This article was first published as a meditation in the October 1, 1993 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.70, #1), and was written by Rev. John H. Heys, then an emeritus minister in the PRC.
A Prayer to Become Whiter Than Snow
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7
It seems strange, does it not?
David, way back in the days of the Old Testament, spoke of being made whiter than snow. Could man in that period of time know anything that is whiter than snow? In fact, can we today point to anything that is whiter than snow?
We read in Isaiah 1:18 these words: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Our God does not here promise to make us whiter than snow, as David requests, but to be as white as snow.
The question also arises, because of what David wrote in that verse quoted above, what does David mean by hyssop? He prays to be purged with hyssop. He does not mention water or soap, with which a man can be washed. He pleads with God that He make him whiter than snow by means of hyssop. Although there are a few instances in Scripture where we read of hyssop, nowhere else do we find a request to be made whiter than snow.
For a proper understanding of what our God presents through David, let us first of all bear in mind the fact that this Psalm was written by David because he had committed some terrible crimes. And because God had, by His grace, brought him to sorrow because of his sins, David now comes with the plea for purging with hyssop, and for being made whiter than snow.
Let us, first of all, take note of the fact that David begins this Psalm with these words: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." That surely reveals how sorry he was because of his sins. For he also states in verses 3 and 4 this awesome truth: "For I acknowledge my transgressions: my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight."
Take note of the fact that what David had done was a devilish act of hatred toward God. Every sin is that, whether we are willing to admit it or not. And let us bear in mind what God told Adam, namely that his first sin would bring death upon him. Adam did live for 930 years after that first sin which he committed. Plainly, therefore, God did not mean, when He told Adam that "the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," that he would only die physically. God was referring to spiritual death, which would come the day that he committed his first sin. And indeed through that one sin both Adam and Eve revealed their hatred against God. They revealed that they lost all of their love toward God.
Adam and Eve did not reveal any sorrow for that sin. They did not run to God and with their hearts confess their sorrow. They tried to hide themselves from God when they heard His voice in the cool of the day. They ran to other trees in order to try to hide from God. They wanted no fellowship with Him. They were not eager to praise God from whom all blessings flow. They wanted to turn their backs and escape any punishment for what they did. They did not run unto God and pray to Him that He would keep Satan from ever coming to them again with the lie that to break God's commandment would benefit them. They very clearly revealed their hatred against God by their breaking of His law, but also by trying to flee away from Him.
Now David wrote what he did in Psalm 51 because he had grossly sinned against God. He wrote this Psalm because he had been made conscious of an awful sin which he had committed. In two ways he had revealed his carnal flesh with its hatred against God and His holy law. He broke both tables of God's law, and he did not confess these sins, nor express his sorrow for having acted so much in hatred against God.
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife, of Uriah. And rather than run to God and confess his sin, David committed another sin, trying to hide that sin of adultery. He arranged, to have Uriah killed in the forefront of a very hot battle (II Sam. 11:14-17). When God sent His servant Nathan to remind David of his sin, He also gave David sorrow for his sin. God in His grace caused David to see how greatly he needed to be purged from sin, and to be made whiter than snow.
To understand and appreciate these words which David uttered with his mouth because they throbbed in his heart, we should bear in mind that Adam and Eve had been created as white as snow. They were not created whiter than snow, as David here prays. They were created with hearts that loved God, and in that sense were as white as snow, that is, they were spotless as far as acts of sin were concerned.
But what David prays for here in Psalm 51:7 is the whiteness which we get through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Adam and Eve were created as white as snow. They had no guilt, had no sinful thoughts in their minds, no evil desires in their hearts, and had, not broken God's law in any way or to any degree. In that sense they were as white as snow. Satan caused them by a deceitful temptation to become as black as coal. And the wonder of God's grace is that, through His Son, our Savior, God does make us whiter than snow.
Bear in mind, and remember, that the wind can blow dust upon the snow, so that the snowbank loses its white color. What is more, snow can melt, and in that way lose its whiteness. Such is not the case with God's elect, who are by His grace made whiter than snow. They will become whiter than Adam and Eve were when they were created. They were created without sinful thoughts, desires, or works. Understand this wonderful truth presented in David's prayer: in God's grace, through the cross of His Son, and by the power of His Spirit, we are going to become whiter than snow, in the sense that through the cross of Christ, and through His Spirit, we will be whiter than Adam and Eve ever were. That is, we will receive a new spiritual life that Satan cannot take away from us: It is a more wonderful life that God gives us through Christ. It is a life that is whiter than snow, in the sense that it is our everlasting life that God will in His grace keep in us.
Let it not be overlooked that, in the seventh verse of this Psalm, David prays that he may be purged with hyssop in order to become clean. Hyssop is a branch of a bush that was used by the Israelites to hold a sponge, and which was used to spread blood on the lintel and side-posts of the doorway of their houses. We read of that in Exodus 12:22.
Although David and those in the old dispensation did not see that hyssop as clearly as we do today, it refers to the cross of Christ, and to the shedding of His blood for our salvation. That cross of Christ our God used to realize our salvation. It, that cross, declares that we need to go to hell because of our guilt. And Christ's crucifixion reveals the blessed truth that Christ came to take our punishment away completely. He even cried out on that cross, "It is finished!"
We are purged and made to be spiritually clean by Christ and His cross. In our text David presents two tremendously important truths for us. We are made to be holy, that is, made to be whiter than snow spiritually by His cross. It means also that now we have a spiritually clean life, by way of regeneration, which Satan can never take from us. Purged with the blood of Christ we become whiter than snow legally, and also have a spiritual whiteness that Satan cannot take away from us, no matter how hard he tries.
We find our Savior so beautifully - promising us this purging in John 14:2, 3. There we read, "In my Father's house are many mansions: . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
The awesome question is whether God has given us the desire to be whiter than snow. We do and will, with David, perform a host of sins. If we deny that, we are adding to our sins. The question is not whether we want to be saved from the punishment for which our sins call. The most ungodly all have that desire.
To be saved from the punishment of sin is a part of our salvation; but it is not the part that reveals that Christ died for our sins. The important question is whether we want the love of God implanted in our hearts with a life that never comes to an end, and that Satan cannot cause us to throw away. To be whiter than snow means to be made everlastingly and completely filled with love toward God.
The important question also is whether we simply pray for the forgiveness of our sins to enjoy the things of this world. Much of the preaching today excites the audience. People want to sing enthusiastically about that part of salvation. The proper attitude to accompany the prayer to be made whiter than snow David presents in verse 10, where he cries out: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." And in the verse preceding the text above, David says, "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom."
Is that your prayer? Do you want more and more spiritual growth of your new man, which Christ has caused to be born in you? Sing then with your heart what we find in our Psalter, number 141:
Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation's joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.
Rev. John A. Heys was born on March 16, 1910 in Grand Rapids, MI. He was ordained and installed into the ministry at Hope, Walker, MI in 1941. He later served at Hull, Iowa beginning in 1955. In 1959 he accepted the call to serve the South Holland, IL Protestant Reformed Church. He received and accepted the call to Holland, Michigan Protestant Reformed Church in 1967. He retired from the active ministry in 1980. He entered into glory on February 16, 1998.