By Henry Mahan
William Plumer said, 'This Psalm is fitly called the sinner's guide.' Luther said, 'No other Psalm is oftener sung nor prayed in the church.' Thomas Chalmers said, 'This is the most deeply affecting of all the psalms, and I am sure the one most applicable to me.' There are many ways to consider the Psalm; but its being the sinner's prayer, let us look at ten pleas or petitions made in this prayer.
1. 'Have mercy upon me, O God' (v. 1). Even before David mentions his sins, he appeals to the mercy of God. We do not deserve to be pardoned nor forgiven; we deserve to be damned, so David does not ask for justice, but mercy. Pardon of sin must ever be an act of sovereign mercy (Exo. 33:18-19). Mercy is born of God's lovingkindness (1 John 4:10). Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve, and mercy is God NOT giving us what we do deserve.
2. 'Blot out my transgressions, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies' (v. 1), the multitude of our transgressions from the womb to the grave. But here is comfort--our God is plenteous in redemption and has multitudes of mercies. David pleads guilty of many sins but asks that the record be obliterated, erased, blotted out, so that nothing remains. He desires not only pardon, but that there shall not be any remembrance of sin forever (Isa. 43:25; Isa. 44:21-22; Heb. 10:17).
3. 'Wash me throughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from MY sin' (v. 2). Sin defiles soul and body, makes us foul and filthy, separates us from God, and corrupts even our good works (Isa. 64:6). Laws, works, and legal washings will not help; God himself must wash us in his own blood (Acts 20:28). David pleads to be washed and cleansed. Richard Baker says, 'Washing has to do with the work a-doing, and cleansing with the work done. Washing is done by the Lord; cleansing is the result.' Most people are concerned about the punishment of sin; David is concerned about the guilt of it. In Verse 4 David acknowledges that his sins are against God, justifies God in condemning him, and clears the name of God of any injustice when he is judged. This is true conviction and repentance.
4. 'Make me to know wisdom' (v. 6). True wisdom and understanding of the righteousness of God, the nature of sin, and the necessity of regeneration and the new birth are essential to faith, forgiveness, and salvation.
Our sins are against God, and he must be just and punish sin. 'He is a just God and a Saviour' (Isa. 45:21-22). Christ's life and death in our stead enable God to be both just and justifier (Rom. 3:25-26).
We were born in sin (v. 5); sin is our nature. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked; therefore, only the Spirit of God can teach us this truth and bring us to own it by giving us life and a new heart (v. 6). The wisdom of God in the inward part is Christ, Who is made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30; John 6:44-45). We see the wisdom and power of God in the cross of substitution (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
5. 'Purge me with hyssop' (v. 7). This is what the publican prayed, 'Let thy blood be propitiation for me on the mercy-seat.' Let the sin-offering purge my sin, and I shall be whiter than the snow (Heb. 10:11-14). All blood sacrifices sprinkled and offered in the Old Testament point to Christ, the Lamb of God (Heb. 1:3). Here is faith in Christ's atonement, its power and efficacy.' 6. 'Make me to hear joy and gladness' (vv. 8-9). There is no greater misery than the guilt and fear of sin before God, and there is no greater joy than the joy of forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. He says, 'Lord, you speak peace, joy, and gladness to my heart;' for faith, assurance, and joy spring only from God. Set the bones which you have broken in revealing my iniquities by blotting them out and being reconciled to me. Then I shall know joy and gladness.
7. 'Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me' (v. 10). Sin has so destroyed us that the Creator must come and, out of the death, darkness, and ashes, create a new heart, a new nature, and a right spirit (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). David did not pray, 'Make my old heart clean;' he was too experienced in the helplessness and hopelessness of the old nature (Jer. 13:23). None but God can create a new heart or a new earth. 'Salvation is of the Lord' (Jonah 2:9). What a complete prayer in two sentences! 'Create' what was not there and 'renew' what is there but in constant need of renewing.' 8. 'Cast me not away from thy presence' (v. 11). Do not throw me away as unprofitable and worthless; banish me not from thy presence like Cain. Don't give me over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:24-28). Thy Spirit is the spirit of life, light, and truth. 'Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.' Permit me to be among those who share thy love, if only I keep the door (Psalm 84:10). 'Lord, if you will, you can make me whole' (Matt. 8:1-2).
9. 'Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation' (v. 12). This sinner had known the joy of the Lord, but through sin he had lost that joy and longed for its return. Joy always follows pardon; it is presumption to think otherwise. None but God can forgive, give joy, or restore it. 'Then I will teach others thy ways' (v. 13).
Huntingdon said, 'The degree S.S., or sinner saved, is more needful to teach others than an M.A. or a D.D.' A man cannot tell what he does not know anymore than he can come back from where he has not been.
10. 'Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God' (v. 14). He had been the means of the death of Uriah, a faithful friend. Honest penitents do not cover their sins but own them before God as they are. David's sins, whatever they were, are no more heinous than ours, committed in the heart. 'Open my lips to show forth thy praise. The formality of sacrifices and burnt offerings do not please thee' (v. 16).
'The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit . . . and a contrite heart' (because of sin), and a heart of faith in Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God which taketh away our sins (Acts 20:20-21). Can you pray 'the sinner's prayer,' which may be (as some say), 'Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner,' but contains all that David has set forth in this Psalm? (Rom. 10:13).