By Edward Payson

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

It is a well known fact that the appearance of objects, and the ideas which we form of them, are very much affected by the situation in which they are placed with respect to us, and by the light in which they are seen. Objects seen at a distance, for example, appear much smaller than they really are. The same object, viewed through different mediums, will often exhibit very different appearances. A lighted candle, or a star, appears bright during the absence of the sun; but when that luminary returns, their brightness is eclipsed. Since the appearance of objects, and the ideas which we form of them, are thus affected by extraneous circumstances, it follows, that no two persons will form precisely the same ideas of any object, unless they view it in the same light, or are placed with respect to it in the same situation.

These remarks have a direct and important bearing upon our subject. No person can read the scriptures candidly and attentively, without perceiving that God and men differ, very widely, in the opinion which they entertain respecting almost every object. And in nothing do they differ more widely, than in the estimate they form of man's moral character, and of the malignity and desert of sin. Nothing can be more evident than the fact, that, in the sight of God, our sins are incomparably more numerous, aggravated and criminal, than they appear to us. He regards us as deserving of an endless punishment, while we scarcely perceive that we deserve any punishment at all. Now whence arises this difference? The remarks which have just been made will inform us. God and men view objects through a very different medium, and are placed, with respect to them, in a very different situation. God is present with every object; he views it as near and therefore sees its real magnitude. But many objects, especially those of a religious nature, are seen by us at a distance, and, of course, appear to us smaller than they really are. God sees every object in a perfectly clear light; but we see most objects dimly and indistinctly. In fine, God sees all objects just as they are; but we see them through a deceitful medium, which ignorance, prejudice and self-love place between them and us.

The Psalmist, addressing God, says, thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance, that is, our iniquities or open transgressions, and our secret sins, the sins of our hearts, are placed, as it were, full before God's face, immediately under his eye; and he sees them in the pure, clear, all-disclosing light of his own holiness and glory. Now if we would see our sins as they appear to him, that is, as they really are; if we would see their number, blackness and criminality, and the malignity and desert of every sin, we must place ourselves, as nearly as is possible, in his situation, and look at sin, as it were, through his eyes. We must place ourselves and our sins in the centre of that circle, which is irradiated by the light of his countenance; where all his infinite perfections are clearly displayed, where his awful majesty is seen, where his concentrated glories blaze, and burn, and dazzle, with insufferable brightness; and in order to this, we must, in thought, leave our dark and sinful world, where God is unseen and almost forgotten, and where, consequently, the evil of sinning against him cannot be fully perceived—and mount up to heaven, the peculiar habitation of his holiness and glory.

Let us, then, attempt this adventurous flight. Let us follow the path by which our blessed Savior ascended to heaven, and soar upward to the great capital of the universe; to the palace and the throne of its greater King. As we rise, the earth fades away from our view; now we leave worlds, and suns, and systems behind us. Now we reach the utmost limits of creation; now the last star disappears, and no ray of created light is seen. But a new light begins to dawn and brighten upon us. It is the light of heaven, which pours a flood of glory from its wide-open gates, spreading continual, meridian day, far and wide through the regions of ethereal space. Passing swiftly onward through this flood of day, the songs of heaven begin to burst upon your ears, and voices of celestial sweetness, yet loud as the sound of many waters and of mighty thunderings, are heard exclaiming, Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Blessing, and glory, and honor, and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever. A moment more, and you have passed the gates—you are in the midst of the city—you are before the eternal throne—you are in the immediate presence of God, and all his glories are blazing around you like a consuming fire. Flesh and blood cannot support it; your bodies dissolve into their original dust; but your immortal souls remain, and stand naked spirits before the great Father of spirits. Nor, in losing their tenements of clay, have they lost their powers of perception. No; they are now all eye, all ear; nor can you close the eyelids of the soul, to shut out, for a moment, the dazzling, overpowering splendors which surround you, and which appear like light condensed; like glory which may be felt. You see indeed no form or shape; and yet your whole souls perceive with intuitive clearness and certainty, the immediate, awe-inspiring presence of Jehovah. You see no countenance; and yet you feel as if a countenance of awful majesty, in which all the perfections of divinity are shown forth, were beaming upon you wherever you turn. You see no eye; and yet a piercing, heart-searching eye, an eye of omniscient purity, every glance of which goes through your souls like a flash of lightning, seems to look upon you from every point of surrounding space. You feel as if enveloped in an atmosphere, or plunged in an ocean of existence, intelligence, perfection and glory; an ocean of which your laboring minds can take in only a drop; an ocean, the depth of which you cannot fathom, and the breadth of which you can never fully explore. But while you feel utterly unable to comprehend this infinite Being, your views of him, so far as they extend, are perfectly clear and distinct. You have the most vivid perceptions, the most deeply graven impressions, of an infinite, eternal, spotless mind; in which the image of all things, past, present and to come, are most harmoniously seen, arranged in the most perfect order, and defined with the nicest accuracy; of a mind, which wills with infinite ease, but whose volitions are attended by a power omnipotent and irresistible, and which sows worlds, suns and systems through the fields of space with far more facility, than the husbandman scatters his seed upon the earth; of a mind, whence have flowed all the streams, which ever watered any part of the universe with life, intelligence, holiness, or happiness, and which is still fully overflowing and inexhaustible. You perceive also, with equal clearness and certainty, that this infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, all-creating mind is perfectly and essentially holy, a pure flame of holiness; and that, as such, he regards sin with unutterable, irreconcilable detestation and abhorrence. With a voice, which reverberates through the wide expanse of his dominions, you hear him saying, as the Sovereign and Legislator of the universe, Be ye holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy. And you see his throne surrounded, you see heaven filled by those only, who perfectly obey this command. You see thousands of thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand of angels and archangels, pure, exalted, glorious intelligences, who reflect his perfect image, burn like flames of fire with zeal for his glory, and seem to be so many concentrations of wisdom, knowledge, holiness and love; a fit retinue for the thrice holy Lord of hosts, whose holiness and all-filling glory they unceasingly proclaim.

And now, if you are willing to see your sins in their true colors; if you would rightly estimate their number, magnitude and criminality, bring them into this hallowed place, where nothing is seen but the whiteness of unsullied purity, and the splendors of uncreated glory; where the sun itself would appear a dark spot, and there, in the midst of this circle of seraphic intelligences, with the infinite God pouring all the light of his countenance around you, review your lives, contemplate your offences, and see how they appear.