Ps.119:176.---'I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.'

Again and again, in reading this long Psalm, we come upon sentences where the searching moral energy of God's law compels the Psalmist to confession of unworthiness. Yet we find it strange that the Psalm should die away in this wistful, humble cry of confession: I have gone astray like a lost sheep. We should have expected it to end, like most of the other Psalms, on a clear ringing note of confidence.

We have here the pleading of a man who is trying to tell the truth about himself, neither extenuating nor exaggerating the facts. He does not minimize what he is done. Yet neither does he make himself out to be worse than he really is. Sometimes people do that. Exaggeration is one of vices of our religious vocabulary, for we are constantly tempted to use swollen language about our souls and perhaps unconsciously to overstate things. To hear some folk talk, for example, about a person who has gone wrong, one would imagine that they had never been tempted at all. Others, again, may accuse themselves of all manner of evil in a heat of self-reproach, till, as we listen, we feel that they cannot surely be as bad as they make out. This is, no doubt, a nobler habit than the other. Still, however generous and faithful, it is apt to become unreal; and we ought to be real, honest, and accurate in speaking of ourselves to God or to our fellow-men.

In his Confessions, after telling how his mother's counsel to live pure seemed "womanish advices" which he would have blushed to obey, St. Augustine confesses, "I ran headlong with such blindness that among my equals I was ashamed of being less shameless than others when I heard theb boast of their wickedness; and I took pleasure, not only in the pleasure of the deed, but in the praise. I made myself worse than I was, that I might not be reproached; and when in anything I had not sinned as the most abandoned ones, I would say that I had done what I have not done, that I might not seem contemptible exactly in proportion as I was innocent."

There's always something impressive and convincing about a man who does not spare himself but who at the same time does not try to paint himself in a darker light than he really is. 'I have gone astray,' says the Psalmist; 'I've got myself into a wrong position, I'm in danger.' He blames nobody else for his plight, he is too honest to talk of circumstances. But then he is not content to remain where he is. 'Seek thy servant,' he adds at once, 'for I do not forget thy commandments.' Conscience tells him that he is meant to be under the orders of God instead of obeying his own impulses or following the crowd. He has still some sense of the will of God and some desire to regain the straight road.

Such is the right view to take of our faults; we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed, or to imagine that everything is lost. No one who is flippant or superficial would say, 'I have gone astray like a lost sheep. But we must not be cast down, as though we had dropped too far for recovery. The first instinct ought to be that our lives are still within reach of God. 'Seek thy servant.' When we have given way to some temptation, and failed badly, there should be an instant sense that we are out of our right place. We belong to God; we have no business to be where we are; we have landed ourselves in a false position by yielding to our lower impulses.

Perhaps most people tend to take their falts far too lightly nowadays. There is a reaction against the stress on sin which characterized the religion of the last generation in its evangelical aspect. The emphasis has shifted. Indeed, if we look farther back, one striking contrast emerges between our modern age and the period which we call the Middle Ages. On the whole, medieval folk, so far as they were religious, were preoccupied with sin and strangely indifferent to suffering. Nowadays it is the opposite. The modern conscious is extremely sensitive to pain, even sensitive to the point of sentimentalism, but as it is not nearly so alive to sin.

He was wounded for our transgressions, people remark as if it were a thing of course. To the younger generation it is only not only immoral but meaningless, because the younger generation does not believe in sin. It believes in folly and futility, meanness and blindness; and equally, that in any redemption of these things is possible it must be by our own pain. Perhaps, belief in sin is a prerogative of the old and wise and optimistic.

The average person today is not greatly cast down when he goes wrong, not moved to be thoughtful and penitent. Yet, on the other hand, some are still deeply moved, and under the surface of life today, there are still a number people who, secretly, are so crushed by the sense of their unsteadiness that they feel it is little use for them to try to be religious any longer. This desperate position may be reached either through some sharp, definite failure, or through the slow accumulation of things which has silted up like sand and covered the nobler aspirations of the past. Is the position in which one feels that one has taken such liberties with oneself in the body or in the spirit that one has departed from the living God. Then a moment of insight arrives, and in a flash the contrast between what we are and what we were meant to be stands out before our startled eyes. It is not a morbid mood, not to be pooh-poohed as an unhealthy feeling. But neither are we to yeild to it as final.

The true word for us in such a mood is the word of this old Psalmist, who plainly was facing just such an experience. Instantly he turns from his faults to God. 'Seek thy servant,' he cries, 'for I did not forget thy commandments.' It is not only that we desire to get back, but that there is One who seeks to have us back. It is everything to feel that our wistful desire to regain the right track is only the echo of God's desire to have us back. We are His sheep, His servants. That is, the meaning of life lies in our relationship to Another, not in self-gratification or self-interest; and our lingering consciousness of this is the outcome of the working of God's Spirit still within us. The saving thing is this sense that we are still wanted by Him.

As soon as one realizes that, one is on the right track; because not only does one know that one is seeking something, but one becomes aware of a much larger fact, that one is being sought by Some One else, sought, not as a dog may trace a wounded creature through the grass and lose the scent at last, but sought patiently and faithfully.

This is what Jesus came to do and comes to do---to 'go after that which is lost till He finds it.' That curious twinge of conscience, that uneasiness of mind after we have committed a fault, that sense of inward shame, that self-reproach, that restless feeling---that is God stirring us up! He will not let us go. He needs us in His service still. Life does not leave us face to face with our past, our weak, bad past. Even in that far-off age the Psalmist knew better than to imagine such a thing. And now that Jesus has come, we should know better still. There is One coming in search of us to put us back into right place in His service and fellowship. 'Seek thy servant,' is our cry when we are moved to the depths. And the answer from the heights of heaven is this: 'As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; I will seek that which is lost, and will bind up that which is broken, saith the Lord God.' Such is the promise and power of the Lord for us, in our faulty, unsteady lives, so forgetful of His orders, so easily swerving from His care and control. We give way to temptation; we fail deplorably. We are poor servants, and sometimes not servants of our Lord's will at all. But we are meant to be, and, despite all that has happened, we mean to be.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha