King David in Prayer – Pieter de Grebber
King David and Bathsheba (6)
I have liberally used John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 51 as a key resource for indicting David’s behavior. It thus is only fitting that John Calvin’s comments should also be central to an explanation of God’s revealed purpose and motivations in this particular matter. This issue is of the highest import because it sheds light on a core issue of the Christian life — that being the torturous tension between our salvation and our continuing irresistible compulsion to sin.
Firstly, let there be no doubt that we the saved elect are not supposed to sin.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6, NIV)
However, in this earthly life that possibility for sinlessness falls prey to the residual power of sin in our lives. The Apostle Paul’s anguished words connect this abstract issue directly to our living flesh and blood selves.
14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:14-20, NIV)
This is the state in which King David existed, and, in which all humans, including Christians still exist. Thus, the pretense of some Christians that they are more “moral” or “disinterested” or “loving” than the rest of us is a deadly lie. No, the terrible truth is that, were it not for the fact that Christ’s obedience and satisfaction had been imputed unto us, we would be ultimately indistinguishable from any other human being.
What then is the distinguishing mark of a Christian with regard to sin? It is this — that the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work exposes our sinfulness which leads to, over time, increasing acknowledgment of and repentance from the power of sin in our lives. This sanctifying work is never completed in this worldly life. But sure proof of our elect state is provided by the Spirit’s progress in moving us towards the goal.
What then, you might ask, is the definition of sin? It is not defined by a secular political movement, or by highly credentialed academics or by celebrities or by anyone else. No, sin is only what God’s Word says that it is.
With this preamble, let’s then turn to John Calvin’s discussion of this sanctifying process at work in the specific life of King David. First, he comments on the humility with which David responds to the exposure of his terrible sin.
This is such a humility as is altogether unknown to the wicked. They may tremble in the presence of God, and the obstinacy and rebellion of their hearts may be partially restrained, but they still retain some remainders of inward pride. Where the spirit has been broken, on the other hand, and the heart has become contrite, through a felt sense of the anger of the Lord, a man is brought to genuine fear and self-loathing, with a deep conviction that of himself he can do or deserve nothing, and must be indebted unconditionally for salvation to Divine mercy. That this should be represented by David as constituting all which God desires in the shape of sacrifice, need not excite our surprise. He does not exclude faith, he does not condescend upon any nice division of true penitence into its several parts, but asserts in general, that the only way of obtaining the favor of God is by prostrating ourselves with a wounded heart at the feet of his Divine mercy, and supplicating his grace with ingenuous confessions of our own helplessness.
John Calvin on Psalm 51:17
This is the humility to which the Apostle Paul gave eternal voice in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.
27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Calvin then proceeds to comment on the situation of God’s Church.
From prayer in his own behalf he now proceeds to offer up supplications for the collective Church of God, a duty which he may have felt to be the more incumbent upon him from the circumstance of his having done what he could by his fall to ruin it. Raised to the throne, and originally anointed to be king for the very purpose of fostering the Church of God, he had by his disgraceful conduct nearly accomplished its destruction. Although chargeable with this guilt, he now prays that God would restore it in the exercise of his free mercy. He makes no mention of the righteousness of others, but rests his plea entirely upon the good pleasure of God, intimating that the Church, when at any period it has been brought low, must be indebted for its restoration solely to Divine grace.
John Calvin on Psalm 51:18
When we survey the wreckage of the modern Western church these words burn bright both in condemnation and hope.
The bottom line is that, although we are not supposed to sin, we yet will; and that our sin, be it individual or corporate, cannot obstruct God’s providential purposes. King David indeed sinned terribly. Yet his sin could not obstruct God from His sovereignly decreed purpose of building His Church from King David’s house.
Therefore, when you encounter Christians who presume that some sort of moral superiority (of any kind, from any source) lies behind their faith and/or opinions, you should become very skeptical. For, to place yourself outside of the only true source of salvation — the imputing of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto you — is to utterly misunderstand both God’s acts of providence and your own place in His creation. That position of ignorance can only result in terrible errors and heresies.