This sermon was delivered on Ash Wednesday.
The Psalmist, David, wrote, in one of the several imprecatory Psalms these words: “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies” (
These words are on my heart this Ash Wednesday morning; in particular that one phrase in verse 22: “perfect hatred;” or better yet, “complete hatred” as the English Standard Version puts the Hebrew. Let me tell you why I am thinking about “perfect hatred.”
It seems to me that we who love the Lord are in danger today. The danger that I am thinking of is not the danger of compromise with the all-too obvious sinfully sensate culture in North America. I speak of the danger of a deep, personal bitterness, a hatred if you will, towards those “who are not on my side.”
I came face to face with that bitterness in my devotions this morning. Today I am thinking, in my own heart, of my concern for our government. It seems to be sinking into socialism, which is against the very founding principles of our nation. It is most certainly far from the representative, self-governing principles of the Bible on which I believe our nation was founded. On this Ash Wednesday, I am thinking of the dark, bloody stain of abortion and the sad, soul-chilling consequences of approving that and other behaviors that God condemns. I read E.J. Young’s commentary on Psalm 139 (The Way Everlasting: A Study in Psalm 139, Banner of Truth, 1965). I read the words of David that “I hate them with perfect hatred.” I felt at once that I was feeling something that the psalmist experienced. He had contemplated the glorious omniscient and omnipresent God who knew David better than David knew himself.
David extolled the God who was always there and from whose presence no man can escape. In exploring this theme, David bursts into this enigmatic statement concerning a “perfect hatred.” I felt at once that my heart needed checking at this statement. David, of course, was so overwhelmed with the awesomeness of God that he, as a man, cannot but say, with the most vehement expressions, that he “hates” those who hate God. God’s enemies are David’s enemies. We understand this. We, too, could use a word such as “hate” in terms of those, even today, who stand against the Lord and His people. Yet we know the Bible is one. We know that Jesus told us to love our enemies. So we are left with a crisis. On the one hand we feel what David felt but we desire to follow Jesus as well. The caution of E.J. Young is well worth repeating here:
“Unless we walk with God, depending upon Him for all things, our hatred will be the wrong kind of hatred, and the wrong kind of hatred is sin” (p. 111).
This is where the Holy Spirit deposits this phrase, “perfect hatred.” A perfect hatred is an expression that is only uttered when one’s own life is presented to God for His inspection. Thus David begins and ends this Psalm with “Search me.” A perfect hatred is one in which the believer draws close to God in prayer and is lost in love and awe and wonder. This hatred is not a hatred that is vicious and seeks retribution on account of one’s personal losses. It is a “hatred” that desires earnestly that the entire earth should bow down and join in worship of this gracious God. It is a perfect hatred that so detests the opposition of God by Man that either Man will be consumed in righteous judgment or converted in gracious pardon.
As we look to our Lord Jesus who was the Lamb of God stapled with Roman iron nails to a cross of execution do we not hate! Do we not hate the sin that put him there? As we hate we hear His words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And we come to see that our deepest expression of hatred has been surpassed in an incalculable way by God’s own hatred. Indeed, it is impossible to “hate” as perfectly as God hates. But God’s hate comes, in love and grace, against His own Son rather than against Man.
We, like Rembrandt, who stood and took part in the mob’s crucifixion of Jesus in his painting, sink down to see our own image in the mob that we so hate. Our hatred is perfected by our own admission of sin. The boiling water of emotion subsides and though still steeping in our defense of God’s honor, we come to see ourselves not as one with this holy God but yet apart from Him and so we say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (
This is what Calvin said of this “perfect hatred” passage:
“We are to observe, however, that the hatred of which the Psalmist speaks is directed to the sins rather than the persons of the wicked. We are, so far as lies in us, to study peace with all men; we are to seek the good of all, and, if possible, they are to be reclaimed by kindness and good offices: only so far as they are enemies to God we must strenuously confront their resentment” (Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 139:22, Accordance Software).
These are good words for us today. What did our mothers tell us, “Hate the sin, son, but love the sinner.” It sounds so simplistic until we see that our mothers simply got it from Calvin.
I look upon those who hate my Lord and know that I have been among them. My “perfect hatred” is altogether a response to gazing upon the perfect beauty of God’s Person, not a personal resentment against those who stand against me and mine. Just the opposite. As I hated my own sin and its consequences, I now cannot imagine even knowing that man who once openly blasphemed Jesus Christ. I stand amazed at the love of God who forgave me and made me His son and put me into the ministry of the Gospel. This morning I would hate with a perfect hatred those who oppose Christ, and yet seeing Christ crucified, seeing Christ risen, seeing the sinless Christ made sin for those in sin that they might become the righteousness of God. I know that in the Gospel there is hope that those who curse Jesus today shall preach Him tomorrow. Thus perfect hatred leads to perfect love and perfect hope. Do we not need this now more than ever?
I didn’t attend an early service this morning and receive a sign of ashes. But I did find in myself a seething hatred that needed to be burned in the love of Jesus to perfect it. If I can wear that today, and not wash it off tomorrow, then this will have been a good Ash Wednesday.