Psalm 51 Introduction
Behold, to obey is better than psalms
And to hearken than to praise the Lord.
(adapted from 1 Sam. 15:22)
Bruce R. McConkie
In tears [David] sought forgiveness, which, because of Uriah's murder, was not forthcoming.
David knew he had forfeited his claim to eternal life and the continuation of the family unit in the realms ahead. Yet he importuned the Lord for such blessings as he still might receive. And though a just God could no longer confer upon his erring servant the fulness of that reward which might have been his, yet according to the great plan of mercy, which causes the resurrection to pass upon all men, he could bring him up eventually to a lesser inheritance. His soul need not be cast off eternally to dwell with Lucifer and those who are in open and continuing rebellion against righteousness. True, because of his sins, he had cast his lot with the wicked "who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire," and "who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work." (D&C 76:105-6.) But in that day when death and hell deliver up the dead which are in them (Rev. 20:13), David and his fellow sufferers shall come forth from the grave. Because he was a member of the Church and had entered into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and then had fallen into sin, the revelation says of him: "He hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion." (D&C 132:39.)
Implicit in this historical recitation of what David did to lose his salvation, and in the doctrinal laws which nonetheless guaranteed him a resurrection and a lesser degree of eternal reward, are two great truths: (1) That the Holy One of Israel, the Holy One of God, the Son of David, would die and then be resurrected; and (2) that because he burst the bands of death and became the first-fruits of them that slept, all men also would be resurrected, both the righteous and the wicked, including saints who became sinners, as was the case with David their king.
These two truths became known as and were called "the sure mercies of David," meaning that David in his life and death and resurrection was singled out as the symbol to dramatize before the people that their Holy One would be resurrected and that all men would also come forth from the grave. David knew and understood this and wrote about it. So also did Isaiah, which means the principle was known and taught in ancient Israel; and both Peter and Paul made it the basis of persuasive New Testament sermons, in which they identified the Holy One of Israel as that Jesus whom they preached. (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 272)
Psalms 51:1 thy tender mercies
David A. Bednar
I have reflected repeatedly upon the phrase "the tender mercies of the Lord." Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord's tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits "his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men" (D&C 46:15).
Recall how the Savior instructed His Apostles that He would not leave them comfortless. Not only would He send "another Comforter" (John 14:16), even the Holy Ghost, but the Savior said that He would come to them (see John 14:18). Let me suggest that one of the ways whereby the Savior comes to each of us is through His abundant and tender mercies. For instance, as you and I face challenges and tests in our lives, the gift of faith and an appropriate sense of personal confidence that reaches beyond our own capacity are two examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. Repentance and forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. And the persistence and the fortitude that enable us to press forward with cheerfulness through physical limitations and spiritual difficulties are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord...
Thus, the Father's work is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. Our work is to keep His commandments with all of our might, mind, and strength-and we thereby become chosen and, through the Holy Ghost, receive and recognize the tender mercies of the Lord in our daily lives. ("The Tender Mercies of the Lord," Ensign, May 2005, 99)
Psalms 51:1-2 blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquities
Like David, we all want our transgressions blotted out. We all want our sins to be removed from the heavenly record. We all want to forget and move on. The last thing we want is for our transgressions to be "spoken upon the housetops" and our "secret acts" revealed to the whole world (D&C 1:3).
Tragically, David's eloquent prayer would not be answered. Don't we all know what he did? The memory of his sin was not blotted out, neither on the earthly record nor on the heavenly one. The Bible records his transgression so that all readers may know the story.
"Wash me thoroughly." We all want to be clean from our iniquities. However, there are a few sins which are unforgiveable. Premeditated murder is one of them. (Alma 39:6; D&C 42:18; 132:26-27, 39) David could become clean from his sin of lust; he could become clean from his sin of adultery; but he could not become clean from his sin of murder. He could not be washed thoroughly.
Instead, the judgment of God would require of him, that he "must suffer even as I. Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit" (D&C 19:17-18)
Spencer W. Kimball
For his dreadful crime, all his life afterward he sought forgiveness. Some of the Psalms portray the anguish of his soul, yet David is still paying for his sin. He did not receive the resurrection at the time of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter declared that his body was still in the tomb. (See Acts 2:29-34.)
President Joseph F. Smith made this comment on David's position:
But even David, though guilty of adultery and murder of Uriah, obtained the promise that his soul should not be left in hell, which means, as I understand it, that even he shall escape the second death.
The Prophet Joseph Smith underlined the seriousness of the sin of murder for David as for all men, and the fact that there is no forgiveness for it.
A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness. David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears, for the murder of Uriah; but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell.
Although David was a king, he never did obtain the spirit and power of Elijah and the fullness of the Priesthood; and the Priesthood that he received, and the throne and kingdom of David is to be taken from him and given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his lineage.
Perhaps one reason murder is so heinous is that man cannot restore life. Man's mortal life is given him in which to repent and prepare himself for eternity, and should one of his fellowmen terminate his life and thus limit his progress by making his repentance impossible, it would be a ghastly deed, a tremendous responsibility for which the murderer might not be able to atone in his lifetime. (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 128-129)
Did [David] repent? He did. Did he cry unto the Lord? He did. Was he sorely troubled? He was, and he was perhaps as repentant as any one could be; but the decree had gone forth, and hence that man had to endure the penalty of his crime. Peter, when referring to this subject on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, quotes from the Psalms of David, and says, "Thou hast not left my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." It seems that after all, though David's repentance could not wipe away his sin, yet he had a hope, and he looked forward to the time when he would be liberated from hell; when that time arrived he would come forth and receive some kind of a glory, how much I do not know, for it is not revealed; but suffice it to say, he sinned against great light and knowledge and because of his sin he fell from a very high position. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 15: 317 - 318)
Psalms 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil
Again, David's eloquence should not be mistaken for doctrinal accuracy. Had he sinned only against the Lord and no one else? To kill Uriah was to sin against Uriah, his wife Bathsheba, his parents and family, and every other friend and acquaintance whose heart was saddened by his loss. He had sinned against nature, against the sanctity of life, and against Uriah's unborn children.
A few sins are "against the Lord and only the Lord," but these are usually sins which are violations of the first great commandment, to love the Lord God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. Violations of the second commandment, however, always have mortal repercussions. In spite of this, sinners often justify their mistakes, saying "it doesn't hurt anyone."
"'Whatever we decide to do between ourselves is nobody else's business. What we do in the privacy of our own lives doesn't affect others.'
"This common justification for immorality is one of the adversary's most blatant lies. It is like saying, 'We'll pollute the air with any dangerous substance we want. If you don't like it, don't breathe.' However, an individual's actions always affect others with the disappointment and hurt that come to family, friends, and God. And private behavior does affect public morality. Each individual represents a single thread in the fabric of society. If the majority of the strands are weak and rotting away, how can we expect the cloth of civilization to remain whole, strong, durable?
"President Spencer W. Kimball warned, 'The earth cannot justify nor continue its life without marriage and the family. Sex without marriage, for all people, young or older, is an abomination to the Lord, and it is most unfortunate that many people have blinded their eyes to these great truths.'
"Even the smallest decisions to do the right thing have, potentially, a large positive impact on other individuals, members of the extended family, classmates, society, and even future posterity (see Deut. 11:27)." (W. Jeffrey Marsh, "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery," Ensign, July 1994, 45)
Psalms 51:5 I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me
Joseph Fielding Smith
Question: "In a discussion with a gentleman of another faith, he made the statement that a child is born in sin. That the conceiving of a child even in lawful wedlock is a sin. Of course I have been taught differently and voiced our teachings on the original sin of Adam and Eve, and then made the statement, 'To my knowledge, there is not any scripture in the Bible that states that a child which is born in lawful wedlock is born in sin, thus making the child guilty of sin.' This person showed me a statement in Psalm 51:5, which reads: 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.'
"I have studied the scriptures, have read the numerous other literature which strengthened my testimony in relation to original sin, but I cannot explain the statement of David in this passage, when he was the youngest of several children. Several of the non-members are waiting for me to prove I am right. I have satisfied them as to our belief on original sin. They also refer to the fact that it was a Jewish belief that the woman had to go through a purification period and ceremony after childbirth, and if it is not a sin why was it necessary for this purification?"
Answer: No matter what David said, he was not born in sin. The opening verses of this psalm give us the key to the nature of David's remark.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:1-5.)
In the midst of his sorrow because he violated the moral law, he may have felt his sin keenly and in this manner expressed himself, but this did not make the statement true that his parents were guilty of sin and that he partook of it in his birth. Let it be remembered also that David was speaking only for and of himself, and that his words cannot in justice be universally applied.
Little children are not born in sin when their parents are lawfully married. The first commandment given to Adam was that he and Eve should multiply and fill the earth. After the flood this same commandment was reiterated and was required of Noah and his posterity. To declare that children born in lawful wedlock come into the world through a sinful act, is making our Eternal Father guilty of commanding that a sin be committed, hence he would be a party to the sin. We read that our Eternal Father is just; he cannot lie, and that his words are faithful and true. Therefore it is contrary to all that has been revealed for our Father to command his children that they commit a sin in bringing children into the world, and you are justified in saying that there is no scripture which supports it.
It is a false doctrine which prevails in the world that children have to be cleansed from original sin. Those who teach such a doctrine fail to comprehend the nature of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Adam and Eve brought death into the world by partaking of fruit which was forbidden. This act brought death upon them, and their posterity inherited death so that we all have to die some time. To restore mankind to life, the uniting again of the spirit with the body, thus atoning for Adam's transgression, was the mission of Jesus Christ. He came and paid that debt and through his sacrifice on the cross he has redeemed all from death and has given them the gift of the resurrection. The posterity of Adam in no way whatever is subject to original sin, and there is no act required of them to cleanse them from such a sin. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 3: 15-16)
The spirits that live in these tabernacles were as pure as the heavens, when they entered them. They came to tabernacles that are contaminated, pertaining to the flesh, by the fall of man. The Psalmist says, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." This Scripture has established in the minds of some the doctrine of total depravity-that it is impossible for them to have one good thought, that they are altogether sinful, that there is no good, no soundness, and no spiritual health in them. This is not correct, yet we have a warfare within us. We have to contend against evil passions, or the seeds of iniquity that are sown in the flesh through the fall. (Journal of Discourses, 10:105)
Psalms 51:10 Create in me a clean heart
"I once sat in an interview with a fine young man who really desired to be pure in heart. He said to me: 'Bishop, I want to get my life in order. I want the Spirit to be with me, and so each night I take the time to list all my sins and all my problems to the Lord. I pray for his forgiveness and ask him for specific help to overcome each one.' I commended the young man for his diligence and his desires. I then suggested lovingly that he might consider an alternative approach-to pray about his nature and his desires, to ask the Lord to make of him a new creature in Christ, to give him in time a clean heart." (Robert L. Millet, Steadfast and Immovable: Striving for Spiritual Maturity [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 138)
"Men will continue to have impure and poisoned blood, so long as they propagate unclean thoughts. Out of a clean heart comes a clean life and a clean body. Out of a defiled mind proceeds a defiled life and a corrupt body. Thought is the fount of action, life and manifestation; make the fountain pure, and all will be pure." (James Allen, As a Man Thinketh, 36)
Charles A. Callis
Pray with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me." When a man repents of his sins and brings forth fruits meet for repentance, is he not another man? Does not God give him another heart, a new heart?... my brethren and sisters, if the people will put all manner of evil beneath their feet; if they will turn wholly to God: if they will set their faces as flint against those evils which are vexing mankind, God will give them new hearts, and by obeying the gospel, they will become better and stronger.
Psalms 51:11 take not thy holy spirit from me
Rulon G. Wells
It is a terrible thing to get the gift of the Holy Ghost and then lose it. We can only do that through transgression. If we have only kept ourselves clean, we have it still... It is a terrible thing to lose it, and that is what some people have done. I call attention to one historical instance of it. There was David... O how full and overflowing was he with that faith and confidence in God, in whom he believed to the bottom of his soul. But David sinned against God, and in the agony of his soul and in his repentant mood, he cried out to the Lord, "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." O, Latter-day Saints, it is a terrible thing to have it taken away. David obtained a promise before he died that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell, and I like to think that he will yet receive compensation for all that he has done in upbuilding the faith of mankind in those unstinted words of his wherein he expresses his devotion and faith in God. (Conference Report, April 1926, Afternoon Session 78 - 79)
Psalms 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart
M. Russell Ballard
After His mortal ministry, Christ elevated the law of sacrifice to a new level. In describing how the law would continue, Jesus told his Nephite Apostles that He would no longer accept burnt offerings but that His disciples should offer "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Ne. 9:19-20; see also D&C 59:8, 12). Instead of the Lord requiring our animals or grain, now He wants us to give up all that is ungodly. This higher practice of the law of sacrifice reaches into the inner soul of a person. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: "Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!'" ("The Law of Sacrifice," Ensign, Oct. 1998, 10)
George Q. Cannon
There was a time when God required of his people the sacrifice of animals. They brought their animals and they were offered up as sacrifices, and they obtained the remission of sins by that method. This was required under the law of Moses; it was required until the coming of the Son of God, until he made his great sacrifice for man. But what does God require of us? Is it that we shall bring animals and offer burnt offerings unto him? No, he does not make that requirement of us today, but this is the sacrifice required of us: he asks us that we shall come to him with broken hearts and with contrite spirits. If we do he will accept of us, our offerings will be like the offerings of Abel, acceptable in his sight; but if we go to him as Cain did, our offerings will not be acceptable to him, and he will reject them. But if you and I and all who profess to be the followers of the Lord Jesus will bow down before him with humble hearts, each of us with a broken heart and contrite spirit, what will be the effect? Why, we will confess our faults to him, because they will be plain in our sight, we will see ourselves in the light of the Spirit of God, and the spirit of repentance will rest down upon us. (Journal of Discourses, 20:289)
Richard G. Scott
If you are suffering the disheartening effects of transgression, please recognize that the only path to permanent relief from sadness is sincere repentance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Realize your full dependence upon the Lord and your need to align your life with His teachings. There is really no other way to get lasting healing and peace. Postponing humble repentance will delay or prevent your receiving relief. Admit to yourself your mistakes and seek help now. Your bishop is a friend with keys of authority to help you find peace of mind and contentment. The way will be opened for you to have strength to repent and be forgiven. ("Trust in the Lord," Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16)