Verse 18. "Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion " - This and the following verse most evidently refer to the time of the captivity, when the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the temple service entirely discontinued; and, consequently, are long posterior to the times of David.
Hence it has been concluded that the Psalm was not composed by David, nor in his time and that the title must be that of some other Psalm inadvertently affixed to this. The fourth verse has also been considered as decisive against this title: but the note on that verse has considerably weakened, if not destroyed, that objection. I have been long of opinion that, whether the title be properly or improperly affixed to this Psalm, these two verses make no part of it: the subject is totally dissimilar; and there is no rule of analogy by which it can be interpreted as belonging to the Psalm, to the subject, or to the person. I think they originally made a Psalm of themselves, a kind of ejaculatory prayer for the redemption of the captives from Babylon, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the restoration of the temple worship. And, taken in this light, they are very proper and very expressive.
The cxviith Psalm contains only two verses; and is an ejaculation of praise from the captives who had just then returned from Babylon. And it is a fact that this Psalms is written as a part of the cxvith in no less than thirty-two of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS.; and in some early editions. Again, because of its smallness, it has been absorbed by the cxviiith, of which it makes the commencement, in twenty-eight of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS. In a similar way I suppose the two last verses of this Psalm to have been absorbed by the preceding, which originally made a complete Psalm of themselves; and this absorption was the more easy, because, like the cxviith it has no title. I cannot allege a similar evidence relative to these two verses, as ever having made a distinct Psalm; but of the fact I can have no doubt, for the reasons assigned above.
And I still think that Psalms is too dignified, too energetic, and too elegant, to have been the composition of any but David. It was not Asaph; it was not any of the sons of Korah; it was not Heman or Jeduthun: the hand and mind of a greater master are here.
ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-FIRST PSALM
In general the Psalm contains David's prayer: - I. For himself, ver. 1-12.
II. Three vows or promises, ver. 13-18.
III. For the Church, ver. 18, 19.
I. David being in deep distress on account of his sins, prays to God for mercy: and while he feels that he is unworthy of the name of king, or God's anointed, of his son, or of his servant, he uses no plea of his own merit, but, 1. Of the loving-kindness of God: "According to thy loving-kindness." 2. Of the compassion of God: "According to the multitude of thy tender mercies." The general petition for mercy being offered, next he offers three particular petitions: - First. He prays for forgiveness of sins. The fact was past, but the guilt remained: therefore, he earnestly petitions: "Put away mine iniquities;" my sin is a deep stain: "Wash me throughly from mine iniquities, and cleanse me from my sin," multiply washing; my sin is a deep defilement.
To this petition he joins confession of sin from which we may learn the conditions requisite in a genuine confession: - He considers the nature of his sin; he feels the weight of it, the burden, and the anguish of it; and abhors it.
1. "I know mine iniquity." It is no longer hidden from me.
2. "It is ever before me;" and the sight breaks my heart.
3. He uses different epithets for it, in order to aggravate the guilt, and deepen the repentance. 1. It is transgression, [p pesha, rebellion. 2. It is iniquity, w[ avon, crooked dealing. 3. It is sin, tafj chattath, error and wandering.
Then he begins his earnest confession: "I have sinned." And this he aggravates by several circumstances: - 1. Of the person. It is "against thee;" a good and gracious God, who of a shepherd made me a king over thy own people. Against thee, the great and terrible God. The people are my subjects, and they cannot judge me: it is against thee I have sinned, and to thee I must give account, and by thee be judged and punished.
2. Of the manner. It was an impudent sin; not committed by surprise, but done openly: "In thy sight." Therefore, the threatenings by thy prophet are all right. Whatever punishment thou mayest inflict upon me, both thy justice and mercy will stand clear: "That thou mightest be justified," &c.
3. He shows from what root his sin sprang; from his original corruption: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." I am all corruption within, and defilement without. The evil fountain hath sent forth bitter waters.
4. Another aggravation of his sin was, that he was in principle devoid of that which God loves: "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts." 5. The greatest aggravation of all was, his having sinned against light and knowledge. God had endued him with wisdom in the hidden part, by the motions of his own Spirit; but he had permitted his passions to obscure that light, and had quenched the Spirit.
Having made this general confession, he names the particular sin that lay heaviest on his conscience: "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness." And then renews his petition for pardon under a type then in use, and a metaphor.
The type, hyssop; the metaphor, wash me.
1. "Purge me with hyssop." With a bunch of hyssop, dipped in the blood of the paschal lamb, the Israelites sprinkled their doors. It was also used in the sprinkling of the leper, and in the sacrifice for sin: and the blood and sprinkling were a type of Christ's blood, and the pardon and holiness that came through it. Sprinkled with this, David knew he must be clean; "for the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin;" and it is "the blood of Christ that justifies." 2. Sanctified also he wishes to be; and there, he says, Wash me. And this is done by the influence of God's Spirit: "I will sprinkle clean water Upon you, and you shall be clean," Ezek. xxxvi. 25, Secondly. David, having ended his petitions for pardon, proceeds: - 1. To pray that the evil effects which had been produced by his sin might be removed: "Make me to hear joy and gladness," &c.
2. That his body, which was in a pining condition, might be restored: "That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice." 3. A third evil effect of his sin was, that God's face, that is, his favour, was turned away from him: he therefore begs: - (1) "Hide thy face from my sins." Remember them not against me.
(2) "And blot out mine iniquities." I know there is a long and black catalogue in thy book against me; blot it out; blot out the handwriting of ordinances that is against me.
Thirdly. Now follows David's last petition; in which he again craves more particularly the grace of sanctification.. He first prayed for remission; next for reconciliation; and now for renovation, which he asks of God in the three following verses:
1. "Create in me a clean heart." 2. "Renew a right spirit within me." 3. "Cast me not away from thy presence." 4. "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." 5. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." 6. "Uphold me with thy free spirit." In which petitions we are to consider: - 1. The subject on which the work is to be done. The heart-the spirit.
For as the heart is that part that first lives in nature; so it is the first that lives in grace. The work must begin within, else outward renovation will be to little purpose.
2. The work itself, which is: - 1. A creation. Sin had reduced David's heart to nothing in respect to heavenly affections and things; and to bring it into a state in which it would answer the end of its creation, was to bring something out of nothing; which, in all cases, is the work of Almighty God: "Create in me, O God," &c.
2. It is a renovation. All in David was the old man, nothing left of the new man. He prays, therefore, to be renewed in the spirit of his mind: "Renew a right spirit within me." 3. Reconciliation and restitution. Cast me not away-as a dead man; nor take away thy Spirit from me, by which I live: "Cast me not away-take not thy Holy Spirit from me." 4. A confirmation in what was good. Uphold-confirm me.
3. WHO was to do this work? Not himself; GOD alone. Therefore, he prays: "O God, create; - O Lord, renew; - uphold by thy Spirit." 4. The quality of this. A cleansing- implied in these remarkable words: - a right spirit, - a holy spirit, - a free spirit; in which some have thought they saw the mystery of the HOLY TRINITY.
1. A right spirit. He felt that he might easily go wrong; a crooked and perverse spirit had prevailed within him, which had led him out of the right way to salvation: "Renew in me a RIGHT spirit.' 2. A holy spirit; one opposed to the carnal spirit that was enmity against God, the motions and desires of which were from the flesh, and tended only to its gratification: "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." It is God's Holy Spirit that makes the spirit of man holy.
Holiness of heart depends on the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
3. A free spirit. A noble, a princely spirit. Ever since his fall he felt he did nothing good; but by constraint, he was in bondage to corruption. There was no dignity in his mind, sin had debased it.
"Ennoble me by a birth from above," and by thy noble Spirit uphold me! II. He had now presented his three petitions, and now he makes his vows:
1. To teach others; 2. To praise God; and, 3. To offer him such a sacrifice as he could accept.
His first vow. 1. Then, after pardon obtained, "I shall teach;" for a man under guilt is not able to declare pardon to others.
2. "I will teach thy way to sinners;" viz.: that to the stubborn thou wilt show thyself froward; but to the penitent thou wilt show mercy.
The effect of which will be: "Sinners shall be converted unto thee." They who hear of thy justice and mercy, as manifested in my case, will fear, and turn from sin; have faith, and turn to THEE.
His second vow and promise is to praise God: "My tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness." But to this he was 1. Unapt; and must be so till received into favour. And, 2. Unable, till he received the healthful Spirit of the grace of God. Therefore he prays for a capacity to do both:
1. "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God; then my tongue shall sing." 2. "O Lord, open my lips-and my mouth shall show forth thy praise." His third promise is about a sacrifice, not of any animal, but of a "broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart," which he knew God would not despise. 1. "Thou desirest no sacrifice, else I would give it thee." No outward sacrifice can be of any avail if the heart be not offered. 2. Nor will the heart be accepted if it be not sacrificed. "The broken spirit and contrite heart," this sacrifice he vowed to bring.
III. Having finished his prayers and vows for himself, he forgets not Jerusalem. He petitions for God's Church; and the reason might be, that he was afraid Jerusalem would suffer because of his sins; for peccant reges, plectuntur Achivi, "the king sins, the people suffer." This was the case when he sinned against God by numbering the people.
His method and his charity in this are both instructive. 1. His method. 1. To be reconciled to God himself; and then, 2. To pray for others. "The prayers of the righteous avail much." 2. His charity, for we are always bound "to remember the afflictions of Joseph, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem." He prays, 1. That God, who out of his good pleasure did choose a Church, would out of his mere good will do it good, and preserve it: "Do good, in thy good pleasure, to Zion." 2. That he would have a special favour, even to the building: "Build thou the walls of Jerusalem;" for these fall not alone; religion and the service of God fall, when the people permit their churches and chapels to be dilapidated or get out of repair. Of this there are multitudes of proofs. 3. For the consequence of Jerusalem's prosperity would be this, that "religion would flourish with it;" then there would be sacrifices, burnt-offerinys, and holocausts: "Then they shall offer bullocks upon thine altar." 4. And, what is yet more and better, we shall offer. and THOU wilt accent: "Then thou shalt be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness." Being reconciled to thee, justified, and sanctified; and righteous in all our conduct; all our sacrifices, springing from thy own grace and love in us, shall find a gracious acceptance. See the note on ver. 18.