The Penitential Psalms An Introduction
In the preface to his most famous work, The Olney Hymns, Newton gave an indication as to his motivation for its inception: A desire of promoting the faith and comfort of sincere Christians, though the principal was not the only motive to this undertaking. It was likewise intended as a monument, to perpetuate the remembrance of an intimate and endeared friendship. The friendship to which Newton refers is fellow collaborator for the project, William Cowper. http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/hymns/olney.html
Today, many in the Christian communities are familiar with authors of hymns like John Newton (1725-1807), Slave Ship Capitan, Hymn-Writer and Abolitionist. He may be best remembered for having penned Amazing Grace. Frances Jane Crosby, a blind poetess and hymn author, born in Southeast, N.Y., on March 24, 1820 and passed through heaven’s gateway in 1915 after writing over nine thousand hymns. John Wesley, (1703-1791), who published over five and a half thousand hymns and penned the words for a further unpublished two thousand hymns, many of which are still popularly sung in Christian Churches throughout the United States today.
There are many others talented Christian poets, poetesses and hymn writers representing all traditions of Christendom including two of my favorites on loan from God living very short lives, Keith Gordon Green (October 21, 1953 – July 28 1982), and Richard Wayne Mullins (October 21, 1955 – September 19,1997).
The Septuagint lists The Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Confession as Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142. On a regular basis, The Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Confession are numbered Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. The name belonged originally to the fifty-first Psalm.
Historically it is documented that when he was dying, St. Augustine asked one of his monks to write in large letters the seven penitential psalms and placed them on the wall so he could pray them from his deathbed.
Mikolaj Kopernik , being born in 1473 and dieing in 1543, was a Polish astronomer who to set forth teaching publicly what has become known as the Copernican system. This modern day accepted scientific system states the earth and the other planets move around the sun which is placed at the center of our solar system being motionless.
Kopernik developed his theory in the early 16th century from a study of ancient astronomical records. He retained the ancient belief that the planets move in perfect circles and therefore, like Ptolemy, he was forced to utilize epicycles to explain deviations from uniform motion (see Ptolemaic system). Thus, the Copernican system was technically only a slight improvement over the Ptolemaic system. However, making the solar system heliocentric removed the largest epicycle and explained retrograde motion in a natural way. By liberating astronomy from a geocentric viewpoint, Copernicus paved the way for Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Newton's embracing theory of universal gravitation, which describes the force that holds the planets in their orbits. See E. Rosen, Copernicus and His Successors (1995); T. S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (1997).
“When Galileo was imprisoned by the Inquisition at Rome, for asserting the Copernican system, he was enjoined, as a penance, to repeat the Seven Penitential Psalms every week for three years. This must have been intended as extorting a sort of confession from him of his guilt, and acknowledgment of the justice of his sentence; and in which there certainly was some cleverness and, indeed, humour, however adding to the iniquity (or foolishness) of the proceeding. Otherwise it is not easy to understand what idea of painfulness or punishment the good fathers could attach to a devotional exercise such as this, which, in whatever way, could only have been agreeable and consoling to their prisoner.” M. Montague, in "The Seven Penitential Psalms in Verse...with an Appendix and Notes," 1844.
Translations of the penitential psalms were undertaken by some of the greatest poets in Renaissance England, including Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Sir Philip Sidney.
For further interest find this book Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms written by John Fisher, John F Saint, Anne Barbeau Gardiner:
Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms
The Parable of the Two Sons
“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him. Matthew 28:28-32
King David had his days of sin. To name a few…Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba, 2Samuel 11 and secondly, arranging for the population census of the people of Israel to be counted which was against the Lord’s expressed wishes. 2Samuel 24.
David also had his days of grief. David grieved over the loss of his firstborn son to Bathsheba. 2Samuel 12:15-16, 12:21-23 David lost his very close friend, Prince Jonathan, King Saul’s son, fatal battle on Mount Gelboe (Gilboa) against the Philistine army. 1Samuel 31:2. David's wave of grief at King Saul and Jonathon’s death is articulated being preserved in 2Samuel 1. David later spared Jonathan’s lame son, Mephibosheth, allowing him to eat at the King’s table as one of the King’s sons. 2Samuel 9:11 David lost his wife Michel and then after getting her back was unable to rekindle their relationship. 1Samuel 18:27-28, 2Samuel 3:14
Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2Peter 1:20-21
Guided by divine inspiration, Israel’s King David wrote these particular psalms, which have historically come to be known as the Seven Penitential Psalms, to confess his sins unto Almighty God, The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In addition within the contents of these seven penitential psalms, David also put in writing his faith that he is heard by God and is that he has in fact been forgiven. This is not the end. King David then heralds God’s repentance and forbearance upon others in order that all may come to salvation. As for his enemies, King David asks for vengeances leaving this to the hand of God to follow through with. Hebrews 10:30
Now, venturing, together reflectively, delving into each of the Seven Penitential Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143, in order to unearth from the text of Holy Scripture, King David’s own life experiences and others accompanied with life experiences of my own as example for confession, and assurance for your edification may the following meditative study serve to find solace from God for you. Once you have experienced this consolation, may you share this good news with others is my prayer. Let us begin with our life changing voyage.