1 God, be merciful to me;
on your grace I rest my plea.
My transgressions I confess;
grief and guilt my soul oppress.
Wash me, make me pure within;
cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.
2 Gracious God, my heart renew;
make my spirit right and true.
In your presence let me stay;
by your Spirit show the way.
Your salvation's joy impart,
steadfast make my willing heart.
3 So shall sinners be restored
and return to you, their Lord;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
and my tongue shall sing your love;
touch my silent lips, O Lord,
and my mouth shall praise accord.
4 Not the formal sacrifice
has acceptance in your eyes;
broken hearts are in your sight
more than sacrificial rite;
contrite spirit, pleading cries,
you, O God, will not despise.
5 Prosper Zion in your grace
and her broken walls replace:
then our righteous sacrifice
shall delight your holy eyes;
free-will offerings, gladly made,
on your altar shall be laid.
Based on Psalm 51, the best-known of the penitential psalms, “God, Be Merciful” is a collation from the complete versification of the psalm in the 1912 Psalter.
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook
God’s children are not called to come before God’s throne with a list of accomplishments, or merits or goodness; they are called, says Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 26, to come with the humility that “…offers nothing but our need for mercy.” Such a cry for mercy comes from our “dying-away of the old self” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 88) which expresses that we are “genuinely sorry for our sin and more and more…hate and run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 89).
The gifts of renewal and pardon come only “through true faith” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 20) and are “gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 21). The very act of faith is to plead for his mercy.