The book of Psalms has long occupied a central place in the liturgy of the church and the devotional life of Christians because of the unflinching honesty of its hymns. Like the rest of the Bible, the book of Psalms “tells it like it is.” In other words, Scripture does not whitewash events or ignore the faults of the people it describes. The Bible is not interested in hagiography—rewriting history to make people seem much better than they actually were. Rather, God’s Word is concerned with the truth about the men and women whose lives are central to the narrative. Moreover, the Bible in general and the book of Psalms in particular are interested in the truth about the human condition.
This is perhaps nowhere clearer than in the way that the psalms emphasize the depth of human depravity. Psalm 51 is an excellent example. David confesses that he was brought forth in iniquity and conceived in sin (v. 5). He takes an honest look at his nature and realizes that his inclination to sin runs so deep that he can trace it all the way back to the beginning of his existence. David knew that he sinned because he was born a sinner.
Of course, David was a believer. Nevertheless, he never lost sight of his depravity. Nor did the other psalmists. Psalm 119:36, for instance, features the psalmist asking the Lord to incline his heart to God’s testimonies. Clearly this psalm was written by a man who was more righteous than other people, for in it he repeatedly expresses his love for God’s revelation (vv. 47–48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 163, 167). Yet the author recognizes that such love for the law of the Lord does not come readily to sinners. Even he, who knew and loved God, had to ask the Creator to incline his heart toward the commandments, to give him a desire to study, understand, obey, and love the Lord’s righteous requirements.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “the natural corruption of man is so great, that he seeks for anything rather than what is right, until he be turned by the power of God to new obedience, and thus begin to be inclined to that which is good.” In Adam, we have no willingness in and of ourselves to seek the Lord or to love His commandments. God must give that to us. He does that decisively in our regeneration, but then He continues to renew and strengthen that love over the course of our lives. In humility, we must recognize our constant need for His grace to teach us His Word, give us understanding, and enable us to love His statues (vv. 33–40).