Sin and Psalm 51

As part of my scheduled Bible reading this morning I read Psalm 51, a great psalm describing the response of an OT believer to his sin. After reading through and meditating on it, I picked up the new hymnal I was given last night by one of our folks from church, the Trinity Hymnal (1961) of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

I was wondering what hymns it had on this psalm, and found a great one, hymn #415. While reading through it, I appreciated the 3rd stanza:

I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Saviour art,
Teach thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.

Upon arriving at the 5th stanza, I encountered a problem:

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from thee,
Let thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

The idea that the OT believer was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit is a prevalent one, and many who do believe OT believers were indwelt by the Spirit don’t believe it was a permanent indwelling, primarily on the basis of Psalm 51:11-“do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” This belief is represented by the stanza of this hymn and Allan Harmon’s excellent commentary on the Psalms-“OT believers had the same indwelling Spirit as Christians today, and David pleads that he will not experience the withdrawal of that Spirit” (Psalms, p. 204).

Sorry, David wasn’t thinking about losing the indwelling of the Spirit. He had committed adultery and murder, grievous sins to commit under the Mosaic Law, the governing constitution of the theocratic nation’s belief and practice. David remembered the last time an individual in his position as the king of the theocratic nation had grievously sinned against Yahweh (cp. 1 Sam 11:6; 15-16). Saul’s rebellious and anti-God activity resulted in Yahweh removing the Spirit-given ability from Saul (called the theocratic anointing; see my doctrinal statement on pneumatology in the Silo), effectively beginning the end of his reign. David did not want to experience that. The theocratic anointing was limited to the OT economy, specifically with regard to the rulers of Israel.

So–Psalm 51:11 is not a good proof-text for proving that OT believers were at best only temporarily indwelt by the Spirit. That’s not what it means. What can NT believers gain from this? While the specific effect of sin mentioned here is not experienced today, the principle is true: my sin can have significant effects upon my service to God and his people. I need to have God’s view and feeling toward my sin, and respond with repentance and contrition.

Back to the Trinity Hymnal, last verse:

Sinners then shall learn from me
And return, O God, to thee;
Saviour, all my guilt remove,
And my tongue shall sing thy love;
Touch my silent lips, O Lord,
And my mouth shall praise accord.


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