An Emphatic Plea
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:1-3 KJV)
The verses above represent one of the most dramatic changes of heart ever recorded. It had been about a year since David’s shameful deeds with Bathsheba and her husband had occurred. For months he had languished in spiritual deadness until Nathan finally confronted him. (2 Samuel 12) But the instant he saw the reality of his condition, all his internal resistance to the Holy Spirit’s conviction collapsed. He immediately acknowledged his sin and spent a week fasting and praying.
There are a number of features to this prayer that provide valuable lessons for all of us redeemed sinners.
The first thing that stands out is that David did nothing to minimize his sins. He knew his actions were deplorable and took full responsibility for them. He didn’t attempt to blame childhood trauma, Bathsheba’s ill-advised bathing or even the devil for leading him into such a place of temptation. He fully understood that his was a “deep and dreadful guilt” and that any attempt to justify himself now would thwart God’s ability to break the power of sin in his heart.
Another noticeable thing about his prayer is how he appeals to God’s long history of merciful dealings with other sinners in similar situations. “According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions,” he prayed. With the Lord’s smiling approval David points at God’s mercy to penitents as a precedent for his situation.
The middle-aged king was also very aware that every one of his deplorable actions during that shameful year was recorded in the annals of heaven. A perfectly accurate account has been taken of his behavior. “Please Lord, erase the record of my sinful deeds! Expunge the record of my crimes!”
Many sinners would stop there, content to receive a pardon, even though the sin continued to fester within their hearts. But David desired more for himself than mere forgiveness. He looked within and saw a black mass of corruption entwined around his heart—almost as if he could see the putrefying effects of leprosy there. He wanted to be cleansed of every contaminated spot remaining within.
The level of passion in his repentance can be seen in the verbs he employed throughout this psalm: blot out, wash me thoroughly, cleanse me, purify me, create in me, renew, do not cast me away, restore, sustain and so on. It is as if the words burst forth from the deepest parts of his being.
The kind of repentance that allows God to break the power of sin within one’s heart requires total sincerity, abject humility, absolute honesty and a willingness to accept the Lord’s discipline—no matter what it might be. This is why David was set free that week and why so many in our day remain bogged down in habitual sin.
And how about you? What has your repentance been like? Do you have a long track record of repentance or was it a single act that occurred long ago? Do you want God to purge the sin out of your heart? Please consider the depth of your repentance experience over the next several days as we examine David’s great prayer.