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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 51

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-19

A Penitent's Prayer

Psalms 51:1-19


We will set forth, by way of introduction, the story of David's sin and of how he was reproved by Nathan, the Prophet. We may also emphasize how David had groaned within himself for two miserable years.

1. The story of David's sin. David had become enamored with Bath-sheba, who was wife to Uriah. In this he sinned grievously. God had given him wives who should have been his full joy and satisfaction. Bath-sheba was the wife of another man and certainly lay beyond David's rightful desires.

The lustings of the flesh have slain many strong men. Samson was overcome by the godless Delilah. Solomon was enamored by many women. Well did he write, in his mature years, of the strange woman: "Hearken unto me now therefore, O, ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded."

2, The story of Nathan's reproof. We are all familiar with the way that Nathan came to David reciting the parable of "The Ewe Lamb." Nathan described two men in one city. The one was rich and the other was poor. The rich man, with many flocks and herds, spared his own flock, and slew one of the poor man's lambs and dressed it for a wayfarer, who had come to lodge with him.

When David heard the story he was angered against the rich man, and said, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die." Nathan was quick to reply, "Thou art the man." David had been blessed of the Lord. He had many wives, and much of wealth and glory, yet, he displeased the Lord in this thing; and, ordered Joab, that Uriah, the husband of Bath-sheba, should be killed in battle. Afterward David married Uriah's wife.

Christians must not think that they can sin with impunity. Grace is no excuse for excesses in sin. Saints, as well as sinners, must reap what they sow. The Lord will chasten any believer who steps outside the path of rectitude.

3. The story of David's groanings. After David had sinned he became weary with his groanings. He watered his couch with his tears. His eye was consumed with grief, and his bones waxed old with their roaring. He cried at night, but there was no voice to hear. He looked to God, but the Lord hid, as it were, His face from him.

Saddest of all was this fact, that David's sin caused the enemy to blaspheme the Name of the Lord.

We thank God that the time came when David confessed his sin, and kept silence no longer. He said, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord." Then it was that the Lord forgave him, and restored him to the sweetest of fellowship with Himself.

In after years, when David fled from Absalom, his son, there were those who threw at him to jeer, "There is no help for him in God." David felt that this rebuke was cast upon him by some who thought that all of his troubles were the result of his sin against Uriah. David, however, knew that this could not be, because he had cried unto the Lord with his voice, and the Lord had heard him out of His Holy Hill. Thus it was that David, sustained by the Lord, laid down and slept. He was not afraid of ten thousands of people who beset him round about, for his hope was in God.

"What though th' accuser roar

Of ills that I have done;

I know them well, and thousands more:

Jehovah findeth none.

His be the Victor's name

Who fought our fight alone;

Triumphant saints no honor claim;

Their conquest was His own."

I. "HAVE MERCY UPON ME" (Psalms 51:1 )

As we hear the opening statement of David's prayer, which he prayed when Nathan the Prophet came unto him, after he had sinned in the case of Bath-sheba, we are struck with the second word of his prayer. That word was "mercy." We are reminded of the man who, though a publican, beat upon his breast, and cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

Again, we are reminded of the blind man on the Jericho road, who cried, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me."

He who comes into the presence of the holy and righteous Lord, dare not come parading his own goodness, thereby, seeking justice. He must of necessity approach God, acknowledging his sins and pleading for His mercy.

How gracious is the Scripture found in 1 John 2:1 "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins." The word "propitiation," is "mercy-seat." We have a mercy-seat with the Father. Christ is that mercy-seat. How, then, dare we plead anything with God concerning our own work, or merit? If we think that we shall receive anything of the Lord on such a basis, we do err.

Grace operates on the basis of man's worthlessness, and of Christ's worth. Love is akin to grace, and both love and grace are made possible because of mercy.

In Ephesians 2:1-22 , we read of the sinner's sins how he was dead, but God, "who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,... for by grace are ye saved." God's love made possible His mercy, and mercy was established in His grace.

David then was right in his method of approach when he cried, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness."

"For the tempted, Lord, we pray;

For the souls that go astray,

Beaten back by storm and sleet.

Scorned by all they chance to meet;

On them let Thy mercy shine,

Still remember they are Thine."

II. WASH ME, PURGE ME CLEANSE ME (Psalms 51:2 ; Psalms 51:7 )

David pled God's mercy, but he did not desire to continue in his evil ways. He wanted to be washed from his iniquities, cleansed from his sin, purged from his evil ways.

1. Note the cry, "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity." David felt that his sin lay deep in his life. He cried out, "I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Sin, to David, was not a mere misstep. It was the outworking of a corrupt human nature. No marvel, then, that he cried, "Wash me throughly." He wanted the power of God to cleanse him within. There is a song we have often heard, which runs,

"Oh wash me Thou, without, within,

Or purge with fire, if that must be;

No matter how, if only sin,

Die out in me, die out in me."

It is the will of God to wash us through and through, so far as the power and effectiveness of His Blood is concerned; it is also the will of God that we should reckon ourselves dead unto sin. God would not have us slaves to sin's power, for He has said, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." He has also said, "Sin shall not have dominion over you."

2. Observe the plea, "Cleanse me from my sin."

David wanted no stigma of his sin left upon him. He wanted the very odor of his evil ways to be passed. He wanted to be purged with hyssop. He wanted a washing and a cleansing that would make him whiter than snow.

In all of this, David prayed in the will of God. Did not God say: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow"?

"Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole,

I want Thee for ever to live in my soul;

Break down every idol, cast out every foe

Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow,

Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Lord Jesus, let nothing unholy remain,

Apply Thine own Blood, and extract every stain;

To get this blest cleansing I all things forego

Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."


1. We have before us David's confession of sorrow and grief. He cried, "Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice."

How grievous must have been David's broken bones! In the 32nd Psalm, David confessed, "When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day." David admitted, that day and night God's hand was heavy upon him. He said, "My moisture is turned into the drought of summer."

Some have vainly imagined that the pleasures of sin are sweet. No greater mistake could be made. Even the wicked, in their sins, are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. The saints, however, when they sin, have a bitter cup to drink.

Do you remember how Peter cursed, and swore, and said, "I know not this Man of whom ye speak"? Do you think that the three days which followed Peter's denial, were days of pleasantness? As Peter stood at the foot of the Cross, an eyewitness of Christ's sufferings, his heart must have wept as he seemed to hear the echo of the words of his denial. When Christ was buried, Peter's sky must have been doubly dark. Truly, darkness brooded over his soul.

2. We have before us David's longing to hear joy and gladness. He had drunk deeply of the cup of his sin. He had had enough of bitterness, and of aching bones. He sought once more the joy of sins forgiven.

In Psalms 51:12 he cried, "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." The word "restore" suggests that he had once known the joy of the Lord. The truth is, David had been used to feasting his soul on the Heavenly manna. He had known what it was to bask in the sunshine of the Lord's smile. Now, he sought again that Divine presence, wherein were fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore.

IV. "CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART" (Psalms 51:10 )

Once more David is examining the cause of his sin. He realizes that the fountain from which the muddy waters of his disobedience had sprung, must have been corrupt. For this reason he cried, praying for the creation of a clean heart, and the renewing of a right spirit within him.

The Lord Jesus once said, "For, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, fornication, adulteries," etc. Then He added, All these evil things come from within, "and defile the man."

The trouble with Israel, of old, lay primarily in the fact that she had a stony heart. Therefore, she could not walk in the Lord's ways. When Christ comes again He gives the promise, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh." This is in. line with David's prayer.

When Christ was talking to Nicodemus, He spoke of the new birth. He said, "Ye must be born again." Here is a message akin to what we are now giving. David did not need the new birth. He was God's child, but he did need power that his new life might hold sway.

Have we not read of how the Holy Spirit wrote to the Ephesians, "Put off * * the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind." Have we not also read, "That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness"? If you will study these quotations in the light of David's prayer, you will see how closely the Psalmist trailed the teaching which the Holy Spirit gave a millennium of years afterward.

"Lord Jesus, Thou seest I patiently wait;

Come now, and within me a new heart create;

To those who have sought Thee Thou never saidst No

Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."


Whatever else may be said of the sinning saint, he suffers much from his sins. (We learn especially in Paul's letter to the Ephesians that all those born-again are called saints.) We are not of those who would teach that the sinning saint loses sonship, we do teach that he loses fellowship. Let us notice two things emphasized in David's prayer!

1. David prayed that he might not be cast away from his Lord's presence. We remember very well how a young woman, a teacher in one of our Southern colleges, the day in which she was saved, said unto us, "The Lord Jesus came into my heart this afternoon just as realistically as you just entered the door of this room." Then, with a plaintive voice, she added, "Oh, Mr. Neighbour, will He ever leave me?" I remember well the words of my response, "No, Miss Ruby, He will never leave you; but if you sin, He will hide His face."

There is no doubt of this one thing, sin breaks connections with God. Sin in the believer's life forces God to withhold His presence, and His smiles. If God gave His benedictions and the blessings of His face to those who disobeyed His Word, or sinned against His commands, God would only encourage us in our evil ways.

2. David prayed that the Holy Spirit might not be taken from him. The Holy Spirit of God indwells all believers, but He infills only those who acknowledge Him, bow to His will, and obey His yoke. He may be with us, and in us, without manifesting Himself to us. No truth is more solemn than this, We may grieve the Spirit, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption. David felt that he had done this very thing in his sinning.

How may we grieve the Spirit? God has told us. He says we are to put away lying, anger, stealing, corrupt communication, bitterness, wrath, clamor, evil-speaking and malice; and, grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. If you ask where did God say this, we suggest that you read Ephesians 4:25-32 and see if you do not find it there.

"I want every moment to feel

That Thy Spirit resides in my heart,

That His power is present to cleanse and to heal,

And newness of life to impart.

I want, oh, I want to attain

Some likeness, my Saviour, to Thee!

That longed-for resemblance once more to regain,

Thy comeliness put upon me!

I want to be marked for Thine own,

Thy seal on my forehead to wear;

To receive that "new name" on the mystic white stone,

Which none but Thyself can declare."

VI. "UPHOLD ME WITH THY FREE SPIRIT" (Psalms 51:12 , l.c.)

1. We wonder if David had ever felt somewhat self-confident, if he had not trusted somewhat in himself? You know we are all in danger of this very thing. We remember about the time when David sinned against God by numbering Israel. His sin certainly did not consist in the fact of mere figures. Evidently, in counting his thousands of armed men, David began to glory in himself, and perhaps, he began to trust in men more than in God. It was for this very cause that God cut down the forces under Gideon, from 32,000 to 300.

Peter became self-confident when he said, "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I." This is the place where many begin to lose fellowship. They think they can hoe their own row, paddle their own canoe, and direct their own steps, in place of abiding in God's love and trusting in His grace.

The Lord has very plainly said in effect, three things: (1) "Let no man glory in men; (1) "Let no man glory in the flesh"; (3) "Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord."

2. We are sure that David turned back to God. He said, "Uphold me with Thy free Spirit." He felt indeed, that he had no more confidence in himself. He was now lifting up his hands, the hand of his weakness, to God's hand, the hand of His might. Thus it is that when we recognize our nothingness, we are led to grasp His almightiness. When we realize our impotency, we will look away to His Omnipotency.

He who says, "I am strong," will never feel led to pray, as David prayed, "Uphold me by Thy free Spirit."


Let us recapitulate for a moment. Seven statements sum up David's prayer of contrition.

1. "Have mercy upon me."

2. Wash, cleanse, purge me.

3. Make me to hear joy and gladness.

4. Create in me a clean heart.

5. Cast me not away from Thy presence.

6. Uphold me with Thy free Spirit.

7. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness.

There are two things standing clearly before us.

1. There is deliverance even to him who sheds another's blood. How often do we hear the question, "Can a murderer be saved?" David, from every moral viewpoint, was a murderer in the case of Uriah, and yet he was delivered from the guilt of his brother's blood.

We believe that even Cain, who slew his brother, was offered a sin-offering, for that offering was crouching at his door.

The Bible plainly says, "The Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin."

2. There is the restoration of song and testimony to those who have wandered away. David said, "My tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness." He also said, "My mouth shall shew forth Thy praise."

As long as David was unclean, he could neither teach transgressors God's way, nor could he turn sinners from their sins. Now, with sins forgiven, and the Holy Spirit resting once more upon him, he could praise and teach effectually.

Both God and men demand of those who minister in the Word, cleanness of heart and of life. God has said, if a man will purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel sanctified and made meet for the Master's use. He has also said, Be ye clean, ye that bear the vessels of the Lord.

"Take me, O my Father, take me!

Take me, save me, through Thy Son;

That which Thou wouldst have me, make me

Let Thy will in me be done.

Long from Thee my footsteps straying

Thorny proved the way I trod;

Weary come I now, and praying,

Take me to Thy love, my God!

Fruitless years with grief recalling,

Humbly I confess my sin;

At Thy feet, O Father, falling,

To Thy household take me in.

Freely now to Thee I proffer

This repenting heart of mine;

Freely life and soul I offer,

Gift unworthy love like Thine."



As I opened my door one morning, I found on the steps a handbill advertising a wondrous preparation for the removal of all stains in cloth "sure to do it never known to fail." I read it, and thought of other stains more foul stains that had struck into the textures of life, and left a sorry mark upon soul and character guilty stains. Who is without some of these marks?

Oh, what effort is made to keep them out of sight cover them up washing "with nitre!" But the spots stick; they will not out. Much management may keep them out of others' sight, so that the garment of life is made to look tolerably respectable; but alas! they glare out, and bring discomfort and terror. One's very effort to conceal them often makes them the more prominent, directs attention to them.

Now what a sale might be made of some mixture that would "take out the stains of sin." What a market it would find!

Is there anything that will do it?

Yes, a fountain, and "sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains."


Yes, close at hand; always accessible.


"Without money and without price." None so poor but may wash here and be clean.

Where is it? What is it?

'The Blood of Jesus Christ, that cleanseth from all sin." Soul-stained, sin-defiled, will you try it? If you try it, you will find to your joyful satisfaction that it will just meet your need the very thing you want The voice saith, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." This is what God says.

Won't you come to that fountain? Come now, and you will sing, "Happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!"

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Psalms 51". "Living Water". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/psalms-51.html.
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