Sinclair Ferguson on the Nature of Sin

While meditating on Psalm 51 and the gracious work of God in David’s heart, Sinclair Ferguson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, describes the layers of sin that dwell in our hearts. Understanding the depth of our sinfulness should cause us to worship the Savior, who assumed our guilt in His body on the cross, and long for His return. What a merciful God we have who forgives and cleanses us from all our sin when we confess it to Him while trusting in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf!

Layers of Sin

As Ferguson reflects upon the Psalm, he writes, “What stands out in David’s confession is his excruciating discovery of what was really in his heart. There were layers of sin in his soul, or, to change the metaphor, peaks of evil, which rose one beyond the other, another becoming visible only when one had been scaled. He ransacks the Old Testament vocabulary as he explores his soul and provided a series of vivid word pictures to describe his need.” He then exposes four “layers of sin” in our hearts, which the Spirit exposed to David.

  • “My transgressions” (v. 1) suggests rebellion and self-assertiveness. He makes himself the center of the universe and his heart is antagonistic to any rival for its throne even when that rival is a loving Creator.
  • “My iniquity” (v. 2) conveys the idea of a twisted waywardness that vitiates our lives; the fatal flaw that destroys everything. Paul speaks about sinful man ‘exchanging’ the glory of God (Rom 1:23). That is the fatal mistake.
  • “My sin” (vv. 2-3) denotes his failure. David had missed the mark, deviated from the goal for which he was created. Not only was he made to live for God’s glory but to reflect that glory. He has squandered his destiny.
  • “What is evil” (v. 4). Here is the shocking truth he has discovered about himself: he has done evil, and that evil is the fruit of an evil heart. Nothing is more characteristic of us than the easy assumption that we are by nature basically good; that we sin despite ourselves.

Today, let us give thanks to God for His mighty grace that is greater than our sin.

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