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PSALM 51

We learn the cause which led to the composition of this psalm from the title appended to it, and which will immediately come under our consideration. For a long period after his melancholy fall, David would seem to have sunk into a spiritual lethargy; but when roused from it by the expostulation of Nathan, he was filled with self-loathing and humiliation in the sight of God, and was anxious both to testify his repentance to all around him, and leave some lasting proof of it to posterity. In the commencement of the psalm, having his eyes directed to the heinousness of his guilt, he encourages himself to hope for pardon by considering the infinite mercy of God. This he extols in high terms, and with a variety of expressions, as one who felt that he deserved multiplied condemnation. In the after part of the psalm, he prays for restoration to the favor of God, being conscious that he deserved to have been cast off for ever, and deprived of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He promises, should forgiveness be bestowed upon him, to retain a deep and grateful sense of it. Towards the conclusion, he declares it to be for the good of the Church that God should grant his request; and, indeed, when the peculiar manner in which God had deposited his covenant of grace with David is considered, it could not but be felt that the common hope of the salvation of all must have been shaken on the supposition of his final rejection.

To the chief musician. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

When Nathan the prophet came to him Express mention is made of the prophet having come before the psalm was written, proving, as it does, the deep lethargy into which David must have fallen. It was a wonderful circumstance that so great a man, and one so eminently gifted with the Spirit, should have continued in this dangerous state for upwards of a year. Nothing but satanic influence can account for that stupor of conscience which could lead him to despise or slight the divine judgment, which he had incurred. It serves additionally to mark the supineness into which he had fallen, that he seems to have had no compunction for his sin till the prophet came to him. We have here a striking illustration, at the same time, of the mercy of God in sending the prophet to reclaim him when he had wandered. In this view, there is an antithesis in the repetition of the word came. It was when David came in to Bathsheba that Nathan came to him. By that sinful step he had placed himself at a distance from God; and the Divine goodness was signally displayed in contemplating his restoration. We do not imagine that David, during this interval, was so wholly deprived of the sense of religion as no longer to acknowledge the supremacy of the Divine Being. In all probability he continued to pray daily, engaged in the acts of Divine worship, and aimed at conforming his life to the law of God. There is no reason to think that grace was wholly extinct in his heart; but only that he was possessed by a spirit of infatuation upon one particular point, and labored under a fatal insensibility as to his present exposure to Divine wrath. Grace, whatever sparks it might emit in other directions, was smothered, so to speak, in this. Well may we tremble to contemplate the fact, that so holy a prophet, and so excellent a king, should have sunk into such a condition! That the sense of religion was not altogether extinguished in his mind, is proved by the manner in which he was affected immediately upon receiving the prophet’s reproof. Had such been the case, he could not have cried out as he did, “I have sinned against the Lord,” (2 Samuel 12:13;) nor would he have so readily submitted himself, in the spirit of meekness, to admonition and correction. In this respect, he has set an example to all such as may have sinned against God, teaching them the duty of humbly complying with the calls to repentance, which may be addressed to them by his servants, instead of remaining under sin till they be surprised by the final vengeance of Heaven.

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