by Thomas Watson
What are the properties of God’s mercy?
(1) It is free and spontaneous. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy or force it; we cannot deserve it nor force it, because of our enmity. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. ‘I will love them freely.’ Hos 14: 4. Every link in the golden chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. ‘He has chosen us in him according to the good pleasure of his will.’ Eph 1: 4. Justification is free. ‘Being justified freely by his grace.’ Rom 3: 24. Say not I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy only to such as deserve it, he must show mercy to none.
(2) The mercy which God shows is powerful. How powerful is that mercy which softens a heart of stone! Mercy changed Mary Magdalen’s heart, out of whom seven devils were cast: she who was an inflexible adamant was made a weeping penitent. God’s mercy works sweetly, yet irresistibly; it allures, yet conquers. The law may terrify, but mercy mollifies. Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those chains of sin in which the soul is held.
(3) The mercy which God shows is superabundant. ‘Abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands.’ Exod 34: 6. God visits iniquity ‘to the third and fourth generation’ only, but he shows mercy to a thousand generations. Exod 20: 5, 6. The Lord has treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be ‘plenteous in mercy’ (Psa 86: 5), and ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph 2: 4). The vial of God’s wrath drops only, but the fountain of his mercy runs. The sun is not so full of light as God is of love.
God has mercy of all dimensions. He has depth of mercy, it reaches as low as sinners; and height of mercy, it reaches above the clouds.
God has mercies for all seasons; mercies for the night, he gives sleep; nay, sometimes he gives a song in the night. Psa 42: 8. He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions ‘are new every morning.’ Lam 3: 23.
God has mercies for all sorts. Mercies for the poor: ‘He raiseth up the poor out of the dust.’ 1 Sam 2: 8. Mercies for the prisoner: he ‘despiseth not his prisoners.’ Psa 69: 33. Mercies for the dejected: ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.’ Isa 54: 8. He has old mercies: ‘Thy mercies have been ever of old.’ Psa 25: 6. New mercies: ‘He has put a new song in my mouth.’ Psa 40: 3. Every time we draw our breath we suck in mercy. God has mercies under heaven, and those we taste; and mercies in heaven, and those we hope for. Thus his mercies are superabundant.
(4) The mercy of God is abiding. ‘The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.’ Psa 103: 17. God’s anger to his children lasts but a while (Psa 103: 9), but his mercy lasts for ever. His mercy is not like the widow’s oil, which ran awhile, and then ceased (2 Kings 4: 6), but overflowing and everflowing. As his mercy is without bounds, so is it without end. ‘His mercy endureth for ever.’ Psa 136. God never cuts off the entail of mercy from the elect.
In how many ways is God said to show mercy?
(1) We are all living monuments of his mercy. He shows mercy to us in daily supplying us. He supplies us with health. Health is the sauce which makes life sweeter. How would they prize this mercy who are chained to a sick-bed! God supplies us with provisions. ‘God which fed me all my life long.’ Gen 48: 15. Mercy spreads our tables, and carves for us every bit of bread we cat; we never drink but in the golden cup of mercy.
(2) God shows mercy in lengthening out our gospel-liberties. 1 Cor 16: 9. There are many adversaries; many would stop the waters of the sanctuary that that they should not run. We enjoy the sweet seasons of grace, we hear joyful sounds, we see the goings of God in his sanctuary, we enjoy Sabbath after Sabbath; the manna of the word falls about our tents, when in other parts of the land there is no manna. God shows mercy to us in continuing our forfeited privileges.
(3) He shows mercy in preventing many evils from invading us. ‘Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.’ Psa 3: 3. God has restrained the wrath of men, and been a screen between us and danger; when the destroying angel has been abroad, and shed his deadly arrow of pestilence, he has kept off the arrow that it has not come near us.
(4) He shows mercy in delivering us. ‘And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion’ (viz., Nero). 2 Tim 4: 17. He has restored us from the grave. May we not write the writing of Hezekiah, ‘when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness?’ Isa 38: 9. When we thought the sun of our life was setting God has made it return to its former brightness.
(5) He shows mercy in restraining us from sin. Lusts within are worse than lions without. The greatest sign of God’s anger is to give men up to their sins. ‘So I gave them up to their own hearts’ lust.’ Psa 81: 12. While they sin themselves to hell, God has laid the bridle of restraining grace upon us. As he said to Abimelech, ‘I withheld thee from sinning against me.’ Gen 20: 6. So he has withheld us from those sins which might have made us a prey to Satan, and a terror to ourselves.
(6) God shows mercy in guiding and directing us. Is it not a mercy for one that is out of the way to have a guide?  There is a providential guidance. God guides our affairs for us; chalks out the way he would have us to walk in. He resolves our doubts, unties our knots, and appoints the bounds of our habitation. Acts 17: 26.  A spiritual guidance. ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.’ Psa 73: 24. As Israel had a pillar of fire to go before them, so God guides us with the oracles of his word, and the conduct of his Spirit. He guides our heads to keep us from error; and he guides our feet to keep us from scandal. Oh, what mercy is it to have God to be our guide and pilot! ‘For thy name’s sake, lead me and guide me.’ Psa 31: 3.
(7) God shows mercy in correcting us. He is angry in love; he smites that he may save. His rod is not a rod of iron to break us, but a fatherly rod to humble us. ‘He, for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ Heb 12: l0. Either he will mortify some corruption, or exercise some grace. Is there not mercy in this? Every cross, to a child of God, is like Paul’s cross wind, which, though it broke the ship, it brought Paul to shore upon the broken pieces. Acts 27: 44.
(8) God shows mercy in pardoning us, ‘Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?’ Mic 7: 18. It is mercy to feed us, rich mercy to pardon us. This mercy is spun out of the bowels of the free grace, and is enough to make a sick man well. ‘The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity.’ Isa 33: 24. Pardon of sin is a mercy of the first magnitude. God seals the sinner’s pardon with a kiss. This made David put on his best clothes, and anoint himself. His child was newly dead, and God had told him the sword should not depart from his house, yet he anoints himself. The reason was that God had sent him pardon by the prophet Nathan. ‘The Lord has put away thy sin.’ 2 Sam 12: 13. Pardon is the only fit remedy for a troubled conscience. What can give ease to a wounded spirit but pardoning mercy? Offer him the honours and pleasure of the world. It is as if flowers and music were brought to one that is condemned.
How may I know that my sins are pardoned?
Where God removes the guilt, he breaks the power of sin. ‘He will have compassion: he will subdue our iniquities.’ Mic 7: 19. With pardoning love God gives subduing grace.
(9) God shows his mercy in sanctifying us. ‘I am the Lord which sanctify you.’ Lev 20: 8. This is the partaking of the divine nature. 2 Pet 1: 4. God’s Spirit is a spirit of consecration; though it sanctify us but in part, yet it is in every part. 1 Thess 5: 23. It is such a mercy that God cannot give it in anger. If we are sanctified, we are elected. ‘God has chosen you to salvation through sanctification.’ 2 Thess 2: 13. This prepares for happiness, as the seed prepares for harvest. When the virgins had been anointed and perfumed, they were to stand before the king (Esth 2: 12); SO, when we have had the anointing of God, we shall stand before the King of heaven.
(10) God shows mercy in hearing our prayers. ‘Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.’ Psa 4: 1. Is it not a favour, when a man puts up a petition to the king, to have it granted? So when we pray for pardon, adoption, and the sense of God’s love, it is a signal mercy to have a gracious answer. God may delay an answer, and yet not deny. You do not throw a musician money at once, because you love to hear his music. God loves the music of prayer, but does not always let us hear from him at once; but in due season gives an answer of peace. ‘Blessed be God, which has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.’ Psa 66: 20. If God does not turn away our prayer, he does not turn away his mercy.
(11) God shows mercy in saving us. ‘According to his mercy he saved us.’ Titus 3: 5. This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is laid in heaven. Here mercy displays itself in all its orient colours. Mercy is mercy indeed, when God perfectly refines us from all the lees and dregs of corruption; when our bodies are made like Christ’s glorious body, and our souls like the angels. Saving mercy is crowning mercy. It is not merely to be freed from hell, but enthroned in a kingdom. In this life we desire God, rather than enjoy him; but what rich mercy will it be to be fully possessed of him, to see his smiling face, and to lay us in his bosom! This will fill us with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ 1 Peter 1: 8. ‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.’ Psa 17: 15.
Use one. Let us not despair. What an encouragement we have here to serve God. He shows mercy to thousands. Who would not be willing to serve a prince who is given to mercy and clemency? God is represented with a rainbow round about him, as an emblem of his mercy. Rev 4: 3. Acts of severity are forced from God; judgement is his strange work. Isa 28: 21. The disciples, who are not said to wonder at the other miracles of Christ, did wonder when the fig-tree was cursed and withered, because it was not his manner to put forth acts of severity. God is said to delight in mercy. Mic 7: 18. Justice is God’s left hand: mercy is his right hand. He uses his right hand most; he is more used to mercy than to justice. Pronior est Deus ad parcendum quam ad puniendum [God is more inclined to mercy than to punishment]. God is said to be slow to anger (Psa 103: 8), but ready to forgive. Psa 86: 5. This may encourage us to serve him. What argument will prevail, if mercy will not? Were God all justice, it might frighten us from him, but his mercy is a loadstone to draw us to him.
Use two. Hope in God’s mercies. ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.’ Psa 147: 11. He counts it his glory to scatter pardons among men.
But I have been a great sinner and sure there is no mercy for me!
Not if thou goest on in sin, and art so resolved; but, if thou wilt break off thy sins, the golden sceptre of mercy shall be held forth to thee. ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him.’ Isa 55: 7. Christ’s blood is ‘a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.’ Zech 13: 1. Mercy more overflows in God, than sin in us. His mercy can drown great sins, as the sea covers great rocks. Some of the Jews who had their hands imbrued in Christ’s blood, were saved by that blood. God loves to magnify his goodness, to display the trophies of free grace, and to set up his mercy in spite of sin. Therefore, hope in his mercy.
Use three. Labour to know that God’s mercy is for you. He is ‘the God of my mercy.’ Psa. 59: 17. A man who was being drowned, seeing a rainbow, said, ‘What am I the better, though God will not drown the world, if I am drowned?’ So, what are we the better, though God is merciful, if we perish? Let us labour to know God’s special mercy is for us.
How shall we know it belongs to us?
(1) If we put a high value and estimate upon it. He will not throw away his mercy on them that slight it. We prize health, but we prize adopting mercy more. This is the diamond ring; it outshines all other comforts.
(2) If we fear God, if we have a reverend awe upon us, if we tremble at sin, and flee from it, as Moses did from his rod turned into a serpent. ‘His mercy is on them that fear him.’ Luke 1: 50.
(3) If we take sanctuary in God’s mercy, we trust in it as a man saved by catching hold of a cable. God’s mercy to us is a cable let down from heaven. By taking fast hold of this by faith, we are saved. ‘I trust in the mercy of God for ever.’ Psa 52: 8. As a man trusts his life and goods in a garrison, so we trust our souls in God’s mercy.
How shall we get a share in God’s special mercy?
(1) If we would have mercy, it must be through Christ. Out of Christ no mercy is to be had. We read in the old law, that none might come unto the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat stood, but the high-priest: to signify that we have nothing to do with mercy but through Christ our High-priest; that the high-priest might not come near the mercy-seat without blood, to show that we have no right to mercy, but through the expiatory sacrifice of Christ’s blood, Lev 16: 14; that the high-priest might not, upon pain of death, come near the mercy-seat without incense, Lev 16: 13, to show that there is no mercy from God without the incense of Christ’s intercession. If we would have mercy, we must get a part in Christ. Mercy swims to us through Christ’s blood.
(2) If we would have mercy, we must pray for it. ‘Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.’ Psa 85: 7. ‘Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me.’ Psa 25: 16. Lord, put me not off with common mercy; give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to pardon me; not only sparing mercy, but saving mercy. Lord, give me the cream of thy mercies; let me have mercy and loving kindness. ‘Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.’ Psa 103: 4. Be earnest suitors for mercy; let your wants quicken your importunity. We pray most fervently when we pray most feelingly.
Excerpt The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson