Psalm 51:1

PSALM LI

Title. To the Chief Musician. Therefore not written for private meditation only, but for the public service of song. Suitable for the loneliness of individual penitence, this matchless Psalm is equally well adapted for an assembly of the poor in spirit. A Psalm of David. It is a marvel, but nevertheless a fact, that writers have been found to deny David's authorship of this Psalm, but their objections are frivolous, the Psalm is David like all over. It would be far easier to imitate Milton, Shakespeare, or Tennyson, than David. His style is altogether sui generis, and it is as easily distinguished as the touch of Rafaelle or the colouring of Rubens. "When Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." When the divine message had aroused his dormant conscience and made him see the greatness of his guilt, he wrote this Psalm. He had forgotten his psalmody while he was indulging his flesh, but he returned to his harp when his spiritual nature was awakened, and he poured out his song to the accompaniment of sighs and tears. The great sin of David is not to be excused, but it is well to remember that his case has an exceptional collection of specialities in it. He was a man of very strong passions, a soldier, and an Oriental monarch having despotic power; no other king of his time would have felt any compunction for having acted as he did, and hence there were not around him those restraints of custom and association which, when broken through, render the offence the more monstrous. He never hints at any form of extenuation, nor do we mention these facts in order to apologize for his sin, which was detestable to the last degree; but for the warning of others, that they reflect that the licentiousness in themselves at this day might have even a graver guilt in it than in the erring King of Israel. When we remember his sin, let us dwell most upon his penitence, and upon the long series of chastisements which rendered the after part of his life such a mournful history.

Divisions. It will be simplest to note in the first twelve verses the penitent's confessions and plea for pardon, and then in the last seven his anticipatory gratitude, and the way in which he resolves to display it.

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 1. Have mercy upon me, O God. He appeals at once to the mercy of God, even before he mentions his sin. The sight of mercy is good for eyes that are sore with penitential weeping. Pardon of sin must ever be an act of pure mercy, and therefore to that attribute the awakened sinner flies. "According to thy lovingkindness." Act, O Lord, like thyself; give mercy like thy mercy. Show mercy such as is congruous with thy grace.

"Great God, thy nature hath no bound:
So let thy pardoning love be found."

What a choice word is that of our English version, a rare compound of precious things: love and kindness sweetly blended in one -- "lovingkindness." According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies. Let thy most loving compassions come to me, and make thou thy pardons such as these would suggest. Reveal all thy gentlest attributes in my case, not only in their essence but in their abundance. Numberless have been thine acts of goodness, and vast is thy grace; let me be the object of thine infinite mercy, and repeat it all in me. Make my one case an epitome of all thy tender mercies. By every deed of grace to others I feel encouraged, and I pray thee let me add another and a yet greater one, in my own person, to the long list of thy compassions. Blot out my transgressions. My revolts, my excesses, are all recorded against me; but, Lord, erase the lines. Draw thy pen through the register. Obliterate the record, though now it seems engraven in the rock for ever; many strokes of thy mercy may be needed, to cut out the deep inscription, but then thou has a multitude of mercies, and therefore, I beseech thee, erase my sins.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Title. "After he had gone in to Bathsheba." This was the devil's nest egg that caused many sins to be laid, one to, and upon another. See the woeful chain of David's lust, 2 Samuel 11:1-27 12:1-31. John Trapp.

Title. "When Nathan the prophet came unto him as he (i.e., David) had come unto Bathsheba." The significant repetition of the phrase came unto, is lost in the English and most other versions. "As" is not a mere particle of time, simple equivalent to when, but suggests the idea of analogy, proportion, and retaliation. J. A. Alexander.

Whole Psalm. This Psalm is the brightest gem in the whole book, and contains instruction so large, and doctrine so precious, that the tongue of angels could not do justice to the full development. Victorinus Strigelius, 1524-1569.

Whole Psalm. This Psalm is often and fitly called THE SINNER'S GUIDE. In some of its versions it often helps the returning sinner. Athanasius recommends to some Christians, to whom he was writing, to repeat it when they awake at night. All evangelical churches are familiar with it. Luther says, "There is no other Psalm which is oftener sung or prayed in the church." This is the first Psalm in which we have the word Spirit used in application to the Holy Ghost. William S. Plumer.

Whole Psalm. I cannot doubt the prophetic bearing of this Psalm upon the nation of Israel. In the latter day they shall consider their ways: repentance and self loathing will be the result. Blood guiltiness heavier than that of David has to be removed from that nation. They will become the teachers of the Gentiles, when first the iniquity of their own transgressions has been purged away. Arthur Pridham.

Whole psalm. This is the most deeply affecting of all the Psalms, and I am sure the one most applicable to me. It seems to have been the effusion of a soul smarting under the sense of a recent and great transgression. My God, whether recent or not, give me to feel the enormity of my manifold offences, and remember not against me the sins of my youth. What a mine of rich matter and expression for prayer! Wash, cleanse me, O Lord, and let my sin and my sinfulness be ever before me. Let me feel it chiefly as sin against thee, that my sin may be of the godly sort. Give me to feel the virulence of my native corruption, purge me from it thoroughly, and put truth into my inward parts, that mine may be a real turning from sin unto the Saviour. Create me anew, O God. Withdraw not thy Spirit. Cause me to rejoice in a present salvation. Deliver me, O God, from the blood guiltiness of having offended any of thy little ones; and so open my lips that I may speak of the wondrous things thou hast done for my soul! May I offer up spiritual sacrifices; and oh! let not any delinquencies of mine bring a scandal upon thy church; but do thou so purify and build her up, that even her external services, freed from all taint of corruption or hypocrisy, may be well pleasing in thy sight. Thomas Chalmers.

Verse 1. Have mercy upon me, O God. I tremble and blush to mention my name, for my former familiarities with thee only make me more confounded at being recognized by thee after my guilt. I therefore say not, "Lord, remember David," as on a happier occasion; nor as propitiating thee, I used to say, to thy "servant," or, "to the son of thy handmaid." I suggest nothing that should recall my former relation to thee, and so enhance my wickedness. Ask not, then, Lord, who I am, but only forgive me who confess my sin, condemn my fault, and beseech thy pity. Have mercy upon me, O God. I dare not say my God, for that were presumption. I have lost thee by sin, I have alienated myself from thee by following the enemy, and therefore am unclean. I dare not approach thee, but standing afar off and lifting up my voice with great devotion and contrition of heart, I cry and say, Have mercy upon me, O God. From "A Commentary on the Seven Penitential Psalms, chiefly from ancient sources." By the Right Rev. A. P. Forbes, Bishop of Brechin, 1857.

Verse 1. Have mercy. The Hebrew word here translated have mercy. signifieth without cause or desert; Psalms 35:19 69:4 Ezekiel 14:23 ; and freely, without paying any price, Exodus 21:11 . And it is made use of in Leviticus 6:8 , where Noah is said to have found grace in the eyes of the Lord, that is, special favour, such as the Lord beareth to his chosen in Christ Jesus. Charles D. Coetlogon, A.M., in "The Portraiture of the Christian Penitent," 1775.

Verse 1. Mercy, lovingkindness, tender mercies. I cannot but observe here, the gradation in the sense of the three words made use of, to express the divine compassion, and the propriety of the order in which they are placed, which would be regarded as a real excellence and beauty in any classical writer. The first (yngx), denotes that kind of affection which is expressed by moaning over any object that we love and pity -- that otorge, natural affection and tenderness, which even brute creatures discover to their young ones, by the several noises which they respectively make over them; and particularly the shrill noise of the camel, by which it testifies its love to its foal. The second, ($dsxk), denotes a strong proneness, a ready, large, and liberal disposition to goodness and compassion powerfully prompting to all instances of kindness and bounty; flowing as freely and plentifully as milk into the breasts, or as waters from a perpetual fountain. This denotes a higher degree of goodness than the former. The third, ($ymxr), denotes what the Greeks express by oplagcnizeoqai; that most tender pity which we signify by the moving of the heart and bowels, which argues the highest degree of compassion of which human nature is susceptible. And how reviving is the belief and consideration of these abundant and tender compassions of God to one in David's circumstances, whose mind laboured under the burden of the most heinous complicated guilt, and the fear of the divine displeasure and vengeance! Samuel Chandler.

Verse 1. According to the multitude. Men are greatly terrified at the multitude of their sins, but here is a comfort -- our God hath multitude of mercies. If our sins be in number as the hairs of our head, God's mercies are as the stars of heaven; and as he is an infinite God, so his mercies are infinite; yea, so far are his mercies above our sins, as he himself is above us poor sinners. By this the Psalmist seeketh for multitude of mercies, he would show how deeply he was wounded with his manifold sins, that one seemed a hundred. Thus it is with us, so long as we are under Satan's guiding, a thousand seem but one; but if we betake ourselves to God's service, one will seem a thousand. Archibald Symson.

Verse 1. Tender mercies, or, according to Zanchy in his treatise upon the attributes of God, such a kind of affection as parents feel when they see their children in any extremity. 1Ki 3:26. Charles D. Coetlogon.

Verse 1. Blot out my transgressions. (hxm), mecheh, wipe out. There is reference here to an indictment: the Psalmist knows what it contains; he pleads guilty, but begs that the writing may be defaced; that a proper fluid may be applied to the parchment, to discharge the ink, that no record of it may ever appear against him: and this only the mercy, lovingkindness, and tender compassions, of the Lord can do. Adam Clarke.

Verse 1. Blot out my transgressions. What the psalmist alludes is not, as Mr. Leclerc imagines, debts entered into a book, and so blotted out of it when forgiven; but the wiping or cleansing of a dish, so as nothing afterwards remains in it. The meaning of the petition is, that God would entirely and absolutely forgive him, so as that no part of the guilt he had contracted might remain, and the punishment of it might be wholly removed. Samuel Chandler.

Verse 1. Blot out, or, as it is used in Exodus 17:14 , utterly extirpate, so as that there shall not be any remembrance of them forever. Isaiah 43:25 44:22. Charles de Coetlogon.

Verse 1. MY transgressions. Conscience, when it is healthy, ever speaks thus: "MY transgressions." It is not the guilt of them that tempted you: they have theirs; but each as a separate agent, has his own degree of guilt. Yours is your own: the violation of your own and not another's sense of duty; solitary, awful, unshared, adhering to you alone of all the spirits of the universe. Frederick William Robertson.

Verse 1,5. Transgressions ... iniquity ... sin.

  1. It is transgressions, ([fp), pesha, rebellion.
  2. It is iniquity, (!w[), avon, crooked dealing.
  3. It is sin, (tajx), chattath, error and wandering. Adam Clarke.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

The Psalm is upon its surface so full of suggestions for sermons that I have not attempted to offer any of my own, but have merely inserted a selection from Mr. G. Rogers and others.

Verse 1.

  1. The Prayer.
  2. For mercy, not justice. Mercy is the sinner's attribute -- as much a part of the divine nature as justice. The possibility of sin is implied in its existence. The actual commission of sin is implied in its display.
  3. For pardon, not pity merely, but forgiveness.
  • The plea.
    1. For the pardon of great sins on account of great mercies, and lovingkindness.
    2. Many sins on account of multitude of mercies.
    3. Hell deserving sins on account of tender mercies. We who have sinned are human, he who pardons is divine.
  • "Great God, thy nature hath no bound, So let thy pardoning love be found."

     

    WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE FIFTY-FIRST PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY

    Exposition of the Fifty-first Psalm, by MARTIN LUTHER, in "Select works of Martin Luther, translated by RE

  • HENRY COLE." Vol. I., pp. 51-197.

    "An Exposition upon the 51 Psalm," in "Certain Godly and learned Expositions upon divers parts of Scripture. As they were preached and afterwards more briefly penned by that worthy man of God, Maister GEORGE ESTEY ... Late preacher of the word of God in St. Edmund's Burie." 1603. (4to.)

    "David's Penitential Psalm opened: in thirtie severall Lectures thereon. By SAM. HIERON. 1617." (4to.)

    "Good News from Canaan; or, An Exposition on the 51 Psalm," in "The Workes of Mr. William Cowper, late Bishop of Galloway." 1629. (Folio.)

    "David's Repentance; or, A plaine and familiar Exposition of the L

  • Psalm: first preached, and now published for the benefit of God's church. Wherein euery faithful Christian may set before his eyes the Patterne of vnfeigned Repentance, whereby we may take heed of the falling into sin again. The eighth edition, newly revised and profitably amplified by the author, SAMVEL SMITH, preacher of the word of God at Prittlewell in Essex ... 1630." (12mo.)

    "A Godly and Fruitful Exposition of the Fifty-one Psalm, the fifth of the Penitential," in ARCHIBALD SYMSON'S "Sacred Septenarie." 1638.

    "Meditations and Disquisitions upon the 51 Psalm of David," in "Meditations and Disquisitions upon the seven Psalms of David, commonly called the Penitential Psalmes." By SIR RICHARD BAKER, Knight. 1639.

    "CL

  • Lectures upon Psalm L
  • Preached at Ashby Delazovch, in Leicester Shire. By the late faithful, and worthy Minister of Jesus Christ, Mr. ARTHUR HILDERSAM. 1642." (Folio.)

    "An Exposition of the one-and- fiftieth Psalm," in pp. 51-239, of "Sermons with some religious and divine Meditations. By the Right Reverend Father in God, ARTHVRE LAKE, late Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells." 1639. (Folio.)

    "David's Broken Heart; or, an Exposition upon the whole Fifty-one Psalm. By that Reverend divine Doctor SAMUEL PAGE, late Pastour of Deptford Stroud, in Kent ... 1646." (4to.)

    Exposition of Psalm LI., in "Chandler's Life of David." Vol. 2 pg 254-273.

    "The Portraiture of the Christian Penitent: attempted in a course of Sermons upon Psalm LI ... By the Rev. CHA. DE COETLOGON, A.M. 1775."

    "Lectures on the Fifty-first Psalm, delivered in the Parish Church of St. James', Bristol. By the Rev. THOMAS T. BIDDULPH, A.M. 1835."

    "The Penitent's Prayer: a Practical Exposition of the Fifty-first Psalm. By the Rev. THOMAS ALEXANDER, M.A., Chelsea."

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