PURGE ME WITH HYSSOP
Mr. J. Kemp
“Ebenezer” Chapel, Luton
March 15th, 1955
“Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions, Thou shalt purge them away.” Psalm 65, 3.
In the second verse of this Psalm the godly Psalmist has given expression to a very wonderful truth; “O Thou that hearest prayer”Â—the character and Name of God as the One that has always been known from the beginning of time as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. He gives expression also to the belief “Unto Thee shall all flesh come”, all nations. Gentiles as well as Jews, sinners of all kinds, of every race, they shall come to Him by way of the throne of grace and prove Him to be what He is revealed to beÂ—a God that heareth and answereth prayer.
But now, suddenly, the good man has that which comes as a cloud across his experience and he realises his iniquities. He says “They prevail against me.”
We have two things in this verse, firstly the cry of impotence, “Iniquities prevail against me” or, as it might be renderedÂ— “They are too strong for meÂ—I am not able to withstand themÂ— I cannot overcome them.” Then, secondly, we have the confidence of faith “As for our transgressions. Thou shalt purge them away”Â—redemption by the precious blood of Christ.
First of all, there is this cry of self-despair, as we might call it, and self-despair always goes before true confidence of faith. Until we despair of ourselves we shall never realise confidence in the omnipotence of God. Our iniquities prevail against us; they are too strong for us, but God is too strong for our sinsÂ—He is able to purge them away and grant total deliverance from them. What an unspeakable mercy this is!
You will notice that he speaks in the first place in the personal pronoun “Iniquities prevail against me.” Ah! he realised that he had enemies that were against him, in other words, the foes were the men of his own household, his enemies. They sought his destruction; they were too strong for him: they seemed to overcome him and prevail against him. He says “They are mineÂ— they are my childrenÂ—I am the parent of them, although they are my enemies.” What a wonderful paradox is the sinner, His sins are his enemies and yet he is the source of them, he gives them their being, he gives them their existence. “It is I; I am the guilty man; my enemies belong to me. In that sense, I have begotten them, and yet, if I am really a partaker of spiritual life, I know they are my enemies and I would be delivered from their power and saved from being overwhelmed and destroyed by them.”
Then notice in that second clause, after speaking of “me” he says, “Thou.” Ah! that is the precious refuge of a poor sinner who really feels that his enemies, his sins, are too strong for him.
Now the figure apparently that is before us in this expression “My enemies prevail against me” or “are too strong for me” is that of one that has usurped authority over another, a tyrant, a dictator that has taken possession and rules over the man and holds him in his grip, so to speak. I can imagine some of my hearers this morning saying, “Oh yes, that is a little bit of pulpit extravagance; we have heard that kind of thing many times before” and perhaps I am speaking to some this morning who are very respectable and decent in their lives and conduct, morally upright in every way, and they say “That does not belong to me. I am not under a tyrant. I am not under one that holds me in his power and grip.” Well, you may be like the Jews were in the days of Christ, although they were in bondage to the Roman Empire, although the flag was flying over their castles, yet they said to Christ “We were never in bondage to any man.” John 8, 33. They could not believe that they were not free menÂ—not at liberty. Strange it was that they were so blind that they could not but think themselves at liberty! So it is with sinners generally.
I want first to look at this generally. I want to notice how iniquities prevail over a sinner, and then see how this is realised by a sinner that is born of God and convinced of sin.
Notice first then the expression generally. “Iniquities prevail against me.” Let us take what we may call the habit of sinning. Sin takes many forms. It has to do with all kinds of things in our daily life, our moral character, and, if I might put it so, sin is a habit-forming thing. How difficult it is to break off a physical habit, but what about a sinful habit? We only know the power of sin when we begin to try to fight against it and overcome it. If you are floating down a quiet placid river in a boat, you glide along so smoothly; it is restful and peaceful, and you are not disturbed at all. Turn the boat round, try to row upstream against the flowing river, you soon find the difficultyÂ—you soon find the sucking back of the current of the water that impedes your progress. Is it not so with sin? Oh! the habit of sin that is in us, and that we form by continual sinning, is not easy to get rid of or break off. Why, my friends, we all have our peculiar natures, our dispositions, or weaknesses. With some it is one thing, with some it is another. There may be temper, passion, pride, petulence, all kinds of sinful infirmities of which we are the subjects, and how often we find them too hard for us! We could not conquer them, could not get rid of them, but, even supposing there is (and there is) a possibility of breaking off certain sinsÂ—what we call reformationÂ—and one no longer indulges in one’s particular sinsÂ—perhaps the sins of youthÂ—the sins of sinful pleasure and earthly pursuitÂ—they are broken off in later years. The old man looks back on the days of his youth, thinks what a fool he was in those days and says “I am a wiser man now. I have got rid of those things. I no longer desire them.” But, has he got rid of the domination of sin because he says that? No, some other sin has taken the place of the former ones; perhaps he has come into the
sin of old age, covetousness, meanness; he is a miser perhaps, or he is full of pride to think he is wiser now than he used to be. Ah!
my friends, iniquities are too hard for any man. You may lop off
some branches from a tree, but the tree remains stillÂ—the nature is there. You may cut it to the very trunk and cut it down to the ground, if you like, but there is life in the root; it will spring up again, and, in that sense, a man’s sins revive in one shape or the
other, and, though one may get rid of certain habits of sin of which they once were guilty, yet other sins have taken their place. The devil has put a new viceroy into the man’s being and the government is the same, the power of sin is the same. He is still subject to its tyranny and its reigning influence in his heart, and , only when he is brought by the Holy Ghost to a knowledge of this, or when he is humbled in the dust under the sad realisation
that sin is too hard for him, has he taken a single step towards the blessedness of the second part of my text this morning. It is no good, my friends, thinking that because sin has altered its shape or its colour in your being or in your actions that you are in a condition more acceptable to God, because you are still under the power of sin in a general way and have the root and
the nature of it in you.
“Iniquities prevail against me.” Ah! David knew this. He says “They are too hard for me.” Not that in the case of a sinner renewed by the Spirit his sins utterly prevail against him in that they conquer him absolutely and entirely for “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace”. Romans 6, 14. But Paul in the 7th Romans realised the tyranny, the bondage of sin in his members; it was too strong for him. What he would he could not do and what he would not that he
did, and he says “Now then it is no more I that do it but sin that dwelleth in me.” Romans 7, 17. “It is not I in the sense of my renewed nature. It is not I as one that possesses within me the life of God, but this sin that tyrannizes, dominates and would utterly overwhelm me if permitted.” Grace mercifully prevents its dominion, its reign and rule, from utter destruction, but, meantime, how often a child of God has to come to the footstool of
mercy and say “Lord, my iniquities are very great; oh they are so heavy; they are such a burden; they so rule over me that, with all my struggles and strivings, I find I cannot cease from sin.” Ah! it is a mercy then, sinner, if thou art brought to know this, brought to feel this before God this morning, sensible that your sins are too strong for your attempts to overcome them or subdue them. They are too great, too mighty for thee.
But there is another sense in which this is true. Take the guilt of sinÂ—not merely its power, but its guilt. There is guilt where there is sin. Everybody has guilt that is a sinner. How can this be? We have in our inmost being that which is called “conscience”. Conscience speaks; it is the monitor within us. When we sin, conscience says first “You have done wrongÂ—that is sin.” Conscience says again “You will have to account for that; you
have sinned and you have to give an account of it; you are answerable for it.” To whom? To the creature you have sinned against? Not merely, but to God. Conscience says “You have sinned; you have done wrong. It is sin against a holy, righteous God, and conscience says first “There is a judgment to come; you will be punished for it.” Now, I believe that conscience in man, unless it is presently utterly silenced by a hardened heart in sin, is always speaking like this. It tells a sinner when he does wrong; it tells him that he must give an account of it, and it tells him
he will be punished for it. Now, that brings demerit, or guilt into the conscience.
We well know how in the various religious observances in the world men have sought to get rid of guilt by all kinds of things, by penance, by self-mutilation, by climbing the stairs at St. Peter’s, Rome, and so on. They have tried to get rid of guilt, get peace of mind. because naturally their consciences accuse them and they feel that guilt is upon them.
Now, as this is so, generally speaking, in a very particular way it is so with one that is truly wrought upon by the Holy Spirit. He has guilt upon his conscience; the burden and weight of the guilt of sin bows him down, presses him down to the dust. Oh! how guilty he feels to be before a holy and a heart-searching God. He realises that his guilt is of such dimensions that he cannot get rid of itÂ—he cannot dispose of it. He cannot even forget it for long at a time. There may be a little interval when we are not particularly troubled by our sin. We go on a few days perhaps taken up with earthly thingsÂ—lawful callings and so onÂ—but more or less we are guilty in our breast before God. Ah it is too strong for us. Our praying, our confession, our repentance, though good, will not atone for it or take it away. Many of the Lord’s dear people in their early experience when they have felt this guilt have tried to get rid of it. They have sought in various ways to remove the load, the burden upon them, but in all their endeavours have failed and they have been brought to see and feel that even their prayers need praying over, their repentance needs repenting over, their tears need washing, because sin is mixed with all they do and
“The more they strive against sin’s power,
They sin and stumble but the more.”
The burden becomes intolerable. It becomes so heavy upon them that they have to fall down before God and say “Oh God, my iniquities prevail against me. My guilt of sin is so heavy I know not what to do with it. What can I do, where can I go, where can I find relief? They prevail against me.”
But, thirdly, there is another thought and that apparently is the particular thought in the text. As David has here spoken of “flesh” coming to God he suddenly realises a barrier, something between, and it is his iniquities, his sins. Ah! friends, there is nothing like sin to make a barrier between God and a sinner. It
is this great barrier of sin that has shut God out, so to speak, from the life of many a sinner here on the earth. Their sin has risen up, so to speak, to heaven, shut out the very knowledge of the being of God. (I refer to open sinners, to those who are notorious in their sin). But a child of God, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost, being brought to know something of the value of being allowed to approach to God, to get near to Him, to have some gracious opening up to his view of the goodness and mercy and love of God to the soul, his sin raises a barrier, brings him to consider some of the texts of Scripture that are so solemn, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66, 18. “Now we know that God heareth not sinners,” John 9.31, and again we have the case of Israel in the prophecy who came with their burnt offerings and oblations and God told them He hated them; “They are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them.” Isaiah 1.14. And again we have this word in Isaiah 59, 1 and 2. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” It is a wall that is impenetrable to human nature, to any power of the sinner himself, a huge brick wall of sin between him and God that has hid the face of God, hid any feeling of approach to God; it stands between them; it is a separating wall. Some of us know only too well what this is. We know only too well that there are times when we feel we cannot find God, cannot approach to God, cannot get near Him because our iniquities prevail as a barrier. They separate us from Him, but, blessed be God, they cannot separate Him from His people. Oh no, but they will separate you from Him, and bring you into such bondage and darkness of soul at times, you will feel deserted, shut out. What a solemn condition to be in! Have you known this experience, my friend, of standing alone in God’s holy presence, being brought away from everybody else and everything else, to be alone with God in your sinÂ— alone with God, a sin-hating GodÂ—alone with God in the sense, not of His gracious presence, but of His omnipresence, feeling that His eye is upon you. His flaming eyes of hatred of sin, and Divine justice with its sword raised above your head and a deserved hell sometimes feelingly before you? It is a most solemn place and yet, my friend, it is the way into the second part of the text. It is those that know something experimentally of the self-despair, of the consciousness of helplessness to overcome their own sin, who find it a daily grief and burden to them and who find sin to be their enemy. There is a difference between being in friendship with sin and separated from it in spirit. The people of God are brought to hate sin. They are brought to hate the very sin of which they are the authors or parents. They hate themselves because they are the parents of sin; they loathe themselves before God in the dust at times. They know and feel that it is their sin and theirs alone that causes all the trouble and sorrow they feel
within. Thus they are brought to this self-despair.
Now this leads on to the great and blessed word in the second part of my text this morning, “As for our transgressions” Â—the word seems to be disjointed a little bit, “As for our transgressions”Â—what about it? What can we do about it. Take your transgressions, your sins, take the iniquities of your heart, your open sins, your daily sins, the sins of life and lip and heart and so on, and then look at the multitude of them. “As for our transgressions” which we do not know what to do withÂ—cannot manage them; we cannot forget them; we cannot get rid of them; they cling to us like a filthy garment; they are upon us; we are clothed with them; we feel the loathsomeness of them”Â—do you? Do you really feel that? Have you been brought to loathe yourself before God because of your transgressions? Have you hated “the garment spotted with the flesh”, the sins of your youth, your manhood or womanhood, your old age, the sins of your home life, in your family, amongst your children, in your business, in your daily life, in the house of God, in the Church, wherever you have been, all your life long? Have you a glimpse sometimes of the mighty volume of sin and transgression of which you have been guilty before God? It is enough to crush a man is it not? It is enough to drive him to despair, to bring him to such a pitch as to say “Oh there is no hope for me. I am lost and undone for ever.” No, sinner, you are not. That is the mercy this morning from the second part of my text. You are not lost; you are not undone for ever. You are the one that is interested in the blessed fact of
which faith assured the Psalmist “As for our transgressions. Thou shalt purge them away.”
What a blessed view he must have had of the omnipotence that could purge them away! His own impotence was the dark background. His sin made it appear impossible for any escape, but he gets a glimpse of the blessed shining forth of Gospel light even in the Old Testament day of the omnipotent grace, that almighty love, that everlasting mercy of God whereby sin can be pardoned. We have redemption in the text this morning and the central truth of all real Christianity is redemption. We do not, of course, belittle the wonderful love of Christ in His lowliness. His meekness. His spotless life and so on, and we do not do away for a moment with the thought that He is a blessed pattern to His people, but, take redemption out of the history, what have we left? What is there left? That is just what modern Christianity, so-called, has done. It takes redemption out of it. Where do you hear in these days any really faithful testimony of salvation from sin by the sufferings and death of Christ? Very rarely, I fear, when we hear of that. But that is the central, glorious truth in
our text this morning, “As for our transgressions. Thou shalt purge them away.”
How can they be purged away except by sacrifice? How can they be removed except by atonement, except by a substitutionary offering for sin? There is no real knowledge of the true work of
redemption except as we lay hold of the precious word “substitution”Â—someone taking my place, standing in my room, bearing my iniquities, bearing all my transgressions, being responsible for them, acting as though He himself were the sinner. Do not misunderstand me, as though He were. The Apostle said “For He hath made Him to be sin for us.” 2 Cor. 5, 21. Sin was made over to Him, as though He Himself was responsible for it, and, consequently, in the Person of God’s Beloved Son manifest in the flesh, suffering on the cross, crucified, “bearing our sins in His Own Body on the tree,” we have the purging away of them. David, in the 51st Palm, says, “Purge me with hyssop”. Ps. 51, 7. What did he mean? Hyssop was used for sprinkling the blood in the tabernacle, in the templeÂ—dipped in the blood, to sprinkle the vessels of the sanctuary with it, so David says, “Purge me with hyssop.” “Let the precious blood of Jesus laid hold of by precious faith purge away mine inquityÂ—take away the guilt, remove the barrier between me and Thee.”
“Break down this separating wall,
That bars me from Thy love.”
How well the Church knew this! “He standeth behind our wall.” Song Sol. 2, 9. He is there; He is there in order to break down that wall, reveal Himself, come to the poor sinner with the blood of His cross, with His substitutionary sacrifice, with His finished work, and come in such a way that sin is purged, it is removed.
It refers not only to purging in a sense of cleansing or washing away, but to cover it, cover the sin, cover the transgressions. Under the old law there was the mercy seat, the “propitiatory” as it means, and there were the cherubim above that mercy seat, and in other places in the Scripture we have the same truth taught, the covering over, the hiding from view of the sins of the people of God. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32, 1. “As for our transgressions Thou shalt purge them away” David says, by the precious blood, by the covering, by the atonement, by that which hides them from the view of God Himself, but by that which casts them behind God’s back for ever no more to be rememberd.
Then again, there is something else here. There are two ways by which the purging takes effect. It is not only by the blood of Calvary’s cross, but by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” Ezek. 36, 25. Oh! the sanctification by Divine grace, how it comes at times into the poor guilty conscience and purges away the guilt, removes the sins from view, gives the sinner a sweet and blessed feeling, “I am clean; I am clean; I am washed; I am purged. All my sins are not only atoned for, but conscience itself is made clean.” That accuser, that monitor, that one that speaks about our guilt when we do wrong has nothing to say. It is cleansed. Do you know what that is, to find a conscience void of offence, having nothing to say against you? It has plenty of cause to accuse you, but conscience says “There is no charge; sin is
purged; it is put away.” The Holy Ghost applies this experimentally and the sinner now is so purged from his transgressions that he finds himself standing feelingly, just for a few moments perhaps, in the presence of God without spot or wrinkle. Christ’s righteousness again comes to view and is put upon him and now the maa that felt his iniquities were against him and his sin prevented him, can come with boldness to the throne of grace. “O Thou that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come” even this poor sinner.
And now, note the change in the pronoun. “Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions”Â—the whole church of God, everyone of them Â— not me only, but we, our trangressions.” There is a blessed joining together in one all those who are thus purged from their sins, washed in the blood of the Lamb, made whiter than snow, a glorious union of experimental purging that will not be finally and fully enjoyed till they get home to heavenly glory where all the bloodwashed throng, united together in singing the song of Moses and the Lamb shall rejoice in the truth that, although once their iniquities prevailed against them, all their transgressions have been purged awayÂ—they have been made perfect and complete through Jesus Christ and shall be eternally before the Throne without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,