Psalm 51:10-11 ESV
Matthew Henry's Commentary
I. See here what David prays for. Many excellent petitions he here puts up, to which if we do but add, “for Christ’s sake,” they are as evangelical as any other.
1. He prays that God would cleanse him from his sins and the defilement he had contracted by them (Ps. 51:7): “Purge me with hyssop; that is, pardon my sins, and let me know that they are pardoned, that I may be restored to those privileges which by sin I have forfeited and lost.” The expression here alludes to a ceremonial distinction, that of cleansing the leper, or those that were unclean by the touch of a body by sprinkling water, or blood, or both upon them with a bunch of hyssop, by which they were, at length, discharged from the restraints they were laid under by their pollution. “Lord, let me be as well assured of my restoration to thy favour, and to the privilege of communion with thee, as they were thereby assured of their re-admission to their former privileges.” But it is founded upon gospel-grace: Purge me with hyssop, that is, with the blood of Christ applied to my soul by a lively faith, as water of purification was sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop. It is the blood of Christ (which is therefore called the blood of sprinkling, Heb. 12:24), that purges the conscience from dead works, from that guilt of sin and dread of God which shut us out of communion with him, as the touch of a dead body, under the law, shut a man out from the courts of God’s house. If this blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin, cleanse us from our sin, then we shall be clean indeed, Heb. 10:2. If we be washed in this fountain opened, we shall be whiter than snow, not only acquitted but accepted; so those are that are justified. Isa. 1:18; Though your sins have been as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.
2. He prays that, his sins being pardoned, he might have the comfort of that pardon. He asks not to be comforted till first he is cleansed; but if sin, the bitter root of sorrow, be taken away, he can pray in faith, “Make me to hear joy and gladness (Ps. 51:8), that is, let me have a well-grounded peace, of thy creating, thy speaking, so that the bones which thou hast broken by convictions and threatenings may rejoice, may not only be set again, and eased from the pain, but may be sensibly comforted, and, as the prophet speaks, may flourish as a herb.” Note, (1.) The pain of a heart truly broken for sin may well be compared to that of a broken bone; and it is the same Spirit who as a Spirit of bondage smites and wounds and as a Spirit of adoption heals and binds up. (2.) The comfort and joy that arise from a sealed pardon to a penitent sinner are as refreshing as perfect ease from the most exquisite pain. (3.) It is God’s work, not only to speak this joy and gladness, but to make us hear it and take the comfort of it. He earnestly desires that God would lift up the light of his countenance upon him, and so put gladness into his heart, that he would not only be reconciled to him, but, which is a further act of grace, let him know that he was so.
3. He prays for a complete and effectual pardon. This is that which he is most earnest for as the foundation of his comfort (Ps. 51:9): “Hide thy face from my sins, that is, be not provoked by them to deal with me as I deserve; they are ever before me, let them be cast behind thy back. Blot out all my iniquities out of the book of thy account; blot them out, as a cloud is blotted out and dispelled by the beams of the sun,” Isa. 44:22.
4. He prays for sanctifying grace; and this every true penitent is as earnest for as for pardon and peace, Ps. 51:10. He does not pray, “Lord, preserve me my reputation,” as Saul, I have sinned, yet honour me before this people. No; his great concern is to get his corrupt nature changed: the sin he had been guilty of was, (1.) An evidence of its impurity, and therefore he prays, Create in me a clean heart, O God! He now saw, more than ever, what an unclean heart he had, and sadly laments it, but sees it is not in his own power to amend it, and therefore begs of God (whose prerogative it is to create) that he would create in him a clean heart. He only that made the heart can new-make it; and to his power nothing is impossible. He created the world by the word of his power as the God of nature, and it is by the word of his power as the God of grace that we are clean (John 15:3), that we are sanctified, John 17:17. (2.) It was the cause of its disorder, and undid much of the good work that had been wrought in him; and therefore he prays, “Lord, renew a right spirit within me; repair the decays of spiritual strength which this sin has been the cause of, and set me to rights again.” Renew a constant spirit within me, so some. He had, in this matter, discovered much inconstancy and inconsistency with himself, and therefore he prays, “Lord, fix me for the time to come, that I may never in like manner depart from thee.”
5. He prays for the continuance of God’s good-will towards him and the progress of his good work in him, Ps. 51:11. (1.) That he might never be shut out from God’s favour: “Cast me not away from thy presence, as one whom thou abhorrest and canst not endure to look upon.” He prays that he might not be thrown out of God’s protection, but that wherever he went, he might have the divine presence with him, might be under the guidance of his wisdom and in the custody of his power, and that he might not be forbidden communion with God: “Let me not be banished thy courts, but always have liberty of access to thee by prayer.” He does not deprecate the temporal judgments which God by Nathan had threatened to bring upon him. “God’s will be done; but, Lord, rebuke me no in thy wrath. If the sword come into my house never to depart from it, yet let me have a God to go to in my distresses, and all shall be well.” (2.) That he might never be deprived of God’s grace: Take not thy Holy Spirit from me. He knew he had by his sin grieved the Spirit and provoked him to with draw, and that because he also was flesh God might justly have said that his Spirit should no more strive with him nor work upon him, Gen. 6:3. This he dreads more than any thing. We are undone if God take his Holy Spirit from us. Saul was a sad instance of this. How exceedingly sinful, how exceedingly miserable, was he, when the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him! David knew it, and therefore begs thus earnestly: “Lord, whatever thou take from me, 42ea my children, my crown, my life, yet take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (see 2 Sam. 7:15), “but continue thy Holy Spirit with me, to perfect the work of my repentance, to prevent my relapse into sin, and to enable me to discharge my duty both as a prince and as a psalmist.”
6. He prays for the restoration of divine comforts and the perpetual communications of divine grace, Ps. 51:12. David finds two ill effects of his sin:—(1.) It had made him sad, and therefore he prays, Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. A child of God knows no true nor solid joy but the joy of God’s salvation, joy in God his Saviour and in the hope of eternal life. By wilful sin we forfeit this joy and deprive ourselves of it; our evidences cannot but be clouded and our hopes shaken. When we give ourselves so much cause to doubt of our interest in the salvation, how can we expect the joy of it? But, when we truly repent, we may pray and hope that God will restore to us those joys. Those that sow in penitential tears shall reap in the joys of God’s salvation when the times of refreshing shall come. (2.) It had made him weak, and therefore he prays, “Uphold me with the free Spirit: I am ready to fall, either into sin or into despair; Lord, sustain me; my own spirit” (though the spirit of a man will go far towards the sustaining of his infirmity) “is not sufficient; if I be left to myself, I shall certainly sink; therefore uphold me with thy Spirit, let him counterwork the evil spirit that would cast me down from my excellency. Thy Spirit is a free spirit, a free gent himself, working freely” (and that makes those free whom he works upon, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty)--“thy ingenuous princely Spirit.” He was conscious to himself of having acted, in the matter of Uriah, very disingenuously and unlike a prince; his behaviour was base and paltry: “Lord,” says he, “let thy Spirit inspire my soul with noble and generous principles, that I may always act as becomes me.” A free spirit will be a firm and fixed spirit, and will uphold us. The more cheerful we are in our duty the more constant we shall be to it.
II. See what David here promises, Ps. 51:13. Observe,
1. What good work he promises to do: I will teach transgressors thy ways. David had been himself a transgressor, and therefore could speak experimentally to transgressors, and resolves, having himself found mercy with God in the way of repentance, to teach others God’s ways, that is, (1.) Our way to God by repentance; he would teach others that had sinned to take the same course that he had taken, to humble themselves, to confess their sins, and seek God’s face; and, (2.) God’s way towards us in pardoning mercy; how ready he is to receive those that return to him. He taught the former by his own example, for the direction of sinners in repenting; he taught the latter by his own experience, for their encouragement. By this psalm he is, and will be to the world’s end, teaching transgressors, telling them what God had done for his soul. Note, Penitents should be preachers. Solomon was so, and blessed Paul.
2. What good effect he promises himself from his doing this: “Sinners shall be converted unto thee, and shall neither persist in their wanderings from thee, nor despair of finding mercy in their returns to thee.” The great thing to be aimed at in teaching transgressors is their conversion to God; that is a happy point gained, and happy are those that are instrumental to contribute towards it, Jas. 5:20.