Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. — Psalm 130:1-3
Dear reader, have you been burdened and overwhelmed with your sinfulness? Do you wrestle with feelings of guilt and condemnation from the sins of your past? Do the sins you battle in the present overwhelm you with hopelessness and despair? The Psalmist had cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and redemption. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” As Calvin remarked in his commentary on the Psalms, the Psalmist is not using universal guilt to excuse or minimize his own sinfulness. He is not saying, “Yes, I am sinful, but so is everyone else. So no big deal. Everybody does it.” Rather, he is overwhelmed with his own sinfulness and convicts himself with all of Israel and all of humanity. He also includes us in this universal verdict, when he asks rhetorically, “who could stand?” The answer, of course, is “no one.” If the LORD counted our sin against us or judged us according to our sin, we would have no standing before Him. As Isaiah the prophet declared “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We are without excuse. As Paul wrote in Romans, “our mouths are stopped.” We have no answer to give in our defense. We with the whole world are guilty before a holy and righteous Judge. James wrote that “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” And yet the psalmist writes of “iniquities” plural. He is overwhelmed by the guilt of numerous iniquities. One sin would condemn us, and yet there are so many. We are not merely charged with one crime, but with an innumerable list of offenses. If the LORD should mark them, who could remain standing in the face of such an indictment? Paul Washer wrote, “I survey my life and I see the countless failures and sins. I have only one hope–that Jesus Christ shed His blood for my soul. He is my only consolation after all these years.”
Although we should not excuse ourselves or minimize our guilt, we may take comfort in the Psalmist’s words first because we are not alone in feeling this burden. The psalmist was also overwhelmed with his own sinfulness. He expressed with his words the weight of the burden that we feel and the reality of our sinful condition, and yet he had hope of redemption. As Paul expresses, “we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). The Psalmist likewise eagerly anticipated redemption through Christ. His hope was in a sacrifice for sin, which had not yet been made. We look back to a payment for our sins, which has already been made by Jesus Christ, and forward to our glorification when we will be forever free from the burden of our own sinfulness.
Second, we should take comfort in that the Psalmist says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” By using a conditional statement the Psalmist hints to us that the Lord will not judge everyone according to his or her sins. The answer to the rhetorical question which he uses as his apodosis is a resounding, “No one could stand!” You could not stand. I could not stand. But he says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,” leaving us with hope.
Third, we should take comfort in his next statement, for here he gives us the full assurance and comfort for which our souls so deeply long. “But . . .” That’s a big but. “But . . . there is forgiveness with You.” There is forgiveness with the LORD for those who hope in Him. As Paul wrote, “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin, but now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:20-21). We cannot stand before the Lord in our filthy rags, soiled and stained with the muck of our own sin, but we can stand before Him forgiven and clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who was without sin and bore our sin and the wrath of God for our sin on the cross.
Dear reader, do not seek any righteousness in yourself. For there you will not find it. Do not try to excuse or justify yourself by your works, for they are meager efforts, iniquitous and flawed. Do not condemn yourself for your sins, for you are forgiven. Look to Jesus for your righteousness and your justification. He is your only hope. “Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:12). If you are in Christ, you were saved by grace and you must continue in grace. The Gospel is as much for you today as it was when you were born again in it’s hearing. It’s echoes must sustain you. When Jesus cried out and breathed His last on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaked and the rocks were split.” The shockwaves of that earthquake reverberated in your conversion and must reverberate down the whole path of your sanctification until you are forever glorified.
Look again at v. 4. “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” This statement seems ironic. It seems that forgiveness would take away our fear rather than kindle fear in us. Indeed, when we receive Christ’s forgiveness by faith, we are relieved of our terror of God’s judicial wrath, but we are left with a righteous fear and awe of the One who can send body and soul to hell, but sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins. As Calvin asserted, we cannot rightly worship God without the knowledge of His grace. We would either ignore Him without fear, or our despairing terror would lead us to hate Him. Having, however, escaped His wrath through the blood of the Son, we are left in awe and wonder of His justice, power, and grace. And we are left to fear the loving discipline of the One who bruised the servant when He could have poured out His wrath upon us.
An example of the fear we should have of His discipline is exemplified in Jesus’ instructions to the paralytic that he healed in John 5: “See you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” We do not know what sins the paralytic had committed, but we do know that he walked away with the knowledge that if he continued in these sins, the Lord would severely discipline him. Resting in God’s grace will instill in us a righteous fear– not a despairing fear or a despising fear, but a worshiping fear that will produce godly sorrow and repentance.
Kiss the Son lest He be angry, And you shall perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. — Psalm 2:17