How God is a mercifull Father, the Father of all mercies to his children.
2 COR. 1. 3.
THe next considerable motive in God, who is thus to be blessed, is from his relative Attribute to us, The Father of mercies; if every mercy be a stream issuing from him the fountain; if every favour be a ray, which hath its emanation from that Sun; then no wonder if always, and in all things we are to bless and praise him. Its Bernards observation, he doth not say, Pater ultionum, &c. the Father of revenge and of judgments, which yet he is to all wicked men, but of mer∣cies, that is to such as fear him. So that the Apostle doth here represent God, in the most sweet and lovely relation that may be to the truly godly; They must not think fury and vengeance is in him towards them, though sinners, but that through Christ all enmity is taken away, and they may with boldness come to him as to a Father; even as the child doth securely rest in his Fathers bosome.
The words have no difficulty, they are a fountain opened, no stone is to be removed, that the wearied soul may drink thereof. Observe,
That God is a Father of mercies, or a mercifull Father to those that are his.*
So that our work will be to treat of that Attribute of God, which renders the meditation and thoughts of him comfortable to us. For if he be holy, but not mercifull, if infinite but not mercifull, if omnipotent but not mercifull, he would be a consuming fire to us. It is good therefore for the contrite sinner to hear of this Attribute, ineffabili desiderio teneor cum audio, bonus Dominus.
To open this rich treasure, that is able to enrich all, who will come and take of it. Consider,
First, That God hath such an Attribute of mercy. The Scripture doth not on∣ly represent him Wise, Just and Almighty, but Mercifull also, Jam. 5. 11. God is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, He is very pitifull, and of tender mercy. The former word is from the bowels that use to move, when we are affected compassionately with any miserable object. So that Gods mercies they are bowel-mercies, he doth not only do good to us; but to speak after the manner of men, he is com∣passionately affected unto us, while he doth so. Hence Luke 1. 78. they are cal∣led 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, The bowles of mercy: But whether mercy may be attributed to God properly, is disputed, The Socinians they deny mercy to be an essential property to God, even as they do vindicative Justice. The Stoicks they denied mercy to their wise man. Seneca grants clementia and benignitas, but not misericor∣dia, for they defined mercy to be egritudo animi, a sickness and grief of the mind, Page 141 which ariseth from anothers misery: And why is it called misericordia, Yarch Au∣stin, but because it doth make miserum cor. Therefore if we stick to these defi∣nitions of mercy, as it is in man, who hath compassion, because he hath passion, we are not to attribute it to God, but seclude all humane imperfections, and look upon it as an Attribute in God, whereby he doth will to help and relieve such as are in misery, so it is ••ivently in him; and as there is none good but God, so we may say, there is none mercifull but God. The mercy then of God is infinite, as his own nature, and do has rarre transcend all our sins and miseries, as the Heavens do a mole-hill, only there is not perturbation in the holy Nature of God, which we find in our compassions. Anselme expresseth it well, Thou art mercifull, O God, Secundum nos, non secundum te, secundum sensum nostrum non tuum, cum tu respicis nos miseros, nos sentimus miserationis effectum, tu non miseriae affectum. God then is mercifull, as well as just, and thousands of places in the Scripture speak of this mercy of God very largely.
2. It is good to know, that the mercy of God is taken in Scripture some∣times Actively, for that essential Attribute in him, as Exod. 34. 6, 7. where the Lord himself proclaimed his own Name, Mercifull, Grucious. Long-suffering, &c. Though Divines do give notional differences between his Goodness, Mercy, Grace, and Long-suffering, yet I shall not attend to that. Or Passively, for the effects of his mercy, as here in the Text, The Father of mercies; so when God doth threaten to take away his mercies, that is, the effects of his mercy, not the attribute of mercy. This you must diligently attend to, because the effects of Gods mercy are more and less, but the attribute in God cannot be so, God is not more or less mercifull; neither doth Mercy as an attribute oppose Justice, as an attribute, but the effects of Gods Mercy may be, and are contrary to the ef∣fects of his Justice.
3. We must distinguish between Gods general mercy, and his special; His ge∣neral mercy is extended to all the creatures, The whole world is full of his mercies, Psal. 33. 5. So his mercy is said to be over all his works. Would the world subsist for a moment, when the Inhabitants thereof are so full of rebellion against God, were it not for his mercy? All that we see, we hear, we taste, we feel, is nothing but mercy. His special mercy is to rational creatures, men and Angels; and that again is two-fold, More special, and most special. More special, is the vouchsa∣fing of the Gospel, and means of grace, both to the wicked and the good. This Kingdom of Heaven is set open for both. But then there is the most special mer∣cy, and that is vouchsafed only to the elect, by which means they are converted, justified, and shall be glorified; and of this it is the Apostle speaks, Rom. 9. 15. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.
Thus much may suffice for the Doctrinal information about this truth: Let us * in the next place take notice, what is comprehended in this expression, Father of mercies. For this is a box of ointment to be opened and bestowed upon poor souls; and while this glory of God doth pass by, we can see but the back parts of it.
First, When he is said to be the Father of mercies, this implieth, That he only gi∣veth mercies, and receiveth none. So that as the father giveth being to the child, but receiveth nothing of the child: Thus God he is the Father of mercies, because he is absolutely sufficient in himself; he needeth nothing from any, because then there would be a superiour to God. And this consideration may greatly aggravate the glorious Nature of God in being mercifull, in that he himself is like the Sun giving light, but receiving none at all. We cannot say of Angels, they are the Fathers of mercies, because though they be ministring spirits to serve us. An Angel was sent to comfort Christ, yet they need mercy as well as we. The river needs the spring, but the spring is the last, and needeth not the river; and so Angels and men they need mercy every way, but God he needeth none, only he Page 142 is the giver of all, It being more blessed to give than to receive, even in this sense.
Secondly, When he is called the Father of mercies, it implieth, The volunta∣riness and readiness in God to it. Psal. 103. Like as a father pitieth his children, &c. We do not intreat or hire a father to pity a miserable child, his own bowels per∣swade him to it. Now this is much more in God. For as the Psalmist argueth, He that made the eye, shall not he see? So he that giveth bowels and pity to pa∣rents, shall not he much rather be mercifull? So that as it is for holiness; if all the holiness of men and Angels were put together, it would be but a drop to what is in God: So if all the mercy, and all the compassions of all the fathers and mothers in the world were joyned together, it would be nothing to God. Oh what dishonour doth thy unbelieving fearfull heart do to this mercifull Father! Thou thinkest he hath but the mercy of a man; thou judgest of his bowels ac∣cording to thy own; no Gods mercie is as much above thy sinnes and miseries, as his Essence is above thy being. O nomen (misericordia) sub quo nemini desperan∣dum: But of that more presently. Only when he is called a Father of mercies, that denoteth the readiness in God, and willingness in him; and this is remark∣able in Gods mercies, over what is in mans; our mercy is many times, because the object miserable, is of our own flesh, and nature with us. It moveth the heart to see one of the same nature with us to be thus miserable, but God he is in∣finitly above man, he hath no communion in nature with us, and yet he is merciful. Again, Mercy amongst men is often, because we have been under such miseries our¦selves. They that have the pain of the stone, commiserate those that are in the like manner troubled, because they know what it is. Thus many eminent Ministers of the Gospel, are exercised with soul-temptations and desertions, that they may know how to mourn with bleeding bowels over those that are so tempted. Thus the mercy of Christ as Mediator, differs from the mercy of God, as absolutely considered. For he was tempted like us in all things, sinne only excepted, Heb. 4. 15. and the reason of this the Apostle giveth, That he might be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. Christ knoweth what the meaning is of every groan, and eve∣ry sigh that comes from a child in darkness, crying out, Why hath my God forsa∣ken me? Thus Christ as Mediator is mercifull in another way, then God is; yet this advanceth still the mercy of God, that whereas his blessed and perfect Na∣ture cannot know experimentally what it is to be miserable, what it is to need mercy, yet for all that his breasts are full. and no womon is in greater pain to be eased of her burden, then God to bestow his mercies.
Thirdly, In that he is a Father of mercies, a Father, there is implied, That he doth lay our misery to heart. For although he cannot be passionately affected, as man, nor is sensible of our infirmities, as Christ was, yet this doth not hinder, but that our misery is taken notice of, as really so, as to be succoured by him, as if it were in the most compassionate Father that is. That expression of God concerning the Israelites miseries under bondage is remarkable, Exod. 2. 24, 25. He heard their groaning, he remembred his Covenant, he looked upon his children, he had respect or knew them. See here ears, eyes, memory and mind, all are affe∣cted with their trouble. So Isa. 63. 9. it is said, In all their afflictions, he was af∣flicted. As then anger against wicked men, though in God it be not the ebulsi∣tion of bloud about the heart, or accompanied with a pale countenance, yet it is more really, and dreadfull in God than in man. Therefore better have all the men of the world angry with thee than God. So it is in his mercy, in him mercy, though it have not humane concomitants, yet it's more real, operative and efficacious, than all the mercifull fathers in the world is; and thou hadst bet∣ter have God shew mercy to thee, than all the men of the world. For
In the fourth place, when he is said to be the Father of mercies, there is impli∣ed, The real and lively working of it. The father though he pity his child, yet cannot give him the mercy of health, much less the mercy of grace. Ministers, Page 143 though they be spiritual Fathers, they can only pray for mercy, preach of mercy, but to give you pardon of sinne, to give you comfort of conscience, and assu∣rance that they cannot do; but God is the Father of these mercies, he can give joy to the soul, and neither Devil or sinne can discomfort. As the whole crea∣tion came out of the womb of nothing at first; when God said, Let there be light, immediately there was light; and as God is called, The Father of rain, Job 38. 28. because he can open the bottles of Heaven, and refresh the parched earth when he pleaseth; so also he is the Father of mercies, because he can turn thy darkness into light, thy hell into Heaven; yea he doth it, that so what ma∣ny Sermons, many Ordinances could not do, that God suddenly and insupera∣bly doth, he comforts irresistibly, as well as converts irresistibly. But of this more in the next property, viz. A God of all consolation.
Fifthly, In that he is the Father of mercies, there is implied, That it's onely from himself that he pitieth us, that he hath something within him to provoke to com∣passion, when we have enough to provoke him. And this is represented in that pre∣cious Parable of the Prodigal sonne returning to his Father; Though there was cause enough from the sonne, to alienate the Father to upbraid him with his pro∣digality and rebellion, saying, Whence come you? Where are all the goods I gave you? Yet for all that, The Father runneth to meet him, kisseth and imbra∣ceth him, who might have chastized him, receiving him with as much readiness, as if he had never been such a prodigal sonne; but what moved him all this while? The affection of a Father. It's not then for the godly soul to be poring and puz∣ling it self alwayes; what is there in me, that may make God shew mercy to me? What have I? What find I in me, that may prevail with God? Oh foolish and unwise Christian! Think rather what is in God to love thee, to pity thee. I will go to my Father, saith the Prodigal; Though I have lost the obedience of a son, yet he hath not the bowels of a Father; the bowels of a Father are ready to be∣get him again. Think what a fountain his goodness is, to issue forth rivers of mercies. So that it is with thee, as some parched dry wilderness, it hath no springs, no streams to refresh it self with, till clouds from above fall upon it. Thus thy heart is scorched, and even burning like hell, till God give thee not a drop of water, but Christs bloud to cool thy afflicted soul. Thus you see, what is in this a Father of mercies, a Father.
In the second place, what briefly is in the object, a Father of mercies, in the plural number, and that implieth,
1. That there is no mercy, but it comes from God. Every good and perfect gift is from him, Jam. 1. For if so be any creature were the original of mercy, though it be but the least; as to that particular, it would be the Father of mercy; if the Sunne of it self were the highest cause of giving light to thee, if it were not God that did cause this Sunne to shine on thee, that Sunne would be the father of the mercy of light. Although therefore God hath appointed natural causes, moral causes, yea and supernatural means of mercy and comfort to thee, yet take heed of calling these Father. Thy food would not be a mercy to thee, thy house a mer∣cy; no thy senses, thy understanding would not be a mercy to thee, were it not for this Father of mercies. So that wheresoever, and whensoever thou meetest with any mercy, look higher than the creature, see an hand from Heaven giving it thee. As Gerson a devout Papist speaketh of his Parents, how that they to teach him, while a child, That every mercy was from God; had a devise, that from the roof of the chamber should be conveyed to him every apple or nut, or such childish refreshments, he desired; but Christ himself, Matth. 5. when he pressed against carefull, distrustfull thoughts, he saith, Your heavenly Father knoweth what you want. So that it is not thy own natural father, that is a mercy to thee, but thy Father in Heaven: As that good man in Ecclesiastical History, when they brought him news his father was dead, Define blasphemias loqui, pa∣ter Page 144 eminens immortalis est. Thus are we to call nothing a Father of mercy to us, but God himself. So that what our Saviour saith, Mat. 23. 9. Call no man fa∣ther on earth, in respect of faith and obedience; neither are we in respect of our mercies. Oh but how difficult is it not to have other fathers of mercies besides him!