2 Samuel 12:13
And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said to David, The LORD also has put away your sin…
Two things are very surprising in this narrative - the awful wickedness of David, and the abounding mercy of God.
I. DAVID'S CONFESSION. It was:
1. Very prompt. The prophet's address awakened no resentment. There was no attempt at evasion, palliation, or self-justification. How could there be? He at once acknowledged his sin. This was the result, not only of Nathan's faithful reproof, but of the king's own previous mental exercises. The time which had elapsed since the commission of his sins, or some part of it, had been a sorrowful time for him. Burdened with conscious guilt, but not subdued to contrition, he had been wretched (see Psalm 32:3, 4). Nathan's admonitions completed the work; the king's heart was melted to penitence, and he unburdened his soul by a frank confession.
2. Very brief. Like the prayer of the publican (Luke 18:13). When the heart is fullest, the words are fewest. Not the length of a confession, but its meaning and sincerity, are the important thing. It is so with confessions of men to each other: a word, a look, or an action without a word, is often sufficient, always better than a long speech.
3. Very appropriate. Acknowledged sin - sin "against the Lord." Nathan had laid stress on this point, and David responds accordingly. He had grievously wronged Uriah, Bathsheba too, and had sinned against the people under his rule; but most had he sinned against God. Hence his language in Psalm 51:4. Only as sin is thus viewed is "godly sorrow" possible.
II. HIS FORGIVENESS. Which was:
1. Immediate. It startles us that so great a sinner should have been so speedily pardoned, so soon assured of pardon. We might have deemed some delay more suitable. But God is ever ready to forgive; he waits only for the sinner's penitent confession. There is no reason for delay of forgiveness except the sinner's impenitence and unbelief. The moment these are subdued, pardon is granted. This was assured by the promises of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 55:7. In the New we have the same assurances, and the difficulties which arise from the penitent sinner's conviction of the rightness of the punishment threatened to transgressors (his conscience being on the side of the Divine justice) are removed by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
2. Free. Burdened with no conditions, no demand for penances, or compensations, or sin offerings. The sin was too serious for these. So David felt (Psalm 51:16). Only a perfectly free pardon could meet the case. New love and service would follow; but these would spring from gratitude for forgiveness, not from the expectation of securing it. The attempt to merit or earn pardon for past transgressions by voluntary sufferings, by multiplied prayers or ceremonies, or by future obedience, is absurd on the face of it, and as contrary to the Old Testament as to the New. It was to the "multitude of God's tender mercies" (Psalm 51:1) that David appealed; and it is to the same abounding grace as shown in the gospel that we must trust.
3. Declared. Nathan pronounced the king's absolution: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Men would like a similar assurance to themselves individually; and the system of some Churches is constructed to meet this wish. On confession of sin to a priest, he pronounces absolution. But this practice is unwarranted and delusive. Confessedly the absolution is worthless unless the sinner be truly penitent; and if he be, it is useless; and in multitudes of cases it is most pernicious, fostering baseless hopes. If men could read the heart, or had, like Nathan, a special message of pardon from God in each case, they might safely pronounce absolution. But in ordinary cases none can know the reality of repentance until it is proved by the life; and therefore none can safely assure the sinner of his actual forgiveness until such assurance is needless. The repenting sinner, coming to God by faith in Jesus Christ, is assured of pardon
(1) by the promises of God, and
(2) by the Spirit of God in his heart applying the promises to the individual and enabling him to confide in them, and commencing in him the Christian life. A new heart is given with pardon; and this, with its fruit in the conduct, becomes a growing evidence of pardon.
4. Yet with a reservation. The penalty of death, to which David had virtually condemned himself, was remitted; but other penalties were not. One was specifically mentioned - the death of the child (ver. 14); and the others, denounced (vers. 10-12) before the confession and forgiveness, we know from the subsequent history were inflicted. And it is often the case that the painful consequences of sin continue long after pardon is granted, perhaps till death. Shall we say, then, that the forgiveness is not real and full? By no means. But because it is real and full the pardoned sinner must suffer. Suffering, however, changes its character. As from Gad, it is no longer penal infliction, but fatherly chastisement and discipline
(1) to maintain a salutary remembrance of the sin, and produce constant gratitude and humility;
(2) to preserve in obedience and promote holiness;
(3) to vindicate to others the justice of God, and warn them against sin. And as to the penitent himself, his suffering produces no bitterness, abjectness, or sullenness. Love to him that chastises, kept alive by the sense of his forgiving and fatherly love, enables him to yield himself to the chastisement, thankful, resigned, acquiescent, and earnestly seeking to realize the intended profit. In conclusion:
1. Admire, adore, trust, and proclaim the pardoning love of God.
2. Let sinners repent of, confess, and forsake their sins, that they may obtain forgiveness. For, notwithstanding the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ, no impenitent sinner shall be forgiven.
3. Let no penitent despair. Not even the backslider, and though his sins have been as bad as David's.
4. Let none presume. One of the worst and most persistent consequences of David's sin and pardon has been the encouragement to sin, which foolish and wicked persons have derived from them, or - shall we say? - pretended to derive. For so foolish and impious is it to turn the narrative to such a purpose that it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of those who do so. Rather they love their sins, and are glad of anything that may quiet somewhat their consciences in committing them. Let any such consider that the proper effect of the narrative is to render sin odious and to awaken a dread of it; and that the sins of those who read it and persist in sin are rendered doubly guilty. Such are hardening their hearts and promoting in themselves incapacity to repent, and so incapability of being forgiven. - G.W.
Parallel VersesKJV: And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.