Of the Multitude, Variety, Properties and Ob∣jects of Gods Mercies.
2 COR. 1. 3.
VVE are further to explicate, what is comprehended in this sweet and comfortable Attribute, The Father of mercies. We have already declared, what is in the word Father, and gave one instance, what is in the word mercies.
The second thing comprized in it, is the multitude of them; he doth not say, The Father of mercy, but of mercies; it is not one or two, but mercies, many*mercies, innumerable mercies, that he is Father of. Even as David doth some∣times call God, The God of his salvations, in the plural number, because of the frequent and many deliverances God vouchsafed to him. The Lord therefore is not straitned in mercy, no more than in power; but as nothing is impossible to him, so every kind of mercy is easily producible by him. The multitude of Gods mercies, is that which David doth often mention, Psal. 106. 7, 45. Psal. 51. 1. And indeed were not these mercies many, our sins would be more than they, and exceed them in number. David complaineth, That his iniquities were more than the hairs of his head; and yet at another time acknowledgeth, that such were the benefits of God towards him, that he is never able to reckon them up. We cannot then come and say to God about mercies, as Esau did to his father about blessings, Hast thou but one blessing, O my father? Hast thou but one mercy? Woe would be to us, if God had not multitude of mercies, for we have multitude of sins and miseries. Oh then, let the broken, humble heart, who groaneth under this, that he hath many sins, they are not one or two, but many, yea the multitudes of them, are like so many locusts and caterpillars in Egypt, he cannot look this way, or that way, but sinne doth compasse him about! Let such remember, that there are more mercies for them, then sins against them. If thou hast multitude of sins, God hath multitude of mercies to cover them, so as thou doest not cover them, but confess and bewail them.
Secondly, In this expression of Father of mercies, is not only comprehended *the multitude of them, but the diversity also, he is the Father of all kind of mercies, God hath an unexhausted treasure of mercy. Therefore the Scripture calls God rich in mercy, Ephes. 2. 4. Though God be rich in wisdom, in power, yet the Scripture calls him only rich in mercy, as if herein he did most excell. Now from this treasury arise all kinds of mercies. Do not say, God may by his mercy help Page 145 me in this particular, and in that respect, he can give me bodily mercies, but can he give soul mercies? He can give private mercies, but can he give publick mer∣cies? Yes, we have too low and narrow thoughts of God, if we limit him to any kind of mercy, he can do the greatest as well as the least. Let us instance in some kind of mercies. As
1. There are common mercies, and there are special mercies. Common mercies are those the whole world is full of; He maketh the Sunne to shine upon the good and the bad. Therefore our Saviour presseth us, To love our enemies, because God is thus mercifull even to his enemies; Is not the whole earth, every Village, eve∣ry Town full of the common mercies of God? How come so many to live, to subsist upon his cost and charges? Whence is it that all the people in the world are provided for? Is it not from the mercy of God? Lam. 3. 22. It's the Lords mercies that we are not consumed; That famine, warre, plague and other judge∣ments, do not sweep away all the inhabitants of the earth; That the whole world doth not fall into ruines; This is from Gods meer mercy. That all are not roaring in hell, it's the mercy of God. Now this common mercy is the more ad∣mirable, if ye consider what kind of persons they are to whom he is thus merci∣full, even to his very enemies, that hate God; and if it lay in their power, would destroy him, that he should not have a being. Oh the mercy of God that is continued to many a prophane beast, and many a malicious Devil, to what is good! Why is it that every liar is not stricken dead with Ananias? Why is it that every drunkard quaffing in his pots, doth not see a terrible hand-writing in the wall against him? Why is it that the earth doth not open to swallow thee up, while thy mouth is full of cursing and swearing? Is not all this from the mercy of God? Oh how little doth this mercy of God lead you to repentance, whereas it is vouchsafed to you for that end! Let it not be despised, because it is common. For though God be thus often mercifull, yet sometimes his judgements are ter∣rible to prophane men: They are suddenly destroyed, while they are in their drunken fits, and it is Gods mercy that what hath befallen others doth not also come upon thee; but after thy impenitent heart, Thou treasurest up wrath a∣gainst the day of wrath; Now is the day of mercy, but then will be a day of wrath. There are special mercies, such as the godly are only partakers of, To be called, to be justified, to be sanctified, &c. Oh what heart or tongue can express the hap∣piness of those, who have these mercies! How sacrilegious are those Doctrines, that do not make God wholly and solely the father of these mercies, but they make themselves, and their own free-will, to be yoynt-fathers with God in these mer∣cies? But as Austin of old urged, If I cannot make my self a man, which is the lesser, can I make my self an holy man, which is the greater? If there is not the least temporal mercy that thou canst procure by thy own power, not a morsell of bread, not a drop of water, canst thou by thy own strength obtain the greatest of all? Though it be said, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon; yet it cannot be said, the vocation, the justification by Paul, and by Christ; but Christ alone doth these things in us and for us, though by his grace we are also sanctified and inabled to do that which is holy.
Again, There are soul-mercies, and there are bodily-mercies; There are spiri∣tual, and there are temporal mercies, now God is the Author of both. We may sinne by unthankfulness for either of them; if thou takest thy bodily-mercies as due, thy health, thy sleep, thy preservation from daily dangers, in this thou wrongest the goodness of God; for if he take away his hand but for a moment, thou canst not subsist. And as for soul-mercies, whether the natural ones of it, as thy wit, thy understanding, thy fancy, thy senses, God is the Father of them: Or the spiritual ones, there he is much more; if thou hast repentance, faith, as∣surance, a gracious contented heart in every condition, these are mercies of mer∣cies, but God alone is the Father of them.
Page 146 Furthermore, There are preventing, or privative mercies, and there are posi∣tive mercies. Now the Rule is, Plures sunt gratiae privativae quam positivae, more privative favours than positive. Did not God prevent, what innumerable evils might arise every day to destroy thee? When we pray for daily bread, in that we comprehend all kind of outward bodily mercies; so that if the Lords hand were not alwayes giving, we could not abide a day. Now seeing that by sinne we are made obnoxious to all the curses in the Law, To be cursed at home, and cursed a∣broad. How manifold are Gods preventing mercies to us? What evil might every day bring forth to thee? What a sad night might every night be to thee, if Gods preventing mercies did not compass thee about?
Lastly, We might instance in private mercies, and publick mercies. But what hath already been spoken, may abundantly confirm us, That God is the Father of mercies.
In the next place, Let us consider the Property of Gods mercy. And *
1. He is infinite in mercy, as well as in other attributes. So that this fountain can never be drawn dry, he hath mercy enough for thee and me, and for all the humbled sinners in the world: If all the Nations of the world are but as a drop to him, so neither are all the sins of the world, but as a drop to his mercy. No sins are too many, or too great for Gods mercy. And truly this consideration alone, is that which doth revive and establish the drooping soul; for if it were but the mercy of a creature, if it were finite mercy that thou hadst to do with, woe and again woe would be unto thee. The Prophet Isaiah speaks fully to this, Chap. 55. 7, 8, 9. where there is an encouragement given to the wicked, To forsake his evil wayes, because God will have mercy, yea he will abundantly pardon, or mul∣tiply to pardon; and whereas the sinner might think, Surely God will never do so, to such an hainous and wretched sinner as I am; the Prophet tells us, Gods thoughts are not as our thoughts, but as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways, viz. of mercy to our wayes. As then the earth is but like a pins head, in respect of the vast dimensions of the Heavens; so are all our sins comparatively to Gods mercy. If then thou hast great thoughts about thy sins, saying, They are great∣er than thou canst bear, yet have as great thoughts of Gods mercy, and know they are not greater than mercy can take away.
2. As it's infinite mercy, so they are tender mercies, bowels of mercies. Psal. 40. 11. David prayeth, God would not take away his tender mercies from him. Hence he is compared both to a Father and a Mother. Oh take heed then of dishonour∣ing God, by hard distrustfull and unbelieving thoughts about him! Think not of him as an austeer Judge, who reapeth where he doth not sow. The Devil, and our guilty consciences are apt to represent God otherwise than he is. Indeed while thou art secure and stupid in thy sins, thou thinkest of God as an Idol-god, having no eyes to see; or thou presents him only a mercifull God to thy self, as if he were not also holy and just; but when once sinne burneth in thy heart like fire; when God makes thee a terrour to thy self, because of thy wickedness, then all is turned; Thou thinkest of the justice and vengeance of God only, as if he had no mercy; but when thy sins are a burden to thee, and thou doest in the sin∣cerity of thy heart forsake them; then think of God only, as the Scripture re∣presents him; then hearken what mercy, comfort and peace he speaks to such a contrite soul as thou art.
3. They are sure mercies to all the godly. Isa. 55. 3. They are called, The sure mercies of David. For all necessary mercies, either for soul or body, they are bound up in Gods promise; and therefore they may well be called sure mercies; even those thou hast not yet, are as sure mercies, as if thou wast already possessed of them. Glorification and salvation are the sure mercies of God to thee, though for the present thou art in a valley of tears, sighing under thy miseries.
4. They are free mercies, such as God doth only for his Names sake, when we Page 147 have nothing but sinne in us, that may justly provoke God to turn his mercies in∣to judgments, yet for his own sake he will be mercifull. Though we have lost our grace, yet he hath not that attribute of mercy. Thus Psal. 6. 4. Psal. 31. 16. David still prayeth, Save me for thy mercies sake; So that this may greatly encourage thee, when thou thinkest, Oh what a barren and dry wilderness am I! Oh what matter do I find in me, to displease God for ever! In the midst of these thoughts remember Gods mercies are free; They have no other original or rise, but from himself. Think though I have degenerated from my holiness, yet God can never lay aside his mercy.
But you will say; Is this truth to be indifferently published to all? May we tell every one, that God is the Father of mercies to him? Will not this be to make the heart of the wicked glad, whom yet God would have made sad?
To answer it therefore first, It cannot be denied, but that God is very mercifull even to wicked men, and that while they continue in their obstinacy. Doth not ex∣perience confirm this? And this mercy of God is not only seen in temporal things, he giveth them health, life and wealth, so that they can never plead against God; but also he is mercifull to many ungodly wretches, and that in spiritual mercies, he giveth them the kingdom of grace, he giveth them the Ministry of the Gospel, he alloweth them the day of grace, whenas they might have been alwayes kept up in darkness. Hence it is that the Scripture doth so often complain of the unprofi∣tableness, of the unthankfulness and forgetfulness towards him, even worse than of the bruit creatures.
But in the next place, There are the most special mercies of his complacency and delight, and these are vouchsafed only to true believers. So that we cannot properly say, God is a Father of mercies to any but to the upright in heart. For though wicked men do taste of many mercies from God, yet he is not a reconciled Father to them; They come not from him as a Father in Christ; and therefore though in them∣selves they may be called mercies, yet if you consider the event of them, how the wicked abuse all mercies, and increase their sins by them, it will be at last confes∣sed they were not mercies, but judgements to them. The mercies then which a∣rise from Gods favour none have but those that are godly; and we may in brief take these Characters of such who are Objects of his mercy.
First, Such as are of a broken contrite heart for sinne, such who forsake and cast*it away in their lives. To these only God is a Father of mercies: For as for the wicked, it's said, God is angry with the wicked every day. To whom doth the ju∣stice of God, the curse of the Law belong, but to those that are thus guilty of sin? The doubt then is not, Whether God be mercifull? but whether thou art the fit subject of mercy, whether thou art the man God will honour.
Secondly, Such only are the Objects of his mercy that have faith in him, that hope in his mercy. Hence David doth so often profess his trust in Gods mercy. For there is either a pharisaical self-righteousness in us, whereby we are apt to trust in our righteousness, and in the works we do. We see by the Jews of old, and most Chri∣stians at this day, that they are so full of themselves, that they never trust alone in Gods mercy, or else if sin be set home upon the conscience, then many prove Cains and Judasses, they flie from the mercies of God in Christ, and damn them∣selves for fear of damnation; so that presumption makes most, and despair some few, the unfitted objects of Gods mercy; misery alone doth not prepare thee for mercy: The Devils and damned in hell are miserable enough, yet cannot obtain one drop of mercy; but there must be a debasing of thy self, because of sin, and then raising up of thy self to catch hold on mercy.