The psalmist prays for mercy, humbly confessing and lamenting his sins. (1-6) He pleads for pardon, that he may promote the glory of God and the conversion of sinners. (7-15) God is pleased with a contrite heart, A prayer for the prosperity of Zion. (16-19)
Verses 1-6 David, being convinced of his sin, poured out his soul to God in prayer for mercy and grace. Whither should backsliding children return, but to the Lord their God, who alone can heal them? he drew up, by Divine teaching, an account of the workings of his heart toward God. Those that truly repent of their sins, will not be ashamed to own their repentance. Also, he instructs others what to do, and what to say. David had not only done much, but suffered much in the cause of God; yet he flees to God's infinite mercy, and depends upon that alone for pardon and peace. He begs the pardon of sin. The blood of Christ, sprinkled upon the conscience, blots out the transgression, and, having reconciled us to God, reconciles us to ourselves. The believer longs to have the whole debt of his sins blotted out, and every stain cleansed; he would be thoroughly washed from all his sins; but the hypocrite always has some secret reserve, and would have some favorite lust spared. David had such a deep sense of his sin, that he was continually thinking of it, with sorrow and shame. His sin was committed against God, whose truth we deny by wilful sin; with him we deal deceitfully. And the truly penitent will ever trace back the streams of actual sin to the fountain of original depravity. He confesses his original corruption. This is that foolishness which is bound in the heart of a child, that proneness to evil, and that backwardness to good, which is the burden of the regenerate, and the ruin of the unregenerate. He is encouraged, in his repentance, to hope that God would graciously accept him. Thou desirest truth in the inward part; to this God looks, in a returning sinner. Where there is truth, God will give wisdom. Those who sincerely endeavour to do their duty shall be taught their duty; but they will expect good only from Divine grace overcoming their corrupt nature.
Verses 7-15 Purge me with hyssop, with the blood of Christ applied to my soul by a lively faith, as the water of purification was sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop. The blood of Christ is called the blood of sprinkling, ( Hebrews 12:24 ) . If this blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin, cleanse us from our sin, then we shall be clean indeed, ( Hebrews 10:2 ) . He asks not to be comforted, till he is first cleansed; if sin, the bitter root of sorrow, be taken away, he can pray in faith, Let me have a well-grounded peace, of thy creating, so that the bones broken by convictions may rejoice, may be comforted. Hide thy face from my sins; blot out all mine iniquities out of thy book; blot them out, as a cloud is blotted out and dispelled by the beams of the sun. And the believer desires renewal to holiness as much as the joy of salvation. David now saw, more than ever, what an unclean heart he had, and sadly laments it; but he sees it is not in his own power to amend it, and therefore begs God would create in him a clean heart. When the sinner feels this change is necessary, and reads the promise of God to that purpose, he begins to ask it. He knew he had by his sin grieved the Holy Spirit, and provoked him to withdraw. This he dreads more than anything. He prays that Divine comforts may be restored to him. When we give ourselves cause to doubt our interest in salvation, how can we expect the joy of it? This had made him weak; he prays, I am ready to fall, either into sin or into despair, therefore uphold me with thy Spirit. Thy Spirit is a free Spirit, a free Agent himself, working freely. And the more cheerful we are in our duty, the more constant we shall be to it. What is this but the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free, which is contrasted with the yoke of bondage? ( Galatians 5:1 ) . It is the Spirit of adoption spoken to the heart. Those to whom God is the God of salvation, he will deliver from guilt; for the salvation he is the God of, is salvation from sin. We may therefore plead with him, Lord, thou art the God of my salvation, therefore deliver me from the dominion of sin. And when the lips are opened, what should they speak but the praises of God for his forgiving mercy?
Verses 16-19 Those who are thoroughly convinced of their misery and danger by sin, would spare no cost to obtain the remission of it. But as they cannot make satisfaction for sin, so God cannot take any satisfaction in them, otherwise than as expressing love and duty to him. The good work wrought in every true penitent, is a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, and sorrow for sin. It is a heart that is tender, and pliable to God's word. Oh that there were such a heart in every one of us! God is graciously pleased to accept this; it is instead of all burnt-offering and sacrifice. The broken heart is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ; there is no true repentance without faith in him. Men despise that which is broken, but God will not. He will not overlook it, he will not refuse or reject it; though it makes God no satisfaction for the wrong done to him by sin. Those who have been in spiritual troubles, know how to pity and pray for others afflicted in like manner. David was afraid lest his sin should bring judgements upon the city and kingdom. No personal fears or troubles of conscience can make the soul, which has received grace, careless about the interests of the church of God. And let this be the continued joy of all the redeemed, that they have redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.
Psalms 51:1-19 . On the occasion, compare 2 Samuel 11:12 . The Psalm illustrates true repentance, in which are comprised conviction, confession, sorrow, prayer for mercy, and purposes of amendment, and it is accompanied by a lively faith.
1-4. A plea for mercy is a confession of guilt.
blot out--as from a register.
transgressions--literally, "rebellions" ( Psalms 19:13 , 32:1 ).
2. Wash me--Purity as well as pardon is desired by true penitents.
3. For . . . before me--Conviction precedes forgiveness; and, as a gift of God, is a plea for it ( 2 Samuel 12:13 , Psalms 32:5 , 1 John 1:9 ).
4. Against thee--chiefly, and as sins against others are violations of God's law, in one sense only.
that . . . judgest--that is, all palliation of his crime is excluded; it is the design in making this confession to recognize God's justice, however severe the sentence.
5, 6. His guilt was aggravated by his essential, native sinfulness, which is as contrary to God's requisitions of inward purity as are outward sins to those for right conduct.
6. thou shalt make, &c.--may be taken to express God's gracious purpose in view of His strict requisition; a purpose of which David might have availed himself as a check to his native love for sin, and, in not doing so, aggravated his guilt.
truth . . . and . . .wisdom--are terms often used for piety (compare Job 28:28 , Psalms 119:30 ).
7-12. A series of prayers for forgiveness and purifying.
Purge . . . hyssop--The use of this plant in the ritual ( Exodus 12:22 , Numbers 19:6 Numbers 19:18 ) suggests the idea of atonement as prominent here; "purge" refers to vicarious satisfaction ( Numbers 19:17-20 ).
8. Make . . . joy--by forgiving me, which will change distress to joy.
9. Hide, &c.--Turn from beholding.
10. Create--a work of almighty power.
in me--literally, "to me," or, "for me"; bestow as a gift, a heart free from taint of sin ( Psalms 24:4 , 73:1 ).
renew--implies that he had possessed it; the essential principle of a new nature had not been lost, but its influence interrupted ( Luke 22:32 ); for Psalms 51:11 shows that he had not lost God's presence and Spirit ( 1 Samuel 16:13 ), though he had lost the "joy of his salvation" ( Psalms 51:12 ), for whose return he prays.
right spirit--literally, "constant," "firm," not yielding to temptation.
12. free spirit--"thy" ought not to be supplied, for the word "free" is, literally, "willing," and "spirit" is that of David. "Let a willing spirit uphold me," that is, with a soul willingly conformed to God's law, he would be preserved in a right course of conduct.
13. Then--Such will be the effect of this gracious work.
ways--of providence and human duty ( Psalms 18:21 Psalms 18:30 , 32:8 , Luke 22:32 ).
14. Deliver--or, "Free me" ( Psalms 39:8 ) from the guilt of murder ( 2 Samuel 12:9 2 Samuel 12:10 , Psalms 5:6 ).
righteousness--as in Psalms 7:17 , 31:1 .
15. open . . . lips--by removing my sense of guilt.
16. Praise is better than sacrifice ( Psalms 50:14 ), and implying faith, penitence, and love, glorifies God. In true penitents the joys of pardon mingle with sorrow for sin.
18. Do good, &c.--Visit not my sin on Thy Church.
build . . . walls--is to show favor; compare Psalms 89:40 , for opposite form and idea.
19. God reconciled, material sacrifices will be acceptable ( Psalms 4:5 ; compare Isaiah 1:11-17 ).