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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 51

 

 

Verses 1-19

Psalm 51:1-19. Title. (Notes, 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-12.) When Nathan had delivered his message, we may suppose that David retired to his chamber full of confusion, remorse, and anguish; and there poured forth his soul before God in unreserved confessions and fervent prayers. And considering his rank, his age, and a variety of circumstances relating to his family, to persons disaffected to his government, and to his character among the surrounding nations; it might have been thought expedient for him to be satisfied with these secret acts of contrition and devotion, with humbling himself before God by fasting and prayer, and with " bringing forth fruits meet for repentance : " especially as God had already remitted the sentence of temporal death, to which the law condemned him. (Note, 2 Samuel 12:13.) But he viewed the subject in another light, when brought to reflect seriously on his conduct, and its probable consequences. The honour of God and of true religion was deeply concerned, and with it the best interests of very great multitudes : nor did there appear any other way, in which the bad effects of his crimes could be so thoroughly prevented, as by his publickly taking the deepest shame to himself, for having acted directly contrary to that holy religion which he professed. Zeal for the glory of God and love to his people having now revived, and gained the ascendancy in his heart, united with deep self-abhorrence, and a kind of indignation against himself; he seems to have resolved without delay, whatever might be the consequences to himself and his reputation, to publish to his family, his subjects, the work! at large, and all future generations, the judgment which he now entertained of his late behaviour, in the substance of his secret confessions and supplications; and the way in which, with deep anguish and distress, he sought forgiveness and salvation. He therefore not only composed this psalm for his private use, or to shew his friends, or leave among his writings; but he gave it to " the chief musician," that it might form a part of the public Psalmody at the tabernacle, and in consequence be circulated through all the land, and among other nations; and continue in the church, with his other sacred poems, for the instruction and warning of mankind in all future ages. Nothing, all circumstances considered, can be conceived more humiliating than such a measure; nothing could more decidedly shew how much he preferred the honour of God to his own credit; in short, nothing could more decidedly manifest the depth of genuine repentance.

(Note, 1 Samuel 15:30-31.)

V:1 , 2. The " mercy" of God, his loving-kindness," his " tender mercies," " the multitude of his tender mercies," form the only plea, which the royal penitent admits in seeking forgiveness of his heinous crimes. He does not once mention his former services in the cause of religion; or palliate his conduct, by the peculiar temptations of his high rank, and the customs of princes; or plead that he was inadvertently betrayed into it, and led on by imperceptible degrees, step by step : (Notes, 1 Samuel 15:15; 1 Samuel 15:24-25. Proverbs 28:13. Luke 15:17-19 :) but, as a vile and miserable sinner, with many repetitions and an accumulation of words, energetically expressing his inmost thoughts and feelings, he dwells on the only cheering thought his case allowed of; and intreats, that God would, " to the praise of the glory of his grace," forgive his sins, as a debt which when remitted is blotted out; (Notes, 9. Isaiah 43:22-25; Isaiah 44:22. Ephesians 1:3-8. Colossians 2:13-15;)

and, as the stain was beyond expression deep, that he would throughly wash and cleanse it all away.

(Notes, 7- Isaiah 1:16-20. Ezekiel 36:25-27. Zechariah 13:1. John 13:6-11. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Titus 3:4-7. Revelation 1:4-6; Revelation 7:13-17.) The language is taken from the washings and purifications of the Mosaick law; and shews that the Psalmist fervently prayed to be cleansed from the pollution, as well as the guilt of his sins; that he was aware no outward forms or endeavours of his own could effect this cleansing; and that he sought this blessing through the redemption and grace of the promised Saviour. (Marg. Ref

V:3. (Notes, Psalm 32:1-5.) While David endeavoured to cover his sins, to conceal or excuse them, he could not, sincerely and heartily, seek forgiveness from God, as an act of unmerited mercy and grace, and even contrary to his deserving. And this seems to have been his state of mind before Nathan came to him : but now " being come to " himself," he is deeply conscious of his most heinous guilt; and confesses it openly and ingenuously, with all its aggravations : nay, the remembrance of his complicated atrocious crimes seems to haunt him continually, and his conscience incessantly reproaches him; so that he can by no means exclude the most distressing reflections. Thus he " submits to the righteousness of God, owns that he deserves to perish, and is prepared, if spared, to ascribe the whole honour of salvation to the rich mercy and grace of God alone.

(Notes, 2 Chronicles 33:12-13. Job 33:27-30. Jeremiah 31:18-20. Luke 15:17-21 1 John 1:8-10.)

V:4. " It is thy prohibition, O God, that can make a " sin. I have sinned against men, but it is thy law that " I have violated, in that is my offence. Bp. Hall.

If thou shouldst pronounce the heaviest sentence upon me " for my crimes, and execute it with the greatest severity, " I could not accuse thee of too much rigour; but must " still justify thee in thy proceedings, and clear thee from " all such unjust imputations." Bp. Patrick.

David"s crimes had deeply injured Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab and the other accessaries to Uriah"s murder, the men slain with him, their families, and the nation; and they were likely to occasion most fatal consequences in various ways to great numbers in different nations, and all succeeding ages.

(Notes, 2 Samuel 11:6-17; 2 Samuel 12:14.) Yet the chief malignity of his conduct consisted in this; that it was a complication of most daring rebellions against the great and glorious Governor of the world; contempt of His majesty, excellency, and righteous law; a most ungrateful return for immense obligations; and an apostasy in heart from God, through idolatrous love of worldly pleasure.

(Notes, 2 Samuel 12:9-10.) Indeed no words can express the heinousness and aggravations of his guilt when thus weighed : and this view seems to have possessed and overwhelmed his mind to such a degree, as to make every other consideration appear comparatively as nothing. Even before the law was given, God himself stated that the grand malignity of murder consisted in its being an assault on Prayer of Manasseh , whom he created in his own image. (Note, Genesis 9:5-6.) Crimes in civil society, which are injurious to individuals, are yet punished as violations of the laws of the land, done against the king and the peace of the realm : such are called, " Plea" of the Crown " and high treason is the chief crime in every land. David indeed was not accountable for his conduct to any human tribunal : he had carefully concealed his transgressions from man; but he was sensible that the Lord had witnessed the whole, and would bring it to light. He therefore found himself constrained to plead guilty, to the most humiliating charges of guilt and depravity, brought against mankind in general, which were contained in the word of God; for he was convinced that his base conduct, after all his peculiar advantages and zealous profession of religion, would abundantly justify those declarations of the entire wickedness of the human heart; and fully confute the blasphemous censures, which ungodly men ventured to pass upon the government of God, and upon his denunciations and judgments, as if unjust and severe. Thus, in every sense, the case of David, when well understood, is suited to justify God in all his declarations, and to vindicate his whole government from every aspersion. (Notes, Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:20-22. Job 15:14-16. Romans 3:3-4.)

V:5 , 6 ,. David was the offspring of lawful and honourable marriage; nothing is intimated against his father Jesse in the sacred oracles, and he repeatedly speaks of his mother as " the hand-maid of the Lord : " (Notes, Psalm 86:16. Psalm 116:16 :) yet, having received from his parents Adam"s he was conceived and shapen in iniquity. (Marg. Ref.) His late dreadful fall evinced the depravity of his heart : and in these instances he had only acted according to its corrupt bias; being in himself naturally prone to rebellion against God.

(Marg. Ref. p. Notes, Genesis 5:3. Job 14:1 to Job 6:25 : Ephesians 2:3.) This he confessed in deep humiliation; yet it by no means followed, that the Lord should relax in his requirements, because of the depraved propensities of his apostate creatures. His perfect law requires entire truth, purity, and love in the heart and conduct; and in this alone he delights; and sincerity from the inmost soul, in repentance, faith, and renewed obedience, is requisite even according to the srosoel. This the Psalmist had been taught, before his transgressions : " in the hidden part the LORD had made him to know Wisdom of Solomon ," which was a great aggravation of his guilt, in that he sinned against knowledge, conscience, and the peculiar obligations conferred on him. If we read the clause in the future tense, as in our translation, and as it stands in the Hebrew, it expresses the Psalmist"s hope and prayer, that the Lord would, notwithstanding his guilt and depravity, graciously and by his effectual inward teaching, communicate to him true Wisdom of Solomon , and enable him to know and do what he required and delighted in. if I am so far from representing " this " (my innate propensity to evil,) " as an excuse for what I have done; that I confess the consideration of " it ought to have made me the more watchful and diligent, " to suppress those bad inclinations, which I knew to be so natural. ...I am amazed at my folly, that I should be " so careless; when I was not ignorant that thou requirest us not to entertain, with the least kindness, those first " motions which we find in our thoughts and desires after " any evil, but uprightly to oppose them." Bp. Patrick.

(Notes, James 1:13-18.) Desirest. (6) : dellghtest in.

V:7 The hyssop, employed in sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices, (as it is generally thought,) in the offerings of the cleansed leper; and in sprinkling the water of purification; represented the efficacy of faith, in applying to the soul the blood of Christ for pardon, and the influences of the Holy Spirit for sanctification.

( Numbers 19:18. Notes, Exodus 12:22-23; Exodus 24:6-8. Leviticus 14:4-7 - Ezekiel 36:25-27. Hebrews 9:18-23.) Thus David prayed to be completely cleansed from all sin, both as to its guilt and pollution, that he might be as if he had never sinned : and thus believers will at length be made equal to the angels, who are arrayed in spotless robes of innocence, whiter than the snow itself. (Marg. Ref. Note, Revelation 7:13-17.)

V:8. A Prayer of Manasseh , who has fallen from a precipice, and broken his bones, when he comes to himself will feel exquisite torture, and be utterly disabled for the present; and probably will be reminded of his fall as long as he lives. Thus David had, through un watchfulness, been induced to commit the most heinous wickedness : and though, by the abundant mercy of God, he was preserved from that final destruction which he had justly merited; yet he experienced such anguish of conscience, and such a sense of the divine displeasure, and met with such severe rebukes from the Lord, that he felt as if all his bones had been broken : he was full of pain and anguish; he was crippled, and disabled from his former employments. He hoped, however, and prayed that " the God of salvation " would restore his peace and comfort; and thus set his broken bones, and even cause them to rejoice. (Notes, 12 , 13. Psalm 38:4-10. Isaiah 51:13. Hosea 6:1-3.)

V:9. (Note, I, 2.) The soul, still restless and uneasy, reiterates her request, that, God would not only cease to behold her iniquity for the present, as a man " who turneth away his face from a writing; but that he " would not behold it more, as a man who blotteth out " what is written, so that it can never be read again." Bp. Home. (Marg. Ref. e. Note, I, 2.)

V:10. The production of a holy disposition in a sinner"s heart, the forming him to a spiritual judgment and taste, a submissive will, a pure imagination, and well regulated affections, is a " new creation : " even as if Satan, by almighty power, should again be made a holy angel. This state of the understanding and heart is " a right " spirit," it is reasonable and excellent, such as all intelligent beings should possess, and it is absolutely necessary to true liberty and felicity. Man originally possessed it; but it was lost by the fall : and where it is again produced, it is the " renewal of a right spirit." This is begun in regeneration, and carried on by progressive sanctification, and completed in glory. When the sinner is deeply convinced that such a change is necessary, and that he is unable to work it in himself; and when he reads the promises of God to this purpose, (Notes, Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 18:3-30; Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 36:25-27,) he asks it from God : and every discovery of remaining sinfulness leads the believer to renew this supplication; and thus the change is gradually effected till it be finally completed. The margin, however, renders it, " Renew a constnnt (a: establislied) spirit within me." Holy angels are established in a right spirit; and so are " the spirits of just men made perfect." Even on earth real Christians have in a measure, this constant, established spirit : but hypocrites are unstable. David had experienced the inconstancy of his heart; and was sensible, that even if pardoned and restored, he should, in case he were left to himself, be again drawn aside; and he prayed earnestly for that constancy, which might enable him, " with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord."

(Notes, 12 , 13. Numbers 14:24. Joshua 14:6-15. Acts 11:23-24. 1 Corinthians 15:55-58. James 1:5-8.)

V:11. Eternal banishment from the gracious presence of God, under his wrath and curse, constitutes a principal part of the misery of hell : (Note and P. O. Matthew 25:41-46 :) and something like this misery may be felt on earth, even by the believer, when, excluded from comfortable communion with God, he finds his heart oppressed with the sense or dread of deserved wrath. This heaviest of all afflictions David deprecated. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, when he was rejected from being king, and an evil spirit from God troubled him :

(Note, 1 Samuel 16:14 :) and David feared the same sentence for his more atrocious crimes, as in some respects they certainly were. All his sufficiency, as the prophet of God, as his anointed king, and as the Psalmist of Israel, was derived from the Holy Spirit : and all his comfort and usefulness must terminate, if the Holy Spirit should be finally taken from him. It is indeed maintained, and, as it appears to me, on scriptural ground, that the spirit of life and sanctification is never finally taken from believers : but, even in this case, their comforts may expire in despondings, their credit in disgrace, and all their gifts and usefulness may wither and be lost to the end of life; and they cannot, in such circumstances, distinguish themselves from hypocrites.

V:12 , 13. " The joy of God"s salvation," arises from a persuasion and perception of the mercy and grace of God, according to his promises; of the nature and glory of his salvation, as revealed in the Scriptures; of its suitableness to the sinner"s wants, its freeness, and sufficiency; from a prevailing confidence of an interest in this mercy; and from communion with God, and the exercise of faith, hope, admiriiig, adoring, grateful love, and all other holy affections, as springing from the Spirit of sanctification. The raptures and ecstacies peculiar to the prophets were of a very different nature, and arose from the sublime discoveries made to them in dreams or visions, and they did not always imply holiness of heart : whereas " the joy of salvation " is the common privilege of the regenerate, according to the degree of their faith and grace; and it belongs to no one else. (Marg. Ref. k.) This joy David had often experienced, but he had lost it by sin : that loss he deeply and humbly regrets; and he earnestly prays for the restoration of his joy : for it cannot subsist, unless-the conscience be kept tender, the heart watchful and spiritual, and the will submissive; and unless communion with God be maintained, and the Holy Spirit not grieved, or quenched by gross misconduct. But the royal penitent likewise feared, that even should he recover this holy joy, he should again lose it, if left to himself; and therefore he earnestly prayed, that God would " uphold him with his free Spirit " The Holy Spirit may be thus called, because he is freely bestowed on sinners through the gracious Saviour : but this epithet seems rather to mean, that the sanctifying Spirit sets the soul at liberty from sin and Satan, produces n noble, ingenuous, and liberal disposition, and teaches us to serve and worship God, as children and not as slaves.

(Notes, Romans 8:1; Romans 2:14-17 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. Galatians 4:4-7. 2 Timothy 1:6-8.) Thus comforted and upheld, David purposed yet again to teach sinners the ways of God, of peace, and holiness; and by using his influence for this purpose, and warning and encouraging them by his experience, he trusted that he should lead many to " repent and " turn to God, and do works meet for repentance."

(Notes, Psalm 32:6-7. Mark 5:14-20. Luke 22:31-34. 1 John 1:1-4.)

V:14. The guilt of murder as it were haunted David"s mind, and he was still praying for the removal of it from his conscience. And if he might but obtain this blessing from " the God of his salvation," though dreadful judgments had been denounced against him and his family for his crimes; he yet engaged to be open in vindicating the justice of God in these dispensations, even if connected with his own deep disgrace. Some expositors indeed explain the words to mean that he would celebrate that righteousness, by which sinners who believe are accounted righteous before God, or the faithfulness of God to his promises : but the former meaning appears to me more satisfactory.

V:15. Conscious guilt had stopped David"s mouth, when he attempted, as formerly, to shew forth the praises of God, or to plead his cause : but he trusted that the comforts of his pardoning love, and the returning influences of his Holy Spirit, would open his mouth, and give him confidence and liberty on these favourite topics. (Marg. Ref.)

V:16. Murder and adultery were by the law punishable by death; and therefore no sacrifices were appointed to be offered by those who were guilty of them. The Lord would not accept, and did not desire, any sacrifices in David"s case : indeed lie had no delight in sacrifices and burnt-offerings for their (ncn sake; but merely as shadows >f the "rue atonement, and ex sessions of a penitent, believing, thankful heart. (Notes, Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 50:7-15.)

V:17. The legal sacrifices were continued above a thousand years after this time, as types of the Redeemer"s atoning sacrifice. Indeed a broken heart can do nothing towards meriting forgiveness. But a humble spirit, broken off from all self-dependence and the love of sin, and crushed down into deep self-abasement and abhorrence, is a spiritual sacrifice pleasing and honourable to God : for Hebrews , who is enabled to present this oblation, unreservedly submits to the justice of God; casts himself, without plea or excuse, upon his free mercy; thankfully accepts of his salvation; and will walk according to it, in all humble obedience, and patient submission to the will of God. This broken and contrite spirit man despises, as mean and contemptible; and the possessor is apt to deem it unmeet to be presented to his offended Sovereign : but God will never despise nor reject such an unequivocal effect of his own renewing grace.

(Notes, Psalm 34:18. 2 Kings 22:15-20. Isaiah 57:15-16; Isaiah 56:1-2. Ezekiel 9:3-4. Matthew 5:3. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.)

V:18 , 19. David feared lest his guilt should render him as an Achan in the congregation of Israel : (Notes and P. O. Joshua 7:10-18 :) and therefore he concluded his penitential prayer, with intreating God to protect and prosper Zion; that the ordinances of his house might be administered to his glory, and the edification of his people. (Marg. Ref. e. g.) For though the Lord delighted not in burnt-offerings, for their own sake; yet as they were sacramental prefigurations of the Messiah"s atonement : as they were acts of worship, and means of grace, and thus subserved the interests of true piety; and as they were acconpanied by other sacrifices of righteousness, he was pleased with them. (Marg. Ref. h, 1:) " Thus it ought to be the fervent prayer of every Prayer of Manasseh , especially... in any exalted " station, ... that no sins, by him committed, may anyway " prejudice others, or obstruct the edification of the church." Bp. Home.

PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.

V:1-4.

If the most eminent believer ceases to watch and pray; nay, becomes more remiss and formal, than he once was; Satan may at length obtain such advantages against him, that for the time he shall seem perfectly fascinated and stupified : but the Lord will at length, by sharp rebukes, or most painful corrections, bring him to himself; and tluuepth01his humiliation will be proportioned to the heinousness of his sins. But the hypocrite is durably callous; and his religious profession and opinions are perversely employed, in excusing his crimes, and buoying up his presumptuous confidence. The true penitent, even if before his fall he had been eminently holy and useful, has nothing to plead, except his own misery and the Lord"s abundant mercy. For the more we are enabled to do in his service, the greater are our obligations : (Note, 1 Chronicles 29:10-19 :) and our sins are the more aggravated, when committed against knowledge, mercies, and vows; when they do violence to the new nature, and the strivings of the Holy Spirit; and when they are inconsistent with our character and profession, and tend to dishonour the gospel, and mislead our brethren. The real penitent will be deeply humbled and afflicted, but he will not sink into despair : and in proportion as he renounces every false confidence, the more earnestly will he call upon God to " have mercy on him, according to the multitude of his " tender mercies." He longs to have the whole debt of his sins cancelled, and every stein cleansed. He would be " throughly washed from his iniquities," till all his guilt and defilement be completely removed : but the hypocrite always has some secret reserves, and would spare some favourite lust. While sinners conceal or palliate their sins, they are out of the way of mercy : but when they humbly and ingenuously plead guilty, and unreservedly confess their crimes; they may even plead that confession, as a reason why they should be spared : for this yields the point in contest; namely, that the Lord might justly punish, and that salvation must be all of grace. When a load of guilt oppresses a man of a tender conscience; the recollection of his sins, and their aggravations, follows him into company and into retirement; it occurs to his mind in scenes of business and of pleasure, and even breaks his rest, and disquiets his dreams; so that " his " sin is ever before him : " but slight convictions, where the heart is not broken, are soon shaken off; and the wound is skinned over, but not healed. The true penitent considers every sin as rebellion against the authority and infinite Majesty of heaven. Even if he has been preserved from those crimes which evidently injure society, he reflects with shame upon the enmity and ingratitude of his heart against God, which have been manifested in his general conduct; and on this account he thinks himself a chief sinner : but if guilty of grosser transgressions, he considers his rebellion against God in them far more enormous than any injury, which he has done to men like himself. He is also ashamed of the folly of bestowing pains to hide these actions from men, which are done in the sight of his Lord and Judge; he takes the part of God against himself, and pleads guilty to the most humiliating charge in his word, as true in his own case : while those, who excuse themselves, commonly venture to arraign and censure the decisions and proceedings of the Almighty.

V:5-13.

When the heart is deeply humbled on the recollection of heinous transgressions, the penitent is led to trace back the streams of actual sin to the fountain of original depravity; not to cavil or object, with the infidel or the hypocrite, but for his own deeper humiliation : he compares the propensities of his heart as well as his outward conduct, with the holy law and glorious perfections of God; and, perceiving the contrariety, " abhors himself, " and repents in dust and ashes." (Note and P. O. Job 42:1-6.) When he meditates on that " truth in the inward " parts," in which the Lord delights, and that wisdom which he teaches; and considers how contrarily he has often acted to both; he is ashamed of his temper and conduct, and is led the more entirely to expect every thing good, from the sole influence of divine grace overcoming the tendency of corrupt nature. In short, he feels his need of pardon and of holiness; he longs for peace of conscience and purity of heart : and his experience of his own utter inability to obtain them for himself, puts vigour into his prayers to the Lord, to purge him by the blood and Spirit of Christ, " that he may be clean; to wash him " that he may be whiter than snow; " to " cause him to " hear of joy and gladness," that his troubled spirit may rejoice; and, pardoning all his sins, " to create in him " a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within him," by his own almighty power; that for the future he may hate and flee from all sin. He longs for this renewal to holiness as much as for " the joy of salvation; " and to be upheld from falling, equally with " the light of God"s " countenance," and the consolations of his Holy Spirit. Nothing so animates the soul to teach the ways of God to sinners, and to seek for their conversion, as a deep experience of the bitterness of sin, and of the consolations of the pardoning and saving love of God, and the freedom and pleasantness of his service : they therefore always form the most zealous preachers to others, who have themselves been most deeply humbled; and those are most earnest for the salvation of their fellow-sinners, who most value and rejoice in the salvation of God themselves.

V:14-19.

When the heart is humbled, and the conscience tender, renewed recollection of heinous transgressions again and again discourages the soul : but this excites more fervent prayers; and when mercy is bestowed by " the God of " salvation," such penitents will most abound in thankful praises. Yet conscious guilt stops the mouth, and the humbled sinner is afraid or ashamed to speak of his God, as in times past, until the impediment be removed by some tokens of pardoning love, and the comforts of the Holy Spirit. Such a one would do any thing, or part with any thing, to obtain pardon and peace : (Note, Micah 6:6-8 :) but human inventions are worthless; and even divine ordinances are no more than means of communicating the blessings, procured by the sacrifice of Christ; and which can only be received by a broken and contrite heart, with which God is well pleased. No personal fears or troubles of conscience can render the soul of a true Christian forgetful of the interests of the church, or indifferent about them : the humble believer and faithful minister often fear lest their own misconduct should blight their endeavours for doing good : and, whatever they may suffer, or whatever may become of them, they still desire and pray, that true religion may prevail, and that spiritual sacrifices may abound through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God. O Lord, give us true repentance, for thy mercies" sake; help us to offer the sacrifice of a contrite spirit; preserve us from hypocrisy and blood-guiltiness, especially that of occasioning the ruin of immortal souls by our example or neglect; and enable us through the merits and mediation of thy Son Jesus Christ, to walk with increasing watchfulness, and to pray more fervently for our fellow-Christians and fellow-sinners.

 


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Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 51:4". Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsp/psalms-51.html. 1804.

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