In a book called “Mountains in the Mist,” Frank Boreham made some interesting comments on this Psalm. He reminded his readers that this is one of the so-called “Penitential Psalms” – songs written by sinners with broken hearts over their transgressions and the shame they have brought to the Lord. They are sad songs; songs to be sung with tears and repentance. And yet, says Boreham, they are found in the midst of the “Song Book of Heaven.” Amid songs of joy and praise, we have these psalms of tears and remorse. At least five of the seven Penitential Psalms were written by the greatest and sweetest of Israel’s psalmists. But, of course, it is with good reason, Psalm 51 is written with distress and angst – “Have mercy on me, O God.” “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean… make me to hear joy and gladness.” “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.”

What provoked these morbid and repentance-filled thoughts? The inscription prior to verse 1 tells us: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” When he should have been serving God and his country, David was at home, pandering to his flesh. One sin led to another, until he had an immoral relationship with another man’s wife. Then to cover that sin he killed the woman’s husband, involving other men in his crime. Following that David added the woman to his small, but polygamous royal harem. And nine months later a baby was born. At that point, when David thought he could get away with murder and more, God sent his prophet Nathan to expose everything.

In the history of all this, as recorded in II Samuel 12 David succinctly says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” It sounds almost without emotion. It sounds like the confession pulled from people by many professional evangelists. But judging from Psalm 51 that confession came out of the bottom of his heart and was filled with true penitential grief. David’s sins could not be undone, but the sinner could, in abject brokenness, turn to God for forgiveness. O Lord, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.”

Now getting back to that writer – Frank Boreham expressed confusion. “How could it come about that this man, whose life was haunted by his past transgression, was at the same time the blithest songstser that Israel ever knew? How did it happen that this man, with the hunted look in his eyes, with his tear-drenched pillow, with his stricken conscience and broken heart, was the gayest, happiest spirit the world has ever known? Now, there was the problem that baffled me as I sat with my Bible on my knee – the incongruous conjunction of misery and melody.”

Boreham went on in the rest of his article to answer the questions he raised. But his concerns raised another question in my heart, “WHY and HOW was David’s sin EVER before him?” The Hebrew word “ever” means what you would expect it to mean – “continually” and “always.” Why was David perpetually haunted and his pillow constantly wet with tears? Why was this otherwise joyful man stricken and broken hearted, when the Lord is loving and forgiving toward any sinner who truly repents? And did David really mean to use the word “ever?” Yes, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, that is exactly what he meant to say, because it was true.

But again, why? What was the reason that this sin was always before him? Was it God, the Holy Spirit, who kept the memory of David’s sins before his eyes? Was it Satan, who is clearly called “the accuser of the brethren” – Revelation 12:10. Was Joab, the hit-man who carried out Uriah’s murder, continually bringing it up in some sort of blackmail scheme? Did Bathsheba deliberately remind her husband of what he had done? Was her simple presence in his house convicting and re-convicting David? Was David reminded of his sin every time he looked at Bathsheba’s second son – Solomon? Or was it the punishment, like a bleeding wound which David endured, that brought the sin to his constant attention? Let’s rule this one out. It wasn’t David’s punishment which was ever before him. It was his sin itself.

For the sake of a few lessons, I’d like to propose an answer, but it is an answer which I’ve not found in any of my books or other resources. And because I’ve not seen it elsewhere, I’ll acknowledge that I may be totally wrong. But for the sake of those lessons, let’s pretend that I might be right. Could it be that DAVID himself kept this sin ever before the eyes of his heart? If that is the right answer, then for what reason would he do that? Does it make any sense? Did David plant it firmly into his conscience, and did he find it impossible to erase once it was there? Was it a part of his imagination, and it kept popping up as a nightmare? Was it recorded in the undeniable history of Israel and deliberately posted by David in his throne room?

Again, if David kept these sins ever before his eyes, for what reason might he have done that?

One answer could be: it would help to keep GOD’S GRACE in focus.

When I was a kid and interested in natural science, my parents bought me an exquisite little microscope. With that delicate instrument and the various lenses which came with it I could look at the beautiful scales of the butterfly’s wings or at the minute creatures that lived in the swampy pond just north of our house. With my microscope, things which I knew existed, but hadn’t really examined, were brought into focus. I’ve known others who had powerful telescopes, and with their instruments they could see things in the sky which I couldn’t see with my eye or with my microscope.

Isn’t it true that God’s grace, along with the Saviour’s forgiveness, are more glorious than a distant galaxy? I remember the night that the Lord saved me. I felt such elation, such joy; I felt emotions I’d rarely experienced before. I knew that the Lord Jesus had delivered me from sins which were horrible and disgusting to Him. And in the light of those depths, Christ transported me into His heavenly kingdom. I was elated. But I confess that over time, I lost the same degree of joy. The peace, comfort and joy of being a child of God, comes and goes amidst the living of our earthly lives. But if there was some way to hang on to that initial thrill of forgiveness – the sensation of being adopted into the family of God – that would be something valuable.

I’m not going to say that David was using his sins in this way, but consider such a possibility. Every time he saw the blood on his hands, his heart could have looked up to see the loving face of Christ. Every time he passed by the tiny tomb of his baby, his ear might have become attuned to the voice of the Saviour – “David, I have forgiven you.” Every time he looked at the beautiful face of Uriah’s former wife, the sins which made her his wife, should have brought out praise to God for forgiveness and that he hadn’t been immediately executed. Remember, “our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this” – as this. (Ezra 9:13). Is it possible David became the national leader in praise to God, because he ever kept his sin before him?

One day, as recorded in Matthew 20, the mother of James and John came to Jesus with a request: “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on left, in thy kingdom.” Whether it is true or not, let’s say that James encouraged his mother to make that request. It was filled with sin – it expressed pride and greed; it dishonored his fellow laborers. It was sinful. Do you suppose that after the Lord’s rebuke, every time James was alone with Jesus, or when he was with Peter and John, those words of rebuke returned to his heart? “Oh, what was I thinking? What a fool I was back then. What a fool I could be in the next minute?” But then when those thoughts accomplished their intended purpose – his heart arose toward heaven? “Praise God. The Lord forgave me and has forgotten that greedy prayer of mine. O, how I thank Him for permitting me to see His transfiguration and His translation to heaven.”

Keeping our sin ever before us, if done properly, could be beneficial to our worship of the Saviour.

And keeping sin ever before our eyes, might be helpful in MAINTAINING our CHRISTIAN focus.

Whose sin was more horrendous: David’s or Peter’s as he stood at the fire in the courtyard of the high priest? Peter, with all his arrogance and pride, committed several serious offenses before the Lord. Three times he denied the Lord; three times he denied knowing, following and serving Christ Jesus. And three times the Lord forgave him. And those were just the tip of the iceberg. Peter, like you and me, was forgiven over and over again, ten thousand times. He asked the Lord Jesus one day, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Seventy times seven million times the Lord Jesus forgives us. And that should be applied by us toward others.

John 21:15 – “When they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” On this occasion Christ probed the heart of Peter, probably making him consider his denial once again. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Do you love me? Do you really love? Peter was grieved by this question, because in his life there had been reason to doubt that love. But in considering the possibility of this sin once again, there was reason to bear down in his love for Christ.

Is it possible Peter ever got tired in his service of Christ – that he might have gotten tire OF the ministry? Of course, that is a possibility. But is it possible that every time he heard a rooster call out his name, he deliberately resurrected, and set before him, the sins of that night before Jesus’ crucifixion? Matthew 26:69 – “Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.”

Is it possible that the sins which were ever before him, encouraged Peter to say to us – when we grow weak in the faith, we “are KEPT by the power of God through faith unto salvation?” – I Peter 1:5. Were his own sins the impetus behind the things that he said in his epistles? Did those haunting visions have anything do with his words: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be READY ALWAYS to give a (God-answering) ANSWER to every (damsel) that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear?” – II Peter 3:15. Sometimes remembering our past sins, even though they are completely forgiven through the blood of Christ, and even though Lord has chosen never to remember them again… Sometimes OUR remembrance may be helpful in keeping us on the proper track to serving the Forgiver.

And why did Paul say that he was the least of the apostles? Wasn’t because his sins were ever before him? How often did he mention what he had been before his convesion? When he said that he “persecuted this way unto the death binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,” it was not just to make a point to his hearers. These sins were ever before him, and they helped to keep him on track.

How closely connected is the FORGIVENESS of OUR sins to our forgiveness of the SINS of OTHERS?

In the Lord’s model prayer, remember His words: Lord, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as WE forgive our debtors.” I am of the opinion our forgiveness of people around us is more important than most people give credit. For example, the cure to the Pharisaism of the 21st century, is in keeping of our sins ever before us. The mean spirit which is found in a great many professing Christians is due to their forgetfulness. “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” – Isaiah 51:1. Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” We all know professing Christians, who seem to think that some types of sinners are irredeemable. That is simply untrue, and in fact is a form of blasphemy. No matter what your sins have been, David, Peter, John or Paul… Keeping those sins ever before you, should remind you that God can forgive, cleanse and use that other sinner for His glory just as well as He can you – perhaps even better.

It is our duty to forgive others “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” And if you need a reminder, look down and see those sins which you committed against the Lord. Notice that they are barely visible under the blood of the Lord Jesus. But they are still there in your sight whether or not the Lord ever looks at them again. Keep them there.

The Apostle John tells us, “My little children love one another, love one another.” What drove the apostle to exhort us like that? It was due to the fact that he had been loved. He had been forgiven. And it may have been that he looked at loving forgiveness through the sins that he had committed. He perhaps could ever see that there times when he was not loving and not forgiving toward others.

I can’t say with any authority that David in Psalm 51 was himself maintaining those sins before his eyes. But I can see where such a spiritual exercise might be beneficial. The next time you need a boost in love and service, you might consider your sins and the grace in which God has dealt with them. And the next time you are thinking about looking down your skinny little nose at some other sinner, remember who you are and what you would be without the Lord’s grace.