Psalm 51
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Psalm 51:1-19
Psalm 51:1-19. This might be called

The minister's psalm. We may imagine the servant of the Lord engaged in devout meditation. He looks before and after. He communes with himself as to his life and work. The deepest thoughts of his heart are revealed.

I. EVER-GROWING SENSE OF THE EVIL OF SIN. Sin is thought of in the abstract, and its badness is seen. It is looked at in the world, in society, in the Church, and more and more its evils are discerned. But worst of all, it is felt to belong to one's self "My sin."

II. DEEPER SYMPATHY WITH ALL TRUE SEEKERS AFTER TRUTH AND HOLINESS. The task is noble, but difficult. Only these who have tried know how difficult. There are not only obstacles without, but there is the fearful obstacle within of a sinful heart.

III. TRUER REALIZATION OF THE GREATNESS OF THE WORK OF RESTORATION. Experience is the best teacher. It is better to judge from fact than from theory. Such as have themselves been "restored" are the fittest to speak of restoration. They know that the work is possible, though hard, for they themselves have experienced it. Like John Newton, the minister may take heart in time of despondency: "God has converted me, therefore I can never doubt of his power to convert the greatest sinner." This was Paul's argument (1 Timothy 1:15, 16).

IV. THE NECESSITY OF NEW AND THOROUGH CONSECRATION. Looking to the past, there is much to humble us. Looking to God, there is everything to encourage us. We need to give ourselves anew to Christ. Opportunities are precious. To save ourselves from "bloodguiltiness," we must pray more and watch more. The nearer we live to God, the more interested we shall be in God's work.

V. INCREASED DELIGHT IN CARRYING THE MESSAGE OF PEACE TO SINNERS. What we prize ourselves we commend to others. The peace we enjoy we would have others enjoy also. The freedom and the bright hopes that cheer our path we would gladly impart to others. When pressed with the burden of our own sins, we are under restraint; but when freed from guilt and fear, we can plead for God with boldness.

VI. CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S LOVE AND POWER AS A SAVIOUR. Our highest ambition is to "convert' sinners, not to a Creed, or a party, or a Church, but to God. "To thee." But this is God's work. He only is able to make the Word effectual unto salvation. Having the witness in our own hearts of his saving might, we speak with all boldness. "The love of Christ constraineth us."

VII. BRIGHTER HOPES OF THE FUTURE. There is a good time coming. The hope of this springs immortal in the hearts of the redeemed. When we are low, we take low views of things. If it be a dark time with ourselves, we are apt to despond as to the work of God in others. But when we are lifted up, all things seem possible. The future grows bright and yet brighter before us, and our hearts are thrilled with a foretaste of celestial joys. "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!" - W.F.

Some deny the Davidic origin of this psalm; but most refer it to the time when Nathan charged David with the sins of adultery and murder. In these verses we have set forth the nature of forgiveness, and the nature of repentance.


1. Forgiveness is the inward and outward cleansing from sin. It is blotting out a record or a debt that is against us - that is, the outward cleansing. And it is a washing, or cleansing, or purging-that is, the inward forgiveness, or the taking away of sin. So that it is a double work.

2. When we become conscious of such forgiveness, we rejoice with a great gladness. (Ver. 8.) The strength (bones) which sin has broken is restored and rejoices.


1. It is a trust in the Divine goodness and mercy. (Ver. 1.) Sorrow for sin without hope in God is remorse and death - not repentance.

2. A consciousness that our sin is more against God than against man. (Ver. 4.) "Inasmuch as ye did it against one of the least of these," etc.

3. An acknowledgment of the Divine righteousness in the punishment he has suffered. (Ver. 21.)

4. He not only confesses the sinful deed, but traces it to the inheritance of a nature sinfully inclined. (Ver. 5.)

5. He prays for inward truthfulness and wisdom as his only safety for the future (ver. 6). - S.

Lord Macaulay tells us that the Earl of Breadalbane, who was the chief hand in the Massacre of Glencoe, never had rest afterwards. "He did his best to assume an air of unconcern. He made his appearance in the most fashionable coffee-house in Edinburgh, and talked loudly and self-complacently about the important service in which he had been engaged in the mountains. Some of his soldiers, however, who observed him closely, whispered that all this bravery was put on. He was not the man that he had been before that night. The form of his countenance was changed. In all places, at all hours, whether he waked or slept, Glencoe was for ever before him (vol. 3. p. 216). So it was also with David. As Chrysostom has said, He carried in his bosom a painted picture of adultery and murder." Let us consider this.

I. THE SUBJECT OF THE PAINTING. Sin is everywhere. It is in the world, in society, in our friends, but worst of all it is in our own hearts. "My sin!" What is "before" us is not the sins of others, but our own sins, or perhaps some particular sin that stands out in all its hideousness and enormity.

II. THE MEANS BY WINCH THE PAINTING IS WROUGHT OUT. It is not said before the world or the Church, but "before me." Everything is individualized.

"Awakened conscience acts the artist, Uses the sun of heaven's law To photograph the sinner's life; Then holds it up, a hideous monster, To the affrighted eye!" But conscience has its allies. There is memory. All that we have thought and felt and done, all the varied events and experiences of our life, are recorded by memory, Much may seem to be forgotten, but nothing is really lost. Go where you will -

Yet doth remembrance, like a sovereign prince,
For you a stately gallery maintain of gay and tragic pictures?

"My sin!" It is there, in memory, to be brought out at the call of conscience.

"The austere remembrance of that deed Will hang upon thy spirit like a cloud,
And tinge its world of happy images with hues of horror." There is also association. One of its chief uses is to add force to conscience. We are strangely linked with the past. A book will recall the giver. A letter will start various trains of thought, according to its contents and the circumstances in which it is received. A portrait will bring up memories of the departed. Remember how Cowper's heart was moved by the portrait of his mother - "faithful remembrancer of one so dear." So it is as to our sin. The place, the surroundings, the circumstances, or some link of association, may bring all the past before us fresh as a yesterday event. Remember Pharaoh's butler (Genesis 41:9), the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:18), Peter the apostle (Mark 14:72). And what is presented to conscience by memory and association, the imagination works out with powerful effect, brining in not only the past, but the future, the terrible result. But besides all this, we are to take into account the hand of God, working by conscience through providence and Holy Scripture. David's eyes were opened by the ministry of Nathan. He presented his sin to him in a parable, and then brought it home to himself in demonstration of the Spirit. "Thou art the man!" And so it is still. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin;" "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." We have a striking illustration of this in Augustine ('Confessions,' bk. 8. ch. 7): "Thou, O Lord, whilst he was speaking, didst turn me round towards myself, taking me from behind my back, where I had placed me, unwilling to observe myself, and setting me before my face, that I might see how foul I was, how crooked and defiled, bespotted and ulcerous." Sooner or later, this vision will come to us all. "My sin is ever before me." This may be the cry in the torments of hell, and then there is no hope. It may be said under the power of a guilty conscience, and then the answer is, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"

III. THE FEELINGS WITH WHICH THIS PAINTING SHOULD BE CONTEMPLATED, The sight is painful, but salutary. If it humbles us, it leads us to exalt God. If it embitters sin to us, it endears Christ to us, and binds us for ever to him in love and devotion.

1. Sense of personal guilt. "My sin." We may have been tempted; but in the deepest sense the guilt is ours, surely and inalienably. Our sins are more our own than anything else we possess. With this conviction we cry, "What shall we do?"

2. Grief and self-abasement. Others may speak of "my place," "my merits," "my services;" but for me it is "my sin." The more we study this picture - looking at it in the light of the cross - the more vile and wicked do we become in our own eyes. We see ourselves as God sees us, and are filled with amazement and horror. Besides, we come to understand that our sin is not a casual thing, but the product of the sinful heart within. True grief will lead to sincere and full confession, and confession to forgiveness. When we justify God, God will justify us.

3. Simple and unfeigned faith. Despairing of ourselves, we cease from our own works, and cast ourselves upon the mercy of God. We accept the testimony which God has given of his Son, and, trusting in him, we find peace.

4. Adoring gratitude and love. To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much. We owe everything to Christ, and the love of Christ constraineth us (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15). The thought of the sins of the past, which we carry with us, will not only make us humble and watchful, but stimulate us to increasing love and zeal in the service of him who hath redeemed us by his precious blood. - W.F.

Behold! This is a word of power. It takes hold. It demands attention. It marks the solemnity and seriousness of the things to be brought before us. The veil is so far lifted. In the light of God, we get glimpses into the awful secrets of the heart.

I. THE SECRET OF SIN IS FOUND IN THE CORRUPT HEART. The first thing that startles and staggers us may be some actual transgression; but as we consider the matter, we are forced back and back, and closer and closer, till we end with the corrupt heart. Sin is everywhere; but always, when we seek its origin, we come to the same source. We may not be able to explain fully why and how the heart is corrupt, but of the fact there can be no question. It is better to seek deliverance from the pit, than to weary and vex ourselves in vain with inquiries how we came there.

II. THAT THE EVIL OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE CONTRADICTION OF TRUTH. What God desires must be right and good. But instead of "truth in the inward parts," it is the opposite. Instead of law, there is self-will; instead of order, there is confusion; instead of the unity of the Spirit, there is enmity and strife. The mind and the will are in contradiction to God. It is this that makes the disease so desperate, and the remedy so difficult (Genesis 17:9). We might make clean the outside of the cup, but it remains defiled within. We may whitewash the sepulchre, but after all it is a sepulchre, full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Helpless, and well-nigh despairing, our cry is, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?"

III. THAT DELIVERANCE FROM SIN CAN ONLY BE EFFECTED BY THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S AUTHORITY IN THE HEART. Healing that does not go to the root of the disease is vain and delusive. The heart must be made right or nothing is right. This is the work of God through Christ Jesus (Romans 6:8-14). It is not slight, or half-and-half work, but thorough. We cannot serve two masters. But by the grace of Christ we are saved from the bondage and misery of our old master, and God is again enthroned in our hearts as our true and rightful Lord, whose service is perfect freedom, and whose rewards are peace and joy for evermore. - W.F.

Snow is remarkable for whiteness. As it glistens on the mountains, or lies in virgin purity on the fields, what can compare with it? And yet David speaks of something whiter. Where? Not in nature, but in the kingdom of grace. Of whom? Not Christ, not the holy angels, not the saints in glory, but, strange to say, of himself. Like Paul, he was "the chief of sinners," and he was, therefore, the fitter ensample of the marvellous kindness and grace of God. In his prayer we find -

I. THE RECOIL OF THE SOUL FROM SIN. Many find pleasure in sin; but when once the soul is quickened, there is an end to this. Sin is felt to be vile and loathsome. Its touch is defilement; its presence is abhorrent; its effects are dreaded as the most terrible.

II. THE YEARNING OF THE SOUL FOR PURITY. All things around us that retain their freshness and their purity condemn us and put us to shame. They show what we have lost; they intensify our pains and our sorrows. At the same time, they help to keep alive our hopes. While they testify that we are fallen, they testify also that sin is not of our true nature - that it is not something that rightly belongs to us, but that it should be abjured and abhorred. The more we compare ourselves with God's Law, and the more truly we realize God's will concerning us, the more earnestly shall we cry for deliverance.

III. THE SUPREME TRUST OF THE SOUL IN GOD. There is the cry, "Wash me!" This implies weakness and submission. We cannot "wash" ourselves. Our tears and prayers, our penitences and endeavours, are in vain. We cast ourselves implicitly upon God. Let God, who is holy and good, do this great thing for us, and do it in his own way. It is not the priest, it is not the saints; God only can save. There is also the glad faith. "And I shall be whiter than snow." The lost purity will be restored. What God does, he does perfectly. What joy in being "whiter than snow"! - not only pardoned (Isaiah 1:18), but cleansed (1 John 1:7; Revelation 7:14). It is heaven begun. - W.F.

True repentance is not satisfied with the knowledge of forgiveness, but goes on to seek the renewal and elevation of the nature that has sinned and fallen into disorder.

I. HE SEEKS A NEW REVELATION OF THE FORCE OR FAVOUR OF GOD. (Ver. 9.) "Do not look upon me in anger for my sins, so as to bring me into judgment, but lift upon me the glory of thy face, or presence." And to this end -


III. "GIVE ME AGAIN A STEADFAST SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE TO THY WILL." (Ver. 10.) A strong spirit not easily swayed to and fro through its own weakness, or by the gusts of temptations, but persistent in right aims and endeavours.

IV. HE PRAYS THAT HE MAY NEVER LOSE THE SUCCOUR AND STRENGTH OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. (Ver. 11.) Such a prayer on the lips of David could not mean all that it means now to a Christian. Christ has revealed the work and the necessity of the Divine Strengthener (the Paraclete) far more clearly than it was known to David. As the Teacher of the truth and the Helper of our weakness.

V. HE PRAYS FOR THAT SENSE OF JOY WHICH IS UNITED WITH THE SPIRIT OF A FREE OBEDIENCE. (Ver. 12.) Our spirits attain to their greatest freedom when under the influence of the Spirit of God - like water heated by fire. - S.

Prayer is the index of the heart. When true, it is the "heart's sincere desire," and expresses not only the feeling, but the cry of the soul to God.

I. THE PRAYER HERE IS THOROUGH-GOING. It is not pardon that is asked - that has been obtained; but renewal. It is not present relief that is craved, but complete restoration, such a change wrought in the heart as is equivalent to a reconstruction, and as will re-establish and fix the right relation to God for evermore.

II. THIS PRAYER IS FOUNDED ON GOD'S PROMISES. We should only ask for things agreeable to God's will. Here we can have no doubt. What God wants is a "clean heart." What God delights in is "a broken and a contrite heart." When we look to ourselves, and remember God's command, "Make you clean" (Isaiah 1:16); "Make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31), we are filled with despair. But when we look to God, and remember his promises, "A new heart will I give you' (Ezekiel 36:26), hope springs up anew. God's commands are not the commands of a tyrant like Pharaoh (Exodus 5:6-8), but of a Father great in love as in power. We should put his commands and his promises side by side, and then we have confidence that what we ask we shall receive.

III. THIS PRAYER IMPLIES COMPLETE SELF-SURRENDER TO THE WILL AND WAYS OF GOD. God is sovereign and holy. He has his own ways of working. We must be brought low before we are raised up. We must be emptied of self before we can be filled with the fulness of God. There will be not only the Word which quickeneth, but the rod which disciplineth (ver. 8).

IV. THIS PRAYER, FINALLY, LEADS TO A NEW LIFE OF LOVE AND OBEDIENCE. Life is made a sacrifice (Romans 12:1) - offered, not on the altar of burnt offering, but upon the golden altar of incense; not as an atonement, for Christ's blood alone maketh atonement, but as a thanksgiving for redemption. - W. F

I. A GREAT EVIL DEPRECATED. The evil is twofold (ver. 11). It is felt that this judgment is deserved. God might justly do this. His presence had been outraged; his Spirit had been not only resisted and grieved, but for a time quenched. But such judgment would be utter ruin and woe, and it is shrunk from with horror. To be "cast away" was ruin, but to have "the Spirit taken away" was to have that ruin made complete and irremediable. It is only those who have the Spirit, and who know something of the joys of God's presence, that can truly utter this prayer.

II. A GREAT GOOD DESIRED. The good is also twofold, meeting and matching the evil. "Salvation," with its joys, is the remedy for the dreaded casting away. God's free Spirit, with his loving and gracious upholding, is the sure deliverance from the woes of desertion. This prayer is very bold. At the very time when hanging on the verge of the precipice, the cry is made, not for arrestment, not for delay, not for mere mercy, but for complete restoration. The prayer is also far-reaching. It looks on. It sees dangers ahead. It contemplates the possibility of further sins and falls. But it also sees how all trials can be met and all temptation vanquished. The believer stands, as it were, on the Delectable Mountains, and sees the path clear before him; with the heavenly city gleaming bright in the distance. The prayer is urged with childlike trust and confidence. There is the consciousness of willingness, and, if the soul is willing, God must be willing also. What we desire, he who kindled the desire is able to accomplish. It is as when a child, with a sense of weakness, but with clinging love and trust, says to its father, "I am afraid. Take my hand. Guide me in the dark. Uphold me lest I fall. I cannot walk alone." Thus peace and joy are brought to the heart. The believer, committing himself to the fatherly care of God, can tread with a free soul and a joyous step the way set before him, knowing that it leads to glory, honour, and immortality. In this great prayer there is hope for the chief of sinners, and comfort for the most troubled of saints. - W.F.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with a joyful [willing] spirit.

I. THAT THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SALVATION IS ACCOMPANIED WITH A GREATER OR LESS DEGREE OF "JOY." Salvation is a deliverance from the greatest danger the soul can apprehend, and is, therefore, a cause of the most rapturous joy the soul can feel. It is preceded, in the majority of cases, by terror of the Divine anger; by the despair awakened by guilt; by the deep sorrow which distraction brings after it; till the revelation of the Divine mercy through Jesus Christ is embraced, and the way of escape is known, and then the soul is unable to restrain its joy. This is the outward aspect of salvation. Salvation as an inward fact is the enjoyment of a new state of the affections towards Christ, or love to God. And this is a perpetual spring of ever-increasing joy. Joy may become not a momentary rapture merely.

II. THAT BY THE INDULGENCE OF SIN WE FORFEIT THE JOY OF SALVATION. We may not utterly forfeit the hope of salvation; for hope is a thing of degrees: how long a faint hope may linger, and in connection with how much sin, is a practical question difficult of determination! The question of our personal salvation may become even to ourselves a very debatable, doubtful question, a struggle of hope against despair. Here certainly the joy of salvation is forfeited. Then, again, though the hope may not be gone, there may be so much remorse and sorrow in consequence of sin as to destroy all the joy which is connected with an assured state of the heart.


1. That God is the Author of all renewal and salvation in man's soul. This prayer is therefore a prayer for the renewal of the influence and work of the Holy Spirit: "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." It is called God's salvation for which he prays.

2. This prayer for joy presupposes that which is the condition of all real joy. The previous work of deep, genuine sorrow - repentance and hatred of the sin which has caused the sorrow. This is the unalterable condition on which we obtain any lasting joy.

IV. THAT THE RECOVERY OF THIS JOY IS NECESSARY TO OUR FUTURE CONSTANCY. "Uphold me with a joyful spirit." Doubt, sorrow, remorse, paralyze all the powers of prayer, action, resistance to evil. They are the sickness and disease of the soul. Joy quickens. A joyous, willing mind has strength for the future, because it has conquered in the past; for that is the condition of its joyousness. - S.

With a conscience set free from guilt, with a heart renewed by the Spirit of God, and full of thankfulness for God's great mercy, he cannot keep silent, but will seek to turn other sinners to God. The thirty-second psalm shows how this resolution was kept.

I. HE WHO BY HIS EXAMPLE HAD TAUGHT OTHERS TO SIN WILL NOW SEEK TO CONVERT THEM TO THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE. (Ver. 13.) To the ways of God's commandment. We cannot undo all the evil which our example has done; but we can in part repair it if we renew our lives.

II. DELIVERED FROM HIS SIN, HE WOULD PROCLAIM THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN PUNISHING AND DELIVERING HIM. (Ver. 14.) God is good and righteous in both - in punishing and saving from sin. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF PARDONED SIN UNCLOSES THE LIPS WHICH SIN HAD SEALED, AND HE CAN NOW TRULY PRAISE GOD. (Ver. 15.) God opens the lips by giving the sense of forgiveness; then we can preach and sing with a full heart.

IV. THE TRUEST SACRIFICE WE CAN OFFER TO GOD FOR OUR SIN IS REPENTANCE. (Vers. 16, 17.) Not blood or burnt offering; the cleansing of the heart by sorrow and renewal of mind - the work of God's Spirit.

V. WHEN A MAN HAS BEEN TRULY RESTORED HIMSELF, HIS SYMPATHIES WIDEN OUT WITH PRAYER FOR THE NATION AND THE WORLD. (Vers. 18, 19.) Genuine concern for others is founded upon the regeneration of our own spiritual nature. Zeal for others is spurious if we have not been zealous about ourselves; like those philosophers Cowper speaks of -

"Giving lives to distant worlds, And trifling in our own."

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 50
Top of Page
Top of Page