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Part 1 - The Psalms Have Mercy Upon Me: The Prayer of the 51st Psalm Explained and Applied by Murray, Andrew
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David: when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
‘The history of the Psalms is the history of the Church, and the history of every heart in which has burned the love of God. It is a history not fully revealed in this world, but one which is written in heaven. Surely it is holy ground. We cannot pray the Psalms without realising in a very special manner the communion of saints, the oneness of the Church militant and the Church triumphant. We cannot pray the Psalms without having our hearts opened, our affections enlarged, our thoughts drawn heavenward. He who can pray them best is nearest to God; knows most of the spirit of Christ; is ripest for heaven.'
-J. J. S. PEROWNE.
A Psalm of David for the Chief Musician.
THE Book of Psalms is the innermost sanctuary, the thrice Holy Place of the sanctuary of the Bible. In the rest of the Bible we receive instruction from God on the way to draw near to Him. In the Book of Psalms, God sets open the door of His secret dwelling-place, and He shows to us how His believing people come to Him, speak with Him, and enjoy fellowship with Him. There we see the throne of grace surrounded with suppliants, and we learn to pray. There is the grace of God manifested in the most glorious way.
To use another similtude, it is with the Book of Psalms as it is with the lowest class of an infant school. In the higher classes, which are all somewhat advanced, the teacher says what they have to learn. They must know how to help themselves, and have need of his help only from time to time. But with the youngest class, which is learning the A, B, C,' a different method is taken. Every letter must be pronounced before them, and, indeed, singly dictated to them. The teacher must put the sounds for them into their mouth, until they learn to pronounce and know them for themselves. It is in this way that the Lord God deals with us in the Psalms. He comes as the Faithful One, still nearer to us than in the rest of the Bible. He bows still more tenderly to our weakness. He Himself puts into our mouth the very words with which we may come to Him. He is aware that we do not know how and what we should pray for; therefore He comes and tells us for what we ought to pray. And when we take these words of His into our mouth, and continue to express them with the desire to understand them in order that we may feel and pray as it is there expressed, then He gives us His blessing, and His Spirit makes the words living and powerful in our souls. Precious Psalms, in which God's Holy Spirit Himself teaches us to pray.
This book will become yet more precious to you when you consider in what way the Lord God has dictated to you the words in order that you may pray after them. Has He sent to us from His high heaven directions for prayer as if He had ordained them there for us? No: in that case they would not be truly human, nor would they be adapted to our condition upon the earth. No: the Holy Spirit has taught us to speak truly in the language of men, with the feelings of men, and from the heart of men. The Lord has taken men of like passions with ourselves, and sinners such as we are, in every possible condition of need and misery. He has taught them by His Holy Spirit to utter these prayers, and to commit them to writing; and now He offers them to us as a Prayer-Book adapted to our need. Adapted to our need, I say, because they come from His Spirit, and are therefore divine; and yet just as genuinely human, because they come also from those who are our flesh and blood, and are in everything like ourselves. That, too, is the reason why the Book of Psalms has been so precious to all sinners who are anxious about salvation, and has also proved such a blessing to them: the reason, too, why it will become precious to you, my readers, if you earnestly desire to seek after God. In other books of the Bible much is presented to you about sin and conversion, and the conflict and blessedness of believers. But here you may see and hear these believers themselves. In the Book of Psalms you have the key of their inner chamber. There you may see them in their intercourse with God. There you hear how one confesses sin and entreats forgiveness; how another praises God for His grace, and pours out his heart before Him. There you may kneel down alongside them and pray along with them. Your heart will become inflamed by their repentance and their faith.
But what do I say? It is not only the inner chamber of believers that is open to you in the Psalms; it is the innermost recesses of their heart. In solitude with God and in the light of His countenance, they lay all their misery naked before Him; and there you may see as in a mirror what wretchedness there must be in your own heart of which you still know so little. The whole hidden conflict arising from the sense of guilt, as well as conversion and faith, is there presented to you in living and visible form. There you may see how it goes with a soul who is under the working of God's grace. Never shall you learn to know sin, especially your own sin, aright, until you have learned to agree with the deep confession of the suppliants of the Psalms. And never shall you learn to glory in God and rejoice in His grace, so much as when you have learned to give praise and thanks with the poets of the Psalms.
It is for this reason, also, that souls desirous of salvation have at all times very deeply loved the Psalms, and that many of the most eminent of the saints of God have declared that the Psalms become to them, the longer they use them, the more precious and the more glorious, and that there is no means of grace more rich and stable than the right use of the Psalms.
Yet why should I speak of men? Think of the Son of God. It is He who has taught us the use of the Psalms, and sanctified them to us. When in the heaviest stress of His conflict He Himself has to lament, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' was that not a word of the twenty-second Psalm written to meet His condition? And, when dying, He cried, 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,' was that not a word from another Psalm? And if the man Christ Jesus had need of the words of the Psalms to comfort and strengthen Himself in prayer to His Father, how much more must you, my friend, and I have our poor hearts prepared by these divine prayers to draw near aright to God.
The blessing arising from the use of these words, then, is great and sure-'The word is nigh thee, saith the Lord, in thy mouth and in thy heart.' God has in His grace so adapted the Word to us that wherever anyone takes these words into his lips and uses them, and then at once ponders them and expresses them, there a way is prepared for the Word to enter from the mouth into the heart. Through the gateway of the mouth the Word comes into the heart. You shall experience that the words of God are the living seed which germinates and shoots out roots, and springs upward and bears fruit. Your heart is the soil: you have only to open it, and you will experience that it is indeed the word of God which worketh mightily in you who believe.
My reader, I speak to you as one anxious to be saved. I invite you to meditate with me on the Fifty-first Psalm. Let us learn to pray this Psalm together. Let us ponder it, verse by verse, learning it by heart and receiving it into our spirit, as well as uttering it before God upon our knees. For David this Psalm was the way out of the depths of sin to the blessedness of forgiveness, to a rich experience of the grace of God. This Psalm can also bring you and me into this blessing. This Psalm will do it for us, if we use and follow it faithfully. Reader, for God's sake, for your own soul's sake, I entreat you, prepare yourself with all earnestness to learn by heart and to pray this Psalm. The blessing which it will bring you is inconceivably great.