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A Cry for Mercy

Psalm 130:1–2 (ESV) … “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

The Christian world knows well how John Wesley was converted one May evening in 1738 in a London meeting house, listening to a reading from Luther’s preface to Romans. It is less well known that in St Paul’s Cathedral that same afternoon he had heard, and been deeply moved by, Psalm 130. The cry of the psalmist was his cry; the word of the apostle was God’s answer.

Verses 1–2 are a cry out of great need. Interestingly in view of the historical setting we are supposing for the Songs of Ascents, when in verse 2 the psalmist asks God to be attentive he uses a word found hardly anywhere else except in Nehemiah (the same is true when in v. 4 he looks for God’s forgiveness). But any believer might utter such a cry, when deep in any kind of affliction. Though we may have thought instantly of the depths of despair, they are not the only depths. The ‘flood’ that ‘would have engulfed us’ in 124:4 was an attack by enemies, and here in 130:1 the depths, like Hamlet’s ‘sea of troubles’, could be our experience in a hundred different ways.

But we have a great God. Not at once, we notice, the God of hope, or of peace, or of all comfort, of whom the New Testament speaks; he is first a God concerned with sin and forgiveness, a moral God. The liturgical question of 24:3, as to ‘who may stand’ before such a God, here becomes the agonized question of a guilty sinner.

The New Testament has told us how a God who hates sin can also forgive it. The psalmist has grasped the fact, though he perceives less of the method than we do, knowing the Old Testament sacrifices but not yet the sacrifice of Calvary. But he does realize that, as Spurgeon puts it, ‘none fear the Lord like those who have experienced his forgiving love’. All our worship starts from the place where we confess our sins and lay hold of the One who is the atoning sacrifice for them, as 1 John 1:8–2:2 remind us repeatedly.[1]

[1] Wilcock, M. (2001). The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God. (J. A. Motyer, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 238–239). Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

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