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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 51

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2

Psalms 51:1-2

I. Looking at this triad of petitions, they teach us, first, how David thought of his sin. (1) Observe the reiteration of the same earnest cry in all these clauses. It is not a mere piece of Hebrew parallelism. It is much more the earnestness of a soul that cannot be content with once asking for the blessings and then passing on, but dwells upon them with repeated supplication, not because it thinks that it shall be heard for its much speaking, but because it longs for them so eagerly. (2) Notice, again, that he speaks of his evil as transgressions and as sin, using the plural and then the singular. He regards it first as being broken up into a multitude of isolated acts, and then as being all gathered into one knot, as it were, so that it is one thing. But he does not stop there. His sins are not merely a number of deeds, but they have, deep down below, a common root from which they all come, a centre in which they all inhere. And so he says, not only "Blot out my transgressions," but "Wash me from mine iniquity." (3) In all the petitions we see that the idea of his own single responsibility for the whole thing is uppermost in David's mind. It is " my transgression," it is "mine iniquity," and it is "my sin." (4) The three words which the Psalmist employs for sin give prominence to different aspects of it. Transgression is not the same as iniquity, and iniquity is not the same as sin. The word rendered "transgression" literally means rebellion, a breaking away from, and setting one's self against, lawful authority. That translated "iniquity" literally means that which is twisted, bent. The word in the original for "sin" literally means missing a mark, an aim.

II. Those petitions show us how David thinks of forgiveness. (1) The first petition conceives of the Divine dealing with sin as being the erasure of a writing, perhaps of an indictment. Our past is a blurred manuscript, full of false things and bad things. We have to spread the writing before God and ask Him to remove the stained characters from the surface that was once fair and unsoiled. (2) The second prayer, "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity," does not need any explanation, except that the word expresses the antique way of cleansing garments by treading and beating. David then here uses the familiar symbol of a robe to express the "habit" of the soul, or, as we say, the character. That robe is all splashed and stained. He cries to God to make it a robe of righteousness and a garment of purity. (3) "Cleanse me from my sin." That is the technical word for the priestly act of declaring ceremonial cleanness, the cessation of ceremonial pollution, and for the other priestly act of making, as well as declaring, clean from the stains of leprosy. With reference to both of these uses the Psalmist employs it here.

III. These petitions likewise show us whence the Psalmist draws his confidence for such a prayer. His whole hope rests upon God's own character as revealed in the endless continuance of His acts of love. And for us who have the perfect love of God perfectly expressed in His Son, that same plea is incalculably strengthened, for we can say, "According to Thy tender mercies in Thy dear Son, blot out my transgressions."

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 2nd series, p. 95.

References: Psalms 51:1-6 . R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 376. Psalms 51:1-13 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 25.

Verses 1-19

Psalms 51:0

David, in the opening of this Psalm, appeals for mercy. No penitent man ever approached God on the side of His justice. The Pharisee, indeed, appeals to righteousness; but the publican appeals for mercy.

I. "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." Mark the thoroughness of this desire. Not only must sin be blotted out, but the sinner himself must be. washed and cleansed. There must be not merely a change of state, but a change of nature. David's words all come, as it were, from the centre of his being. There is no trifling with the surface here.

II. "For I acknowledge my transgressions." Confession is a necessary basis of forgiveness. Confession is in reality a multitudinous act; it is many acts in one; it is a convergence of right judgment, right feeling, and right action.

III. In the third verse the Psalmist uses an extraordinary expression, viz., "My sin is ever before me." The point to be noted here is the distinct personal relation which every man sustains to his own sin. It is emphatically and exclusively his own.

IV. "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned," etc. The idea is that all sin is against. God. Whoever sins against man sins against God. Then how sacred are all human relations. Every blow struck against humanity is a blow struck against God.

V. Up to the twelfth verse the Psalmist confines his intercessions to subjects which relate immediately to his own spiritual condition; but in ver. 13 he includes others with himself: "Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways." Mark the connection between true personal holiness and true worldwide benevolence. This is the secret of all evangelistic movement. The work begins in personal consecration. Ver. 17 shows that all sacrifice is worthless which is not vitalised by the moral element.

Parker, Wednesday Evenings at Cavendish Chapel, p. 1.

References: Psalms 51:18 . A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 328. Psalms 51:0 A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 216; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 84; F. Thluck, Hours of Devotion, p. 25.

Verse 3

Psalms 51:3

I. If there be indeed such places as heaven and hell, if we are in real earnest our very selves to be happy or miserable, both soul and body, for ever, then certainly a light way of regarding our sins must be very dangerous. These sins of ours, which we treat as mere trifles, are the very things which our adversary the devil rejoices to see; for he knows that they provoke God, drive away His Holy Spirit, put us out of His heavenly protection, and lay us open to the craft and malice of the powers of darkness.

II. The New Testament teaches the very serious nature of our sins in the most awful way of all: by showing us Christ crucified for them. Those which we think matters of sport are in God's sight of such deep and fearful consequence, that He parted with His only-begotten Son in order to make atonement for them.

III. Thinking lightly of the past is the very way to hinder you from real improvement in time to come. The wholesome sting of conscience will be dulled and deadened in that man's mind who refuses to think much of his sins. The warning voice of God's Holy Spirit will fall on his ear faint and powerless. Not to spare one's own faults is the true, the manly, the practical way of looking at things; even if there were no express promise of Holy Scripture, one might be sure beforehand that it is the only way to improve.

IV. Through daily knowing more of yourself that is to say, more of your sins you will daily be brought nearer and nearer to Him who alone can save sinners, taught to rely altogether on Him, and made to partake more and more of the pardon and holiness which is only to be found in the Cross.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. iv., p. 144.

I. When we bid a man, after David's example, to have his sins ever before him, it is not that we mean him to dwell on his sins alone, as sometimes men do when their minds and bodies are distempered, and they wholly swallowed up with a bitter feeling of remorse. That was not David's repentance; that is not Christian repentance. He who reads his Bible humbly and continually, because he has his sins ever before him, will find his Christian care and fear soon rewarded, even in the way of present peace and consolation. He will be often withdrawn from himself to contemplate the glorious and engaging patterns which God's book will show him among God's people. He will feel by degrees as all men, by God's grace, would feel in such holy society: not less sorry for and ashamed of his sins, but more and more enabled to mix with his shame and sorrow steady resolutions of avoiding the same for the future and assured hope, through God's assistance, of becoming really and practically better.

II. Above all, you must think much and often of your sins if you would have true and solid comfort in thinking of the Cross of Christ. Those who do not know something of the misery to which they would have been left if their justly offended God had passed them over how can they ever be duly thankful for His infinite condescension and mercy in dying for them?

III. By such grave thoughts of ourselves, we keep up a continual recollection of God's presence, which to a helpless being, wanting support every moment, must be the greatest of all consolations.

IV. The remembrance of our sins and unworthiness may help us against worldly anxiety, and make us very indifferent to worldly things. So also we shall be braced to endure sorrow, knowing that it is fully deserved, and shall be continually humbled and sobered by the remembrance of what He suffered who never deserved any ill. And thus, not being high-minded, but fearing, we shall make every day's remembrance of our past sins a step towards that eternal peace in which there will be no need of watching against sin any more.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. iv., p. 152 (see also J. Keble, Sundays after Trinity, pp. 188, 200).

References: Psalms 51:3 . Bishop Alexander, Bampton Lectures, 1876, p. 71; A. C. Tait, Lessons for School Life, p. 249; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 1st series, p. 42.

Verse 4

Psalms 51:4

Modern blasphemy delights to blacken "the man after God's own heart." His was a terrible fall, terrible as well as piteous. He, so blameless in youth could he, when life had begun to set, be stained so miserably through the passions of youth? It is an intense mystery of sin that man should admit so black a spot where all around was so fair; it is an intenser mystery of God's love that He should have arrested so black a spot from spreading, and overcasting, and infecting the whole.

I. In one way the sin was irremediable. It changed David's eternal condition. David, like the blest robber, the first-fruits of the redeeming blood of Jesus, is, through those same merits, glorious with the indwelling glory of God; yet his soul, doubtless one of the highest of much-forgiven penitents, is still a soul which, by two insulated acts, broke to the uttermost God's most sacred laws of purity and of love.

II. How then was he restored? Grace had been sinned away. He was left to his natural self. He had still that strong sense of justice and hatred of the very sins by which he had fallen, which responded so quickly and so indignantly against cruelty and wrong when called out by Nathan's parable. He must have had remorse. Remorse is the fruit of the most condescending love of our God. Neglected or stifled, it is the last grace by which God would save the soul; it is the first by which God would prepare the soul which has forfeited grace to return to Him.

III. But remorse, although a first step to repentance, is not repentance. For remorse centres in a man's self. While it is mere remorse it does not turn to God. And so God, in His love, sent to David the prophet, the very sight of whom might recall to him the mercies of God in the past, His promises for the future, and the memory of those days of innocent service and bright aspirations to which the soul overtaken by sin looks back with such sorrowful yearning. The heavy stone which lay on the choked, dead heart was rolled away; the dead was alive again; the two-edged sword of God's word, judgment and mercy, had slain him to himself that he might live to God. The awakened soul burst forth in those two words, "I have sinned against the Lord." Then was remorse absorbed, transformed, spiritualised into penitent love.

IV. But this was the beginning of the renewed life of the soul, not the end. It issued in a constant longing for a recreation, a reverent fear springing from the sense of what it had deserved, an earnest craving for a more thorough cleansing from every stain or spot of sin, a thirst for the purging by the atoning blood, an unvarying sight of his forgiven sinfulness, spreading far and wide from the core of original sin, a longing to do free, noble, generous service, and all from God to God, from God's re-creating, renewing, enfreedoming, ennobling grace.

E. B. Pusey, Cambridge Lent Sermons, 1864, p. 163.

Reference: Psalms 51:4 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii., No. 86.

Verse 6

Psalms 51:6

Life is a journey, and the training of the soul by the toils and changes of its pilgrimage is expressed by the law that the character undergoes a gradual preparation, and that thai preparation is subject to an apparently sudden close.

I. What is the hindrance in the human soul to a right application of this fundamental law? The answer broadly is this: The poison of character. Pride and sensuality are the chief evils that poison character.

II. To counteract this, we need to establish the undisputed authority of truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth. The Church is the unfolding of Jesus Christ, and He is the Revealer of the Father. It is by the illumination of grace that the harmony of truth is seen, and only so; it is by the co-operation of will, assisted by the grace of God, that man can see and use what he sees.

III. To direct the soul in the path of preparation, it is needful then that that soul should be struggling to be true. This desire is cramped, is injured, by the Fall. And one of the blessed gifts of the regenerate is a more earnest revival of such desire. There are at least three forms of conspiracy against truth observable in human character: (1) hypocrisy; (2) "cant;" (3) insincerity. Truth of heart is that heavenly principle whereby each soul is guided to a blessed result, under the action of the law of life in subjection to which we prepare to meet our Redeemer and our Judge. God is truth, and God is reigning. They who " will to do His will shall know." Seek, above all, to be true, for truth is like Him; and truth is therefore the first condition of a soul's perfection.

J. Knox-Little, Manchester Sermons, p. 125.

References: Psalms 51:6 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 28; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 168; W. Hay Aitken, Newness of Life, p. 50; F. W. Farrar, In the Days of thy Youth, p. 358; F. D. Maurice, Sermons in Country Churches, p. 190. Psalms 51:7 . C. J. Evans, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 357; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1937; E. J. Hardy, Faint yet Pursuing , p. 123.Psalms 51:7-12 . R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 391.

Verse 8

Psalms 51:8

I. (1) The sin of David was ( a ) a sin against light, and ( b ) a sin without excuse. He fell with frightful injury to himself, and the effect of Samuel's unction on his head when he made him king over Israel was in this instance only to give him a tyranny over the souls of others. (2) This is its outward aspect. How is it when we look within? Still sadder, still more desperate. He never flinched from the sight of his sin. He looked upon the ghastly sight in apathy. Nathan put his case before him in the form of a parable; he touched David just on the tenderest part, that is, his unkindness and ingratitude. But David felt nothing; he was as secure in the prophet's presence as if he had been guiltless. He was as blind as Balaam when an angel stopped the way.

II. The repentance. (1) First take the signs of his humility. He suffers Nathan to accuse him of his sins, to threaten him with vengeance, to insult his wives, to condemn his infant child to death. He does not interrupt him; he does not retaliate; he does not so much as breathe an excuse or pray for pity. There is no thought of self, or fear of man, or love of praise. (2) See in after-years the fruits of his repentance, those good works and holy tempers of humility and love which gush out and stream over the heart which really repents and is converted. (3) Notice his cheerful confidence, which I venture to call the specially Christian character of his repentance. Just as there is no limit to his confession of sin, so there is none to his hope of restoration. Now we know why God acknowledged David's penitence and forgave him at the instant. In his penitence he had humility, meekness, perseverance, the sense of shame rather than the fear of pain, above all that confidence of faith which the Gospel thus describes: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible."

C. W. Furse, Sermons at Richmond, p. 154.

References: Psalms 51:8 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 861.Psalms 51:9 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 207.

Verse 10

Psalms 51:10

Three things must happen before anything can be created. The Spirit of God must move upon the face of it, the word of God must speak to it, and the blood of Christ must wash it.

I. If you wish to be God's children indeed, the Holy Spirit must work in your heart. As the Spirit moved over the face of the waters, so must the Holy Spirit move in your heart. The Holy Spirit is often compared to water, because water makes clean.

II. The Bible is the word of God. When God made the world, He spake with His mouth. Now His speech is in the Bible. In Ephesians 5:26 we read, "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" that is, the Bible.

III. And Jesus Christ, we know, must cleanse us too. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

IV. Suppose you have a clean heart, will it keep clean? Here comes the beauty of the text. It says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God;" and the next part says, "Renew it" "Renew a right spirit within me." This is what we want every day. If clean today, it will be dirty to-morrow. Therefore we must say, Renew it over and over again. "Renew a right spirit within me."

J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 229.

References: Psalms 51:10 . Spurgeon, Sermon's, vol. ix., No. 490; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 305; E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 181.

Verses 10-12

Psalms 51:10-12

I. Here is a remarkable outline of a holy character. Of these three gifts "a right spirit," "Thy Holy Spirit," a "free spirit" the central one alone is in the original spoken of as God's, the "Thy" of the last clause of the English Bible being an unnecessary supplement. The central petition stands in the middle, because the gift which it asks is the essential and fundamental one from which there flow and, as it were, diverge on the right hand and on the left the other two. God's Spirit given to a man makes the human spirit holy, and then makes it right and free. (1) As to that fundamental petition "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me," one thing to notice is that David regards himself as possessing that Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul because Saul had refused His counsel and departed from Him; and Saul's successor, trembling as he remembers the fate of the founder of the monarchy and of his vanished dynasty, prays with peculiar emphasis of meaning, "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." (2) The primary idea in the holiness which David so earnestly desires is that of separation separation for God and separation from sin. (3) "A right spirit." "A constant or firm spirit," is the Psalmist's meaning. (a) There is no stability and settled persistency of righteous purpose possible for us unless we are made strong because we lay hold on God's strength and stand firm because we are rooted in Him. ( b ) You can only get and keep purity by resistance. In such a world as this, with such hearts as ours, weakness is wickedness in the long run. "Add to your faith manly vigour." (4) A "free spirit." He who is holy because full of God's Spirit, and constant in his holiness, will likewise be free. That is the same word which is in other places translated "willing;" and the scope of the Psalmist's desire is, "Let my spirit be emancipated from sin by willing obedience."

II. Desires for holiness should become prayers. David does not merely long for certain spiritual excellencies; he goes to God for them. He has found out two things about his sin both of which make him sure that he can only be what he should be by God's help. (1) " Against Thee only have I sinned." (2) He sees in his one deed more than an isolated act: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity."

III. Observe that prayers for perfect cleansing are permitted to the lips of the greatest sinners. Knowing all his guilt, and broken and contrite in heart (crushed and ground to powder, as the words mean), utterly loathing himself, aware of all the darkness of his deserts, he yet cherishes unconquerable confidence in the pitying love of God, and believes that, in spite of all his sin, he may yet be pure as the angels of heaven ay, even holy as God is holy.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, p. 112.

References: Psalms 51:10 , Psalms 51:17 . E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 22.Psalms 51:11 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 954; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 272.

Verse 12

Psalms 51:12

I. In the first place, this text distinctly shadows out the sovereignty of the action of the Holy Ghost. For very free, so free as to be utterly untraceable and incalculable, we now know, with better teaching than David's, are the wind-like motions of the Holy Ghost. One man's experience of spiritual things is no measure for another's. No two Christians are ever cast into exactly the same mould, because He divideth to every man severally as He will, for the Spirit is free.

II. The Holy Spirit, wherever He comes, comes unmerited and unbought. You may pray for the Spirit, and He may come in answer to your prayer; but remember, He first inspired the wish which made the prayer which brought the answer.

III. He is the free Spirit because He is the great Liberator of us all. Is it too much to say that he who is under the expanding influences of the Spirit of God is free, and all besides are slaves? To the free Spirit it belongs not only to commence, but to carry on, the great work of grace within a man's soul. As the Holy Ghost is God, He must partake of that fatherly character in which, we believe, all Deity stands to His creatures; and a father's aim is always to hold up his child, and to give the strongest arm to the weakest of his offspring.

IV. Our Lord Himself has taught us to view the Holy Spirit under the emblem of water. It is the fundamental law of water that its property is always to rise towards the level of the height from whence it came. True to its type, the Holy Spirit is always ascending to the glory from which it came down to us; and as it mounts, it bears within it, heavenward, the heart that owns it.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 159.

References: Psalms 51:12 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 28; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 267; L.Wiseman, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 406. Psalms 51:12 , Psalms 51:13 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1130.

Verse 13

Psalms 51:13


It is the characteristic of the people of God that they desire the conversion of sinners unto God; they are not at least in a healthy state when this desire is not active. So far as there is backsliding, this principle may be crushed and weakened; but let there be renewed repentance, forgiveness, cleansing, the joy of God's salvation, and this principle reappears. "Sinners shall be converted unto Thee." That implies (1) that sinners are away from God; (2) that the conversion of a sinner is possible. Our distance from God is the distance of a different, a contrarious nature; it is the distance of alienation from the original constitution of man's moral nature. And as like draws to like, so do differences shrink from differences, specially contrarieties from contrarieties. So, save in the new and living way, God keeps back from sinners, and sinners shrink back from God.


Sinners are away from God. And what they need is to come back. They cannot return to God by the old way; but God has opened up a new way for the sinner's return. And now all that God wants of the sinner is simply that he come back again. Conversion as wrought by the Spirit of God is God's act; conversion as wrought within a sinner denotes His acting also. The Spirit of God is a moral agent. The work of the Spirit is set forth in this prayer: "Turn Thou us;" and the duty on the sinner's part is set forth in such commands as these: "Be converted;" "Turn ye at My reproof." There is ordinarily in conversion the following method: (1) Conviction. As a rational creature, you cannot turn till you have been convinced that you are all in the wrong and God all in the right. (2) There is compunction. "They were pricked to the heart." The effect of compunction is that the sinner cannot endure sin; compunction makes sin intolerable. (3) There is humiliation. I do not mean here the Christian grace of humility, but the soul's case when the sinner finds that he cannot save himself, and is forced to submit that another should do this great work for him, when, finding he can do nothing to deliver himself, he looks around for a friend. And that friend must be a saviour.


Sinners are away from God, and being so, can neither be holy nor happy. But sinners may be converted. For sinners of mankind there is a covenant of grace, so their conversion is a possibility. The sinner is willing to be saved, but by whom? He has heard of Christ. Yes, and he had heard of the Law before he was convinced by means of it; but now it has taken its real, effectual hold upon him. And now the Gospel is to him very much what the Law was to him. He has found the Law, and he has heard by the hearing of the ear, from his fellow-men, from Apostles and prophets, of a Saviour. But the same Spirit who has taught him his sin and misery instructs him in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And these three things he is called to attend to: the God of the covenant, the provisions of the covenant, and the Mediator of the covenant.


"Sinners shall be converted unto Thee." It is therefore not sufficient that a conversion be really a conversion; it must be a conversion unto God. The covenant of grace is made with covenant-breakers. (1) It contains this: "I will write My law in their hearts." It is implied that the law is not there, that it needs to be there, and that neither you nor any creature for you can write it there. (2) This is a covenant with ignorant creatures who have not the knowledge of God. (3) The covenant contains this: "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." God's purpose to forgive is a definite purpose. His forgivingness belongs to His nature, and is infinite. Refusal to take hold of this covenant takes either of these two forms: unwillingness to be saved by Christ or disbelief that He will save you.


The conversion of a sinner is a matter in which the gracious God takes the deepest interest. The voice of conscience is very feeble in fallen man, and the voice of depravity very loud and imperious, and it silences it. But while sinners are not objects of compassion to themselves, they are objects of compassion to God. The conversion of sinners is not accomplished by mere moral suasion; it is of Divine power, yet not so of Divine power as that there is not the use of moral suasion of counsels, motives, and means such as may operate upon rational creatures. Therefore sinners who desire conversion should be very attentive to God's appointed means of grace.

J. Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, p. 310 (five sermons).

References: Psalms 51:13-15 . R. S. Candlish, Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 408. Psalms 51:14 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 713; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 98; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 94.

Verses 16-17

Psalms 51:16-17

These words, though none were ever spoken in the world that could be so little intended to perplex any worshipping Israelite, nevertheless must have strangely clashed with some of his most cherished and familiar thoughts. "Thou delightest not in burnt-offering." Why then was it said that the Lord smelled a sweet savour when Noah brought forth the clean beasts after the Flood? And supposing that, in some sense, the heart was a better offering than the bullock or goat, must it not, according to all symbols and analogies, be a whole heart in order to be accepted?

I. The fiftieth Psalm exhibits the chosen race as summoned to answer for itself before its Divine King. It is assumed that the nation is holy, and that God has claimed it as holy by taking it into covenant with Himself. The covenant cannot be separated from sacrifice. This principle was embodied in the institution of the Passover; every part of the service testified that the Israelites were a dedicated, devoted, sacrificed nation. The animal was a dead offering; they were a living offering. The great trial or judgment then which the Lord of the land is making of His subjects has this issue: Have they acted as if this were their state, as if they were dedicated, sacrificed creatures? They had fancied Him altogether such a one as themselves, One who could be bribed as they were bribed. Here indeed was a wonderful exposition of that falsehood which was leading the Israelite astray in all the periods of his history. He supposed that God's toleration of his sins was to be purchased, and that sacrifice was the purchase-money.

II. No one could have taught his countrymen these lessons who had not learned that he needed to be judged and reformed; that he could not judge and reform himself; that the Searcher of hearts, the King of his land, was doing that work for him; that to submit frankly and freely to that process was the man's part of the covenant, was the sacrifice which God, above all others, demanded of him. And this is the link between the fiftieth and the fifty-first Psalms.

III. Here was the explanation of the strange fact that a broken heart was better than a whole one; that the maimed offering might be presented by the Israelite, who was to bring only of the firstlings of his flock. The sacrifice was a more complete, a more entire, one than David had ever yet presented. The discovery that he had nothing to present, that he was poor and worthless, was the discovery that he belonged wholly to God, that he was His, and that his sin had consisted in withdrawing from his allegiance, in choosing another condition than his true and actual one.

F. D. Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice, p. 86.

References: Psalms 51:16 , Psalms 51:17 . W. M. Punshon, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 283, and Old Testament Outlines, p. 117; C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 292.Psalms 51:16-19 . R. S. Candlish, Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 422.

Verse 17

Psalms 51:17

The difference between good and bad men in Holy Scripture may be said to consist in this: whether they have or have not "a broken and a contrite spirit;" the degrees of their acceptance with God seem to depend on this; and in consequence we! shall find in those who are most of all approved some expression that implies this temper. A broken and contrite heart alone can embrace Christ crucified; and he who is most diligent in works of evangelical righteousness will be most contrite, and therefore will most of all have faith in Christ crucified.

I. All good works which God has prepared for us to walk in bring us to know God, and to know ourselves, and consequently to a broken spirit. And the effect of a careless, thoughtless, sinful life, and indeed of every sin, is to close the eyes, so that we cannot see, and the ears, that we cannot hear.

II. It is evident that we have all great reason to fear lest God should take from us His most Holy Spirit, who dwells with the contrite. Nothing can make the heart contrite but the Holy Spirit of God. It is certain that the Holy Spirit will depart from those who reject Him; that it is He who darkens the eyes, and shuts up the ears, and hardens the heart. The very ease and indifference with which we are apt to hear, and see, and act affords us a reasonable cause for apprehension. Is not our very unconcern enough to concern us? "Blessed is he," we are told, "who feareth always."

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. vii., p. 250 (see also J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Christmas to Epiphany, p. 357).

Notice one or two of those accepted sacrifices which from time to time have been set up in our world, and which the Holy Spirit has recorded for our humiliation, our comfort, and our happiness.

I. The repentance of David was the repentance of a fallen child of God. If we can say that David's confession was the cause of his forgiveness, in a truer sense we may say David's forgiveness was the cause of his repentance. It was none other than the fountain of God's forgiving love that opened the fountain of a penitent spirit.

II. The case of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, was as dissimilar to that of David as it is possible for the manifestation of the same grace to be in two places. Manasseh was a dissolute, godless man for more than half the years of his life. David was aroused by a voice, Manasseh by an iron chain. Out of the depths he cried to God. Sorrow made him acquainted with himself; prayer made him acquainted with God.

III. The history of the Ninevites stands out with this signalising mark, that our Lord Himself adduced it as the very standard of true repentance, by which others at the last great day shall be measured and condemned. The distinguishing feature in their repentance was that it was national.

IV. Mary was saved at Jesus' feet, Peter by a look from Jesus' eye. With each God deals separately as He pleases, and as each requires. But in all sin is the parent of the sorrow, sorrow is the parent of the joy, and joy is the parent of holiness. Grace and the God of grace are the same yesterday, today, and for ever, "all in all."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 181.


I. The broken heart. This is the most emphatic term that can be employed for setting forth intense sorrow. (1) A broken heart is one which renounces all idea of merit and seeks alone for mercy. (2) A broken heart will always feel its sins to be peculiarly its own. (3) A third accompaniment of a broken heart, and one never wanting, is this: a full confession of sin. When the broken heart makes confession, it does so in the plainest language possible. (4) A broken heart mourns most over the Godward aspect of sin. This is a very crucial test. David says, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned." (5) A broken heart will never cavil with God about the deserved punishment. (6) A broken heart will mourn its general depravity. (7) A broken heart will always be as anxious for purity as for pardon. It cries not only, "Blot out my transgressions," but "Create in me a clean heart." (8) A broken heart is not a despairing heart. A broken heart does not doubt God's power to cleanse, nor does it call in question God's willingness to forgive. A despairing heart knows nothing about this. (9) A broken heart is an agonised heart.

II. A broken heart is a heart that God will never despise. We have His royal word for it. (1) Christ will never despise it, and that for a very good reason. He has suffered from it Himself. (2) He will not despise it because He broke thy heart. It would be despising His own handiwork were He to reject a contrite spirit.

A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, No. 1036.

References: Psalms 51:17 . E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. no; Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 3rd series, p. 99; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 1st series, p. 40; R. M. McCheyne, Memoir and Remains, p. 393.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 51". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/psalms-51.html.
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