Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for your name's sake.
Deliver us, and purge away our sins; "Cover our sins." The figure is evidently one familiar to those brought up under the old covenant system. In it the atonement idea was prominent, as a "covering over" of transgression. The two words are distinct, but closely related; and they suggested the two things which man needs to have done to his sin. It must
(1) be covered over;
(2) it must be purged away.
I. OUR SIN MUST BE "COVERED OVER." The Mosaic idea of the word "atonement" is very clearly defined. It always means "to cover." An "atonement" is exactly this, "a sin cover." It is something that covers sin over; puts it out of sight; bides it from view; removes it from consideration; puts something before God in its place. To "make atonement" is really to "make a sin cover;" and that is but a quaint Hebrew figure for "to make reconciliation," or to provide a basis or persuasion for reconciliation; "the conception being that sin is thereby covered up, hidden from sight and memory. Exactly the same thing is meant when, using a different figure, it is said to be purged, cleansed, taken away. When the transgressor is said to be atoned or reconciled, the being covered is taken subjectively in the same way; as if something had come upon him to change his unclean state and make him ceremonially or, it may be, spiritually pure. But the subject thus atoned is not only covered or cleansed in himself, he is figured as put in a new relation with God, and God with him; and it is as if God were somehow changed towards him - newly inclined, propitiated, or made propitious" (H. Bushnell). As a New Testament illustration of this term, we may be reminded of the words of St. James, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. St. James was an apostle of the most Judaic type, and he evidently had in mind the Old Testament idea of covering sin by some conspicuous act of goodness, and so making atonement for it. As an Old Testament illustration, the striking words of Ezekiel may be taken, he says, in the name of Jehovah, If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live." That is, his full, hearty return to God shall be graciously regarded as a sin cover, it shall hide from God those former sins which, if God saw, would demand his judgments. There are three very striking historical incidents in the Old Testament which illustrate this "covering over of sin." They are Moses' intercession with God in the matter of the golden calf. The atonement made by Aaron in connection with the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And the vindication of Phinehas, when Balaam's bad advice had brought moral woes on Israel. These were but preparatory illustrations of the way in which man's sin is "covered over" by the great atonement, the great vindication of the Divine righteousness, made by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God himself covering over human sin.
II. OUR SIN MUST BE "PURGED AWAY." We must not for one moment think of the atonement as if it were some device or deception. It is no "covering over" that merely keeps from view. There is another truth that must be clearly seen. Along with the "covering over" goes a "purging away." It is not covered up and kept, but covered over until it can get purged away. The Word of God is ever trying to help us in apprehending that sin is not the mere act we do, but the state of mind and heart out of which the act comes, and of which it finds the expression. The sin is, as it were, in the stuff, like a stain; so it must be washed, cleansed, purged away. And this is done by Divine discipline. And this the true-hearted man desires to have done in him, and lovingly yields himself to the Divine cleansing. He even makes it a matter of devout and earnest prayer, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." In this passage national calamity is seen as the consequence of national sins; but the psalmist seems almost able to take the truer, deeper view, that those national calamities are doing God's purging work, and delivering the nation from the power of the old sins. We want our sins covered over, but that cannot content us. We also want them purged away. And this is but another way of saying that we need Jesus the Justifier, and Jesus the Sanctifier. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake.