Psalm 103 has been referred to as “a pure note of praise” (Leupold). Maclaren observes that “there are no clouds in the horizon, nor notes of sadness in the music, of this psalm. No purer outburst of thankfulness enriches the church.” This is significant given that the psalm was written by David. We have become accustomed in the psalms to find David writing under the circumstances of affliction and opposition, pouring out his heart to God as he cries for help. There is none of that in this psalm. David reverts here to pure praise.
The psalm is at the same time one of the greatest statements of pure theology in all of Scripture. One can do little better when studying the character of God to meditate deeply on the words of this psalm. But in the midst of these words of doxology, we find an important lesson about forgiveness.
One of the most frequent questions I have encountered over the years when talking to other Christians is the nature of the unpardonable sin. Many who openly profess Christ are deeply concerned that they might have committed, or might yet commit, the unpardonable sin. Even Christians who don’t struggle with this particular issue often struggle with the notion of forgiveness in general. They struggle with the idea that God will actually forgive them and, even when they repent, they don’t always feel forgiven and wonder whether God really has forgiven them. To believers who struggle in this way, David writes, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity” (vv. 2–3). One of the “benefits” that God’s people experience is promised forgiveness of sin. And since God cannot lie, we can know for sure that we receive forgiveness when we ask for it.
This is a biblical promise we must embrace because, as we know, we don’t always experience immediate relief when we confess our sins. We know that forgiveness is promised, but we are often still weighed down by guilt and shame, which can lead us to doubt that we have truly received forgiveness. But when we don’t feel forgiven we must remember that God’s promise guarantees that he will forgive the sins of his people. We can therefore bless the Lord, who forgives all our iniquity.
It is not insignificant that this promise of forgiveness comes in the context of doxology. It is no coincidence that, as he reflected on the glorious character of God, David was moved to rejoice in promised forgiveness. It is no coincidence because it is precisely the character of God that ensures our forgiveness.
Most Christians are familiar with John’s famous words on forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Notice that John likewise roots his promise of forgiveness in God’s character. God forgives confessed sin because he is “faithful” and “just.” His faithfulness secures forgiveness because he has promised to forgive sin and he is always true to his word. His justice secures forgiveness because he has exercised perfect justice in Christ on the cross. Sin is never overlooked or swept under the rug. God faithfully forgives sin on the basis of Christ’s just work at Calvary. He took the justice of God for sin upon himself so that he is able to lavish grace on those who come to him in repentance and faith.
As you head into another day, perhaps weighed down with guilt and shame over sin, remember that forgiveness is not based on your feelings or your performance. It is based on the faithfulness and justice of God. With David, embrace all the benefits that you have received as a child of God, which includes the forgiveness of your sin.