Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 5 2019 - Psalm 51 – A psalm of repentance

The introduction to Psalm 51 sets it in context. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed in battle in an attempt to cover up his sin. The prophet Nathan was sent by God to confront David with his sin and deliver God's word of judgment. This psalm is David's response.

David does not seek to excuse his sin; he recognises that God's judgment is just (v.4). He acknowledges the evil of what he has done and his offense against the God who had chosen him, called him to be faithful and granted him wisdom (v.6). He had sinned wilfully. He is filled with regret and is deeply sorry and ashamed – his sin is continually before him. But he knows that God is full of mercy and compassion and this gives him hope:

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin. (vv.1-2)

David seeks forgiveness and cleansing; that God would "blot out his iniquity" so that in God's sight it might be as if he had never committed these terrible sins. But he wants more than that. David recognises that his sinful actions spring from a corrupt heart – one dominated by a desire for self-satisfaction rather than a desire to please God. He longs to be different, transformed, so that he will not fall into sin again and again:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (vv. 10-12)

He brings his "broken and contrite heart" and "broken spirit" before the Lord and seeks God's healing and transformation; he longs to be holy. He pleads all this not for his own sake alone, but also that he might be able to direct others in the ways that please God.

We may not have committed sins as terrible as those of David, but we are surely aware of countless ways in which we also fall short of all that God calls us to be. All too often we need to make this psalm our prayer. God has shown us the fulness of his love and compassion in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are confident that he is able to forgive us our sin and blot out our transgressions since Jesus bore the judgment that our sins deserve. But we want more than forgiveness, we want to be made new. We know that the day will come when Christ shall return and we will be made perfectly like him; we want more of that likeness now; we want to be holy. We want God, by his Spirit to complete the work he has begun in us, making us like Christ from the inside out and filling our hearts with joy in place of sorrow. This needs to be our constant prayer and our continual passion.

Holy Father, by the work of your Spirit within us, continue the work you began when first you made us aware of our sin and of the forgiveness that can be ours through the atoning work of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Purify our hearts, make us steadfast in obedience and full of infectious joy in the knowledge of our salvation.

Peter Misselbrook