It is a Psalm, and therefore it is to be sung. It is dedicated to the chief Musician, and there is music in it, but it needs a trained ear to catch the harmony. The sinner with a broken heart will understand the language and also perceive the sweetness of it; but as for the proud and the self-righteous, they will say, “It is a melancholy dirge,” and turn away from it in disgust. There are times, to one under a sense of sin, when there is no music in the world like that of the 51st Psalm, and it is music for the chief Musician, for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;” and this is the Psalm of penitence, and there is joy in it, and it makes joy even to the chief Musician himself.
Verse 1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Here is a man of God, a man of God deeply conscious of his sin, crying for mercy, crying with all his heart and soul, and yet with his tear-dimmed eyes looking up to God, and spying out the gracious attributes of Deity, lovingkindness, and tender mercies, multitudes of them. There is no eye that is quicker to see the mercy of God than an eye that is washed with the tears of repentance. When we dare not look upon divine justice, when that burning attribute seems as if it would smite us with blindness, we can turn to that glorious rainbow of grace round about the throne, and rejoice in the lovingkindness and the tender mercies of our God.
2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
If washing will not remove it, burn it out, O Lord; but do cleanse me from it; not only from the guilt of it and the consequent punishment, but from the sin itself. Make me clean through and through. ‘ Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
As if the record of it were painted on my eyeballs. I cannot look anywhere without seeing it. I seem to taste it in my meat and drink; and when I fall asleep, I dream of it, for thy wrath has come upon me, and now my transgression haunts me wherever I go.
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.1
This is the sting of sin to a truly penitent man, that he has sinned against God. The carnal mind sees nothing in that. If ever it does repent, it repents of doing wrong to man. It only takes the manward side of the transgression; but God’s child, though grieved at having wronged man, feels that the deluge of his guilt—that which drowns everything else—is that he has sinned against his God. It is the very token and type and mark of an acceptable repentance that it has an eye to sin as committed against God.
Now observe that the psalmist, having thus sinned, and being thus conscious of his guilt, is now made to see that, if the evil came out of him, it must have been in him at first; he would not have sinned as he had done had there not been an unclean fountain within him.
5, 6. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts:—
Then it is not sufficient for me to be washed outside, and being outwardly moral is not enough. “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts:”—
6. And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
In that part which is even hidden from myself, where sin might lurk without my knowing it, there wouldst thou spy it out. I pray thee, Lord, eject all sin from me, rid me of the most subtle form of iniquity that may be concealed within me.
7. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
This in a grand declaration of faith. I know not of such faith as this anywhere else. The faith of Abraham is more amazing; but, to my mind, this faith of poor broken-hearted David, when he saw himself to be black with sin and crimson with crime, and yet could say, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” is grand faith. It seems to me that a poor, trembling, broken-down sinner, who casts himself upon the infinite mercy of God, brings more glory to God than all the angels that went not astray are ever able to bring to him.
8. “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot sin with impunity. Worldlings may do so as far as this life is concerned; but a child of God will find that, to him, sin and smart, if they do not go together, will follow very closely upon one another’s heels. Ay, and our Father in heaven chastens his people very sorely, even to the breaking of their bones; and it is only when he applies the promises to our hearts by the gracious operation of his Holy Spirit, and makes the chambers of our soul to echo with the voice of his lovingkindness, that we “hear joy and gladness” again. It is only then that our broken bones are bound up, and begin to rejoice once more.
9. Hide thy face from my sins,
David could not bear that God should look upon them.
9. And blot out all mine iniquities.
“Put them right out of sight. Turn thy gaze away from them, and then put them out of everybody’s sight.”
10. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
Make me over again; let the image of God in man be renewed in me. Nay, not the image only, but renew the very Spirit of God within me.”
11, 12. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me, restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
“Lift me up, and then keep me up. Let me never sin against thee again.”
12,13. And uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
There are no such teachers of righteousness as those who have smarted under their own personal sin; they can indeed tell to others what the ways of God are. What are those ways? His ways of chastisement,—how he will smite the wandering; his ways of mercy,—how he will restore and forgive the penitent.
13. And sinners shall be converted unto thee.2
He felt sure that they would be converted; and if anything can be the means of converting sinners, it is the loving faithful testimony of one who has himself tasted that the Lord is gracious. If God has been merciful to you, my brother or my sister, do not hold your tongue about it, but tell to others what he has done for you; let the world know what a gracious God he is.
14. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.3
I like that confession and that prayer of David. He does not mince matters, for he had guiltily caused the blood of Uriah to be shed, and here he owns it, with great shame, but with equal honesty and truthfulness. As long as you and I call our sins by pretty names, they will not be forgiven. The Lord knows exactly what your sin is, therefore do not try to use polite terms about it. Tell him what it is, that he may know that you know what it is. “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.”
“But surely,” says someone, “there is nobody here who needs to pray that prayer.” Well, there is one in the pulpit at least, who often feels that he has need to pray it; for what will happen if I preach not the gospel, or if I preach it not with all my heart? It may be that the blood of souls shall be required at my hands. And my brothers and sisters, if anything in your example should lead others into sin, or if the neglect of any opportunities that are presented to you should lead others to continue in their sin till they perish, will not the sin of bloodguiltiness be possible to you? I think you had better each one pray David’s prayer, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation.” “And then, O Lord, if I once get clear of that, ‘my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.'”
15. O Lord, open thou my lips;
He is afraid to open them himself lest he should say something amiss. Pardoned sinners are always afraid lest they should err again.
15, 16. And my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest no sacrifice; else would I give it:
“Whatever there is in the whole world that thou desirest, I would gladly give it to thee, my God.”
16-18. Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion:—
You see that the psalmist loves the chosen people of God. With all his faults, his heart is right towards the kingdom under his charge. He feels that he has helped to break down Zion, and to do mischief to Jerusalem, so he prays, “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion:”—
18, 19. Build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
Once get your sins forgiven, and then God will accept your sacrifices. Then bring what you will with all your heart, for an accepted sinner makes an accepted sacrifice, through Jesus Christ.
Exhortation by C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)