Reflection on Mercy from Psalm 51:1
By David Brandt Berg
What is mercy? We use a word and we know what it means, but sometimes it’s hard to explain it.
One example of mercy is if God forgives us and doesn’t give us the punishment that we deserve. He loves us and forgives us instead of punishing us. Because we’re sorry, we repent and we ask the Lord to forgive us and ask Him to help us not to do it anymore, then He gives us another chance. Mercy, in a sense, is like another chance. God gives you another chance by not chastising you the way you deserve. So that’s what David is praying here and what we all need to pray: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness.”
So lovingkindness must have something to do with mercy. Lovingkindness is really two words; it’s loving and kindness. If you’re loving, you’ll have lots of kindness.
What are transgressions? Sins. Sometimes there are signs up around ranches and farms that say “No trespassing.” Trespassing is a transgression. It means you’re going somewhere you don’t belong and you’re doing something you shouldn’t do. That’s why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In another Gospel it uses the word “sin.” (Luke 11:4)
I was talking about this with Brother Brown, who helped me build the church in Arizona. He didn’t believe that he could sin, because he was a holiness man. He believed he’d been wholly sanctified and could not sin because he had received the Holy Spirit. He figured that made him perfect and that it was impossible for him to sin.
He claimed to have had what he called the “second work of grace” that eradicated all of his sinful nature. His bad self was gone and therefore he was now sinless and he couldn’t do any wrong. So I said to him, “But every once in a while, even while we’re building here, Brother Brown, you’ve made a mistake. You’ve done something wrong, even accidentally.” He said, “Oh, that wasn’t a sin. That was just a mistake.” I said, “In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’” He said, “A trespass, that’s just a mistake; it’s not a sin.” I said, “Well, then how come in the other Gospel it says ‘forgive us our sins, like we forgive others who sin against us’?” He didn’t have an answer for that.
Transgressions are sins, like trespasses; they are when we’re doing something wrong. But the Lord is very merciful, and if we’re sorry and we sincerely ask Him to forgive us and try to not do it anymore, He will forgive us.
The Lord has mercy with us like we parents have mercy with our children. Justice means to give you what you deserve. If you deserve a punishment and you receive that punishment, that’s justice; you get judgment.
David is asking for mercy. He deserved to be punished; he even deserved to be killed under the Mosaic Law. He deserved to be stoned to death because he’d stolen another man’s wife, and then he killed the man on top of it. (See 2 Samuel 11) But he asked the Lord to forgive him; he’s pleading for mercy here. The Lord did punish him, but He didn’t kill him. That’s mercy. David deserved death, but the Lord forgave him because he repented. My mother used to say that he had a great sin but he had a great repentance, so he received a great forgiveness. He got mercy because he was very sorry and prayed and asked the Lord to forgive him.
When we’re very sorry and we ask the Lord for forgiveness and we try not to do it anymore, the Lord has mercy. There’s a time for mercy and forgiveness. In fact, what did the Lord Himself say? His disciples asked Him, “How many times should I forgive my brother? Should it be seven times or what?” And the Lord said, “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21–22) That’s 490 times.
The Lord is very merciful to us to forgive us for all of our sins, many more sins than 490, having real mercy on us and lovingkindness for us. That is mercy. He took our punishment for us so that we could be saved. Not because we’re perfect or because we never do anything wrong, but because He loves us. That’s real mercy. That’s forgiveness and lovingkindness.
We cannot save ourselves by our own works or goodness, even our own attempts to keep God’s laws and to love Him. We cannot be good enough or perfect enough to earn, merit, or deserve the heavenly perfection of salvation by His grace, love, and mercy! It is impossible for anyone to be saved without the miracle-working power of God.
Accepting salvation through His Word is a work of God’s grace. It’s free; it can only be received. It’s the gift of God—you can’t work for it. You can’t earn a gift or else it wouldn’t be a gift. You haven’t got anybody’s righteousness except Christ’s, and He’s the only one that can give it to you.
God can’t help you save yourself, since He doesn’t help those who think they can save themselves but only those who know they can’t. God’s idea of goodness is godliness—a sinner who knows he needs God and depends on Him for salvation. God’s idea of saintliness is not sinless perfection, self-righteousness. It’s a sinner saved by grace, a sinner who has no perfection, no righteousness of his own, but is totally dependent on the grace, love, and mercy of God by faith. Those are the only saints there are—there are no others!
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