Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
i.e. a didactic psalm - a doctrinal one, in fact, and as such is to be one of the songs of the sanctuary. Note: They fall into error who do not regard the rehearsal of Divine truth as a fitting method of sacred song. We may not only sing praise to God, but may speak "to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord." This psalm is a grateful rehearsal of the blessedness of Divine forgiveness. We see therein -
I. FORGIVENESS NEEDED. Here, indeed, the expositor must be clear, firm, direct, swift, pointed. We have:
1. Sin committed. The Hebrew language, poor as is its vocabulary in many directions, is abundant in the terms used in connection with sin. It is and ever will remain the differential feature of the education of the Hebrew people, that they were taught so emphatically and constantly the evil of sin. For this purpose the Law was their child-guide with a view to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Of the several terms used to express sin, three are employed here. One, which denotes "missing the mark;" a second, which denotes "overstepping the mark;" a third, which denotes "crookedness or unevenness." Over and above corresponding terms in the New Testament, we have two definitions of sin. One in 1 John 3:4, "Sin is the transgression of law;" another in 1 John 5:1, "All injustice is sin." We can never show men the value of the gospel until they see the evil of sin. Some minds are most effectively reached by one aspect of truth, and others by another; but surely from one or other of these Scripture terms or phrases the preacher may prepare a set of arrows that by God's blessing will pierce some through the joints of their armour. Nor can the reality or evil of sin be fairly evaded by any plea drawn from the modern doctrine of evolution; since, even if that theory be valid, the emergence of consciousness and of moral responsibility at a certain stage of evolution is as certain a phenomenon as any other. Men know they have done wrong, and it behoves the preacher not to quit his hold of them till he has driven conviction of the evil of sin against God deeply into the soul!
2. Sin concealed. (Ver. 2.) "I kept silence," i.e. towards God. In the specific case referred to here, sin had disclosed its fearful reality by breaking out openly; it was known, yet unacknowledged. Hence:
3. Sin rankled within (ver. 2, "my bones," etc.). Remorse and self-reproach succeeded to the numbness which was the first effect of the sin. There was a reaction - restlessness seized on the guilty one. The action of a guilty conscience brings within a man the most terribly consuming of all agitation. He cannot flee from himself, and his guilt and dread pursue him everywhere (Job 15:20-25; Job 18:11; Job 20:11-29; Proverbs 28:1). Hence it is a great relief to note the next stage.
4. Sin confessed. (Ver. 5.) What a mercy that our God is one to whom we can unburden our guilt, telling him all, knowing that in the storehouse of infinite grace and love there is exhaustless mercy that wilt "multiply pardons" (Isaiah 55:7, Hebrew)!
5. Sinput away. (Ver. 2.) "In whose spirit there is no guile;" i.e. no deceit, no reserve, no concealment, no continuing in the sin which is thus bemoaned, but, at the moment it is confessed towards God, honestly and entirely putting it away. And when once the sin and guilt are thus put away before God, it will not be long ere the penitent has to recount the experience of -
II. FORGIVENESS OBTAINED AND ENJOYED. He who guilelessly puts away sin by repentance will surely find that God lovingly' puts it away by pardon (ver. 5). And as the Hebrew is ample in its terms for sin, so also is it in the varied words and phrases to express Divine forgiveness. Three of these are used here; but in the Hebrew there are, at least, ten others,
1. "Forgiven." (Ver. 1.) The Hebrew word means "lifted off;" in this case the LXX. render "remitted," but sometimes they translate the Hebrew term literally, by a word which also means "to lift off," "to lift up," "to bear," and "to bear away." (cf. John 1:29; 1 John 3:5; Matthew 9:5, 6). In Divine forgiveness, the burden of sin is lifted off from us and borne away by the Son of God; the penitent is also "let go." His indictment is cancelled, and from sin's penalty he is set free.
2. Covered; as with a lid, or a veil: put out of sight. God looks on it no more (Micah 7:18).
3. "Iniquity not imputed. It is no more reckoned to the penitent. With absolution there is complete and entire acquittal, and with the non-imputation of sin there is the imputation of righteousness (Romans 3., 4., 5.), or the full and free reception of the pardoned one into the Divine favour, in which a standing of privilege, that in his own right he could not claim, is freely accorded to him through the aboundings of Divine grace.
III. FORGIVENESS BEARING FRUIT. This psalm is itself the product of a forgiven man's pen. It would be a psychological impossibility for an unregenerate and unpardoned man ever to have written it. The psalmist's experience of forgiving love bears fruit:
1. In grateful song. (Ver. 7.) Songs of deliverance" will now take the place of consuming remorse and penitential groans.
2. In new thoughts of God. (Ver. 7.) "Thou art my Hiding-place" etc. In the God whose pardoning love he has known, he will now find a perpetual Protector and Friend.
3. In joyous declaration to others. (Vers. 1, 2.) "Blessed... blessed," etc. The emphasis is doubly intense.
(1) There is a blessedness in forgiveness itself. To have the burden of guilt lifted off, and the sentence of condemnation cancelled, what blessedness is here!
(2) There is blessedness which follows on forgiveness. New freedom. New joy in God. New ties of love. New citizenship. New heirship. New prospects. Oh! the blessedness!
4. In exhortation. (Vers. 8, 9.) We regard these as the psalmist's words, in which he uses his own experience to counsel others. Broken-hearted penitents make the best evangelists. The exhortation is threefold.
(1) He bids us not to be perverse and obstinate, i.e. in attempting to conceal our guilt; but rather to show the reason of reasonable men in confessing and abandoning it (ver. 9).
(2) He reminds us that, while resistance to God will only surround us with woes, trust in God will ensure our being encompassed with mercies (ver. 10).
(3) He bids truly sincere, upright, penitent souls - men without guile - to rejoice in God, yea, even to shout for joy, because of that forgiving love which buries all the past guilt of the penitent in the ocean of redeeming grace, and enriches the pardoned one with the heirship of everlasting life. - C.
after his great transgression, "When thou art converted, strengthen the brethren" (Luke 22:32; Psalm 51:12, 13). Nobly was the duty performed. Many who were walking in darkness have here found light. Many who were deluding themselves with false hopes have here been taught the way of peace; many who have been hardening their hearts in sin have here been laid hold of, and led, as with cords of love, back to God. The burden of the psalm is the blessedness of forgiveness.
I. In the first place, we are taught that this is a DOCTRINE ACCORDING TO GODLINESS. (Vers. 1, 2.) Three things are set forth.
1. What sin is. The terms used are very significant, and deserve the deepest study: "transgression,' "sin," "iniquity. The evil is traced to the root. Our unhappiness is caused by sin (vers. 3, 4).
2. Then we are shown how sin may be taken away. This is God's doing. There is a twofold work - something done/or us, and something done in us. God thus meets the necessities of our case by not only removing guilt, but by renovating character.
3. The result is blessedness. This is the doctrine of the Law and the prophets (Exodus 34:6, 9; Leviticus 16:21; Isaiah 53:5, 6; Daniel 9:24). It is also the doctrine of the New Testament. The Law is fulfilled in Christ. In him God is reconciled to us, and we are reconciled to God. Paul and David agree (Romans 4:6, 7). Justification is not of works, but of grace. There can be no true happiness till with all frankness and sincerity we confess our sins, and cast ourselves with simple faith on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus (Proverbs 28:13; Psalm 139:28, 24; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).
II. In the second place, THE BLESSEDNESS OF FORGIVENESS IS ILLUSTRATED FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. The Bible contains both doctrines and facts, and while the doctrines explain the facts, the facts enforce the doctrines. When a man speaks of what he knows, when he tells of what he has himself gone through, when he sets forth facts bearing on our personal life and needs, we readily listen to his story.
1. First, we are shown the misery of the man who keeps silence as to his sins before God. (Vers. 3, 4.) For long David kept his sins to himself, in pride and sullenness. This was not only doing an injury to his own soul, but it was lying to men, and grievously offending against God. The result was wretchedness. He suffered in body and spirit. He could find no rest. Every effort that he made to better himself, so long as he refused to humble his heart before God by confession, only aggravated his pain. Wherever he went, his sins haunted him. Whatever he did, he could not rid himself of the terrible thought that God's judgments would fall upon him. How vividly does this bring out the evil of sin and the mercy of God! If left to ourselves, our sins would be our ruin; but God mercifully will not let us alone, His hand is laid upon us, in loving counsel and chastisement, till we are brought to repentance.
2. We are next shown the way of recovering the blessedness we haw lost. (Vers. 5, 6.) There had been a long and painful struggle. Now it is ended. Instead of pride, there is humility. Instead of hiding of sin, there is frank and full confession. Instead of holding back in sullenness from God, there is absolute surrender to his righteous judgment. The relief is instantaneous. What a blessed change! It is coming out of the dark into the light. It is abandoning all concealment and guile, and finding peace in God's love and mercy. How beautifully does the picture here agree with that other picture drawn by the hand of our Saviour! - I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord;" "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee." "Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin;" "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (ver. 5; Luke 15:18-20).
III. In the third place, THE BLESSEDNESS or FORGIVENESS IS COMMENDED BY THE TESTIMONY OF GOD'S SAINTS. Augustine and others have given us their Confessions. These are not only a tale, but a testimony. They not only agree as witnessing for God, but they are a directory for the benefit of all anxious inquirers. So it was with David. We speaks not only for himself, but for others. He as much as says, "My case is not singular; God has dealt with others in the same way; this is the law of the kingdom." "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy." The lessons are - that forgiveness is a blessing greatly to be desired; that it is surely attainable by all who seek it in the right way; and that when enjoyed it brings new and abiding joys into life. There is both counsel and warning. God has his own way and his own time for showing mercy. There is a limit (Isaiah 55:6, 7; Hebrews 3:1). Every pain of body, every remonstrance of reason, every compunction of conscience, are premonitions of judgment, and call for instant action. God in his providence and in his Word saith, "Now is the accepted time,"
IV. In the last place, we are shown how THE BLESSEDNESS OF FORGIVENESS IS IN AGREEMENT WITH GOD'S GRACIOUS PURPOSES TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE, When God begins, he will make an end. Forgiveness is the first thing, but it is introductory to other and greater blessings. Among men, when a criminal is released, he goes forth into society as with the brand of Cain on his brow. But God's ways are not as our ways. When he brings the sinner into a right relation to himself, he not only fully forgives, but he continues his love and mercy to the end. Life henceforth is divinely guided. Obedience is no longer a restraint, but a delight. The future is bright with hope, and will bring new blessings, calling for ever new gratitude and joy. When we can truly say, like Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" then we can look on without fear to the end. - W.F.
Psalm 51. was the confession of his great sin, and the prayer for forgiveness. This is the record of the confession made and the forgiveness obtained, and the blessedness of his position as a son restored to his Father's house.
I. THE GREATEST MISERY.
1. The knowledge that we have sinned. That we have been guilty of one great sin leading on to another, as David had been; and not of some isolated sin of infirmity, or of some transient temper that spends itself at the moment. None but a good man would feel the awful misery here described. Bad, burdened men sin and feel no burden of shame or guilt.
2. The attempt to reason away our guilt. "In whose spirit there is no guile," or self-deception. David was an Eastern monarch, whose temptation would be to think he might do as he pleased, and thus to reduce his sin to the minimum point. We extenuate our evil deeds by pleading circumstances, temptation, temperament, and we deceive ourselves.
3. The attempt to suppress the consciousness of guilt. We "keep silence," and try to hide from ourselves our sin, and relapse into only a dull consciousness of it. But there was a smouldering fire beneath that dried up the vital moisture of his being and consumed his very bones. Afraid to confess his sin either to God or to himself, he could not escape the burden which the Divine hand laid upon his conscience; and hence his misery. He "roared" all the day long under it. This is God's mercy and anger towards our sin - to drive us to seek release and forgiveness.
II. THE GREATEST BLESSEDNESS.
1. We must begin by the fullest acknowledgment of our sin to ourselves. This must be done before we can sincerely make confession to God. We must be angry with ourselves before we can feel God's auger or his mercy towards us.
2. The fullest, most penitent confession to God. (Ver. 5.) "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned." Most sins have a threefold aspect - as done against another, against ourselves, and against God, the Fatherly Lawgiver.
3. The consciousness of forgiveness. This includes two things - the free remission and the inner cleansing.
(1) The transgression is taken away;
(2) covered by God, not by the sinner; and
(3) not imputed, because taken away. It is throughout a real transaction, nor a fictitious one.
Then is a man blessed with the peace of God. - S.
(1) the attitude of the forgiven penitent towards God;
(2) his attitude as a teacher of the impenitent.
I. THE ATTITUDE OF THE FORGIVEN PENITENT TOWARDS GOD. (Vers. 6, 7.)
1. Confidence in God for others. (Ver. 6.) What God has done for him, he will do for all the penitent and godly. Not a partial God, but his principles of action are universal. God can always be found by the truly penitent; i.e. he always hears them when they call upon him (ver. 6). Its averts from them the judgments ("great waters") that threaten to overwhelm the wicked (ver. 6).
2. Confidence in God for himself. (Ver. 7.) He lives in God as his Castle or Hiding-place, secure from danger and trouble. This idea is enlarged and exalted by Christianity. "Your life is bid with Christ in God." The security is all the greater because we are joined with Christ in God. God will surround him with abundant causes of thankful songs - songs of deliverance. Turn where he may, he finds the delivering hand of God at work on his behalf.
II. HIS ATTITUDE AS A TEACHER OF THE IMPENITENT. (Vers. 8-11.)
1. His experience qualifies him to show men the way they should go. "Then - after thou hast delivered me - will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." He knew the road which he urged them to take - knew it from experience, not from any theory.
2. This made him a gentle, sympathetic guide. He will guide them with the gentle guidance of the eye. A look is enough for those who are willing to go in the right way - a look in the direction which is to be pointed out. Experience taught him to be pitiful.
3. He exhorts men against a brutish and stubborn impenitence. (Ver. 9.) Do not be like the brute, which must be compelled to service, "who doth not willingly come unto thee;" but as reasonable religious creatures, be willing for the service which is great and blessed.
4. He sums up the whole question. (Ver 10.) The sorrows which encompass the wicked, and the mercy that follows those who trust in God. "Mercy;" equivalent to "loving-kindness." A tremendous contrast.
5. An exhortation to the righteous to realize their blessed estate. (Ver. 11.) - S.
I. THE PLACE OF GUIDANCE. Unless we are able to see God's eye, we cannot be guided. What hinders? Our sins. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up" (Psalm 40:12). The great thing, therefore, is to confess our sins, that they may be put away, and then, "accepted in the Beloved," we can "look up with childlike trust, and cry, Abba, Father!"
II. THE MANNER OF GUIDANCE.
1. Authoritative. As master and servant (Psalm 123:2).
3. Sure. Moses knew the desert well, but he might err. He was glad, therefore, of the help of Hobab, "Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" (Numbers 10:31). How much more surely may we depend upon God in our wilderness journey! "Except the eye of the Lord be put out, we cannot be put out of his sight and care" (Donne).
III. THE HAPPY RESULTS OF GUIDANCE.
1. Peace. We cannot guide ourselves; nor can we trust to others, even the wisest and the best, to guide us; but when we put ourselves under the care and direction of God, we feel that all is well (Jeremiah 10:23; Psalm 119:165).
2. Freedom. God does not take pleasure in "the bit and bridle." He would have us be guided through our reason and heart rather than by restraint and force. He works in us both "to will and to do." He makes us free by the truth, that our service may be not from fear, but love.
3. Courageousness. (2 Chronicles 20:12.) God's eye upon us is an inspiration. Gideon felt a new man when the Lord looked upon him (Judges 6:14). Paul had a heart for any fate when Christ stood by him in the storm (Acts 27:23). Stephen went to a cruel death with love and joy under the eye of his Master (Acts 7:56-60).
4. Hope. In humble, trustful self surrender and love we can go forward with confidence. God's eye upon us, and our eye upon God, we are safe for time and for eternity, - W.F.