Theme: Sustained by God
In this week’s lessons we learn that confession of our sin also involves the desire for our inward renewal, as well as the fact that what we do affects other people, for good or ill.
Scripture: Psalm 51:10-19
As we consider what David meant when he prayed that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him, it is helpful to consider what other people have said about it.
John Calvin believed in eternal security, of course. So when he came to this verse he argued that David’s prayer that God not take away the Holy Spirit showed that he still possessed the Holy Spirit. Hence, even his great sins of adultery and murder had not threatened David’s perseverance in grace. The bottom line of Calvin’s answer to the apparent problem of this verse would seem to be that David did not need to pray as he did, since the removal of God’s Spirit from a born again son or daughter of God is an impossibility. Calvin wrote, “It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth, that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which can never perish in any heart where it has been deposited.”2
Fundamentalists of a few years ago, most of whom were greatly influenced by dispensational ideas, distinguished between the working of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times and the activity of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. Sometimes they would say that before Pentecost the Holy Spirit would come “on” a person chosen for a special task but that after Pentecost he dwells “within” all believers. They would say that only since Christ’s coming are people truly “born again.” The bottom line of this second answer to the problem is that David’s prayer was appropriate to one living in the Old Testament dispensation, but that it is inappropriate for God’s people today. Arno C. Gaebelein, one of the editors of the famous Scofield Reference Bible, wrote, “The prayer of the eleventh verse needs not to be prayed by the saint in the New Testament, for he is accepted in the Beloved One. He is saved and safe in him; he may grieve the Holy Spirit, but he is the abiding Holy Spirit, by whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption.”3 In other words, the Old Testament saints could lose their salvation; we cannot.
Today most commentators recognize that David is not talking about eternal security or the fear of losing his salvation at all. He is only acknowledging that he is unable to live a holy life without God. Therefore, he needs the help and power of the Holy Spirit every single moment if he is to be able to overcome temptation and follow after godliness. J. J. Stewart Perowne writes along these lines, explaining, “It is the cry of one who knows, as he never knew before, the weakness of his own nature, and the strength of temptation, and the need of divine help.”4 Alexander Maclaren has the same idea in mind when he says, “The psalmist is recoiling from what he knows only too well to be the consequence of an unclean heart—separation from God.”5
Regarding David’s request that God not take his Holy Spirit from him, what two suggestions were provided for possible interpretations?
What is the majority position today for how we should understand David’s prayer?
Application: Make it a point in your daily prayers to acknowledge your weakness and inability to live a holy life without the Lord’s grace. Praise him for the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
2Quoted by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 419.
3Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 222.
4J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 421. Original edition 1878-1879.
5Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 137.