I’ve been reflecting this week on Isaac Watts’ three poems based on Psalm 51. Let me share them with you.
Psalm 51, Part 1: A penitent pleading for pardon
Show pity, Lord, O Lord, forgive,
Let a repenting rebel live:
Are not thy mercies large and free?
May not a sinner trust in thee?
My crimes are great, but not surpass
The power and glory of thy grace:
Great God, thy nature hath no bound,
So let thy pard’ning love be found.
O wash my soul from every sin,
And make my guilty conscience clean;
Here on my heart the burden lies,
And past offences pain my eyes.
My lips with shame my sins confess
Against thy law, against thy grace:
Lord, should thy judgment grow severe,
I am condemned, but thou art clear.
Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.
Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord,
Whose hope, still hov’ring round thy word,
Would light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.
Psalm 51, Part 2: Original and actual sin confessed
Lord, I am vile, conceived in sin;
And born unholy and unclean;
Sprung from the man whose guilty fall
Corrupts the race, and taints us all.
Soon as we draw our infant breath,
The seeds of sin grow up for death;
Thy law demands a perfect heart,
But we’re defiled in every part.
Great God, create my heart anew,
And form my spirit pure and true;
O make me wise betimes to spy
My danger and my remedy.
Behold, I fall before thy face;
My only refuge is thy grace:
No outward forms can make me clean
The leprosy lies deep within.
No bleeding bird, nor bleeding beast,
Nor hyssop branch, nor sprinkling priest,
Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea,
Can wash the dismal stain away.
Jesus, my God, thy blood alone
Hath power sufficient to atone;
Thy blood can make me white as snow
No Jewish types could cleanse me so.
While guilt disturbs and breaks my peace,
Nor flesh nor soul hath rest or ease;
Lord, let me hear thy pard’ning voice,
And make my broken bones rejoice.
Psalm 51, Part 3: The backslider restored
O Thou that hear’st when sinners cry,
Though all my crimes before thee lie,
Behold them not with angry look,
But blot their mem’ry from thy book.
Create my nature pure within,
And form my soul averse to sin:
Let thy good Spirit ne’er depart,
Nor hide thy presence from my heart.
I cannot live without thy light
Cast out and banished from thy sight:
Thine holy joys, my God, restore,
And guard me that I fall no more.
Though I have grieved thy Spirit, Lord,
His help and comfort still afford;
And let a wretch come near thy throne,
To plead the merits of thy Son.
A broken heart, my God, my King,
Is all the sacrifice I bring;
The God of grace will ne’er despise
A broken heart for sacrifice.
My soul lies humbled in the dust,
And owns thy dreadful sentence just:
Look down, O Lord, with pitying eye,
And save the soul condemned to die.
Then will I teach the world thy ways;
Sinners shall learn thy sovereign grace;
I’ll lead them to my Savior’s blood,
And they shall praise a pard’ning God.
O may thy love inspire my tongue!
Salvation shall be all my song;
And all my powers shall join to bless
The Lord, my strength and righteousness.