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THE PRAYER OF A BROKEN HEART: A Classic Exposition of Psalm 51
Robert Candlish

In this precious, but little known book, Robert Candlish (1806-1873) a beloved and gifted Scottish preacher, expounds and applies the great Penetential Psalm of David. As long as we find ourselves alive in this world of sin and misery, and experience the daily battle with the world, the flesh and the devil, this psalm will minister to the child of God. Candlish, although a scholar, approaches this portion of Scripture as a child. His words came from his heart and they thus speak to the heart.

We have included the first couple paragraphs of all four messages below so that you can taste and see for yourself. It is good to the last drop.

Spurgeon said of him, ""A man hardly needs anything beyond Candlish. He is devout, candid, prudent and forcible"

Dr. Robert Paul Martin added, "Psalm 51 needs to be familiar ground for every pilgrim to Zion. David's confession of his sin and prayer for divine grace is exemplary in its scope and pointedness. Many are the occasions when we need to pray as he did. Robert Candlish has given us a helpful exposition of this psalm which not only informs our understanding but prods us to imitate David's repentance in those seasons when we should deal honestly with God concerning our sins."

Dr. Mike Renihan said, "Take up and read to improve your soul. As Candlish wrote, 'You will be getting more and more of an insight into God's marvelous grace and love, and proving more and more thoroughly the blessedness of a full, as well as a free, forgiveness; of complete reconciliation; of perfect peace.' You will not be sorry for the investment of your precious time."


I. The Prayer Of A Broken Heart - Confession of Sin: Psalm 51:1-6

The Psalm opens with an abrupt and impulsive appeal. It is the psalmist's ordinary way; to begin with an outburst of feeling; and then go on to explain more leisurely the experience which led up to it. So is it here. His cry is for mercy; "God be merciful to me a sinner." And it is a cry altogether self-abandoning and self-despairing. It is a simple casting of himself, sinner as he is, upon God. It is upon God, "according to his loving kindness, according to the multitude of his tender mercies," that he casts himself. The rich, and large, and bountiful grace of God is his only stay. He appeals to it in terms expressive of the most emphatic fullness of contrite conviction and believing confidence:"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."

Two unequivocal signs of grace follow; a desire to be thoroughly washed and cleansed, "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin,"and a willingness to appear before God, for that end, without concealment and without guile, "I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me."

These are the two features in respect of which the "godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" differs from "the sorrow of the world which worketh death" (2 Cor. 7:10); the desire to be thoroughly cleansed, and the owning of all sin. And they are the distinguishing features of this case; the case of one deeply, deplorably, fallen in sin; but yet hopeful.

For deep and deplorable as his fall has been, his faith does not fail.

II. The Prayer Of A Broken Heart - Supplication for Full Cleansing: Psalm 51:7-12

The particular pleading with God,--in detail, as it were,--in the verses on the consideration of which I now enter, fitly follows the penitent's profound and searching investigation of his own sin. There is an obvious difference between the prayer that precedes, and this which follows, that confession. The prayer which goes before is, as I have said, quite vague and general. The prayer which comes after is special, pointed, and precise. When my sin finds me out; when the cock crows; when I hear the voice "Thou art the man;" the shock of the sudden discovery to me of my guilt, under the eye of Jesus, "turning and looking on me," moves me to tears and prayer. It is prayer; perhaps for the first time truly prayer. It is the abrupt cry,"Lord save me; I perish." Blessed be God, even that is enough. But there comes a closer dealing with my soul; which I welcome and improve. And I turn from that soul-exercise again to God. I plead with him more in detail, about my case. And my detailed pleading, in renewed prayer, corresponds to the detailed penetential exercise out of which it arises and proceeds.

III. The Prayer Of A Broken Heart - Its Purpose Of Reparation: Psalm 51:13-15

The conclusion of the Psalmist's inward penitential exercise of soul brings forward its connection with the outer world. He has been confessing his sin, without reserve or guile. He has been seeking a thorough cure for a deep disease. He has been considering his case in all the views of it which a spiritually awakened conscience can suggest. His sin is ever before him; as now really painful and offensive to himself. It is seen in the light of the glory of God; his glory as--first, the sovereign Lord; secondly, the Holy One; and thirdly, the righteous Judge. Sin is rebellion against his sovereignty. It is loathsome in his sight. It is righteously judged and condemned. Nor is this all. In its source and essence, this sin is original; birth-born; natural; inherent in the fallen constitution which he inherits. In all these views of it, he is enabled to pray for deliverance. He asks to be purged, cleansed, quickened.

And now, with the restored joy of God's salvation, giving me the confidence of being upheld by a free spirit, I ask if anything can be done by me; if anything lies before me; that may prove my penitence for the past, and occupy my recovered strength of joy and liberty for service now? My own case might well engross, and must engross, my attention when I first awaken to a sense of what it really is; a case all but desperate; critical for weal or woe; and that forever. But having spread out my case before God; and accepted his manner of dealing with it; I may now look more abroad. I have leisure now to think, in my new character, of the claims of my fellow men (ver. 13-15); and of my God (ver. 16, 17); and of his church (ver. 18, 19).

IV. The Prayer Of A Broken Heart - Its Present Sacrifice And Final Prospect: Psalm 51:16-19

The first impulse of the restored penitent, when the case as between him and his God is settled, is to go forth from his closet, the secret place of his God,--where the covenant of peace through atoning blood has been ratified as a personal transaction,--and tell what great things the Lord has done. That should and must be your immediate instinct. Many motives may prompt such action. You long to give vent to your emotions; and it is a relief to you to impart to others your sorrows and your joys; your late dismal fears, and your present blessed hopes. There is pleasure also in the communication of good tidings. And surely there is an earnest and eager desire to save the lost. For you cannot, if you are yourselves taken from the horrible pit, look with indifference on the state of your companions who are still sinking unconsciously in its miry clay.

But over and above all these, there is a paramount consideration. It is the conviction that you owe it to the "God of your salvation," to "show forth his praise."




Four Volumes of Candlish Classics are -

(1) THE CHRISTIAN'S SACRIFICE & SERVICE OF PRAISE: Expository Discourses on Romans 12

(2) LIFE IN A RISEN SAVIOR: Expository Discourses on 1st Corinthians 15

(3) THE ATONEMENT: Its Efficacy and Extent

(4) TO KNOW JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED: Sermons of Robert S. Candlish



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Includes 'Golden Sceptre' by Preston and 'The Still Hour' by Phelps