The Mercy of God

by Thomas Watson

The next attribute is God's goodness or mercy. Mercy is the result and effect—of God's goodness. So then this is the next attribute, God's goodness or mercy. The most learned of the heathens thought they gave their God Jupiter two golden characters when they styled him good and great. Both these meet in God, goodness and greatness; mercy and majesty. God is essentially good in himself, and relatively good to us. "You are good, and do good." This relative goodness is nothing else but his mercy, which is an innate propensity in God to pity and support such as are in misery.

I. Concerning God's mercy, I shall lay down these twelve positions.

[1] It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone to draw sinners to him. "I am the Lord, I am the Lord, the merciful and gracious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. Even so I do not leave sin unpunished." Exodus 34:6-7. Here are six expressions to set forth God's mercy, and but one to set forth his justice. "God's mercy is far above the heavens." God is represented as a king, with a rainbow a

[2] God is more inclined to mercy, than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." Micah 7:18. Mercy pleases him. "It is delightful to the mother," says Chrysostom, "to have her breasts drawn; so it is to God to have the breasts of his mercy drawn." "Fury is not in me," that is, I do not delight in it. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:33.

The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked. Just so, God does not punish until he can bear no longer. "So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings." Mercy is God's right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his "strange work." He is not used to it. When the Lord would shave off the pride of a nation, he is said to use a hired razor, as if he had none of his own. "On that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave the head, the hair on the legs, and to remove the beard as well." Isaiah 7:20. "He is slow to anger," but "ready to forgive."

[3] There is no condition—but we may spy mercy in it. When the church was in captivity, she cried out, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed." Geographers write of Syracuse in Sicily, that it is so situated that the sun is never out of sight. In all afflictions we may see some sunshine of mercy. That outward and inward troubles do not come together is mercy.

[4] Mercy sweetens all God's other attributes. God's holiness without mercy, and his justice without mercy—would be dreadful. When the water was bitter, and Israel could not drink, Moses cast a tree into the waters, and then they were made sweet. How bitter and dreadful were the other attributes of God—did not mercy sweeten them! Mercy sets God's power on work to help us; it makes his justice become our friend.

[5] God's mercy is one of the most orient pearls of his crown; it makes his Godhead appear amiable and lovely. When Moses said to God, "I beseech you—show me your glory;" the Lord answered him, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will show you mercy." God's mercy is his glory. His holiness makes him illustrious; his mercy makes him endearing.

[6] Even the worst people taste God's mercy. Such as fight against God's mercy, taste of it; the wicked have some crumbs from mercy's table. "The Lord is good to all." Sweet dewdrops are on the thistle, as well as on the rose. The diocese where mercy visits is very large. Pharaoh's head was crowned, though his heart was hardened.

[7] Mercy coming to us in salvation, is sweetest. It was mercy that God would give Israel rain, and bread to the full, and peace, and victory over their enemies—but it was a greater mercy that God would be their God. To have health is a mercy—but to have Christ and salvation is a greater mercy. Saving mercy, is like the diamond in the ring, which casts a more sparkling luster.

[8] One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, "I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more." But, because God has shown saving mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy. His mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent's love to his child makes him always giving.

[9] All the mercy in the creature is derived from God, and is but a drop from this ocean. The mercy and pity a mother has to her child, is from God; he who puts the milk in her breast puts the compassion in her heart. God is called, "The Father of mercies," because he begets all the mercies in the world. If God has put any kindness into the creature, how much kindness is in him who is the Father of mercy!

[10] As God's mercy makes the saints happy—so it should make them humble. Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness—but the fruit of God's goodness. Mercy is a gift which God bestows. They have no cause to be proud, who live upon the alms of God's mercy. "If I am righteous—yet will I not lift up my head." That is, all my righteousness is the effect of God's mercy, therefore I will be humble and will not lift up my head.

[11] Mercy stays the speedy execution of God's justice. Sinners continually provoke God, and make "the fury come up in his face." Why is it, that God does not immediately arrest and condemn them? It is not that God cannot do it, for he is armed with omnipotence—but it is from his mercy. Mercy gets a reprieve for the sinner—and stops the speedy process of justice. God would, by his goodness, lead sinners to repentance.

[12] It is dreadful to have mercy as a witness against any one. It was sad with Haman, when the queen herself accused him. So will it be when this queen of mercy shall stand up against a person and accuse him! It is only mercy that saves a sinner; how sad then to have mercy become an enemy! If mercy is an accuser, who shall be our advocate? The sinner never escapes hell, when mercy draws up the indictment.

I might show you several kinds of mercy—as preventing mercy, sparing mercy, supplying mercy, guiding mercy, accepting mercy, healing mercy, quickening mercy, supporting mercy, forgiving mercy, correcting mercy, comforting mercy, delivering mercy, crowning mercy; but I shall speak of,

II. The qualifications or PROPERTIES of God's mercy.

[1] God's mercy is FREE. To set up merit—is to destroy mercy. We cannot deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood; nor can we force God to show mercy—for then it would not be mercy. We may force God to punish us—but not to love us. "I will love them freely." Every link in the 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." Justification is free. "Being justified freely by his grace." Salvation is free. "According to his mercy he saved us." Do not say, "I am unworthy, therefore I cannot be saved;" for mercy is free. If God would show mercy to such only as are worthy—he would show no mercy at all.

[2] God's mercy is an overflowing mercy; it is INFINITE. "Plenteous in mercy." "Rich in mercy." "Multitude of mercies." The vial of wrath drops—but the fountain of mercy runs in streams. The sun is not so full of light—as God is of mercy. God has morning mercies. "His mercies are new every morning." He has night mercies. "In the night his song shall be with me." God has mercies under heaven, which we taste; and in heaven, which we hope for.

[3] God's mercy is ETERNAL. "The mercy of the Lord is from eternity to eternity." Psalm 103:17. "His mercy endures forever," is repeated twenty-six times in Psalm 136. The souls of the blessed shall be ever bathing themselves in this sweet and pleasant ocean of God's mercy! God's anger to his children lasts but a while, "but his mercy lasts forever." As long as he is God, he will be showing mercy. As his mercy is overflowing, so it is ever-flowing.

Use one: We are to look upon God in PRAYER, not in his judgment robes—but clothed with a rainbow full of mercy and clemency. Add wings to prayer. When Jesus Christ ascended up to heaven, that which made him go up there with joy was, "I go to my Father!" Just so, that which should make our hearts ascend with joy in prayer, is, "We are going to the Father of mercy, who sits upon the throne of grace!" Go to prayer with confidence in God's mercy; as a cold person goes to a fire, saying, "it will warm me, not burn me."

Use two: BELIEVE in his mercy. "I will trust in the mercy of God forever." God's mercy is an open fountain. Let down the bucket of faith—and you may drink of this fountain of salvation. What greater encouragement to believe—than God's mercy? God counts it his glory to be scattering pardons; he is desirous that sinners should touch the golden scepter of his mercy, and live. This willingness in God to show mercy appears two ways:

(1.) By entreating sinners to come and lay hold on his mercy. "Whoever will, let him come, and take the water of life freely." Mercy woos sinners, it even kneels down to beg them. It would be strange for a prince to beg a condemned man to accept of pardon. God says, "Poor sinner, allow me to love you, be willing to let me save you."

(2.) By his joyfulness when sinners lay hold on his mercy. What is God the better, whether we receive his mercy or not? What is the fountain profited that others drink of it? Yet such is God's goodness, that he rejoices at the salvation of sinners, and is glad when his mercy is accepted! When the prodigal son came home the father was glad, and made a feast to express his joy; so, God rejoices when a poor sinner comes in, and lays hold of his mercy. What an encouragement is here to believe in God! He is a God of pardons. "You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and full of unfailing love and mercy." Neh 9:17. Mercy pleases him. "Where is another God like you, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy." Micah 7:18.

Nothing harms us but unbelief. Unbelief stops the current of God's mercy from running. It shuts up God's affections, closes the orifice of Christ's wounds, so that no healing virtue will come out. "He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." Why do you not believe in God's mercy? Do your sins discourage you? God's mercy can pardon great sins, nay, because they are great. "For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great." Psalm 25:11. The sea covers the rocks as well as the sands. Some who had a hand in crucifying Christ, found mercy. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far is God's mercy above our sins! What will entice us to believe, if not the mercy of God?

Use three: Take heed of ABUSING the mercy of God. Do not suck poison, out of the sweet flower of God's mercy. Do not think that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make God's mercy your enemy. None might touch the ark but the priests, who by their office were more holy. Just so, none may touch the ark of God's mercy, but such as are resolved to be holy. To sin because God's mercy abounds—is the devil's logic! He who sins because of God's mercy—is like one who wounds his head because he has a plaster. He who sins because of God's mercy—shall have judgement without mercy. Mercy abused, turns to fury. "Let none of those who hear the warnings of this curse consider themselves immune, thinking, 'I am safe, even though I am walking in my own stubborn way.' This would lead to utter ruin! The Lord will not pardon such people. His anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them!" Deuteronomy 29:19-20.

Nothing is colder than lead when taken out of the mine; and nothing more scalding when it is heated. Nothing is blunter than iron—yet nothing is sharper when it is whetted. Just so, nothing is sweeter than mercy—when it is improved; yet nothing is fiercer than mercy—when it is abused! "The mercy of the Lord is upon those who fear him." Mercy is not for those who sin and fear not—but for those who fear and sin not. God's mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons it sanctifies.

What shall we do to be savingly interested in God's mercy?

(1.) Be sensible of your needs. See how much you stand in need of pardoning, saving mercy. See yourselves as orphans. "In you, the fatherless find mercy." God bestows the alms of mercy only on such as are indigent. Be emptied of all opinion of self-worthiness. God pours the golden oil of mercy into empty vessels.

(2.) Go to God for mercy. "Have mercy upon me, O God!" "Do not put me off with common mercy, which reprobates may have! Give me not only acorns but pearls! Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me—but mercy to save me! Give me the cream of your mercies! Lord! let me have saving mercy and loving-kindness. Give me such mercy as speaks your electing love to my soul."

"Who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies." Oh pray for mercy! God has treasures of mercy! Prayer is the key which opens these treasures; and in prayer, be sure to carry Christ in your arms, for all the mercy comes through Christ! "So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel—and the Lord answered." 1 Samuel 7:9. Carry the lamb Christ in your arms, go in his name, present his merits; say, "Lord! here is Christ's blood, which is the price of my pardon! Lord! show me mercy, because Christ has purchased it!" Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name—yet he will not when we come in Christ's name. Plead Christ's atonement; this is an argument which God cannot deny.

Use four: Such as have found mercy are exhorted to three things—

(1.) To be upon Gerizim—the mount of blessing and praising. They have not only heard the King of heaven is merciful—but they have found it so! The honeycomb of God's mercy has dropped upon them! When in needs, mercy supplied them; when they were near unto death, mercy raised them from the sick-bed; when covered with guilt, mercy pardoned them. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" Oh, how should the vessels of mercy run over with praise! "I used to scoff at the name of Christ. I hunted down his people, harming them in every way I could. But God had mercy on me." 1 Timothy 1:13. "I am a miracle of mercy! As the sea overflows and breaks down the banks, so the mercy of God broke down the banks of my sin, and mercy sweetly flowed into my soul!"

You who have been monuments of God's mercy—should be trumpets of praise! You who have tasted the Lord is gracious, tell others what experiences you have had of God's mercy, that you may encourage them to seek to him, for mercy. "I will tell you what God has done for my soul." "When I found my heart dead, God's Spirit came upon me mightily, and the blowing of that wind made the withering flowers of my grace revive!" Oh tell others of God's goodness, that you may set others blessing him, and that you may make God's praises live when you are dead.

(2.) To love God. Mercy should be the attraction of love. "I will love you, O Lord, my strength." The Hebrew word for love signifies, to love out of the inward affections. God's justice may make us fear him, his mercy makes us love him. If God's mercy will not produce love, what will? We are to love God for giving us our food, much more for giving us grace. We are to love God for sparing mercy, much more for saving mercy. Surely, that heart is made of marble, which the mercy of God will not dissolve into love. "I would hate my own soul," says Augustine, "if I did not find it loving God."

(3.) To imitate God in showing mercy. As God is the Father of mercy, show yourselves to be his children—by being like him. Ambrose says, "The sum and definition of true religion is—Be rich in works of mercy, be helpful to the bodies and souls of others. Scatter your golden seeds; let the lamp of your profession be filled with the oil of love. Be merciful in giving and forgiving." "Be merciful—as your heavenly Father is merciful."


Excerpt from A Body of Divinity


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