1.O Jehovah, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? As nothing is more common in the world than falsely to assume the name of God, or to pretend to be his people, and as a great part of men allow themselves to do this without any apprehension of the danger it involves, David, without stopping to speak to men, addresses himself to God, which he considers the better course; and he intimates, that if men assume the title of the people of God, without being so in deed and in truth, they gain nothing by their self-delusion, for God continues always like himself, and as he is faithful himself, so will he have us to keep faith with him in return. No doubt, he adopted Abraham freely, but, at the same time, he stipulated with him that he should live a holy and an upright life, and this is the general rule of the covenant which God has, from the beginning, made with his Church. The sum is, that hypocrites, who occupy a place in the temple of God, in vain pretend to be his people, for he acknowledges none as such but those who follow after justice and uprightness during the whole course of their life. David saw the temple crowded with a great multitude of men who all made a profession of the same religion, and presented themselves before God as to the outward ceremony; and, therefore, assuming the person of one wondering at the spectacle, he directs his discourse to God, who, in such a confusion and medley of characters, could easily distinguish his own people from strangers.
There is a threefold use of this doctrine. In the first place, If we really wish to be reckoned among the number of the children of God, the Holy Ghost teaches us, that we must show ourselves to be such by a holy and an upright life; for it is not enough to serve God by outward ceremonies, unless we also live uprightly, and without doing wrong to our neighbors. In the second place, As we too often see the Church of God defaced by much impurity, to prevent us from stumbling at what appears so offensive, a distinction is made between those who are permanent citizens of the Church, and strangers who are mingled among them only for a time. This is undoubtedly a warning highly necessary, in order that when the temple of God happens to be tainted by many impurities, we may not contract such disgust and chagrin as will make us withdraw from it. By impurities I understand the vices of a corrupt and polluted life. Provided religion continue pure as to doctrine and worship, we must not be so much stumbled at the faults and sins which men commit, as on that account to rend the unity of the Church. Yet the experience of all ages teaches us how dangerous a temptation it is when we behold the Church of God, which ought to be free from all polluting stains, and to shine in uncorrupted purity, cherishing in her bosom many ungodly hypocrites, or wicked persons. From this the Catharists, Novatians, and Donatists, took occasion in former times to separate themselves from the fellowship of the godly. The Anabaptists, at the present day, renew the same schisms, because it does not seem to them that a church in which vices are tolerated can be a true church. But Christ, in Matthew 25:32, justly claims it as his own peculiar office to separate the sheep from the goats; and thereby admonishes us, that we must bear with the evils which it is not in our power to correct, until all things become ripe, and the proper season of purging the Church arrive. At the same time, the faithful are here enjoined, each in his own sphere, to use their endeavors that the Church of God may be purified from the corruptions which still exist within her. And this is the third use which we should make of this doctrine. God’s sacred barn-floor will not be perfectly cleansed before the last day, when Christ at his coming will cast out the chaff; but he has already begun to do this by the doctrine of his gospel, which on this account he terms a fan. We must, therefore, by no means be indifferent about this matter; on the contrary, we ought rather to exert ourselves in good earnest, that all who profess themselves Christians may lead a holy and an unspotted life. But above all, what God here declares with respect to all the unrighteous should be deeply imprinted on our memory; namely, that he prohibits them from coming to his sanctuary, and condemns their impious presumption, in irreverently thrusting themselves into the society of the godly. David makes mention of the tabernacle, because the temple was not yet built. The meaning of his discourse, to express it in a few words, is this, that those only have access to God who are his genuine servants, and who live a holy life.