There are few places in scripture that in such a small space are as rich in theological content as Psalm 51. I wish we had time to study this in-depth to bring out all of the important truths found therein. This is a great psalm for Christians who are hurting over sin and need to be restored to fellowship with God. We need to look no further than this place to see deep contrition in action as David confessed his sins. David’s despair was not because he thought there was no hope, but because there is hope even though he knew his sins had deeply offended God.
Consider the circumstances of this psalm. This was written right after David was confronted by Nathan the prophet over his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. None of us can think of sins that are much worse, and we certainly do not associate them with born again believers. Is it possible to be forgiven of sins of this magnitude? David believed it was because of the boundless depths of God’s mercy. David’s reaction to the gut wrenching rebuke of Nathan is the same as it should be for any Christian guilty of sin. He did not deny the sin but owned it and asked God to cleanse him from it. The way he asks is a remarkable exercise in humility unparalleled in any other place of scripture.
The theological greatness of this psalm is seen in places like verse 5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This is recognition of total depravity that says all are sinners with no goodness to claim before God. It is hard for anyone to argue we become sinners upon the commission of our first sin when David says he was born in sin.
Another great truth is brought to light in verses 7 and 10. God’s free grace justifies from sin. We notice David did not ask for penance. He asked for forgiveness. Nothing David could do could make up for his sin. All he could do was throw himself on the mercy and grace of God for no one conceived in sin has anything to offer. The decision to justify is God’s alone and the ability to create a clean heart is not earned as a reward of good deeds. It should be plainly evident that conceived in sin precludes any such notion of forgiveness as a reward.
A third great truth is the security of the believer found in verse 11: “Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” This is not asked as if David stood in jeopardy of this happening, but is the assurance it could not. Many other psalms and other places of scripture would make no sense if there is no assurance of unconditional forgiveness. David came to God to confess for this very reason. He knew God would forgive and restore him to his former closeness of fellowship with Him. David called upon God confirming what he knew to be true about God’s faithfulness.
These are the kinds of things we should remember when we sin and are ashamed of what we have done. If we truly understand the nature of sin and the affront it is to God, we would also understand we cannot wait until we commit the “big” one to come in confession. However, as surely as we know God forgave David of these horrible acts, He will forgive us from the daily transgressions that are part of our sinful condition. In the model prayer, Jesus taught confession and repentance as daily exercises. He said, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts…” Provision and forgiveness are both the daily activities of God.
In the course of my ministry, I have spoken with many Christians despondent over their sins. God does not want us to live in despair. He saved us to glorify Him and we cannot do it in the misery of overburdened hearts. If we confess our sins He is always faithful and just to forgive them. David was the living proof of this spiritual principle.
Pastor V. Mark Smith