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In this month's topical study, we will consider the riches of God's mercy.[Footnote #9]
"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." (Ex. 34:6,7)
"For the LORD your God is a merciful God." (Deut. 4:31)
Yes, God, our God, is a merciful God. May He be forever praised! In this article, we will consider the mercy of God, a character trait of God for which we should give thanks every day. By His mercy we live; by His mercy we may live forever with Him in glory. It could have been different. Our Creator could have been a merciless God who demanded worship, but offered no fellowship; who demanded service, but gave us no Spirit; who demanded perfection, but gave us no means to achieve it. Indeed, throughout the ages men have invented and served merciless gods who demanded unreasonable behavior and made them slaves to fear. However, the True and Living God is full of mercy and compassion and, indeed, "slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."
The Lord takes pride in His mercy. He desires to be known as a God of mercy. In fact, the first text cited above, from Exodus 34:6,7, was spoken by God to Moses as a description of Himself. True, in the remainder of Exodus 34:7, the Lord went on to describe Himself as a God of righteousness and judgment, but He wanted first to be known as a God of mercy. With God, it is always mercy first, then judgment only if His offer of mercy is rejected. This order of things is demonstrated by the two comings of Christ. Christ first came on a merciful mission to offer Himself as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God. The next time He comes, it will be in judgment on those who rejected His merciful sacrifice.
God, however, desires that all partake of His mercy. It is His delight to show mercy (see Micah 7:18); God Himself rejoices when He blesses His people (see Jer. 32:41). Judgment is God's "strange work" and "alien task" (see Isa. 28:21); He judges only as a last resort (see Jer. 44:22); indeed, He is very reluctant to judge (see Lam. 3:33). "Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love" (Lam. 3:32).
In fact, God is merciful even to the detriment of His Name. Many see that the unrighteous are not immediately judged by God and disparage Him by saying, "How could a holy God allow such evil?" Those who ask this, though, forget that if God was not patient in judgment, they themselves would have been punished many times over because of their own sin. God is long-suffering and desires that all be given ample opportunity to repent. In order to give everyone the opportunity to repent, God reluctantly allows evil to exist in the world.
If God were not long-suffering, there would be no saints. All of us who have accepted His mercy can testify to its greatness. We not only read of God's mercy in His Word, we know it first-hand. We can look back at our lives and see how He drew us to Him, though we were in sin. We see how He waited for us when we ignored His call to us. We were each a prodigal son who ran away from His household, rejecting His goodness and the righteous life that He wanted us to live; but then we found ourselves in the pig sty feeding the swine. We recognized the baseness of our existence and wondered if we could return to Him. We were pleased to find Him, not only waiting for us to return, but running to us, excited to prepare a banquet for us in celebration of our return (see Luke 15:11-32). Now we can look back and see His providence and all of the blessings that He has given us throughout our lives, though we deserved none of them.
We have no other basis but God's mercy to come to Him. Who could say, "Lord, give me what I deserve"? Nothing that we could ever do could warrant the mercy that He has shown us. And His mercy is available to all. The Lord will graciously show His mercy to anyone who comes to Him through Jesus Christ: "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). Yet, the Lord does not only accept those who come to Him, He invites, even entreats us to come to Him. He says: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20) and "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
Also, consider what lengths God went to save us. Our God is a holy and righteous God--infinitely holy and infinitely righteous--so he could not allow unrighteous man to enter His presence and to commune with Him. But, rather than requiring that all men perish in their sin, God offered His perfect Son to be the sacrifice to pay the price for man's sin. The offer of His Son not only demonstrates God's mercy for man, but also His love, and is an indication of the riches and the glory we will have after this life when we enter His presence. As Paul points out: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).
So, how should we respond to this mercy? First and foremost, we must accept His offer of mercy by accepting the gift of the sacrifice of His Son. As the writer of Hebrews warns: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3). Think of what an affront it is to God to ignore this gift! If you have neglected it up to this point, as Paul says, "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2). "If we perish, it is not for want of mercy, but for want of faith."[Footnote #10]
Second, we must be careful that we do not take advantage of God's mercy by continuing in sin. If a man "grows more careless, secure, negligent, not so constant in duty, not so watchful and strict in conversation, or abateth aught of his humiliation for sin", he takes advantage of God's mercy.[Footnote #11] Paul implies that those who do such things are not truly born again: "What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Rom. 6:1,2). Those who are born again into God's kingdom have "died to sin"; they hate sin and, though they may fall from time to time, they do not willingly continue in sin.
Third, we should respond to God's mercy by always acknowledging it and ever giving thanks for it. No day should go by that we neglect to thank God for His mercy, for mercy is the "rise and cause of all the good we have from God."[Footnote #12] Any blessing that we have,whether it be a job, home or family; any joy that we sustain; each breath that we take is a result of God's mercy. We owe our lives to His mercy. Where would we be without it?
Fourth, we should respond to God's mercy by communing with Him through prayer. "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16). God desires that we depend on His mercy; He encourages us to come to Him in our times of need through prayer. He gave His Son to clear the way for us to "approach the throne of grace with confidence." Moreover, He desires to relate to us even when we are not experiencing times of need. This is why He went to such great lengths to show us His mercy.
So, Father, we take this time right now to praise You and thank You for Your great mercy. Oh, the blessings of having a God that truly cares for us and shows it by His mercy! Always, by Your Spirit, give us an awareness of Your mercy, so that we come to You in our times of need and commune with You in our times of joy. In the name of Jesus, through whom You demonstrated Your great mercy, we pray these things, Amen.
9. I am endebted for much of the material in this article to Thomas Manton's discourse concerning God's mercy in his book A Commentary on Jude on pages 59-67, originally published in 1658.
10. Manton, A Commentary on Jude, pg. 66.
11. Ibid., pg. 67.
12. Ibid., pg. 56.
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