Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Anatomy of Repentance

Psalm 51 is one of my favorite Scripture passages, more out of necessity than anything else. In it we see David, a man who was endowed which such divine favor and honor, broken into a heap of guilt-ridden humanity, seeking to be refashioned by God into a vessel of integrity and uprightness once more. An integral aspect of the heinousness of David's sin does not come so much from the desecration of the stately position upon which he was placed by divine mandate as king of Israel (though that is certainly an important part of it), but from his intimate knowledge of God's character and will as expressed in his affection for the law—a knowledge that did not prove a deterrent. Calvin writes, "He acknowledges that it was not a mere superficial acquaintance with divine truth which he had enjoyed, but that it had been closely brought home to his heart. This rendered his offense the more inexcusable. Though privileged so highly with the saving knowledge of the truth, he had plunged into the commission of brutish sin, and by various acts of iniquity had almost ruined his soul" [1].

But what I would like to seek out is an understanding of the seeming peculiarity of the vehement nature by which David appealed for God's pardon and restoration of favor, as expressed in this psalm, even though the prophet Nathan had already assured him of such graces. Was it unbelief on David's part? An appendage to his already glaring list of sins?

Two things emerge from Calvin's ruminations on the matter:

1.) It is within the province of piety to implore God for forgiveness and spiritual restoration through the employment of the totality of the faculties of our souls even when His covenant promises assure us of such benefits, as this is a recognition of the utter deplorability of our sin and His holiness.

2.) As human beings, we are creatures of our physical senses, and are naturally of the disposition to waver in faith. Therefore, God has mercifully and graciously provided us with physical signs and seals of His favor and fatherly love, communicated through the Sacraments.

"But here it may be asked why David needed to pray so earnestly for the joy of remission, when he had already received assurance from the lips of Nathan that his sin was pardoned? (2 Samuel 12:13.) Why did he not embrace this absolution? and was he not chargeable with dishonoring God by disbelieving the word of his prophet? We cannot expect that God will send us angels in order to announce the pardon which we require. Was it not said by Christ, that whatever his disciples remitted on earth would be remitted in heaven? (John 20:23.) And does not the apostle declare that ministers of the gospel are ambassadors to reconcile men to God? (2 Corinthians 5:20.) From this it might appear to have argued unbelief in David, that, notwithstanding the announcement of Nathan, he should evince a remaining perplexity or uncertainty regarding his forgiveness. There is a twofold explanation which may be given of the difficulty. We may hold that Nathan did not immediately make him aware of the fact that God was willing to be reconciled to him. In Scripture, it is well known, things are not always stated according to the strict order of time in which they occurred. It is quite conceivable that, having thrown him into this situation of distress, God might keep him in it for a considerable interval, for his deeper humiliation; and that David expresses in these verses the dreadful anguish which he endured when challenged with his crime, and not yet informed of the divine determination to pardon it. Let us take the other supposition, however, and it by no means follows that a person may not be assured of the favor of God, and yet show great earnestness and importunity in praying for pardon. David might be much relieved by the announcement of the prophet, and yet be visited occasionally with fresh convictions, influencing him to have recourse to the throne of grace. However rich and liberal the offers of mercy may be which God extends to us, it is highly proper on our part that we should reflect upon the grievous dishonor which we have done to his name, and be filled with due sorrow on account of it. Then our faith is weak, and we cannot at once apprehend the full extent of the divine mercy; so that there is no reason to be surprised that David should have once and again renewed his prayers for pardon, the more to confirm his belief in it. The truth is, that we cannot properly pray for the pardon of sin until we have come to a persuasion that God will be reconciled to us. Who can venture to open his mouth in God’s presence unless he be assured of his fatherly favor? And pardon being the first thing we should pray for, it is plain that there is no inconsistency in having a persuasion of the grace of God, and yet proceeding to supplicate his forgiveness. In proof of this, I might refer to the Lord’s Prayer, in which we are taught to begin by addressing God as our Father, and yet afterwards to pray for the remission of our sins. God’s pardon is full and complete; but our faith cannot take in his overflowing goodness, and it is necessary that it should distil to us drop by drop. It is owing to this infirmity of our faith, that we are often found repeating and repeating again the same petition, not with the view surely of gradually softening the heart of God to compassion, but because we advance by slow and difficult steps to the requisite fullness of assurance. The mention which is here made of purging with hyssop, and of washing or sprinkling, teaches us, in all our prayers for the pardon of sin, to have our thoughts directed to the great sacrifice by which Christ has reconciled us to God. “Without shedding of blood,” says Paul, “is no remissions” (Hebrews 9:22;) and this, which was intimated by God to the ancient Church under figures, has been fully made known by the coming of Christ. The sinner, if he would find mercy, must look to the sacrifice of Christ, which expiated the sins of the world, glancing, at the same time, for the confirmation of his faith, to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; for it were vain to imagine that God, the Judge of the world, would receive us again into his favor in any other way than through a satisfaction made to his justice" [2].

[1]  John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms — Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classic Ethereal Library, 1991), Psalm 51:3—6).
[2]  ibid., Psalm 51:7—9, italics original).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails