Many people I know struggle with regret over past sin. They realize their sin — past and present — is great, and they carry a sense of condemnation because of it.
Psalm 25:11 presents good news: “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (ESV).
At first glance, it’s easy to think that David is saying, “Pardon my sin despite its greatness.” I know that’s how I feel sometimes. Our sin is great, but God’s grace is greater, but God forgives me despite how sinful I am. It’s almost as if God saves me reluctantly despite how bad I am.
In a sermon on this passage, Jonathan Edwards presents a different understanding of this verse. He argues that David bases his plea for pardon on two arguments: God’s reputation and the greatness of his sin. In other words, David doesn’t plead with God to forgive him despite his sins but because of them.
How could David build a case for God to forgive him because he’s a great sinner? “He makes use of the greatness of his sin, to enforce his plea for pardon, as a man would make use of the greatness of calamity in begging for relief. When a beggar begs for bread, he will plead the greatness of his poverty and necessity. When a man in distress cries for pity, what more suitable plea can be urged than the extremity of his case?—And God allows such a plea as this: for he is moved to mercy towards us by nothing in us but the miserableness of our case. He doth not pity sinners because they are worthy, but because they need his pity.”
“The greater the guilt of any sinner is, the more glorious and wonderful is the grace manifested in his pardon,” Edwards writes. “It is the honor of Christ to save the greatest sinners.”
Spurgeon offers an illustration. “Imagine a prisoner at the Old Bailey pleading with the judge that he would kindly let him off, because he was such a great offender; we should think that it would be a very legitimate reason why he should not be pardoned.”
But God is not like a judge at the Old Bailey. God is concerned to glorify his own character. He thus chooses actions that most “most magnify his grace, and glorify his own name.” Spurgeon concludes, “Well now, if God would do that great work of pardoning sin in such a way as to glorify his own name, the most fitting persons to be saved are the biggest sinners.”
God is most glorified in forgiving the greatest sin and the greatest sinners.
Martin Luther puts it well: “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immeasurably, since Christ died for sinners.”
Our sin is great. We could easily be discouraged because we understand the greatness of our sin.
But knowledge of our sin can also cause us to rejoice in his grace. God doesn’t run away from sinners who cast themselves on his grace. He runs toward them, and as he does, he brings glory to his name. It’s who God is, and it’s what he does. He saves us because our sin is great.