, and his immediate recognition is that he himself is not holy, that he has failed to keep the law of God by a great measure, and that he’s so corrupted by sin that he can’t even recognize his own sins. Well-known verse in Jeremiah 17: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Our union with Christ ought to profoundly affect how we think and act day by day.There’s a phrase that I’m extremely tired of hearing. As my children would tell you, I have many phrases that I’m tired of hearing, but anyway, the one I’m thinking of this morning is that phrase “I got this.” If you’re in the habit of using that, now you’ve been warned not to use it around me. But it’s a phrase full of hubris. It’s uttered by someone who’s confident, usually overconfident, that they can handle a particular situation. If you and I are facing temptation and sin, and by our words or actions are essentially saying to God, “I got this,” we’re headed for trouble in a real big hurry.
Instead, we should begin each day like David is doing here, with an admission of our utter inadequacy to follow Christ in obedience to his law and instead cast ourselves in dependence upon his Holy Spirit. We ought to admit that we indeed are like sheep who go astray and who, given the opportunity, would fall foolishly headlong over a cliff if left to our own. But David says, “Keep back your servant.” It’s easy to pass over that phrase. David prays a redeemed child of God, an earthly king bowing before the heavenly king. And it’s a recognition also of the obedience which he owes to God. God is just and right to demand that of him. It’s also an awareness of how he stood in relation to God. If we’ve repented and believed in Christ by faith, we are now, of course, adopted heirs in the kingdom of God. Therefore, our union with Christ ought to profoundly affect how we think and act day by day. As Paul reminded the Corinthians as he was speaking to them about sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 6: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” Redemption sets us free to become bond slaves to Christ, which is the truest freedom that there is.
Presumptuous Sins Are Willful Sins
Of course, the aim of this particular verse is he’s praying for deliverance from presumptuous sins. Now, in this context, what does he mean by presumptuous sins? Well, first, the word sin itself is not there in the Hebrew, but it is so strongly implied that almost every translation agrees with how the ESV and others have included that. But presumptuous sin is sinning when we know full well it is wrong. It’s the two-year-old who’s reaching for the cookies after they’ve been told, “Don’t you do that,” even while parents are watching. Which, of course, is the worst way that we can sin and dishonor the Lord. It is willful sin unlike what he was talking about in verse 12, sins that he wasn’t even aware he was committing of the hidden kind.
Now he’s not limiting this to any particular one sin or group of sins because it really could be almost anything that is sinful before God. But I think [00:13:07]the heart of presumptuous sin has in it the violation of the first commandment where we presume to know better than God, [12.1s] or as Satan tempted Adam and Eve, “You shall be as gods.” Such presumption, sadly, of course, was on full display when David committed his lustful sin with Bathsheba, conspired to have her husband murdered, and then took her wrongly as his own wife. He knew full well what he was doing was wrong at every step of the way and still did it.
But this is a prayer for the Lord to constrain David, to prevent him from falling into future sin because he recognizes his own inability to live up to the perfect demands of the law. He also acknowledges that such sin can easily exercise dominion or dominance over his heart. If these things happen, if the Lord answers this prayer, he says, “Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” Only by the grace of God will David be able to stand and be counted blameless and innocent, and so he prays for future fidelity to the Lord both by what he speaks and what he dwells upon in his inmost being. As he’s doing that, he is casting himself upon the mercy of God and upon God’s preserving and redeeming power.
Presumptuous Sin Can Be Deadly, but We Have a Great Savior
Presumptuous sin is sin which we indulge over time. It’s not some impulsive act. It’s a sin, if you will, that we water and feed and nurture and cultivate. It’s reckless sin because it’s knowing sin. It’s temptations that we toy with. I’ve never understood people who like to keep dangerous pets. The most dangerous pet I ever had was probably a hamster, but some people keep snakes, even poisonous snakes. You had me at “snake” of any kind, but why would you keep a snake that could actually bite you and kill you with its venom? My mind can’t wrap around that kind of thinking. But sin, which we indulge presumptuously, is like a poisonous snake we keep feeding and feeding until one day it bites us, filling us with its poison, which destroys our flesh and in high enough doses can kill us.
Sin, which we indulge presumptuously, is like a poisonous snake we keep feeding and feeding until one day it bites us.Spurgeon said, “Every sin has in it the very venom of rebellion, and is full of the essential marrow of traitorous rejection of God. But there be some sins which have in them a greater development of the essential mischief of rebellion, and which wear upon their faces more of the brazen pride which defies the Most High.”
What vipers, if you will, are we keeping as pets right now? What sins are we foolishly, maybe even shamelessly, indulging? I’m not going to go through a list right now, but what are perhaps some that this very day you or I are rationalizing about why it’s OK for us to keep committing that presumptuous sin? Even in a room of seminary students, we’d be fools to think that some of us are not guilty of such sin which would bring great disgrace and shame if it was revealed openly before all. We may be hiding those poisonous sins from others for a time, but do we really think in the blindness of our presumption that God does not see, that God does not know the depths of our heart, even into the blackest corners of it?
Be reminded of what God expects of us. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul says, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” God does not say in another place, “You shall be morally decent because I am the decent. You shall be nice, for I am nice.” Of course not. He says, “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Note well presumptuous sin grows best in a soil of antinomianism. Such sin is a forsaking of the explicit commands of God in Scripture and therefore doubly damning to our souls. It’s a profound misunderstanding of both justification and sanctification that would lead us to blatantly ignore God’s will in these ways.
Presumptuous sin grows best in a soil of antinomianism.In 1 John 2, we read, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Then, of course, in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Perhaps the most frightening thing about presumptuous sins that we continue to harbor is that over time, the longer we do that, it can deaden us to temptation and sin. It can deaden us to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Just go back and look at Old Testament Israel, their continual rejection of the Lord as they chased after the idols of the nations around them. Presumptuous sin is sin, which if left unaddressed, at best will lead to unfruitful lives before the Lord and powerless as well, but at worst, could lead to wholesale unbelief.
If any of us today find ourselves toying with presumptuous sins, let us repent of those now, not later, fully confessing our pride and contempt for the Lord and his law and all the ugliness of our sin. Let us cry out to God for grace and strength to not give in to such sins again, especially in any presumptuous way. Let us instead love the Lord and obey him without any deceit in our hearts.
Isaac Watts, in a arrangement of part of Psalm 36, gave us these phrases: “While men grow bold in wicked ways, and yet a God they own, my heart within me often says, ‘Their thoughts believes there’s none.’ Their thoughts and ways at once declare, whate’er their lips profess, God hath no wrath for them to fear, nor will they seek his grace. What strange self-flatt’ry blinds their eyes! But there’s a hastening hour when they shall see with sore surprise the terrors of his power.”
May the Lord keep back his servants from presumptuous sins and not let them have dominion over us. Let us pray. Our gracious God, we ask this day that all the words of our hearts and all meditations of our minds would be acceptable before you, our rock and our redeemer, amen.