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Psalms 51:1 « To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. » Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
A Psalm of David ] Who was not ashamed to do open penance here in a white sheet, as it were; so did Theodosius the emperor, at the reprehension of Ambrose, after the slaughter at Thessalonica; he spent eight months, saith Theodoret, in weeping and lamentation; he fell down on his face in the place of the penitents, and said, My soul is glued to the earth, &c. Henry IV (then king of Navarre only, afterwards of France also), having abused the daughter of a gentleman in Rochel, by whom he had a son, was persuaded by Monsieur Du-Plessis to make a public acknowledgment of his fault in the church, which also he did before all the nobility of his army. This counsel being thought by some to be too rigorous, Du-Plessis made this answer, That as a man could not be too courageous before men, so he could not be too humble in the presence of God (Life of Phil. de Morn., by Mr Clark).
When Nathan the prophet came unto him ] Rousing him out of a long lethargy, into which sin and Satan had cast him. See here the necessity of a faithful ministry, to be to us as the pilot was to Jonah, as the cock to Peter, &c.; as also of a friendly admonitor, such as David had prayed for, Psalms 141:5 , and here he is answered. David had lain long in sin without repentance to any purpose; some remorse he had felt, Psalms 32:3 , but it amounted not to a godly sorrow, till Nathan came; and in private, dealing plainly with him, more prevailed than all the lectures of the law or other means had done all that while.
After he had gone in to Bathsheba ] This was the devil’s nest-egg that caused many sins to be laid, one to and upon another. See the woeful chain of David’s lust, 2 Samuel 11:1-27 ; 2 Samuel 12:1-25 , and beware.
Ver. 1. Have mercy upon me, O God ] It was wont to be, O my God, but David had now sinned away his assurance, wiped off his comfortables; he dares not plead propriety in God, nor relation to him, as having forfeited both. At another time, when he had greatly offended God by numbering the people, God counted him but plain David, "Go and say to David," 2 Samuel 24:12 , whereas before, when he purposed to build God a temple, then it was, "Go tell my servant David," 2 Samuel 7:5 . Sin doth much impair and weaken our assurance of God’s favour; like as a drop of water falling on a burning candle dimmeth the light thereof. The course that David taketh for recovery of this last evil is confession of sin, and hearty prayer for pardoning and purging grace. In the courts of men it is safest (saith Quintilian) to plead Non feci, Not guilty; not so here, but Ego feci, miserere miserrimi peccatoris, misericors Deus. Guilty, Lord, have mercy, &c.
Per miserere mei tollitur ira Dei.
According to the multitude of thy tender mercies ] They are a multitude of them, and David needeth them all, for the pardon of his many and mighty sins; that where sin had abounded grace might superabound, it may have a superpleonasm, 1 Timothy 1:14 .
Blot out my transgressions ] Out of thy debtbook; cross out the black lines of my sins with the red lines of Christ’s blood; cancel the bond, though written in black and bloody characters.
Psa 51:2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Ver. 2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity ] Heb. Multiply, wash me; so Isaiah 55:7 . God is said to multiply pardon as much as we multiply sin. David apprehended his sin so exceeding sinful, his stain so inveterate, so engrained, that it would hardly be ever gotten out till the cloth were almost rubbed to pieces; that God himself would have somewhat to do to do it. He had been in a deep ditch, Proverbs 23:27 , and was pitifully defiled; he therefore begs hard to be thoroughly rinsed, to be bathed in that blessed fountain of Christ’s blood, that is opened for sins and for uncleanness, Zechariah 13:1 ; to be cleansed not only from outward defilements, but from his swinish nature; for though a swine be washed never so clean, if she retain her nature, she will be ready to wallow in the next guzzle. The time of our being here is αιων λουτροφορος , as Nazianzen calleth it, i.e. our washing time. Wash thy heart, O Jerusalem, that thou mayest be clean, Jeremiah 4:14 , not by thinking to set off with God, and to make amends by thy good deeds for thy bad; this is but lutum luto purgare, to wash off one filth with another; but by the practice of mortification, and by faith in Christ’s meritorious passion; for he hath washed us from our sins in his own blood, Revelation 1:5 . Other blood defileth, but this purifieth from all pollutions of flesh and spirit, 1 John 1:7 .
And cleanse me from my sin ] In like manner as the leper under the law was cleansed. Leprosy, frenzy, heresy, and jealousy, are by men counted incurable; Sed omnipotenti medico nullus insanabilis occurrit morbus, saith Isidore, to an Almighty physician no disease is incurable. There is indeed a natural Novatianism in the timorous consciences of convinced sinners, to doubt and question pardon for sins of apostasy, and falling after repentance; but there need be no such doubting, since God, who hath bidden us to forgive a repenting brother seventy times seven times in one day, will himself much more. All sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven to the sons of men, &c., Matthew 12:31 .
Psa 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin [is] ever before me.
Ver. 3. For I acknowledge my transgressions ] And therefore look for pardon, according to thy promise. Homo agnoseit, Deus ignoscit.
And my sin ] My twisted sin and sadly accented; mine accumulative sin, voluminous wickedness, that hath so many sins bound up in it, as Cicero saith of parricide.
Is ever before me ] To my great grief and regret, my conscience twitteth me with it, and the devil layeth it in my dish. This maketh him follow God so close, resolved to give him no rest till he hath registered and enrolled the remission of his sins in the book of life, with the bloody lines of Christ’s soul saving sufferings, and golden characters of his own eternal love.
Psa 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done [this] evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, [and] be clear when thou judgest.
Ver. 4. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned ] This he spake in respect of the secresy of his sins, say some; whence also it followeth, "And done this evil in thy sight." David sent for Bathsheba by his servants, but they knew not wherefore he sent for her, saith Kimchi; neither knew any one why letters were sent to Joab to kill Uriah; but because he refused to obey the king, bidding him go home to his house, &c. Others thus, Against thee only, that is, thee mainly; for every sin is a violation of God’s law; the trespass may be against man, but the transgression is ever against God. Others again thus, Against thee, &c., that is, against thee, so good a God, have I thus heinously offended, giving thereby thine enemies occasion to blaspheme thee. This, I take it, is the true meaning.
And done this evil in thy sight ] Which was to despise thee, 2 Samuel 12:10 , not caring though thou lookedst on.
That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, &c. ] i.e. Declared to be just, whatever thou hast denounced against me or shalt inflict upon me. The unrighteousness of man commendeth the righteousness of God, Romans 3:4-5 . To thee, O Lord God, belongeth righteousness, but unto us confusion of face, saith Daniel, Psalms 9:7 .
Psa 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Ver. 5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity ] This he allegeth, viz. his original depravity, not as an excuse, but as an aggravation of his actual abominations, which he saith were committed out of the vile viciousness of his nature. See Psalms 58:3-4 , . The Masorites here observe, that the word rendered iniquity is full, written with a double ו , Vau, to signify the fulness of his sin; Hebrew Text Note whole evil being in every man by nature, and whole evil in man; which, when the saints confess, they are full in the mouth, as I may so say; they begin with the root of sin (not at the fingers’ ends, as Adonibezek did), stabbing the old man at the heart first, and laying the main weight upon original corruption, that indwelling sin, as the apostle calleth it, Romans 7:14 , ; that sin of evil concupiscence, as the Chaldee here; that peccatum peccans, as the schools. Cicero likewise had heard somewhat of this when he said, Cum primum nascimur, in omni continuo pravitate versamur, As soon as ever we are born we are forthwith in all wickedness. Augustine saith, Damnatus homo antequam natus, Man is condemned as soon as conceived.
And in sin did my mother conceive me ] Heb. warm me; this Aben Ezra interpreteth to be our great grandmother Eve, Quae non parturiebat antequam peccabat. David meant it doubtless of his immediate mother, and spake of that poison wherewith she had warmed him in her womb, before the soul was infused. Corruption is conveyed by the impurity of the seed, Job 14:4 John 3:6 ; John 3:31 . Sin may be said to be in the seed inception and dispostion, as fire is in the flint. Let us therefore go with Elisha to the fountain, and cast salt into those rotten and stinking waters. And for our children, let us labour to mend that by education which we have marred by propagation.
Psa 51:6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden [part] thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Ver. 6. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts ] Quam tamen mihi defuisse res ipsa demonstrat; but this truth hath not been found in me, when I acted my sin in that sort, and did mine utmost to hide it from the world. I have showed little truth in the inward parts, but have grossly dissembled in my dealings, with Uriah especially, whom I so plied at first with counterfeit kindness, and then basely betrayed him to the sword of the enemy. Sinisterity is fully opposite to sincerity, treachery to truth.
And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom ] Thus, by faith, saith one, he riseth out of his sin, being taught wisdom of God. Others read it, Thou hast made me to know, &c. And yet have I sinned against the light of mine own knowledge and conscience; although thou hast taught me wisdom privately, Et eheu quam familiariter, as one of thine own domestics, or disciples. Some make it a prayer, Cause me to know wisdom, &c.
Psa 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Ver. 7. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean ] Sprinkle me with the blood of Christ by the hyssop bunch of faith, not only taking away thereby the sting and stink of sin, but conferring upon me the sweet savour of Christ’s righteousness imputed unto me. See Hebrews 9:13-14 ; Hebrews 9:19 , where he calleth it hyssop; of which see Dioscorides, lib. 3, chap. xxvi., xxviii. David multiplieth his suit for pardon, not only in plain terms, but by many metaphors.
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow ] So we cannot be by any washings of our own, though with snow water, Isaiah 1:16 . The bride’s garments are made white in the Lamb’s blood, Revelation 1:14 ; the foulest sinners washed in this fountain become white as the snow in Salmon, Isa 1:18 1Co 6:11 Ephesians 5:27 . Peccata non redeunt.
Psa 51:8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; [that] the bones [which] thou hast broken may rejoice.
Ver. 8. Make me to hear joy and gladness ] God will speak peace unto his people, he createth the fruit of the lips to be peace, Isaiah 57:19 , &c. No such joyful tidings to a condemned person as that of a pardon. Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee. Feri, feri, Domine, nam a peccatis absolutus sum, said Luther. David’s adultery and murder had weakened his spiritual condition, and wiped off all his comforts; but now he begs to be restored by some good sermon or sweet promise set home to his poor soul.
That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice ] By leaping over God’s pale he had broken his bones; and fain he would be set right again, by a renewed righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, by his former feelings of God’s favour.
Psa 51:9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Ver. 9. Hide thy face from my sins ] We are not able to endure God’s presence, much less his justice for our sins; nor can there be any sound peace of conscience while he frowneth. His favour is better than life, but his displeasure more bitter than death itself. See 2 Samuel 14:32 .
And blot out all mine iniquities ] See how one sin calleth to mind many thousands; which though they lie asleep a long time, like a sleeping debt, yet we know not how soon they may be reckoned for. Make sure of a general pardon; and take heed of adding new sins to the old.
Psa 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Ver. 10. Create in me a clean heart, O God ] His heart was woefully soiled with the filth of sin and the work of grace interrupted; he therefore prayeth God to interpose and begin it again, to set him up once more, to rekindle those sparks of the spirit that lay almost quite smothered; to put forth his Almighty power for that purpose, to farm that Augaean stable of his heart; to sanctify him throughout in spirit, soul, and body; and to keep him blameless unto the coming of his Son 1 Thessalonians 5:23 .
And renew a right spirit within me ] Or, a firm spirit, firm for God, able to resist the devil, steadfast in the faith, and to abide constant in the way that is called holy.
Psa 51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Ver. 11. Cast me not away from thy presence ] Deprive me not of communion with thee and comfort from thee; for that is a piece of hell torments, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 . Cain’s punishment, which possibly David might here mind, as being guilty of murder; and Saul’s loss of the kingly spirit, 1 Samuel 15:15 , might make him pray on.
And take not thine holy Spirit from me ] David knew that he had done enough to make the Holy Spirit loathe his lodging; he might also think that the Spirit had utterly withdrawn himself, and others might think as much, beholding his crosses, Jeremiah 30:17 . But the gifts and callings of God are without repentance; and where the Spirit once inhabiteth, there he abideth for ever, John 14:16 : an interruption there may be of his work, but not an intercision; and a saint falling into a gross sin may lose his ius aptitudinale ad caelum, but not his ius haereditarium; his fitness, but not his right to heaven, that holy place.
Psa 51:12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit.
Ver. 12. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation ] He had grieved that holy thing, that Spirit of God whereby he was sealed to the day of redemption, Ephesians 4:30 , and is therefore at a loss for comfort; he had vilipended that patent of his pardon which God had passed under his hand and seal; God therefore calleth for it home again into the pardon office, as it were, that he may know the worth by the want. A man may sin away, not only the sense and comfort of his pardon, but the evidence and knowledge of it, as that place of Peter seemeth to imply, 2 Peter 1:9 . Mountebanks, who wound their flesh to try conclusions upon their own bodies how sovereign the salve is, do oft feel the smart of their presumption, by long and desperate wounds: so God will let his Davids see what it is to make wounds in their consciences to try the preciousness of his balsam; such may go mourning to their graves (Dr Sibbes’ Soul’s Confl.). And though with much ado they get assurance of pardon, yet their consciences will be still trembling, till God at length speak further peace; even as the waters of the sea after a storm are not presently still, but move and tremble a good while after the storm is over.
And uphold me with thy free spirit ] Heb. Firmly sustain me with thy noble or princely Spirit, that may make me steady and ready to come off roundly in thy service. Sin against conscience disableth for duty, taketh away freedom to it and stability in it. David, therefore, prays God to fix his quicksilver, to balance his lightness, to settle and fill that vain and empty heart of his with something that may stay and stablish it, that may also free and enlarge it (for where the Spirit of God is there is liberty, 2Co 3:17 ), that he might yield prompt and present obedience to God in all things; and withal might be apt and able to teach transgressors, as he promiseth to do in the next words.
Psalms 51:13 [Then] will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Ver. 13. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways ] Instruunt nos Patres tum docentes, tum labentes, saith Augustine: Two ways the saints teach us. First, By their doctrine. Secondly, By their falls and failings. David had taught men this last way to his cost, that it is triste mortalitatis privilegium licere aliquando peccare; now he promiseth by his example and instruction to teach transgressors, those that are in the very bonds and hands of the devil, God’s ways of mercy to the penitent; and that they must either turn to God or burn for ever in hell.
And sinners shall be converted unto thee ] They shall give not the half, but the whole turn; and it shall appear by them. The turning of a sinner from evil to good is like the turning of a bell from one side to another; you cannot turn it but it will make a sound, and report its own motion.
Psa 51:14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: [and] my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
Ver. 14. Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God ] Heb. from bloods; in every drop whereof is a tongue crying for vengeance. Besides, if David’s adultery was a sin of infirmity (he was preoccupied, as Gal 6:1 ), yet his murdering of Uriah, and many others that fell together with him, was a sin of presumption; a deliberate prepensed evil, done in cold blood, and therefore lay very heavily upon his conscience. Howbeit he obtained pardon for this great sin also; so that it never troubled him on his deathbed, as some other did, though not so great, whereof he had not so thoroughly repented, 1 Kings 2:5-9
Thou God of my salvation ] By making choice of this so fit an attribute, he stirreth up himself to take better hold.
And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness ] That is, of thy faithfulness in performing thy promise of pardon to the penitent. As Aaron’s golden bells sounded, so should our tongues sound God’s praises, and sing them aloud, shrill them out.
Psa 51:15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
Ver. 15. O Lord, open thou my lips ] Which now I find stopped and sealed up, as it were, with the sin that doth so easily beset me; so that whereas I promised before to "sing aloud of thy righteousness," this I shall never be able to do without thy special furtherance, nisi verba suppedites et tanquam praeeas, unless thou please to supply me both with affections and expressions, as well as with matter of praise.
And my mouth shall show forth thy praise ] David had not been dumb till now, all the while he lay in his sin, but all he did was but liplabour, and therefore lost labour. Daniel confesseth the like of himself and his people, Daniel 9:13 , "All this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth." Prayed they had, but because they turned not from their iniquities, they got nothing by their prayers or praises. God is a fountain, and if he meet with a fit pipe (as is an ordinance rightly performed), there he usually conveyeth his grace; but if he meet with a foul pipe and obstructed, there he doth not confer a blessing. The Pharisees were not a button the better for all their long prayers, because rotten at heart.
Psa 51:16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give [it]: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
Ver. 16. For thou desirest not sacrifice ] This is the reason why David restipulateth praise, if God will pardon his great sin, Psalms 51:15 , viz. because he well understood that God preferred praise before all sacrifices whatsoever, provided that it came from a broken spirit, Psalms 51:17 , rightly humbled for sin, and thankfully accepting of pardon. See Psalms 50:14-15 ; Psalms 50:23 .
Thou delightest not in burnt offering ] viz. Comparatively, and indeed not at all without a contrite heart.
Una Dei est, purum, gratissima victima, pectus (Nazianzen).
Much less, then, doth God respect the sacrifice of the mass, that hath no footing or warrant in the word. A certain Sorbonist finding it written at the end of St Paul’s Epistles Missa est, &c., bragged he had found the mass in his Bible. And another reading John 1:44 , Invenimus Messiam, made the same conclusion (Beehive, cap. 3). Some of them, as Bellarmine for one, would fain ground it upon Malachi 1:11 . Others fetch the name Missa from the Hebrew mass for tribute (Buxtorf); which comes from Masas, to melt (because it many times melteth away men’s estates), Recte quidem, saith Rivet; per missam scilicet pietas omnis liquefacta est et dissoluta.
Psa 51:17 The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Ver. 17. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit ] i.e. Such a heart as lieth low, and heareth all that God saith; such a sacrifice or service as is laid on the low altar of a contrite heart, which sanctifieth the sacrifice (Mr Abbot); such a person as with a self-condemning, self-crucifying, and sin-mortifying heart, humbly and yet believingly maketh out for mercy and pardon in the blood of Christ, this, this is the man that God expects, accepts, and makes great account of.
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise ] This is great comfort to those that droop under a sense of sin and fear of wrath, being at next door to despair. Bring but a broken heart, and God will receive you graciously, pouring the oil of his grace into your broken vessels, This comforted Bernard on his deathbed, he died with this sentence in his mouth. Austin caused it to be written on the wall over against his bed where he lay sick and died. Many poor souls even in times of Popery had heaven opened unto them by meditating on this psalm; and especially on this verse Psalms 51:17 . (Jo. Manl. loc. com. 73)
Psa 51:18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Ver. 18. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Sion ] Having made his own peace with God, he now prayeth for the Church: and the rather, because by his foul sins he had hazarded, or rather exposed, both Zion and Jerusalem, Church and State, to divine displeasure. Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi.
Build thou the walls of Jerusalem ] i.e. Protect, defend, and maintain the civil state, grant all things necessary for its safety and well-being; supply of all wants, confirmation and increase of all blessings. Thus pray we, Jer 29:7 Psalms 122:6-8 ; for except the Lord keep the city, &c. See Isaiah 5:1-3 ; Isaiah 27:3 . He is a wall of fire, Revelation 20:9 , of water, Isaiah 33:20-21 ; say, therefore, as Isaiah 26:1 , and beware of security, sensuality, senselessness, &c.
Psa 51:19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
Ver. 19. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices, &c. ] i.e. Such as are offered in faith, and according to the will of God, Psalms 4:6 .
Then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar ] They shall be free hearted and frequent in thy work and service; Vae torpori nostro, Woe to our dulness and backwardness in these happy days of peace and free profession, which we had need improve as they did, Acts 9:31 . Otherwise, we may desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and not see it, Luke 17:22 . Go to Shiloh, &c.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 51". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28