Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1–2)
King David has committed adultery and caused the death of an innocent man. He has been brought up short by a prophet, and come to realise his wrongdoing. He now turns to God in prayer, composed as a Psalm, and in so doing gives us an example of how we might approach God in our own sin.
The king begins by pleading for mercy. There is no rush to self-justification, or attempt to excuse his behaviour. His guilt is there for all to see, and he knows there is no other course he can take. He knows that God has often demonstrated his “steadfast love” and so he comes to him as a penitent seeking mercy, and seeking it with hope. He prays that his sin, great though it is, might be blotted out. He throws himself upon the grace-filled mercy of God.
He then prays for more. Such is the stain of guilt upon him that he desires a through washing, a cleansing from such a sin as that which he had committed. There is no attempt to minimise his actions, rather he views himself with horror and seeks relief from the only one who can grant it.
It is a spiritual rule of thumb that the greater the sense of sin, the greater the experience of mercy. So it is that David’s experience of God’s love drives him to seek God’s forgiveness. There is a lesson in this for us all. Guilt is only dealt with on your knees.