Blot Out My Transgressions

 

A Sermon on Psalm 51

by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 29. 2007

Last week the sermon focussed on the love of self as illustrated by the story of David and Bathsheba. We saw from the literal sense how so many sins were brought together in David’s adultery, finally culminating in David using Uriah’s own honour and honesty to destroy him in his attempt to cover up his crimes. It was also shown how the Lord responds to such selfish and self-deceiving states: by presenting the truth in such a away as to cause the sinner to judge himself against it. In David’s case, the prophet Nathan told David about a rich man who had stolen a poor man’s pet lamb and served it for dinner and when David exploded in rage that anyone could do such a thing, Nathan told him, “you are the man.”1

It is recorded in the book of Samuel that because David repented of his sin and worshiped the Lord, he was permitted to live. Part of his punishment was that the son that was born of adultery sickened and died. The other part was that his kingdom would never again be peaceful. His own sons would rise up in civil war against him causing David public disgrace because he thought he could keep his sins secret.2

In that context, it’s interesting to note the title given to Psalm 51 in the Old Testament: A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Having shown us David the man in the fulness of his wickedness in the historical part of the Word, we are also given a picture of his internal states of humiliation in the Psalms. David had an amazing skill in articulating the sorrow that comes to the human heart and mind when one allows oneself to be led by the loves of self and the world.

The wonder of the internal sense of the Word is that while this works as a wonderful example of ancient literature that gives us an insight into a famous historical character (the sense of the letter), it also gives us insights into the states of the Jewish Church a thousand years before the Lord was born (the natural-historical sense); it gives us insights into our own spiritual states when we have discovered some evil in ourselves (the regenerative series); and it also gives us some indication of the kinds of battles the Lord Himself had to go through as He allowed each society of hell to attack Him while He was in the world (the glorification series).

With these things in mind, let us examine this Psalm, written by David in the depths of his humiliation, to see what it can teach us about the Lord’s states while on earth, and what we might learn that can be applied to our own states of temptation and apparent failure.

The Heavenly Doctrines Divide the Psalm into six sections. The first five verses comprise the first section, and are, in the internal sense, the Lord’s prayer that He may be purified of the infirmities derived from the mother.3 We are also told that these verses describe the Lord’s state while He was in the process of being glorified when He compared the state of His Human to that of His Divine. As we read these verses, we know that we cannot comprehend the Lord’s states – but we can reflect on those states on ourselves that are analogous.

1. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.

It’s necessary that we begin by admitting that we are not perfect, that we actually need help.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin [is] always before me.

Once our sins become clear to us we begin to see how they have touched and corrupted every detail of our life. There is nothing we can do ourselves to remove the taint.

We cannot do this ourselves, and the Lord will not do it unbidden, so we have to start the process by recognizing our need and asking for help – it sounds so simple, but it can be so hard to do when our ego gets in the way.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done [this] evil in Your sight – That You may be found just when You speak, [And] blameless when You judge.

There are those who would argue that adultery is an act of love that really only hurts people who are jealous and possessive, that the commandment against it is no longer relevant. But the Lord teaches and shows over and over again that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. At the very least, you hurt yourself and you offend God.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

Without the knowledge of the internal sense, one might be led to think that this verse is teaching that a pure, spiritual life would be one without sexual activity. However, the sin referred to is not the act of conception, but rather the fact that parents pass on their spiritual heredity to their children. It might be clearer if restated this way: “Mary was not fully regenerated when she conceived the Lord, and so inclinations to evil were passed from her into the Lord’s Human.”

…In sin my mother conceived me refers to her spiritual state at that time in her life, not the physical act.

Having shown that the when the Lord was born into the world He received inclinations to evil from His mother which were the cause of states of temptation referred to in the first 4 verses, the Psalm goes on to explain how He would go about removing those inclinations and so reuniting Himself with the Father. The decision to make such a spiritual journey necessarily has within it the recognition that the journey needs to be made.

Beginning on the road to regeneration necessarily has within it the humbling experience of the genuine acknowledgement that we are lacking something, that we need to make the journey.

6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden [part] You will make me to know wisdom.

Here the Psalm is speaking about the process of regeneration, how while we struggle with the natural degree, working hard to get our lives in order and become obedient to the Lord’s laws of life, we long for something higher, some kind of spiritual enlightenment or sign that we are on the right track, that our efforts are actually accomplishing something useful. But the Lord works in secret. As He taught Naaman the Syrian Leper4, you are not cured by some big, dramatic miracle, but simply by washing thoroughly. As He taught Elijah, He is not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire. He is a still, small voice.5

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, [That] the bones You have broken may rejoice.

The references to hyssop and broken bones call to mind events associated with the crucifixion, indicating that on one level, this is a prophecy of what the Lord would have to endure during His life in the world, and at the same time it is a prophecy of the painful changes each one of us must go through to prepare ourselves for the life of heaven.

We need to look within, identify the sins that we have committed, and wash them away by amending our life. At the same time the false ideas that have allowed us to deceive ourselves into thinking that we did not need to change have to be replaced with truth from the Word; the bony structure of our native will has to be broken so that it can be replaced with a new structure based on truth.

The primary reason why they undergo vastation or desolation is so that the things of which they are firmly persuaded, originating in what is properly their own, may crumble (AC 2694:2)

This is painful and difficult because our evils and falsities are part of us – we love them, and since our loves make up our life, even when they are evil loves and delights, it hurts to give them up.

Thinking again of the crucifixion, we can see how important it was that His legs were not broken because of what it represents. Here, the bones God has broken will rejoice, suggestion that the bones represent a hardness within ourselves that prevent us from approaching the Lord. Only when our hardness, our stubborn states are broken, can we approach near to the Lord, feel His presence, and begin to rejoice.

9 Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

We all want to have a clean record. Once we come into a state of order, we are ashamed of our previous behaviour – the very things that we thought provided us with the very delights of our life so recently, in a previous state.

In these verses the Lord promises a fresh start, and the gift of the courage to hold to the new path in spite of the various things that will try to pull you back into the previous states of evil – even well meaning friends!

The next two verses represent a turning point. There is the reminder that even in these darkest states of our spiritual lives the Lord is near, and it remains possible to be conjoined with Him.

11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me [by Your] generous Spirit.

When we finally accept our weakness and ask the Lord to lift us up, then He flows in with comfort and hope that shows us the promise of heaven and the joy of the life to come.

13 [Then] I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, [And] my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

Then, with the new understanding that comes from having brought oneself into the order of heaven in spite of the personal cost and pain, we can look on the various aspects of our natural life and see them in a new light. For example, the way a person who has been through deep, personal temptations and overcome worships will be more internal, more satisfying than that of the person who not yet fought a spiritual battle. The true meaning of sacrifice becomes apparent for the first time. There enters into it an inner knowledge that it is more than going through the motions, it is the intention behind it that gives real meaning to every event in life.

What good is, and indeed what blessedness and happiness are, nobody with even the sharpest mind is able to perceive unless he has experienced the state of being deprived of good, blessedness, and happiness. It is from this experience that he acquires a sphere of perception; and he acquires it to the same degree that he has experienced the contrary state, for the sphere of perception and how far it extends are determined by his experience of the two contrary states. (AC 2694:2)

16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give [it;] You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise.

The final two verses are a promise that the Lord will give a gift to those who trust in Him, who follow where He leads, and who endure the pain of washing away evils and breaking the bones of stubbornness. For those who endure to the end, He promises to make them a church!

18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

In summary then, the sense of the letter tells us that David has been called up short by Nathan the prophet. His sins have been revealed. It’s a big sin, his life is about to change because there’s no way to for him to get out of it. The external situation forces him to look at the internal situation through self examination – humble acknowledgement that one is a sinner – not just in general, but admitting to yourself that you really did it and it was really wrong – no excuses, no amelioration!

Bringing this teaching into our own states of evil, we can see that the stubbornness, the lying has to be broken, and then the healing can begin. We need to wash with hyssop, which represents cleaning the spirit, amending the book of life.

There is also the reassuring teaching that when we die, we leave the body behind – and everything associated with the body, most importantly the deeds. All the bad and stupid things that we have grown out of are left behind. But then so are all the GOOD things. What we are left with is a ruling love, a character that will begin to express itself in new deeds and acts. We can be reassured that no matter how bad things seem to be, the Lord can heal, He can uplift, He can flow in with comfort and hope if and when we invite Him to do so by opening our hearts to him and being truly willing to change our lives.

{1} Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. {2} Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. {3} For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. … {9} Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. {10} Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: PSA 51

Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. {2} Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. {3} For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. {4} Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight; That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. {5} Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. {6} Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. {7} Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. {8} Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. {9} Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. {10} Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. {11} Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. {12} Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. {13} Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. {14} Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. {15} O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. {16} For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. {17} The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not despise. {18} Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. {19} Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 2694

… The subject in previous verses has been the state of desolation which those people experience who are being reformed and becoming spiritual. But now the subject is the restoration of them, and here their comfort and hope of help.

[2] The fact that those who are being reformed are brought into a state of not knowing any truth, that is, into a state of desolation, insomuch that they experience grief and despair, and that at this point for the first time they receive comfort and help from the Lord, is something that is not known at the present day for the reason that few are being reformed. Those who are such that they are able to be reformed are brought into this state, if not during this life then in the next, where that state is very well known and is called vastation or desolation….

Those who experience such vastation or desolation are brought to the point of despair, and when in that state they receive comfort and help from the Lord, and at length are taken away out of that state into heaven, where in the presence of angels they are taught so to speak anew the goods and truths of faith.

The primary reason why they undergo vastation or desolation is so that the things of which they are firmly persuaded, originating in what is properly their own, may crumble, … and also that they may receive the perception of good and truth, which perception they are not able to receive until those false persuasions originating in what is their own are so to speak softened. And it is the state of distress and grief even to the point of despair that effects this change. What good is, and indeed what blessedness and happiness are, nobody with even the sharpest mind is able to perceive unless he has experienced the state of being deprived of good, blessedness, and happiness. It is from this experience that he acquires a sphere of perception; and he acquires it to the same degree that he has experienced the contrary state, for the sphere of perception and how far it extends are determined by his experience of the two contrary states. These, in addition to many others, are the reasons for vastation or desolation. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.


1 2SA 12:7

2 2SA 12:15

3 Prophets and Psalms

4 See 2KI 5

5 1KI 19:11-12

 

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