A Body of Divinity
The Mercy of God
The next attribute is God's goodness or mercy. Mercy is the result and effect of God's goodness. Psa 33: 5. 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, majesty and mercy. God is essentially good in himself and relatively good to us. They are both put together in Psa 119: 68. 'Thou art good, and doest good.í This relative goodness is nothing else but his mercy, which is an innate propenseness in God to pity and succour such as are in misery.
1. Concerning Godís mercy I shall lay down these twelve positions.
[I] It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone to draw sinners to him. 'The Lord, merciful, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness,' &c. Exod 34: 6. Here are six expressions to set forth God's mercy, and but one to set forth his justice: 'who will by no means clear the guilty.í Psa 57: 10. 'Godís mercy is far above the heavens.í Psa 108: 4. God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne. Rev 4: 3. The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden sceptre more often than his iron rod.
 God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. Mic 7: I8. 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,í Isa 27: 4; that is, I do not delight in it. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. Lam 3: 33. The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked; so God does not punish till he can bear no longer. 'So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings.í Jer 44: 22. Mercy is God's right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his strange work. Isa 28: 2I. He is not used to it. When the Lord would shave off the pride of a nation, he is said to hire a razor, as if he had none of his own. 'He shall shave with a razor that is hired.' Isa 7: 20. 'He is slow to anger,í Psa 103: 8, but 'ready to forgive.í Psa 86: 5.
 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.í Lam 3: 22. 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.
 Mercy sweetens all Godís other attributes. Godís holiness without mercy, and his justice without mercy were terrible. 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; it shall avenge our quarrels.
 Godís 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 thee shew me thy glory;í the Lord answered him, 'I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will shew thee mercy.í Exod 33: I9. God's mercy is his glory. His holiness makes him illustrious; his mercy makes him propitious.
 Even the worst taste Godís mercy; such as fight against Godís mercy, taste of it; the wicked have some crumbs from mercy's table. 'The Lord is good to all.í Psa 145: 9. Sweet dewdrops are on the thistle, as well as on the rose. The diocese where mercy visits is very large. Pharaohís head was crowned though his heart was hardened.
 Mercy coming to us in a covenant is sweetest. It was mercy that God would give Israel rain, and bread to the full, and peace, and victory over their enemies, Lev 26: 4 - 6, but it was a greater mercy that God would be their God, verse I2. To have health is a mercy, but to have Christ and salvation is a greater mercy; it is like the diamond in the ring, which casts a more sparkling lustre.
 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 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 parentís love to his child makes him always giving.
 All the mercy in the creature is derived from God, and is but a drop of this ocean. The mercy and pity a mother has to her child is from God; he that puts the milk in her breast puts the compassion in her heart. God is called, 'The Father of mercies,í because he begets all the mercies in the world. 2 Cor 1: 3. If God has put any kindness into the creature, how much kindness is in him who is the Father of mercy!
 As Godís mercy makes the saints happy, so it should make them humble. Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of Godís goodness. Mercy is an alms that God bestows. They have no cause to be proud that live upon the alms of Godís mercy. 'If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head,í Job 10: I5: all my righteousness is the effect of Godís mercy, therefore I will be humble and will not lift up my head.
[II] Mercy stays the speedy execution of Godís justice. Sinners continually provoke God, and make 'the fury come up in his face.í Ezek 38: I8. Whence is it God does not presently 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.
[I2] It is dreadful to have mercy as a witness against any one. It was sad with Haman when the queen herself accused him. Esth 7: 6. 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 be an accuser, who shall be our advocate? The sinner never escapes hell when mercy draws up the indictment.
I might show you several species or 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 Godís mercy.
[I] Godís mercy is free. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood; nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. 'I will love them freely.í Hos 14: 4. 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.' Eph 1: 4. Justification is free. 'Being justified freely by his grace.í Rom 3: 24. Salvation is free. 'According to his mercy he saved us.í Titus 3: 5. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, he would show none at all.
 Godís mercy is an overflowing mercy; it is infinite. 'Plenteous in mercy.í Psa 86: 5. 'Rich in mercy.í Eph 2: 4. 'Multitude of mercies.í Psa 51: 1: The vial of wrath drops, but the fountain of mercy runs. The sun is not so full of light as God is of mercy. God has morning mercies. 'His mercies are new every morning.í Lam 3: 23. He has night mercies. 'In the night his song shall be with me.í Psa 13: 8. God has mercies under heaven, which we taste; and in heaven, which we hope for.
 Godís mercy is eternal. 'The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.í Psa 103: 17. 'His mercy endureth for ever,í is repeated twenty-six times in one psalm. Psa 136. The souls of the blessed shall be ever bathing themselves in this sweet and pleasant ocean of Godís mercy. Godís anger to his children lasts but a while, 'but his mercy lasts for ever.í Psa 103: 9. As long as he is God he will be showing mercy. As his mercy is overflowing, so it is everflowing.
Use one: We are to look upon God in prayer, not in his judgement 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 thither with joy was, 'I go to my Father;' 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.í Go with confidence in this mercy; as when one goes to a fire, not doubtingly, saying, perhaps it will warm me, perhaps not.
Use two: Believe in his mercy. 'I will trust in the mercy of God for ever.í Psa 52: 8. Godís mercy is a fountain opened. Let down the bucket of faith and you may drink of this fountain of salvation. What greater encouragement to believe than Godís mercy? God counts it his glory to be scattering pardons; he is desirous that sinners should touch the golden sceptre of his mercy and live. This willingness to show mercy appears two ways: -
(I.) By entreating sinners to come and lay hold on his mercy. 'Whosoever will, let him come, and take the water of life freely.í Rev 22: I7. Mercy woos sinners, it even kneels down to them. It were strange for a prince to entreat a condemned man to accept of pardon. God says, Poor sinner, suffer me to love thee, be willing to let me save thee.
(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. Neh 9: 17. Mercy pleases him. Mic 7: I8. Nothing prejudices us but unbelief. Unbelief stops the current of God's mercy from running. It shuts up God's bowels, closes the orifice of Christís wounds, so that no healing virtue will come out.' He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief, Matt 13: 58. Why dost thou not believe in Godís mercy? Do thy sins discourage thee? Godís mercy can pardon great sins, nay, because they are great. Psa 25: I1. The sea covers the rocks as well as the sands. Some that had a hand in crucifying Christ found mercy. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far is Godís mercy above our sins. Isa 55: 9. What will tempt us to believe, if not the mercy of God?
Use three: Take heed of abusing the mercy of God. Suck not poison out of the sweet flower of God's mercy. Think not that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy. None might touch the ark but the priests, who by their office were more holy; so none may touch the ark of God's mercy but such as are resolved to be holy. To sin because mercy abounds is the devil's logic. He that sins because of mercy, is like one that wounds his head because he has a plaster. He that sins because of God's mercy, shall have judgement without mercy. Mercy abused turns to fury. 'If he bless himself, saying, I shall have peace though I walk after the imaginations of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst, the Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man.í Deut 29: I9, 20. Nothing is sweeter than mercy, when it is improved; nothing fiercer, when it is abused; as 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. 'The mercy of the Lord is upon them that fear him.í Psa 103: I7. Mercy is not for them that sin and fear not, but for them that fear and sin not. God's mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons it heals.
What shall we do to be interested in Godís mercy?
(I.) Be sensible of your wants. See how much you stand in need of pardoning, saving mercy. See yourselves orphans. 'In thee the fatherless find mercy.í Hos 14: 3. 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!í Psa 51: 1. Put me not off with common mercy that 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 thy mercies; Lord! let me have mercy and lovingkindness. 'Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.' Psa 103: 4. Give me such mercy as speaks thy electing love to my soul. Oh pray for mercy! God has treasures of mercy; prayer is the key that opens these treasures; and in prayer, be sure to carry Christ in your arms, for all the mercy comes through Christ. 'Samuel took a sucking lamb,; I Sam 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 Christís name. Plead Christís satisfaction, and this is an argument that 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 wants, mercy supplied them; when they were nigh 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.í Psa 103: 1. Oh how should the vessels of mercy run over with praise! 'Who was before a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy.' I Tim 1: I3. I was bemiracled with 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 that have been monuments of Godís mercy, should be trumpets of praise; you that have tasted the Lord is gracious, tell others what experiences you have had of Godís mercy, that you may encourage them to seek to him for mercy. 'I will tell you what God has done for my soul;í Psa 66: I6; that when I found my heart dead, Godís Spirit came upon me mightily, and the blowing of that wind made the withering flowers of my grace revive. Oh tell others of Godís goodness, that you may set others blessing him, and that you may make Godís praises live when you are dead.
(2.) To love God. Mercy should be the attraction of love. 'I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.í Psa 18: 1. The Hebrew word for love signifies love out of the inward bowels. Godís justice may make us fear him, his mercy makes us love him. If mercy will not produce love, what will? We are to love God for giving us our food, much more for giving us grace; for sparing mercy, much more for saving mercy. Sure that heart is made of marble, which the mercy of God will not dissolve in love. 'I would hate my own soul,' says Augustine, 'if I did not find it loving God.í
(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 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 charity. Be merciful in giving and forgiving. "Be ye merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful".