The Man of Liberated Conscience - Psalm 32
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
The writer of this Psalm thrills with the overflowing happiness of forgiveness. Maclaren says concerning its opening verses, "One must have a dull ear not to hear the voice of personal experience in this psalm. It throbs with emotion, and is a burst of rapture from a heart tasting the sweetness of the new joy of forgiveness". Behind this joyful outburst we feel that there is a dark story of a time of overwhelming consciousness of guilt. Sin brings many blights upon life and living. It may show itself as "transgression", the movements of crossing the borders of right into the forbidden territories of wrong. Or it may be seen as "sin", the deeply-seated disease contracted through missing the mark of clean, healthy, moral worth. Again it can be described as "iniquity", resulting from a distorted sense of values in relation to good and evil.
Joy comes with release from sin's burden. To be forgiven means to be relieved of the burden of guilt. The weight is lifted and the soul is released. To the Christian this release has been possible only through the intervention of the Lamb of God who bore "away the sin of the world", John 1.29. Then again, to be forgiven means also that sin is covered, that is, "the foulness of sin no longer meets the eye of the judge and calls for punishment" (Kirkpatrick). How blessed it is to stand in the position of knowing that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin", 1 John 1. 7. Once for all, in the black darkness of Calvary, God forsook His Son because upon Him was laid our sin. Now in virtue of that sacrifice our sins have forever been put away. God remembers them no more. Yet again the Psalmist dwells on this happiness. There is the joy of unimputed, unreckoned iniquity, Psa. 32. 2. The idea is that of the cancelling of a debt. The work of Calvary settles every claim. It leaves God free to forgive and yet remain the God of utter holiness. How wonderful this is! Christ seemed to sum this up in Luke 7. 41, when He told the story of the two debtors - two measures of debt, yet one basis for forgiveness : "when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both". Bankruptcy in the light of Calvary, the utter poverty of sin, is met by the all-forgiving love of God, and eternal blessedness is the result. We may well exclaim,
"Who is a pardoning God like thee,
Or who has grace so rich and free?"
It is interesting as we enter further into the Psalmist's experience, to notice how that, in retrospect, he outlined the pathway to forgiveness. There was a period of silence. This time was bitter with inner agony. He would not confess his sinfulness. It could well be that in David's experience with Bathsheba there was a lapse of time before he really fully acknowledged his sin. Whether this be so or not, it is true to say that there is no torture to compare with the torture of a conscience which wilfully harbours the rebellion of sin. But "I acknowledged my sin unto thee", Psa. 32. 5. This paves the way to the peace of forgiveness. To say that we have no sin is self-deception. To refuse to acknowledge known sin is eventually self-destruction. To say, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord" is the blessed highway to the joy of restoration to God. It was to the returning prodigal, with the penitent confession "I have sinned" in his heart, that the father ran with the kiss of reconciliation and forgiveness. No wonder they "began to be merry", Luke 15. 24. Such joys will never end!
When a soul has experienced the freedom of forgiveness, there is the desire to recommend the mercies of God. Very often in Christian living testimony lacks conviction because it is not based upon personal enjoyment of God. The Psalmist has prayed and found an answer. He can therefore say in verse 6, because of this let "everyone that is godly pray unto thee". To be sheltered in the strongholds of divine salvation is to stand on sound vantage ground from which to witness to a sinful world. There is a tremendous sense of triumph in the idea of being encircled with shouts of deliverance. Let us tell to a sin-burdened people the joyful experience of the liberty of forgiveness.
As the Psalm moves towards its conclusion we find that it is necessary to keep the joy of cleansing from sin by a healthy and happy relationship with God. Verse 8 gives a delightful sense of guidance through intimacy with the Lord Himself. One translation puts the second strophe as, "I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee". Surely it is good to keep such a close and continual harmony with God that there is a sensitivity to sin that forbids the slightest trace of distance. The horse and the mule need bits and have to be driven. This suggests an unwilling submission. But the experience of grace in forgiveness should encourage a ready obedience in the life that is being constantly drawn by the unchanging love of a God so ready to pardon.
No wonder that the closing note of the Psalm is one of rejoicing. "All kindred spirits must share the joy of a pardoned soul, and rejoice in the contemplation of God's gracious dealings with His people" (Kirkpatrick). There can be no song from a sin-soiled life and there is no joy in a sin-burdened heart. Only the righteous, those made righteous in Christ, can be "glad in the Lord". Thus we consider the happiness of the forgiven. May we catch continually in our own lives the buoyancy brought into experience through the forgiveness of our God.