Time and again, I find myself turning to the Psalms. Of all the books of the Bible, they’re among the most “human” (if that’s not too blasphemous to say)—in these prayers and songs of pleas and praise we arguably see the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer. Words of joyful exaltation stand alongside cries out of the depths of despair.
David’s psalms often feature this contrast. It’s no wonder, then, that we would turn to his prayers and use them as our own in times of trial and tribulation. Alongside David, we can rejoice in the Lord, our Rock and Redeemer, even when our enemies seem poised to crush us. We can exalt in his steadfast love, even when He seems to be far off. We can stand before Him with confidence, even as we confess the most horrendous of sins.
Psalm 51 is one of those, offering what is arguably the classic Old Testament statement on repentance. Innumerable sermons have been preached from this text, among them four by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, which have been collected into the recent release from Christian Focus, Out of the Depths. In its pages, Lloyd-Jones unpacks the state of man before God while holding out God’s gracious provision of salvation offered through Jesus Christ.
The Need for Confession
Lloyd-Jones begins his exposition by explaining the need for repentance—something foreign to the unbelieving mind—and particularly the need for the confession of sin. “[W]ithout repentance there is no salvation,” he writes. “The need for repentance is one of those absolutes about which the Bible does not argue. It just says it. It just postulates it. It is impossible, I say, for a man to be a Christian without repentance; no man can experience the Christian salvation unless he knows what it is to repent.”
This is a reality that I suspect we too often overlook. We want people to feel good about coming to Christ, but we forget that people need to recognize their own sinfulness (which is, of course, the problem behind every problem). When we refuse to acknowledge our sin against God, when we refuse to confess, there can be no repentance. We don’t think we need to. But we just keep running in a circle, like a dog chasing its own tail.We’ll get tired and burn a lot of energy, but we won’t get far.
The Reality of Helplessness
But confession itself is not enough, nor is it the only reality that Psalm 51 presents. Lloyd-Jones’ reminds us that we need confession, but we also need to be made aware of our state of helplessness. Such awareness, he argues, requires serious self-examination. This, again, is a concept that is nearly lost in our generation. Our current era of positive self-image advocates that we examine ourselves, to be sure, but it’s not with an eye to becoming aware of our condition as sinners deserving of God’s wrath. Even in Christian circles, we’ve become enamored with ideas of elevating people’s self-image, as though our problem were that we think too little of ourselves, rather than too little of God. But this is not the hope of the gospel, nor is it the message that will awaken the sinner to their need for repentance and faith in Christ. “No man has ever repented and become a Christian without an element of concern and feeling entering into his consciousness with regard to his state and condition,” he writes.
The Need for Forgiveness and Cleansing
Lloyd-Jones’ exposition moves from these two concerns to our great need. All our self-examination and awakening to our sinful state ought to lead to a desire to be forgiven by God, without question. But our great need, he argues, is not just to be forgiven: it is to be cleansed of the stain of sin. “He realizes his need of a new nature, he realizes the need of a rebirth—of regeneration. The true Christian . . . realizes that it is note enough to be forgiven and to decide to live a better lief; he comes to see that he must be made anew, that unless God does something in the depth of his being he is altogether lost.”
This drives right to the heart of the gospel—this is indeed, the message that is so offensive to all those who are perishing. We want to say that it’s good enough and God is pleased when we just try to do “better” than we used to. We desperately want to believe that we can fix ourselves. But the truth is clear within Scripture—our problem is not just that we do bad things, it’s that we do all things with wrong motives. Our hearts are bad. Is it any wonder, then that Jesus said that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God”(John 3:3)?
This is what makes the gospel such good news—it’s not that the gospel forgives and urges us to live a better life (although it does these things). “It gives a new life. It offers to make us sons of God, it offers to make us partakers of the divine nature. . . . [he] who submits himself to Christ is born again. He has new life, the life of God in him; the centre of the trouble is cleansed by God, and he finds within himself a new outlook, a new power, a new hope, a new man.”
This is the truth that transforms our lives, Lloyd-Jones argues. This is what motivates us to pursue joy in Christ, not trying to clean ourselves up, but to accept with gratitude the cleansing that Christ gives, allowing that to shine forth in how we live. And as experience the joy of salvation, realizing that we do not rely upon ourselves but on the power of God to live faithfully, as come to understand that the Christian is one “who realizes the truth about himself, and who has received so much from God that he wants everybody else to have the same thing,” we will indeed share that message.
The message Lloyd-Jones preaches in Out of the Depths is a powerful one; it is the only message that any of us who claim the name of Christ truly has. We should want to see men and women who are lost in their sins be found; to see the blind see; and those dead in sin to come to new life in Christ. And you can feel this desire permeating every word of Lloyd-Jones’ message. He is not merely providing information, he is offering life to those who are perishing (including those sitting in a pew week in and week out).
In all the reading I’ve done over the last five years, Out of the Depths is arguably the most practical and helpful book I’ve read on understanding the necessity and fruit of repentance. Lloyd-Jones pulls no punches. He doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of our nature. But he does offer the faithful confidence in the gospel, the backslider hope for restoration through the gospel and the rebel reconciliation by the gospel. And that is reason enough to quickly get yourself a copy of Out of the Depths.
Title: Out of the Depths
Author: Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Christian Focus (2012)