This excellent Psalm, so descriptive of the greatness and majesty, glory and excellency of God, concludes with a pathetic address to him: Search me, Oh God! Do it thoroughly: search into my actions and all their springs; into the temper of my mind and every crevice of my soul. Take full cognizance of me: examine me as an artist does his work, to see whether there be any flaw or defect in it; as a physician does the pulse or a surgeon the wounds of his patient; as a merchant his book of accounts or a shopkeeper his stock in trade. Try me, as we try gold in a balance, or by the touchstone; or as candidates for honour and preferment, to see whether their talents be equal to the station they are designed to occupy. Thus Daniel and his companions were tried before they stood in the presence of the Persian monarch. It is added: and know my heart - know my thoughts. Not that God could be ignorant of either; for he is the searcher of hearts and knows our thoughts afar off; but the meaning is, that by enlightening our understanding, awakening our conscience, by the instrumentality of his word, and the agency of his Spirit, he would make both known to us.
The petition in the text is suitable at all times, and to all conditions and characters; but especially,
(1) To young converts, who are doubtful of the truth of their convictions, the soundness of their conversion, and the sincerity of their graces.
(2) To recovered backsliders. Such was David himself.
(3) To those who are conscious of their own uprightness and integrity.
What I shall farther attempt from these words will be to shew what is implied in this request, and whence it might proceed.
1. What is implied in the request thus made by David?
1 That he had searched and tried himself. An upright spirit is a prying and inquisitive spirit, not into those mysteries which it is the glory of God to conceal, but those which are recommended to us in the Scriptures as the proper subjects of human enquiry, and which when known will contribute to our real advantage. ... A good man will bring his graces and duties to the touchstone of God's word, and impartially enquire whether his faith be that of God's elect, his hope that which purifies the heart, and makes not ashamed: in a word, whether his profession and conduct be such as will bear the test of the great day. It would be no better than solemn mockery for anyone to desire to be searched of God who never searched himself.
2 That his own searching was ineffectual, or at least not perfectly satisfactory.
3 This request implies in it a firm belief of God's omniscience. This was largely treated of in the beginning of this Psalm; and faith in it, not only excites, but gives life and vigour to every duty. Without a persuasion of it we cannot truly put up this prayer ....
1 We are liable to be mistaken. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness. And thus the Laodiceans thought themselves to be quite different persons from what they really were.
2 As we may be easily mistaken in the ideas we entertain of our state, so such mistakes are very dangerous, Those who labour under them are in a very unhappy condition in this world: for however they seek after inward rest and satisfaction, they will never attain these blessings; and amidst all their confident hopes and expectations, they have their doubts and fears, which often prove very distressing. ... There is no need for hypocrites to have a hotter place in hell than others; their former hope will be a sufficient enhancement of their punishment.
3 If God do not search us in a way of mercy, he will do it in a way of wrath, either in this world or the next. ... Even in the present life the hypocrite is often stripped of his disguise, and exposed to just contempt. But the day of judgment will certainly be a day of discovery; and there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, nor hid that shall not be known. It shall then be known who are the children of God, and who are not. And now, by the use or disuse of this petition we may pass some tolerable judgment with respect to our state. ... the language of the sincere soul will always be, Search me, oh God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts! " I have often taken the work into my own hands, and there it does not succeed: take it into thine, and there it will prosper."
From thy soft slumbers now awake,
And of thyself a survey take;
Closely examine every part,
But most of all, thy treacherous heart.
What is thy state? What is thy frame?
Art thou renewed; or still the same?
Once thou wast filthy - Art thou clean?
Which bears the rule - or grace or sin?
Art thou a captive, or set free?
In prison, or at liberty?
Or clothed, or naked, rich or poor;
At heaven's bright gate, or hell's dark door?
Thine all, oh man, thine all's at stake;
Rouse then, and strict enquiry make :
Once and again the search renew,
And beg of God to search thee too!