Rev. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
As far as east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103 is a most beautiful Psalm.
It is a Psalm that speaks especially of God’s mercy towards His people.
The Psalm opens with a song of praise to God for the wonderful blessings of His mercies. In mercy God forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases, redeems our life from destruction.
Bless the Lord, O My soul, and forget not all His benefits!
And now the Psalmist speaks of the greatness of God’s mercy.
As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him.
The Psalmist also speaks of how God shows His great mercy to us, His people.
God has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. As far as east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
How beautiful and comforting this is, especially to the wretched soul that carries a heavy burden of sin and guilt.
Mercy presupposes two things.
It presupposes that you love someone and that in that love you seek the welfare of that person. This latter, after all, is the very essence of love. Whatever doesn’t seek the welfare of another is not love.
Mercy also presupposes that this loved one is in distress. Troubles have come upon him. He is in misery and woe.
Now what happens when a loved one of yours is in distress?
Your heart goes out to him. You feel sorry for him. You are overwhelmed with pity and compassion. Perhaps you are so deeply affected by his plight that your stomach aches, your head pounds, and you can not sleep. You will do everything in your power to help this loved one out of his trouble.
That’s mercy. Mercy is the compassion we have for those in distress, so that we seek to deliver them from their woe.
God also has mercy for His people. From all eternity God has chosen unto Himself a people. In Jesus Christ God loves this people. They are the apple of His eye. When therefore God’s people are in trouble and distress, as they often are, God is filled with pity and compassion toward them. His divine heart goes out to them. And in His almighty power God is quick to rescue them from their woe.
This is God’s mercy.
The Psalmist wishes to emphasize especially the greatness of this mercy God has for His people. To do this the Psalmist compares the mercy of God to the height of the heavens above the earth. As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is God’s mercy toward them that fear Him.
In this instance modern science helps us to understand the Scriptures. The distance of the stars from the earth is measured today in terms of the speed of light. Light travels at the phenomenal speed of 186,000 miles per second. Traveling at that incomprehensible speed, it takes more than 8 minutes for the light of the sun to reach earth. And the sun is the closest star to us in God’s universe! Some stars are so far removed from the earth that it takes years and years for their light to travel to the earth.
For all practical purposes, therefore, the heavens are endless. God has created the heavens this way, no doubt, to give us some idea of what it means to be infinite, without limits.
And that’s the point of comparing the mercy of God to the height of heaven. As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is God’s mercy toward them that fear Him. God’s mercy toward His people is infinite, boundless, knowing no limits.
That’s not the case, however, of the mercy we show to others. The mercy we have for others is often limited. There always comes a time when our mercy for others fails.
Take for example a situation in which a friend or relative repeatedly gets himself into trouble due to his own foolishness. At first we may feel sorry for him and try to help him. But after a while we are inclined to become disgusted with his foolishness and no longer seek to answer his pleas for help. There is an end to our mercy.
And what about the situation in which helping those in need requires a great deal of sacrifice on our part? Require someone to sacrifice to help another and you will find just how limited his mercy can be.
Yes, indeed, our mercy for others is often very limited.
But not so the mercy of God for His people. No matter what they have done, no matter how foolish they have been, no matter if they have in foolishness fallen again and again into the same pit, God always pities them in their distresses and delivers them. God’s patience with His people never runs out. God never turns away from His people in disgust, leaving them to flounder in their own folly. Always His heart goes out to them in their distresses and He delivers them from their woe. And He does this no matter what the cost!
Such is God’s mercy for His people.
As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is God’s mercy toward them that fear Him.
God shows this great mercy to us, His people, in that He does not deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquity.
Oh, our sins are abominable! The essence of our sin is hatred against God. This hatred for God is deeply rooted in our sinful nature. It manifests itself in our life again and again in a refusal to serve God to the glory of His name. Again and again we trample under foot His good and holy law for the sake of our own selfish interests.
We see the greatness of God’s mercy in that He does not deal with us after these sins, nor reward us according to these iniquities.
What a horrible thing should God deal with us after our sins. For then we would be destroyed forever. Notice that the Psalmist speaks of the possibility of God rewarding us for our iniquities. A reward is simply the payment of what we deserve. And the proper reward of our sin is eternal death in hell. What we deserve is for God to destroy us forever on account of our sins!
But because of His great mercy God doesn’t deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquity.
It’s a matter of mercy when a criminal is shown leniency by the court and is not punished for his crimes. In like manner it is an act of great mercy on God’s part when we appear in God’s courtroom with all our spiritual crimes against Him, and God simply pardons our sins. Instead of punishing us as we deserve, He embraces us in love. Instead of casting us forever to the fires of hell, He reserves for us a place in heaven.
As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him!
God also shows this great mercy to us, His people, in that He removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west.
This is necessary if God will not deal with us after our sin, nor reward us according to our iniquity. For God is a God of justice. And God’s justice demands that we can receive Gods blessing only if we are able to stand before God without sin. Should we appear before the presence of God with even the least of our sins, God’s justice would require that we be destroyed forever.
Hence, if God will spare us from the wrath to come, He must remove our sins from us. He must remove them from us as far as the east is from the west so that all connection between us and our sin is forever severed.
This God has done in Jesus Christ, His Son. He sent His only begotten Son into the world to assume the guilt of our sin. Shouldering this heavy burden of sin, Christ was then sent of the Father to the cross to bear all the punishment of hell. Through His perfect obedience Christ fully paid for all our sins and forever removed them from us.
This great work of God in Jesus Christ all arises out of God’s mercy for us.
And how great that mercy of God for us is. He sent His only begotten Son . . . .
As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him!
This great mercy of God is shown to them that fear Him.
To fear, God is to stand before God with loving awe and reverence. According to the Psalmist, those who so fear the Lord are such as keep His covenant and remember His commandments to do them. This means that they strive from day to day to keep the will of God in love. And when they fail because of the weakness of their flesh, they come to God with grieving hearts, seeking forgiveness of their sins only on the basis of Christ and His cross.
This fear is a distinguishing characteristic of Gods people. For it is the result of the grace of God that operates irresistibly in their hearts.
To them God shows this great mercy.
Let us in fear strive to do the will of God, coming to God only in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him!