The book of Job tells us that man is born unto trouble. What can you do when it hits you? Today’s devotional explains in a most helpful way. God bless you.
Because of Calvary,
Psalm 41:4 English Standard Version (ESV)
4 As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
heal me,[a] for I have sinned against you!”
“A SINGULAR PLEA IN PRAYER
“This was one of David’s sayings: ‘I said.’ It was a saying that was worth saying, and it is worth re-saying: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’ How often he said it, we do not know; the oftener, the better. There is no day too bright for saying it, and there is no night too dark for saying it. ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’ Every one of David’s sayings was not worth repeating; for he said some things that he had to retract. ‘I said in my haste,’ said he, on one occasion; and, possibly, what he said in his haste he repented of at his leisure. But this saying in our text needs no retracting, it only needs repeating; and, until we enter heaven, we may keep on saying it: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’ I have never heard of Christ rebuking anybody for speaking thus. He who said, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are,’ received no commendation from the Lord Jesus Christ; but he who said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner,’ went down to his house justified rather than the other.’ This is a good saying, a true saying, a humble saying, and a gracious saying; and I say again, the oftener it is repeated, the better: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’
“Observe that this is a saying to the Lord: ‘I said, LORD, be merciful unto me.’ You hear people say, when they are talking and gossiping, ‘I said to her, and she said to me,’ or, ‘He said to me, and I said to him,’ — so-so and so-and-so. Well/what does it matter what you said or what they said? Very likely it is not worth repeating, nor the answer that was made to it; much of what is said may be summed up in the Dunottar Castle motto : —
WHAT DO THEY SAY?
LET THEM SAY.”
“It all comes to nothing; it is only breath vainly spent, which would be far more wisely expended, if it were, as the poet Cowper said, —
‘To heaven in supplication sent.’
How much better it would be if each one of the parties concerned said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me’! If we would speak twice to God and only once to men, or if we even reached so happy a proportion as at least to say as much to God as we say to our fellow-men, how much healthier, and happier, and stronger, and more heavenly, and more holy should we become! You need not try to recollect all that you have said to your fellow-men, — probably much of that is best forgotten; but it is good to recollect what you have said to your God, if it be anything like this saying of the sweet psalmist of Israel, ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’
“Let this be one of our sayings as well as David’s. As he said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me,’ I am sure I ought to say it, and I think, dear friends, you ought to say it, too. If there is anybody here who thinks that he has grown so good that he does not need to pray, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me,’ I am very thankful for once that I am not as that man is, for he must be eaten up with pride. He cannot be right in his heart who will not pray for mercy, and, surely, he has received no mercy who does not feel his need of more mercy. God can scarcely have begun to work in that man who thinks that he needs no longer make confession of sin, or seek mercy from God. David tells us, ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me,’ and I advise you to make this one of your sayings also. People sometimes say, ‘It is an old saying,’ and that is supposed to be its commendation. Well, this also is an old saying. A young man says, ‘My father used to say so-and-so;’ and I have no doubt that, if you had a godly father, he used to say much that was worth remembering, and worth repeating, and you cannot do better than use your father’s words, especially if they were like David’s on this occasion. Let it be reported of you in your biography, if it is ever written, ‘This was one of his sayings; he often said, “Lord, be merciful unto me.”’
“Notice, also, that this was the saying of a sick man, and of a sick saint. ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’ It is not written, ‘I said, Lord, thou art unmerciful to me in chastening me; thou dealest too severely with me in placing me upon this sick-bed, and causing me to lie here till the bed grows hard as a rock beneath me.’ No, there is no complaining here, though there is petitioning; there is no murmuring, though there is supplicating. ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me.’ When you get well again after an illness, it will be a great comfort if you can look back and feel, ‘I did not complain, but the chief cry from my sick-bed was, “Lord, Be merciful unto me.”’
“I have thus briefly introduced to you one of the sayings of a sick saint, — a sick king, and that king was David, the man after God’s own heart; and I believe that this saying of his was after God’s own heart, and that this prayer was pleasing in the ears of the Most High: ‘I said, Lord, Be merciful unto me.’ So now I will try to show you that our text contains, first, a prayer: ‘Lord, be merciful unto me;’ next, a confession: ‘I have sinned against thee;’ and then, thirdly, a plea, and a very singular plea it is: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.’
“I. First, here is, A PRAYER: ‘Lord, me merciful unto me.”
“It may mean, — and I daresay it did mean, at least in part, ―’Mitigate my pains.’ O beloved, when you feel a heart throbbing and palpitating, or when the swollen limb seems as if it were laid upon an anvil, and beaten with red-hot hammers, when the pain goes through you again and again, till even the strong man is ready to cry out in his agony, and the tears start unwillingly to the eyes, this is a good prayer to present to God, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me.’ I have sometimes found that, where medicine has failed, and sleep has been chased away, and pain has become unbearable, it has been good to appeal to God directly, and to say, ‘O Lord, I am thy child; wilt thou allow thy child to be thus tortured with pain? Is it not written, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him”? Lord, be merciful unto me.’ I can solemnly assert that I have found immediate respite from paroxysms of extreme pain in answer to a simple appeal to the fatherhood of God, and a casting myself upon his mercy; and I do not doubt that I am also describing the experience of many others of God’s afflicted children. When grieved with sore physical pain, you will find, dear friends, that the quiet resignation, the holy patience, and the childlike submissiveness which enable you just to pray, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me,’ will often bring a better relief to you than anything that the most skilled physician can prescribe for you. You are permitted and encouraged to act thus; when the rod falls heavily upon you, look up into your Father’s face, and say, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me.’
“But that is not all that David meant, I am quite sure, for, next, he must have meant, ‘Forgive; my sins.’ You can see, by his prayer, that his sins were the heaviest affliction from which he was suffering: ‘Be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.’ And, believe me, there is no pain in the world that at all approximates to a sense of sin. I said to a dear friend, who is greatly depressed at this time, ‘I should like you to have a little rheumatic gout, just to take your thoughts off your mental anxiety.’ ‘Oh!’ said she, ‘it would be a great pleasure to me to have that form of suffering rather than my present depression of spirit;’ and I am sure that it is so, and if that depression of spirit is mingled with the thought of sinfulness, and you are afraid — although, perhaps, in your case there may be no ground for fear because you really are God’s child, — but if you get afraid that you are not pardoned and forgiven, that fear will cut into you worse than a wound from a sword. It will make your blood boil more than would the poison of a cobra in your veins, for there is nothing so venomous as sin. So David meant, ‘I said, when I felt my sin, — I said, when my spirit sank within me, — Lord, be merciful unto me. Be merciful unto me.’
“Sinners’ prayers suit depressed saints. The prayer of the publican is, after all, my every-day prayer. I have what I may call a Sunday prayer, a prayer for high days and holidays; but my every-day prayer, the one that I can use all through the week, the one that I can pick up when I cannot pick up anything else, is the publican’s prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ That prayer is ‘the bairn’s prayer,’ such as you would teach a child to pray; it is the prayer of the poor harlot, the prayer of the dying thief, ‘O God, be merciful to me!’ It is a blessed, blessed prayer, and I charge you never to cease from using it in the sense that our Lord taught it to his disciples, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’
“But that is not all that there is in this prayer. I think that David, when he said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me,’ also meant, ‘Fulfill thy promises.’ ‘Thou hast said of the man who considers the poor, “The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” Lord, be merciful unto me, and deliver me in the time of my trouble. Thou hast said, “The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive.” Lord, be merciful unto me, preserve me, and keep me alive. Thou hast said that thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies; Lord, be merciful unto me, and guard me from my foes. Thou wilt strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; Lord, be merciful unto me, and strengthen me. Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness; Lord, make my bed.’ It is a very difficult thing to make a sick man’s bed easy; and I should think that it was still harder to make the kind of bed that David was accustomed to lie upon. We often have a soft bed with plenty of feathers in it, yet, after we have been lying upon it for a month, it gets very hard. No matter if it be a bed of down, it seems as if it were made of stone, and one is apt to think that it is made very badly when it is made exceedingly well. But I should think that the mattresses they used in the East must have been so hard that it needed God himself to make soft beds for sick people then, so the Lord comes in with this gracious promise, ‘I will make all his bed ‘ — bolster, pillow, covering, and all, — ‘I will make all his bed in his sickness. I will help him. I will comfort him. I will make him patient. I will enable him to bear all my will.’
“Now, then, you dear saints of God who are in trouble, here is a prayer that is suitable for every one of you: ‘Lord, be merciful unto me.’ Should you get very badly off, then plead the promise, ‘Thou hast said, “Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure;” Lord, be merciful unto me.’ Are you going down in the world? Remember that it is written, ‘No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly,’ and cry, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me.’ This prayer comes in appropriately at the back of every promise.
“I know that I am addressing some who are not yet saved, but I wish that this prayer might get into each one of their hearts: ‘Lord, be merciful unto me.’ Keep on praying it until you obtain the mercy. Every five minutes in the day, wherever you are, let your heart go beating, — beat, beat, beat, beat, — to this tune, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me. Be merciful unto me. Be merciful unto me.’ You cannot have a prayer that will better fit your lips.
“So far I have spoken of only half the psalmist’s prayer; the other half of it is, ‘Heal my soul.’ David does not pray, ‘Heal my eye; heal my foot; heal my heart; heal me, whatever my disease may be;’ but he goes at once to the root of the whole matter, and prays, ‘Heal my soul.’ O you sick men, be more anxious to have your soul healed than to have your body cured! What does David mean by this portion of his prayer?
“He means, I think, first, “Heal me, Lord, of the distress of my soul! My soul is afflicted with an appalling disease, and is brought very low: “Lord, heal my soul.” I am so sad, so sorely affrighted, such terrors pass before my eyes, my soul has got morbid, melancholic, despondent, hypochondriacal, “Lord, heal my soul.”’ The Lord is the great Soul-healer; therefore go to him with this prayer, ‘Lord, heal me of the distress of my soul.’
“But add also this meaning to the petition: ‘Lord, heal my soul of the effect of sin.’ Every sin brings on another sin; and the continuance in sin makes the tendency to sin stronger. ‘“Heal my soul, Lord.” If I was once a drunkard, and I have given up the evil thing, yet the thirst will come; heal my soul of it. If I have been a man of the world, and have made unrighteous gains, the tendency to do so again will be strong upon me when the opportunity occurs; “Heal my soul, Lord.” That I may forget the wanton songs I used to sing, the wanton sights I once delighted in, the wanton lusts that once ate up my life, “Heal my soul, Lord.”’ It is one thing to be forgiven, it is another thing to be delivered from the result of a long life of sin; yet God can do even that, so pray, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me, and pardon me. Heal my soul, and sanctify me.’
“I think that David also meant by this prayer, ‘Heal me of my tendency to sin.’ He seemed to say, ‘Lord, I shall sin again if I am not healed. I have an evil tendency in me, and an old nature which is inclined to sin; if thou dost not heal me of this disease, there will be another eruption upon the skin of my life, and I shall sin again.’ When a man sins outwardly, it is because he has sin inwardly. If there were no sin in us, no sin would come out of us; but there it lies, sometimes, concealed. I do not think it is ever a good thing to sin; that cannot be, but I have known a man to be tempted, and to fall into sin, who has discovered by his fall how much of sin there always was in him. It is something like the breaking out of a disease in the skin; it would not have broken out if it had not been there before; and the outbreak, however grievous it is, may be useful by driving the sufferer to seek a cure, and so he becomes thoroughly healed. This is the meaning of David’s prayer, ‘Heal my soul, for I have sinned. Heal me, that I may not sin again.’
“II. The second part of our subject is, A CONFESSION: ‘I have sinned against thee.’ I do not want simply to have these words in my mouth, to tell them to you; I wish that I could put them into your mouths, O you unconverted ones, that you might say them to God! Let us briefly consider what is meant by this confession, ‘I have sinned against thee.’
“First, it is a confession without an excuse. David does not say, ‘I have sinned against thee, but I could not help it,’ or, ‘I was sorely tempted,’ or, ‘I was in trying circumstances.’ No; as long as a man can make an excuse for his sin, he will be a lost man; but when he dare not and cannot frame an excuse, there is hope for him. ‘I have sinned against thee,’ is a confession without an excuse.
“Further, it is a confession without any qualification. He does not say, ‘Lord, I have sinned to a certain extent; but, still, I have partly balanced my sins by my virtues, and I hope to wipe out my faults with my tears.’ No; he says, ‘I have sinned against thee,’ as if that were a full description of his whole life. He bows his knee, and just confesses unto God, ‘Lord, I give up everything in the way of self-defense or self-justification; “I have sinned against thee.”’
“But notice, also, that this confession is without affectation. When some people say, ‘We have sinned,’ you can tell by their manner that they think they are by their confession complimenting God. You talk with them, and they say, ‘Oh, yes, sir; we are all sinners!’ Yes, they are all sinners, like the monk who said that he had broken all the commandments, and was the wickedest man in the world. So one of his companions asked him if he had broken the first commandment., another asked about the second, then the third, the fourth, the fifth, and all the rest, and to each one he kept saying, ‘No, I never broke that in my life.’ They inquired about the whole ten, and he declared that he had never broken one of them; yet this was the man who had confessed that he had broken all ten, and there are men who say that they are sinners, yet they do not mean it; and a sham sinner will only have a sham savior; that is to say, a man who only pretends to be a sinner, and does not realize his guilt in the sight of God, will not have a Savior. Christ died for nobody but real sinners, those who feel that their sin is truly sin.
‘A sinner is a sacred thing,
The Holy Ghost has made him so;’
and if I am happy enough to meet with a man who puts himself down with real sinners, I bid him believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and expect, that, by so doing, he will find a real Savior who will cleanse him from sin by his precious blood.
“I wanted you to notice that there was no affectation about David’s confession of sin, for, in the next verse, he says, ‘Mine enemies speak evil of me.’ He was not going to confess sin which he had not committed; and when men spoke against him, he said, ‘They speak evil of me.’ Well, but, David, how can they speak evil of you when you confess that you are so bad? ‘Ay!’ says he, ‘but I have not done that with which they charge me; I confess that I have sinned against God, but I have not sinned against him in the way they say I have. So far as their charges are concerned, I am innocent and pure. What I confess is that I have sinned against God.’ I like a man, when he makes a confession of sin, not to be carried away into the use of proud expressions without meaning, but to speak with judgment, and to acknowledge and confess only what is true. This is the excellence of David’s confession, that he owns to what no sinner will ever admit till the grace of God makes him do it: ‘I have sinned against thee.’ Hear him again in the fifty-first Psalm: ‘Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.’ Hear the prodigal: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ The essence of sin is that it is sin against God. It is wrong to do any harm to your neighbor; but, after all, you and he are only two subjects of the great King and Lord of all. It is high treason to sin against God; and, often, that sin, of which men think the least, God thinks the most. That spiritual sin, of which some say, ‘Oh, that is a mere trifle!’ — that forgetting of the Creator, that ignoring of the only Redeemer, this is the sin of sins, the damning sin which kindles the flames of hell; and it is a good thing, and a right thing, when a man’s confession of sin has David’s confession as the very core of it, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.’
“III. Now I close by noticing A PLEA and a very singular plea it is. The psalmist’s prayer is followed by a confession, and, strangely enough, the confession is the argument of the prayer. Listen to the text again: ‘I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul.’ Why? ‘For I have sinned against thee.’’
“That is a very startling and remarkable way of pleading, but it is the only right one. It is such a plea as no self righteous man would urge. The Pharisee keeps to this strain, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me, for I have been obedient, I have kept thy law.’ O foolish, self-righteous man, do you not see that you are shutting the door in your own face? You say, in effect, ‘Be merciful unto me, for I do not need any mercy.’ That is what it practically comes to, and therefore you are contradicting your own prayer. If you have kept the law from your youth up, and you have been so good and so obedient, you do not need any mercy from God; why, therefore, do you ask for it? No man who thinks himself better than his neighbors, strictly upright, honorable, and worthy of reward, will ever bow his knee, and cry to God, ‘Have mercy upon me, for I have sinned against thee.’ He pleads, on the contrary, ‘Have mercy upon me, for I am a most respectable man; I pay everybody twenty shillings in the pound; I have brought up my family most admirably; have mercy upon me.’ I say again, he asks for charity, and then says, ‘I do not want it; give me of thy charity, O God; but I am not one of the poor beggars that crawl about the street, I am as well-to-do as anybody.’ None but the poor will value the charity of men, and none but the guilty will value the charity of God. If you are not a sinner, Christ as a Savior has nothing to do with you. He came into the world to save sinners; and as for you who count yourselves righteous, this is what he says about you, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ As Mary sang, ‘He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.’ Let them feed themselves if they have such an abundance as they say. This, then, is the sort of plea that a self-righteous man would not urge.
“This is, further, such a plea as a carnal reasoner could not urge, for he could not spy out any reason or argument in it. ‘Am I to appeal to my God for mercy, and for soul-healing, on the ground that I have sinned? Why!’ says he, ‘there is no plea in that.’ But he who has been to Christ’s school, and learnt the logic of the cross, will know that there is no argument equal in force to this: ‘Lord, I have sinned, I need mercy; give it me, Lord. I have sinned, and therefore I have no right whatever to expect anything of thee; therefore, glorify thyself by the freeness and spontaneity of thine abounding grace. Lord, I have sinned, and this sinning has destroyed me; therefore, have pity upon me. This sinning is like a deadly disease within my soul; therefore, great Physician, come and heal me. This sinning has killed me; therefore, make me alive. This sinning has damned me; therefore, come and save me.’ That is the best pleading in all the world; and, after all, it is the common pleading that men make use of with their fellow-men. When one comes begging of me, what does he say? In nine cases out of ten, he tells me what is not true; that I can vouch for, but I always notice that he never pleads thus: ‘Now, sir, I want you to give me help because I do not need it very much; I am not at all badly off, I have about as much already as I want; but I thought that I would take to begging because it is a genteel kind of occupation.’ You never hear him talk like that. I remember giving a man, who came begging of me with bare feet, a pair of patent leather boots. They were nearly done with, but I thought that he might make some use of them, and he put them on; but he was not so foolish as to go begging in them. At the first gateway he came to, he pulled them off, and I met him, ten minutes afterwards, without the boots, except that he had them slung over his back, ready to sell to the first likely customer. He knew that rags are the best livery for a beggar; if he would succeed in his calling, then the fouler and the more ragged he looks the better for him, for so he appeals to our sense of pity. At any rate, that is the way to beg of God. Do not go and smarten yourself up, and say, ‘Lord, I am pretty decent as I am; be merciful unto me.’ No; but go in your rags, go just as you are, in all your sin, and filthiness, and weakness, and poverty, and insignificance, and so appeal to the pity and the mercy of God. This is sound common sense that I am talking. Suppose there had been a battle, and I were a soldier who had been wounded, and lay upon the plain, and the surgeon and the men with the ambulance were going round to see who needed their help; if they came to me, I do not think I should say, ‘Well, doctor, I have got a bullet in here somewhere; but it has not gone in very far, I daresay it will be all right; you can leave me here.’ Oh, no! I should say, ‘I am afraid, doctor, that this bullet is very near my heart; you had better let your men pick me up, and attend to me quickly, or I may be dead very soon.’ I certainly would not try to make myself out to be better than I was, and I would be glad to be attended to at once; and what folly it is when a man tries to comfort himself, as a sinner, by looking up an his filthy rags of self-righteousness, and saying, ‘Lord, I do not think there is very much the matter with me.’ O soul, if you did but know it, the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint, from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet you are covered with wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. There is but a step between you and death, — between you and hell, if you have never been washed in Jesus precious blood. Therefore, do not set up your lying pretences; do not paint yourself up, like Jezebel, for you cannot in that way make yourself beautiful in the sight of God. You must go to him with all your wrinkles, and all your foulness, and everything else that is hideous, and say, ‘Lord, I have no beauty, I have no merit, nothing to plead, nothing to urge, but my guilt. “Heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.”’ Then you shall be saved. When a man cannot pay to God a penny in the pound of all his debts, then he will be frankly forgiven all; but as long as he promises that he will make a composition, and do his best to pay what he owes to divine justice in the hope that Jesus Christ will make up the rest, there is no hope for him. The Lord Jesus Christ will not be a mere make weight for you. Do you think that you are to get into the scale, with your beautiful righteousness, and that you are to be accounted somebody of great importance, and that Christ is to do the little that you cannot do; that it is to be ‘Christ & Co.,’ or rather, ‘Self & Co.,’ and that you are to be the head of the firm, and Christ to be a kind of sleeping partner? He will not do it; it would be a disgrace to Christ to yoke you with him in such a fashion. You might as soon yoke a gnat with an archangel as think of your going in to help Christ to save you. To join a filthy rag from off a dunghill with the golden garments of a king or a queen, cannot be permitted. Christ will be everything, or else he will be nothing; you must be saved wholly by mercy, or else not at all. There must not be even a trace of the fingers of self-righteousness upon the acts and documents of divine grace. It must be all of grace; ‘and if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.’ There can be no more mingling of the two together as the ground of hope than oil will mix with water, or fire will burn beneath the sea. You cannot be saved by your own merits. Oh, then, I implore you, breathe this prayer to God, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me; pardon me, for thou dost have mercy upon sinners, and here is one. Thou dost heal the sick, and here is one. Lord, I trust thee; I lay my sins on Jesus, I lay my soul-sickness at his dear feet. Lord, save me.’ It is all done if you trust Jesus; you are a saved man. Just before I came in to this service, I saw a young brother whom I mean to propose to the church, and who last Sunday came to me, after the morning sermon, and said, ‘Sir, I am saved, and I know I am;’ and as I spoke to him, I thought that I knew it, too. Why should there not be many others in the same blessed condition? What is the use of preaching, what is the use of this crowd coming together, and going away again, unless men believe in Christ? Look unto Jesus, and be ye saved. If you look, you shall be saved now. The Lord lead you to look at this very moment, and unto him be praise forever and ever! Amen.”
[Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit XLIII, (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897), p. 445-453]