Have mercy on me, O God. Psalm 51:1
When the missionary William Carey was suffering from a dangerous illness, he was asked, “If this sickness proves fatal, what Scripture would you select as the text for your funeral?” He replied, “Oh, I feel that such a poor, sinful creature is not worthy to have anything said about him, but if a funeral must be preached, let it be from the words, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions’” (Ps. 51:1). In the same spirit of humility, he directed in his will that the following inscription, and nothing more, be engraved on his tombstone:
William Carey, Born August 17, 1761 Died— A wretched, poor, and helpless worm On Your kind arms I fall.
It is only on the foundation of grace that even the most experienced and most honored of all saints may approach their God. The best of men are conscious above all others that even at their best they are still only men. Empty boats float high in the water, while heavily laden vessels float low. Only false Christians can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy for their unworthiness. We need the Lord to have mercy even on our good works, prayers, sermons, and offerings—all our holiest things. The blood of the sacrifice was not only sprinkled on the doorposts of Israël’s houses but also on the sanctuary, “The mercy seat” (Ex. 25:17) and the altar. This is because as sin intrudes into our holiest things, the blood of Jesus is needed to purify them from defilement. And if mercy is needed for our holiest of duties, what can be said of our sins? How precious is the reminder that inexhaustible mercy is waiting to be gracious to us—to restore us from our backslidings and to make our broken bones rejoice!
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