The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
I. DEFINE THE IDEA OF MERCY. It is the exercise of a Divine benevolence in respect to a guilty being, and such an exercise, that if it had been wholly wanting, no just judgment could ever have impeached the benevolence of God. Mercy is the intervention of gratuitous goodness. It is benevolence, bending in pity and compassion over the very creature, whose guiltiness has deserved the everlasting abandonment of Heaven.
II. GUARD AGAINST AN ERROR IN RELATION TO IT. The error we wish you to avoid consists precisely in the difference there is between the notions of Divine Mercy entertained by an intelligent and humble Christian, and those entertained by unconverted sinners at ease in their sins. When we speak of the pre-eminence of Divine Mercy, we are speaking of that thing which we, as Christians, feel to be of all things most calculated to make us fear and hate sin. We see it does not render the Deity indifferent to His laws; it does not infringe upon His justice, or make Him less terrible, but more terrible, to all who will indulge themselves in sin. But still the Divine Mercy is pre-eminent. By this attribute God peculiarly shows Himself. If you did not pervert the Divine Mercy, you would feel it as an infinite attraction; you would find its solace reaching the deepest woes that ever trouble your agonized spirit.
III. EXPLAIN HOW IT COMES TO PASS THAT THE MERCY OF GOD, WHICH OUGHT TO AFFECT OUR HEARTS SO MUCH, REALLY DOES AFFECT THEM, WHILE UNCONVERTED, SO LITTLE. The believer walks with God and lives in Christ. He sees God in all things, and all things in God. The influence, and a sweet and sensible influence of the perfections of God, all His perfections, comes over the renewed heart. An unregenerated heart fails in this. And it fails in a very remarkable manner to be affected by the Divine mercy. There are several things which conspire together to cause this.
1. The first is found in the nature of mercy itself. Sin in the human heart tends always and uniformly (when the heart is unaffected by the Divine Spirit) to put God out of mind.
2. The second cause is found in the fact that sin, in the human heart, has made its most perfect triumph over those very sensibilities which mercy aims to affect.
3. A third reason is found in the sufferings that fill the world; i.e. the ideas of irreligious people about these miseries give them a wrong idea of the Mercy of God. Let us not be materialists, to weigh nothing but dust and ashes, and the earthly felicity that springs out of them. Let us think as immortals — feel, hope, and fear, as immortals. Let us go out in our contemplations, and plant our feet on the borders of that unbounded field, as wide as eternity, and, by the mercy of God, as blissful as heaven; and then we shall not be tempted to think God's mercy little and unworthy to be trusted, though He should give us but few joys here. He intends to give us but few. He means to show us that He cares very little about the dying bliss of this dying world. And if we understand His Word rightly, we shall understand that He mentions His earthly mercies to us, not on account of any value He puts upon them, but only as tokens and attractions to that infinite mercy which would save, eternally save, our sinful and immortal souls.
IV. ENDEAVOUR TO GAIN SOME JUST IDEAS OF THE MERCY OF GOD.
1. Mercy is that attribute in which the Deity peculiarly delights. God loves to forgive sinners, to adopt them into His family, and to cheer them with His promises.
2. The great purpose of the Divine revelation is to disclose to us the mercy of God, and lead us to accept it. God has trusted His world to demonstrate His other attributes, but not to demonstrate His mercy. His mountains and His seas — His winds, His lightnings, and His thunders — His worlds wheeling in infinite space around His throne — suns, stars, and comets in their order — the existence and nature of this material universe, God has trusted to unfold to us His wisdom, His omnipotence, His justice. But the mercy of God has such a pre-eminence that He Himself must speak it out to us from His hiding-place in eternity!
3. Divine mercy is of such pre-eminence, that its method of operation is entirely singular, and unlike anything else which God Almighty does. It operates by the incarnation, life, and death of the eternal Son of God.
4. The promises of mercy in the Gospel are absolutely unlimited by human guilt. There is no crime so odious, no circumstances of sinning amidst light and warnings, and the strivings of the resisted Spirit, so aggravating as not to be pardonable, when the sinner sincerely turns to Jesus Christ. This is wonderful! Human reason could never have conjectured this. Human sentiments, without grace, never have anything like it.
5. The extent of the sinner's guilt makes no difference about the readiness of His forgiveness — that the mercy of God will forgive him if he repents at any stage of his sin on this side of hell, with precisely the same facility and readiness! This is pre-eminence in mercy. It surpasses all the extent of human reason, human expectations, human sentiments and hopes. It not only reaches the greatest offences, but the greatest as readily as the least.
(I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.