THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD Lesson #19
The Mercy of God Psalm 136:1
In Psalm 136 David declares that God’s “mercy endureth forever” twenty-six times. In these 26 verses he traces all the works of redemption, grace, and providence to the everlasting mercy of our God. He begins his psalm of praise with these words, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever” (v. 1). And he ends his song with the same exhortation (v. 26). In this study of the mercy of God I want to inspire your heart to thanksgiving and praise for his mercy. “O give thanks to the LORD, to the God of gods, to the Lord of lords, to the God of heaven; for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever.”
The mercy of God is his readiness to relieve the miserable, pardon the guilty, and save the fallen. We often speak of the love, mercy, and grace of God as if they were synonyms, as if love, mercy, and grace were three words describing one attribute. But they are not. The mercy of God is, in some respects, different from both his love and his grace. Unlike love and grace, God’s mercy toward us presupposes our misery. God loved us with an everlasting love and chose us as the objects of his grace without any consideration of anything we might do or be, either good or evil (Rom. 9:11). But his mercy toward us anticipated our sin and fall in Adam. Mercy anticipated the miserable condition into which sin has brought us. Mercy presupposed our ruin, our spiritual death, our misery, and our desperate need. So God’s mercy to us arises from the goodness of his Being and from the love of his heart toward his elect. Paul declares that “God, who is rich in mercy, for (because of) his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved;) and hath raised us up together and made us set together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6). God’s love for us is the commitment of his Being to our eternal welfare. God’s grace is the exercise of his love, power, goodness, and holiness for the accomplishment of our salvation. And God’s mercy is the disposition of his heart and will to pity and relieve those who are in trouble and to pass by their crimes and offenses without wrath and anger.
It is the mercy of God which David describes in Psalm 103, when he says, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (vv. 13-14). A father may love his son simply because he is his son; but if that son falls into misery, love causes him to be filled with pity and compassion. Then love is turned into mercy. Mercy is taking another’s misery to heart. And God’s mercy is God, because of his great love, taking our misery to heart! No wonder David wrote, “O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for his mercy endureth forever!” Here are seven things revealed in the Scriptures about the mercy of God.
THE MERCY OF GOD IS BOTH UNIVERSAL AND SPECIAL. If we would rightly divide the Word of Truth, we must recognize that the Bible distinguishes God’s special, saving mercy toward his elect from his common, universal mercy toward all his creatures. There is a sense in which God is merciful to all his creatures as his creatures (Psa. 145:9, 15, 16). The love of God is not universal. God’s love is reserved for his elect only. And the grace of God is not universal. The Lord is gracious to none but those who are saved by his grace. But the mercy of God is universal. God is merciful to all his creatures. “The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy” (Psa. 119:64). There is not a bird in the air, a beast in the forest, a creeping insect in the ground, a creature of the sea, or a man in the world to whom God is not merciful. It is by God’s mercy that all creatures are preserved in their beings (Psa. 36:5-6). All creatures cry to God for their food, and he feeds them because he is merciful (Job 38:41; Psa. 147:9; 104:27-28; Joel 1:18-20). This should be a matter of great comfort to us. If God is so merciful to birds and beasts and to worms and fish, he will never forget to be merciful to his own elect (Matt. 6:25-34; 10:29-31). All men, both righteous and wicked, partake of the providential goodness and mercy of God. He is kind to the unthankful and unholy. He causes his sun to shine upon the good and the evil. He pours out his rain upon the just and the unjust (Lk. 6:35; Matt. 5:45). God, in his mercy, preserves, supports, and provides the necessities of life to all men. He is the Savior of all men, and especially of them that believe (I Tim. 4:10). Life in this world is mercy. Anything short of hell is mercy. In that sense, God’s mercy is common to all. It is a general and universal blessing to all that God is merciful. But it must be understood that the reason why God is merciful to the reprobate is his purpose of grace toward his elect (2 Pet. 3:9, 15). God is longsuffering with and merciful toward the reprobate until he has saved all his elect, just as he was merciful to Sodom until Lot had been delivered from the city.
God’s special, saving mercy is bestowed only upon his own elect. Others partake of mercy, but God’s elect are “vessels of mercy” (Rom. 9:23). Child of God, you are a vessel of mercy, a vessel filled with mercy, a vessel filled with nothing but mercy! And by that mercy you are prepared for glory (Eph. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:2-5; 2:9-10). A. W. Pink wrote of God’s special mercy toward his elect in Christ, “There is a sovereign mercy reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way through the Mediator.”. Though mercy is an attribute of God, essential to his Being, his mercy is guided and governed by his sovereign will (Rom. 9:15, 18). There are some to whom God will not be merciful in a saving way (Isa. 27:11). God will not be merciful to any who refuse to confess their sins and trust his Son. God will not be merciful to those who hear his Word, but harden their hearts against it. God will not be merciful to any who are without Christ in the last day. But, blessed be God, there are some to whom he will be merciful! (Read Heb. 8:8-12). God will be merciful to his covenant people, to those whom he has chosen by his grace, redeemed by the blood of his dear Son, and shall be called by the irresistible power of his Spirit. God will be merciful to all who call upon his name.
2. THE MERCY OF GOD IS FREE. Because mercy is an attribute of God, essential to his Being (Ex. 34:6-7), it is obvious that nothing outside of God can be the cause of his mercy. To say that something other than God himself is the cause of his mercy is to say that something is the cause of God. And that is absurd. God’s mercy is free, unmerited, and undeserved. Our misery is not the cause of God’s mercy. Though God’s everlasting mercy presupposed and anticipated our sin and misery, that was not the cause of God’s mercy. Mercy is God’s readiness to save. Mercy was there before sin ever had any existence. But as soon as sin entered into the world, mercy was revealed. The fact that Adam and Eve were not slain immediately is a display of God’s mercy. Mercy sought out the fallen pair. Mercy promised a Savior. Mercy met the needs of their miserable condition by a Substitutionary Sacrifice. It is certain that the merits of sinful creatures cannot be the cause of God’s mercy (Tit. 3:5). Some suggest that mercy is shown to those who are more deserving and less vile than others. But just the opposite is true. God’s mercy is reserved for the vilest and most miserable of his creatures (Rom. 3:9; Eph. 2:3; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Tim. 1:13). Not even the merits of Christ’s obedience and death are the cause of God’s mercy. The incarnation, life, righteousness, and death of Christ as our Substitute are the results of God’s mercy, not the cause (Lk. 1:78). Mercy foresaw our need. Mercy provided a Redeemer. Mercy sent Christ into the world. Mercy accomplished our redemption by the satisfaction of justice (Psa. 85:10-11; Prov. 16:6). Mercy arises from the goodness of God’s nature and is directed by the unerring wisdom of his sovereign will (Rom. 9:15-18; Ex. 33:19). It is altogether free.
3. THE MERCY OF GOD IS IMMUTABLE. Twenty-six times David repeats it, “His mercy endureth forever!” (Mal. 3:6; Lk. 1:50). The mercy of God never departs from his people. Nothing can change it. It is invariably the same. It was laid up in store for us in Christ our Mediator in the covenant of grace from eternity. Therefore, all God’s saving mercies are called “the sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:3). And God’s mercy toward us is kept with Christ forever (Psa. 89:24, 28, 30-37).
4. THE MERCY OF GOD IS INFINITE. As God himself is infinite, so all his attributes are infinite, and his mercy is infinite. Mercy pardons and forgives our sins which have been committed against an infinitely Holy God. Mercy saves and delivers us from infinite wrath in hell. And mercy has bestowed upon us infinite good - Christ! (Lk. 1:78). “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).
5. EVEN THE EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED IS AN ACT OF GOD’S SPECIAL, SOVEREIGN MERCY TOWARD HIS ELECT. The punishment of the reprobate in hell must be viewed from three directions. From God’s point of view it is an act of justice, a vindication of his law and honor. Though God is merciful, he is also just and true. He will punish sin! From the point of view that the damned will have, the punishment of sin will be a matter of equity. They are made to suffer the proper wages of their sins. But from the standpoint of the redeemed, the punishment of the wicked will be seen as a matter of unspeakable mercy. What mercy it is that in the New Jerusalem “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither worketh abomination” (Rev. 21:27). God’s judgment upon our enemies is a matter of mercy to us. In hell he will put our enemies and his into a prison where they can do no more harm (Psa. 136:15; 143:12; Rev. 19:1-3). A merciful God our God is. Blessed be his name! But this great and merciful God, because he is merciful, will punish sin. He will rid his creation of all who defile it!
6. THE MERCY OF GOD IS IN CHRIST. “Mercy is displayed only in and through Christ. God out of Christ is a consuming fire” (John Gill). It is only in Christ that God proclaims his name to be “gracious and merciful.” Christ is the mercy-seat in whom sinners obtain mercy. If we would be saved, we must cast ourselves upon the mercy of God in Christ, as the publican did (Lk. 18:13). How can I describe the mercy of God in Christ? “Thy mercy is great unto the heavens” (Psa. 57:10). God’s mercy transcends our loftiest thoughts. “For as high as heaven is above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him” (Psa. 103:11). God’s mercy to sinners in Christ is infinite, beyond measure, and utterly indescribable. The Bible tells us that it is great mercy, rich mercy, abundant mercy, plenteous mercy, and that there are a multitude of mercies from God for sinners in Christ Jesus. I cannot begin to describe the mercy of God. But I can tell you something of the mercy I have found in Christ. This is what I have experienced. God’s preventing, prevenient mercy (Psa. 59:10) preserved me unto the appointed time of love and brought me to the place where he saved me by his grace. His forbearing mercy (Rom. 2:4) tolerated my rebellion and brought me to repentance. The Lord’s pardoning mercy (Isa. 55:6) has put away my sins by the blood of Christ. His comforting mercy (2 Cor. 1:3-4) sustains my soul in hope as he enables me to remember and trust his promises, his providence, his presence, and his propitiation. This is my soul’s comfort - “Thy mercies are new every morning.”
7. THE MERCY OF GOD SHALL BE CELEBRATED BY THE REDEEMED IN HEAVEN FOREVER (Psa. 89:1-2). Throughout the endless ages of eternity saved sinners will adore God’s eternal, covenant mercy (Heb. 8:12), effectual, redeeming mercy (Isa. 63:9), and his everlasting, saving mercy in Christ (Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:3). Give thanks to God! He has not forgotten mercy! His mercy endures forever (Ps. 136:1-3, 26).