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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 51

 

 

Verses 1-19

Psalms 51:1-19

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness.

The fifty-first psalm

A darker guilt you will scarcely find--kingly power abused--worst passions yielded to. Yet this psalm breathes from a spirit touched with the finest sensibilities of spiritual feeling. Two sides of our mysterious twofold being here. Something in us near to hell; something strangely near to God. It is good to observe this, that we rightly estimate: generously of fallen humanity; moderately of highest saintship. The germs of the worst crimes are in us all. In our deepest degradation there remains something sacred, undefiled, the pledge and gift of our better nature.

I. Scripture estimate of sin.

1. Personal accountability. “My sin.” It is hard to believe the sins we do are our own. We lay the blame anywhere but on ourselves. But here David owns it as his.

2. Estimated as hateful to God. The simple judgment of the conscience. But another estimate, born of the intellect, comes in collision with this religion and bewilders it. Look over life, and you will find it hard to believe that sin is against God: that it is not rather for Him. No doubt, out of evil comes good; evil is the resistance in battle, out of which good is created and becomes possible; it is the parent of all human industry. Even moral evil is generative of good. Thoughts such as these, I doubt not, haunt and perplex us all. Conscience is overborne by the intellect. “Perhaps evil is not so bad after all--perhaps good--who knows?” Remember, therefore, in matters practical, conscience, not intellect, is our guide. Unsophisticated conscience ever speaks this language of the Bible.

3. Sin estimated as separation from God. It is not that suffering and pain follow it, but that it is a contradiction of our own nature and God’s will. This is the feeling of this psalm. Do you fancy that men like David, shuddering in sight of evil, dreaded a material hell? Into true penitence the idea of punishment never enters. If it did it would be almost a relief; but oh! those moments in which a selfish act has appeared more hideous than any pain which the fancy of a Dante could devise I when the idea of the strife of self-will in battle with the loving will of God prolonged for ever, has painted itself to the imagination as the real infinite Hell! when self-concentration and the extinction of love in the soul has been felt as the real damnation of the devil-nature!

II. Restoration.

1. Sacrifice of a broken spirit. Observe the accurate and even Christian perception of the real meaning of sacrifice by the ancient spiritually-minded Jews. It has its origin in two feelings: one human, one divine. The feeling that there must be something surrendered to God, and that our best, is true; but men have mixed up with it the false thought that this sacrifice pleases God because of the loss or pain which it inflicts. Hence, the heathen idea of appeasement, to buy off his wrath, to glut his fury. See story of Iphigenia, Zaleucus, etc. These notions were mixed with Judaism, and are even now found in common views of Christ’s sacrifice. But men like David felt that what lay beneath all sacrifice as its ground and meaning was surrender to God’s will: that a man’s best is himself; and to sacrifice this is the true sacrifice. Learn, then, God does not wish pain, but goodness; not suffering, but you--yourself--your heart. Even in the sacrifice of Christ, God wished only this. It was precious not because it was pain, but because the pain, the blood, the death, were the last and highest evidence of entire surrender.

2. Spirit of liberty. “Thy free spirit”--literally, princely. A princely is a free spirit, unconstrained--“the royal law of liberty.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The exceeding sinfulness of sin

I. The nature of sin in the eyes of one who sees God. Just as one crime against the State can set all the machinery of our civilization against us, on which our existence now runs so smoothly; and the network of law, which secured us freedom of motion in the right path, serves only to trip us up when we have left it; so, one great act of sin against God has the power to pervert all the spiritual relationships of our life. In an ethical study by a popular writer, in the form of a story; at a critical moment the heroine is vouchsafed a vision of a successful sin in all its hideous nature, and shrinks back appalled. David sees it here, but, alas I too late to save his life from the shadow which never again left it.

II. Where iniquity did abound, grace did much more abound. The penitent, having laid bare his sin, now asks for God’s grace. First he asks for mercy. When the foe lay vanquished in the power of the conqueror, to cry, “Mercy!” meant “Ransom!”--“Spare my life and take a ransom! What a meaning it may have to us if, when we cry, “Mercy!” we feel that we are asking God to take a ransom! “The soul that sinneth it shall die;” but He in His pity allows me to plead those precious merits, and so obtain pardon and peace. But he goes on to ask God to do away his offences; to “blot them out,” as we read elsewhere. Sin remains as a witness against us, and only God can blot it out. This is what we mean by Absolution. But David goes even further. It is a bold prayer, an awful prayer: “Wash me throughly”--more and more. Have we courage to pray thus? Alas! we soon cry out.

III. The grounds on which he asks for pardon.

1. There is the multitude of God’s mercies. Each day we live is an argument in our favour. God sent me here; God has rescued me so often; God is always helping me; though I fall, I shall not be cast away. Hope is a great power. We seem like people forced to climb higher and higher up the face of the cliff by the sea driven in before the gale. It seems impossible to climb any further, and the spray is dashing in their faces, and the rock quivers to its base as the waves are shivered upon it. And then they find, it may be, at their feet, grass and flowers in the cleft of the rock, which could only grow above the highest water-mark, and at once they feel there is hope, and with hope comes an access of strength. So there are flowers in the lives of all of us here, which could only grow at a height above the devouring level of mortal sin. Let us hope.

2. He has told God everything; he has concealed nothing.

3. He acknowledges the true relation of sin to God. It is not the injury done to Uriah or to society; it is the insult done to God. God knows how weak we are. “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness;” and therefore “the truth in the inward parts” can only be reached when the plenitude of mercy touches the magnitude of sin. (Canon Newbolt.)

David’s repentance

I. The cry of contrition. Like a perfect master of medicine, unfolding in his clinical teaching, feature after feature Of the special ease under treatment till the very hereditary taint is manifest, David searches out this worst sickness; like the stern, skilful prosecutor summing up the damning evidence against a criminal, David lays bare fact after fact of his unmitigated guilt; like a faithful, solemn judge according just recompense to the evildoer, David pronounces on himself the penalty of God’s righteous law.

II. The cry for cleansing. This cry for cleansing is twofold--cleanse the record, cleanse myself. Two faces are bent over the proofs of his sin--God’s and David’s. From each gazer these sins must be hidden--from the one that there may be no condemnation, from the other that there may be full consolation. Cleanse me, wash me, make me whiter than snow. What orderliness, what Spirit-taught wisdom in this prayer! A polluted stream may be run off, but a poisoned spring must be cured. The wells of Marsh and the springs of Jericho call for their Maker’s hand. So does my heart. What a terrible but fruitful view of sin!

III. The cry of consecration. These new powers shall not be wasted. The new heart and the new spirit long for work. This fresh and unstinted grace to David fills his soul with thankfulness, and thankfulness embodies itself in toil for God and man. Praise is not wanting. But works surpass words. Grace from God always produces giving to God. Labour is as love, and love is as forgiveness. Where there is no condemnation there should be full consecration. (J. S. Macintosh, D. D.)

The prayer of the penitent

I. The prayer. It was both general and specific. He desired mercy, and he desired it to be specifically manifested in several ways, which he enumerates.

1. The general petition. “Have mercy upon me.” He did not plead right or merit; he did not plead a mitigation Of the righteous law of God. He knew exactly what he needed; and so, like the publican, he sent the arrow of his prayer straight go the mark of his need;

2. The specific petition.

II. The confession.

1. Frank acknowledgment. No excuses; no justification. “I have sinned”--that is the long and the short of it. He did not lay the blame on Bathsheba, as Adam on Eve.

2. A standing offence. Unforgiven sin is before us and before God; but forgiven sin is cast behind God’s back, and is among the things upon which we also may turn our backs.

3. An offence against God. God was more wronged even than man, and while no doubt he sorrowed that he had wronged his friend and his friend’s wife, he most bitterly grieved that he had wronged God in them.

4. Deep conviction. “Behold I was shapes in iniquity,” etc. David is convinced that an inherent depravity of nature is the evil root from which all sin springs. So herein he confesses his sinful nature as well as his sinful deeds. It is out of the heart that all evil proceeds. Hence his further prayer, “Behold Thou desirest truth in the inward parts,” etc. In this we have a strong hint of regeneration. The nature that is spoiled by sin must be renewed inwardly.

III. Renewed petition. He repeats his prayer for purging and washing, just as oftentimes, even after we are forgiven, the memory of the bitter sins still remains, and we are in some doubt whether it is all gone. It is like the burning of a wound that is healed. It is the sign of returning health; the desire of the soul for an after bath in the cleansing tide.

1. Joy and gladness.

2. He prays for a new heart.

3. He prays for the restoration of salvation’s joy.

4. A vow of consecration. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

A petition and an argument

I. The petition “Have mercy upon me,” etc.

1. Forgiveness of sin is mainly desirable of every sinner.

2. This serves to stir up our affections and desires in this particular.

3. And the sooner we do this, the better. It is not good or safe for any to suffer sin to be festering in their souls, but to be rid of it as soon as may be, and of the guilt adherent to it; by humiliation of themselves before God, and seeking to Him.

II. The argument. “According to thy lovingkindness,” etc.

1. Here is something supposed; viz. that there is in God lovingkindness and a multitude of tender mercies.

(a) The tenderness of God’s mercy is seen in--

(i.) His prudent consideration of the state and condition of the person who sins against Him (Psalms 103:13).

(ii.) His deferring and forbearing to punish and correct, where, notwithstanding, there is ground for it (Psalms 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3).

(iii.) The moderating of His corrections (Jeremiah 30:11). Severity knows no limits when once it begins; but tenderness puts a restraint upon itself; and this also is in God (Psalms 103:10; Ezra 9:13).

(iv.) The seasonable removal; there’s tenderness in that also (Psalms 103:9).

(b) The greatness of it (Psalms 57:10; Psalms 119:156).

(i.) In regard of the object of it. It extends to the pardoning and forgiving of great sins (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:13).

(ii.) For the freeness of it (Romans 9:17; Isaiah 43:25).

(iii.) For the duration (Isaiah 54:7-8; Psalms 103:17; Lamentations 3:22).

(c) The number and plurality. He has mercy for:

(i.) Many persons.

(ii.) Many offences.

(iii.) Many times of offending (Isaiah 55:7; James 2:13; Romans 5:20; Hosea 14:4; Psalms 103:3).

2. The inference.

The psalmist’s prayer for mercy

I. To whom the prayer is addressed. He does not address himself to God under the name Jehovah; but makes use of the plural title, which is commonly employed in Scripture when the gracious intercourse of Deity with fallen creatures is spoken of. The title implies the covenant relation to sinful man which God has been pleased to reveal through Jesus Christ our Lord. In our Litany mercy is implored by the use of this title from each of the three Persons in the adorable Trinity separately; and from the Trinity, as three in One.

II. The object which a penitent sinner proposes to himself in drawing near to God; and the spirit or frame of mind in which he addresses Him. A recovery of Divine favour is the grand object of desire to those who are made conscious of its value and of its forfeiture. “In Thy favour is life.” Guilt, natural and acquired, constitutes the impenetrable veil which separates between God and the contrite sinner; and the mediation of Christ, the light of life, is regarded as the only agency by which the dense veil can be swept away.

III. The measure or rule, according to which a penitent sinner desires to be dealt with in the expected answer to his prayer, “According to Thy lovingkindness.” How delightful is this co-operation of the persons of the Godhead in effecting the salvation of sinners! The grace of the Father provided and has accepted the needful atonement; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the work of propitiation; and the grace of the Holy Ghost enables us to pray for an interest in that atonement, and then reveals it, in all its freeness and sufficiency, to the afflicted heart. Thus is the life that is restored to a sinner, in every point of view, “the life of God in the soul of man.” The term “lovingkindness” seems literally to import a confluence of streams to form one vast river. And is not this the view which faith takes of Divine grace--a river deep and wide which is formed by a confluence of all the perfections of the Godhead? Omnipotence, omniscience, infinite justice and holiness all flow into this “river of the water of life.” (T. Biddulph, M. A.)

The greatness of sin to a true penitent

1. The true penitent sees sin as against God.

2. The penitent sees in his sin a corruption of nature. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity.”

3. The penitent acknowledges that all his religous acts are a mockery of God. “Thou desirest not sacrifice . . . Thou delightest not in burnt offering.” If religious acts, offerings, prayers, labours, penances, could cover sin, how gladly would he bring them! We have made clean the outside. God desireth truth in the inward parts.

4. The penitent sees that sin deprives him of joy, and thus of spiritual power.

5. The penitent sees his sin as destructive to the Church. To the opened eyes of David his sin had, as it were, thrown down the walls of Zion. “Build thou,” he prays, “the walls of Jerusalem!” Every backslider’s sin has this destroying power.

6. The true penitent offers no extenuation for sin. Beware of palliations. They may exist. Let others find them. Let God allow for them if He will. But in the penitent they always indicate that the work in him has not been thorough.

7. The penitent sees that the evil of sin is its sinfulness. He felt himself, by his sin, separated from God.

8. The penitent sees that public sin demands a full and public confession. Perhaps there are sins in our lives, which in our confessions we have slighted. They were known to others; they had publicity. And men who knew us said, “If he ever repents he will confess that sin. That shall be the test with us of the genuineness of his repentance.” But we did not confess. We tried. Often it troubles us.

9. The true penitent justifies God in His judgment upon sin.

10. The penitent acknowledges that sin requires a great remedy. He needed inward cleansing. “ Purge me with hyssop “ refers to the Levitical sacrifice which prefigured the atonement. Only when we make sin great do we give the sacrifice of Christ its due honour. (Monday Club Sermons.)

The prayer of the Penitent

I. The guilt of sin. Titles of lighter meaning have been substituted in its place--“vice” as though it were merely an evil against self alone; “crime “ or an offence against society. All such subterfuges are simply a glossing over of what is a moral evil in its relations to God. You cannot touch man without touching God; cannot wrong him without wronging God.

II. The Divine forgiveness, Between blinding one’s eyes against the guilt of sin and seeking infinite mercy to overcome such guilt, there is almost an infinite remove. It exalts the Divine character to know His readiness to forgive sin, while at the same time God can be justified when he speaks, and be clear when He judges.

III. The new heart. There must be more than the outward cleansing of the cup to make it clean. All things must become new in the new creature in Christ Jesus.

IV. The fruits of the new life.

1. He seeks first the personal rest freed from the goadings of his sin. He longs for the joy he once had, but which is now lost. He seeks a strength other than his own.

2. He recognizes the connection between the character of the leaders and the followers in the service of God. “Then will I teach transgressors,” etc. (David O. Mears.)

The moan of a king

The prayers of the Bible are among its sublimest treasures. Prayer does not set forth merely what I am, but what I would be; it is my ideal life; it is a glimpse and a struggling after a higher mode of being. “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 not be merely a change of state, but a change of nature. Not only must the debt be forgiven, but all disposition to contract further debt must be eradicated. David at the outset of the psalm appeals for mercy. No penitent asks for justice. The Pharisee may, not the publican. But for sin we should never have known the merciful side of the Divine government. We should have known nothing but law. As we are indebted to the storm for the rainbow, so we are indebted to sin for the better boon of earth-encircling mercy. “I acknowledge my transgressions.” Confession is a necessary basis for forgiveness, and is a convergence of right judgment, right feeling, right action. But there are many kinds of expression which are wholly unavailing. As the selfish confession of the criminal who turns king’s evidence. The defiant confession of the man who glories in his crime. The careless confession made with an air of indifference and is insensible of the turpitude of his crime. But David’s is far other than these. “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. Try for a moment to embody sin. Personify iniquities! Let each transgression assume material manifestation. Covetousness--a lean, gaunt, spectral image; with outstretched bony fingers; with eager eyes, in which is written the expression of an insatiable hunger. Look at that and call it your sin. Unholy anger, with swollen lips and fire-lit eyes, and heaving breast; oaths and blasphemies might well burn on such lips and glare out of such eyes. That unholy anger is yours (verse 4). “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.” Some sins exclusively against God, others against man also; but none are exclusively against man. But whosoever sins against man sins against God. Let all oppressors heed this. While it is true, therefore, that you can sin against God without directly sinning against man, yet it is equally true that you cannot sin against God without diminishing your power to promote the highest interests of man; so that sin is an enemy in every respect--hateful to God, hurtful to man, darkening the heavens, burdening the earth! What shall be our prayer in relation to it? “Wash me throughly,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The penitent sinner

I. The penitent’s prayer.

1. A prayer of pity. Three ways of treating sin: indifference, severity, mercy. God’s way, as revealed specially by Christ, unites both justice and mercy.

2. A prayer for pardon. Sin must be blotted out before peace can be restored.

3. A prayer for purification. There is here a recognition--

II. The penitent’s plea. He does not plead past purity, pious parentage, public position, princely prowess; but the plenitude of God’s mercy. A “multitude” of tender mercies! (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. To fly to God is the only true way to find comfort in the time of spiritual distress.

2. The mercy of God in the pardon of sin is a blessing of exceeding worth. It is the hungry soul that can best judge of the worth of good. It is he which lieth sick upon his couch, and not able to stir for weakness, that can tell the worth of health. When thy soul is pained with the horror of sin, then thou wilt be fit to apprehend the truth of this doctrine, and then thou wilt need but little quickening to this kind of suit.

3. In forgiving of sin, there is an utter abolishment on God’s part of the guilt of sin (Psalms 32:1-2; Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:18-19; Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 50:20).

4. Man hath no plea but the freedom of God’s grace in making suit for the pardon of his sins (Psalms 130:4; Ezra 9:6; Ezra 9:10; Ezra 9:15). (S. Hieron.)

The prayer for mercy

1. The true suppliant believes that there is mercy with God. This is the greatest wonder of the Divine being. The omniscience of God is a wonder. The omnipotence of God is a wonder. God’s spotless holiness is a wonder. None of these things can we understand. But the greatest wonder of all is the mercy of God. In heaven men are humbled at the thought of it, and never cease to adore and thank God for His mercy. For there God is known as the Holy One.

2. The suppliant also feels that he has need of mercy; that nothing but free grace alone can be his hope.

3. He desires also that mercy may be shown to him. That God is merciful, he cries, that I know there is great mercy with God, that there is mercy for all son still bring me no rest. What I need to make the anxious heart peaceful is, that I should know God is merciful to me, Be merciful to me, yes, to me, O God of mercy.

4. This longing is in full harmony with what God’s Word teaches us on these points. The Word speaks always of finding mercy, obtaining mercy, receiving mercy, partaking of mercy, having mercy; and looked at from the side of God as an action, it is called giving mercy, showing mercy. (Andrew Murray.)

God’s lovingkindness

God’s kindness is more than ordinary, and more than extraordinary; it must be called “loving.” The kindness is loving, and the love is kind. There is no love like His, no kindness like His. All kindness but this, if you use it often, wears out. However great the kindness of a neighbour be, if you keep daily drawing upon it you will soon exhaust it. The kindness of a friend has limits which are soon reached and passed, The kindness of a father or a mother--for that is the kindest that this world possesses--that, even that, has its limits. God’s kindness is loving. It is the strong band of love that makes it so long and so lasting. You cannot break that cord, it is so fine and yet so strong. (T. Alexander, M. A.)

According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

God’s mercy

The greatest comfort that Christians have in their trouble is, that they have to do with a merciful God, and not rigorous, nor one who will chide with us continually, but, one who is slow to anger, ready to forgive, whose name is mercy, whose nature is merciful, who hath promised to be merciful, who is the Father of mercies. The earth is full of His mercies, they are above the heavens and the clouds; His mercy is above all His works, extending to a thousand generations, whose mercy endureth for ever. (A. Symson.)

God’s-tender mercies

They are unbounded, and they are “tender.” Our mercy is not tender. What little mercy you find in man is often harsh and hard. It is a common saying among us, “I forgive, but I do not forget.” There is often harshness, hardness, unkindness in the way in which our mercy is bestowed. And even when that is not so, but when man bestows his kindness and vouchsafes his mercy in his blandest way, you could never think of calling it “tender.” But God forgives; and when He forgives He does it tenderly. There is no upbraiding. He blots out the trangression, and there is no more remembrance of it at all. He forgets as soon as He forgives. It is done in a gentle way. “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” The sin is swept away; it is cast behind His, back into the depths of the sea. God’s mercies are very tender. And then they are a multitude. Tender in their nature, they are a multitude in their number. They are numberless, measureless, endless. Like the stars, man cannot count them. Like the grains of sand that cushion yonder wave-beaten shore, no man knows how many they be. God’s mercies, beginning with our birth, are heaped up around and upon us all day long, and all through our life journey. (T. Alexander, D. D.)

God’s former dealings a plea for mercy

These words, “According to Thy lovingkindness and tender mercies,” may be taken not only absolutely but respectively in reference to his own former experiences of the goodness of God towards him. David had found and felt how gracious God had been to him in former time, in divers mercies which He had bestowed upon him in several kinds and ways; and more particularly in the pardoning and forgiving of sin unto him, and in the assuring of him also of this pardon; and now he deals with God upon terms of His wonted goodness, which he desires still may be continued to him. This shows us the advantage of God’s children in this particular, that they can deal with God upon the account of former goodness; that having justified their persons in general, He should remit their special transgression to them; and having forgiven them the sins of their nature, He should therefore consequently forgive to them likewise the sins of their lives. The reason of it is this, because He is still like Himself, and changes not, so that he that hath done the one, will not stick to do the other with it; God’s mercies are so linked and chained together that we may reason in this manner from them. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

“Blot out my trangressions”

The general prayer for mercy is not enough. The Lord desires that we should know and say what we would have mercy to do for us. And the first thing is this, “According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” The law of God takes reckoning of every transgression that we commit. In the great account-book of heaven they stand against us as a record of our guilt. David knew that there could be no intercourse with the holy and righteous God so long as this old guilt was not abolished, was not blotted out. He knew that mercy could not convert or change the sinner, or bring him to heaven, unless his guilt was first blotted out. The wrath of God must first be appeased. The old guilt of the past must first be taken out of the way. The sinner must have acquittal and the forgiveness of his sins. This is the first work of Divine grace. Without this, God the Holy Judge cannot receive the sinner into His friendship; and therefore he prays, “Have mercy upon me. Blot out my transgressions.” (Andrew Murray.)

Sin blotted out

A boy ran in to his mother one day after he had read that promise, “I will blot out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions.” And he said: “Mother, what does God mean when He says He will blot out my sins? What is He going to do with them? I can’t see how God can really blot them out and put them away. What does it mean--blot out?” The mother, who is always the best theologian for a child, said to the boy, “Didn’t I see, you yesterday writing on your slate?” “Yes,” he said. “Well, show it to me. He brought his slate to his mother, who, holding it out in front of him, said, “Where is what you wrote? Oh,” he said, “I rubbed it out.” “Well, where is it?” “Why, mother, I don’t know.” “But how could you put it away if it was really there?” “Oh, mother, I don’t know. I know it was there, and it is gone.” “Well,” she said, “that is what God meant when He said, ‘I will blot out thy transgressions.’” (Campbell Morgan, D. D.)


Verses 1-19

Psalms 51:1-19

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness.

The fifty-first psalm

A darker guilt you will scarcely find--kingly power abused--worst passions yielded to. Yet this psalm breathes from a spirit touched with the finest sensibilities of spiritual feeling. Two sides of our mysterious twofold being here. Something in us near to hell; something strangely near to God. It is good to observe this, that we rightly estimate: generously of fallen humanity; moderately of highest saintship. The germs of the worst crimes are in us all. In our deepest degradation there remains something sacred, undefiled, the pledge and gift of our better nature.

I. Scripture estimate of sin.

1. Personal accountability. “My sin.” It is hard to believe the sins we do are our own. We lay the blame anywhere but on ourselves. But here David owns it as his.

2. Estimated as hateful to God. The simple judgment of the conscience. But another estimate, born of the intellect, comes in collision with this religion and bewilders it. Look over life, and you will find it hard to believe that sin is against God: that it is not rather for Him. No doubt, out of evil comes good; evil is the resistance in battle, out of which good is created and becomes possible; it is the parent of all human industry. Even moral evil is generative of good. Thoughts such as these, I doubt not, haunt and perplex us all. Conscience is overborne by the intellect. “Perhaps evil is not so bad after all--perhaps good--who knows?” Remember, therefore, in matters practical, conscience, not intellect, is our guide. Unsophisticated conscience ever speaks this language of the Bible.

3. Sin estimated as separation from God. It is not that suffering and pain follow it, but that it is a contradiction of our own nature and God’s will. This is the feeling of this psalm. Do you fancy that men like David, shuddering in sight of evil, dreaded a material hell? Into true penitence the idea of punishment never enters. If it did it would be almost a relief; but oh! those moments in which a selfish act has appeared more hideous than any pain which the fancy of a Dante could devise I when the idea of the strife of self-will in battle with the loving will of God prolonged for ever, has painted itself to the imagination as the real infinite Hell! when self-concentration and the extinction of love in the soul has been felt as the real damnation of the devil-nature!

II. Restoration.

1. Sacrifice of a broken spirit. Observe the accurate and even Christian perception of the real meaning of sacrifice by the ancient spiritually-minded Jews. It has its origin in two feelings: one human, one divine. The feeling that there must be something surrendered to God, and that our best, is true; but men have mixed up with it the false thought that this sacrifice pleases God because of the loss or pain which it inflicts. Hence, the heathen idea of appeasement, to buy off his wrath, to glut his fury. See story of Iphigenia, Zaleucus, etc. These notions were mixed with Judaism, and are even now found in common views of Christ’s sacrifice. But men like David felt that what lay beneath all sacrifice as its ground and meaning was surrender to God’s will: that a man’s best is himself; and to sacrifice this is the true sacrifice. Learn, then, God does not wish pain, but goodness; not suffering, but you--yourself--your heart. Even in the sacrifice of Christ, God wished only this. It was precious not because it was pain, but because the pain, the blood, the death, were the last and highest evidence of entire surrender.

2. Spirit of liberty. “Thy free spirit”--literally, princely. A princely is a free spirit, unconstrained--“the royal law of liberty.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The exceeding sinfulness of sin

I. The nature of sin in the eyes of one who sees God. Just as one crime against the State can set all the machinery of our civilization against us, on which our existence now runs so smoothly; and the network of law, which secured us freedom of motion in the right path, serves only to trip us up when we have left it; so, one great act of sin against God has the power to pervert all the spiritual relationships of our life. In an ethical study by a popular writer, in the form of a story; at a critical moment the heroine is vouchsafed a vision of a successful sin in all its hideous nature, and shrinks back appalled. David sees it here, but, alas I too late to save his life from the shadow which never again left it.

II. Where iniquity did abound, grace did much more abound. The penitent, having laid bare his sin, now asks for God’s grace. First he asks for mercy. When the foe lay vanquished in the power of the conqueror, to cry, “Mercy!” meant “Ransom!”--“Spare my life and take a ransom! What a meaning it may have to us if, when we cry, “Mercy!” we feel that we are asking God to take a ransom! “The soul that sinneth it shall die;” but He in His pity allows me to plead those precious merits, and so obtain pardon and peace. But he goes on to ask God to do away his offences; to “blot them out,” as we read elsewhere. Sin remains as a witness against us, and only God can blot it out. This is what we mean by Absolution. But David goes even further. It is a bold prayer, an awful prayer: “Wash me throughly”--more and more. Have we courage to pray thus? Alas! we soon cry out.

III. The grounds on which he asks for pardon.

1. There is the multitude of God’s mercies. Each day we live is an argument in our favour. God sent me here; God has rescued me so often; God is always helping me; though I fall, I shall not be cast away. Hope is a great power. We seem like people forced to climb higher and higher up the face of the cliff by the sea driven in before the gale. It seems impossible to climb any further, and the spray is dashing in their faces, and the rock quivers to its base as the waves are shivered upon it. And then they find, it may be, at their feet, grass and flowers in the cleft of the rock, which could only grow above the highest water-mark, and at once they feel there is hope, and with hope comes an access of strength. So there are flowers in the lives of all of us here, which could only grow at a height above the devouring level of mortal sin. Let us hope.

2. He has told God everything; he has concealed nothing.

3. He acknowledges the true relation of sin to God. It is not the injury done to Uriah or to society; it is the insult done to God. God knows how weak we are. “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness;” and therefore “the truth in the inward parts” can only be reached when the plenitude of mercy touches the magnitude of sin. (Canon Newbolt.)

David’s repentance

I. The cry of contrition. Like a perfect master of medicine, unfolding in his clinical teaching, feature after feature Of the special ease under treatment till the very hereditary taint is manifest, David searches out this worst sickness; like the stern, skilful prosecutor summing up the damning evidence against a criminal, David lays bare fact after fact of his unmitigated guilt; like a faithful, solemn judge according just recompense to the evildoer, David pronounces on himself the penalty of God’s righteous law.

II. The cry for cleansing. This cry for cleansing is twofold--cleanse the record, cleanse myself. Two faces are bent over the proofs of his sin--God’s and David’s. From each gazer these sins must be hidden--from the one that there may be no condemnation, from the other that there may be full consolation. Cleanse me, wash me, make me whiter than snow. What orderliness, what Spirit-taught wisdom in this prayer! A polluted stream may be run off, but a poisoned spring must be cured. The wells of Marsh and the springs of Jericho call for their Maker’s hand. So does my heart. What a terrible but fruitful view of sin!

III. The cry of consecration. These new powers shall not be wasted. The new heart and the new spirit long for work. This fresh and unstinted grace to David fills his soul with thankfulness, and thankfulness embodies itself in toil for God and man. Praise is not wanting. But works surpass words. Grace from God always produces giving to God. Labour is as love, and love is as forgiveness. Where there is no condemnation there should be full consecration. (J. S. Macintosh, D. D.)

The prayer of the penitent

I. The prayer. It was both general and specific. He desired mercy, and he desired it to be specifically manifested in several ways, which he enumerates.

1. The general petition. “Have mercy upon me.” He did not plead right or merit; he did not plead a mitigation Of the righteous law of God. He knew exactly what he needed; and so, like the publican, he sent the arrow of his prayer straight go the mark of his need;

2. The specific petition.

II. The confession.

1. Frank acknowledgment. No excuses; no justification. “I have sinned”--that is the long and the short of it. He did not lay the blame on Bathsheba, as Adam on Eve.

2. A standing offence. Unforgiven sin is before us and before God; but forgiven sin is cast behind God’s back, and is among the things upon which we also may turn our backs.

3. An offence against God. God was more wronged even than man, and while no doubt he sorrowed that he had wronged his friend and his friend’s wife, he most bitterly grieved that he had wronged God in them.

4. Deep conviction. “Behold I was shapes in iniquity,” etc. David is convinced that an inherent depravity of nature is the evil root from which all sin springs. So herein he confesses his sinful nature as well as his sinful deeds. It is out of the heart that all evil proceeds. Hence his further prayer, “Behold Thou desirest truth in the inward parts,” etc. In this we have a strong hint of regeneration. The nature that is spoiled by sin must be renewed inwardly.

III. Renewed petition. He repeats his prayer for purging and washing, just as oftentimes, even after we are forgiven, the memory of the bitter sins still remains, and we are in some doubt whether it is all gone. It is like the burning of a wound that is healed. It is the sign of returning health; the desire of the soul for an after bath in the cleansing tide.

1. Joy and gladness.

2. He prays for a new heart.

3. He prays for the restoration of salvation’s joy.

4. A vow of consecration. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

A petition and an argument

I. The petition “Have mercy upon me,” etc.

1. Forgiveness of sin is mainly desirable of every sinner.

2. This serves to stir up our affections and desires in this particular.

3. And the sooner we do this, the better. It is not good or safe for any to suffer sin to be festering in their souls, but to be rid of it as soon as may be, and of the guilt adherent to it; by humiliation of themselves before God, and seeking to Him.

II. The argument. “According to thy lovingkindness,” etc.

1. Here is something supposed; viz. that there is in God lovingkindness and a multitude of tender mercies.

(a) The tenderness of God’s mercy is seen in--

(i.) His prudent consideration of the state and condition of the person who sins against Him (Psalms 103:13).

(ii.) His deferring and forbearing to punish and correct, where, notwithstanding, there is ground for it (Psalms 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3).

(iii.) The moderating of His corrections (Jeremiah 30:11). Severity knows no limits when once it begins; but tenderness puts a restraint upon itself; and this also is in God (Psalms 103:10; Ezra 9:13).

(iv.) The seasonable removal; there’s tenderness in that also (Psalms 103:9).

(b) The greatness of it (Psalms 57:10; Psalms 119:156).

(i.) In regard of the object of it. It extends to the pardoning and forgiving of great sins (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:13).

(ii.) For the freeness of it (Romans 9:17; Isaiah 43:25).

(iii.) For the duration (Isaiah 54:7-8; Psalms 103:17; Lamentations 3:22).

(c) The number and plurality. He has mercy for:

(i.) Many persons.

(ii.) Many offences.

(iii.) Many times of offending (Isaiah 55:7; James 2:13; Romans 5:20; Hosea 14:4; Psalms 103:3).

2. The inference.

The psalmist’s prayer for mercy

I. To whom the prayer is addressed. He does not address himself to God under the name Jehovah; but makes use of the plural title, which is commonly employed in Scripture when the gracious intercourse of Deity with fallen creatures is spoken of. The title implies the covenant relation to sinful man which God has been pleased to reveal through Jesus Christ our Lord. In our Litany mercy is implored by the use of this title from each of the three Persons in the adorable Trinity separately; and from the Trinity, as three in One.

II. The object which a penitent sinner proposes to himself in drawing near to God; and the spirit or frame of mind in which he addresses Him. A recovery of Divine favour is the grand object of desire to those who are made conscious of its value and of its forfeiture. “In Thy favour is life.” Guilt, natural and acquired, constitutes the impenetrable veil which separates between God and the contrite sinner; and the mediation of Christ, the light of life, is regarded as the only agency by which the dense veil can be swept away.

III. The measure or rule, according to which a penitent sinner desires to be dealt with in the expected answer to his prayer, “According to Thy lovingkindness.” How delightful is this co-operation of the persons of the Godhead in effecting the salvation of sinners! The grace of the Father provided and has accepted the needful atonement; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the work of propitiation; and the grace of the Holy Ghost enables us to pray for an interest in that atonement, and then reveals it, in all its freeness and sufficiency, to the afflicted heart. Thus is the life that is restored to a sinner, in every point of view, “the life of God in the soul of man.” The term “lovingkindness” seems literally to import a confluence of streams to form one vast river. And is not this the view which faith takes of Divine grace--a river deep and wide which is formed by a confluence of all the perfections of the Godhead? Omnipotence, omniscience, infinite justice and holiness all flow into this “river of the water of life.” (T. Biddulph, M. A.)

The greatness of sin to a true penitent

1. The true penitent sees sin as against God.

2. The penitent sees in his sin a corruption of nature. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity.”

3. The penitent acknowledges that all his religous acts are a mockery of God. “Thou desirest not sacrifice . . . Thou delightest not in burnt offering.” If religious acts, offerings, prayers, labours, penances, could cover sin, how gladly would he bring them! We have made clean the outside. God desireth truth in the inward parts.

4. The penitent sees that sin deprives him of joy, and thus of spiritual power.

5. The penitent sees his sin as destructive to the Church. To the opened eyes of David his sin had, as it were, thrown down the walls of Zion. “Build thou,” he prays, “the walls of Jerusalem!” Every backslider’s sin has this destroying power.

6. The true penitent offers no extenuation for sin. Beware of palliations. They may exist. Let others find them. Let God allow for them if He will. But in the penitent they always indicate that the work in him has not been thorough.

7. The penitent sees that the evil of sin is its sinfulness. He felt himself, by his sin, separated from God.

8. The penitent sees that public sin demands a full and public confession. Perhaps there are sins in our lives, which in our confessions we have slighted. They were known to others; they had publicity. And men who knew us said, “If he ever repents he will confess that sin. That shall be the test with us of the genuineness of his repentance.” But we did not confess. We tried. Often it troubles us.

9. The true penitent justifies God in His judgment upon sin.

10. The penitent acknowledges that sin requires a great remedy. He needed inward cleansing. “ Purge me with hyssop “ refers to the Levitical sacrifice which prefigured the atonement. Only when we make sin great do we give the sacrifice of Christ its due honour. (Monday Club Sermons.)

The prayer of the Penitent

I. The guilt of sin. Titles of lighter meaning have been substituted in its place--“vice” as though it were merely an evil against self alone; “crime “ or an offence against society. All such subterfuges are simply a glossing over of what is a moral evil in its relations to God. You cannot touch man without touching God; cannot wrong him without wronging God.

II. The Divine forgiveness, Between blinding one’s eyes against the guilt of sin and seeking infinite mercy to overcome such guilt, there is almost an infinite remove. It exalts the Divine character to know His readiness to forgive sin, while at the same time God can be justified when he speaks, and be clear when He judges.

III. The new heart. There must be more than the outward cleansing of the cup to make it clean. All things must become new in the new creature in Christ Jesus.

IV. The fruits of the new life.

1. He seeks first the personal rest freed from the goadings of his sin. He longs for the joy he once had, but which is now lost. He seeks a strength other than his own.

2. He recognizes the connection between the character of the leaders and the followers in the service of God. “Then will I teach transgressors,” etc. (David O. Mears.)

The moan of a king

The prayers of the Bible are among its sublimest treasures. Prayer does not set forth merely what I am, but what I would be; it is my ideal life; it is a glimpse and a struggling after a higher mode of being. “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 not be merely a change of state, but a change of nature. Not only must the debt be forgiven, but all disposition to contract further debt must be eradicated. David at the outset of the psalm appeals for mercy. No penitent asks for justice. The Pharisee may, not the publican. But for sin we should never have known the merciful side of the Divine government. We should have known nothing but law. As we are indebted to the storm for the rainbow, so we are indebted to sin for the better boon of earth-encircling mercy. “I acknowledge my transgressions.” Confession is a necessary basis for forgiveness, and is a convergence of right judgment, right feeling, right action. But there are many kinds of expression which are wholly unavailing. As the selfish confession of the criminal who turns king’s evidence. The defiant confession of the man who glories in his crime. The careless confession made with an air of indifference and is insensible of the turpitude of his crime. But David’s is far other than these. “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. Try for a moment to embody sin. Personify iniquities! Let each transgression assume material manifestation. Covetousness--a lean, gaunt, spectral image; with outstretched bony fingers; with eager eyes, in which is written the expression of an insatiable hunger. Look at that and call it your sin. Unholy anger, with swollen lips and fire-lit eyes, and heaving breast; oaths and blasphemies might well burn on such lips and glare out of such eyes. That unholy anger is yours (verse 4). “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.” Some sins exclusively against God, others against man also; but none are exclusively against man. But whosoever sins against man sins against God. Let all oppressors heed this. While it is true, therefore, that you can sin against God without directly sinning against man, yet it is equally true that you cannot sin against God without diminishing your power to promote the highest interests of man; so that sin is an enemy in every respect--hateful to God, hurtful to man, darkening the heavens, burdening the earth! What shall be our prayer in relation to it? “Wash me throughly,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The penitent sinner

I. The penitent’s prayer.

1. A prayer of pity. Three ways of treating sin: indifference, severity, mercy. God’s way, as revealed specially by Christ, unites both justice and mercy.

2. A prayer for pardon. Sin must be blotted out before peace can be restored.

3. A prayer for purification. There is here a recognition--

II. The penitent’s plea. He does not plead past purity, pious parentage, public position, princely prowess; but the plenitude of God’s mercy. A “multitude” of tender mercies! (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. To fly to God is the only true way to find comfort in the time of spiritual distress.

2. The mercy of God in the pardon of sin is a blessing of exceeding worth. It is the hungry soul that can best judge of the worth of good. It is he which lieth sick upon his couch, and not able to stir for weakness, that can tell the worth of health. When thy soul is pained with the horror of sin, then thou wilt be fit to apprehend the truth of this doctrine, and then thou wilt need but little quickening to this kind of suit.

3. In forgiving of sin, there is an utter abolishment on God’s part of the guilt of sin (Psalms 32:1-2; Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:18-19; Jeremiah 31:34; Jeremiah 50:20).

4. Man hath no plea but the freedom of God’s grace in making suit for the pardon of his sins (Psalms 130:4; Ezra 9:6; Ezra 9:10; Ezra 9:15). (S. Hieron.)

The prayer for mercy

1. The true suppliant believes that there is mercy with God. This is the greatest wonder of the Divine being. The omniscience of God is a wonder. The omnipotence of God is a wonder. God’s spotless holiness is a wonder. None of these things can we understand. But the greatest wonder of all is the mercy of God. In heaven men are humbled at the thought of it, and never cease to adore and thank God for His mercy. For there God is known as the Holy One.

2. The suppliant also feels that he has need of mercy; that nothing but free grace alone can be his hope.

3. He desires also that mercy may be shown to him. That God is merciful, he cries, that I know there is great mercy with God, that there is mercy for all son still bring me no rest. What I need to make the anxious heart peaceful is, that I should know God is merciful to me, Be merciful to me, yes, to me, O God of mercy.

4. This longing is in full harmony with what God’s Word teaches us on these points. The Word speaks always of finding mercy, obtaining mercy, receiving mercy, partaking of mercy, having mercy; and looked at from the side of God as an action, it is called giving mercy, showing mercy. (Andrew Murray.)

God’s lovingkindness

God’s kindness is more than ordinary, and more than extraordinary; it must be called “loving.” The kindness is loving, and the love is kind. There is no love like His, no kindness like His. All kindness but this, if you use it often, wears out. However great the kindness of a neighbour be, if you keep daily drawing upon it you will soon exhaust it. The kindness of a friend has limits which are soon reached and passed, The kindness of a father or a mother--for that is the kindest that this world possesses--that, even that, has its limits. God’s kindness is loving. It is the strong band of love that makes it so long and so lasting. You cannot break that cord, it is so fine and yet so strong. (T. Alexander, M. A.)

According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

God’s mercy

The greatest comfort that Christians have in their trouble is, that they have to do with a merciful God, and not rigorous, nor one who will chide with us continually, but, one who is slow to anger, ready to forgive, whose name is mercy, whose nature is merciful, who hath promised to be merciful, who is the Father of mercies. The earth is full of His mercies, they are above the heavens and the clouds; His mercy is above all His works, extending to a thousand generations, whose mercy endureth for ever. (A. Symson.)

God’s-tender mercies

They are unbounded, and they are “tender.” Our mercy is not tender. What little mercy you find in man is often harsh and hard. It is a common saying among us, “I forgive, but I do not forget.” There is often harshness, hardness, unkindness in the way in which our mercy is bestowed. And even when that is not so, but when man bestows his kindness and vouchsafes his mercy in his blandest way, you could never think of calling it “tender.” But God forgives; and when He forgives He does it tenderly. There is no upbraiding. He blots out the trangression, and there is no more remembrance of it at all. He forgets as soon as He forgives. It is done in a gentle way. “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” The sin is swept away; it is cast behind His, back into the depths of the sea. God’s mercies are very tender. And then they are a multitude. Tender in their nature, they are a multitude in their number. They are numberless, measureless, endless. Like the stars, man cannot count them. Like the grains of sand that cushion yonder wave-beaten shore, no man knows how many they be. God’s mercies, beginning with our birth, are heaped up around and upon us all day long, and all through our life journey. (T. Alexander, D. D.)

God’s former dealings a plea for mercy

These words, “According to Thy lovingkindness and tender mercies,” may be taken not only absolutely but respectively in reference to his own former experiences of the goodness of God towards him. David had found and felt how gracious God had been to him in former time, in divers mercies which He had bestowed upon him in several kinds and ways; and more particularly in the pardoning and forgiving of sin unto him, and in the assuring of him also of this pardon; and now he deals with God upon terms of His wonted goodness, which he desires still may be continued to him. This shows us the advantage of God’s children in this particular, that they can deal with God upon the account of former goodness; that having justified their persons in general, He should remit their special transgression to them; and having forgiven them the sins of their nature, He should therefore consequently forgive to them likewise the sins of their lives. The reason of it is this, because He is still like Himself, and changes not, so that he that hath done the one, will not stick to do the other with it; God’s mercies are so linked and chained together that we may reason in this manner from them. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

“Blot out my trangressions”

The general prayer for mercy is not enough. The Lord desires that we should know and say what we would have mercy to do for us. And the first thing is this, “According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” The law of God takes reckoning of every transgression that we commit. In the great account-book of heaven they stand against us as a record of our guilt. David knew that there could be no intercourse with the holy and righteous God so long as this old guilt was not abolished, was not blotted out. He knew that mercy could not convert or change the sinner, or bring him to heaven, unless his guilt was first blotted out. The wrath of God must first be appeased. The old guilt of the past must first be taken out of the way. The sinner must have acquittal and the forgiveness of his sins. This is the first work of Divine grace. Without this, God the Holy Judge cannot receive the sinner into His friendship; and therefore he prays, “Have mercy upon me. Blot out my transgressions.” (Andrew Murray.)

Sin blotted out

A boy ran in to his mother one day after he had read that promise, “I will blot out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions.” And he said: “Mother, what does God mean when He says He will blot out my sins? What is He going to do with them? I can’t see how God can really blot them out and put them away. What does it mean--blot out?” The mother, who is always the best theologian for a child, said to the boy, “Didn’t I see, you yesterday writing on your slate?” “Yes,” he said. “Well, show it to me. He brought his slate to his mother, who, holding it out in front of him, said, “Where is what you wrote? Oh,” he said, “I rubbed it out.” “Well, where is it?” “Why, mother, I don’t know.” “But how could you put it away if it was really there?” “Oh, mother, I don’t know. I know it was there, and it is gone.” “Well,” she said, “that is what God meant when He said, ‘I will blot out thy transgressions.’” (Campbell Morgan, D. D.)


Verse 2

Psalms 51:2

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

David’s cry for pardon

I. How David thought of his sin. The repetition of these petitions show his earnestness of soul. In like manner he asks for the gifts of God’s Spirit.

1. He speaks of transgressions, the individual acts of sin; and then--

2. Of the iniquity which is the centre and root of them all. Further, 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 my sin. He has not learned to say with Adam of old, and with some so-called wise thinkers to-day, “I was tempted, and I could not help it.” He does not talk about “circumstances,” and say that they share the blame with him. He takes it all to himself. 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. “Transgression” literally means rebellion, a breaking away from and setting oneself against lawful authority. “Iniquity” literally means that which is twisted, bent. “Sin” literally means missing a mark, an aim. Think how profound and living is the consciousness of sin which lies in calling it rebellion. It is not merely, then, that we go against some abstract propriety, or break some impersonal law of nature when we do wrong, but that we rebel against a rightful Sovereign. Not less profound and suggestive is that other name for sin, that which is twisted, or bent, mine “iniquity.” It is the same metaphor which lies in our own word “wrong,” that which is wrung or warped from the straight line of right. David had the pattern before him, and by its side his unsteady purpose, his passionate lust had traced this wretched scrawl. Another very solemn and terrible thought of what sin is lies in that final word for it, which means “missing an aim.” How strikingly that puts a truth which we are for ever tempted to deny. Every sin is a blunder as well as a crime. Sin ever misses its aim. It is a temptress that seems so fair, and when he reaches her side, and lifts her veil, eager to embrace the tempter, a hideous skeleton grins and gibbers at him. Yes! every sin is a mistake, and the epitaph for the sinner is “Thou fool.”

II. How he thinks of forgiveness. As the words for sin expressed a threefold view of the burden from which the psalmist seeks deliverance, so the triple prayer, in like manner, shows that it is not merely pardon for which he asks. Forgiveness and cleansing run into each other in his prayer as they do in our own experience, for they are inseparable one from the other. The first petition regards 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. And we want God to blot them out. Ah! some people tell us that the past is irrevocable, that the thing once dens can never be undone, that the life’s diary written by our own hands can never be cancelled. Thank God, we know better than that. We know who blots out the handwriting “that is against us, nailing it to His cross.” We know that of God’s great mercy our future may “copy fair our past,” and the past may be all obliterated and removed. Then there is another idea in the second of these prayers for forgiveness, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity.” The word expresses the antique way of cleansing garments by treading and beating. He is not praying for a mere declaration of pardon, he is not asking only for the one complete, instantaneous act of forgiveness, but he is asking for a process of purifying which will be long and hard. “I am ready,” says he in effect, “to submit to any sort of discipline, if only I may be clean. Wash me, beat me, tread me down, hammer me with mallets, dash me against stones, rub me with smarting soap and caustic nitre--do anything, anything with me, if only those foul spots melt away from the texture of my soul.” A solemn prayer, if we pray it aright, which will be answered by many a sharp application of God’s Spirit, by many a sorrow, by much very painful work, both within our own souls and in our outward lives, but which will be fulfilled at last in our being clothed like our Lord in garments which shine as the light. The deliverance from sin is still further expressed by that third supplication, “Cleanse me from my sin.” He thinks of it as if it were a leprosy, incurable, fatal, and capable of being cleansed only by the great High Priest, and by His finger being laid upon it.

III. Whence comes the confidence for such a prayer. His whole hope rests upon God’s character as revealed in the multitude of His tender mercies. This is the blessedness of all true penitence, that the more profoundly it feels our own sore need and great sinfulness, in that very proportion does it recognize the yet greater mercy and all-sufficient grace of Our loving God, and from the lowest depths beholds the stars in the sky, which they who dwell amid the surface-brightness of the noonday cannot discern. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The repentance of David

I. The means which won him to it. It was the preacher’s voice. How wretched, how fearful, how nigh unto reprobation was his state ere Nathan came to him. And now he breaks down like the snow wreath when the sun looks full upon it.

II. The signs which mark his sincerity. They are--

1. That the one thought which fills his soul is, “I have sinned against the Lord.” True, he had sinned against man as well as God, yet, because the aspect of his sin as committed against God was so much more terrible and awful to him that it filled up the whole field of his view, and he could see nothing else.

2. And he sees his sin in all its hugeness and vileness. There is no diminishing or excusing it, no paring it down.

3. He takes willingly the disgrace of his sin; and--

4. Its punishment. But whilst he asks not deliverance frets these, there is a cry--

5. The cry for cleansing. “Create in me a clean heart,” etc.

6. He turns straight to God, clinging to Him, even in this hour of shame.

7. His one terror is test he be cast away from God’s presence.

8. There is the devotion of all his after life to God’s service.

III. Conclusion.

1. Have you ever trembled under the word of God?

2. Are these marks of true repentance visible in you? Go over them one by one.

3. Seek the blessing of true repentance by prayer to God for it; it is His gift. It is the work at that “tree Spirit” which is Christ’s special gift. Until that heavenly dew falls upon thy soul, it will be, must be, dry and cold, and bare. Thou cannot work thyself into penitence. But when that gracious shower is poured upon the heart, all is done. Then the voice of the turtle is heard. Then the heart mourns apart, It is like the breaking up of some mighty northern frost, which has bound the so, ailing sea fast beneath its iron band, when the western gale has breathed upon it, and the hard, thick-ribbed ice-crest has broken up as a cobweb under the grasp of a giant. And then all is changed; on the ocean’s breast the mighty currents wake again into life, bearing on and on to the frozen north the life-giving streams of southern waters; and as the warm gales breathe on the snowy plains of the neighbouring shore, the long-banished verdure flashes again into colour and beauty, and the sweet spring comes on apace, the birds begin their songs, the fountains awake; and every blade and leaf, with all the tribes of life around them, rejoice before God in the blessed sunlight. And yet, what is all this to the breaking up of the ice-crest which has bound down a living soul for which Christ died? And

2. Remember thy sins.

3. Revenge thy fault (2 Corinthians 7:11).

4. As thou gazest upon thy sin, gaze more earnestly upon the face of thy Lord who, by His cross, delivers thee from thy sin. (Bishop S. Wilberforoe.)

A specific plea for pardon

I. The kinds of sin are laid down in a variety of expressions: transgression, iniquity, sin. All of them together, for the nature of them, are here exhibited as polluting and defiling. This point sets a price upon the blood of Christ, which “cleanseth us from all sin.”

II. The desire and endeavour of a gracious heart; and that is, to be freed and delivered from this defilement.

1. The object specified. “Mine iniquity and my sin.”

2. The act propounded, “Wash me,” etc. This washing it may be conceived of two sorts. Either first, in reference to justification, “Wash me,” that is, free me from the guilt of it; or else secondly, in reference to sanctification, “Wash me” from the defilement.

3. The intention of the act. “Throughly.” It was not any slight kind of sprinkling which would serve David’s turn; no, but he would be washed to purpose; he would have this work complete in him. And here we have still a further property in the true servants of God, which is considerable in them; and that is, to have the work both of forgiveness, and likewise of holiness perfected to them. A good Christian would have nothing left impure or unsanctified in him, but would be sanctified throughout; in his understanding, will, affections, outward man, and where he is any way failing; he would have all corruption cleansed from him, he would be generally and universally good as much as may be; and he sets upon reformation of particulars by reforming in general. The reason of it is this--

4. The vehemency of the affection. “Wash me . . . and cleanse me.” We should be importunate with God in such petitions, and not easily be put off from them.

III. The manner and practice of God as to forgiveness and holiness. And that is, to go through with them.

1. Forgiveness is an utter abolition of all kinds of guilt (Psalms 32:1-2; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 38:17; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:18-19).

2. So as to sanctification; God is also complete in this work, He works throughly.

Deliverance from iniquity and sin sought

I. The evils from which a true penitent implores deliverance. Sin is imputed, it is communicated, and it is committed.

II. The nature of the deliverance which the penitent implores. The blessing of purification from the love and power of sin always accompanies deliverance from its guilt; and as these blessings are never separated, the one from the other, in a communication of grace, so are desires after them always united in the experience and prayers of penitent sinners. Is it not wisdom to submit to the means which are necessary for restoration to health, though those means may be, for a time, painful and distressing? (T. Biddulph, M. A.)


Verse 4

Psalms 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.

Unimpeachable justice

Our subject will be, that both in the condemnation and in the punishment of every sinner God will be justified. Now, concerning such condemned ones, we will speak--

I. Of the Christian whose conscience condemns him. He will make the words of our text his own, and will say, “Thou art justified when Thou speakest, and,” etc. For--

1. He makes a confession. He owns God’s sentence just. And his confession is sincere; abundantly sufficient, without any attempt at extenuation, or promise that he will, of himself, do better. And not only does his confession justify God in condemning him, hub--

2. There is the fact that God Himself witnessed his crime; “In Thy sight,” he owns that it was done. And the witness of his conscience he owns to be true and abundant.

3. The Christian has no doubt about the justice of the punishment, however severe. For he remembers not only what he himself has done, but how he has made others sin.

II. The condemnation of the ungodly. This is far more terrible. But in it God will be clear.

1. Because of the sinner’s own confession.

2. The witnesses that will be against him.

3. And in the sinner’s heart there will be no doubt at last as to the righteousness of his punishment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Actual sin

When speaking of Original sin we had to prove its existence; but there is no need of that here. No one denies actual sin. But the readiness of this admission is our great difficulty in dealing with this subject. Its familiarity has bred indifference. But in spite of this, let us come to its consideration, and we speak--

I. Of its guilt. Take the very smallest sin and see its guilt in the fact that it has been committed against God. Thus David viewed his sin. “Against Thee, Thee only,” etc. This swallows up all other considerations. We are ever saying that we have net been a great sinner, never injured any man. As if the guilt was great only when man was wronged: the wrong to God being of little moment. But that a sin is against God--is that in which consists the greatness of its guilt; for, even among men, we measure the guilt of crimes not by the actual injury resulting from them, but by their injurious tendencies. The traitor who has attempted the life of his sovereign--the rebel who has tried to overthrow his authority--are rightly held as guilty when they fail as if they had succeeded. They are punished, not for the harm that their rebellion or their treason has done, but for the harm which rebellion and treason must do if not repressed. Now, what is a sinner but a rebel? He who sins has defied the sovereign authority of his God--he has set the will of the creature against the will of the Creator. But in this, your one small sin against God, you are guilty not only of rebellion, but of ingratitude. You have sinned against a Father who has made you, and preserved you, and blessed you with blessings innumerable. But more than this, there is in your sin against God not only rebellion and ingratitude, but insult. He who sins against God has been guilty of first making to himself an idol god whom he may offend with impunity, one who has eyes that see not, ears that hear not, and hands that smite not him that goeth on still in his wicked way. But you will say you never thought there could have been any harm in such a trifle. But has it ever occurred to you that this very thing that you allege in your excuse is an aggravation of your guilt? For ignorance, such as you plead, is an excuse for sin only where there is no law; where there is a law, there ignorance of that law is a sin, and a great one; it is the sin of refusing to hear God when He speaks. And if it were not so, if sins of ignorance were always guiltless, then there would be a direct bounty upon ignorance; this would be to give a revelation, and, at the same time, to give men the strongest inducement not to read it. But you will plead the force of habit, that you did it unconsciously. But this shows you have gone on in sin, and the plea is rather an aggravation of your guilt.

II. Their number--how incalculable. There are three kinds of sin,--sins, namely, of thought, word and deed; and each of these may be committed in two ways--by omission or by commission; and, further, that every sin of commission involves one of omission--that we can never do what we ought not to have done without having left undone what we ought to have done. And now, remembering the searching and comprehensive character of that law of which every transgression is a sin, try and form some remote idea of the number of your offences. And we ask you to compare sin as it appears in God’s sight, with sin as it appears in the sight, and as it is pictured in the language of men. How do men generally speak and think of sin? There are some who boast of it. But these are the exceptions, these are open profligates, whom moral and respectable society excommunicates. How, then, do morality and respectability think and speak of sin? Why--provided it offends not against the decencies and the proprieties of life--gently, indulgently, almost respectfully; there is no lack of polite phrases by which society can cloak sins, which, in their native and undisguised grossness it professes to repudiate. Adultery is gallantry; and profligacy is wildness; and profanity is a light way of speaking; infidelity is unsettled ideas about religion; and revenge is high spirit; and drunkenness is conviviality; and heartless and frivolous dissipation is innocent gaiety. And then morality and respectability have favourite vices which they will introduce to you as virtues--avarice is carefulness; and selfishness is prudence; and deceit is politeness; and wasteful luxury is hospitality; and pride is becoming self-respect--until, if you would believe them, you would be persuaded that sin was almost banished from good society, and that certainly there was no such thing to be found there as a “miserable sinner.” (Archbishop Magee.)

Repentance

There are two kinds of this--the sorrow of the world, and that of God. This latter regards sin as against God. It is the object of sin rather than its consequences that affect Him. For all sin is against God, more than it is against any other being. However it may despise human authority, it involves a greater contempt of His. It is a great error to say of a man that he is nobody’s enemy but his own. For “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” And this is sin’s greatest aggravation, for see how glorious, how holy, how gracious God is. Failure to see this aggravation in our sin is the cause why conviction of sin is often so slight. True repentance equally regards all sin, for every sin is against God. And the reformation that follows such repentance is thorough. No sin can be a trifle, since it is against God. (W. Nevins, D. D.)

David’s accusating of himself and acquittal of God

I. The censure or accusation which he passes upon himself.

1. The simple acknowledgment or confession. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.”

(a) As Lawgiver.

(b) As Creator.

(c) As Redeemer.

(a) Thee, an only God; a God of pure eyes, and that cannot endure to behold iniquity.

(b) Thee, a just God, who wilt punish sin wheresoever Thou findest it.

(c) Thee, an Almighty God, a God of power and strength.

2. The additional ingemination of it. “And done this evil in Thy sight.”

(a) The thought and intention.

(b) The execution of it.

(c) All the excuses and pretences made for it.

This may serve to awaken and affright men in this respect; and especially as to secret miscarriages. There are abundance of people in the world who carry it fairly as to outward appearance, who yet have their private excursions into ways of wickedness, and their secret haunts of sin; and these please themselves oftentimes in the thought of their concealment from the world. Yea, but there is an all-seeing eye that beholds them in their greatest retiredness, an eye that neither slumbers nor sleeps.

(a) His non-attendaney. He did not consider that God beheld him.

(b) He did not regard the presence of God.

For a thief to steal in the very sight of the judge is the highest piece of impudence that may be; and thus it is for any man to offend in the sight of God and not to be moved with it. Therefore, let us look to this, and consider what influence it has had upon us; the observing eye of God, and what it has not; what a shame is it for any to tremble at the presence of frail man, yea, it may be some little child, and beholding them in the commission of sin, and not regard the presence of the holy and pure God.

II. The acquitting of God.

1. A gracious heart gives testimony to the Word of God; it acknowledges the truth of God in that which comes from Him (John 3:33). This may be drawn forth according to all the words which are spoken by God. In His word of threatening, it justifies Him here by fearing and trembling at His word; as good Josiah, when he rent his clothes, and his heart was melted, etc. In his word of reproof, it justifies him here by acknowledging of the fall; “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken,” says Hezekiah, when he was told of his sin. In His word of promise, it justifies Him here by believing it, and expecting its accomplishment, as (Psalms 119:49). In His word of command, it justifies Him hero by yielding obedience to it, and putting it into practice.

2. A submitting to the judgment of God. This is another temper and disposition of a gracious soul to clear God in His judiciary proceedings (Psalms 119:75; Jeremiah 12:1; Micah 7:9; Romans 3:2; Romans 3:19). And this is another thing which we should therefore in a sweet manner bring ourselves to; to submit with meekness and patience to God’s correction, acknowledging the justice of them, and that our punishment is still less than our iniquities have deserved. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

David’s acknowledgment, of God’s justice

David is in thorough earnest with every confession. Here he presents the reasons why he thus avows his sin. He desires to approve the sentence of God, and to acknowledge that His verdict concerning Him could not be other than the righteous judgment which he had deserved. He could adduce nothing on which he could plead for any other sentence. If he were still to be received, it must only be upon the footing of free, undeserved grace. O, what a different experience is this from the superficial confession of sin with which most men rest content. They confess, indeed, that they are sinners; but the sin is a weakness, an infirmity, a misfortune. They have to sympathize with the sinner, but of the honour of God they think but little. The poor sinner must be comforted; but whether the honour of God’s law is maintained concerns them not. O my fellow-man, that is not repentance as the Spirit of God works it in the heart. No; he that is truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God does not merely think of himself and what concerns him; but his great sorrow is that he has dared to commit transgression against such a God, with such a perfect law; and his great concern is how he can possibly restore that which he has destroyed; and since he can do nothing else, he lays himself down at the feet of God to yield to Him the only honour that he now can give, namely, to acknowledge that He is righteous in His judgment. (Andrew Murray.)


Verses 5-7

Psalms 51:5-7

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Original depravity

Men may come upon this doctrine one of two different ways.

1. As a dogma in theology. The first thing that some theologians do is to assail human nature, to describe it as covered with wounds, bruises and putrefying sores, and as deserving nothing but eternal burning. And human nature denies this. It says, “No, I have good impulses, upward desires, generous emotions; I resent your calumnies.”

2. The second way is totally unlike this. Here is a true believer in Jesus Christ, one who loves Him with passionate devotion, and grows daily more like Him. From this attitude he looks back upon his former self, compares the human nature he started with, with that which he has attained, and involuntarily, by the sheer necessity of the contrast, he says, “I was born in sin.” What he never could have understood as an opinion he realizes as a fact. Let a tree be conscious. Tell it in April how bare and barren it is. It will defend itself stoutly. Go to it after it has had a summer’s experience, and it will confess, “I am not what I was; I was as you said, but now I feel as if I had been born again.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Of original sin

The end of the Gospel is to bring sinners unto Christ; for this they must feel their misery without Christ. And this misery consists in our sin, original and actual.

I. Natural corruption is a sin (Romans 7:1-25.), where you may find near twenty aggravations of this sin. And it is not a valid objection that this sin is not voluntary, for what is involuntary may be sin. But original sin is voluntary both in respect of Adam who represented us all, and in respect of us by our after consent.

II. We are tainted with it from our birth (Isaiah 48:8). Stay not to inquire how sin is conveyed to us in the womb, but consider how to be set free from it.

III. It should be the ground of our humiliation.

1. It is a privation of all good (Romans 7:18).

2. There is an antipathy to God and the things of God (Romans 8:7). The carnal mind is not only an enemy, but “enmity.” Naturalists write of a beast that will tear and rend the picture of a man if it come in his way; whence they argue his great antipathy to man. And so we may argue antipathy to God when men will tear and despise His image. What cause, then, for humiliation.

IV. Press home this doctrine. Consider, therefore--

1. The unnaturalness of this sin. We hate vermin that are naturally poisonous more than any other.

2. The sinfulness of it; for it violates not one of, but all, God’s commands, and that always without interruption; there is no cessation from it.

3. The causality of it. All actual sin springs from it.

4. Its habitualness both in respect of permanency--see leprosy (Lviticus 14:41, 42)--and facility in acting (Romans 7:21; Jeremiah 8:6).

5. Its pregnancy; it is all sin virtually, for all sin is wrapped up in it.

6. Its extent. It has overspread the whole man (Isaiah 1:6).

7. Its monstrousness; see the deformity it has brought upon the soul by defect, impotency, dislocation.

8. Its irresistibleness and strength.

9. Its devilishness, brutishness and incorrigibleness. (D. Clarkson.)

Original sin

We purpose considering the subject of original sin--what it is that David means, when he says, “I was shapen in iniquity.” This implies two things--guilt and corruption, that every man is “born in sin and a child of wrath”--there is guilt imputed to him. This guilt which is imputed to him is the guilt of Adam, his representative, and this sin which is derived by him is that of Adam, his progenitor. This is our twofold inheritance from our first parent--original sin. Let us take each of these in its order. Our first proposition is, that we inherit from Adam guilt; that he stood before God the representative of all humanity--their federal head, in whom they entered into covenant with their Maker. In him we all once stood upright, in him we were tried, fell, were judged and condemned. Is it true? Turn, then, to Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 5:12; “Death has passed upon all men,” because “all have sinned.” But the only sin they could have suffered for was the sin of Adam. Stern and strange as this doctrine may seem, it is not more stern or more strange than the undeniable fact which proves it. We take the man who denies it to the bedside, where lies the corpse of a newborn babe that has just breathed out its few short hours of painful life. Why is this? Pain has been here, and death--what brought them? What had that little sufferer done, that the dread penalty of death should be extracted from it, and its young life untimely snatched away? It “was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin.” But this fact, that death has passed upon all alike, not only proves the doctrine of original sin, but supplies, to a certain extent, an answer to the objection made on the score of justice; for the injustice of imparting to us Adam’s guilt is certainly no greater than that of inflicting upon us Adam’s punishment. In this world the innocent do suffer for the guilty, and the sins of the parents are visited upon the children. Ask the offspring of the drunkard, the libertine, the criminal, the spendthrift. And the sins of one age are visited upon the next. A godless statesman suffers a nation to grow up in ignorance, and the next generation reap the bitter fruits of his neglect in misery and crime. A faithless ministry leave their flocks unguarded and unfed, and they who come after them toil painfully, and almost hopelessly, to recall those sheep to the fold from which the carelessness of others had suffered them to stray. Wherever we turn, then, we see men suffering for the sins and smarting for the follies of others. Why, then, should it startle you when we ask you to admit a fact which is not one whir more opposed to justice, nay, which throws the only gleam of light along this dark chain of sinful cause and sorrowful effect--namely, that we not only suffer the consequences, but also share the guilt, of our first parent’s first offence? If you object to the doctrine of original sin as revealed in the word of God, you must object against the fact of vicarious suffering as ordained in the providence of God. There is no stoppingplace between Atheism and the faith of the Christian who believes, in spite of all mystery, that God is just and good. But you say it is unjust that I should be held to have sinned in Adam--what, then, is it you would demand? A trial in your own person--that you should be placed as Adam was, in a state of probation, made upright, with the option of so continuing, if you could; this, you will say, would have been just. But if you were so placed, do you imagine that you would have fared better than he did? Was he not the very perfection of humanity? Was there any weakness in him there would not have been in you? Is there any strength you could have that He had not? What could you have been at best but another Adam, sure to yield to the very same temptation to which he yielded? What difference, then, is there, in point of justice, between this trial having been made for you or by you, if the result would be the same in either case, and if you are only held guilty of a sin which you would assuredly commit, had you the opportunity of committing it? But the vindication is more complete and triumphant when we remember that over against the sin of the first Adam is placed the grace of the second, so that “where sin did abound, grace,” etc. (Archbishop Magee.)

Original sin

I. Man by nature is sinful.

1. Prove this by Bible testimony (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21).

2. Every page of human history tells the sad story of man’s natural corruption.

3. What we observe in others we have to confess to be even more true of ourselves. We know not only the fact of this tendency to sin, but its strength; for we have had to struggle against it in order to do good, and to abstain from evil. Any righteousness in man is the result of an effort to work up-stream against his own nature.

4. This has been the testimony of the best men in all ages (Job 42:6; Isaiah 6:5; 1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 7:23).

5. The same is testified to by highest reason. If you try apple after apple from every part of the tree, and all alike sour, you cannot but conclude the tree itself is bad. If you drink from a stream and find it brackish, day after day you conclude that the fountain itself is bitter. Now, when you observe man after man sinning day after day, in all ages, under every form of government and society, you must conclude that the troubles lie in the very nature of man.

II. This corruption is universal as to the whole race, and total as to each man. Like leprosy, it may not be visible in the whole face or body, but being in the blood it is only a question of time as to when it will claim every part. Do not deceive yourselves. However you may manage to hold your inward corruption in check, it will sooner or later work out your total corruption, if not in this world, in the world to come. Death will remove all restraining motives and you will in eternity be left to the unrestrained operations of your sinful nature.

III. We are responsible for our sinful nature. I do not believe that God’s Word teaches that we were guilty of original sin in Adam. But the Word of God is clear that you are guilty and responsible for original sin by your own act. We have inherited sin; God does not condemn us for having inherited it, but for choosing to stand by the sin we have inherited, and refusing to give it up and turn from it when He calls upon us to forsake it and accept His abundant mercy in forgiveness, together with a new nature in Christ Jesus. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

The natural state of mankind in regard of sin

I. The original of it. “I was shapen,” etc. Original sin, wherewith the nature of man is so infected, consists in two things. First, in Adam’s voluntary transgression in eating of the forbidden fruit, imputed to all his posterity. Secondly, in the hereditary corruption of nature, propagated and derived to his posterity.

II. The manner of it, how it is conveyed. There are divers opinions about it, and each have their arguments for them. It is enough for us to know this, that man produces his like not only in nature, but also in corruption; and the one is consequent upon the other; so that it is impossible for a sinner to produce any other than a sinner (Job 14:4; John 3:6). The consideration of this point is thus far useful unto us.

1. As it teaches parents how to carry themselves towards their children; which, although it be not to indulge them, yet to pity corruption in them, as considering how themselves have been the occasions of conveying it to them. And further, it will hence concern parents to be so much the more careful and industrious of freeing their children from sin, so far forth as lies in their power. As they have been the occasion of corrupting them, so they should be likewise instruments of reforming them; and as they have been the conveyers of sin, so they should be also of grace. Now, this is especially done three manner of ways.

2. Here is an item also to children from hence, not to glory too much in their pedigree and natural birth into the world. Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite; thou wast shapen in iniquity, and in sin did thy mother conceive thee.

III. The notoriousness of it. “Behold.” David sets a mark upon this sin as being most grievous. And so it is.

1. In respect of the largeness of it; for it comprehends in it all other sins and evils.

2. in regard of the strength and power of it.

3. The inherence and permanency of it (Romans 7:17). As for many actual sins, they may be wholly suppressed in us so as we may never return to them again. But this corruption of nature will always more or less continue; and we shall never be freed absolutely from the actings and stirrings of it so long as we live. Now, the application of this point thus explained may be drawn forth into this improvement, namely, as matter of just abasement and humiliation to us, and that which may lay us low both in our own eyes and the eyes of God. And it may do so to two sorts of persons. First, those who are yet in their natural condition; here’s a word of astonishment and advertisement also to them. By how much the more grievous original sin is in its own nature, by so much the more sad and lamentable is their estate, and they have cause to be affected with it. Now, further, there may be an improvement of it likewise to the regenerate, and that to sundry intents. First, in a way of thankfulness to God for their freedom and deliverances. The worse that original sin is, the greater mercy to be freed from such an evil. Secondly, in an endeavour to make others partakers of this birth so far forth as we are able; it is that which Paul professes of himself in the behalf of the Galatians (Galatians 4:19). Thus should ministers for their people, parents for their children, Christian friends one for another, seeing a natural condition is so grievous, therefore being renewed themselves, to endeavour likewise the conversion of others. Thirdly, in a way of caution and wariness for themselves. They should hence ha persuaded to keep a watch over their own hearts, and to remember that they have flesh in them as well as spirit, from whence they may not make too bold with the occasions and temptations to sin, but may suppress and subdue them in them betimes. And further, to have sober thoughts in themselves when they behold the enormities of others; not to be high-minded, but to fear. (T. Horton, D. D.)

Total depravity

Total depravity is the entire alienation of the will and affections from God; and that carries all the good qualities as well aa the bad ones away from God and enlists them against Him. A daughter, tenderly reared and carefully educated, in an evil hour yields to temptation and loses her virtue, and subsequently chooses to lead a life of sin and shame. So far as her standing in society and among virtuous people is concerned she is totally depraved; and yet in her sin and shame she retains her accomplishments, and if not all her former graces and kindliness of heart and disposition, at least very much that is good. But who will deny that, for all this, she is in every sense a bad and totally lost woman, so far as virtuous society is concerned? I have recently wandered over some of the splendid ruins of Europe--through many an ancient abbey and cathedral. In some, if not all, there were the remains of their ancient and exquisite beauty. Here was a window with its exquisite tracery in stone as complete as when it was built; there an arch as entire and strong as of yore; and here again a cloister-room as entire as when it was occupied by one of the priests of the chapter. But for all this, the cathedral as such was a total ruin. Who has not admired with a constantly increasing admiration that grandest of European ruins, the old castle at Heidelberg! Much of it is still intact; its splendid and elaborately carved and sculptured facades are still there and the chapel scarcely decayed; and so of many other parts. And yet it is a mournful ruin, entirely and utterly destroyed so far as the purpose for which it was originally built is concerned. Out here in our own beautiful harbour a few months ago there was a collision between two ships, and one of them went to the bottom. The divers went down to examine her hull and see if it would pay to attempt to raise her, and coming up they pronounced her a “total wreck.” Now, some one objects to that report and says, “while the ship is wrecked, to be sure, there are many parts about her that are as good as ever; keel and bow, and one entire side, boiler and engines scarcely damaged--why should she be called a total wreck?” Why? Because she is beyond repair. The materials out of which she was built may be recovered and sold for old iron, but the ship as a ship is wholly ruined. In this sense man, with his many remainders of original beauty and perfections, is a totally depraved being. Man, originally upright, and to serve and enjoy God, he has “sought out many inventions”; he has become entirely alienated from God; and what of his powers have not become the prey of low and disgusting sins have boon preserved for selfish uses and wholly withdrawn from the service of God. Could a man be found who was a model of intellectual and moral perfection who yet withdrew from the fellowship and service of God and used those unimpaired and beautiful faculties against Him, he would be a totally depraved man. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

Nothing but sin

So the knowledge of this one sin bringeth him to the examination of his whole life, till he find nothing in himself but sin. For if the fountain be poisoned, what will the streams be that flow from it? If we would look back to our original sin, we might have cause the more to lament our actual sins as poisoned streams flowing from such a fountain. So soon, therefore, as our conscience accuseth us of any one sin, we should call to remembrance the whole course of our life, that it hath been nothing else but a continual sinning against God; that thus the last putting us in mind of the first, we may not he content to repent and ask pardon for one, but for all. A sick man having obtained health, doth remember how long he was sick, whereby for the present he both considereth his own frailty and God’s mercy in delivering him, as also encourageth and animateth himself against the time to come, by remembrance of former mercies obtained. Happy were we if we would begin to remember our miseries and God’s mercies. (A. Symson.)

The fact of original sin indisputable

Sin must be within us naturally, since the best training does not prevent it. Children secluded from the sight or hearing of evil, kept as it were within a glass case, yet run to it when the restraint is removed. As the young duck which has been reared in a dry place, yet takes to the water as soon as it sees a pond, so do many hasten to evil at the first opportunity. How often it happens that those young persons who have been most shut out from the world have become the readiest victims of temptation when the time has come for them to quit the parental roof! It must be in them, or it could not thus come out of them. In many cases evil cannot be the result of mistaken education nor of ill example, and yet there it is; the seed is in the soil, and needs no sowing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 6

Psalms 51:6

Behold Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.

Truth in the inward parts

Some of us may remember the interesting story with which the apocryphal Book of Esdras commences. The inquiry is started, “What is strongest?” and this is submitted to the judgment of three young men of the king’s guard. Wine, and the king, and women, are severally mentioned; but the last, who is said to have been Zerubbabel, maintained that of all things “truth is the strongest, and liveth and conquereth for evermore.” And having concluded his speech upon this subject, it is said that all who heard him broke forth with the shout, “Great is truth, and mighty above all things.” Now, whether the narrative be fact or not, it would be well for us if we believed more fully in the power of truth, and realized how invincible it must be. Truth in Scripture often means objective truth, “the agreement of thought with thing,” and we have the truth when what we believe is really what it is. But the word, also, and often, means truthfulness, moral honesty and sincerity. But it is this second sense of the term that our subject invites us to consider. God desires “truth in the inward parts”--truth, evidently, not in the sense of mental illumination, but rather in the sense of moral honesty and sincerity of purpose. As it is this that God desires, so it is the presence of this that gives the greatest icy to the spiritual Father who watches with tender solicitude the progress of the souls to whom His ministry has been made a blessing. Now let me point out the importance of this subject. We need to have our attention emphatically called to it, because, in the first place, we have hearts which the prophet describes as “deceitful above all things,” and we each of us possess the strange and terrible faculty of deceiving ourselves. God we cannot deceive. Our neighbours in the long run are sure to find us out. But ourselves it is only too possible to deceive; and when we allow ourselves to fall into the habit of self-deception, the most dangerous feature of this habit is that it becomes almost unconscious. We scarcely know when we are true and when we are false. Or the importance of this subject may be argued from its position. For truthfulness lies at the root of everything else in Christian experience. Having this, we are in fair way to possess all; but without this, all must be lost. See the parable of the Sower. The seed yields good fruit only when sown in “an honest and good heart.” In one sense we may say no heart is such, but in another and practical one we know that there are such, for they do truly desire to be other and better than they are. And this truthfulness is needed not only at the beginning, but all the way along in our spiritual career. The life of faith depends on it. I would bear witness that I thank God with a full heart that recently so much attention has been given to the importance of the groat truth that, as we are justified, not by our own works, but by faith in the Son of God, so we are to be sanctified, not by the struggling efforts of our own will, but equally by our acceptance through faith of all that the power and love of God have brought within our reach. This truth required to be prominently brought forward and emphatically stated; and to how many believers has the message been one of liberation from bondage, from fruitless toil, from inward tumult! But in order that this sort of teaching may be of the service to us that it should, it is most important that we should bear in mind the relation of faith to moral truthfulness and honesty of purpose. In a word, we cannot trust the Lord Jesus to deliver us from that which we know He hates, while all the time we are secretly clinging to it, or endeavouring to discover some cunningly devised compromise between our allegiance to Him and our indulgence in that which we know to be opposed to His will. Let me now point out some of the different ways in which this subtle form of evil may creep into our experience, and the different forms of truthfulness which we require sedulously to cultivate. Let us consider, first, truthfulness in the aim and purpose of life. This from first to last was the characteristic of our blessed Lord and Master. For contrast, see the history of Balaam. His ruin was due to latent dishonesty of heart, for in spite of all his religiousness he “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Solomon, also, and many more. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” And this is the besetment of us all. There is something also that we put side by side with the “one thing needful.” We desire to be good Christians, and to make our fortunes. We must learn to seek first the Kingdom of God, and to live as those who have heard the Master’s call, “Deny thyself: take up thy cross and follow me.” Next let me point out to you the necessity of truthfulness in the adoption of means towards the end. It is possible for us to have a strong, clear perception of the fact that we are called to live for a definite purpose, and we may be preserved from any conscious acceptance of a lower end, and yet we may fail in our lives because we shrink from employing those means towards the attainment of the end which God has placed within our reach, and which we know to be of the utmost importance to us. It is thoroughly dishonest to offer such a prayer as we do every day--“Lead us not into temptation”--while we place ourselves in a position where we know that our special weakness will be needlessly exposed to the foe. Or again, vainly do we pray for purity of heart and thought, and cry to be delivered from our lower appetites, if we still allow our senses to be exposed to sights and sounds which may act as incentives to the very appetite which we profess our desire to curb. Take the sad example of Eli. He did desire to curb the iniquities of his sons; but he would not take the necessary means. He spoke strongly enough, but he did nothing. Though he might have inflicted death, he did not punish them at all. Once again let me speak of the necessity of truthfulness in our judgment upon ourselves. How little disposed we are to pass a severe sentence upon our own conduct! Saul had already returned a verdict in his own favour before the prophet Samuel met him. “Blessed be thou of the Lord,” he exclaims, even before the prophet had made any accusation against him; “I have fulfilled the commandment of the Lord.” Had he really fulfilled it? His conscience was uneasy. There had already been mock trial, so to speak, within Saul’s own heart, and the verdict was one of acquittal passed by a too favourable jury. Oh, self-extenuation is dangerous work. You are in the hands of a loving God who knows whereof we are made. If extenuations can justly be made, He is certain to make them. But who of us is there that has not plenty to confess even where actual sins are not upon the conscience? “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)

The importance of forming true Christian character

Character is not reputation, but that which makes the man what he is. Our text was David’s utterance after his eyes had been opened to his own nature. How often is it that things pass unnoticed until some great event fixes attention upon them. Inadequate provision for egress in public buildings remains unnoticed until some terrible fire and vast loss of life turn all eyes to it. So with tendencies of character, our own inward evil--some terrible sin makes us awake to it as we had never been before. Let us note from the text--

I. The Divine ideal for the Lord’s people. “Thou desirest truth,” etc. By truth is meant genuineness, reality, sincerity. Long ago Thomas Carlyle awoke a great deal of interest by his vigorous denunciation of shams. He but echoed the Scriptures. For such sincerity a new birth is essential. Yet this is a voluntary exercise (Acts 3:19). Again, it is said “Make you a new heart.” It is the turning of your spirit to Him. And we must be thorough in this. God requires truth in the “inward parts.” Christ is the model of such sincerity and truth. But He is not the full model, for He never knew what the qualms of conscience were; never experienced the conflict of the law of His members and the law of His Spirit. Hence, servants of Christ such as Paul are given to us to supplement this ideal. Paul says, “Be ye followers of me.”

II. The Divine work in God’s people. “In the hidden parts shalt,” etc. Note--

1. What the teacher is to do. He is to make us know wisdom. This He does through His Word; His providence; His disciples, trials and disappointments.

2. What has the scholar to do? Submit to the Word of God. Walk circumspectly. Try to realize what is the true ideal of character. The Greek word is one which signifies “to engrave.” An engraved plate will leave an impression according to what itself is. Character is cut out by circumstances, by the man’s own actions. (John Hall, D. D.)

Truth in the inward parts

I. A description of the nature of God in general. “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts,” i.e. a general uprightness and integrity of spirit.

1. God takes a special delight in such a frame of soul as this, from whence men became real and sincere towards Him.

2. Wherein this truth or sincerity consists.

II. An intimation of his carriage to David in particular. “And in the hidden part,” etc.

1. Take it in its proposition.

2. We may also look upon it in its scope and reflection, and with that force and emphasis in which it comes from the prophet David, who expresses as much to us about himself, that God had indeed wrought this work in his heart, that He had in the hidden part made him to know wisdom.

God desires truth in the inward parts

1. This thought summons us to earnestness and godly fear in our sense of sin.

2. This thought gives hope and comfort in the way of conversion. Nothing less will God have from the awakened soul: nothing more will the grace of God require from the penitent.

3. This thought strengthens faith for glorious expectations (Isaiah 61:8). (Andrew Murray.)

Marks of truth in the inward affections

1. It is a testimony of truth in the inward affections when one carrieth an universal hatred of all sin, that is, of secret sins as well as of open sins, of lesser sins as well as of greater evils, of such sins as have some special enticement, by some particularity of content or profit, as well as of those which afford neither. A sincere heart is as tender as the eye, which is troubled, and made to smart and water with the smallest mote, or as a straight shoe, which cannot endure the least stone within it, but makes him shrink and tread respectively, and with a kind of favour to his foot, until it be removed. This is one mark.

2. A second, which is in a manner a limb of the former, is a taking heed to that sin to which a man finds himself most apt; or wherewith he hath at any time been overtaken. Is it rash anger, is it pride; is it wantonness, is it worldliness, is it vain pleasure, etc.? If thou be especially wary and watchful touching that, to prevent the occasions, to stop the beginnings of it, to beware of the inducements to it, this is a notable testimony of sincerity.

3. A third is a willingness to lay open every sin as soon as it is known to be a sin, and to that end a gladness to have the conscience ransacked and ripped up, that that which is sin may be found out. David spake it out of experience when he pronounced the man blessed in whose spirit there is no guile.

4. A fourth mark, when a man makes conscience to be one and the same manner of man at home and in private that he is abroad and in public. This is also a branch of David’s sincerity, and of his resolution to walk in a perfect way: “I will walk uprightly in the midst of mine house”: his meaning is, he will be the same among his household people, where few behold him, that he is abroad where many see him: he will be as godly in his chamber as in the Temple. (S. Hieron.)

Truth in the inward parts

I. As opposed to ignorance. It is the character of men in an unregenerated state, that they have the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them. The character, in point of understanding, of men in whom God takes pleasure, is no vague or doubtful matter. Seeing God hath given in the Gospel the fullest and most satisfactory information concerning Himself, and the character and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Mediator, they who have believed the word of the truth of the Gospel--“who have received with meekness” this “engrafted word”--have in one important respect the truth which God desires in the inward parts.” There are different degrees, indeed, in which this change actually exists; but all are alike in kind; and they all differ in kind from other men, who are in darkness, and walk in darkness, and know not where they go, because that darkness hath blinded their eyes.

II. As opposed to insincerity. The spirit of the people of God, in whom the Lord takes pleasure, is that spirit in which there is no guile. Sanctification of the spirit is associated in them with belief of the truth. Sincerity, arising from, and connected with, a spiritual understanding of the truth of the Gospel, forms the temper of their inward man. The truth with respect to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, that informs their minds, enters into their hearts.

III. As opposed to false and temporary affections of mind. That practical godliness includes the exercise of the affections of the mind is not to be disputed. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” is the first and great commandment. There are lively emotions in every truly pious heart. Men who receive the truth of the Gospel “in the love of it,” and who have their souls purified in obeying it, delight themselves in the Lord, and love one another with a pure heart, fervently. The principles of vital godliness are like “seed cast into good ground, that springeth up and beareth fruit”; there is first the blade; then the ear; and afterwards the full corn in the ear. (D. Dickson, D. D.)

Interior truth

(with John 8:32):--The same word, “truth,” stands in both texts and yet represents in each its own particular matter. “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts;” which means that God looks to find in us a kernel of personal truthfulness, a sound core, a fragment of the aboriginal veracity of God, an oaken knot of probity that can take a blow without flinching, sterling metal that will sound with a long, clear, ringing tone of reverberation. The other is a little apart from this, “The truth shall make you free.” This denotes the truth outside of us coming to us, telling upon us, working its emancipation in us. The other was the sterling metal; this is the hammer that sets the wire ringing, the plectrum that sets the metal quivering and humming. The two answer back to each other; they understand each other--the truth that is structural within us, and the truth that comes to talk to us. They are correlates, like the eye and the light that saturates it; the ear and the melody that sings into it. We are never quite discouraged about a man, so long as there remains still in him one single solid atom that retains the old crystalline lines and angles; a rigid basis upon which presented truth can be laid, and into which it can be mortised; a truth-sense to which we can address and press our appeal. It is like dealing with an old and withered building; the window-lights may be shattered, and the paint discoloured, and the casings awry; the flooring seamed, and the joints warped; but, though you may have to tear down a good deal, and replace and pretty thoroughly renovate it, yet there is great vantage secured, if decay and disintegration have not eaten into the foundation, and the masonry lies intact in its bottom courses. It is this which justifies the confidence we always have in a boy that is truthful; he may be full of roguery and tease his sister and torment his parents; he may easily get angry, and pound the boy that lives across the way; and show himself precocious In nothing so much as in his genius for resisting knowledge and palsying the efforts of his instructors; but, if he is truthful, if truth is in his inward parts, the pith of the matter is in him, a sound core, the spinal marrow; and there is something to address yourself to with assurance, when the time comes for appeals that are more strenuous and exacting. Bye-laws have no grip that is not guaranteed them by the vigour of the constitution. “God desireth truth in the inward parts.” An impure heart issues in impure thoughts. Yes; but also impure thoughts issue in impure hearts. Intellect creates thought, but thought turns round and creates intellect. The interior and the exterior are parents and children of each other. Deed expends power, but deed also makes power. To that degree and in that sense we are all of us daily climbing up and down the ladder-rounds of our own actions, feelings, thoughts. So it is with this precious, unspeakably precious, nucleus of personal truthfulness, “truth in the inward parts.” We make it more by speaking the truth, doing, thinking, and feeling the truth; we make it less by speaking, doing, thinking, and feeling that which is false. We are confessedly making a good deal of this matter of rectitude, straight-linedness; but it is the plumb-line dropped into us from above, and so must shape and direct all our aspirations towards God; and it is in the plumb-line from which we have to calculate the horizontal that shall determine our dealings with men. Truth is thus the core of piety, and it is the pith of charity. A promise is a promise, whether made in a matter of groceries or Gospel. I cannot go to a man and promise to help him in an enterprise, and then do as I like about keeping my promise. A promise is as holy a thing as Mount Sinai, and as holy as the law that was given on it, and the Lord that came down in thunder and lightning upon it. There are not even so many professed Christians as we might suppose who can be relied on to do as they say they will do, when it is not quite to their taste or convenience to do as they say they will do. Their word is not as good as their bond; and they proceed on principles which, if they were to apply them on the street, would cost them their seat in the Stock Exchange every day. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

Better to be, than to be thought, religious

In every action of religion, let us remember to keep sincerity. Who would desire to be called rich, if he want riches; esteemed valiant, if he have not strength? and shall we think it sufficient to be called religious, and not to be so? Better to be rich, than to be called rich; better to be religious, than to be thought or called religious. God loveth truth as He hateth all falsehood; for He is truth. He loveth truth in our profession, truth in our civil life: truth in our profession, is that which He hath commanded in His Word; truth in our civil life, is that which agreeth with the duty of civil conversation, without fraud, deceit or guile, which is different from God’s nature, and resembleth the devil, who is a deceiver. (A. Symson.)

In the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom.--

Religion the only true wisdom

I. The knowledge of heavenly things, appertaining to the right way of pleasing God, and of saving our own souls, is the true wisdom. How shall he be held for wise who wanteth judgment and understanding in the principle? And what is the principle, if not this, to know how to serve God so here as that we may be saved with Him, and by Him, hereafter? What were a man but a fool in case he otherwise knew all secrets, and could speak and discourse in matters of the world, as if one spake from an oracle, or did equal Solomon in discovering the natures of trees and herbs, from the cedar in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall, if yet he were to seek in the matters that concern eternity? All this is but like that wisdom which we tax in a man when we say, He is penny wise, but pound foolish: he will be miserable to save a penny, and yet be prodigal in pounds upon a humour. This is poor wisdom: so, on the other side, how can he be taxed for a fool justly who, whatsoever his reach and depth be in the things of this life (haply he hath not so many politic fetches, nor cannot plod and multiply projects as ethers do), yet he knoweth the way of salvation; he knoweth Christ crucified?

II. The Lord Himself is the proper teacher of that spiritual and heavenly wisdom which is accompanied with salvation.

1. The Holy Scripture is the Book of Wisdom, out of which God will give unto the simple sharpness of wit: but, teaching by man, is the pipe by which this sacred wisdom is to be conveyed unto us from the Fountain: therefore God honoureth His ministers with the title of teachers, and hath ordained a deputation of faithful men, which should be able to teach others also.

2. In waiting upon the appointed means to get this wisdom, we must be furnished with two especial qualities: first, humility; secondly, earnestness.

3. How shall we know that we are taught? The text answereth: Where God teacheth, the heart is taught. Look, then, what is in thy heart. There be some that have gotten some smack of this wisdom into their brains; they have a kind of lip-wisdom, and can talk somewhat plausibly of religion, but it is not yet come to their hearts. Their hearts be not humbled; they have not that which the apostle commended in the Romans--“obedience from the heart.” Is thy heart reformed? Is the natural corruption thereof in some good measure subdued and abated? Is obedience sweet unto thy heart, and that which thy soul delighteth in? This is a sign thou art taught of God.

III. When God bestows on any man spiritual wisdom and religious knowledge, He gives such a blessing as deserves acknowledgment. Hath the Lord been gracious to thee in scattering the mist of thy natural blindness, and in enabling thee to see the things which are given to us of God? Are thy eyes anointed with eye-salve, so that thou beginnest to savour the things of the Spirit, better than in times past? Oh, thank His Majesty for this mercy--this, a kindness of greater value than at first, perhaps, thou art aware; labour to increase in this knowledge, strive to have yet a larger and a fuller measure of this spiritual understanding. (S. Hieron.)

True knowledge to be sought from God

The true knowledge of the way of grace must be sought from God Himself. He alone can make you know the hidden wisdom. The human knowledge Of the way of grace which we obtain by the use of our understanding is not sufficient. Mark well: we do not say that this knowledge is not necessary. But this knowledge is not enough. It is possible that one may have a well-nigh perfect knowledge of God’s Word and yet be lost. And when we have clear insight into the way of the truth of God, we run just as much risk of resting content with it. Perhaps some one thinks that such a representation is sufficient to make one altogether dispirited. It would indeed be so were it not that we can say in this prayer, “In the hidden parts Thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” God gives the wisdom. This is our only security, and that is the only answer that we can give to the question: How do we know if we have a right spiritual knowledge of grace? The Lord can and will make you assured of this. Conversion, faith, is not a work that you must do, and on which you can look back and say, “That is well done.” ,No: the innermost essence of conversion and faith consists in coming to God in surrender to God, in receiving from God the living God, grace to be worked out by Him, in being washed and purified from sin by Him. And just at this point is there in the religion of many so much defect. They do not know that in grace the principal element is that we must come into contact with the living God, and must experience the power of the Almighty. (Andrew Murray.)


Verse 7

Psalms 51:7

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.

Prayer an index of the heart

Men’s prayers are this. And they show, also, how far men agree with one another, for if we sincerely unite in the prayers of other men, whether living or dead, this shows that we feel as they did and believe what they believed. But it is better to follow the prayers of the Bible, for they are free from the infirmity and error to which merely human prayers are liable. And to provide us with such true patterns of prayer is one reason why the Bible contains so many prayers. If we adopt them we cannot err. And this is especially true of this fifty-first psalm: it teaches the penitent sinner how to pray. Let us take the one petition contained in the text as showing this.

I. It implies conscious defilement. There is the consciousness of sin.

II. An intense desire for cleansing. This does not always co-exist with thee sense of defilement, Many men love their sin too well to give it up, and hence could not pray this prayer.

III. The consciousness that cleansing must come from other hands than his own. It is a confession of inability on the sinner’s part to cleanse himself. Else he would not come thus to God.

IV. Belief that God can cleanse him. “Purge me and I shall be clean, wash me,” etc. And he believes that the cleansing will be complete. Many men are willing to be partially cleansed, but not wholly. But this man not only desires perfect cleansing, but believes that God can thus cleanse him. He says, “I shall be whiter than snow.”

V. This prayer implies faith in the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some amongst the heathen, and yet others, have desired entire deliverance from sin, but have not known how it is to be accomplished. But this prayer points to that which was the type of Christ’s Atonement--the blood sprinkled with hyssop. Now, unless we accept these teachings, which are all plainly implied in this prayer, we can never make it our own: but if we do, then be sure our prayer shall not long be left unanswered. (J. Addison Alexander, D. D.)

David’s prayer for cleansing

I. The request, or petition, which he makes to God in behalf of himself. “Purge me with hyssop . . . wash me.”

1. He makes use of hyssop, and so has a regard to the outward observation; which shows us what is to be done also in the analogy and proportion by us which are Christians. We are to honour the ordinance of God, and those moans which now under the Gospel God hath appointed as helps of our faith; though in themselves, and in outward appearance, never so mean. There is the same general reason, which holds now, that held then, though the things themselves be abolished; and those which are good Christians will accordingly have respect hereunto, even to be as careful of those performances which now lie upon us, as they were of what lay before them. The baptismal water is in its own nature but common and ordinary, but the use and improvement of it supernatural; the Eucharistical bread and wine in themselves the same with others, but resemblances of higher things. The preaching of the Word in appearance but as other kind of speaking, yet according to Divine appointment and institution, even the power of God to salvation to them that believe. Thus those things which simply considered are but mean and contemptible, yet God’s ordinance sets a high price and reckoning upon them, for which cause they should be esteemed so by us.

2. The second is his improvement of it, while he rests not in the outward ceremony, but is carried further to the inward grace, which is signified by it. In every ordinance which is used by us there are two things considerable, somewhat which is done on our part, and somewhat which is done on God’s; ours is the external performance, His is the inward blessing, and gives power and virtue to the performance; now, this latter is that which David begs here of God, and so should also be done by us.

II. The special good and benefit which he promises to himself from this purging; and that is in two expressions more: first, in the positive, “I shall be clean”; and, secondly, in the comparative, “I shall be whiter than snow.” First, we see here in general how David was rightly opinionated of the means of grace; he was sound in this article of justification and reconcilement by Christ. And we see further of what use it was to him in the condition in which he now was, as thereby to hold up his spirit, and keep him from despair, which otherwise he might have fallen into. These words here are not a motive or argument which he uses to God for which He should purge him; but only a comfort and encouragement to himself, when he considers with himself what effect would follow hereupon of His purging of him. As a sick and diseased person, who is repairing to some skilful physician, and, while he goes to him, thinks of that health and recovery which he should obtain by him, so does David here in this place. But then for the particular words themselves:” “I shall be clean, and I shall be whiter than snow.” It is doubled for the certainty of the thing, and also to show the largeness of David’s affection to it. But we must know what is meant by them, and what they refer unto. Now, for this there is a double whiteness or purity of the saints; the one is in point of justification from righteousness imputed, and the other is in point of sanctification from righteousness inherent. Now, it is not the latter, but the former, which is hero intended: our sanctification in this life is imperfect, and the whiteness which we have from that is not so transcendent. But David in this text speaks of his whiteness from being washed in the blood of the Lamb, and having this blood sprinkled upon him in justification and remission of his sins for Christ’s sake; and so there is in it, That that person which is justified by Christ, and hath His blood sprinkled upon him, he is perfectly free from all guilt in the sight of God, and is in God’s account as if no sin had been committed by him. When we say that a justified person is thus perfectly clean and white, as to the pardon and forgiveness of his sins, we mean it in these two respects especially: first, as to the discharge of him from punishment and condemnation; God will not exact any penalty of him for them: He may chastise His servants (as He did David) after pardon, in a way of discipline; but He does not punish them in a way of satisfaction. Secondly, in regard of God’s love and affection. He is now as perfectly friends with him as He was before, though perhaps He may not express Himself so lovingly towards him; as it is thought also He did not now to David, who lost much of his former sweetness in God. The ground and reason of all is, the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction and obedience which he hath exhibited to God’s law for ourselves, both passive and active (Ezekiel 16:14). Now therefore because the righteousness of Christ is such as is whiter than the snow, therefore are we so upon His account. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

The complete acceptance of the penitent

The imagery of the acceptance, the details, so to speak, of the pardon, are taken from the ceremonies employed in purifying the sufferer from that most loathsome, most deadly disease, leprosy, whose lingering corruption has been called a very sacrament of sin. God is treating us for leprosy.

I. The cleansing of the leper, which David here refers to, is full of significance. The two birds to be taken speak of Him who is of two natures, human and Divine. The cedar-wood speaks of the fragrant wood of the cross. The hyssop, the lowly plant used for purifying, sets forth the personal application of Christ’s pardon to the soul. The scarlet is the royal robe of Him who “reigns from the tree.” And these are all bound to the living bird, typical of the Divine nature in Christ, from whom all ordinances derive their significance. Arid then there is the sprinkling of the blood and water on the penitent, and the living bird carries away the taint, as it were, with him, in his escape to the open field. Truly as we gaze upon the Cross, shining more and more clearly through the symbols’, we see His figure bending towards us; we hear Him saying, “This is He that came by water and blood.”

II. “thou shalt purge me with hyssop.” Do we quite believe it? That the hyssop is bound to the scarlet robe of the King, and tied to the cedar of the cross, and dipped in the blood and water, and bound up with the living bird--the Divine nature of Jesus Christ? Do we quite believe it, that we can have something more to help us, beyond the strong resolution, so often broken; more than the effort of our own will--the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ Himself, to help us to overcome the old sin.

III. “whiter than snow.” More than cleansed: white--whiter than snow; that is, something to be afraid of defiling; something to fear falling away from; not a mere pall of whiteness, hiding corruption beneath, to be trodden down by the busy traffic of life, but in itself white and pure, attracting the rays of heavenly love. In the days of the martyrdoms, it is said that a Christian the night before his sufferings fell asleep in his prison, and dreamed a dream of Paradise. He was walking in a garden of delight, where all was made of the purest transparent glass, clear as crystal. The trees glanced and flashed as they waved their boughs, the ground sparkled and shone; and the people themselves, who moved up and down there, they were of glass too; but as he went along his way, he noticed that hands were pointed at him in amazement. Men shrank from him in horror, and he looked. He was of glass as well; and on his breast was a dark spot, a shadow amidst all this light. In an agony of shame he clasped his hands over the place. In vain! they also were of glass, and the defilement shone through them. And he remembered that he was not in charity with a fellow-Christian; some trifling difference he had thought it, but it was a dark spot in Paradise, and a strange spectacle among the blessed, lie sent for him, he asked his pardon; he was called to Paradise. If a Christian could feel thus of an act or thought simply wanting in charity, what of our whiteness; what of our hearts?

IV. “That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” The broken bones of our life may yet be sources of icy. Selfishness may be so completely crushed out as to leave us the real virtue of self-respect. Cowardice, which shrunk from danger, may lead us, still feeling the danger, to be the first to meet it. Faults of temper, want of self-control, undisciplined life, indolence--in all these points, where we sink back beaten, we may yet rejoice. Is not this something for us to do this Lent? (Canon Newbolt.)

Forgiveness of sins

I. The meaning of the Psalmist’s prayer.

1. A deep sense of sin.

2. A believing discovery of the only effectual way of deliverance from sin.

II. Improvement.

2. The character of those who will be welcome guests at the table of the Lord. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Human sin and Divine cleansing

I. The deep conviction of sin in an awakened sinner.

II. The power of God to cleanse from sin. “Purge me with hyssop,” etc.

1. Sin and its stains may be removed from the soul. “The blood of Jesus Christ” is but another word for the love of God, which found its supreme expression in Christ’s death for us.

2. The cleansing power of the Word of Christ is more than sufficient for the removal of the stains of sin, “whiter than snow.”

III. The way by which the exercise of this power is secured. Some men are cleansed from sin, yet not all men. What is the reason?

1. To be personally effective, this cleansing power must be personally realized. Water is abundant, but only those who apply it to their bodies are cleansed by it.

2. To be personally realized, it must be personally solicited. Asking is the condition of receiving. (William Jones.)

Hyssop an emblem of Christ

The hyssop hath many things wherein it representeth Christ very nigh.

1. It is obscure, humble and abject; so that Solomon is said to have written of all trees, from the cedar the highest tree, opposed to the hyssop springing out of the wall, that is to the basest and most common: growing amongst stones, not through man’s industry planted, as other trees are. So Christ in whom we believe was contemptible, in Him was no beauty, with Him no riches or earthly honours, which make men come in credit and account.

2. Hyssop is bitter and sour, not pleasant to the drinkers: so the cross of Christ, by which our affections are mortified, is very odious to the flesh, and agreeth not with its taste. His cross is therefore a stumbling-block to the Jews, and folly to the Gentiles.

3. Albeit it be sour, yet it is most wholesome: so albeit the doctrine of repentance (wherein we are taught to run out of ourselves and to take hold on Christ) be irksome and unsavoury to the flesh, yet it is wholesome to the soul. Natural men esteem this doctrine to be an enemy to them, which would slay their corruptions and lusts. Medicine, which at first seemeth bitter, afterwards becometh more comfortable: so the doctrine which is salted with salt and hyssop, is fitter for us than that which is sweetened with honey; for honey was never appointed to be used in the Lord’s sacrifices, but salt. (A. Symson.)

Whiter than snow

I. Here is a prayer which is universal, and yet personal. Like some great battle-plain at nightfall, where the wild hosts have contended, leaving the shade to cover the dying and the dead, the whole world is vocal with wailings and desperation and pain and hopeless agony. Pierced and bleeding, souls suffer and cry, and each one says “me” and “my” with a dreadful sense of ownership, and yet all seem to say the same.

II. This prayer is intensely special, and yet thoroughly inclusive.

III. This is a prayer which is characterized by utter desperation, coupled with a supremely confident hope. When the guilt-burdened penitent prays, “Wash me,” he is certain that he has reached a point at which he cannot wash himself. He lets go of all dependences he had previously tried to lean upon, precisely as Naaman did when he gave up his pleading for the rivers of Damascus, and started for the Jordan, commanded to bathe there and be clean. He accepts help on the helper’s terms.

IV. This prayer is unusually extravagant in utterance, and yet entirely legitimate in its meaning. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Whiter than snow

“Whiter than snow!” What can be whiter than newly fallen snow? You have seen it in the first early light of the morning, before it has been stained by the world, and it has been so dazzlingly pure that it has made your weak eyes smart with the brilliance. It stretches out before you clean and white as an angel’s wing. Then the city awakes. Its fires are lighted. Its chimneys pour out continuous streams of smoke. The atmosphere becomes thick and heavy, and dirty. A thousand impurities pass over the white snow-robes, and leave the black impressions of their unclean feet. It loses all its radiance. It becomes more and more impure, until at last it becomes the uncleanest of all things, dirty snow. Now, the whiteness of the snow is our type and symbol of innocence. We speak and think of the little ones as innocent, and when we wish to express their purity, we use the figure of nature’s purity, and declare them “white as snow.” But the snow is soon soiled. Innocence is soon lost. The foul air of worldliness is breathed upon it, and its white lustre is gone. Well, now, placed in that atmosphere, what does the Lord expect of us? Does He expect us to retain our whiteness? Yea, we have to keep our garments undefiled. His purpose is that we should pass through temptation, and yet stand before Him at last “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” The demand of our religion is that we keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.” Our Master prayed that we might be in the world, and yet not of it; in the world but not worldly; not merely walking in innocence, but in the more perfect whiteness of holiness. Now, can that be realized? Take the life of a business man in these days when there is such a terrible strain in the procuring of daily bread. There is, in business circles to-day, an immense quantity of defiling pitch. Can any man keep himself white and unspotted? Again and again I have heard the answer, “No, it is impracticable and impossible. A man must be spotted; he cannot keep himself white, and if he is wise he will go into the world with garments that will show spots as little as possible, garments as near the world’s colour as he is able to procure.” So much for the business man’s life. Now, take a minister’s life. A minister can sell his honour to gain the bread of applause. He can be besmirched by flattery. He can be lured by a false ambition. He is beset by innumerable temptations to worldliness. Can the Master’s ideal be realized? Can he keep his garments white? Can we appeal to experience both for the minister and the business man? I do not believe in that sweeping condemnation of business men, which proclaims them all to be a spotted flock. There are men who in their business life keep their hands as clean and their hearts as tender as when they pray, or as when they talk to their little child. Social life with all its uncleanness is illumined by souls who walk in spotless white. The ministry is adorned by many men whose hands and hearts are undefiled. There are souls who wear the white flower of a blameless life. But even if we had no such examples of.pure and spotless lives, to which we could make appeal, we have still before us the Word of God, with its clear demand for spotless purity. The Bible never makes a compromise. It never lowers its standard. Jesus of Nazareth passed through our world unspotted, with garments whiter than snow. He lived our common life. He experienced our infirmities. He was beset with temptations, hedged about by worldliness. He felt the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. I ask, how was it accomplished, that in a corrupt and sinful world He kept Himself unspotted from the world? I turn to the simple record of His life, and there is one outstanding feature which impresses me deeply from beginning to end. I am impressed with Jesus’ overwhelming sense of the reality of God’s immediate and continual presence. He carried about His own atmosphere. So did Paul. So do all true followers of Christ. We must carry about with us the atmosphere of heaven if we are to escape defilement from the atmosphere of earth. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

Whiter than snow

What could be blacker than this man as he lay in his sins? His soul was stained with the most horrid and revulsive sins. Yet he seeks to be washed, and knows that, when washed, he will we clean, whiter than the driven snow. Ah, that virgin flake is very white, as it spreads its delicate network on the withered leaf: but there is one thing whiter still. Who are these in white robes, and whence came they? These are they that came out of great tribulation; out of dark pits of sin and death. Some were thieves, and some were murderers: and some were adulterers and murderers combined, as David was. Manasseh is there, who filled the streets of Jerusalem with innocent blood; and Mary Magdalene, out of whom Christ cast seven devils; and thousands more, once vile as they: but now there is not a stain on their garments; they have all been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and they are all whiter than snow, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. (T. Alexander.)

Whiter than snow

The Prince of Wales (now King Edward) once heard an unexpected sermon from a little girl, and it came about in this way. A nobleman, a widower, had a little daughter under ten years of age. He was very fond of his daughter, though his engagements prevented him seeing very much of her. The child was, therefore, mostly in the society of her governess, or in the nursery. Now, her nurse was an earnest Christian woman. She felt for her motherless little charge, and early stored the child’s mind with Scriptural truths. The father used sometimes to amuse his little daughter by asking riddles; and one night, when she came in after dinner for dessert, she said to her father, who was not a Christian, “Father, do you know what is whiter than snow? No,” said he, somewhat puzzled; “I do not.” “Well,” replied the child, “a soul washed in the blood of Jesus is whiter than snow.” The nobleman was surprised, and asked, “Who told you that?” “Nurse,” was the reply. The father did not discuss the point, and conversation changed to other topics; but he afterwards privately requested the nurse, whose opinions he respected, not to mention these matters to his daughter, as at her tender age he feared she might take too “gloomy” a view of life. The incident was accordingly forgotten; but not long after the Prince of Wales was visiting the house, and the little girl was allowed to be present. The Prince, with his usual affability, noticed the child, and, thus encouraged, she said, “Sir do you know what is whiter than snow?” The Prince, not seeing the drift of the question, smiled as he answered, “No.” “Well,” she answered, “a soul washed in the blood of Jesus Christ is whiter than snow.” The remark was overheard by the father; his little girl’s words, heard by him a second time, were used to carry conviction to his heart; he became an earnest and devoted Christian, and thousands will hereafter rise up and call him blessed.

God Almighty’s White

The Rev. F. B. Meyer, in the course of his visitation, saw a woman hanging out clothes which impressed him as being unusually white, for which he commended her. After spending a short time with her in the house, and coming to the door, he found a flurry of snow had whitened the ground. “Ah,” said Mr. Meyer, “the clothes do not look so white as they did.” “Oh, sir,” cried the woman, “the clothes are right; but what can stand against God Almighty’s white?”


Verse 8

Psalms 51:8

For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Acknowledgment of transgression

I. The proposition. “I acknowledge my transgressions,” etc.

1. Simply and absolutely.

(a) An acknowledgment of that to be sin which indeed is sin.

(b) An acknowledgment of his own interest in that sin. Now, the improvement which we may make of this observation to ourselves is, to meet with the miscarriage of most men in each particular. First,-there’s a great deal of wilful blindness, from whence they will not acknowledge that to be sin, which indeed is so. And secondly, there’s a great deal of pride and self-flattery, from whence they will not acknowledge themselves to be guilty of it.

2. The reduplication of it in these words: “And my sin is ever before me.” Now, this passage does express unto us the condition of a sinner at large; and it may admit of a threefold notion in which it holds good. David’s sin might be said to be before him three manner of ways.

II. The connexion. “For.”

1. Take it as an account of importunity. “For I acknowledge,” etc. The more any one sees his sin, the more will he be humbled for it, and sue to God for the forgiveness of it (2 Samuel 24:10; Psalms 25:11). Look as it is in the body, the more a man is sensible of his sickness, the more will he look after his physician; even so it is also in the soul, the more a man sees these his spiritual distempers, the more will he beg the removing of them.

2. An argument for mercy on God’s part. As if he had said, Lord, it is time now for Thee to pardon me, for I acknowledge my trespassing against Thee. And so there is this in it, that where sin is most owned, it will be there soonest pardoned (Psalms 32:5). That which God chiefly works at in us is, to bring down our stomachs, and to cause us to submit to Himself; now, when this is once done in us, then there’s an end, and He has no more to say to us, but is ready to be friends with us. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

Confession of sins

I. The person to whom we must confess is God. The Scribes and Pharisees, though they were corrupt in many things else, yet they held this for a truth, that none could forgive sins but God only (Mark 2:7). And this doth the Lord testify of Himself (Isaiah 45:35; 1 John 1:9). Besides the precepts in the Word of God, there is recorded the repentance of God’s children, who have humbly acknowledged their sins before God as Manasses (2 Chronicles 33:1-25.); David (2 Samuel 2:11); the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-32.). So true is that saying (Proverbs 28:18).

II. The manner in which we must confess our sins.

1. We must take heed that we do know our transgressions, the number of them, the greatness of them, the danger of them, how they make us most vile in the sight of God. Now, there is a twofold knowledge of our sin; first, general; second, special. General knowledge never worketh any reformation, for this is found in all men that can say they are sinners; but there is a special knowledge of sin which God will once discover unto us, either in mercy to our good and salvation, as here, to David, to Peter, to Mary Magdalen, etc., or else in wrath, as He did to Judas, Cain, Ahithophel, etc., to their final condemnation.

2. Our confession of our sins must proceed from sorrow of heart for them, with a hatred of them, so as nothing do more grieve us than our offences.

3. It must be frank and free, not wrung out by compulsion. We must be as forward and as ready to confess them to the glory of God, as we were to commit them to His dishonour (Psalms 32:5).

4. We must confess our sins with purpose to forsake them (Isaiah 55:7). (S. Smith.)

Of the duty of confession

I. The necessity of this duty of confession.

1. Confession is a considerable part and branch of prayer (Daniel 9:4; Daniel 9:20; Ezra 10:1).

2. God’s glory is much advanced by our confession. He is most exalted in our abasements, and then are His wisdom, and goodness, and holiness, and other His attributes set forth to most advantage, when we humbly acknowledge our own vileness and wretchedness, and that which is the cause of both, our wickedness.

3. Our own interest is concerned in our confession, as that by which our pardon is procured (Psalms 33:5). The readiest way for the cleansing and healing of a wound or ulcer is to lay it open, to search it to the bottom; to apply corrosives to the dead flesh, and fetch out all the putrefied matter: and so it is with a conscience galled with sin, which, by dissimulation and concealment, may palliate a cure, but not effectually work it without confession.

4. Confession is an evidence of true conversion, and without it there is no assurance of pardon.

5. It is a condition of the new covenant (1 John 1:9). When we repent of our sins, and declare our penitence by a confession of them, then, and not till then, we may challenge pardon upon Gospel-terms; then, and not else, we may appeal to God’s faithfulness and justice, as He stands engaged by promise in that covenant to justice and to sanctify us, to forgive the guilt, and to release us from the penalty of our sins; to cleanse us from the filth, and to free us from the power and dominion of them. Otherwise those attributes of His, His truth and His righteousness, will oblige Him to condemn us with our sins, and to punish us for them, and not to accept us in them, or forgive them to us without confession.

6. It is a qualification which is to virtuate the sacraments themselves, and make them effectual to us. Now, the sacraments are seals of that covenant, whereby it it confirmed to us, and the benefits and advantages of it are derived and conveyed unto us in the pardon of our sins, and God’s gracious acceptance of us.

II. After what manner it may be performed, so as best to answer and make good those ends.

1. Let thy confession of thy sins be open, and free, and plain as thou canst make it, with a declaration of all the aggravating circumstances, without any disguise or extenuation; because thou hast to do with a God who sees the secrets and innermost retirements of thy hearts.

2. Let it be sincere, and in good earnest; such as may be accompanied with a hearty sorrow for God’s displeasure, which thy sins have procured thee; with a thorough shame for the turpitude of them that they have made thee odious to God, and scandalous to good men; with a perfect heart.

3. Let it be humble, ins prostrate adoration of God in all His gracious and glorious attributes and perfections; and in a due acknowledgment of thy own vileness and sinfulness, weakness and wickedness. (Adam Littleton, D. D.)

Man’s sin

I. A man’s sins are his in a sense that cannot be affirmed of anything else he calls his own. They are--

1. Generated by himself. He is the parent, they are his offspring.

2. Like himself. A sinful act is an outward expression of the unseen mind and heart. Hence we affirm he is--

3. Himself chargeable with the conesequences.

II. A man who is guilty of sin is ever annoyed by an enemy who confronts him. This is--

1. A grim fact. Illustrated by the upbraidings of conscience; the unbidden recollections of the past; the tyranny of habit; the force of example. This may be, to say the least of it, a source of--

2. Unrest for the present. It is torture for a man to be compelled to face his sins in this way, but it maybe a decided--

3. Advantage in the future. It makes a man feels his individual responsibility, and induces him to be reconciled to God.

III. The strength of a man’s sin cannot be destroyed unless he will comply with the conditions of Divine salvation.

1. Confession.

2. Abandonment of sin.

3. Trust in Christ. His mission is “ to put away sin.” (R. Hebron.)

My sin is ever before me.--

David’s repentance

I. David knew that he had sinned. He says, “My sin is ever before me.” It is seen not with the eyes in the head, but with those of the heart. No one could look at David and see his sin, but he could see it. And it had made his heart very bad and black, and whenever he looked down into it, it made him afraid. You have read of haunted houses; he was a haunted man. The murdered Uriah haunted him. He saw his face all ghastly, and his glazed eyes seemed to stare at him. And each time that he thought of his sin, his face turned red with shame, and a new pang of grief wrung his heart. His sin was like one of those portraits which, in whatever part of the room you may be, it seems to be always looking at you. No matter where he was, how he was employed, David’s sin was ever before him. If he took up his harp to sing a sad psalm, he saw stains of blood all over his fingers, and the harp only groaned, and he laid it down again. And you remember how Adam, after he had sinned, was afraid to meet the Lord, end hid himself. So David could not find any peace. The song of the birds, the leaves of the trees--all seemed to say to him, “Thy sin, thy sin.” Oh, what a hard and had thing it is to sin!

II. But David found the forgiving love of God as great as all his sin. For all the time he prayed to the Lord for pardon. He said that his tears were his meat day and night. He was constantly praying, “Lord, wash me; cleanse me from my sin.” God keeps a book of guilt, and David asked Him to blot out all his sin, just as you would like a pen run through a debt that you owed; And the Lord did pardon him, as He only could. Pilate washed his hands, but he could not wash his heart. Jesus can. And He will for us, if we come and ask Him. (T. Armitage, D. D.)

The reality of sin

1. There is no sort of palliation, no self-deception, no endeavour to equivocate, no attempt to excuse himself to himself, or to gloss over the heinous crime of which he has been guilty. See, on the other hand, how easy men find it to slide into the comfortable assurance that their own case is not so bad after all, that it admits of palliation, that they are no worse than their neighbours, no worse than other men of their own age, position, or calling, or that an equitable judgment must be pronounced over them, which shall take account of their whole lives, balancing the fancied good against the real evil. Now, one of the most fertile sources of this terrible hallucination is the want of a real, true sense of the reality of sin. This want may take various shapes and spring from various causes. We sometimes meet philosophical speculations which go to the practical denial of all moral evil. It is argued that man is a complicated piece of mechanism, an automaton, so to speak, which, placed in given circumstances, will inevitably produce ascertained results; or again, that what we call moral evil is incidental to an imperfect creature gradually struggling onwards and upwards to perfection, the growing pains which, in fact, belong to moral progress. But such theories are not only false to Christianity, but utterly subversive of common morality. Each class, men say, and each age and rank, have their temptations; it is not difficult to argue that the errors to which those who possess them are exposed beyond other men, are not merely innocent in them, but almost necessary to their position. The poor also have their temptations; for which men are always ready to plead their poverty, not merely as a palliation, which it may be, but as an excuse, which it is not. Two of the most common causes of this delusion are to be found in habituation to sin in others, or in habituation to it on our own part. On the one hand, it is very difficult to rise above the conventional standard of the country, class, or society in which we live. On the other, familiarity with evil deadens our sensitiveness to it; the conscience, which could once start back at its approach, as from a deadly reptile, becomes indifferent to it, and even ignorant of its existence.

2. But religion requires from us a conception of wrongdoing distinct from and beyond that which satisfies mere morality. These words, “against Thee only,” contain the kernel of the whole matter. Sin is always sin against God. It is wrong-doing regarded in its relation to God. If the word be otherwise used, it is improperly used. And so, evil-doing rises into the conception of sin when we regard God as a living personal God, not a vague abstraction, or a convenient name for the universe, but a real person. But men are tempted much to doubt this, and to resolve the idea of God into one of general laws. Or they persuade themselves, when the faith of the personal God cannot be set aside, that He is too great to notice such trifles as our sins. Or even if He do, has He not made us what we are? and at the worst we have done Him no wrong, though we may have to our fellow-man. But David in this psalm allows none of these pleas.

3. David does not simply confess his sinfulness, but his sin. He does not complain merely of the evil tendencies of a corrupt nature, but refers to a particular act of sin. “Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight.” And so, if our repentance is to be worth anything, it must not waste itself in generalities, it must deal with our sins in detail, it must pick out each sinful appetite, each fault of temper, each form of self-seeking (nay, so far as our memory will serve, every example of their several workings), and spread them all forth before the Lord, with an act of hearty renunciation. Yes, it must ever be not merely, “I am a sinner,” but, “I have sinned”; not only, “I am evil,” but, “I have done this evil.” (W. B. Jones, M. A.)

A penitential vision

I. It is in harmony with the Creator’s design. The fact that it is inevitable shows this--it is rendered inevitable--

1. By the proper exercise of the capacities of our own being. Conscience, memory.

2. By the true use of the Bible. A mirror, a judgment-seat,

3. By the spontaneous thought of God. For “God is love,” and what does such a thought so much as fall like the shining of a bright light upon all the dark spots of our life? And God is holy, and who can think of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and not see the guilt of his life before him?

4. By the cross of Christ.

II. It is essential to the correction of sin.

1. Not as a Nemesis. For such there could not be stronger consolation.

2. Not to leave them hopeless. Why?

Benefits from calling sins to account

1. It is a good means to prepare to true repentance and humiliation for them (Lamentations 3:40).

2. It is a special means to make us hate them, and dislike them, seeing the danger of them, how loathsome they be in God’s sight.

3. The remembrance of our sins makes us wary, that we fall not into them again; but our former falls make us to take heed of falling in time to come.

4. The remembrance of our sins makes us pity other men, because, though they fall dangerously, yet we know we have fallen as well as they, therefore we hope God will give unto them repentance.

5. The continual remembrance of our own sins puts us in mind of God’s mercy in the pardon of them; and when men calmly suffer their old sins to pass away and slip out of their minds, they will easily fall into new, and soon forget the mercy of God, and how much they are bound unto Him. Paul gives this excellent example, who, remembering how he had persecuted the Church, said, “Notwithstanding God was merciful unto me,” so that the continual remembrance of our sins puts us in mind of God’s merciful dealing with us, and must stir us up to thankfulness. (S. Smith.)

Think less of our virtues, more of our sins

Our tendency is to do the reverse of this, to think much of our virtues, and very little of our sins. This is natural, but not, therefore, good.

I. To think much of our virtues does not accord with the teaching of Christ (Luke 17:10). Our Lord intended thus to check in His disciples their over-estimation of their own merits. He discourages any opinion of our merit even in those who had the best pretensions to entertain it (Philippians 2:12), where “fear and trembling” are enjoined on Christians; the very opposite of all self-satisfaction. And ever in the New Testament the evangelical character is “contrition.” We are ever bidden “repent.”

II. And see how Paul (Philippians 3:1-21.) Renounces all trust in himself. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. he says, “I am the least of the apostles, not worthy,” etc. (1 Timothy 1:16).

III. Self-esteem is opposed to all gratitude to God for our redemption. Hence we are ever being told that we are all to “grace, not of ourselves, lest,” etc. Thus would God bend down and humble all sentiments of merit. (Archdeacon Paley.)

Further reasons for thinking more of our sins and less of our virtues

I. There is no occasion whatever to meditate upon our virtues. God will not forget them (Hebrews 6:10). We shall not make them any better by thinking of them. But it is not the same with our sins. Thinking on them may lead to effectual repentance, and so the sin of our conduct may, through God’s mercy in Christ, be done away. And we may be led thereby to make reparation, so far as we can, for the wrong we have done. And would we have the comfort of religion, it will not be by thinking on our good actions, but by conquering our sins. It is sin and nothing else which spoils our religious comfort. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.”

II. The custom of viewing our virtues tends to fill us with fallacious notions of our own state and condition.

III. Has an unfavourable effect upon our disposition towards other men (Luke 18:1-43.), the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Let our sins then be ever before us, as they well may be, for we all have many sins to think of. (Archdeacon Paley.)

The indebtedness of sin

“My sin is ever before me.” I desire to make this statement as general as possible, and not to confine it to the instance in which it was first uttered. In one sense no single thought or subject can be perpetually in a man’s mind. Nobody needs to be told that. The stormiest heart has moments when the tempest is hushed. The most sorrowful life has moments or hours when the weight of the great sorrow is not present, and the man whose conscience is most deeply burdened with guilt has times of calmness and peace. We all know that. Still, “My sin is ever before me,” the penitent soul may say to itself; “for I cannot throw off old memories, or be blind and deaf to inner warnings. I cannot help feeling the bitter effects of old errors and follies, of old habits and acts, which cast a dark shadow over my life, and remind me continually that it is I myself who have offended.” There are some circumstances, however, which might seem to destroy this permanent sense of evil.

1. Repentance is one of these. One might suppose that if once a man heartily regretted a wrong act or course, it would cease in any sense of the word to be his. He has disowned it. Still, it is not possible to forget our identity with our former selves; it is not possible to think of what we were and of what we did without pain.

2. Again, it may be thought that the pardon of sin would destroy that perpetual bitterness of its remembrance, and that no man who had really been forgiven could say, “My sin is ever before me.” If God has forgiven, people may say, If He has, in the language of Scripture, cast our sins into the depths of the sea, why should we fret about them, as if they could be brought to the surface again and laid to our charge? It seems a logical enough argument, but, after all, it does not come to much; for human feeling and human remorse are not governed by figures of speech, such as the casting of sins into the depths of the sea.

3. There is still another circumstance which might seem to justify our forgetting or leaving out of view our sin, and that is when it has been visited with chastening or punishment. But if neither repentance nor pardon will remove it out of our memory or conscience, neither, finally, will punishment. There is a voice within us which whispers to us, after all our sufferings from our wrong-doing, that it has not ceased to be ours. Penalty for evil-speaking, has not taken away the spirit of uncharitableness and malice. “My sin is ever before me “ is the voice of true contrition and humility. There is the deed, or crime, or course of sin “ever before me.” Repentance has not destroyed it; pardon, though it has brought consolation, has not destroyed it; nor can punishment blot out its bitter memories. (A. Watson, D. D.)

The prospect painful but salutary

Is that the prospect that is ever before our eyes and minds? Do we train ourselves to think habitually of our faults: our unworthiness; the foolish things we have often said; the hasty, silly, ill-set, conceited, false, unjust, sinful things we have often done? Or would it not be nearer the truth, in the case of many a man, if he were to say, “My eminent abilities and deservings are ever before me; and it shall not be my fault if I do not bring them conspicuously before my fellow-men”? And hence come discontent and ingratitude, envying and grieving at a neighbour’s good success; and undutiful murmuring at the appointments of God’s providence. Hence comes, too, a self-sufficient spirit far removed from humility. All this and more comes of our looking at our merits rather than at our sins. Look at the other side of the page, and see how the account stands against us as well as for us. Ah, if it were with us more, as it was with David; if we bethought ourselves, oftentimes, of our sins, our failings, our mistakes, our ill-deservings, we should be more humble, more thankful, more content, more earnestly desirous to fly to that Saviour in whom is all sufficiency, and help, and grace. To look back on our past history would effectually take us down from all high thoughts of ourselves; would keep us lowly; would lead us, in our utter helplessness, to the Redeemer’s feet! There are many things in Holy Scripture which teach us that however natural it may be, it is not a Christian disposition to be dwelling on our good doings and deservings. For example, our Lord’s command, “When ye have done all . . . say, We are unprofitable servants.” Paul’s, “to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” And his charge to us, “Work at your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And now, let us think what good we may get through doing as David did, and having our sins ever before us. There is no doubt, the view is not a pleasant one. There is hardly anything that men like less than to be reminded by another of their sins, unless, indeed, it be in very general terms, which do not really touch the conscience. Yet things which are painful are sometimes profitable; and assuredly it is so here. First, it will make us humble to think habitually of the many foolish and wrong things we have done. The habitual contemplation of our sinfulness will also tend to make us thankful to God; to make us contented with our lot; to put down anything like envy in our hearts at the greater success and eminence of others. And now, let us think of something even better and more valuable as resulting from having our sin ever before us, than these things of which we have been thinking. To feel our sinfulness; to have our sins set before us, by God’s Spirit, in such a way that it will be impossible to help seeing them, and seeing them as bad as they really are, is the thing that wilt lead us to Christ; lead us to true repentance on account of our sins; and to a simple trust in Him who “saves His people froth their sins.” It is good for us to think of our sins. There is no need to think of our good deeds--if, indeed, we have many to think of; we cannot change them now. But to think of our sins may make a great difference upon them.:For though the deed remains, yet the sin may be blotted out by true repentance and justifying faith. To think of our merits, and dwell on them, is a mere piece of selfish gratification; but to think of our sins, and dwell upon them in a right spirit, may lead to the most precious practical results. What humble-minded, kindly, charitable, thankful, contented Christian people would all men be, if, to good purpose, they kept their “sin ever before them.” Therefore may God help us so to do. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)

Sin: a soul-prospect

I. A very distressing one. Man can look at nothing more terrible.

II. Inevitable. As certain as the laws of nature bring us light, the laws of convenience and memory will bring up before the eye the hideous forms of sin.

III. Very salutary.

1. It humbles the soul.

2. To reconcile to painful providences.

3. To prepare for the Gospel, whose mission is to tell of Him who “puts away sin.” (Homilist.)

Sorrow for sin habitual

Sorrow for sin is habitual to the regenerate soul. It is mingled with all the exercises of faith in the atonement, and with all his hopes of future glory, The penitent does not wish to be freed from it, if he could be; but he cannot. He has an hourly remembrancer in his own bosom, while he feels that sin yet dwelleth in him. A continual consciousness of defect in his love to God, the constantly occurring temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, the failure of spirituality in all his thoughts, words and actions, remind him that he is a sinner, and often bring before his eyes his past transgressions in awful review. This keeps him humble, bows down his soul into the dust before God, and makes the name of Jesus precious to him. Like the sinful woman in the Gospel, he loves much, because much has been forgiven him. (T. Biddulph, M. A.)

Upon what condition a working conscience is a blessing

It is true in the general that a working conscience is a blessing; but it is only with this caution, that if it be hearkened to. It is possible for us to turn that which in itself is a blessing into a curse. As it is a blessing to have children, yet a man may make them no blessing by the neglect of education. It is a blessing to live under a faithful ministry, yet, through it, if a man be not a good hearer, he may increase his own judgment. It is a blessing to have a friend which, upon every occasion, is apt and ready to admonish; but yet, if a man be like the deaf adder, that stoppeth his ears, he shall but heap up wrath unto himself by that occasion. Look, as God dealeth with whole societies of men in taking away from them the benefit of a powerful ministry, when the same is not hearkened unto; so dealeth He with particular persons in striking a dumbness into the conscience when the voice thereof is not regarded. Thus, then, we are all here taught to take it as a blessing when the conscience shall faithfully present us with the most exact survey of our sins, and so accordingly to use it as a blessing. Be sure never to turn thine eyes from beholding that which thy conscience offereth to thy view; whatsoever thy conscience doth herein, it doth by authority and special commission from God, and as His deputy, and it deserves regard. I do not doubt but while David lived upon earth this particular sin was ever in his sight. What warrant or colour of reason to think that there went a day over David’s head, after Nathan had awaked him, in which he thought not upon this fact? what if thou have once or twice, upon the importunity of thy conscience, humbled thyself before the Lord; shall it be any hurt unto thee to renew thy repentance every day? Nay, know it, thy repentance is not sincere, nor unfeigned, if thou once comest to think that which thou hast done by way of repenting is sufficient. Oh, how happy and profitable shall it be for thee to be summoned to a continual reckoning! How will it avail thy soul and break thy heart! How will it season thee with humility! How will it quicken thee unto thankfulness to God, which hath freed thy soul from such a trespass! (S. Hieron.)


Verses 8-10

Psalms 51:8-10

Make me to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.

The depression of believers

This is the language of David at a period of trouble. His soul was depressed. He was fully conscious of his sins, but he was not conscious of forgiveness. He pleads with God for pardon, and, sensible of indwelling sin, he pleads for deliverance from its dreadful power. We can readily perceive some reasons why such depressions of mind should sometimes exist.

1. There are many instances of great unfaithfulness in the love and service of God. In such instances, doubts and difficulties of mind arise on both gracious and natural principles. It is a principle of grace, in God’s dispensation of it, to withdraw His Spirit from those who forsake Him. He puts out their light. He leaves them to wander in the darkness of a spiritual abandonment, as an act of discipline, sometimes as intolerable to the soul as it is deserved. And such depressions arise--

2. From the difficulties of determining character. Almost anything else is more easily determined than the question of character in the sight of God. But we lay down this principle: We affirm that there is a difference between the religious doubting, darkness and depression of mind which sometimes assail a true believer, and the doubting, darkness and depression which would belong to him if he were not a true believer; we affirm that there are peculiarities of grief and fear and anxiety in the dark soul-troubles of a child of God. We aid him as far as we can.

We name some of the peculiarities accompanying a true believer’s depression of mind.

1. In his depression of mind, when he doubts sometimes of his piety and fears final ruin, or mourns because he has no more evidence of his adoption; a true believer finds his soul uneasy and troubled more constantly than it would be if he were not a true believer, but were only a Christian in mere name.

2. Christian depression has a kind of supremacy about it. It swallows up all other things and regards them in comparison as trifles.. A believer in his trouble is not tempted by the world. An unbeliever may be. He would renounce anything to attain that for which his soul longeth. It is supreme with him.

3. There is a deeper sensibility and a greater degree of anguish with a believer in his spiritual abandonment than an unbeliever knows anything about. He does not feel like the orphan that never knew a father; he feels like a disowned and outcast child. He has no more a father, no more a home or a hope. There is nothing for him to turn to, and no friend for him to hope in.

4. In the seasons of his sadness a true Christian will be looking very much to God for relief. The psalm before us is an example.

5. Notice the resort to this means of grace will always mark the course of a troubled Christian. Pray he will. He will pray when, from his dark and unsoothed experiences of anguish, he finds and knows that prayer does him no good.

6. Amid the dark glooms of a believer’s trouble there will be occasional flashes of light. The cloud will sometimes break away. The sun will appear, if not in its glory, at least in its glimpses. And, accordingly, you find in the prayers of depression and doubt recorded in the Bible such a mingling together of complaint and complacency--of gloom and gladness--of trial and triumph, as makes them appear to an unwise mind like inconsistencies and absurdities. Job was compelled to make one of the bitterest of all possible lamentations. But there came flashes of light. “He knoweth the way that I take.”

7. In all the depression and gloom of a believer, there are very few ideas of darkness and trouble which have their origin in any uncertainty of mind in respect to the realities of religion in respect to God or any of the truths of Christianity. He knows the reality of religion. He knows the security of it. He knows the blessedness of its experience, His trouble is that he cannot get at such blessed realities for himself. He would be less troubled if he had any, doubt about the good he longs for, and if he did not set upon it such an indescribable value. (T. S. Spencer, D. D.)

David’s prayer for joy and gladness

I. The request itself.

1. The thing petitioned for. “Joy and gladness.”

(a) This inward spiritual joy, this joy which is peculiar to religion, is an enlivening and strengthening joy. The joy of the Lord is your strength; it enables a man in some measure for those duties which God requires at his hands. It is compared to oil (Psalms 45:7). Now, we know the property of oil is to supple and qualify the parts and members of the body, and make them fit for service: so does this joy of the spirit. Sadness, and melancholy, and discontent, it is a lumpish business, it takes men off from doing their work; but joy it puts life into them, it expedites them, and makes them ready to every good work.

(b) As it makes men active in doing good, so also patient in suffering evil. It carries a man through crosses and tribulations with a great deal.of support above other men (Romans 5:2-3).

(e) It is durable and lasting, a joy which no man can take away (John 16:22). This is the difference betwixt a Christian’s joy and a worldling’s; betwixt a believer’s and an hypocrite’s. As for the latter, it quickly withers and comes to an end; it is but for a moment, as Job speaks (Job 20:25). It is like the crackling of thorns under a pot, as Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:8). But the former it lasts and continues, though not always in the same measure and degree for the vigour and liveliness of it, yet for the substance of it still it does; and especially for the true ground, and matter and occasion of it.

(d) It is a transcendent joy, it does transport and raise the soul after an eminent manner (1 Peter 1:8). It is such a joy as the greatness whereof is unable to be expressed unto us, especially when it is in that measure and degree as sometimes it is; as some of the blessed martyrs have sometimes had experience, when they have been so filled with joy as that they have despised their greatest torments themselves.

2. The manner and conveyance of this joy and gladness to the soul. “Make me to hear,” etc. When we speak of the hearing of joy, we may conceive of it two manner of ways; either, first, by the hearing of the ear in the ministry of the Word; or, secondly, by the hearing of the heart in the application of the Spirit to the conscience: both these ways did David pray that he might hear joy and gladness.

3. The author and worker of all this in us, the spring and fountain from whence it proceeds, and that is God Himself, “Do thou make me to hear.” This it may be carried respectively to all which hath been said before; and we may take notice of it in a threefold reference.

II. The enlargement or amplification of this request, from the end or drift in propounding it. “That the bones,” etc. The meaning of it is this; that I may receive comfort after so much terror and trouble and distraction as I have been exercised withal. These broken bones are a metaphor taken from the body applied to the soul, to express unto us the anguish and vexation of it. There are two things considerable in this clause; first, here is somewhat implied; and, secondly, here is somewhat expressed: that which is implied is David’s condition, and that is to have broken bones, that which is expressed is David’s desire, that these broken bones might rejoice.

1. We see here that a condition of humiliation is not always a condition of despair. Broken bones are recoverable: a soul may be brought very low through the hand of God, which it is exercised withal, and yet not in a forlorn estate; thus David here, and so other of the saints elsewhere, as Job, and Heman, and Hezekiah, and such as these, they had all a share in these broken bones, and vet for all that recovered and got them up again.

2. Observe somewhat from the order; that great rejoicing it hath oftentimes great trouble preceding and going before it: the broken bones usher in the exultation. This is God’s usual method, to bring to heaven by the gates of hell; and to make great dejections proper always to great enlargements. This He does, that so He may hereby set a price upon His own comforts, and have them had in greater esteem, and so much the better relished by us, which otherwise they would not be.

3. Observe somewhat also from the opposition of state to state, a state of sadness to a state of rejoicing, and the one promoted by the other; and so there is this in it; that those who have felt most of God’s terrors are most affected with His comforts: such as these leap for joy, as coming from one extreme to another, from a dark and dismal dungeon into a glorious sunshine.

4. In this transcendent expression, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice; we have this observation likewise intimated to us; how that the servants of God (occasionally and accidentally) gain by their very falls. This is that which David supposes as possible in this petition. As an arm or leg which is broken, when it is once set, is the stronger afterwards; so it falls out to be sometimes in this case with the servants of God. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

That the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.--

Broken bones

Backsliding is a most common evil, far more common than some of us suppose. We may ourselves be guilty of it and not know it. The cunning hunter makes the passage into his pits most easy and attractive, but out of them the way is difficult indeed. So Satan makes the way of apostasy to be very seductive to our natures, but the way of return, were it not for God’s grace, no human soul would find possible.

I. The plight in which David was. His bones had been broken. People speak flippantly of David’s sin, making out of it an accusation against godliness and an excuse for their own sin. But they should look also at David’s repentance, for if his sin was shameful, his sorrow for it was of the bitterest kind; and if the crime was glaring, certainly the afflictions which chastised him were remarkable. Children of God cannot sin cheaply. Certainly, David did not. His word here tells that his plight was--

1. Very painful. His bones were broken. A flesh wound is painful, but here was a more serious injury. No punishment was probably more cruel than that of breaking poor creatures alive upon the wheel. To such pain David likens his.

2. Very serious.

3. And complicated. It was not one bone, but many. How can they be all set again? And so with David, the greater powers of the soul were grieved and afflicted, in our spirits there are certain graces which are, so to speak, the bones of the spiritual man. Faith, hope, love are amongst them. But how they suffer when a soul is in such plight as David was!

4. Very dangerous, for where several bones are broken, every surgeon perceives how likely it is that the case will end fatally. It is a dreadful thing to be spiritually in such case--faith broken, hope broken, love broken, and the entire man) as it were, reduced to a palpitating mass of pain. It is a dreadfully dangerous condition to be in; for, alas! when men have sinned and suffered on account of it, they may yet turn again to their sins with greater hardness of heart than ever. Read Isaiah 1:1-31. And, again, the case of David was--

5. Most damaging. For even when God in His mercy heals the broken bones, it is a sad detriment to a man to have had them broken at all. But--

6. His case was still hopeful. The saving clause lies here, “The bones which Thou hast broken.” For He who wounds can bind up.

II. The remedy to which he resorted. He did not lie down sullenly in despondency, but he turns to God in prayer. And--

1. He believed that there was joy and gladness even for such as he. And--

2. That it must come to him by hearing. The gate of mercy is the ear. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me, hear and,” etc. Some despise preaching, and say that prayers are everything, especially the public saying of them. But it is to be noted that nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus commission men to celebrate public prayer, but He did say to His disciples, “Go and preach.” Very little is said about public worship, but the Book teems with references to preaching. The fact is, the sermon reverently heard, and earnestly delivered, is the highest act of worship. And it is the main instrumentality for the salvation of men. May the Lord “make” us to hear.

III. The hope which he entertained. Not that his bones might merely 1.e quiet and at rest, but “rejoice.” He had been a mass of misery, mercy shall make him a mass of music. The music is generally soft and gentle, and has much of God in it, and goes on unceasingly. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The torment of a roused conscience

When David’s conscience was roused by Nathan’s ministry, and sot upon the rack, so that he now was sensible of the terror of the Lord, and of the heinousness of his sin, the ease was altered, and that which before pleased him at the heart was now a pain to his heart, the vexation far exceeded all the former pleasures that he found. The pleasingness of sin was gone, the torment following it stuck by him, and it was no easy matter to remove it. (S. Hieron.)

David’s reiteration of requests

He had made it already in Psalms 51:1; Psalms 7:1-17, and now again he repeats it. Yea, we may observe how he does it in some respects confusedly, without observing any method or order at all; there is no method in a broken heart: while he is praying for one thing, he does by the bye thrust in another; and while he is praying for assurance, he does preposterously pray for forgiveness, for pardon after joy, which is a thing antecedent thereunto.

1. Here is the necessity of this request of all other besides, to desire that God would pardon us our sins; it is that which we have need to put in the front of all other desires; nay, not only in the front, but in the rear; yea, and further, in the whole body of all. Whenever we draw near to God, make any suit or petition to Him, this had need to come in still, as we may say, for the burthen of the song, “Hide Thy face from my sins.” The reason of it is this, because this is the groundwork and foundation of all other comforts besides: all the good which we receive from God is laid in our reconciliation with Him; and all our boldness and freedom, as to the asking of any good at His hands, so long as there is any guilt charged upon us, we cannot so easily do this; this puts an obstruction to those mercies which we expect from Him.

2. The second is the difficulty of it. Great sins make great impressions and wounds upon the conscience, which are not easily healed and made up. And this God will have to be in His infinite wisdom upon a double account: first, to put a weight upon sin; and, secondly, to put a price upon pardon; that the one may not be too easily ventured on, and that the other may not be too lightly esteemed and slighted, and made nothing of, as it would be ready to be. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

The reparation of sin’s ravages

David’s prayer here is for more than forgiveness, more than remission of punishment, more than abolition of sin; it is for restoration to what he was before.

I. He asks God to forget it all; to forget the home left, the squandered property, the being driven in to God, unwilling and degraded. And all this to be as if it had never been! Is this possible? In one sense, yes; in another sense, no. Think only how we have altered our lives. It is said to have been the constant prayer of a very holy man, “O my God, make me what I might have been if it never had sinned!” Some of the Jews every Friday go to a place in Jerusalem, known as the Jews’ wailing-place, where there are just a few foundation-stones of the old temple, and there lament their fallen greatness. There are wailing-places, it may be, and always will be, in our own lives. But a new city has risen up, and new duties and new hopes, and God has promised to forget.

II. He asks for restoration to strength, as shown in the clean heart and right spirit. The clean heart being a desire for right things in the seat of the affections; the right spirit being a susceptibility to heavenly influence in the seat of the conscience, the inner man.

III. He asks for the comforts of religion. “The comfort of Thy help.” How much there is in these words! (Canon Newbolt.)


Verse 9-10

Psalms 51:9-10

Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

God’s pardoning grace

This psalm is made up partly of confessions and acknowledgments of his great crimes, partly of petitions and supplications, wherein he intercedes for pardon, and prays for forgiveness. And this was but necessary to complete the duty of confession, which without this additional act of devotion might have looked rather like a daring defiance of Divine justice; God having nowhere promised us His pardon, or indeed any other blessing without our asking; nor that He will open the gates of His mercy to penitent sinners, and grant them readmission into His favour again, but upon their earnest applications and importunate knocking.

I. The sense and meaning of the words.

1. By “sins” we may understand offences of a high nature, wilful and deliberate transgressions, such as are mightily provoking in the sight of God, from which, therefore, he prays God to “hide His face.”

2. By “iniquities” may be understood the common frailties and ordinary miscarriages of our lives, those which with the greatest care we can use, cannot well be avoided; such as we daily run on score with God, which, therefore, he desires may be “blotted out.”

3. God’s “hiding His face “ from anything is His passing it by, and His not regarding it (Psalms 55:1; Ezekiel 39:29). Proportionably to “hide His face from our sins “ is to overlook them; particularly to suspend sentence, not to proceed to judgment against us, but to forbear us. And this is properly that act of forgiveness the Latins call Igno-scentia, to seem not to know, not to resent injuries, and to put up affronts which are done to His Heavenly Majesty. And, oh blessed God, may every one of us, sinners as we are, say, how do we all of us stand obliged to Thy goodness, that Thou hast not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities; but hast lengthened out our time and Thy patience, and given us space of repentance, and left us still in a possibility of salvation, and hast from time to time hid Thy face from our provoking sins, oven when we have boldly and deliberately dared Thy justice to Thy face! Oh, praised be that unspeakable mercy of Thine.

4. To “blot out all our iniquities” is so to forgive them as that they shall never be remembered more (Ezekiel 33:16). This is a metaphor taken from the usual discharge of debts and release of suits and actions we may have against any man, when we wipe out the score, and cancel all bills and obligations whatever, and give him a free general pardon and quit-claim of all duos or demands. And this is that act of forgiveness which in Latin is called condonatio, an absolute and full discharge. And this is the very term and tenor of evangelical pardon, as Himself hath declared it by His prophet (Isaiah 43:25). Gracious God, be always pleased to hide Thy face from our sins, but never hide it from our persons or from our prayers; which is the severest token of Thy heaviest displeasure.

II. The nature of God’s pardoning grace. Consider the wonderful goodness of God’s nature in Himself and of His will towards us, that He doth as it were lay aside all His glorious attributes almost, to serve us; and shows us mercy, even in disparagement to His infinite knowledge and holiness and justice; that, though He cannot but see and know our sins, because He knows all things, yet He takes no notice of them: and because they cannot be hid from His face, He hides His face from them; though He cannot but abominate sin, and hate it with a perfect hatred, yet He loves and bears with the sinner; and though He stand obliged as a righteous judge to punish sin, wherever He finds it, yet He delays the punishment in expectation of our repentance. And this is the first act of pardon, or, at least, step towards it, that God doth not rebuke us in His anger, nor chasten us in His hot displeasure; that there is a suspension at least of punishment, a reprieve in order to a full pardon; which follows in the next place, the blotting out of all our iniquities, so as never to be remembered more; and this is the removal of guilt, a total and final discharge for the future, as that is a forbearance of vengeance at present. That in a manner is but present impunity; this is an absolute discharge for ever; and that--

1. Total: all mine iniquities; and--

2. Final: by being blotted out.

III. How this forgiveness and full pardon may be attained.

1. Contrition. Labour to be thoroughly convinced of thy sins; consider and lay to heart thy dangerous estate; spread thy sins before thy own conscience first, before thou lay them before God in thy confession. Fruit is first bruised and squeezed before it yields its precious liquor; stones, and the hardest metals themselves, when they are melted down, will run. Then, when thou art thus contrite, when thou hast broken thy heart, and melted it with the coals of Divine love, thy soul will pour out itself.

2. Supplication. Get thee to thy Lord right humbly; beseech His mercy to accept thy repentance, and His grace to improve it. Let Him not alone till thou hast obtained a gracious answer.

3. Lay hold on Christ; plead His passion and merits. In His name and mediation thy supplications must hope to speed, and have their designed effect. Lot thy prayers be perfumed in the censer of thy High Priest, and be mingled with His intercessions.

4. Amendment of life; or else all that thou hast done hitherto falls short and comes to nothing,

IV. The blessed effects and consequence of this pardoning grace.

1. The favour of God as now reconciled in Christ. If thou hast this pardon, thou hast the light of God’s countenance shining upon thy inner man, and art in the same condition as a child restored to his father’s love. And this thou mayest know by thy own dutiful behaviour and ingenuous affections, as well as by His kind reception; if thou givest Him cause by thy filial diligence to rejoice in thy return, as thou thyself rejoicest in His reconcilement.

2. This favour procures the peace and quiet of conscience.

3. The gracious assurance of thy present acceptance, both of thy person and performances.

4. The ascertaining of thy future hopes. Present acceptation goes a great way with a faithful servant; but to have, beside and beyond this, an ascertainment of what expectations and future rewards such a servant may look for at the hands of a kind master; this cannot but raise, as well as quiet, his spirit. This will not only fix, but elevate him in his loyalty.

V. Marks whereby a sinner may know whether he hath attained this pardon. (Adam Littleton, D. D.)


Verse 10

Psalms 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

A clean heart

I. The blessing asked for. It may refer to two distinct graces, conversion or entire sanctification. For when a man is converted there is still in him an inclination to evil, the struggle between the flesh and the spirit: his soul is not altogether pure. He has need of a more complete sanctification, of deliverance from all sin. And to this our text may be referred. A clean heart is one purified by the Holy Spirit from everything that is contrary to holiness. And it is also a constant heart. “Renew within me a constant spirit”--so may the words be translated. There is, then, the idea of constancy and establishment (2 Corinthians 13:9; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Peter 5:10). And there is no entire sanctification without it. The Spirit who inspired David with the prayer of our text is the same who dictated to the apostles the pictures of Christian virtues united together, which compose sanctification. David is persuaded that sanctification implies perfect sincerity: “Behold, Thou desirest truth within”; he knows that it comprises the wisdom which is the fruit of the instruction of the Holy Spirit: “Thou didst teach me,” or “make me to know wisdom in the secret of my heart” (Psalms 51:6).

II. The dispositions from which the prayer of David proceeded. It is evidently a fervent prayer, which causes his whole being to rise towards God. But by what way he had been brought to make this request is not the essential thing for us to know. What is clear is that David had fallen very grievously; that his repentance was deep and painful; and that serious reflections on the inward cause of evil occupied his mind. It was his outward sin which obliged him to look within, and attentively examine the state of his heart and tendency to evil. It is as if he had said, “What Thou ditestes is not only sin manifested without, but its inward principle; the sin which is hidden in the heart, and which is the cause of outward evil.” The Christian cannot, indeed, have at first a perfect view of his inward pollutions. When conversion has been prompt and marked, when the sorrow for past sins has been deep, the agreeable feelings which succeed that sorrow as a consequence of our faith in Christ, the lively joy, the fervent love, check for a time the manifestations of evil. Sin is struck down and bruised; its power is broken. Perhaps God also, in His Fatherly wisdom and tenderness, does not permit His feeble child to see all his corruption from the beginning of his new life. That painful revelation might discourage him if it were made before his faith was strengthened. But if the evil is not yet evident, it is real; the light of the Holy Spirit will manifest it at the right time. And oh, what discoveries he speedily makes! What a mixture in his best actions, and in his whole life! What pride! What envy! What evil thoughts! What avarice! What a legion of other guilty feelings!

III. The most powerful encouragements to faith.

1. The fact that the Holy Spirit inspires that request is to you a sufficient proof that it is agreeable to God, and that He will hear it. Can you suppose that God would reveal to you the existence of a malady of which you could not be healed? Would He take pleasure in tormenting you by the view of impurity which He would not remove? Such a supposition would dishonour God. Courage, then, ye afflicted ones who heartily take part in the prayer of David, and say, “O God, create in me a clean heart!” That prayer itself is the pledge of your deliverance.

2. A further encouragement is found in the fact of God Himself delivering His Son to death for you. When it is well understood and felt, is it not a powerful motive to sanctification? Does it not make an irresistible appeal to our love?

3. But, further, the commandments of God enjoin upon us sanctification. “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Does not every commandment imply a promise of grace to accomplish what it requires? I bind you, then, not to limit the Holy One of Israel. Wait to receive now the blessing of a pure heart. Begin to ask for it as you have never yet done. Seek it in tim spirit of Jacob when he wrestled with the Lord. (J. Hogart.)

David’s cry for purity

I. A remarkable outline of a holy character. He possessed the Holy Spirit, or he could not have prayed that that Spirit might not be taken from him. God 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.” “A right spirit”--“a constant or firm spirit” is the meaning. Then consider the third element in the character which David longs to possess--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.” This goes very deep into the heart of all true godliness. And so the psalmist prays, “Let my obedience be so willing that I had rather do what Thou wilt than anything besides.”

II. Desires for holiness should become prayers. David does not merely long for certain spiritual excellences; he goes to God for them. There are some of you that are wasting your lives in paroxysms of fierce struggle with the evil that you have partially discovered in yourselves, alternating with long languor fits of collapse and apathy, and who make no solid advance, just because you will not lay to heart these two convictions--your sin has to do with God, and your sins come from a sinful nature. Because of the one fact, you must go to God for pardon; because of the other, you must go to God for cleansing. There, in your heart, like some black well-head in a dismal bog, is the source of all the swampy corruption that fills your life. You cannot stanch it, drain it, sweeten it. Ask Him, who is above your nature and without it, to change it by His own new life infused into your spirit. He will heal the bitter waters. He alone can.

III. Prayers for perfect cleansing are permitted to the lips of the greatest sinners. Such longings as these might seem audacious, when the atrocity of the crime is remembered, and by man’s standard they are so. Let the criminal be thankful for escape, and go hide himself, say men’s pardons. But here is a man, with the evil savour of his debauchery still tainting him, daring to ask for no mere impunity, but for God’s choicest gifts. Does not a prayer like this seem as if it were but adding to his sin? But, thank God, it is not so. Let no sin, however dark, however repeated, drive us to despair of ourselves, because it hides from us our loving Saviour. Though beaten back again and again by the surge of our passions and sins, like some poor shipwrecked sailor sucked back with every retreating wave and tossed about in the angry surf, yet keep your face towards the beach where there is safety, and you will struggle through it all, and, though it were but on some floating boards and broken pieces of the ship, will come safe to land. He will uphold you with His Spirit, and take away the weight of sin that would sink you, by His forgiving mercy, and bring you out of all the weltering waste of waters to the solid shore. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Purity

I. Inquire into the meaning of a clean heart, or the proper ingredients and expressions of such a temper of soul.

1. A fixed habitual abhorrence of all forbidden indulgences of the flesh. This is that which principally constitutes a clean heart; and from this all the other fruits and expressions of such a temper will proceed.

2. All past impurities, either of heart or life, will be reflected on with shame and sorrow (Jeremiah 31:19; Ezekiel 16:63; Ezekiel 20:42-43).

3. A clean heart imports that the heart is actually freed in a good measure from impure thoughts and irregular desires; or at least that they are not entertained with pleasure and delight. He cannot be at rest till they are dispossessed and gone.

4. A clean heart discovers itself by a cautious fear of the least degrees of impurity. He dares not allow himself to go to the utmost bounds of things lawful, because he reckons himself to be then upon a precipice.

5. A clean heart necessarily implies a careful and habitual guard against everything which tends to pollute the mind (Proverbs 4:23). All loose and vicious company will be avoided as much as may be by those who have a clean heart. Intemperance will be carefully avoided by those who have an earnest concern to maintain their purity.

II. Represent the obligations that lie upon us to seek after such a purity of heart.

1. A ruling inclination to sensuality is directly contrary to the purity and holiness of the Divine nature.

2. Sensuality has a special tendency to extinguish the light of reason, and to unfit for anything spiritual and sacred.

3. Sensuality is most contrary to the design and engagements of Christianity. Our Lord inculcated the strictest purity upon all His disciples; not only an abstinence from gross outward acts, but from polluting thoughts and desires (Matthew 5:27-30).

4. The blessed hope with which Christianity inspires us, lays us under a forcible engagement to present purity.

The uncleanness of the heart, and how it is cleansed

I. If the heart must be created anew before it can be a clean heart, certainly, before it is thus new-formed, it is an impure and unclean heart. And this that is here implied is frequently in the Scriptures directly affirmed (Genesis 7:5; Jeremiah 17:19; Mark 7:21). All the evils that are in the world are but evidences of the impurity of the heart, that unclean fountain and original of them.

II. wherein the uncleanness of the heart consists. A clean heart is such a heart as hath clean desires and affections; an unclean heart is that which hath unclean and impure desires, a heart full of evil concupiscence.

III. The causes of this uncleanness of the heart.

1. The impetuousness and continual solicitations of the sensual appetite, which continually sends up its foul exhalations and steams into the heart, and thereby taints and infects it.

2. The weakness and the defect of the imperial part of the soul, the reason and understanding.

IV. How it comes to pass that a heart thus naturally unclean is cleansed, which in general is by a restitution of the soul to its proper and native sovereignty and dominion over the sensual appetite; and those lusts that arise from the constitution of the body, and the connection of the soul to it. (Sir M. Hale.)

Reformation of heart the main thing needed

This is the main thing desirable, even purity and cleanness of heart, that God would bestow this blessing upon us. This is that which the Scriptures does abundantly commend unto us in sundry places (Psalms 73:1; Psalms 24:3-4; Matthew 5:8). This cleanness and purity of heart is commended as the principal thing to be pursued by us, upon a double account.

1. As of the greatest eminence, considered in itself: The heart is the best part of a man; therefore there is cause for desiring of the cleanness of that above all the rest. As we see in an house, one would have all the rooms clean in it; but if there be any, better than another, some choice and peculiar chamber that we desire should be so especially. This now is the condition of the heart, it is the best room in all the house: it is best for the constitution of it; and therefore it should be best likewise for the qualification: it is best for its use and employment, and therefore it should be best likewise for its ordering and disposition: that which is the best of us, should be the best in us. We value rooms according to the guests which we entertain into them; and this is the pre-eminence of the heart, wherein God Himself takes special delight to dwell, and to reside; and therefore we should take special care for the cleaning of it, not to put such a worthy guest and friend as He is into a foul and impure lodging: the heart should be clean for its eminence.

2. It should be so also for its influence; and according to this sense especially are we to take it here in this place, in this desire of David. He was now upon the business of repentance, and amendment of life, to set upon a new course of life over what he had of late taken up; and now see here where he lays the groundwork and foundation of such a business as this, namely, in the cleansing of his heart--Create in me a clean heart, O God; he begins with that; this is the spring and fountain of all amendment and reformation whatsoever. They that desire to reform their lives, they must endeavour to reform their hearts; they must labour to have right spirits in them, or else all will be in vain unto them, whatsoever they apply themselves to as concerning this matter. The reason of it is clear, because the heart is the original and spring of all evil, as our Saviour Himself hath told us (Mark 7:21). (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

A clean heart

“Heart” comprehends not only feeling, but intellect and will. It suggests the impulsive; the sphere of the emotions and sympathy, of hatred and of love. It suggests the directive; the realm of plans and of judgment, the sphere and home of thought. It suggests the executive; the power which prosecutes purpose, the forces of persistence and resistance; the offensive and defensive energies of the life. The dominion of the heart is inclusive of the threefold sovereignty of emotion, intellect and will. A clean heart is, therefore, very much more than refined and sensitive feeling. It is also inclusive of illumined and clarified discernment; of healthy and wholesome will. “Create within me a clean heart” is a very wealthy and comprehensive prayer; make my feelings like clean fire, make my thought like a sea of glass. Make my will like a loyal soldier, incapable of mutiny. How is this splendid aim to be gained? By an act of creation. “Create in me a pure heart, O God.” There is something in creation that is revolutionary: it is the gift of a seed. John Stuart Mill said that a revolutionary force entered into his life on the day he came to know the lady who was afterwards to be his wife. The experience is a commonplace in ordinary life. Intimacies mark the beginnings of revolutions. A father says, “It was a bad day when my lad became intimate with such a one,” and he mentions the name with bitterness and shame. But why a bad day? A revolutionary force got hold of him, bad principle possessed him. The seed of devilry was implanted, which worked itself out in all manner of unworthiness and sin. The first step in the creation of devilry is to become related to one. On the good side and on the bad the revolutionary in life is occasioned by the establishment of a new relationship. The first requisite in the creation of the Godlike life is relationship with God. Life is revolutionized when man comes into conscious communion with his Maker. Let me illustrate. Here is a reservoir supplying the needs of a great town. The waters become poisoned and defiled. The vast mains become the agents of destruction, the vehicles and purveyors of disease. Epidemics break out. Pestilence abounds. Let me assume that on pure and unpolluted heights there are discovered unmeasured resources of water, clean and undefiled. Let us assume that we could connect the corrupted mains with the clean and wholesome flood. The linking of the two would be the beginning of a revolution. The epidemic would not be obliterated in a day, even with the opening of the crystal flood. But in the revolution would be the potency of health. And here am I, a member of a race, down whose waterways flow currents of diluted and defiled life. That truth is not only proclaimed in the Scripture, it is the doctrine of modern science. One calls it the legacy of Adam, the other the bequest of heredity. “In Adam all die;” the elements of corruption are transmitted; the reservoir from which I drink has been defiled. Now let us assume that I could become related to some reservoir in the heights, some pure river of water of life. How then? What I bespeak as an assumption has been proclaimed as a gospel. I can change the reservoirs; “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The heredity can be changed; “heirs of Adam,” we can become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” The first element in the new creation is a new relation. We become “new creatures” when we become “one with Christ.” The revolution is succeeded by evolution. Becoming the “heir of God, and joint-heir with Christ,” I am subjected to a discipline which is intended to develop all the wealth of my inner life. The discipline is intended to discharge the twofold ministry of instruction and chastening. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

Reformation must begin at the heart

A reformation which beginneth at the members and external actions is neither true nor constant. As if a man intending to dress his garden, and purge it from thistles and such-like weeds, would cut off the upper part and leave the roots, which would spring up again: so if thou wouldest chastise thy body and let thine heart remain luxurious, it is nothing. The heart is the fountain, wherefrom springeth all evil, the root from which all sin groweth. He speaketh not of the substance but of the affections and qualities of the heart. No honest man will lodge in a filthy house, or drink or eat except the vessel be made clean; and God cannot abide in a foul, swinish heart. “Keep thine heart diligently,” saith the Spirit. As a vessel of gold or silver being through long use wasted and broken, is sent to the goldsmith’s to be renewed, so our hearts worn by sin must be sent to God, that He may put them in the fire, end east them in a new mould, and make them up again. Alas, that we are careful to renew everything, clothes, vessels and all, only careless to renew our hearts. (A. Symson.)

Renew a right spirit within me.

Gracious renewal

I. There is absolutely necessity for God’s renewal of us if we would persevere.

1. Nothing that God has made is self-existent. Not the angels even. The very mountains crumble, and the great rivers have to be perpetually refilled from the mountain snows.

2. This is especially true of all wherein life is. Job’s war-horse, whose neck is clothed with thunder, must humble himself to his stall and to his provender. Samson himself must have a cleft opened in the rock that he may drink, for though he has slain the Philistines, yet will he perish if his thirst be not quenched.

3. Your own inner consciousness says the same. What downward tendencies there are in us all. We could travel down-hill to hell easily, but upwards to heaven how hardly!

4. And if we will not see this we may be made to, and that terribly, by some surprising sin. See the occasion of this psalm.

5. Unconscious backsliding from God will certainly be upon us unless we experience the renewals of God’s Spirit. The Church has rest now-a-days, and is where Pilgrim was when he went through the enchanted ground, and the air was heavy, and he had much ado to keep himself from sleeping. Perhaps it is a truthless legend that the holidays of Capua ruined the veterans of Hannibal, but if it be a legend in his case, it is a fact in ours. Therefore we do need to pray, “Renew a right spirit within me.” And because of--

II. Our own powerlessness to do this. “Without me,” said our Lord, “we can do nothing”; but we do not fully know all that means. When a ship is in sailing order and in good condition, yet she cannot speed on her voyage of herself: even though the sails be spread, there is no hope of her making her port unless the wind shall blow. For to renew a soul is as when Christ called forth Lazarus from the grave: it is to go directly opposite to nature. Who can make water run up-hill, or suspend the cataract in mid-air? Every grace is wanted that was needed in our first conversion. Then pray this prayer, but pray it not falsely, as you will if you use not the means through which God works. He is a hypocrite who asks the Lord to visit him and then nails up his door.

III. The blessed results of such renewal--this another argument for our praying this prayer. What joy, what activity, how useful you will be: how light will be the load of this world’s trials.

IV. Remember gospel obligations to renew our covenant with God.

1. It was well for you at the first to make this covenant.

2. Jesus often renews it with us, and--

3. All He has done for us binds us to it. You that have gone astray, pray this prayer. If the Church for thy backslidings has had to cast thee out, if there be still a desire in thy soul to return, Christ waits for thee. And whoever we be, young or old, men or women struggling amid the world’s cares, or young men and maidens, or young children, come now and renew your vows unto God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A right spirit

1. By “spirit” we are to understand either the rational part distinct from the animal, or (which I rather incline to) the rational part in the refinings of it; the more eminent and divine ray of understanding and will; the mind of the mind and the soul of the soul. If there be any part better than other, to be still better in that; not only in the body, but so much the more in the soul; and not only in the soul and mind, but so much the rather in the spirit of it, which is the bent and bias of the mind, the vigour and activity of it, he would be best in that. Now, accordingly, we should ourselves endeavour hereunto likewise. There are none which are so wicked as those which are spiritually wicked; nor none which are so good as those which are spiritually good. Look by how much grace and holiness does at any time take hold on our spirits, so much the better still we are.

2. The second is what is meant by “right.”

(a) In regard of the excellency of the things themselves which are here commended to us: the better anything is, the more cause have we to be resolved upon it, and constant to it.

(b) In regard of the natural inconstancy of our own hearts: the more uncertain we are of ourselves, the greater need have we to make ourselves sure by a fixedness and constancy of resolution, and thereby as it were to bind ourselves up.

(e) In regard of the manifold temptations and attempts which are upon us to take us off. There are so many baits laid to unsettle us, that unless we peremptorily determine ourselves, we shall never be sure; we have many ‘assaults upon us to shake us, and to make us let go our hold, for which cause we have need to endeavour after this constant spirit. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)


Verse 11

Psalms 51:11

Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.

A most needful prayer concerning the Holy Spirit

This psalm is, beyond all others, a photograph of penitent David. You may have seen that interesting slab of stone which bears on its surface indications of the fall of raindrops in a primeval shower; this psalm preserves the mark of David’s tear-drops, for the inspection and instruction of succeeding generations. Take our text--

I. As the cry of a penitent child of God. This is its largest, widest and most primitive sense. It is certainly fit language for any child of God who has fallen into gross sin. Backslider, you may yet return; there are pardons for sins of deepest dye. But more, probably, will equally need this prayer on account of gradual backsliding. One great sin startles the soul into repentance, but a continuation of sin will be found to be oven more dangerous. White ants will devour a carcase as surely and as speedily as a lion. Many threads of silk twisted together may hold a man as fast as one band of iron. But the soul that can thus pray has still true spiritual life struggling within. An ungodly man would not care at all, but here is life which sighs after God. How many are the reasons for such a prayer as this! God’s presence is our comfort amid affliction. It was the Holy Spirit who regenerated us, and into His name we were baptized. And He is the Spirit of adoption. Let anything come between us and our distinct recognition of our sonship towards God, and we are undone. Further, it is by the Holy Spirit that we have access to God. Praying in the Holy Spirit is the only true praying. And He is our great instructor; He leads us into all truth. And we need His aid as our Comforter and Sanctifier, and as our power for practical service. And remember, too, that when a man has sinned as David had, he cannot always pray in language which would be precisely suitable for a well-assured saint. When assurance is gone, and faith is weak, it is a great comfort that we may pray a sinner’s prayer.

II. As the voice of an anxious Church. Remember, there have been Churches from which God has removed His Spirit. The Churches of Asia, and many more recent instances. Therefore remember that the power of a Church does not consist in her organizations; nor her gifts; nor her wealth; nor her doctrines. I know not that Laodicea held false doctrines, yet she was nauseous to the Lord. Nor is a Church’s strength her numbers. What is a large Church without the Lord’s presence, but a mass of chaff to be scattered by the wind! And the fall of such Church may be sudden. Therefore how needful for all Churches is this prayer. Take it--

III. As the cry of an awakened sinner. Not accurately, but still instinctively we may thus use it. Oh, unconverted man! if thou art anxious about thy soul, pray this prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Deprecation of God’s judgments

The people of God they understand the nature of spiritual judgments, that they are the greatest and saddest of any; which they are in a twofold respect; first, as considered in themselves, and that mischief which is contained in them; and, secondly, in regard of their influence and extent. First, as for themselves, they are the greatest, as depriving of the greatest good, and carrying the greatest smart with them. Every one prizes any loss according as he is any way sensible of the gain which is lost by it. What is the reason that worldly men make so much of worldly losses, of friends, and honours, and estates, and such things as these? It is because they understand what they mean. Why now thus it is also in spirituals: God’s children, because they know what it is to enjoy God’s presence, therefore they are so afraid of being deprived of it. And then in regard of their influence; they know that such judgments as these have other judgments attending upon them; and so they have: first, as to temporal judgments, they are oftentimes forerunners of them: as the Gospel comes not alone, so it goes not alone, nor the comforts which belong unto it. When God afflicts men with spiritual judgments, which it may be they do not regard, He has other judgments for them, following Of them, which they are more sensible of; when David was cast out of God’s presence, he was in danger of somewhat else with it; and so are others with him. And then especially as to judgment to come. Spiritual judgments, where they are not prevented, end in eternal judgments, and in their own nature tend unto them. Temporary casting out of God’s presence tends to final and absolute rejection: and the loss of God’s Spirit for a time tends to the loss of it for ever: this it does in its own nature, however through the goodness of God it does not always take effect; as the firing but of one room in a house speaks the firing of the whole building; and the firing of but one house in particular the destruction of the whole city, though God does graciously come between.:Now the children of God they consider things in themselves, and the nature and tendency of them, as it becomes wise men to do, and accordingly judge of them; and hence are so much afraid of spiritual judgments. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.--

The withdrawal of God’s Spirit deprecated as the worst of evils

1. The best of saints may fall into the worst of sins.

2. As the best of saints cannot keep themselves from falling, so neither can they raise themselves up again when they are fallen (Psalms 23:3).

3. Where repentance is sincere, a believer matters not what shame he takes, provided by his confession glory may redound to God.

I. What it is for God to take away His Holy Spirit. For God to take away His Holy Spirit is for Him to withdraw His sensible gracious influences from the soul.

II. For what reasons, or on what accounts it is, that God acts thus towards His own people.

1. Pride and self-confidence in the performance of any duty. The apostle seems to be most afraid of that little boasting pronoun I (1 Corinthians 15:1). Grace prepared him for service, grace assisted him in it, grace gave success to it, grace therefore has all the praise.

2. Another reason why God withdraws His Spirit is negligence and sloth in the discharge of duty (Song of Solomon 5:2). Oh! those formal, lukewarm frames of spirit, our beloved loathes them. Give Christ your whole heart, or give Him nothing.

3. Unimproved mercies is another cause of the removal of God’s Spirit (1 Kings 11:9).

4. Present sins are another cause of God’s withdrawing of His Spirit: Samson and David both failed here.

III. Why gracious souls cannot bear the loss of God’s spirit without putting in their plea against it.

1. Because He is the Spirit of truth, and without His gracious teachings all the knowledge that we have of God and of Christ will do us no real good. Light in the head will be of little efficacy if there be not life and heat in the heart.

2. He is the Spirit of grace and of supplication, and without His aid we shall be indifferent to duty, and lifeless in it (Zechariah 12:10).

3. The Spirit is a Spirit of holiness, and without His presence all our endeavours after sanctification in heart and life are fruitless, and in vain.

4. The Spirit is the author of all consolation and joy, and without His gracious influences the believer will be ever sorrowing and cast down (John 16:7).

Uses.

1. If the loss of God’s presence here be so dreadful, how sad is it ever to be separated from it in the other world? (Psalms 90:11).

2. God has other ways to punish His own people for sin, than casting them into hell for it (Psalms 99:8).

3. Have a care how you grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Do not that which is contrary to His nature and will. Embrace His counsels; submit to His government; walk in all the ways of His appointment. (J. Hill.)

Withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from the soul

There came upon David’s soul, like a veritable horror, the consciousness that it was possible to go from bad to worse; that, unless God interposed, this might last for ever--this momentary withdrawal of the spiritual power might be permanent. So he seems to say with an awful pathos in his voice, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” As I thought of this I wondered whether there rose before the eyes of David the memory of what he himself had seen in the years that were gone. There was his predecessor on the throne--Saul--a man on whom the Spirit of God rested for a while, but who was bereft of the Spirit. When the Spirit had left him, what an awful condition he got into 1 David seems to say within himself, “O God, have mercy upon me. Do not let me become a Saul, lest I forget Thy judgments and disobey Thy statutes; lest in my hot anger I raise my hand against a just man, and seek to pin him to the wall with my javelin, as Saul did even unto me.” (Thomas Spurgeon.)


Verse 12

Psalms 51:12

Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.

The fallen Christian praying for spiritual joy

He asks that God would clear away his sorrows as well as his sins, make once again a happy man of him; so that he may not only rise up from the ground on which he has fallen and go on his heavenly way, but, like the Ethiopian convert in the desert, go “on his way rejoicing.” “Make me to hear joy and gladness,” he says in Psalms 51:8, and here he prays, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.” “Pardon,” we should have said to David at this time, “is all that you must now dare to ask, pardon and renewed sanctification.” “No,” says David, “there is healing in my God for sinners such as I am, as well as pardon; there is comfort in Him for even men like me. I see them in Him, and I will ask them of Him. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.”

I. The joy of God’s salvation. “I do not care how I am made happy,” a man of the world would say, “so that I am happy.” He has no definite idea of happiness. “Who will show me any good?” is his language; “any good”--he cares not what, “But I can be made happy only in one way,” the really Christian man says; “I must be happy in my God, and I can be happy in him only as God my Saviour, the God of my salvation.” And if anything can make a sinful creature happy, it is this joy of which we speak. It is the “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” the only joy that can be truly called Christian joy, or that can meet the desires of the regenerated soul.

II. The possession or experience of this joy. Though now without it, David once partook of it. “Do all the people of God, then,” you may ask, “experience this joy?” You might as well inquire whether all who dwell on the face of the earth behold the sun’s light. That sun always exists and is always pouring forth its beams, but men may be shut up within walls, or be turned on the revolving earth away from the sun, or have their organs of vision impaired or closed, and thus have the sun as to them shining in vain. So with the salvation or gospel of God--joy and gladness it is ever capable of giving, and is ever actually giving to multitudes of happy souls who understand and believe it, but not at all times to all who understand and believe it, for the spiritual perceptions of some of them are weak. But let this pass. The point I am now aiming to establish is this--that as there is a spiritual sorrow in the Christian’s inward experience, begotten in him by the Gospel of God, so there is commonly a joy in his experience, begotten in him also by the salvation of God.

III. The loss of this joy. This is a mournful loss. There are varied causes for the instability and changeableness of our minds, but the grand destroyer of our spiritual happiness, the one great extinguisher and demolisher of our joy, is sin--sin indulged; not sin struggled with and kept at bay, but sin yielded to, mentally if not practically committed; sin let into our imaginations and hearts, if not into our houses and lives, and fostered and cherished and fed on there. In David’s case it was heinous, enormous, complicated sin which laid his joy low; but common, decent sins will do the work as effectually though not as suddenly.

IV. The restoration of spiritual joy, its recovery when lost. This the text describes as both desirable and attainable.

1. Desirable it was to David’s soul, or he would not have repeatedly and so earnestly prayed for it. And of this we may be sure, that a man who has once tasted of this joy, who has really felt within his own soul its power and sweetness, will never be content to live long without it.

2. But is this desirable thing attainable? We may safely infer from this text that it is. David is not praying here for an impossibility. He is evidently praying under the Spirit’s teaching. Such a recovery, however, is not in any case, to say nothing of a case like David’s, that easy thing which some of us think it. We imagine that when our souls, through some long-continued worldly-mindedness or some sinful indulgence, are comfortless, it is only to hear some cheering sermon, or turn again to God a little more earnestly than usual, and our former peace will revive; but not so. It is not easy to get indulged worldly-mindedness or indulged sin of any kind subdued in the soul and cast out of it; it is still less easy to get rid of the withering and depressing effects of worldliness and sin. The Lord does not hastily heal the wounds that sin makes in the souls of His people, for He wishes them for their good to feel the smart of those wounds; but He has in His covenant health and a cure for them. But the Lord works by means. There is no restoration of joy through those things which the Lord has ordained shall precede joy and, by His Spirit, produce it. And these things are deep humiliation and sorrow on account of sin, and a turning again to God through Christ precisely as we came to Him years ago, to he washed, cleansed, comforted, saved entirely by Him, by His Spirit, righteousness and blood. I know of no other way to the recovery of spiritual peace than this, nor do you. If sin has overtaken and ensnared you, and is at this moment holding you captive, robbing you of every spiritual consolation you once enjoyed, and filling your souls with gloom and wretchedness, be thankful for that gloom and wretchedness while it lasts. God works it in you or causes sin to work it in you, to lead you to a real repentance and so to a real salvation. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Difficulty of recovering joy after sin

Those which have ventured upon presumptuous courses, as they do not easily procure sin to be pardoned and forgiven unto them, nor they do not easily procure sin to be mortified and subdued in them, so they do not easily neither recover their former joy. Nay, this latter is more difficult than all the rest; sin may sometimes be pardoned, and also in some manner subdued, when yet the joy which has been driven away by it is not so easily restored again, at least to that degree and measure which it was in before sin was committed and ventured upon by them. These sins of David cost him very dear. But yet we still add that there is a possibility of restoring it, at least in some competent measure, that Satan may not herein prevail against God’s servants by temptations to despair from trusting in God. Well, but how may it be so? and what is the readiest way hereunto? First, this course which David here takes by solemn and serious humiliation of the soul before God; that’s the way to get into favour again. Godly sorrow is the only way to spiritual joy. When we bewail our sins before God, and acknowledge both the foulness of our iniquities and the justice and equity of our corrections, this procures both pardon and assurance. Secondly, lying at God’s foot, and acknowledging His free grace in Christ; as Christ must procure us our pardon, so also our joy. God is always well pleased with Him, and so consequently with all His members in Him and for Him; the more, then, we cleave to Christ, and hang upon God’s goodness in Him, the better it will be for us; urge God that it was His free grace that gave thee joy at first, and let the same free grace move him still. Thirdly, do thy first works; spiritual joy is recovered in the contrary way to that in which it is lost. Therefore, consider what it is whereby thou provokest God to remove it, and by the doing of that which is most opposite to it, thou mayest persuade Him again to restore it, by crucifying those lusts more especially Which before thou hadst prevailing in thee, and by performing of those duties more vigorously which before were omitted by thee. Fourthly, attend upon the ordinances, the word and sacraments, and the communion of saints; these are means to recover our joy. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

The joy of salvation. -

I. The joy of salvation.

1. Joy in the retrospect of the past, for salvation is a past blessing. It is something that has taken place already.

2. The joy of present possession, for salvation is a present blessing--the deliverance from pollution a present continuous thing. Perfection is not reached at one stride.

3. The joy of future prospect--for salvation is a future blessing, a something we expect, long for. Views from the sunny heights of Pisgah.

II. The joy of salvation lost.

1. Through the practice of sin. David, Peter. Many have grievously fallen. Their history are beacon lights to warn us.

2. Through presumption and carelessness. How we watch our outward actions which men see, and neglect to watch our inmost desires which God sees.

3. Through indolence. The laziest man is the most miserable and the most easily tempted. Work is healthy. The most faithful Christians are the most joyful. Work imparts joy, and joy gives strength for work. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

III. The joy of salvation restored. This implies--

1. Entire dependence upon God. He alone can rekindle the flame.

2. Deep and sincere penitence. Our sins the clouds between us and God

3. Belief in the power of prayer. God will hear. In heaven the joy will be uninterrupted and eternal. (E. Owen, M. A.)

Joy in God’s salvation

I. There is a joy in God’s salvation. Salvation itself, so far as it consists in a state of safety and acceptance, is equal in all believers; the joyful persuasion of it is not equal in all, being dealt out in various degrees by the free Spirit of God, and, on some occasions, even entirely taken away for a time. It is specially His work, who applies unto men this salvation, to produce in them also an assurance of it; and this He does by “taking of the things of Christ, and showing them unto them” so vividly, that they can see in His work a sufficient satisfaction to the Father’s justice for their sins, and can exercise on it consequently such a degree of reliance as brings their souls repose and peace; by “shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts,” the sure pledge of reconciliation; and by leading them to delight in His service and fellowship.

II. This joy may be lost.

1. It is not every degree of sin remaining in a believer that will have this effect. The joy of God’s salvation is compatible, in some good measure, with those remaining sins which still cleave to the flesh, though these do unquestionably impair it, and that they who walk, on the whole, humbly with God, and in reliance on His grace, ought not to shut themselves out from the comfort of the Gospel; for it is just to such humbled, convinced, believing souls who mourn for sin, and conflict with it, that all the promises of pardon, perseverance and eternal life are made.

2. We may lose the joy of God’s salvation without sinning so deeply as David did. It would be extremely dangerous in one to calculate how far he may go in sin without forfeiting his peace. The truth is, he cannot go far. The peace of the Gospel is easily lost, but not easily regained; and even when not entirely lost, it may be more or less diminished, and, in fact, will ever be in proportion to one’s spirituality of mind. It may be diminishing even when the person is not aware of it. For the most part, the first deviations from holiness may be so gradual as to be scarcely perceptible, and the peace of mind, consequently, little disturbed; yet these inroads on his spirituality and comfort may, and will proceed, unless checked by Divine grace, till they utterly strip him of both.

III. The joy of God’s salvation may be restored. God has an end in view in removing it. It is to punish His people, and when they are punished in such measure as is necessary for bringing them to a just sense and acknowledgment of their sin, it will be restored. He, therefore, in furtherance of His gracious designs toward His people, by a new communication of reviving grace, brings them to a sense of their sin--for sin deadens the soul, so that the first motions of repentance must be from God. Their affections, after this temporary estrangement, return with greater force to Him, whose lovingkindness they have, in their bitter experience, found to be better than life; and He, who knows the heart, and who has Himself wrought all this in them, satisfied with the depth of their repentance, forgets and forgives their ingratitude, and restores unto them the joy of His salvation. With a compassion truly astonishing and generous, He observes, He cherishes the first motion of the heart towards Himself. He sees His once prodigal but now returning child a “great way off,” and has compassion, and runs and embraces him. (A. L. R. Foote, D. D.)

The joy of salvation

I. David’s prayer. It implies--

1. That David had lost the joy of salvation--no uncommon experience. May be caused by--

2. The desire to have the joy of salvation restored.

3. The desire to maintain a Worthy character. David prayed that he might be kept in a state of mind in which he would willingly, spontaneously, promptly obey God.

II. David’s promise.

1. To teach others. Saved sinners are best fitted to tell of the Saviour of sinners.

2. He promises to teach even the worst men--“transgressors,” those who are rebels against God and apostates from truth. “The worst men need the best teachers,” the worst diseases the most experienced physicians.

3. David promises to teach the worst people the best truths--“Thy ways.” This is a marvellous subject, it includes all history and experience. It includes all time and space, all science and art, all truth wherever found. Wonderful theme! It may well fill the mouth of preachers the world over. It will be our song and glory in eternity. “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Tell of the ways of God.

III. David’s persuasion.

1. He was persuaded that his teaching would reach sinners. They would see the evil of transgression; they would be convinced that mercy could be found. The Gospel is mighty; an uplifted Christ is the mightiest magnet the world has ever known. Believe this truth; preach it.

2. He was persuaded that they would be moved to action. This is not a passive verb, “shall be converted.” It is an active verb. They shall turn or return. This is its meaning. This is the end to be sought. Men have wandered from God; they must return,

3. David was persuaded that their return would be complete. They would return “unto Thee.” Not converted to certain church rites, but to Jesus Christ. Christ first; other things will follow. (R. S. MacArthur, D. D.)

Salvation

I. The theme--salvation. Deliverance, restoration, preservation.

II. A salvation imparting joy.

III. A sad experience. He had lost this salvation; and felt like Tamar--“And I, whither shall I hide my shame?” It was a manifold loss--the salvation of his God and the serenity of his soul, the fealty of his heart and the favour of his God--contamination entered, communion fled, sin tasted, joy gone. It was the result of his settled, yet stupid, choice; the perfect liberty he coveted he finds galling vassalage.

IV. The way to regain it.

V. The way to retain it. Cry to God for strength. “Uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” The Spirit must not only attest our acceptance, but keep us by guiding our feet into the way of peace, by a complete transformation of the faculties of the soul, so that they can only delight in spiritual objects; by giving it such refined tastes that all sinful food will nauseate.

VI. The way to rejoice in it. “Then Will I trust,” etc. The best way to strengthen our graces is to exercise and utilize them. VII. The time. “Then,” and not till then. Conversion is one of those things we must experience before we are qualified to speak about it. VIII. The effect. “Sinners shall be converted unto Thee.” “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” (W. Hassall.)

The Christian’s joys restored

I. Salvation has joys--the Christian s duty and privilege to possess them.

1. In so changing our relations as to put us in harmony with God.

2. In enlarging our field of usefulness. No man is prepared to live till he is born again.

II. These joys may be lost. This accords with the sad experience of God’s most faithful servants.

1. One cause of the joyless life of many professed Christians is the want of salvation. How can they expect an effect without a cause?

2. Another source is the neglect of known duties.

3. Retaining sin in the heart.

4. Being wise above what is revealed.

5. Giving more time and care to our secular interests than to the service of God and the cultivation of the heart.

III. These lost joys may be restored. How indulgent, patient and kind is the backslider’s God!

1. They will be restored.

2. The Christian’s happiness and usefulness are complete when he is in the full enjoyment of salvation. (E. A. Taylor.)

A restoration to joy desired

I. In the child of God there are all the seeds of departure from God. When he rises in the morning there is need to have this perpetually brought before him--“This day, as yesterday, I possess the seeds of all departure from God; so that I have need to be held up; I have need to be kept in; I have need to be kept from presumptuous sins.” What departure there may be in a look; in a word; in a tone of voice; in a thought--actual departure from God! Oh! I believe there are periods in which the Lord takes off His check, and reproves sin by sin. And then what is the effect? Why, the outside goes on, but what becomes of internal religion? There are the prayers, but where is the secret dealing with God? There is no absolute neglect of outward duties, but how little of God is there in all!

II. Wherever there is departure from God, in direct proportion as it prevails, there is a tendency to lessen the believer’s joy. The Word is not what it once was to you; sermons are not what they once were to you; intercourse with the people of God is not what it once was to you. You have secret prayer, but it is not what it once was to you. There is a want of sweetness, there is a want of substance, there is a want of fruitfulness, there is a want of realization in your religion. Look well to it, for there must be a cause--some sin, some neglected duty, some worldly conformity.

III. Power to restore is here attributed to God himself. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)

Restoration to spiritual joy

I. That which is lost--spiritual joy. It can be lost--

1. By lack of cultivation. You may sow a seed or plant a tree, but unless these are watered and cultivated they will die. Christian joy must be cultivated by prayer, praise, and growth in grace.

2. By indulgence in sin. He will withdraw from the sinner, and then the” sunshine ceases.

3. By want of faith. We often blame circumstances, etc., as we fall into the slough, when it is our own doubts that are shutting out the light. No one can rejoice who does not trust. Confidence is the root of peace and doubt the handmaid of torment.

II. That which is sought--a restoration of that which has been lost. Not anything new. And this desire is natural. For--

1. The soul has experienced its preciousness.

2. The soul recognized that its loss involves the displeasure of God. Hence the petition so earnestly urged. It is the Divine anger that takes away the joy. This is a greater sorrow to the Christian than his own loss. No wonder that he seeks for restoration. (Homilist.)

Joy in salvation

I. Salvation, and the joy of salvation, are separable things.

II. Salvation has a joy with which it may, and should, be connected.

1. Joy is the natural fruit of salvation possessed and experienced.

2. All the proper exercises of religion are in themselves joyous--love, faith, hope.

3. The command of God is, “Rejoice evermore.”

4. The fruit of the Spirit is--“joy.”

5. The language of the Psalms is, to a great extent, the language of joy.

III. The joy of salvation, after being obtained, is often lost.

1. This was exemplified in the case of David--strikingly in that of Job.

2. Joy depends on a conscience void of offence.

3. Joy depends on having a heart right with God.

4. Joy depends on seeing the evidences of our discipleship to Christ.

5. Joy depends on the measure of our faith.

6. Joy depends on realizing the presence, and seeing the excellency of God.

7. Joy depends on God, in His sovereignty.

IV. Spiritual joy is something to re greatly desired.

1. David felt it to be so--he longed for it.

2. Each believer feels it to be so--if he cannot; rejoice in God, he can rejoice in nothing.

3. It is a foretaste of heaven (1 Peter 1:8).

4. It is the spirit of praise (Isaiah 35:10).

5. It is a support under affliction (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

6. It fits for duty. “Then will I teach,” etc. He who has not a sense of God’s favour and presence is a coward.

7. It is obedience to God’s requirements.

V. Joy is to be sought only as the fruit of salvation.

1. David sought only for this kind of joy--he had earthly pleasures in abundance.

2. The joys of salvation are the purest, and greatest, and most enduring.

3. Without these, the others are not accessible to the believer.

4. The great effort of man is to be happy independently of these joys.

5. You can reach these joys only through salvation.

VI. A restoration to spiritual joy is to be sought for in prayer.

1. God is its source.

2. God is its Author. “Thy salvation.”

3. By prayer for it--

The joy of salvation

I. Describe it. I find that the gladdest moments of my life were not to be mentioned in the same breath with the bliss of believing in Jesus Christ. Yet are they the best comparisons that I can offer you of the greater joy which I trust we have all experienced.

1. I compare it first to the finding of a long-lost treasure. Something like that, though infinitely beyond it, was the joy of finding God’s salvation. Some of us searched long for it.

2. I compare this joy of salvation, next, to escape from a terrible predicament, and to deliverance from a threatened danger. Such, but infinitely more delightful, is the joy of God’s salvation, when the storm of a troubled conscience is hushed to rest, when the thunders and lightnings of an outraged law cease to alarm.

3. I wonder if it has ever been your lot to know the joy that comes of the removal of the displeasure of some friend who has been grieved; in a word, the joy of reconciliation. When mistakes have been explained, or faults forgiven, the joy of the handclasp, as in the days of yore, and the heart warming as in the times that are gone--such is the joy of God’s reconciled countenance, and of His smile and favour.

4. Entrance into a new and blissful state is an emblem, too, of the joy of God’s salvation. You have been sick, sick almost unto death, and God has raised you up again. Can you forget how the pulse beat in your veins as it revealed to you the fact that you had turned the corner and were going to pull through? But oh, when you felt that the sickness of sin was at an end, when you knew that the healing touch had been given, when you felt the virtue come out of Jesus into you, what joy it was!

5. Further, there is the joy of finding a faithful friend. When loneliness is at an end, when love finds its affinity, when the hopes, perhaps of many years, are at last fulfilled, and the joy-bells ring, maybe in the marriage peal, what delight is in the heart. Such was your joy when you discovered that Jesus was your Fellow-friend, your Brother, your Lover, your Husband.

6. It is also like the joy of coming home after long absence.

II. This joy can be lost.

1. Sin grieves God, and causes Him to hide His face; it produces an eclipse of the sun.

2. Sin may well cause us to question our standing in Christ Jesus.

3. Sin blinds our eyes to the promises and to the power of God. He may well be miserable who has found out His sinfulness, for he has sinned against light and knowledge, against grace and love.

4. Moreover, it makes the conscience smart and throb. The unhappiest man beneath God’s sun is surely he who, having known the joy of salvation, is now a backslider, with hardened heart and tearless eye. How can he rejoice as once he did?

III. It may be recovered. “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.”

1. God only can restore it. It came from Him at first, and He must revive and quicken it; it will be through His mercy and His mercy only. Thus the psalmist pleads in forma-pauperis, praying only for God’s lovingkindness and tender mercy.

2. There can be no restoration of the joy of God’s salvation apart from cleansing. Think not to regain thy gladness till thou hast made a full confession, and more than that, till thou hast heard that heavenly whisper saying, “Thy sins which are many, are all forgiven.”

IV. This joy of salvation may be retained. “Uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” You will retain the joy if the Holy Spirit maintains His hold of you, and if you retain your hold of Him. You will not cease to be happy unless you cease to be healthy, but so long as this prayer is in your lips you will not fail to be healthy. Forget not that upholding work is the work of the Holy Ghost. The best of us, the strongest, the most experienced, will fall unless the Spirit holds us up. “Uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” I like that name for the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of liberty and truth, the Spirit which, like the wind, blows where it lists, and does its work mysteriously and mightily. The R.V. renders this, “Uphold me with a free spirit”; evidently under the impression that the reference is to the spirit or disposition which the upholding God produces in the heart of the man who is thus restored. He becomes possessed of a free spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty,” and the man who has fallen and has been thus restored, and is thus upheld, serves God with a willing mind. He has been in a hard school, but he has learned the lesson well, and now all he does is done from very love of Him who not only saved him as a sinner, but restored him as a backslider. (T. Spurgeon.)

The joy of salvation

The sentiment to which the psalmist was led to give utterance is weighty, and deserves to be pondered. A clean conscience and a lively enjoyment of religion are necessary to extensive usefulness and influence in the cause of God, and in winning souls to Him. This will appear from three reasons, embracing the elements on which a successful result depends--Experience, confidence and joy.

I. Only an experimental acquaintance with religion can qualify any one to speak of it to edification.

1. A blind man has been known to lecture on colours; but a blind man could not teach the art of painting. In like manner, religion is not a mere theory, but a practice also. Its vitality and excellence consist in action. It is a life and a power. Hence the apostle speaks of the power of godliness, and distinguishes between the power and the form. Without the former, the latter is but an empty shell. It is no better than sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

2. People have a wonderful instinct and sagacity in determining who is likely to benefit them. As the Babylonians brought their sick to the market-place, and asked such of the passers-by as had had the same disease to tell the remedy that cured them, so the conscience-stricken will turn away from the learned and profound preacher, who is deficient in a wide experience, to hang with breathless eagerness upon the lips of him who can say, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Men want those that have suffered and sorrowed like themselves to show the way of relief for their burdened hearts.

II. Without confidence we cannot undertake to guide others. A guide must have the confidence of those who follow him; and, in order to command it, he must have confidence in himself. But how can a man have satisfaction in his own mind, and confidence in his own judgment, when he is disturbed by doubts and fears? Fear is the natural concomitant of a guilty conscience. Wretched, most wretched is the condition of the sinner labouring under poignant convictions. If his guilt has been detected and exposed to the world, the consciousness of that exposure, and the dread of scorn’s slow-moving finger, weigh him down. And oven if he feels secure against detection, he knows that God is privy to it, and has “set all his sins before him, his secret sins in the light of His countenance.” How cutting his self-upbraidings! how prompt his remorse! how bitter his loathing of himself! No position seems too humble for him to take, no penance too heavy to undergo. Can such a one, destitute of all satisfaction in his own soul; an utter stranger to the peace of God which passeth understanding; devoid of confidence in God, in himself, in the truth and efficacy of religion; can such a one invite sinners to Zion, or teach transgressors the ways of God? He may be a beacon to warn, but never a clarion to rouse to victory.

III. In order to win souls to god, it is desirable that we have a lively enjoyment of religion. “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit! Then,” adds the psalmist, “then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, and,” through my zeal and fidelity, “sinners shall he converted unto Thee.” The connection between these two things, the condition and the result, could not be more plainly pointed out. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. He who would make others feel, must feel himself. He who would unlock the fount of tears, must be the first to weep. He that would enkindle and carry away his auditors, must have his own soul on fire.

IV. Practical reflections.

1. How desirable and precious the joy of salvation! Thrice happy the soul which holds communion with Jesus, which has the freedom of the city of God, and feeds on the heavenly manna!

2. If we find torpor and inactivity benumbing us in the service of God, it is not difficult to conjecture the cause. “Sin lieth at the door.”

3. The way of return is equally obvious. Retrace your steps. Begin at the beginning. Relay the foundation.

4. We may infer that ordinarily a deep experience is necessary to great usefulness. Paul was such an instance. He was arrested in the midst of his persecution and rancour, and “obtained mercy, that in him first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering,” etc.

5. We see the secret under God of revivals of religion. When religion is in a lively state in the heart, it is easy to talk about it. The heart is engaged. (R. Davidson.)

The restoration of the fallen -

I. David’s restoration begins in the recollection of a by-gone blessedness. There is a looking back to something lost and departed. He sorrows over a vanished happiness.

II. The restoration David desires is wholly religious and spiritual. His prayer is free from any admixture of selfish and worldly feeling. David does not cry, as Saul cried to Samuel, “Honour me now, I pray thee, before the people,” but, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.” David, after his great sin, sin that had done its worst, asks for joy. Was this possible? Persons convicted of some great wrong, that brought shame and misery on others as well as on themselves, have been heard to say, humbly and penitently, “I believe God has forgiven me. I am not afraid of the future, but I can never be happy again.” “A true penitent never forgives himself.” It seems reasonable that David, after such crimes, should have rejected the idea of joy. Yet God gave him joy; the joy of not having become wholly vile and reprobate, the joy of not having been cut off with his guilt red upon him, the joy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Our refusal to admit the possibility of joy after our great sin and fall is a sort of solace to our wounded pride, a selfinflicted penance, a reparation, we think, for the wrong.

III. The restoration David seeks is to be a permanent one; permanent through the abiding power of the Spirit of God. Men sometimes speak as though sin were to be the remedy for sin. Satan is to cast out Satan. They have fallen once, but are never to fall again. Past sin is to prevent sin in the future. “It shall never occur again. It’s a lesson to me for life.” The serpent’s fangs once deeply felt will, it is thought, scare the man away in future. David, so far from feeling that his sin would work its own cure, is more fearful of himself and of future falls, and cries, “Uphold me,” etc. The power David implores is inward power. He asks for a Spirit, deep as his own spirit, that shall act with healing, strengthening power at the core and centre of his life. “Thy free Spirit.” He must know the joy of God’s salvation; he must be able freely to renounce the evil, and to choose the good. “Thy free Spirit,” who shall burst all the shackles of the soul, so that the man may “walk at liberty and have respect unto all Thy commandments.” (A. Warrack, M. A.)

David’s repentance and restoration

In these words we have--

I. An act: “Restore.”

II. An agent--God: “Restore Thou.”

III. The person suing--David: “Unto me.”

IV. The blessing sued for--the joy of God’s salvation: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.” Come, Christian; look upon the tree. In the winter it is stripped of its fruit and leaves, nipped by the frost, covered with snow, so that it seems to be withered and dead, and fit only to be cast into the fire. Say, then; may not faith be where sin and the filth of the flesh hath oppressed it? (A. Farinden, B. D.)

The joy of salvation

It is connected inseparably with obedience, constant and prompt. David had failed, oh, how terribly I and so he had lost this joy. Let us think a while--

I. Of the joy of salvation. It consists--

1. Of the joy of pardon. How blessed this, to know and feel that my sins are all forgiven.

2. The joy of rescue--from the power of one great enemy, and that when he seemed to have final possession of us.

3. The joy of power--to overcome the wicked one and temptation and sin. How glorious this. Would that it were more common. It is to have the world beneath your feet.

II. The loss of this treasure. Some cannot lose it because they have never possessed it. But others can, and do, by backsliding, by the power of sudden temptation, as Peter. And especially by the power of besetring sin, as Demas. And by indolence. Men are not diligent in religious duties as they should be. See Samson. What a fall was his.

III. Its restoration. The soul that has once known this joy can never be happy without it. No earthly prosperity can compensate for it. But the soul’s anguish at its loss is God’s call to it to return. And let none despair. This restoration is in Christ’s hands. (Luke Wiseman.)

The joys of salvation

I. The joy of a sufficient and final answer to the self-upbraiding of a guilty soul. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc. (Romans 7:25; Romans 8:1-4; Romans 8:33-39). The burden falls off; the darkness is chased by dawn.

II. The joy of a portion which satisfies the heart’s largest conceptions and desires.

III. The joy of an answer to all the difficulties and perplexities which beset the spirit and the intellect in their progress. “I know whom I have believed.”

IV. The joy of having the key to all the mysterious ways of providence in the world.

V. The joy of victory over death.

VI. The joy of living union with God, with Christ, with all living and blessed beings, eternally. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Pleasure in sin taketh away our joy in God

Nothing spoileth us of this joy and pleasure that we have in God, but only sin. For once delighting in sin, we can have no pleasure in God’s service; for these two can never stand together. Therefore we must loathe sin, that we may rejoice in God. (A. Symson.)

Christians have joy and sorrow intermingled

The estate of a Christian is not always one; joy and sorrow are intermingled; he hath a summer of joys and a winter of griefs. St. Paul had the messenger of Satan to buffet him, that he should not be exalted above measure with his great revelations. After a Christian hath mourned, he will rejoice. (A. Symson.)

How the joy of God’s salvation is lost

The moon one day said to the sun, “Oh, Sun, why hast thou ceased to shine on me? I used to speed along in thy light; why now this darkness?” And the sun answered, “Oh, Moon, I have never ceased to shine; I am pouring out my light as full as ever.” The moon thought for a moment, and answered, “Then, depend upon it, the earth has come between us.” Yes, she was suffering from an eclipse. This is equally true of our life. If we allow the world or sinful indulgence to come between the soul and the Sun of Righteousness, we plunge ourselves into deep darkness and lose all our spiritual comforts.

The joy of restoration

I have never told in public, scarce ever in private, of a great sorrow that afflicted me once when I was first in Australia. Whether it was the tongue of slander in the old land, or some misinformation or mistake, I do not know, but there came to my dear father’s ears a story which did not reflect credit upon his absent son. It came in such a form that he was almost bound to believe it. I remember the grief that tore my heart when I received a letter from him kindly chiding me for this supposed wrong-doing. I knew before God that I was innocent; but, despite that conviction, there was some pain, of course, and there had to be a delay of many months ere my contradiction of the damaging tale could reach him. I left the matter with God, and He espoused my cause. In a few days’ time I received a cablegram--and telegraphing was expensive in those days--which read thus: “Disregard my letter; was misinformed.” I cannot tell you the thrill of joy that filled my heart to feel that I was restored to my father’s approbation and confidence; I will not say to his love for I had surely never fallen from that. It was many months ere I could come into possession of particulars, but to know that he had found out his mistake, and that confidence was restored--why, it was almost worth while having been in the sorrow to experience the delicious thrill. (Thomas Spurgeon.)


Verse 14

Psalms 51:14

Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness.

Soul murder--who is guilty

Some may question whether such a text as this should be chosen for an ordinary congregation, No one here is guilty of blood. But there are more ways than one of incurring this guilt. And one chief way is in the destroying of souls.

I. A startling crime. We are all guilty of such crime in the death of our Lord; in anger without cause; by youthful transgressions which have led others into sin; by false teaching, insinuating doubts, and causing men to err from the truth and perish. It is a dastardly thing to poison the wells of a city, but what is it to poison the well of truth and make soul-thirst the medium of soul-ruin? Others actually trade in luring men to sin; by this craft they get their wealth. And these are those who delight to lead others astray. Ill example; neglect of religion at home; indifference as to saving souls general want of earnestness--all these bring us under the guilt here told of.

II. Let us make earnest confession of our sin and pray for deliverance from it.

III. A commendable vow. David says if God will deliver him he will sing aloud, etc. Oh, to be clear of others’ blood. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Blood-guiltiness

I. Who is guilty of it?

1. Those who neglect the atonement of Christ, and continue obstinately to persevere in sin until they lose their own souls.

2. Those who teach principles that lead others to trample upon the blood of Christ.

3. Those who set an example that leads others to disregard religion and die in their sins.

4. Those who neglect to do for others what might promote their salvation.

5. Those who hold their peace when they see prevailing any iniquities that are destroying the souls of men.

II. What it involves.

1. It stains deep.

2. It corrodes fearfully.

3. Oh, what a view this subject gives us of this world’s guilty population I We walk the streets of our city with a multitude of murderers, who will have all this train of blood-guiltiness upon them in the last day.

4. Why, then, are we so surprised that so few are saved, and so many destroyed? (D. A. Clark.)

Blood-guiltiness

Like enough that David at first beguiled himself with this, that inasmuch as Uriah was slain in the field, therefore he was clear; but now he saw this was but a poor shift; God, who was greater than his heart, had now raised up his heart to be a witness against him, and to charge him not only with desiring Uriah’s death, but with devising which way closely to bring him to his end. And thus he was guilty of blood who shed no blood; and so may this be found true in many others. A magistrate may be guilty of the sins of the people by not punishing, or by too slight and easy punishing; a man of rule and reckoning in the world may be chargeable with the evils of his inferiors, because his example hath enboldened them. A minister may make himself a party in the enormities of his parish by not preaching against them, or by being too sparing, or too covert, or too gentle in reproving them. It may be I persuade not my people to be ignorant, to be superstitious, to be profaners of the Sabbath; yet, inasmuch as I labour not against these evils in them, my silence, my slighting over of these things, strengtheneth their hands and their hearts to a continuance therein; by this I become guilty before God. Men of ability may be guilty of others perishing, albeit they do to them no kind of actual violence; as by not inquiring into the necessities of those that want, by not making them partakers of their plenty. (S. Hieron.)

Thou God of my salvation.--

God is the God of our salvation

David now comes to God to free him from the guilt of a particular sin, which was his blood-guiltiness; and how, now, does he both persuade God and also satisfy and comfort himself in this particular? Namely, from this consideration, that he was the God of his salvation in the latitude and full extent of it. As if he bad said, Thou which wilt save me from all other sins besides, save me also from this. And Thou which hast been my help and Saviour in times past, be Thou now also so unto me. That which we may observe from it is this, that the way to have particular help from God is to have a general interest in Him; He must be our God and the God of our salvation before we can expect that He should actually and particularly save us. God does not do anything to His servant in this kind for a mere fit, but upon a more general principle. All God’s goodness to His servants in the particular dispensation of mercy is founded in His relations to them, and theirs to Him, and the particular flows from the general. And so, if we would have any comfort from Him at any time to this purpose, we must first of all be sure to lay this for a ground and foundation of it. The consideration of this point shows the misery and unhappiness of such persons as are in a state of strangeness to God, and have not as yet made their peace with Him, why they can expect nothing comfortably from Him while they are in that condition, neither pardon of sin, nor power against it, nor at last eternal salvation itself. Why? Because God is not yet theirs, which relation is the ground of all comfort. What I do we think that God saves a man at the very first of His dealings with him? No such matter, but there is somewhat else which goes before it; God makes us sons before He gives us the inheritance; and He plucks us out of the state of nature before he brings us into the condition of glory; and he is the God of our salvation before He saves in such a particular. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

My tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness.--

David’s promise to sing of God’s righteousness

I. Whoso receives or expects any mercy or favour from God must know himself bound to return somewhat back by way of thankfulness unto God.

II. The exercise and act of singing is a duty well becoming God’s people, for the declaration of their due acknowledgment of God’s kindness. And that we might not conceive of this duty as of a service ceremonial, and so ceasing in Christ, who is the body of all ancient types; St. Paul commended it to the practice of Christians in the New Testament; persuading them to psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs; and it is St. James’s rule, that if any man have a disposition to discover the inward rejoicing of his heart in the feeling of God’s mercies, he should sing. It is an excellent means to quicken and enliven the dulness of man’s spirits. It is very effectual both to discover and stir up joy.

III. The tongue and voice of man ought to be used by him for the declaring of God’s praise. It is called a man’s glory, both because it is one of the excellencies and prerogatives of man over other creatures, that he is enabled to use his tongue to the expressing of his hand; and because it is the instrument ordained to the setting forth of God’s glory, in the advancement whereof the glory of man as God’s principal creature doth consist. The special matter of praising God is conveyed unto us by the tongue. The knowledge of salvation through Christ is the main ground of glorifying God. And is it not the tongue of man, which God hath consecrated to the begetting of it within us? Now, as God, by the tongues of those whom He hath appointed to be vessels of bearing His name to the world, conveyeth the matter of His praise into our hearts, so by our tongues He requires a testification thereof. By the tongue we receive good, by the tongue we ought to manifest that good we have received; neither can there be a more fitting means for us to be instruments of good to others, than the well-using of our tongues; those duties of admonition, exhortation, comfort, whereby one Christian is bound to further the salvation of another, how shall they be so well performed as by the tongue? That law of grace, which is in the tongue of God’s children, is that which must minister grace unto those which hear us, according to the apostle’s rule. There is a certain holy salt in the tongue of a godly man, by which others may be seasoned; whereupon it is said, that the lips of a righteous man do feed many; many do receive refreshing and comfort by his talk. Then again, whether it is not a matter of equity that the tongue should be employed for His honour, by whom it is endued with that faculty with which it is accomplished? (S. Hieron.)


Verse 15

Psalms 51:15

O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.

The lips Divinely opened

I. A humiliating fact implied. Sin seals the lips.

1. In our approaches to God, sin is a barrier to all spiritual freedom. When overwhelmed with guilt and shame, the soul is ready to exclaim with David (Psalms 77:4; Psalms 88:8).

2. Sin prevents us speaking for God as well as to God. When our conduct is consistent we say with Paul (2 Corinthians 6:11), and with David (Psalms 66:16). But when our conduct gives a lie to our profession, our admonitions will be retorted upon us, “Physician, heal thyself.” When a man sins thus he has but little to say for God.

II. An important request made. “O Lord, open Thou,” etc.

1. To whom was this prayer offered? To God. He only can unloose our tongues.

2. By whom was this request made? A convinced sinner. His heart was humbled.

3. The request itself. “Open,” etc. He knew the cause must be removed. Sins must be pardoned. Guilt cancelled. The Spirits must be imparted before there is an ability to praise God (Psalms 51:1; Psalms 51:4; Psalms 51:7; Psalms 51:15).

III. Delightful service pledged. “My lips shall praise Thee.”

1. A deep conviction of God’s mercy.

2. A sensibility of personal obligation.

3. A fixed determination. “My lips shall,” etc. Here observe--

The right use of speech

I. The faculty of speech, and the power of employing it to its right end, are the gifts of God. Is there anything among the abounding proofs of the fallen state of man more conclusive than the virtual declaration of practical infidelity everywhere to be heard--“Our lips are our own, who is Lord over us”? What is the general tenor of conversation among those who bear the Christian name, and who, in church, offer with their lips the psalmist’s prayer--“O Lord, open Thou my lips”? “Is it in unison with the prayer they use; or rather, does it not discover a state of the affections diametrically opposed to the spiritual desires and devout aspirations breathed in the Liturgy in which they orally join?

II. The power of employing the faculty of speech to its right end, is lost to fallen creatures, and God only can renew it. The torpor, the pride, and the enmity of the human heart, in its unregenerated state, preclude the possibility of that devotion of the lips to the service of God, the restoration of which the penitent suppliant implored in the words of our text, But there is also a cause of sinful silence which continues to be operative after that the torpor of indifference has given place to spiritual sensibility. This cause is guilt--a consciousness of native and actual sin. The employment of the lips in praise must depend, therefore, on our apprehension of that atonement which alone can remove guilt from the conscience. “The Ephphatha” of a revealed Saviour is essential to the utterance of praise. Conviction of sin, and conversion to God, are the work of His Spirit; and these are necessary to the production of a grateful heart and its utterance in the new song of praise.

III. The renewal of this power ought to be the subject of earnest prayer to every fallen creature, and is so to every penitent sinner. Whatever may be the advancement made in knowledge and grace, all believers feel a remaining impediment in the spiritual faculty of speech, and long and wait for its removal. Our hearts are often dull and stupid, and never so grateful as we know they ought, and as we wish them to be. Sometimes a worldly spirit, and sometimes a sense of guilt, disqualifies us for the celebration of the praise which is due to our redeeming God. Our lips are too often closed again, after they have been once opened; and a repetition of the miracle of touching our tongue afresh with the finger of almighty love is as necessary as it was at first. The live coal, taken from the altar, must be continually laid on the mouth, in order that the lips may show forth the praise of Him who is the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. (T. Biddulph, M. A.)

Praise dependent on God’s assistance

1. When we say that without God’s assistance none can be able to praise Him, we must take it with two qualifications.

(a) There is a general aversion in our natures to any good work in s spiritual manner to be performed; there is no work of grace whatsoever but of ourselves we are indisposed much unto it; and without Christ we can do nothing at all (John 15:5).

(b) There is a more special averseness in our natures to this good works of thanksgiving in particular. Sometimes out of pride, because we will not acknowledge our dependence, which in thanksgiving is emphatically done; sometimes out of discontent and repining, as not thinking we have so much given us as we could expect or desire to have; and sometimes also out of a natural dulness, and sluggishness, and stupidity upon us; these things make the work averse unto us; and because they do so, they therefore convince us that without the help and assistance of God Himself, they cannot do it. Cannot do it, i.e. do it commendably, in an holy spiritual manner, as becometh Christians.

2. We see here, then, what great cause we have in all our undertakings of this service, to go to God Himself for it, and to desire Him to help us herein, and not to go about such a duty as this is in our own strength.

3. There is a double qualification considerable as to the performing of the work of praise among other good works. First, a general qualification of the person, sanctifying his lips and mouth for such a service at large. And, secondly, a particular qualification of the person, as enabling him to this particular performance and service which he is now undertaking; and this latter is that which David refers to in this particular place; God had opened his lips in general before, in his first conversion, when He had framed him according to His heart, and so fitted him for all the duties of religion to be performed by him, and this duty of praise amongst the rest. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

Man’s inability to praise without God’s help

There is naturally a kind of pollutedness in the lips of man, whereof Esau complained, a certain uncircumcisedness which, until it is reformed and taken away, no such thing can come through them by which God may be glorified. “We are not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves,” saith the apostle; and, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” saith our Saviour. The apprehension of this native unableness made David to commend unto God this request; and then there was another, a more particular reason, which moved David to say thus; and that was the effect which he felt in himself of his great sin. We have had often occasion in this psalm to note the havoc of the graces of God in him made by this noisome trespass. He felt himself much disabled by it every way. Never, indeed, can a man praise God aright until he hath matter for it ministered to him out of his own experience; when his soul is satisfied with marrow and fatness, which proceedeth from the love of God shed abroad into the heart; then shall his mouth sound out praise with joyful lips. It is but a cold, barren and superficial service, whatsoever a man doth herein, if he be not furnished with matter for it, out of the store-house of his own heart. If one have not within that joy which David terms joy of heart, and Paul joy in the Holy Ghost, he can never show forth the praise of God to any purpose. It is the inward feeling which must give life and being to this business. Thus there is a double reason by which this point is proved, that no man can be an utterer of God’s praise unless God enable him; the first reason is drawn from the consideration of the general insufficiency which is naturally in man for good performances; the second, from the nature of this act of praising God; which is such as can never be well discharged, unless a man’s spirit within do rejoice in God, and have sweet peace sealed up unto it in the assurance of God’s favour. Now, this is natural to no man, it is God’s only free and gracious gift, and until the Lord be pleased to afford comfort to a man’s soul, by some good testimony to him that his sins are pardoned, all his attempts and undertakings to be a praiser of God are utterly in vain. (S. Hieron.)


Verse 16

Psalms 51:16

For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; Thou delightest not in burnt-offering.

The service which David would not render

1. He declines a superfluous and unnecessary service; he will not give that; this is one thing which he resolves on, and it is a good resolution in him. In the worship of God, whatever is more than needful, it may very well be spared; we cannot supererogate with Him; those that think to do so exceedingly deceive themselves, yea, and wrong themselves also, while they draw out the strength of their spirits upon that which might be better bestowed.

2. He declines an arbitrary service. He will not serve God in any other way than as Himself shall allow of and prescribe. Because God does not desire sacrifice, therefore he will not give sacrifice to Him; this is the rule which he holds to in God’s worship, to do no more than Himself has commanded. And this is that which the Scripture does continually press upon us, the declining of all will-worship in the service of God as that which is abominable with Him.

3. He declines an unacceptable service; he will not do more in God’s service than shall be well received. This is the main thing which God’s people look after in their services which they present unto Him; to wit, His acceptance of them in those services; all without this, it is nothing worth. This is that which David says here; because he thinks that God delights not in burnt-offerings, therefore He shall not have them. God’s complacency is all in all. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

What we bring to God must be such as God requires

There are some soldiers here to-night. Now, suppose one of these received orders from the commanding officer to keep guard at such and such a door. All of a sudden he thinks to himself, “I am very fond of our commander, and I should like to do something for him.” He puts his musket against the wall, and starts out to find a shop where he can buy a bunch of flowers. He is away from his post all the while, of course, and when he comes back he is discovered to have been away from his post of duty. He says, “Here is the bunch of flowers I went to get.” But I hear his officer say, “We cannot allow you--military discipline would not permit it--to run off at every whim and wish of yours and neglect your duty; for who knows what mischief must ensue.” It is a holier and better thing to do one’s duty than to make duties for oneself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 17

Psalms 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

A broken and a contrite heart

What is a broken heart? We use the expression to set forth the effects of heavy affliction and sorrow. And so here, the broken heart tells of deep sorrow on account of our Sin. Before, it had hope for itself; now it has none, and, thus broken, it is offered with shame and grief. Before, it could listen to the truths of the Gospel unmoved, but now it quivers with emotion. The same wind which moves violently the waters of the lake of Gennesaret is said to leave unruffled those of the Dead Sea. So the man may have been at one time insensible, but he is far from that now.

I. Such broken and contrite heart is a sacrifice of God. Men think it is the price which they pay for forgiveness, and they do not see why it is necessary that Christ should die. But debts cannot be cancelled by mere regret, and the sacrifice of the broken heart always follows, never precedes, the application to the heart of the sacrifice of Christ’s blood. Whenever Christ saves a sinner He invariably breaks his heart. The same cross which sets him free from the penalty of the law, sets him free also from the obduracy of his own nature; and these two deliverances always go together, and we can never be sure that we have the one unless we have the other.

II. It is an offering which God does not despise. He might have done so, and it is a wonder that He does not. Text implies this, and thankfulness and confidence.

III. But ungodly men despise it. Let them not think they will always feel as they do now. They would rather be detected in crime than in sorrow for it. But God can break their heart. At times He does so, by His word, mightily applied, or by terrible sorrow; and certainly by death. The only gift of God to a lost sinner is the gift of an insensibility unknown before. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

Wherein the real sacrifice and service of God consists

David and other Old Testament saints knew well that it was not in ceremonial observances, but in spiritual service.

I. God’s desire and search is after the heart, the soul of man. Our human parental heart teaches us this. Do we not desire our children’s hearts? And so with God; He wants His children back, and hence He so values the first returning relenting thought.

II. Wherefore this is so. All men are sinners, not in the same form, but in the possession of the heart of evil. But see the great change which is wrought when the soul is turned to God. God is revealed to the soul. Conviction of sin follows. We see our sin in the light of God’s goodness, and the vision of that goodness now waiting to be gracious, still further subdues the heart.

III. This new state of heart will be permanent, and will be seen in trust, in humility, in thankfulness, in consecration. (Watson Smith.)

Brokenness of heart

I. What it means.

1. It consists in a quickness of sense and apprehensiveness. A broken spirit is a sensible spirit; it presently discerns what is amiss, either in it, or towards it. As a broken bone or joint, it presently feels the least annoyance that is; even so likewise does a broken heart. That heart which is truly contrite and broken, it is sensible of the least grievance that may be; and this whether in regard of sin, or in regard of punishment,

2. It consists in a pliableness and fashionableness of heart and spirit; a hard heart is capable of no impression; ye cannot work it, or frame it to anything; but a broken heart ye may mould it in any way, and turn it whithersoever ye please. And this is another thing which is considerable in it: it is such a heart as yields to all God’s dealings and workings with it, to His Word, and to His Providence, and that in the several dispensations of it, it is pliable to everything.

II. The reason why the scripture does so much press this upon us as that sacrifice which is most acceptable to God.

1. It signifies the person in whom it is to be subjected to God, and brought in obedience to Him. A man may offer bodily sacrifice, and perform outward duties to God, and yet stand aloof from Him, and have his heart still reserved to himself; but now, when it is once broken and contrite, it then stoops and gives itself up to God’s disposing; and this is that which God does mainly look after in those that come to Him, He desires still to have the better of them, and to have their spirits brought in order to Him, which is all in all in them; this is that which God calls for (Providence 23:16). Now, this is never done by us till it be in some manner broken and bruised in us; because till then, we shall be apt to rest upon our own bottom, and to subsist wholly in ourselves, and some worth of our own.

2. It is that which makes the best amends for all the sins which are committed by us. The breaking of our hearts, it best satisfies for the breaking of God’s laws; not as if thereby we did indeed make satisfaction to God’s justice (which is only done by the blood of Christ), but it is that which does carry the best shadow of compensation with it.

3. A broken heart is most desired, as that which makes the best improvement of all God’s providences and dispensations, etc. This makes us more thankful for mercies, and this makes us more corrigible under afflictions’. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

What does God require?--Consider the text

I. As setting before us most important truth--that God delights not in sacrifice or burnt-offering, but in the principles and feelings of sincere and heartfelt piety.

1. It is established by every correct view of the Divine character.

2. It is illustrated by the great facts of revelation, and reflects on them, in return, a correspondent illustration and beauty.

II. As exhibiting the proper influence of this great truth upon the feelings of a humble and penitent mind.

1. How forcibly does this language express that exalted estimate of the worth of pardon, which will ever be cherished by those who sincerely repent!

2. How strikingly it exhibits the penitent’s humble sense of utter helplessness and incapacity for any service or offering of his own to procure the invaluable blessing!

3. How beautifully does the text describe a simple and grateful reliance upon the freeness of Divine mercy! Where is the man that weeps when no eye sees him, for the defilement of his degenerate nature? Let him not despair. Let him return unto the Lord. Let him lay his hand upon the great propitiation, and believe, and live for ever! (R. S. McAll, LL. D.)

Repentance after conversion

I. Let us consider what this sacrifice is. It is a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.

1. If you and I have a broken spirit, all idea of our own importance is gone. What is the use of a broken heart? Why, much the same as the use of a broken pot, or a broken jug, or a broken bottle! Men throw it on the dunghill. Hence David says, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise,” as if he felt that everybody else would despise it. Now, do you feel that you are of no importance? Admire the grace of God to you, and marvel at it in deep humiliation of spirit. That is a part of the sacrifice that God will not despise.

2. Next, if you and I have a broken and a contrite heart, it means that frivolity and trifling have gone from us. A broken spirit is serious, and solemn, and in earnest.

3. A broken spirit is one out of which hypocrisy has gone. Reveal yourselves unto yourselves, and so reveal yourselves unto your God.

4. A broken spirit signifies that now all the secrets and essences of the spirit have flowed out. There is much of religion, now-a-days, that is very superficial, it is all on the surface; a very small quantity of gospel paint, with just a little varnish of profession, will go a very long way, and look very bright. But broken hearts are not like that; with broken hearts the hymn is a real hymn, the prayer is a real prayer, the hearing of sermons is earnest work, and the preaching of them is the hardest work of all. Oh, what a mercy it would be if some of you were broken all to pieces! There are many flowers that will never yield their perfume till they are bruised. Even the generous grape lets not its juice flow forth till it is trodden under foot of men.

II. Let us offer the sacrifice. Come, let us mourn a while on account of our past sin; we will do so from several points of view.

1. First, let us deeply regret that we have sinned against so good a God. Shall we not feel within our hearts a burning indignation against sin, because it is committed against so holy, so good, so glorious a being as the infinitely-blessed God?

2. Let us mourn to think that we have offended against so excellent and admirable a law.

3. Let us grieve that we have sinned against a Saviour’s love. Those hands, those feet, have saved me, yet I nailed them there. That opened side is the refuge of my guilty spirit, yet I made that fearful gash by my sin.

4. Think of our sins against the Holy Spirit. O my soul, how could]st thou ever grieve Him? How couldst thou ever have resisted that best and tenderest Friend? I do not ask you to torture yourselves, but I do invite you now to indulge the joyful grief of sweet heavenly penitence as you remember the love of the Spirit.

5. Let us set our sin in the light of God’s countenance.

6. I want you to set sin in the light of your marvellous experiences. Wonders of grace have been ours!

7. Think of the injury you have done to others by your example. Whatever any of us do, we are sure to have some who will copy us; it cannot be avoided. This thought has a sharp sting in it for any who, by word or by example, have taught others to do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord.

8. Think of all the opportunities that we lose whenever we fall into sin. I do repent of sin unfeignedly because it has hindered my progress. What a preacher I might have been! Oh, what winners of souls you might have become by this time! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

To the broken-hearted

I. The broken heart.

1. Renounces all idea of merit, and seeks alone for mercy (Psalms 51:1).

2. Will always feel its sins to be peculiarly its own (Psalms 51:2).

3. Will make full confession of sin (Psalms 51:3).

4. Mourns most over the Godward aspect of sin (Psalms 51:4).

5. Will never cavil with God about the deserved punishment (Psalms 51:4).

6. Will mourn its general depravity (Psalms 51:5).

7. Will always be as anxious for purity as for pardon (Psalms 51:7).

8. Is not a despairing heart (Psalms 51:9).

9. Is an agonized heart (Psalms 51:8).

II. A broken heart is not despised by God. We have His royal word for it (Isaiah 66:2). I know that Christ will never despise it, and that for a very good reason. He has suffered from it Himself. You say, “Ah, but mine is broken on account of sin: His was not.” Was it not? It was broken by the unutterable horror of having sin imputed to Him, and occupying the sinner’s place. Thy pangs, thy sorrows, thy griefs, thine unutterable longings for the light of the Father’s face--all these are known unto thy Saviour. He will not despise thee. I am sure He will not, because it was He who broke thy heart. It would be despising His own handiwork were He to reject a contrite spirit. It would be casting on one side that which He hath Himself made. (A. G. Brown.)

The broken heart

I. In what a broken heart consists. It is in itself a state where the mind is rendered susceptible of deep spiritual feeling--that feeling being mainly grief and sorrow.

II. How a broken heart is produced.

1. The Agent. You must remember that the state we are describing never can be supposed to originate in any human or finite power whatever. It is not, for example, produced by the force of instruction, whether administered in juvenile or in riper years. It is not produced by processes of personal reflection; and it is not produced by movements of the natural conscience. We do not deny that they do sometimes appear to possess influences very similar to the influences of religion; and we are aware how conscience, especially under particular circumstances, occasionally becomes lashed and roused into such a state of alarm and accusing energy, that its awakenings are not at all distinguishable from the impulses of veritable and substantial piety. But yet, after all, the appearances are deceitful, and the results are impotent. The “heart of stone,” if we may use such a figure, is, as it were, only shifted in its position--that change of position rendering the moral frame uneasy and disturbed. The substance of the heart itself yet remains unpenetrated and untransmuted, and the truth remains, that were man left to himself, and to beings like himself, never would he know and feel what real contrition is. After this limitation of human agency, we are prepared to determine that the production of this state is to be ascribed exclusively to the supreme power of the Divine Spirit.

2. This, then, is the Agent in the production of the state we have noticed. We must also observe the instrumentality which the Agent employs. And the Divine Spirit always operates upon the mind of man by an instrumentality which is precisely adapted to its nature; we mean the Word of truth, as it reveals the character, the claims, and the procedure of God, along with the character, the duties, and the prospects and destinies of man. And especially as it sets forth the love of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. This prominency will be found distinctly ascribed to it by the manner in which it constituted the one grand topic of inspired and apostolic ministry in primitive times.

III. Why a broken heart is commended. We are to commend as precious and valuable the “broken heart.”

1. Because it is the state by which alone man can be saved from everlasting ruin.

2. It introduces to the enjoyment of all spiritual blessings. (James Parsons.)

The true oblation

In the temple of Israel there were two altars: the first, the great “altars of burnt-offering.” It was the altar of atonement, the only one in all the world on which God looked down with approval. At its base flowed the blood of every victim that was slain. On its broad bosom it received, and with its fiery breath it consumed, the holocausts and hecatombs of the thousands of Judah. But within the holy place was another altar; it was the altar of incense, fit representative of an order of sacrifices that were not expiatory, but oblations. They were not for the purpose of making atonement and seeking reconcilation, but for expressing the consecration to God of the redeemed soul. And the acceptableness of such oblation was expressed by the offering of the fragrant incense that was burnt upon that altar. Now, it is of this second class of sacrifices that the psalmist is speaking in our text. He is referring not to the sacrifices of expiation, but of oblation. The sinner is already pardoned, the atoning sacrifice has already been accepted, and he approaches the golden altar, not to deprecate worth or to plead for pardon, but as a forgiven sinner to offer on this altar the oblation of his gratitude and devotion, the love which wells up with overflowing fulness in a heart redeemed from sin. Now, looking at this sacrifice, we note--

I. The spirituality of the service which God requires. That which is to be laid upon His altar is not some material gift, however costly, but an offering of the spirit.

II. In the sacrifices of God the heart constitutes its very essence. God’s religion is pre-eminently one of love. Hence, the true oblation can only be of love, the only true sacrifice that of the heart. Contrast the sacrifices on the great brazen altar and those on the altar of incense. That holy place was the sanctuary of forgiven hearts, the retreat of those whose sins had been put away by the expiation offered on the altar without. Then are we taught that it is the heart which God demands as an oblation upon His altar. Only love will satisfy love.

III. But the heart must be broken and contrite. This is one reason why the way to the altar of incense is by that of expiation, that men may learn the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for their sin. This it is which makes it so hard for man to lay upon this altar the acceptable sacrifice. If there were no demand for repentance and confession, no need for such self-humbling as in the dust, man would readily come. But only the broken and contrite heart will God accept, or ought He to accept. For such should be our posture before God. Not that of pride, but of deep humility. (T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)


Verse 18

Psalms 51:18

Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion.

Prayer for Zion

I. The place prayed for. Under the name “Zion” David here prays for the whole Church, whose practice is herein considerable for our example.

1. Considered as a godly man, he prays for it so; whereby he shows us the nature and disposition of every good Christian besides, as also the duty of every one that pretends to an interest in the Church. This may be made out unto us upon this ground and consideration; because, namely, of that near relation which they bear unto it, and benefit which they receive by it. There is not a greater nearness of the members of a natural body one to another, than there is in the members of the mystical. And yet, if we well consider it, how few are there which lay this to heart, which take care of the prosperity of Zion, and which are affected with good-will to it? Most men seek their own advantage, the enlarging and settling of themselves, but they are but few which do lay out their thoughts and endeavours for the good of the Church. Nay, it were well if some now and then were not employed in that which is contrary, which are haters and ill-willers to it (Psalms 129:5).

2. As a guilty man, David now reflected on the mischief he had done to the Church of God by his sin; and now, therefore, to make it some amends, he puts it into his prayer, that God would do good unto it, as that which was the only recompense and satisfaction which he was able to make it. We may hence judge of the work of repentance and conversion what is in us. He who truly repents of his sin, will endeavour to do good answerably to the evil which has been done by him.

II. The thing prayed for about it; viz. that it have good done unto it. We must take it in the latitude, and full extent, which is of good in all kinds, but more especially of such good as is proper and peculiar to the Church, considered as such, within its own circle and compass, which is spiritual and eternal good. Where, for the ordering of our prayers aright upon such occasions, we may take notice of these particulars.

1. The free enjoyment of the ordinances and means of grace. These make up a great part of the good of Zion, and we should be instant with God for His Church in this regard, that He would vouchsafe, and uphold, and maintain the ministry of it.

2. The extirpation of errors and heresies, and the promoters of them, this is likewise conducing to the good. It can never be well with the Church, any further than as God is pleased to convert it by His overruling power. Therefore, as ever we desire the welfare of it, we must bend our prayers to this particular.

3. The multiplication of converts, that’s another thing pertinent hereunto. The welfare of Zion lies much in the number of those which belong unto it.

4. The concord and agreement of believers amongst themselves; this is another thing of the same nature with it; it was well with Zion in those days when they were all of one accord in one place (Acts 2:1). This is as much for the good of the Church as anything else, and does as much need and require our prayers and petitions for it.

III. The modification of the request. “In Thy good pleasure.”

1. It is a word of special influence, and does denote unto us the rise and spring of all good to be expected to the Church, which is the love and good-will of God. David does not now come to God for his Church upon terms of merit or desert, but only upon terms of favour and free grace, “Do good in Thy good pleasure.” And this is that which all must still do, even the best that are; they must thus make their addresses to God even in the behalf of the Church itself. And the reason of it is this, because we are all debtors to God, and stand obnoxious to Him; we deserve no good from Him; and that good which already we have, we have in a manner forfeited by our miscarriages; therefore it must be free grace and favour that must set us right, there’s nothing else which will be helpful to us.

2. It is a word of limitation; a limitation not of God, but indeed of His own prayer and request. As if he had said, Lord, I do very earnestly beg of Thee that Thou wouldst do good to Thy Church; but I do not herein go about to limit Thee, or confine Thee, or prescribe Thee, but I leave it wholly to Thyself; “Do good in Thy good pleasure,” that is, as shall seem good and best in Thine own eyes to do.

3. It is a word of insinuation, as it seems to carry the force of an argument in it, and thai thus, Lord, Thou bearest a special love and affection to Zion, which is Thy Church above all others besides. Now, therefore, according to this affection which is in Thee towards it, be pleased to do good to it; as the sister of Lazarus to Christ (John 11:3), whereby she would persuade Him to be active for his recovery. So does David here now to God in behalf of the Church, “Do good of Thy good pleasure to Zion”; that is, according to Thy wonted favour and lovingkindness towards her. It is a great encouragement in our addresses to God at any time for His poor Church to have the advantage of His own affections to it, which will prevail with Him so much the easier to goodness upon it. The reason of it is this, because God delights to be like Himself; He is good, and doeth good; and He is yesterday, and to-day, the same for ever. Therefore those bowels which persuade Him to do good to the Church at first, persuade Him still to the continuance of its. (Thomas Horton, D. D.)

“Do good unto Zion”

Though a popular and prevalent, it is a false or at least very defective form of Christianity, which, if personal salvation is attained, or supposed to be attained, is indifferent to the interests of truth, the welfare of the Church, and the public cause of Christ. The more profoundly we are interested in, and the more sensibly we are assured of our own salvation, the better fitted are we for being, and the more likely are we to be “valiant for the truth upon the earth.” We should seek that God would do good unto Zion--

I. In the way of increasing the number of her genuine converts. It is not in the number, or wealth, or worldly influence of her nominal members, but in the number of true believers, “called and chosen and faithful,” loving the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, who are found within her pale, that her strength and stability and beauty consist. In proportion as she is destitute of these latter, may Ichabod--the glory is departed--be written on her brow. It is they alone, of all her members, who show forth the transforming power of Divine grace, and the condescension of Divine love, and who reflect the purity of her glorious Head.

II. In the way of causing the graces of the spirit to flourish in her true members. It would be a token for good were believers generally constrained to long for the reviving influences of the Spirit, as the chased roe pants for the cooling stream, or as the parched ground thirsts for the refreshing shower--were they in the same frame of mind as the Spouse in Canticles when she cried, “Awake, O north wind, and come thou south: blow upon my garden that the spices may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits.”

III. In the way of enabling her to be faithful to her Lord. And this faithfulness we shall only notice here as it bears upon her testifying for His truths, preserving the purity of His ordinances, and enforcing the laws of His house. According as she fulfils or fails in fulfilling these functions, does she prove faithful or faithless to her high mission as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” and as a witness for God in the world.

IV. In the way of healing her divisions. These are her weakness, her shame, her sin. The armies of Israel are spending in intestine conflict that strength which is needed against, and which would powerfully tell upon, their common foes.

V. By extending her boundaries. There are still many “dark places of the earth,” which are “full of the habitations of horrid cruelty.” There are hundreds of millions of our race sitting in the shadow of moral and spiritual darkness and death, athwart which a beam from the Sun of Righteousness has never shone. They are perishing for lack of knowledge. In darkness they live, in darkness they die, and to the blackness of darkness at death they descend. So long, however, as this is the case, the promise of the Divine Father to His Son shall not be fully performed, “I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”--numerous predictions of Scripture shall remain unfulfilled--and the Church shall not have attained her destined and promised position of glory in our world. But all these events shall yet take place, however impossible they may now appear to the eye of sense. Every obstacle to this--physical, political, ecclesiastical, or moral--shall be removed. In asking these blessings from God for Zion, we should do so in a spirit of entire dependence upon Him for their bestowal; under a sense of personal unworthiness; in a spirit of resignation to the Divine will; from a supreme desire for the Divine glory; and under a deep sense of personal obligation to active exertion on our part, in order to their being obtained. (Original Secession Magazine.)

A prayer for the welfare of Zion

I. The matter of the prayer.

1. The first petition hath an obvious reference to the tribes of Israel, considered in their spiritual state, as a religious community, or the true Church of God.

2. The other petition hath a reference to the civil state of the Jews as a commonwealth or kingdom, and is a prayer for their national safety and prosperity.

II. The order in which the petitions are placed. He begins with praying for the good of Zion, and then offers his supplication in behalf of Jerusalem. Nor is this an accidental or arbitrary arrangement. The same subordination of temporal to spiritual blessings is uniformly observed through the whole of the sacred record, both in the promises of God, and in the accepted prayer of His people.

III. The temper of mind with which they appear to have been accompanied.

1. David had a just impression of his absolute dependence on God, and did not trust in the arm of flesh, but looked for help from God alone.

2. The form of his address likewise discovers the deep conviction he had of his own unworthiness. (R. Walker.)

Intercession for Zion

“Zion,” in this verse, means the hill on which the temple stood, and is therefore taken for the temple itself; and the temple, again, means God’s worshipping Church, with God Himself dwelling in the midst of it. He prays for good to this worshipping assembly of God’s people, under the designation first of Zion, second of Jerusalem. In the second aspect the Church is figured by a city, a metropolitan city, a walled city. The Church is brought before us as a city, and her members as citizens. They are members of the heavenly polity. Jerusalem stands for the gathered assembly of God’s people worshipping and dwelling secure in their quiet habitations (Hebrews 12:22). It is the rich grace of God, and His free love and unchangeable good-will to His people, that are the sole causes of the welfare of His Church God alone can do good unto Zion; He alone can build up the walls of Jerusalem. But to this work God has a good-will. Zion lies near His heart. When we are seeking this, when we are labouring for this, we are sure to find favour with God. God alone can do it; still our duty is to labour, to teach transgressors God’s ways, that sinners may be converted unto Him. All that befalls the Church is according to the good pleasure of God’s will. This is the ground of our calling, election, justification, glorification. Whatever we seek must ever be sought under this restriction, “Thy good pleasure.” Build Thou; but do it in Thine own wise time, in Thine own good way. Build Thou the walls of separation, that divide the Church from the world; let them be in it, not of it: keep them from its evil. (T. Alexander, M. A.)


Verse 19

Psalms 51:19

Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt-offering and whole burnt-offering.

Sacrifices of righteousness

They are called the sacrifices of righteousness, which are offered rightly, and according to the true intent and meaning, and order of God’s law. The law of God is the rule of righteousness, they are the sacrifices of righteousness which are presented to God according to this rule. And this interpretation doth easily reconcile the difference, which may seem to be betwixt this verse and the sixteenth. There David said, God desired no sacrifice; here he saith, God shall accept burnt-offering and oblation; when these services may be truly called the sacrifices of righteousness, then God likes of them, and approves them; for that which is rightly performed according to His own prescript, He cannot but approve; but when this righteousness wants, and they are nothing but matters of form and compliment, He cannot endure them.

I. It is a great blessing when the services which men present and tender unto God do find acceptance with Him, and are approved by Him.

1. Touching the state of the person, he must be one who is himself in favour with God. A man’s person must be first accepted before his gift can please. If there be any one thing which thou knowest to be an evil; nay, if there be any one particular in thy practice, which thou art not sure is lawful in God’s sight, surely God loathes thy person, and He cannot but even abhor all the devotions.

2. Concerning the substance of that which is offered unto good, and what he requireth of thee. This rule may well put the greatest part out of all hope of acceptance with God. There are two branches of will-worship, of one of which the greatest part be guilty. First is, when that which is used in worshipping God is grounded only upon man’s invention, and cannot at all be proved out of God’s Word to be of his ordaining. Secondly, when though it may be that which is done, is in itself simply of God’s appointing; yet that it is so is more than he knows, or cares to know, that useth it.

3. The third is for the manner of using. For that is as necessary as the two former. That which is in itself good may yet be spoiled and made distasteful to God by the usage thereof. There were of the Israelites many, who were baptized under Moses in the cloud and in the sea, did eat of the same spiritual meat, and drink of the same spiritual drink, yet with them God was not pleased. Now, the special matter in the manner of using God’s ordinances is that spoken of by David, In Thy fear will I worship towards Thine holy temple. Let us have grace whereby we may serve God, pleasing Him with reverence and fear. Now, this fear moveth a man to two things. One in respect of his carriage before he cometh into the presence of God; the other in respect of his behaviour there. Before he comes, this fear causeth him to consider with himself into whose presence he is going, and who it is with whom he must have to do, and what a weighty business it is which he must discharge. Then, when a man is in, and now the action is begun, that fear which moved him to prepare, continueth still with him, and causeth him to do reverence before God; that is, to demean himself with a kind of diligent watchfulness over his own thoughts, that he may keep them together, and may prevent those roving and unfitting imaginations, which are wont to fall in most, when a man is best employed, and are like the fowls which fell on the sacrifices which Abraham offered to God, and were driven away by him, It is fit to this purpose that which we find (Malachi 3:16).

II. It is a great mercy of God, when there is a general freedom and forwardness in the people, in respect of the public acts and exercises of devotion. We must thus, for the declaring of this doctrine, conceive of this place; that David reckoneth up here a twofold good, which shall follow that twofold blessing, for which he was a suitor in the former verse. If God should please to receive Zion into favour, and to forgive that sin by which the prosperity of the Church was now endangered, then it could not be, but the sacrifices which were offered by the children of Zion should find grace; and then, withal, if He should vouchsafe to continue and establish the peace of the state, then they, being encouraged by so many evidences of God’s favour, and enjoying such sweet quiet, should be frequent in public duties, and keep the altar of the Lord in continual use by multitudes of sacrifices. This teacheth us, first at what a high rate we ought to value this freedom and liberty of serving God publicly in peace, which David here conceived as one of the blessings which would ensue his prayer, and therefore, no doubt, was a matter principally aimed at by him in his request. And in the second place let us learn, as of David, to be glad of his freedom, so of the people here touching whom he speaks, to make use of this freedom; while we have the light let us walk in the light; while the way lieth open to the Lord’s altars, let us beat the path that leadeth to them. Remember ever the good use which the Churches of old made of their peace (Acts 9:31). (S. Hieron.)

The sacrifice of righteousness

The first impulse of a generous soul, when he sees the ruin, the desolation, the broken wall, and the gaps of sin, is to offer reparation, to make restitution, to restore, to do something to make good the desolating ravages of sin. Alas! this is not always possible. Mummius, the Roman general, to whose lot it fell to sack Corinth, with all its treasures of art and monuments of antiquity, is said to have told his rough soldiers that if they broke any of these works of art they would have to replace them. Perhaps his is not a less ludicrous conception who thinks to repair the ravages of sin. It is just here that David seems to look forward, not only to a more perfect contrition, a more prevailing confession, but also to a more acceptable satisfaction for sin. The sacrifice of Calvary, in the Zion of the Church, in the Jerusalem above,--in this, and by this alone will it be possible to repair, to restore, to make God again well-pleased, by virtue of the atonement of His dear Son. It has that wonderful power, as we have seen, of weaving all our life together. All the different failures, incongruities, half-beginnings, impulses, longings of our life, are brought together, in some marvellous way, by His master hand; our very sins have been seized upon, to strengthen or beautify, or even tone down, our life. “In heaven I shall be myself.” Tenderness, gentleness, self-distrust, and many delicate virtues like them, have been brought into our lives, in places where once were ruinous gaps, Truly God is very merciful! Who but He could ever have made life righteous? The prayer of the generous heart in all ages is to be “made conformable unto His death”; to reproduce, however faintly, the pangs, the afflictions, the generous self-sacrifice, the agony of Gethsemane, the shame of Calvary; to offer in person to God a sacrifice of righteousness, righteous because in union with Him, righteous because sprinkled with His blood, righteous because it is the best which we can offer. And it is here described.

I. The burnt-offering. You know what that means. It is that sacrifice where all is burned and consumed--a type of the complete exhaustion of wrath against sin. It must be taken from the herd and from the flock, things ready to hand, just round about the home, and be killed, flayed, cut into pieces, and burnt. Is not this the sacrifice which we fain would offer, the vengeance on ourselves, the sorrow after a godly sort, with its carefulness, its clearing of ourselves, etc.? (2 Corinthians 8:11). Are we dead to the old temptation, are we mortified?

II. The oblation, the peace-offering--that offering which the soul can make when it is at peace with God. Ours is to be the life of oblation, the life in which there is the perpetual offering up of self. This, too, is a lesson to learn on Calvary, to offer ourselves to God, and to whatever work He may give us to do.

III. But he goes higher still. Young bullocks will be offered on the altar. This means the best and the costliest offering. It is the sacrifice of a life which God demands from the priest. It is the sacrifice of a life which God asks us to contemplate on Calvary. “Be ye therefore perfect.” Is this an idle dream? He was perfect. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” He asks, without fear of the answer. Can we be perfect too? At least, we are bound to try. We can make a resolution never to put up with that which is imperfect, whether it be something which we shrink back from, beaten and hopeless, saying, “I cannot attain unto it”; whether it be some disposition or some habit, whose attainment ever eludes it; whether it be those little traits of Christianity, which more than anything else give the likeness to the ideal, which we are seeking to reproduce. (Canon Newbolt.)
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Psalms 52:1-9

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 51:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-51.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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