Against thee, thee only, have I sinned - This verse is supposed to show the impropriety of affixing the above title to this Psalm. It could not have been composed on account of the matter with Bath-sheba and the murder of Uriah; for, surely, these sins could not be said to have been committed against God Only, if we take the words of this verse in their common acceptation. That was a public sin, grievous, and against society at large, as well as against the peace, honor, comfort, and life of an innocent, brave, and patriotic man. This is readily granted: but see below.
That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest - Perhaps, to save the propriety of the title, we might understand the verse thus: David, being king, was not liable to be called to account by any of his subjects; nor was there any authority in the land by which he could be judged and punished. In this respect, God Alone was greater than the king; and to him Alone, as king, he was responsible. Nam quando rex deliquit, Soli Deo reus est; guia hominem non habet qui ejus facta dijudicet, says Cassiodorus. "For when a king transgresses, he is accountable to God Only; for there is no person who has authority to take cognizance of his conduct." On this very maxim, which is a maxim in all countries, David might say, Against thee only have I sinned. "I cannot be called to the bar of my subjects; but I arraign myself before thy bar. They can neither judge nor condemn me; but thou canst: and such are my crimes that thou wilt be justified in the eyes of all men, and cleared of all severity, shouldst thou inflict upon me the heaviest punishment." This view,of the subject will reconcile the Psalm to the title. As to the eighteenth and nineteenth verses, we shall consider them in their own place; and probably find that the objection taken from them has not much weight.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned - That is, the sin, considered as an offence against God, now appeared to him so enormous and so aggravated, that, for the moment, he lost sight of it considered in any other of its bearings. It “was” a sin, as all other sins are, primarily and mainly against God; it derived its chief enormity from that fact. We are not to suppose that David did not believe and notice that he had done wrong to people, or that he had offended against human laws, and against the well-being of society. His crime against Uriah and his family was of the deepest and most aggravated character, but still the offence derived its chief heinousness from the fact that it was a violation of the law of God. The state of mind here illustrated is that which occurs in every case of true penitence. It is not merely because that which has been done is a violation of human law; it is not that it brings us to poverty or disgrace; it is not that it exposes us to punishment on earth from a parent, a teacher, or civil ruler; it is not that it exposes us to punishment in the world to come: it is that it is of itself, and apart from all other relations and consequences, “an offence against God;” a violation of his pure and holy law; a wrong done against him, and in his sight. Unless there is this feeling there can be no true penitence; and unless there is this feeling there can be no hope of pardon, for God forgives offences only as committed against himself; not as involving us in dangerous consequences, or as committed against our fellow-men.
And done this evil in thy sight - Or, When thine eye was fixed on me. Compare the notes at Isaiah 65:3. God saw what he had done; and David knew, or might have known, that the eye of God was upon him in his wickedness. It was to him then a great aggravation of his sin that he had “dared” to commit it when he “knew” that God saw everything. The presence of a child - or even of an idiot - would restrain people from many acts of sin which they would venture to commit if alone; how much more should the fact that God is always present, and always sees all that is done, restrain us from open and from secret transgression.
That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest - That thy character might be vindicated in all that thou hast said; in the law which thou hast revealed; in the condemnation of the sin in that law; and in the punishment which thou mayest appoint. That is, he acknowledged his guilt. He did not seek to apologise for it, or to vindicate it. God was right, and he was wrong. The sin deserved all that God in his law “had” declared it to deserve; it deserved all that God by any sentence which he might pass upon him “would” declare it to deserve. The sin was so aggravated that “any” sentence which God might pronounce would not be beyond the measure of its ill-desert.
And be clear when thou judgest - Be regarded as right, holy, pure, in the judgment which thou mayest appoint. See this more fully explained in the notes at Romans 3:4.
Says the apostle: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” This scripture has been interpreted to sustain the practice of going to the priest for absolution; but it has no such application. Confess your sins to God, who only can forgive them, and your faults to one another. If you have given offense to your friend or neighbor you are to acknowledge your wrong, and it is his duty freely to forgive you. Then you are to seek the forgiveness of God because the brother whom you wounded is the property of God, and in injuring him you sinned against his Creator and Redeemer. The case is not brought before the priest at all, but before the only true mediator, our great High Priest, who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” and who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” and is able to cleanse from every stain of iniquity. 5T 639.1
When David sinned against Uriah and his wife, he pleaded before God for forgiveness. He declares: “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight.” All wrong done to others reaches back from the injured one to God. Therefore David seeks for pardon, not from a priest, but from the Creator of man. He prays: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” 5T 639.2
True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins. They may be of such a nature as only to be brought before God, they may be wrongs that should be confessed before individuals who have suffered injury through them, or they may be of a general kind that should be made known in the congregation of the people. But all confession should be definite and to the point, acknowledging the very sins of which you are guilty. 5T 639.3Read in context »
In that hour of darkest trial, David sang: Ed 165.1
“I cried unto the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me out of His holy hill. Ed 165.2
“I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,
That have set themselves against me around about.” Ed 165.3
God intended the history of David's fall to serve as a warning that even those whom He has greatly blessed and favored are not to feel secure and neglect watchfulness and prayer. And thus it has proved to those who in humility have sought to learn the lesson that God designed to teach. From generation to generation thousands have thus been led to realize their own danger from the tempter's power. The fall of David, one so greatly honored by the Lord, has awakened in them distrust of self. They have felt that God alone could keep them by His power through faith. Knowing that in Him was their strength and safety, they have feared to take the first step on Satan's ground. PP 724.1
Even before the divine sentence was pronounced against David he had begun to reap the fruit of transgression. His conscience was not at rest. The agony of spirit which he then endured is brought to view in the thirty-second psalm. He says: PP 724.2
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile.
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old
Through my roaring all the day long.
For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me:
My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer.” PP 724.3
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord
imputeth not iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile.” SC 25.1
Psalm 32:1, 2. SC 25
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to
According unto the multitude of Thy tender
mercies blot out my transgressions....
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my
sin is ever before me....
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow....
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....
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou
God of my salvation:
And my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy
righteousness.” SC 25.2
O that we might have a consuming desire to know God by an experimental knowledge, to come into the audience chamber of the Most High, reaching up the hand of faith, and casting our helpless souls upon the One mighty to save. His loving kindness is better than life (Manuscript 38, 1905). 3BC 1147.1
1-17. The Way Back to God—I present before you the fifty-first psalm, a psalm filled with precious lessons. From it we may learn what course to follow if we have departed from the Lord. To the king of Israel, exalted and honored, the Lord sent a message of reproof by His prophet. David confessed his sin and humbled his heart, declaring God to be just in all His dealings [Psalm 51:1-17 quoted] (Manuscript 147, 1903). 3BC 1147.2Read in context »