Dear radio friends,
Psalm 51 is a classic Scripture quoted in many sermons and sung often. This is true because it pierces to the heart and soul of every believer. It was written by David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. This was a sin David refused to confess for months. He might even have gone on for a longer period of time living with the guilt and misery of this sin had not God graciously sent to him the prophet Nathan. Nathan rebuked David, breaking David’s pride and forcing this man of God to his knees in sorrow and repentance. Immediately in the wake of this sin David wrote both Psalms 32 and 51. Both these psalms express the very real, very brutal, experience the child of God suffers while walking in the way of disobedience to God and His commandments. This is why Psalm 51 has endeared itself to the heart of many a believer who experiences much the same when stumbling in the way of his own sin.
In this Psalm David reveals that, when walking in a way that is displeasing to God, the believer does not experience the joy of his salvation. We read in verse 8 of Psalm 51 what was true of David when he failed to confess his sin: spiritually he was a broken man. But this is not the verse we are going to consider today in our broadcast. Instead, we are going to take a close look at the earnest and heartfelt desire of the child of God when brought to his knees. This is found in verses 10-12 of Psalm 51. There we read, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
With this psalm David teaches transgressors God’s ways, in order that sinners might be turned to God when they too sin. What is important in this psalm, however, is what David teaches us in verse 11 when he writes, “cast me not away from thy presence!” Perhaps by now we recognize that these words make reference to God’s fellowship with us. They speak of dwelling together with God and experiencing His presence in our lives. That, in turn, teaches us something about God’s covenant with His people. Believers experience the joy and gladness of God’s fellowship in the way of obedience. When they walk in the way of sin, they lose the conscious experience of God’s favor and friendship. We wish to address this subject today.
You see, David had just asked God in the prayer of this psalm for pardon from his sin. He confessed that he had sinned against a just God and deserved to be punished. He knew that it was only by way of God’s justice that his sin could be forgiven. In faith David pleaded, therefore, on God’s loving-kindness and mercy, that God would blot out his transgressions. David’s plea was based upon the truth that God alone by His grace justifies the sinner. In reality David sought forgiveness in the cross of our Savior. But not only did David seek forgiveness. In the verses we consider today David also requests that the Holy Spirit would create and renew in him a clean heart. So David passes from the subject of the forgiveness of sin to that of the work of God’s sanctifying grace. This is what we wish to consider today.
I. An Interrupted Joy
To dwell in God’s covenant is to live in a close relationship with God. Just as children are intimately related, even bound to their parents; just as a wife is one flesh together with her husband, so also God’s people with God. They dwell in one another’s presence. The word “presence” in verse 11 means to live before the face of another in a close, personal, intimate relationship of love. The figure expressed in this term is that of a house and family where children and parents live together in the presence of the rest of the family. One cannot help but think of what the psalmist writes in Psalm 128, where he describes the life of the family as sons and daughters gathering together with parents around the table enjoying the life of the home. In God’s covenant, God is our Father and we are His children, who dwell in His presence together with Him in love. We live in close personal contact with Him. On Him we rely for our provisions, for our nurture, and for our protection. Likewise, God who loves us as His dear children provides us with everything we need, both physically and spiritually. For that reason, to dwell in God’s presence gives us a sense of safety and security in every circumstance of life. We believe that our Father, in whose presence we dwell, will work everything in our lives for our good and our final salvation.
This security is ours because of the work of the Holy Spirit. David refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in the fellowship we share with God when in verse 12 he writes, “and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Although David could not identify the work of the Holy Spirit as believers today are able, nevertheless he could understand that there is no fellowship with God except by means of the work of the Holy Spirit. You see, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. After Christ’s death and resurrection, all power was given to Him by God in heaven and on earth. At that time Christ also received the right and power by God to send out the Holy Spirit to fulfill His work.
Here is how the Spirit functions in the work of our salvation. Christ earned for us all the blessings of salvation objectively on the cross. They are found in Him. As each one of God’s people is born into this world, Christ sends forth His Spirit to work in his or her heart. That Spirit of Christ applies to each of God’s elect the blessings Christ earned on the cross. The Spirit works in us the life of Christ when He regenerates us. The Spirit then binds us to Christ by working the power of faith in our hearts. Having bound us to Christ, the Spirit then calls us into a conscious knowledge of what Christ has done for us. In other words, that power of faith results in the activity of faith in the life of God’s people. They come to a conscious knowledge of Christ and then place their confidence in Him.
By means of the work of the Spirit, therefore, not only are we saved in Christ but we become acutely aware that we belong to God and share in His family and household. We dwell in God’s presence by means of the work of the Holy Spirit. And that we do becomes for us the most precious possession we have! By means of our salvation we are given peace, gladness, and joy. We are able to live and die happily in that knowledge and confidence in Christ. Everyone wants to be happy! Well, that we dwell in God’s presence makes us happy. Such joy comes with salvation. In verse 12 David speaks of “the joy of my salvation.”
The Spirit regenerates us, calls us, and works faith in us. David speaks at length of the blessed work of justification in the beginning of this psalm. Another of the blessings of salvation the Spirit applies to our hearts is the work of Christ in our sanctification. When we are united to Christ by a true and living faith, then Christ also cleanses us from sin. We confess this is entirely a work of Christ in us by His Spirit. Jesus Christ, through His Spirit in us, is the power unto a new and holy life.
But that work of faith in you and me is an activity that involves us as rational, moral creatures. It is a work that activates our hearts and therefore our thoughts and desires. When God works in us the life of Christ through the Spirit, then it is a work of Christ in and through us. We are not mere pieces on a checker board that God moves as He wills without any activity on our part. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works—works of obedience that flow forth from the redeemed heart connected to Christ by faith. The Spirit applies the work of sanctification to us in exactly this way. We experience the joy of salvation, the joy of dwelling in God’s presence by walking in the way of obedience. Faith would have it no otherwise. Good works are the inevitable fruit of faith. If a believer, because of the old man of sin in him, stubbornly and persistently walks in the way of sin with no regard for the God who cleansed him, God will withhold any conscious assurance of His presence. This is why David adds at the end of verse 12, “and uphold me with a free spirit.” Or better, uphold me by giving me a willing spirit.
Ah yes, believers do not dwell in the covenant of God with a groan and complaint that they must walk in the way of obedience! They delight in doing so! They delight in the fellowship they share with their heavenly Father. They love God. He is their God! It is the believer’s sincere desire, his voluntary desire, his spontaneous desire to walk in the way of good works. Why? Because through the Spirit of Christ God works in him the will and desire to walk in the way that pleases his heavenly Father.
It is only in this light that we can understand what David now pleads with and desires of God in the words before us. David had sinned. It was not a normal sin (and we are not categorizing sins here), but it was not a normal sin in this sense. Every day we sin against God and we bring these sins before God in sorrow and repentance. He quickly forgives and therefore these sins do not stand in the way of fellowship with God. They are confessed and God casts them aside. But David had committed an enormous sin. He had committed adultery with another man’s wife and then had the man killed in battle. By means of these actions, as well as the fact that David refused to confess his sin before God, he was cast out of God’s presence! He walked stubbornly, persistently, and unrepentantly in the way of sin!
Now, did this mean that David had fallen away from faith and salvation? Of course not! David was an elect child of God who was saved in the blood of Jesus Christ! God would never allow one of His children by his sin to sever that bond of faith by which God inseparably connects him to Jesus Christ. God never allows our feet to be removed from that state of salvation. But that was not the point! The point is this: will God alienate an elect believer for a time from His love and favor, from His presence, until the time he by God’s grace returns on the way of serious repentance? Yes, God will! His heavy hand will rest upon us. His heavy hand rested on David as long as he/we stubbornly persist in his/our disobedience! Make no mistake about it: it is only when we walk by faith in the way of obedience to God that we enjoy His presence. As a result of his disobedience, David was miserable! His spiritual life was dry. He himself described it this way: “my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” He knew what fellowship with God was. He tried to convince himself that everything was ok. But the joy and gladness of God’s presence was missing.
We can liken what happened to David to when a godly child disobeys mom or dad. The child knows that his parents love him even when he disobeys them. But when he is sent to his room or needs to sit in a corner or receives a spanking, he knows that his parents are displeased with him because of his sin. He experiences their disfavor, and that makes the child who loves his parents sad and miserable—until he goes back to mom and/or dad (and I certainly pray our children do this) and tells them he is sorry for his sin. Then he joys in the forgiveness he receives and shares once again in their love and favor. God treats His children no differently. It is in this way God brings His people to sorrow over sin.
II. An Urgent Request
Now we can understand the urgent plea David makes here. He had been brought to his knees in sorrow and grief by the rebuke of the prophet Nathan. Because David was indeed a child of God, all the misery inside, all those thoughts that he had refused to acknowledge about himself, came pouring out. It truly was David’s fear that he would be cast entirely away from God, discarded as worthless, thrown out of the presence of God, so undeserving was he of God’s love. Had he not by his horrible actions forfeited the right to be called a son of God? David knew he deserved to lose the blessed fellowship he shared with God. He deserved to be cast out of God’s covenant. So, the humble, earnest plea: cast me not away from Thy presence! I long to enjoy once again the blessedness of Thy presence, O Lord!
Again, from a negative point of view: take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. David understood that by his sin and his refusal for some time to repent he had incurred upon himself a deadly guilt. It grievously wounded his conscience. David now ached in his heart and soul because he knew he forfeited all right to the work of the Spirit in him. But God is gracious. Though the Spirit is grieved by such great sins and therefore withholds from us the conscious assurance of our salvation, nevertheless the Spirit never departs. Though the activity and exercise of faith is interrupted by such great sins, nevertheless that bond of faith remains secure and a true believer can never fall away from faith. That does not stop the plea from escaping our lips: take not, O Lord, Thy Holy Spirit from us! So miserable and undeserving do we feel at that time. Our heart is broken and our spirit is humbled.
That is the negative side of David’s plea. The positive is given in verse 10: “create in me a clean heart.” Create. Creation is exclusively a work of God. So also is the cleansing of our hearts. God by His grace works in our hearts and spirits cleansing us and making us willing children of His household. When we sin, it is God who brings us back to Him, otherwise we would continue to wander about aimlessly in the abyss of that sin. Yet, to understand this profound work of God in us we need to distinguish the work of God in our hearts and in our spirits. Twice David makes reference here to his spirit. First, he calls it a right spirit, and secondly he calls it a free or willing spirit. When speaking of the heart, David does not refer here to the physical heart that beats in our chests, pumping blood throughout our bodies. He refers to the heart as the spiritual center of man. You see, when God created us thinking, willing creatures there was a spiritual side to this creation. Man is a spiritual being. His mind and will make him such. Man even recognizes that he is a spiritual being. Though he does not turn to the true God, he is always trying to get in touch with that inner spiritual self. This is what David means when he speaks of his spirit. It is that spiritual side of his nature. The heart stands at the center, it is the seat of that spirit of man. Out of it are the issues of life.
It is going to determine the spiritual direction of a man’s thoughts and desires. It determines the works that he brings forth in life. If the heart is lost in unbelief, so will be the thoughts and intents of a man. If God works in a man’s heart the gift of faith, that also will determine the spirit of a man, that is, the way he thinks, desires, and acts. So David asks, create in me a clean heart, that is, a heart of faith pure of evil thoughts and desires. Create in me a spiritual center unmixed with sin. Give me a heart free of the pollution of sin. And renew a right spirit within me, that is, polish my spirit by thy grace that it might be spotless! Renew, polish my spirit, my thoughts and desires, that they might be led by my clean heart. As a result, that spirit will be right, that is, my thoughts and desires will return once again to delighting in God’s commandments and ways.
Then, finally, his ultimate desire: restore unto me the joy of my salvation and uphold me by a willing spirit. Bring me back into what I was enjoying before walking in my sin. Give me back once again the joy and gladness of my salvation. Give me to know and be assured that I am saved, that I am justified, and for that reason I can enjoy once again thy favor. Then uphold or preserve me in that joy by giving me a willing spirit to walk in thy precepts. That is the desire of David. That is the desire of every child of God whom God by His grace brings back into the serious way of repentance and faith.
III. Thankful Lips
God heard this plea of David! God’s ear is always open to the cries of His children! He loves us! He is our Father who loves His children. When we ask of God what David does here in these verses, God hears and answers us in His grace. He imparts to us the joy and gladness of heart and spirit that comes with fellowship with Him. He creates in us a clean heart. He renews a right spirit within us. He restores to us the joy of our salvation. Then we with David in verse 15 ask, “O Lord, open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise!”
God answers this request too. Our mouths give expression to the joy we have in our hearts. We show forth God’s praise and we walk in the way of thanksgiving. Together we thank God for the wondrous and marvelous ways He deals with us. It is good to dwell in the presence of the ever-blessed God.