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THIS is the first of a series of fifteen psalms assigned by their titles to David, and mostly attached to special circumstances in his life, which are said to have furnished the occasions for their composition. The school of writers which brushes aside the "titles" as unauthorized and unhistorical, and so regards itself as wholly free to assign to any psalm any date and any author that it prefers, places this among post-Captivity compositions, especially on account of Psalms 51:18, Psalms 51:19 (so Professor Cheyne, Dr. Robertson Smith, the Four Friends, and others). Those, on the contrary, who consider the "titles" to be entitled to regard and respect, even if not absolutely authoritative, find either nothing in the psalm unsuitable to David's time, or else nothing but what may well have been a subsequent addition for liturgical purposes. This is the view taken by many with respect to the last two verses. Others, however, note that the walls of Jerusalem were not built, but only in the course of being built, in David's time, and regard the whole psalm as eminently suited to the period whereto the title ascribes it (so Hengstenberg, Canon Cook, Dr. Kay, Professor Alexander, and others).
The psalm consists of an opening strophe, extending to four verses, which is an earnest prayer for mercy and forgiveness (Psalms 51:1-4); a second strophe, of eight verses, which is an entreaty for restoration and renewal (Psalms 51:5-12); a third strophe, of five verses, setting forth the return which the psalmist will make, if he is forgiven and restored (Psalms 51:13-17); and a conclusion, in two verses, praying for God's blessing on the people, and promising an ample return on their part (Psalms 51:18, Psalms 51:19).
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness. It is observable that the whole psalm is addressed to God (Elohim), and not to Jehovah (the "Lord" in Psalms 51:15 is Adonai), as though the psalmist felt himself unworthy to utter the covenant-name, and simply prostrated himself as a guilty man before his offended Maker. It is not correet to say that "loving-kindness implies a covenant" (Cheyne), since God is "good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Psalms 145:9). According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. David's first prayer is for pity; his second, to have his offences "blotted out," or "wiped out"—entirely removed from God's book (comp. Exodus 32:32; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22). He says "my transgressions," in the plural, because "his great sin did not stand alone—adultery was followed by treachery and murder" (Canon Cook).
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity. Wash me, as a fuller washes a fouled garment (πλῦνον, LXX; not υίψον), not as a man washes his skin. And cleanse me from my sin. "Transgressions," "iniquity," "sin," cover every form of moral evil, and, united together, imply the deepest guilt (comp. Psalms 51:3, Psalms 51:5, Psalms 51:9, Psalms 51:14).
For I acknowledge my transgressions (comp. Psalms 32:5, "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin"). The first step in repentance is contrition; the second, confession; the third, amendment of life. And my sin is ever before me. I bear it in mind; I do not hide it from myself. I keep it continually before my mental vision. This, too, is characteristic of true penitence. Mock penitents confess their sins, and straightway forget them. Real genuine ones find it impossible to forget.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned. Though no sins could be more directly against man than adultery and murder, yet David feels that that aspect of them shrinks away into insignificance, and is as if it were not, when they are viewed in their true and real character, as offences against the majesty of God. Every sin is mainly against God; and the better sort of men always feel this. "How can I do this great wickedness," says Joseph, when tempted by Potiphar's wife, "and sin against God?" And so David to Nathan, when he was first rebuked by him, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). And done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Clear in the eyes of the world, that is; free from all charge of harshness or injustice, when thou judgest me, and condemnest me for my sins, as thou must do.
The prayer now makes a stride in advance. It has been hitherto for the first step in justification—the wiping out of past transgressions. It is now for restoration, for a renewal of spiritual life, for a return to God's favour, and to the spiritual joy involved in it. First, however, an additional confession is made (Psalms 51:5, Psalms 51:6). Not only have I committed acts of sin (Psalms 51:1-4), but sin is thoroughly ingrained into my nature. I was conceived in it; I was brought forth in it; only the strongest remedies can cleanse me from it (Psalms 51:7). But cleansing alone is not enough. I need renewal (Psalms 51:10); I need thy Holy Spirit (Psalms 51:11); I crave, above all, the sense of a restoration to thy favour—a return to the old feelings of "joy and gladness" (Psalms 51:8), even "the joy of thy salvation" (Psalms 51:12).
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; rather, in iniquity was I brought forth. And in sin did my mother conceive me. It is doubtless true, as Professor Cheyne says, that "the Old Testament contains no theory of the origin of sin"—no formulated doctrine on the subject. But the fact of congenital depravity is stated, not only here, but also in Job 14:4; Psalms 58:3; it is also implied in Isaiah 43:27 and Hosea 6:7.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts (comp. Job 38:36). God requires not merely such purity as might be attained by the use of legal and ritual methods; but true inward purity of thought and heart, which is a very different matter. And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom; rather, do thou make me. An optative, according to Professor Cheyne. The meaning is, "As nothing will content thee but this perfect, inward purity, do thou give me into my heart its fundamental principle-wisdom, or the fear of God."
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. "Hyssop" alone could by the Levitical Law cleanse from contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:18) or from the defilement of leprosy (Le Psalms 14:4). David recognizes that his impurity is of the extremest kind, and needs the remedy which has the greatest purifying power. Legally, this was the hyssop, with its "blood of sprinkling" (Le Psalms 14:6, Psalms 14:7); spiritually, it was the blood of Christ, which was thus symbolized. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Again the word is used which corresponds to the Greek πλῦνον. "Wash me as garments are washed by the fuller" (see the comment on Psalms 51:2).
Make me to hear joy and gladness (comp. below, Psalms 51:12). On forgiveness follows naturally the sense of it, and this sense is in itself a deep satisfaction. But the psalmist seems to ask for something more. He wants not mere negative peace and rest, but the active thrilling joy which those experience who feel themselves restored to God's favour, and bask in the light of his countenance. That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. That every ache and pain may cease, and be replaced by gladness and rejoicing.
Hide thy face from my sins. Turn thyself away from them—do not so much as see them. The apostle speaks of times of ignorance, which God "winked at" (Acts 17:30). And blot out all mine iniquities (comp. Psalms 51:1).
Create in me a clean heart, O God; i.e. do more than purify me—do more than cleanse me (Psalms 51:7); by an act of creative power (בּרא) make in me a new clean heart. Compare the Christian doctrine of the "new birth" and "new life." And renew a right spirit within me. "Heart" and "spirit" are used interchangeably for the inward essence of man; but, as Professor Cheyne observes, "Heart emphasizes the individual side of a man's life; spirit, its Divine, or at least preternatural side." David, in asking both for a new heart and a new spirit, requests the renovation of his entire mental and moral nature, which he recognizes as corrupt and depraved.
Cast me not away from thy presence. To he "cast away from God's presence" is to be altogether cast out of his covenant, made an alien from him, deprived of his favour and the light of his countenance (see Genesis 4:14; 2 Kings 13:23). The psalmist deprecates so terrible a punishment, although he feels that he has deserved it. And take not thy Holy Spirit from me. God's Holy Spirit had been poured upon David when he was first anointed by Samuel to the kingly office (1 Samuel 16:13). His great sins had undoubtedly "grieved" and vexed the Spirit; and, had they been continued or not repented of, would have caused him to withdraw himself; but they had not "wholly quenched the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). David was therefore able to pray, as he does, that the Holy Spirit of God might still be vouchsafed to him, and not be "taken away," as from one wholly unworthy.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. Give me back that "joy" which was mine when I was conscious of thy favour, and felt that thou wert my Strength and my Salvation (Psalms 18:1; Psalms 62:2, etc.). And uphold me with thy free spirit. There is no "thy" in the original; and it is his own spirit, not God's Spirit, of which the psalmist here speaks. "Uphold me," he says, "preserve me from falling, by giving me a 'free,' or 'generous,' or 'noble' spirit—the opposite of that 'spirit of bondage' which the apostle says that Christians do not receive" (Romans 8:15).
The psalmist now turns from prayer to promise. If God will grant his petitions, restore him to favour, and renew his spiritual life, then he will make such return as is possible to him. First, he will teach transgressors God's ways (Psalms 51:13). Next, he will extol his righteousness, and show forth his praise(Psalms 51:14, Psalms 51:15). Finally, he will offer him, not bloody sacrifice, but the sacrifice in which he delights—"the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17). Such sacrifice, he is sure, God will not despise.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways. The truly grateful heart cannot be satisfied without making some return to God for his goodness. The most satisfactory return is by deeds, not words. David's determination is to do his best to promote the glory of God by bringing others to salvation, turning them from their own evil ways to the "ways" that God would have them walk in. And sinners shall be converted unto thee. The result, he hopes, will be the conversion to God of many "sinners" (comp. Psalms 32:8).
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God. In David's mouth this prayer is readily intelligible. In that of Babylonian exiles, the victims of oppression and wrong, it would be most extraordinary. Thou God of my salvation (comp. Psalms 18:46; Psalms 25:5; Psalms 27:9 : Psalms 88:1, etc.). And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. In further acknowledgment of God's goodness, and as, in some sort, a return for it, David will employ himself in singing the praises of God (see his many psalms of praise) and will especially exalt God's righteousness. "Jehovah," as Professor Cheyne observes, "is equally righteous when he sends and when he removes chastisements."
O Lord (not Jehovah, but Adonai), open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. A sense of his guilt has long kept the psalmist's lips closed. Let his sins be forgiven, and his conscience relieved, then praise and thanksgiving will flow from his mouth freely and copiously.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it. If there had been any sacrifices which God desired or required for such offences as adultery and murder, David would have willingly offered them. But there were none. As Hammond observes, "The Mosaical Law allows no reconciliation, no sacrifice, for such sins." Thou delightest not in burnt offering. In the mere act of sacrifice—the untimely slaying of his own creatures—God could at no time have had any pleasure. His satisfaction could only arise from the spirit in which sacrifices were offered—the gratitude, devotion, self-renunciation, obedience, of those who approached him with them (comp. Psalms 40:6; Psalms 50:8-13; Isaiah 1:11-17, etc.).
The sacrifices of God; i.e. the sacrifices which God really values and desires. Are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. "The contrite heart," says Hengstenberg, "denotes deep but soft and mild distress." It sets up no wild shriekings, no howls, like those of Oriental fanatics. But it nourishes a sorrow that is deep and persistent. The joy on account of forgiveness and restoration to favour does not exclude continued pain on account of past sin.
Psalms 51:18, Psalms 51:19
That this is an addition made to the original psalm, during the time of the Babylonian exile, or later, for liturgical purposes, has been maintained by a large number of the commentators who ascribe the rest of the psalm to David. The chief ground for the supposition is the prayer in Psalms 51:18, "Build thou the walls of Jerusalem," which has been supposed to imply that the walls were in ruins, whereas under David they should have been, it is thought, in good condition. But it has been pointed out, very justly, that the fortifications of Jerusalem were not complete in David's time, and that both he and Solomon added considerably to them (2Sa 5:9; 1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 9:15, 1 Kings 9:19). David may well have thought that, as a punishment for his sin, God might interfere with the work which he was doing for the benefit of his people, and hence have felt it needful to pray, "Do good unto Zion: build thou the wails of Jerusalem."
Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion. It is characteristic of David to pass from prayer for himself to prayer for the people committed to him, and especially to do so at or near the end of a psalm (see Psalms 5:11, Psalms 5:12; Psalms 25:22; Psalms 28:9; Psalms 40:16). And he closely connects—nay, identifies—the people with their capital city (see Psalms 46:4; Psalms 48:11; Psalms 69:35, etc.). Build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Josephus says that David encompassed the whole city of Jerusalem with walls ('Ant. Jud.,' 7.3, § 2); and we are told, in the Second Book of Samuel, that he "built round about from Mille and inward." It has been argued that his walls were just approaching their completion at the time of his great sin.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness. "Then"—when the walls are completed—thou shalt receive the public sacrifices which will naturally be offered on the accomplishment of such a work (Nehemiah 12:43). And these sacrifices, offered willingly by grateful hearts, will be pleasing and acceptable unto thee. With burnt offering, and whole burnt offering. Only the head, the fat, and certain portions of the interior were ordinarily burnt when a victim was offered (Leviticus 1:8, Leviticus 1:12; Psalms 3:3, Psalms 3:4, etc.); but sometimes, when the offerer's heart was full, and he desired to indicate its complete and undivided surrender to God, the entire victim was consumed (see Hengstenberg, ad loc.). Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar. Bullocks, or oxen, were offered on all great occasions (see 2 Samuel 24:22-25; 1 Kings 8:63; 1 Chronicles 29:21; 2Ch 7:5; 2 Chronicles 29:32, 2 Chronicles 29:33; 2Ch 35:7, 2 Chronicles 35:9; Ezra 6:17, etc.).
The penitent's plea for pardon.
"Have mercy," etc. This psalm is like a page of autobiography written in the author's life-blood. It is, indeed, the utterance of what Psalms 51:17 describes, "a broken and a contrite heart." Nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures do we find so profound depth and tenderness of penitence, joined with such childlike faith in God's pardoning mercy. If the dark record of David's crime had been silently omitted, we should have been utterly at a loss to understand this psalm. Who could have thought that from the same harp which uttered the sweet strain of Psalms 23:1-6, could proceed so deep a wail of grief and self-abasement? Yet it is just because David's joy in God and love to God were so real that his repentance was so bitter. No hypocrite could have penned this psalm. Any one who calls David a hypocrite shows dense ignorance of human nature.
I. THE PENITENT'S PLEA FOR PARDON. "According to thy loving-kindness [or, 'mercy']; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies [or, 'compassions'.]." He has nothing to plead in defence or palliation. God's mercy and pity are his sole hope. What warrant has he to expect them? Answer: God's covenant with Israel. Such sins as David's (murder and adultery) could not be purged by sacrifice (see Hebrews 10:28). And while under the condemnation of such guilt, it would have been vain presumption to offer peace offerings. Verse 16 may include both. But the whole law of sacrifice revealed God's delight in mercy, while it foreshadowed the true atonement. The gospel puts this plea in our mouth in a new form. It supplies an incomparably more glorious warrant and encouragement than the Old Testament believer possessed—the atonement which God himself has provided (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:8).
II. THE UNLIMITED EFFICACY OF THIS PLEA. It is difficult to imagine sins more heinous than those of which David had been guilty. Their guilt was enormously aggravated by the fact that he was the divinely chosen king of the chosen people, an inspired prophet, and the object of signal and unrivalled blessings from God. Perhaps we have sometimes wished this dark page of Scripture had remained unwritten. But there it stands, to teach us that no sinner need despair of God's mercy. The door at which David entered is wide enough for every true penitent. So St. Paul points to his own case as an encouragement to all (1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:16).
III. THE EXCLUSIVE ADEQUACY OF THIS PLEA. It admits no addition, no partnership, no substitute. It is this or none (Romans 3:23-26). By one sin, St. James teaches us, God's Law is as completely broken as by many (James 2:10). Therefore only the blood which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7) can cleanse from any (Titus 3:4-7). In the heavenly world there will be immense differences in glory and happiness, according to attainment and service. But in this respect—the ground of pardon and salvation—all stand on one level; all join in one song (Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:9).
The folly and guilt of impenitence appear most of all in this—that it is a despising of God's mercy and compassion (Romans 2:4).
Prayer for a pure heart.
"Create in me," etc. Human life belongs to two different worlds, distinct, yet inseparably interwoven—the world of outward nature, and the world of inward experience. Since this psalm was written, amazing changes have passed on outward nature in relation to man's life; but the world of inward experience is substantially unchanged. Even within half a century or less, human labour, discovery, and invention have so modified our relations to the globe we inhabit, and to the forces of nature, that we sometimes say we live in a different world. But the great inner world of joy and sorrow, love and hate, faith and unbelief, nobleness and baseness, holiness and sin, is the same in England to-day as in Judaea three thousand years ago. It has not ceased to be true that "As in water," etc. (Proverbs 27:19). There is still the same room and need for the prayer of the text. It is still true that it is a prayer which only the Spirit of God could inspire, can fulfil, or can interpret.
I. A PRAYER WHICH ONLY THE HOLY SPIRIT. COULD INSPIRE. How else can it be rationally accounted for? A prayer to God as Creator, for spiritual purity and rectitude: "a clean heart and a right spirit." Whence came these ideas? Still more, whence came these desires? It is easy to answer—They were suggested by the purifications ordained by the Law of Moses; sprinkling with blood, with the water of purification in which the ashes of the heifer had been steeped, and "divers washings." But even supposing these rites could have originated the notion of inward purity and spiritual holiness, how could they create any corresponding desire? But, in fact, these spiritual ideas were the very meaning of those rites, for the sake of which they were ordained (see e.g. Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:10, Exodus 19:11). It has been asserted by scholars, who ought to know better, that the original notion of sin, in the Old Testament Scriptures and among the ancient Hebrews, was merely ceremonial. The doctrine of the inward, spiritual nature of sin, and need of inward purification, was gradually developed, it is said, by the prophets. No assertion can be more baseless. Of all the words (not fewer than ten) used in the sacred tongue to express sin, not one originally refers to outward defilements; all are moral. The three principal occur in verses 1, 2 (comp. Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2; Exodus 34:7).
(1) "Transgression," equivalent to "rebellion," viz. against God (cf. 2 Kings 8:20 for Hebrew word).
(2) "Iniquity," equivalent to "perverseness"—crooked and unjust thought or action.
(3) "Sin," equivalent to "error"—missing the mark. £ These are moral, not ceremonial ideas. The notion of pollution or defilement by crime was familiar among ancient heathen nations. But it was external, to be removed by outward ceremonies (see the story in Herodotus, 1:35-44). David felt that his heart, his spirit, his inmost self, needed cleansing and renewal, which God alone could impart.
II. A PRAYER WHICH ONLY THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN FULFIL. David begins (verses 1-9) by asking for Divine mercy; here he invokes Divine power. He uses the strongest term possible, "create." The same life-breathing Spirit who brooded over the dark waters at the first creation (Genesis 1:2) must descend on man's dark, sinful heart, and breathe life into it (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, Ephesians 2:10). Our Saviour expresses the same great spiritual change as a new birth (John 3:3, John 3:5-8). Thus the Old Testament here anticipates the deepest teaching of the New. But there is another side, equally recognized in Scripture (Ezekiel 18:31; Isaiah 1:16). As strongly in the New Testament (James 4:4, James 4:8; 1 John 3:3). God does not deal with men as machines or statues. God speaks to men, beseeches, warns, invites. Our Saviour did so, even to the very persons he described as closing their eyes, etc. (Matthew 13:15). It is by the reception of Divine truth that the heart is purified, spiritual life conveyed (1 Peter 1:22; James 1:18; John 6:63). This cannot take place passively and unconsciously. Still, when all is said, life can come only from God (Psalms 36:9; Ezekiel 11:19). David's prayer goes to the central depth, the innermost need of our nature. Our reason is incompetent to reconcile these opposite views (Divine grace and human will); but St. Paul shows their practical harmony (Philippians 2:12, Philippians 2:13).
III. A PRAYER WHICH ONLY THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN INTERPRET, AND TEACH US TO MAKE OUR OWN. Inspiration is as needful to readers as to writers of the Scriptures; not the same, but as real. The inspiration of the writer of this psalm we do not need. Here is the psalm, perfect, unrivalled, unexhausted. But before David wrote it he prayed it and felt it. We need that inspiration which taught him to pour out this prayer into God's ear (Romans 8:26). "A clean heart." In the earlier part of the psalm, washing and cleansing are the images of forgiveness (so Isaiah 1:8; 1 John 1:7). But here, of renewal, spiritual purity (2 Corinthians 7:1). As the former prayer expresses sense of guilt, and desire for God's favour; so this sense of the foul impurity and hate. fulness of sin, and desire for God's likeness. See what follows.
1. The utterance of this prayer with no sense of sin, no longing for holiness, would be mockery. If you feel you cannot honestly utter it, what you have to do is to ask that God's Holy Spirit will teach and enable you (John 16:8, John 16:9).
2. If this is truly your prayer, the Holy Spirit must have taught you. And the prayers he teaches carry the earnest of their fulfilment.
The joy of God's salvation.
"Restore," etc. Two opposite kinds of experience are wonderfully blended in this psalm—the experience of a conscience-stricken transgressor, and the experience of a believer rejoicing in Divine mercy. Nothing can be more mournful than David's profound self-abasement and piercing cry for pardon. Nothing can be more calm, hopeful, restful, than his trust in God's forgiving and restoring grace. He is like one emerging from a gloomy cavern, where no ray of light shone, who does not yet stand in the sunlight, but sees it shining at the cave's mouth, and knows that a few more steps will bring him into full sunshine. The secret of this blending of opposite experiences is that David is looking so earnestly away from himself to God. In regard to his crimes, he looks not at the wrong done to fellow-mortals, but at his sin against God (Psalms 51:4). And in regard to salvation, he does not measure his expectation by anything he can offer to God—repentance or amendment or atonement—but by the infinite fulness of God's love and grace. Therefore he is able to ask, not merely for pardon, to have his forfeited life and crown spared, but for full restoration to the happy consciousness of God's favour. The prayer of this verse is—
I. A YEARNING AFTER LOST JOY. It breathes a desolate sense of loss. Consider who utters it. This is not the sentimental moan of a recluse, morbidly poring over his inward experience. Not the visionary craving of a heart ignorant of life and of the world. Not the reactionary disgust of a worn-out worldling. If any man ever knew the world and enjoyed it, David did. The experience of even his wise son Solomon was limited compared with his. Endowed with personal grace and beauty which won love at first sight; a man of genius, skilful in poetry and music; a hero in war, who had fought his way from the sheepfold to the throne;—he was in the heyday of prosperity and power. His armies and generals won victories for him, while he enjoyed the luxury of his palace. His servants devotedly obeyed, even when he required them to commit crimes. He had obtained the wife on whom his heart was passionately set. A son had been born to them. It might seem as though God had overlooked his sins, and was shedding on him the peaceful light of Divine favour. True, his sins—nay, crimes—had" made the enemies of the Lord blaspheme;" but their counter-censures did not reach the royal ears. When the Prophet Nathan stood before him, and told his touching parable, David had no suspicion that it was aimed at himself (2 Samuel 12:5). What lacked he, in the midst of his prosperity? Two things—one of which the ungodly reckon a trifle, and the other the worldly regard as illusion—peace of conscience, and the sense of Divine favour, what in happier days he called "the light of God's countenance." When Nathan's rebuke, like lightning from a clear sky, smote him, "Thou art the man!" it was as though the whole fabric of his earthly bliss melted like a dream, leaving him alone with these two—conscious guilt and Divine displeasure. Preachers are often reproached with denouncing a world they do not know; decrying pleasures and wealth they would only be too glad to share. At all events, you cannot say this of David. The tide of worldly joy is at full with him, yet he is broken-hearted. He has lost what the world could not give, and all the world cannot make up for. "Restore," he cries, "the joy of thy salvation!"
II. AN UTTERANCE OF STRONG FAITH IN GOD. That it was possible for a godly man, a man whom the Holy Spirit inspired to compose psalms which are among the most sacred treasures of the Church, to fall as David fell, is a tremendous warning that neither grace nor gifts are any security to one who neglects to watch and pray. Nevertheless, it is impossible that an ungodly man could have written this psalm. Even a new convert, pierced with the pangs of a first repentance, could not have written it. David's self-abasement is measured by the height from which he has fallen. A penitent with no previous experience of communion with God would have thought more of his crimes against men, less of his sin against God. In David's view, the former seems swallowed up in the latter (Psalms 51:4). Here is not mere feeling, but faith, as enlightened as rumple, equally convinced of God's willingness to forgive, and of his power to restore. David asks for both, expects both. Nowhere can you find more clearly discriminated, more inseparably united, these two great gifts of God which together make up salvation—forgiveness and renewal; righteousness and holiness; deliverance from the guilt of sin; and cleansing from its defilements (Psalms 51:1, Psalms 51:2, Psalms 51:9, Psalms 51:10). See the contrast between remorse and repentance; the first akin to pride and despair; the second to humility and hope. See, too, the close union of humility and faith. As a grain of sand in the eye blots the sunlight, so a grain of self-righteousness would have marred David's trust. The key-note of the psalm is the opening plea, "According to thy loving-kindness."
III. THE VOICE OF GOD'S OWN SPIRIT. The cry, "Take not," etc. (Psalms 51:11), could not come from a heart destitute of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God speaks here through the whole man; his deepest experience is made transparent. Prophets were sometimes inspired to deliver messages they did not understand. Not so here. The Holy Spirit has dipped his pen in the heart, and written with life-blood. This is what makes this psalm so precious. A candid, thoughtful sceptic would do well to study this psalm carefully, deeply; not its mere language, but its spirit. Can it be explained on mere natural principles, apart from Divine inspiration of some kind? Have we here a simply human or a supernatural experience? Nothing like it is to be found in classic literature; nothing in the sacred books of the East. A soul face to face with God, broken-hearted because of sin, not chiefly as crime or as defilement (though both are profoundly felt), but supremely as sin against the righteous and holy God; yet taking refuge in God, with confident hope of pardon, spiritual renewal, and joy in God's favour—this experience is distinctly superhuman, supernatural. Therefore is it full of encouragement. If it were David's alone, this would be no ground to think it may be ours. But the same Spirit who taught him thus to feel, thus to believe, thus to pray, is promised "to them that ask."
The sacrifices of God, etc.
We may call this psalm "the penitents prayer-book.' The spectacle of a good man falling into open sin is a sight to make angels weep, especially a man so distinguished as David falling into sins so gross and flagrant. We are ready to ask why a veil of silence was not allowed to hide this shameful example. This psalm supplies a twofold answer: the record of David's profound humiliation and bitter repentance is a warning to those who "think they stand;" his humble but assured faith in God's pardoning mercy is an encouragement to those who know they have fallen. We could none of us afford to lose this page out of the Bible. No part of Old Testament Scripture enters more deeply into the spiritual life. These words set before us—
I. WHAT THE SINNER CANNOT OFFER TO GOD. He can make no atonement for his sin, fulfil no duty that can be accepted as a counterpoise to his transgression. He has no hope but in the simple undeserved mercy of God (Psalms 51:16). The word here for "sacrifice" is general, including sin offerings, Passover lambs, thank offerings—any sacrifice in which the victim was slain (so 1 Samuel 3:14; Exodus 12:27; this is overlooked by some good writers). The sin offerings appointed by the Law provided for sins of ignorance, infirmity, and error, not for wilful transgressions of known law (" with a high hand") (Le Psalms 4:2; Numbers 15:27, Numbers 15:30). They were not designed to interfere with the course of civil justice; otherwise religion and law would have been in open conflict (Hebrews 10:28). Therefore crimes like David's—adultery and murder, for either of which the Law sentenced him to death—could not be purged by sacrifice. He deserved to die, and he knew it. He casts himself on the sovereign mercy of God: "Deliver me from bloodguiltlness!" (Psalms 51:14).
II. WHAT THE SINNER CAN OFFER TO GOD, AND GOD WILL ACCEPT. "A broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart" Why is this called a "sacrifice"—a consecrated gift to God?
1. Because we glorify God by frank, full acknowledgment that his Law is holy, his authority supreme, and that he may justly condemn and punish (see Psalms 51:4). David had deeply sinned against men; but he seems to lose sight of this in the awful overwhelming view of his guilt against God (cf. Joshua 7:19).
2. Because this "broken and contrite heart" implies the full giving up of ourselves to God, not only that he may forgive our sin, set us free from the burden of guilt, but that he may "renew a right spirit within" us (Psalms 51:9-12), that he may make us wholly his own (cf. Romans 12:1). Note that this word "sacrifice" does not of itself mean atonement. That meaning was given to sacrifice by express Divine teaching (Le Psalms 17:11).
III. THE DEEPEST PENITENCE—the truest sense of guilt and shame and grief for sin—IS CONSISTENT WITH BOUNDLESS FAITH IN GOD'S FORGIVING MERCY. If ever there was the utterance of a broken, contrite heart, it is this psalm. No hypocrite, no ungodly man, could possibly have written it. No, nor yet a sincere godly penitent, without a mighty inspiration of God's Spirit. And the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, breathes into the broken heart the healing balm of hope, trust, joy, and thankfulness. David, who dares not offer a sacrifice until he knows that he is forgiven, looks forward to the time when he shall offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, peace offerings, and whole burnt offerings; when God will bless him in his work of building the holy city, and will himself bless and guard Jerusalem (Psalms 51:18, Psalms 51:19), without which verses the psalm would be maimed and incomplete.
IV. THE WARRANT OF THIS ASSURED FAITH is found, not in the sinner's repentance, hut in God's mercy and promise (Psalms 51:1). Nathan had been commissioned to assure David of pardon as well as to charge him with his sin (2 Samuel 12:13). If David had asked how it could be right and just for God thus to pardon crimes which, as king, David himself would have been bound to punish in another man, we know not what answer he could have found, except to say, "God is Sovereign!" The gospel alone reveals how God is "just, and the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26). It was a wonderful new doctrine which the apostles proclaimed, that sins for which the Law of Moses provided no sin offerings are atoned for by him (Acts 13:38, Acts 13:39). "All sin" (1 John 1:7). God has himself provided the Sacrifice which all the sacrifices of the Law faintly foreshadowed (John 1:29). Therefore the sacrifice of one contrite heart and of one joyful tongue, blemished, blind, lame, though it too often is, is acceptable to God, because our High Priest ever lives to intercede.
Relations of ruler and people.
"Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion," etc. This psalm would be very defective if it ended without such a prayer as this. For David the penitent transgressor, David the inspired psalmist, was also David the anointed of God, king of his people Israel. Modern criticism, eager to use its sharp shears, would cut away these two verses as added by a later hand. But modern criticism, keen and accomplished as it is, is sorely lacking in sympathy and imagination. As matter of history, David's work of "building the walls of Jerusalem" was left incomplete, and finished by Solomon (2 Samuel 5:9; 1 Kings 9:15; 1 Kings 11:27). But he knew and felt that the true wall of Zion was God's protection (Psalms 125:2). And as his people Israel had shared the shame, though not the guilt, of his crimes, he trusted they would share the blessing of God's pardoning mercy and restoring grace. We are reminded—
I. NATIONS SUFFER THROUGH THEIR RULERS' SINS. What is guilt in the ruler is calamity for the people. This is not arbitrary or unjust. It is hut a case of the great law of solidarity pervading human life (Romans 14:7). So with the parent and the family, teacher and scholars, head of a business and all in his employ. Power and privilege mean tremendous responsibility. No men have such heavy burdens as rulers, and few get less sympathy.
II. NATIONAL SAFETY LIES IN GOD'S PROTECTION. Scarcely even the history of Israel illustrates this more wonderfully than the history of our own nation.
III. PRAYER FOR OUR COUNTRY IS A WEIGHTY DUTY, A HIGH PRIVILEGE, AND CLAIMS A CONSTANT PLACE IN OUR PUBLIC, FAMILY, PRIVATE DEVOTIONS. (Psalms 122:6.) Yet a venerable Jewish tradition. It belongs to the time when the temple at Jerusalem had not even been thought of. The tabernacle was at Nob, not far from the Mount of Olives. It is possible to maintain Christian life in secrecy and solitude. But that is not what the New Testament describes as history, and reveals as Christ's will. It is neither natural nor safe. Mushrooms may grow in cellars; not fruit trees. The embodiment of spiritual life in fellowship is one of the most remarkable presentments of the New Testament records. Wherever the gospel took root, the fence of Church fellowship was built round it, not by man's wisdom, but by him who said, "I will build my Church."
IV. THEREFORE THE ROOT OF CHRISTIAN LIFE, THE SECRET OF ITS FULNESS, BEAUTY, FRUIT-BEARING, IS PERSONAL FAITH. "I will trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever." The olive did not grow because it was planted in the house of the Lord, but because God put the hidden life into the seed. Church forms are but a delusion and a danger, if trusted in, to those who are strangers to the hidden life (Galatians 2:20).
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
This might be called
The minister's psalm.
We may imagine the servant of the Lord engaged in devout meditation. He looks before and after. He communes with himself as to his life and work. The deepest thoughts of his heart are revealed.
I. EVER-GROWING SENSE OF THE EVIL OF SIN. Sin is thought of in the abstract, and its badness is seen. It is looked at in the world, in society, in the Church, and more and more its evils are discerned. But worst of all, it is felt to belong to one's self "My sin."
II. DEEPER SYMPATHY WITH ALL TRUE SEEKERS AFTER TRUTH AND HOLINESS. The task is noble, but difficult. Only these who have tried know how difficult. There are not only obstacles without, but there is the fearful obstacle within of a sinful heart.
III. TRUER REALIZATION OF THE GREATNESS OF THE WORK OF RESTORATION. Experience is the best teacher. It is better to judge from fact than from theory. Such as have themselves been "restored" are the fittest to speak of restoration. They know that the work is possible, though hard, for they themselves have experienced it. Like John Newton, the minister may take heart in time of despondency: "God has converted me, therefore I can never doubt of his power to convert the greatest sinner." This was Paul's argument (1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:16).
IV. THE NECESSITY OF NEW AND THOROUGH CONSECRATION. Looking to the past, there is much to humble us. Looking to God, there is everything to encourage us. We need to give ourselves anew to Christ. Opportunities are precious. To save ourselves from "bloodguiltiness," we must pray more and watch more. The nearer we live to God, the more interested we shall be in God's work.
V. INCREASED DELIGHT IN CARRYING THE MESSAGE OF PEACE TO SINNERS. What we prize ourselves we commend to others. The peace we enjoy we would have others enjoy also. The freedom and the bright hopes that cheer our path we would gladly impart to others. When pressed with the burden of our own sins, we are under restraint; but when freed from guilt and fear, we can plead for God with boldness.
VI. CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S LOVE AND POWER AS A SAVIOUR. Our highest ambition is to "convert' sinners, not to a Creed, or a party, or a Church, but to God. "To thee." But this is God's work. He only is able to make the Word effectual unto salvation. Having the witness in our own hearts of his saving might, we speak with all boldness. "The love of Christ constraineth us."
VII. BRIGHTER HOPES OF THE FUTURE. There is a good time coming. The hope of this springs immortal in the hearts of the redeemed. When we are low, we take low views of things. If it be a dark time with ourselves, we are apt to despond as to the work of God in others. But when we are lifted up, all things seem possible. The future grows bright and yet brighter before us, and our hearts are thrilled with a foretaste of celestial joys. "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!"—W.F.
Lord Macaulay tells us that the Earl of Breadalbane, who was the chief hand in the Massacre of Glencoe, never had rest afterwards. "He did his best to assume an air of unconcern. He made his appearance in the most fashionable coffee-house in Edinburgh, and talked loudly and self-complacently about the important service in which he had been engaged in the mountains. Some of his soldiers, however, who observed him closely, whispered that all this bravery was put on. He was not the man that he had been before that night. The form of his countenance was changed. In all places, at all hours, whether he waked or slept, Glencoe was for ever before him". So it was also with David. As Chrysostom has said, "He carried in his bosom a painted picture of adultery and murder." Let us consider this.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE PAINTING. Sin is everywhere. It is in the world, in society, in our friends, but worst of all it is in our own hearts. "My sin!" What is "before" us is not the sins of others, but our own sins, or perhaps some particular sin that stands out in all its hideousness and enormity.
II. THE MEANS BY WINCH THE PAINTING IS WROUGHT OUT. It is not said before the world or the Church, but "before me." Everything is individualized.
"Awakened conscience acts the artist,
Uses the sun of heaven's law
To photograph the sinner's life;
Then holds it up, a hideous monster,
To the affrighted eye!"
But conscience has its allies. There is memory. All that we have thought and felt and done, all the varied events and experiences of our life, are recorded by memory, Much may seem to be forgotten, but nothing is really lost. Go where you will—
Yet doth remembrance, like a sovereign prince,
For you a stately gallery maintain of gay and tragic pictures?
"My sin!" It is there, in memory, to be brought out at the call of conscience.
"The austere remembrance of that deed
Will hang upon thy spirit like a cloud,
And tinge its world of happy images with hues of horror."
There is also association. One of its chief uses is to add force to conscience. We are strangely linked with the past. A book will recall the giver. A letter will start various trains of thought, according to its contents and the circumstances in which it is received. A portrait will bring up memories of the departed. Remember how Cowper's heart was moved by the portrait of his mother—"faithful remembrancer of one so dear." So it is as to our sin. The place, the surroundings, the circumstances, or some link of association, may bring all the past before us fresh as a yesterday event. Remember Pharaoh's butler (Genesis 41:9), the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:18), Peter the apostle (Mark 14:72). And what is presented to conscience by memory and association, the imagination works out with powerful effect, brining in not only the past, but the future, the terrible result. But besides all this, we are to take into account the hand of God, working by conscience through providence and Holy Scripture. David's eyes were opened by the ministry of Nathan. He presented his sin to him in a parable, and then brought it home to himself in demonstration of the Spirit. "Thou art the man!" And so it is still. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin;" "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." We have a striking illustration of this in Augustine ('Confessions,' bk. 8. Psalms 7:1-17): "Thou, O Lord, whilst he was speaking, didst turn me round towards myself, taking me from behind my back, where I had placed me, unwilling to observe myself, and setting me before my face, that I might see how foul I was, how crooked and defiled, bespotted and ulcerous." Sooner or later, this vision will come to us all. "My sin is ever before me." This may be the cry in the torments of hell, and then there is no hope. It may be said under the power of a guilty conscience, and then the answer is, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
III. THE FEELINGS WITH WHICH THIS PAINTING SHOULD BE CONTEMPLATED, The sight is painful, but salutary. If it humbles us, it leads us to exalt God. If it embitters sin to us, it endears Christ to us, and binds us for ever to him in love and devotion.
1. Sense of personal guilt. "My sin." We may have been tempted; but in the deepest sense the guilt is ours, surely and inalienably. Our sins are more our own than anything else we possess. With this conviction we cry, "What shall we do?"
2. Grief and self-abasement. Others may speak of "my place," "my merits," "my services;" but for me it is "my sin." The more we study this picture—looking at it in the light of the cross—the more vile and wicked do we become in our own eyes. We see ourselves as God sees us, and are filled with amazement and horror. Besides, we come to understand that our sin is not a casual thing, but the product of the sinful heart within. True grief will lead to sincere and full confession, and confession to forgiveness. When we justify God, God will justify us.
3. Simple and unfeigned faith. Despairing of ourselves, we cease from our own works, and cast ourselves upon the mercy of God. We accept the testimony which God has given of his Son, and, trusting in him, we find peace.
4. Adoring gratitude and love. To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much. We owe everything to Christ, and the love of Christ constraineth us (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15). The thought of the sins of the past, which we carry with us, will not only make us humble and watchful, but stimulate us to increasing love and zeal in the service of him who hath redeemed us by his precious blood.—W.F.
Secrets of the heart.
"Behold!" This is a word of power. It takes hold. It demands attention. It marks the solemnity and seriousness of the things to be brought before us. The veil is so far lifted. In the light of God, we get glimpses into the awful secrets of the heart.
I. THE SECRET OF SIN IS FOUND IN THE CORRUPT HEART. The first thing that startles and staggers us may be some actual transgression; but as we consider the matter, we are forced back and back, and closer and closer, till we end with the corrupt heart. Sin is everywhere; but always, when we seek its origin, we come to the same source. We may not be able to explain fully why and how the heart is corrupt, but of the fact there can be no question. It is better to seek deliverance from the pit, than to weary and vex ourselves in vain with inquiries how we came there.
II. THAT THE EVIL OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE CONTRADICTION OF TRUTH. What God desires must be right and good. But instead of "truth in the inward parts," it is the opposite. Instead of law, there is self-will; instead of order, there is confusion; instead of the unity of the Spirit, there is enmity and strife. The mind and the will are in contradiction to God. It is this that makes the disease so desperate, and the remedy so difficult (Genesis 17:9). We might make clean the outside of the cup, but it remains defiled within. We may whitewash the sepulchre, but after all it is a sepulchre, full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Helpless, and well-nigh despairing, our cry is, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?"
III. THAT DELIVERANCE FROM SIN CAN ONLY BE EFFECTED BY THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S AUTHORITY IN THE HEART. Healing that does not go to the root of the disease is vain and delusive. The heart must be made right or nothing is right. This is the work of God through Christ Jesus (Romans 6:8-14). It is not slight, or half-and-half work, but thorough. We cannot serve two masters. But by the grace of Christ we are saved from the bondage and misery of our old master, and God is again enthroned in our hearts as our true and rightful Lord, whose service is perfect freedom, and whose rewards are peace and joy for evermore.—W.F.
Whiter than snow.
Snow is remarkable for whiteness. As it glistens on the mountains, or lies in virgin purity on the fields, what can compare with it? And yet David speaks of something whiter. Where? Not in nature, but in the kingdom of grace. Of whom? Not Christ, not the holy angels, not the saints in glory, but, strange to say, of himself. Like Paul, he was "the chief of sinners," and he was, therefore, the fitter ensample of the marvellous kindness and grace of God. In his prayer we find—
I. THE RECOIL OF THE SOUL FROM SIN. Many find pleasure in sin; but when once the soul is quickened, there is an end to this. Sin is felt to be vile and loathsome. Its touch is defilement; its presence is abhorrent; its effects are dreaded as the most terrible.
II. THE YEARNING OF THE SOUL FOR PURITY. All things around us that retain their freshness and their purity condemn us and put us to shame. They show what we have lost; they intensify our pains and our sorrows. At the same time, they help to keep alive our hopes. While they testify that we are fallen, they testify also that sin is not of our true nature—that it is not something that rightly belongs to us, but that it should be abjured and abhorred. The more we compare ourselves with God's Law, and the more truly we realize God's will concerning us, the more earnestly shall we cry for deliverance.
III. THE SUPREME TRUST OF THE SOUL IN GOD. There is the cry, "Wash me!" This implies weakness and submission. We cannot "wash" ourselves. Our tears and prayers, our penitences and endeavours, are in vain. We cast ourselves implicitly upon God. Let God, who is holy and good, do this great thing for us, and do it in his own way. It is not the priest, it is not the saints; God only can save. There is also the glad faith. "And I shall be whiter than snow." The lost purity will be restored. What God does, he does perfectly. What joy in being "whiter than snow"!—not only pardoned (Isaiah 1:18), but cleansed (1 John 1:7; Revelation 7:14). It is heaven begun.—W.F.
Psalms 51:10, Psalms 51:17
Prayer is the index of the heart. When true, it is the "heart's sincere desire," and expresses not only the feeling, but the cry of the soul to God.
I. THE PRAYER HERE IS THOROUGH-GOING. It is not pardon that is asked—that has been obtained; but renewal. It is not present relief that is craved, but complete restoration, such a change wrought in the heart as is equivalent to a reconstruction, and as will re-establish and fix the right relation to God for evermore.
II. THIS PRAYER IS FOUNDED ON GOD'S PROMISES. '%re should only ask for things agreeable to God's will. Here we can have no doubt. What God wants is a "clean heart." What God delights in is "a broken and a contrite heart." When we look to ourselves, and remember God's command, "Make you clean" (Isaiah 1:16); "Make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31), we are filled with despair. But when we look to God, and remember his promises, "A new heart will I give you' (Ezekiel 36:26), hope springs up anew. God's commands are not the commands of a tyrant like Pharaoh (Exodus 5:6-8), but of a Father great in love as in power. We should put his commands and his promises side by side, and then we have confidence that what we ask we shall receive.
III. THIS PRAYER IMPLIES COMPLETE SELF-SURRENDER TO THE WILL AND WAYS OF GOD. God is sovereign and holy. He has his own ways of working. We must be brought low before we are raised up. We must be emptied of self before we can be filled with the fulness of God. There will be not only the Word which quickeneth, but the rod which disciplineth (Psalms 51:8).
IV. THIS PRAYER, FINALLY, LEADS TO A NEW LIFE OF LOVE AND OBEDIENCE. Life is made a sacrifice (Romans 12:1)—offered, not on the altar of burnt offering, but upon the golden altar of incense; not as an atonement, for Christ's blood alone maketh atonement, hut as a thanksgiving for redemption.—W. F
Psalms 51:11, Psalms 51:12
A great evil deprecated, and a great good desired.
I. A GREAT EVIL DEPRECATED. The evil is twofold (Psalms 51:11). It is felt that this judgment is deserved. God might justly do this. His presence had been outraged; his Spirit had been not only resisted and grieved, but for a time quenched. But such judgment would be utter ruin and woe, and it is shrunk from with horror. To be "cast away" was ruin, but to have "the Spirit taken away" was to have that ruin made complete and irremediable. It is only those who have the Spirit, and who know something of the joys of God's presence, that can truly utter this prayer.
II. A GREAT GOOD DESIRED. The good is also twofold, meeting and matching the evil. "Salvation," with its joys, is the remedy for the dreaded casting away. God's free Spirit, with his loving and gracious upholding, is the sure deliverance from the woes of desertion. This prayer is very bold. At the very time when hanging on the verge of the precipice, the cry is made, not for arrestment, not for delay, not for mere mercy, but for complete restoration. The prayer is also far-reaching. It looks on. It sees dangers ahead. It contemplates the possibility of further sins and falls. But it also sees how all trials can be met and all temptation vanquished. The believer stands, as it were, on the Delectable Mountains, and sees the path clear before him; with the heavenly city gleaming bright in the distance. The prayer is urged with childlike trust and confidence. There is the consciousness of willingness, and, if the soul is willing, God must be willing also. What we desire, he who kindled the desire is able to accomplish. It is as when a child, with a sense of weakness, but with clinging love and trust, says to its father, "I am afraid. Take my hand. Guide me in the dark. Uphold me lest I fall. I cannot walk alone." Thus peace and joy are brought to the heart. The believer, committing himself to the fatherly care of God, can tread with a free soul and a joyous step the way set before him, knowing that it leads to glory, honour, and immortality. In this great prayer there is hope for the chief of sinners, and comfort for the most troubled of saints.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Repentance and forgiveness.
Some deny the Davidic origin of this psalm; but most refer it to the time when Nathan charged David with the sins of adultery and murder. In these verses we have set forth the nature of forgiveness, and the nature of repentance.
I. PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS.
1. Forgiveness is the inward and outward cleansing from sin. It is blotting out a record or a debt that is against us—that is, the outward cleansing. And it is a washing, or cleansing, or purging-that is, the inward forgiveness, or the taking away of sin. So that it is a double work.
2. When we become conscious of such forgiveness, we rejoice with a great gladness. (Psalms 51:8.) The strength (bones) which sin has broken is restored and rejoices.
II. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE.
1. It is a trust in the Divine goodness and mercy. (Psalms 51:1.) Sorrow for sin without hope in God is remorse and death—not repentance.
2. A consciousness that our sin is more against God than against man. (Psalms 51:4.) "Inasmuch as ye did it against one of the least of these," etc.
3. An acknowledgment of the Divine righteousness in the punishment he has suffered. (Verse 21.)
4. He not only confesses the sinful deed, but traces it to the inheritance of a nature sinfully inclined. (Psalms 51:5.)
5. He prays for inward truthfulness and wisdom as his only safety for the future (Psalms 51:6).—S.
Renewal and elevation.
True repentance is not satisfied with the knowledge of forgiveness, but goes on to seek the renewal and elevation of the nature that has sinned and fallen into disorder.
I. HE SEEKS A NEW REVELATION OF THE FORCE OR FAVOUR OF GOD. (Psalms 51:9.) "Do not look upon me in anger for my sins, so as to bring me into judgment, but lift upon me the glory of thy face, or presence." And to this end—
II. "CREATE IN ME A PURE HEART, THAT I MAY BE ABLE TO SEE THEE." (Psalms 51:10; Matthew 5:8.)
III. "GIVE ME AGAIN A STEADFAST SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE TO THY WILL." (Psalms 51:10.) A strong spirit not easily swayed to and fro through its own weakness, or by the gusts of temptations, but persistent in right aims and endeavours.
IV. HE PRAYS THAT HE MAY NEVER LOSE THE SUCCOUR AND STRENGTH OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. (Psalms 51:11.) Such a prayer on the lips of David could not mean all that it means now to a Christian. Christ has revealed the work and the necessity of the Divine Strengthener (the Paraclete) far more clearly than it was known to David. As the Teacher of the truth and the Helper of our weakness.
V. HE PRAYS FOR THAT SENSE OF JOY WHICH IS UNITED WITH THE SPIRIT OF A FREE OBEDIENCE. (Psalms 51:12.) Our spirits attain to their greatest freedom when under the influence of the Spirit of God—like water heated by fire.—S.
The joy of salvation.
"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with a joyful [willing] spirit."
I. THAT THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SALVATION IS ACCOMPANIED WITH A GREATER OR LESS DEGREE OF "JOY." Salvation is a deliverance from the greatest danger the soul can apprehend, and is, therefore, a cause of the most rapturous joy the soul can feel. It is preceded, in the majority of cases, by terror of the Divine anger; by the despair awakened by guilt; by the deep sorrow which distraction brings after it; till the revelation of the Divine mercy through Jesus Christ is embraced, and the way of escape is known, and then the soul is unable to restrain its joy. This is the outward aspect of salvation. Salvation as an inward fact is the enjoyment of a new state of the affections towards Christ, or love to God. And this is a perpetual spring of ever-increasing joy. Joy may become not a momentary rapture merely.
II. THAT BY THE INDULGENCE OF SIN WE FORFEIT THE JOY OF SALVATION. We may not utterly forfeit the hope of salvation; for hope is a thing of degrees: how long a faint hope may linger, and in connection with how much sin, is a practical question difficult of determination! The question of our personal salvation may become even to ourselves a very debatable, doubtful question, a struggle of hope against despair. Here certainly the joy of salvation is forfeited. Then, again, though the hope may not be gone, there may be so much remorse and sorrow in consequence of sin as to destroy all the joy which is connected with an assured state of the heart.
III. ON WHAT GROUND CAN WE PRAY GOD TO RESTORE WHAT WE HAVE SINFULLY LOST?
1. That God is the Author of all renewal and salvation in man's soul. This prayer is therefore a prayer for the renewal of the influence and work of the Holy Spirit: "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." It is called God's salvation for which he prays.
2. This prayer for joy presupposes that which is the condition of all real joy. The previous work of deep, genuine sorrow—repentance and hatred of the sin which has caused the sorrow. This is the unalterable condition on which we obtain any lasting joy.
IV. THAT THE RECOVERY OF THIS JOY IS NECESSARY TO OUR FUTURE CONSTANCY. "Uphold me with a joyful spirit." Doubt, sorrow, remorse, paralyze all the powers of prayer, action, resistance to evil. They are the sickness and disease of the soul. Joy quickens. A joyous, willing mind has strength for the future, because it has conquered in the past; for that is the condition of its joyousness.—S.
Working for God.
With a conscience set free from guilt, with a heart renewed by the Spirit of God, and full of thankfulness for God's great mercy, he cannot keep silent, but will seek to turn other sinners to God. The thirty-second psalm shows how this resolution was kept.
I. HE WHO BY HIS EXAMPLE HAD TAUGHT OTHERS TO SIN WILL NOW SEEK TO CONVERT THEM TO THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE. (Psalms 51:13.) To the ways of God's commandment. We cannot undo all the evil which our example has done; but we can in part repair it if we renew our lives.
II. DELIVERED FROM HIS SIN, HE WOULD PROCLAIM THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN PUNISHING AND DELIVERING HIM. (Psalms 51:14.) God is good and righteous in both—in punishing and saving from sin. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF PARDONED SIN UNCLOSES THE LIPS WHICH SIN HAD SEALED, AND HE CAN NOW TRULY PRAISE GOD. (Psalms 51:15.) God opens the lips by giving the sense of forgiveness; then we can preach and sing with a full heart.
IV. THE TRUEST SACRIFICE WE CAN OFFER TO GOD FOR OUR SIN IS REPENTANCE. (Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17.) Not blood or burnt offering; the cleansing of the heart by sorrow and renewal of mind—the work of God's Spirit.
V. WHEN A MAN HAS BEEN TRULY RESTORED HIMSELF, HIS SYMPATHIES WIDEN OUT WITH PRAYER FOR THE NATION AND THE WORLD. (Psalms 51:18, Psalms 51:19.) Genuine concern for others is founded upon the regeneration of our own spiritual nature. Zeal for others is spurious if we have not been zealous about ourselves; like those philosophers Cowper speaks of—
"Giving lives to distant worlds,
And trifling in our own."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 51". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter