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Psa. 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”
“And David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against Jehovah.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘Jehovah also hath put away your sin; you shall not die.’” It may almost seem that David escaped from his crime too easily. We may read the narrative and fail to observe the signs of that deep contrition which such hideous wickedness when once recognized surely must engender. There is the story of the sin drawn in all its shocking details. Then Nathan comes in with his beautiful moral parable of the lamb and its pungent application. And then we read simply: “And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against Jehovah. And Nathan said to David, Jehovah also has put away your sin.” After that comes only the story of how the child of sin was smitten, and how David urgently and fervently sought Jehovah for its life and finally acquiesced in the Divine judgment. One is apt to feel that David was more concerned to escape the consequences of his sin than to yield to the Lord the sacrifices of a broken and a contrite heart. Does it not seem cold to us and external, David’s simple acknowledgment of his sin, and the Lord’s immediate remission of it? We feel the lack of the manifestations of a deeply repentant spirit and are almost ready, we say, to wonder if David did not escape too easily from the evil he had wrought.
It is merely the simplicity of the narrative which is deceiving us in this. The single-hearted writer expects us to read into the bare words of David’s confession, “I have sinned against the Lord,” all the spiritual exercises which those words are fitted to suggest and out of which they should have grown. And if we find it a little difficult to do so, we have only to turn to David’s penitential Psalms, to learn the depths of repentance which wrung this great and sensitive soul. One of them—perhaps the most penetrating portrayal of a truly penitent soul ever cast into human speech—is assigned by its title to just this crisis in his life; and I see no good reason why this assignment need be questioned. The whole body of them sound the depths of the sinful soul’s self-torment and longing for recovery as can be found nowhere else in literature; and taken in sequence present a complete portrayal of the course of repentance in the heart, from its inception in the rueful review of the past and the remorseful biting back of the awakened heart, through its culmination in a true return to God in humble love and trusting confidence, to its issue in the establishment of a new relation of obedience to God and a new richness of grateful service to Him.
2 Samuel 24:13-23 OTBDC: Did the loving God take the life of the child of David because of the sin of David and Bathsheba?
Let us take just these four, Psalms 6, 38, 51, 32. In Psa. 6 sounds the note of remorse—it is the torment of a soul’s perception of its sin that is here prominently brought to our most poignant observation. In Psa. 38, the note of hope—not indeed absent even from Psa. 6—becomes dominant and the sorrow and hatred of sin are colored by a pervasive tone of relief. In Psa. 51, while there is no lessening of the accent of repentance there is along with the deep sense of the guilt and pollution of sin which is expressed also a note of triumph over the sin, which aspires to a clean heart and a steadfast spirit and a happy service of God in the purity of life. While in Psa. 32, the sense of forgiveness, the experience of joy in the Lord, and the exercises of holy and joyful service overlie all else. Here we trace David’s penitent soul through all its experiences; his remorseful contemplation of his own sin, his passionate reaching out to the salvation of God, the gradual return of his experience of the joy of that salvation, his final issuing into the full glory of its complete realization.
In some respects, the most remarkable of this remarkable body of pictures of the inner experiences of a penitent soul is that of Psa. 51. It draws away the veil for us and permits us to look in upon the spirit in the most characteristic act of repentance, just at the turning point, as it deserts its sin and turns to God. Here is revealed to us a sense of sin so poignant, a perception of the grace of God so soaring, an apprehension of the completeness of the revolution required in sinful man that he may become in any worthy sense a servant of God so profound, that one wonders in reading it what is left for a specifically Christian experience to add to this experience of a saint of God under the Old Testament dispensation in turning from sin to God. The wonderful depth of the religious experience and the remarkable richness of religious conception embodied in this Psalm has indeed proved a snare to the critics. “David could not have had these ideas,” says Prof. T. C. Cheyne, brusquely; and, indeed, the David that Prof. Cheyne has constructed out of his imaginary reconstruction of the course of religious development in Israel, could not well have had these ideas. These are distinctively Christian ideas that the Psalm sets forth, and they could not have grown up of themselves in a purely natural heart. And therein lies one of the values of the Psalm to us; it reveals to us the essentially Christian type of the religion of Israel; it opens to our observation the contents of the mind and heart of a Spirit-led child of God in the ages agone and makes us to know the truly Christian character of his experiences in his struggle with sin and his aspirations towards God, and thus also to know the supernatural leading of God’s people through all ages.
Consider for a moment the conception of God which throbs through all the passionate language of this Psalm. A God of righteousness who will not look upon sin with allowance; nay, who directs all things, even the emergence of acts of sin in His world, so that He may not only be just but also “may be justified when He speaks and clear when He judges.” A God of holiness whose Spirit cannot abide in our impure hearts. A God of unbounded power, who governs the whole course of events in accordance with His own counsels. But above all, a gracious God, full of lovingkindness, abundant in compassion, whose delight is in salvation. There is nothing here that goes beyond the great revelation of Ex. 34:6, “a God full of compassion and gracious, abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Indeed the language of the Psalm is obviously modeled on this of Exodus. But here it is not given from the lips of Jehovah, proclaiming His character, but returned to us from the heart of the repentant sinner, recounting the nature of the God with whom he has to do.
And what a just and profound sense of sin is revealed to us here. The synonymy of the subject is almost exhausted in the effort to complete the self-accusation. “My transgression, my iniquity, my sin;” I have been in rebellion against God, I have distorted my life, I have missed the mark; I have, to express it all, done what is evil in your sight—in the sight of you, the Standard of Holiness, the hypostatized Law of Conduct. And these acts are but the expression of an inner nature of corruption, inherited from those who have gone before me; it was in iniquity that I was born, in sin that my mother conceived me. Shall a pure thing come from an impure? Nay, my overt acts of sin are thought of not in themselves but as manifestations of what is behind and within; thrown up into these manifestations in act, in your own ordinance, for no other cause than that your righteous condemnation on me may be justified and your judgment be made clear. For it is not cleanness of act merely that you do desire, but truth in the inward parts and wisdom in the hidden parts. Obviously, the Psalmist is conceiving sin here as not confined to acts but consisting essentially of a great ocean of sin within us, whose waves merely break in sinful acts. No wonder the commentators remark that here we have original sin “more distinctly expressed than in any other passage in the Old Testament.” Nothing is left to be added by the later revelation in the way of the feeling or emotion of conception—though much is, of course, left to be added in a developed statement.
Accordingly, the conception of the radicalness of the operation required for the Psalmist’s deliverance from sin is equally developed. No surface remedy will suffice to eradicate a sin which is thus inborn, ingrained in nature itself. Hence the passionate cry: Create—it requires nothing less than a creative act—create me a clean heart—the heart is the totality of the inner life—and make new within me a constant spirit—a spirit which will no more decline from you. Nothing less than this will suffice—a total begetting again as the New Testament would put it; an entire making over again can alone suffice to make such a one as the Psalmist knows himself to be—not by virtue of his sins of the act which are only the manifestation of what he is by nature, but by virtue of his fundamental character—acceptable to Him who desires truth in the inward part; nay, nothing less than this can secure to him that steadfastness of spirit which will save his overt acts from shame.
Nor does the Psalmist expect to be able, unaided, to live in the power of his new life. One of the remarkable features of the doctrinal system of the Psalm is the clear recognition it gives of the necessity, for the cleansing of the life, of the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. “Take not your Holy Spirit from me and uphold me with a spirit of willingness.” Yours to lead: mine to follow. Not autonomy but obedience, the idea of the religious life. The operations of the Holy Spirit in the sphere of the moral life, the ethical activities of the Spirit, His sanctifying work, are but little adverted to in the Old Testament, and when alluded to, it is chiefly in promises for the Messianic period. Here, David not merely prays for them in his own case but announces them as part of the experience of the past and present. His chance of standing, he says in effect, hangs on the continued presence of the Holy Spirit of God in him; in the upholding within him thereby of a spirit of willingness.
by Benjamin B. Warfield
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