SERMON V.* The Mercy of God.
The Lord is long suffering, and of great Mercy.
I Have considered God's Goodness in general. There are two emi∣nent Branches of it, his Patience and Mercy. The Patience of God is his goodness to them that are guilty, in deferring or moderating their de∣served punishment; the Mercy of God is his goodness to them that are or may be miserable. 'Tis the last of these two I design to discourse of at this time; in doing which, I shall in∣quire,
First, What we are to understand by the Mercy of God.
Page 106Secondly, Shew you, that this Per∣fection belongs to God.
Thirdly, Consider the degree of it, that God is of great Mercy.
First, What we are to understand by the Mercy of God.
I told you it is his goodness to them that are in misery, or liable to it; that is, that are in danger of it, or have deserved it. 'Tis mercy to pre∣vent the misery that we are liable to, and which may befal us, tho' it be not actually upon us. 'Tis mercy to defer the misery that we deserve, or miti∣gate it; and this is properly patience and forbearance. 'Tis mercy to re∣lieve those that are in misery, to sup∣port or comfort them. 'Tis mercy to remit the misery we deserve, and by pardon and forgiveness to remove and take away the obligation to punish∣ment.
Thus the mercy of God is usually in Scripture set forth to us by the af∣fection of pity and compassion, which is an affection that causeth a sensible commotion and disturbance in us, up∣on the apprehension of some great E∣vil that lies upon another, or hangs over him. Hence it is that God is Page 107 said in Scripture to be grieved and af∣flicted for the miseries of Men; his bow∣els are said to sound, and his heart to turn within him. But tho' God is plea∣sed in this manner to set forth his mercy and tenderness towards us, yet we must take heed how we cloath the Divine Nature with the Infirmities of human Passions. We must not mea∣sure the Perfection of God by the Ex∣pressions of his condescention; and because he stoops to our weakness, level him to our Infirmities. When God is said to pity us, we must take away the imperfection of this Passion, the commotion and disturbance of it, and not imagine any such thing in God; but we are to conceive, that the mercy and compassion of God, with∣out producing the disquiet, do pro∣duce the Effects of the most sensible pity.
Secondly, That this Perfection be∣longs to God.
All the Arguments that I used to prove the goodness of God, from the ac∣knowledgment of natural Light, and from Scripture and Reason, serve to prove that he is merciful; because the mercy of God is an eminent Branch of Page 108 his goodness. I will only produce some of those many Texts of Scripture which attribute this Perfection to God. Exod. 34.6. The Lord, the Lord God, gracious and merciful. Deut. 4.31 The Lord thy God is a merciful God. 2 Chron. 30.9. The Lord your God is gracious and merciful. Neh. 9.17. Rea∣dy to pardon, gracious and merciful. Psal. 25.10. All the paths of the Lord are mercy. Psal. 62.12. Ʋnto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy. Psal. 103.8. Merciful and gra∣cious. Psal. 130.7. With the Lord there is mercy. And so Jer. 3.12. Jo∣el 2.13. Jonah 4.2. Luke 6.36. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. The Scripture speaks of this as most natural to him, 2 Cor. 1.3. he is called the Father of mercies. But when he punisheth, he doth as it were relinquish his Nature, and do a strange work. The Lord will wait that he may be gracious, Isa. 30.18. God pas∣seth by opportunities of punishing, but his mercy takes opportunity to display it self; he waits to be gracious. To afflict or punish is a Work that God is unwilling to, that he takes no pleasure in; Lam. 3.33. He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. But mercy is a Work that he Page 109 delights in, Mic. 7.18. He delighteth in mercy. When God shews mercy, he does it with pleasure and delight; he is said to rejoyce over his people to do them good. Those Attributes that de∣clare God's goodness, as when he is said to be gracious, or merciful, and long-suffering, they shew what God is in himself, and delights to be: those which declare his wrath and severity, shew what he is upon provocation, and the occasion of sin; not what he chuseth to be, but what we do as it were compel and necessitate him to be.
Thirdly, For the degree of it; that God is a God of great mercy.
The Scripture doth delight to ad∣vance the mercy of God, and does use great variety of Expression to magni∣fie it. It speaks of the greatness of his mercy, Numb. 14.19. According to the greatness of his mercy. 2 Sam. 24.14. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great. 'Tis call'd an abundant mercy, 1 Pet. 1.3. Ac∣cording to his abundant mercy. Psal. 103.8. he is said to be plenteous in mercy; and rich in mercy, Eph. 2.4. Psal. 5.7. he speaks of the multitude of God's Page 110 mercies; and of the variety of them, Neh. 9.18. In thy manifold mercies thou forsookest them not. So many are they, that we are said to be surrounded and campassed about on every side with them; Psal. 103.4. Who crowneth us with loving kindness and tender mer∣cies.
And yet further to set forth the greatness of them, the Scripture useth all dimensions. Heighth, Psal. 57.10. Thy mercy is great unto the Heavens. Nay, higher yet; Psal. 108.4. Thy mercy is great above the heavens. For the latitude and extent of it, 'tis as large as the Earth, and extends to all the Creatures in it; Psal. 109.64. The earth is full of thy mercy. Psal. 145.8. His tender mercies are over all his works. For the length, or duration and continuance of it; Exod. 34.7. Laying up mercy in store for thousands of generations, one after another. Nay, it is of a longer continuance; Psal. 118. 'tis several times repeated, That his mercy endureth for ever.
And to shew the intense degree of this affection of mercy or pity, the Scripture useth several emphatical Ex∣pressions to set it forth to us. The Page 111 Scripture speaks of the tender mercies of God, Psal. 25.6. Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies. Yea, of the multi∣tude of these, Psal. 51.1. According to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Jam. 5.11. The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. They are called God's Bow∣els, which are the tenderest parts, and apt to yern and stir in us when any affections of love and pity are exci∣ted, Is. 63.15. Where is the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies, are they restrained? Luke 1.78. Through the tender mercy of our God. So it is in our Translation; but if we render it from the Original, 'tis through the bowels of the mercies of our God. How doth God condescend in those pathetical Expressions, which he useth concern∣ing his People? Hos. 11.8. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? mine heart is turned within me, and my repentings are kindled together. Nay, to express his tender sense of our miseries and suffer∣ings, he is represented as being af∣flicted with us, and bearing a part in our sufferings; Isa, 63.9. In all their afflictions he was afflicted.
Page 112The compassions of God are com∣pared to the tenderest affections among Men; to that of a Father towards his Children; Psal. 103.13. As a father pitieth his Children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. Nay, to the com∣passions of a Mother towards her In∣fant; Isa. 49.15. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea she may, 'tis possible, tho' most un∣likely: but tho' a Mother may turn unnatural; yet God cannot be unmer∣ciful.
In short, the Scripture doth every where magnifie the mercy of God, and speak of it with all possible advan∣tage; as if the Divine Nature, which doth in all Perfections excel all others, did in this excel it self. The Scrip∣ture speaks of it as if God was wholly taken up with it, as if it was his con∣stant Exercise and Employment, so that in comparison of it, he doth hard∣ly display any other excellency; Psal. 25.10. All the paths of the Lord are mercy; as if in this World God had a design to advance his mercy above his other Attributes. The mercy of God is now in the Throne, this is the day Page 113 of mercy, and God doth display it many times with a seeming dishonour to his other Attributes, his Justice, and Holiness, and Truth. His Justice; This makes Job complain of the long life and prosperity of the wicked; Job 41.7. Wherefore do the wicked live, yea become old? &c. His Holiness; This makes the Prophet expostulate with God, Hab. 1.13. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity. Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue? &c. And the Truth of God; This makes Jonah complain, as if God's mercies were such, as did make some reflection upon his truth, Jon. 4.2.
But that we may have more distinct apprehensions of the greatness and number of God's mercies, I will distri∣bute them into kinds, and rank them under several Heads. 'Tis mercy to prevent those evils and miseries that we are liable to. 'Tis mercy to defer those evils that we have deserved, or to mitigate them. 'Tis mercy to sup∣port and comfort us when misery is upon us. 'Tis mercy to deliver us from them. But the greatest mercy Page 114 of all is, to remit the evil and misery we have deserved, by pardon and for∣giveness, to remove and take away the obligation to punishment; so that the mercy of God may be reduced to these five Heads.
I. Preventing Mercy. Many evils and miseries which we are liable to, God prevents them at a great distance; and when they are coming towards us, he stops them or turns them ano∣ther way. The merciful Providence of God, and those invisible guards which protect us, do divert many evils from us, which fall upon others. We sel∣dom take notice of God's preventing mercy; we are not apt to be sensible how great a mercy it is to be freed from those straits and necessities, those pains and diseases of Body, those in∣ward racks and horrours, which others are pressed withal and labour under. When any evil or misery is upon us, would we not reckon it a mercy to be rescued and delivered from it? And is it not a greater mercy that we never felt it? Does not that Man owe more to his Physician who prevents his sick∣ness and distemper, than he who after the weakness and languishing, the Page 115 pains and tortures of several Months, is at length cured by him?
II. Forbearing mercy. And this is the patience of God, which consists in the deferring or moderating of our deserved punishment. Hence it is that slow to anger, and of great mercy, do so often go together. But this I shall speak to hereafter in some parti∣cular Discourses.
III. Comforting mercy. 2 Cor. 1.3. The father of mercies, and the God of all Comfort. The Scripture repre∣sents God as very merciful, in comfort∣ing and supporting those that are af∣flicted and cast down; hence are those expressions of putting his arms under us, bearing us up, speaking comfortably, visit∣ing us with his loving kindness, which signifie God's merciful regard to those who are in misery and distress.
IV. His relieving mercy, in supply∣ing those that are in want, and deliver∣ing those that are in trouble. God doth many times exercise Men with troubles and afflictions, with a very gracious and merciful design, to pre∣vent greater Evils, which Men would otherwise bring upon themselves. Af∣flictions are a merciful invention of Page 116 Heaven to do us that good, which no∣thing else can; they awaken us to a sense of God, and of our selves, to a con∣sideration of the evil of our ways; they make us to take notice of God, to seek him, and enquire after him. God doth as it were by Afflictions throw Men upon their backs to make them look up to Heaven; Hos. 5.15. In their affliction they will seek me early. Psal. 78.34. When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned, and enquired early after God. But God does not delight in this, he doth not af∣flict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. When afflictions have accom∣plished their work, and obtained their end upon us, God is very ready to re∣move them, and command delive∣rance for us; Isa. 54.7, 8. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee; but with everlasting kindness will I have mer∣cy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeem∣er.
V. Pardoning mercy. And here the greatness and fullness of God's mercy appears, because our sins are great; Psal. 78.38. Being full of com∣passion, Page 117 he forgave their iniquity. And the multitude of God's mercies, be∣cause our sins are many, Psal. 51.1. Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Exod. 34.7. He is said to pardon iniquity, transgression, and sin. How many fold are his mercies, to forgive all our sins, of what kind so ever! The mercy of God to us in pardoning our sins, is matter of asto∣nishment and admiration; Mic. 7.18. Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity! But especially if we consider by what means our pardon is procu∣red; by transferring our guilt upon the most innocent person, the Son of God, and making him to bear our ini∣quities, and to suffer the wrath of God which was due to us. The admira∣ble contrivance of God's mercy ap∣pears in this dispensation; this shews the riches of his grace, that he should be at so much cost to purchase our pardon, Not with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of his own Son; Eph. 1.6, 7. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved; in whom we have redemption through his Page 118 blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.
Having dispatch'd the three particu∣lars I propos'd to be spoken to, I shall shew what Use we ought to make of this Divine Attribute.
Ʋse 1. We ought with thankful∣ness to acknowledge and admire the great mercy of God to us. Let us view it in all its dimensions; the heighth, and length, and breadth of it: in all the variety and kinds of it; the preventing mercy of God to ma∣ny of us. Those miseries that lye upon others, 'tis mercy to us that we es∣caped them. 'Tis mercy that spares us. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, and because his compas∣sions fail not. 'Tis mercy that miti∣gates our punishment, and makes it fall below the desert of our sins. 'Tis mercy that comforts and supports us under any of those Evils that lye upon us, and that rescues and delivers us from them. Which way so ever we look, we are encompassed with the mercies of God; they compass us about on every side, we are crowned with loving kindness and tender mercies. 'Tis mercy that feeds us, and cloaths us, and that Page 119 preserves us. But above all we should thankfully acknowledge and admire the pardoning mercy of God; Ps. 103.1, 2, 3. where David does as it were muster up the mercies of God, and make a Catalogue of them, he sets the pardoning mercy in the front; Bless ye the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise his holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thy iniquities.
If we look into our selves, and con∣sider our own temper and disposition, how void of pity and bowels we are, how cruel, and hard hearted, and in∣solent, and revengeful; if we look a∣broad into the World, and see how full the earth is of the habitations of cruelty; we shall admire the mercy of God more, and think our selves more beholden to it. How many things must concur to make our hearts ten∣der, and melt our spirits, and stir our bowels, to make us pitiful and com∣passionate? We seldom pity any un∣less they be actually in misery; nor all such neither, unless the misery they lye under be very great; nor then neither, unless the person that Page 120 suffers be nearly related, and we be someways concerned in his suffer∣ings; yea, many times not then nei∣ther, upon a generous account, but as we are someways obliged by inter∣est and self-love, and a dear regard to our selves, when we have suffered the like our selves, and have learnt to pity others by our own Sufferings, or when in danger and probability to be in the like condition our selves; so many motives and obligations are ne∣cessary to awaken and stir up this af∣fection in us. But God is merciful and pitiful to us, out of the mere goodness of his Nature; for few of these motives and considerations can have any place in him. This affe∣ction of pity and tenderness is stirred up in God by the mere presence of the Object, without any other induce∣ment. The mercy of God many times doth not stay till we be actually mise∣rable; but looks forward a great way, and pities us at a great distance, and prevents our misery. God doth not only pity us in great Calamities; but considers those lesser Evils that are upon us. God is merciful to us, when we have deserved all the Evils that Page 121 are upon us, and far greater, when we are less than the least of all his mer∣cies, when we deserved all the misery that is upon us, and have with vio∣lent hands pulled it upon our own heads, and have been the authors and procurers of it to our selves. Tho' God, in respect of his Nature, be at an infinite distance from us, yet his mer∣cy is near to us, and he cannot possi∣bly have any self-interest in it. The Divine Nature is not liable to want, or injury, or suffering; he is secure of his own happiness and fullness, and can neither wish the inlargement nor fear the impairment of his Estate; he can never stand in need of pity or re∣lief from us or any other; and yet he pities us.
Now if we consider the vast diffe∣rence of this affection in God and us, how tender his mercies are, and how sensible his bowels; and yet we who have so many arguments to move us to pity, how hard our hearts are, and how unapt to relent, as if we were born of the rock, and were the off-spring of the nether milstone; sure when we duly consider this, we cannot but ad∣mire the mercy of God.
Page 122How cruel are we to Creatures below us! with how little remorse can we kill a Flea, or tread upon a Worm? partly because we are se∣cure that they cannot hurt us, nor revenge themselves upon us; and part∣ly because they are so despicable in our Eyes, and so far below us, that they do not fall under the conside∣ration of our Pity. Look upward, proud Man! and take notice of him who is above thee, thou didst not make the Creatures below thee as God did, there's but a finite distance between thee and the meanest Crea∣tures; but there's an infinite distance between thee and God. Man is a Name of Dignity, when we com∣pare our selves with other Creatures; but compared to God, we are Worms, and not Men; yea, we are nothing, yea, less than nothing and vanity. How great then is the Mercy of God, which regards us, who are so far below him, which takes into Consideration such inconsiderable nothings as we are! we may say with David, Ps. 8.4. Lord! What is man, that thou art so mindful of him, or the Son of Man that thou visitest him! And with Job 7.17. What Page 123 is Man that thou shouldest magnifie him, and that thou shouldst set thine Heart up∣on him!
And then how hard do we find it to forgive those who have injured us? if any one have offended, or pro∣voked us; how hard are we to be reconciled? How mindful of an In∣jury? How do anger and revenge boyl within us? How do we upbraid Men with their faults? What vile and low Submission do we require of them, before we will receive them into Fa∣vour, and grant them Peace? And if we forgive once, we think that is much; but if an offence and provo∣cation be renewed often, we are inex∣orable. Even the Disciples of our Saviour, after he had so emphati∣cally taught them Forgiveness, in the Petition in the Lord's Prayer, yet they had very narrow Spirits as to this; Matth. 18.21. Peter comes to him, and asks him, How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? He thought that was much: And yet we have great obligations to Pardoning and Forgiving others, because we are obnoxious to God Page 124 and one another, we shall many times stand in need of Pardon from God and Men; and it may be our own case, and when it is, we are too apt to be very indulgent to our selves, and conceive good hopes of the Mercy of others; we would have our ignorance, and inadverten∣cies, and mistakes, and all occasions and temptations and provocations considered; and when we have done amiss, upon Submission and Acknow∣ledgment of our Fault, we would be received into Favour: but God who is not at all liable to us, how rea∣dy is he to Forgive! If we confess our Sins to him, he is merciful to Forgive; he Pardons freely; and such are the condescentions of his Mercy, tho' he be the party offended, yet he offers Pardon to us, and beseeches us to be reconcil'd; if we do but come towards him, he runs to meet us, as in the Parable of the Prodi∣gal, Luke 15.20. What reason have we then thankfully to acknowledge and admire the Mercy of God to us?
Ʋse 2. The great mercy of God to us, should stir up in us shame and Page 125 sorrow for Sin. The Judgments of God may break us; but the conside∣ration of God's Mercy should rather melt and dissolve us into Tears, Luke 7.47. The Woman that washed Christ's Feet with her Tears, and wiped them with her Hair, the ac∣count that our Saviour gives of the great Affection that she expressed to him, was, she Loved much, because much was forgiven her; and she griev∣ed much, because much was forgiven her.
Especially we should sorrow for those Sins, which have been com∣mitted by us after God's Mercies re∣ceived. Mercies after Sins should touch our Hearts, and make us re∣lent. It should grieve us that we should offend and provoke a God so Gracious and Merciful, so slow to anger, and so ready to forgive: But Sin against Mercies, and after we have received them, is attend∣ed with one of the greatest Aggra∣vations of Sin. And as Mercy raises the guilt of our Sins, so it should raise our sorrow for them. No Con∣sideration is more apt to work up∣on human Nature, than that of Page 126 kindness, and the greater Mercy has been shewed to us, the greater our sins, and the greater cause of sor∣row for them; contraries do il∣lustrate, and set off one another; in the great Goodness and Mercy of God to us, we see the great Evil of our Sins against him.
Every Sin has the Nature of Re∣bellion and Disobedience; but sins against Mercy have Ingratitude in them. When ever we break the Laws of God, we rebel against our Soveraign; but as we sin against the Mercies of God, we injure our Benefactor. This makes our sin to be horrid, and astonishing, Isa. 1.2. Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth! I have nourished and brought up children, and they have re∣belled against me. All the Mercies of God are aggravations of our sins, 2 Sam. 12.7, 8, 9. And Nathan said to David, thus saith the Lord God of Is∣rael, I anointed thee king over Israel, and delivered thee out of the hands of Saul, and I gave thee thy masters house, and thy masters wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Isreal, and of Judah, and if that had been too Page 127 little, I would moreover have given thee such and such things. Where∣fore hast thou despised the command∣ment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? God reckons up all his Mer∣cies, and from them aggravates Da∣vid's sin; 1 Kings 11.9. He takes notice of all the unkind returns that we make to his Mercy; and 'tis the worst temper in the World not to be wrought upon by kindness, not to be melted by Mercy; no greater evidence of a wicked Heart, than that the Mercies of God have no effect upon it; Esay 26.10. Let fa∣vour be shewn to the wicked; yet will he not learn righteousness.
Ʋse 3. Let us imitate the merci∣ful Nature of God. This branch of God's goodness is very proper for our imitation. The general Exhor∣tation of our Saviour, Matt. 5.48. Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect, is more particularly expressed by St. Luke, Luke 6.30. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful. Men affect to make Ima∣ges, and impossible Representations of God; but as Seneca saith, Crede Page 128 Deòs, cùm propitii essent, fictiles fuisse. We may draw this Image and likeness of God; we may be gracious and merciful as he is. Christ, who was the express image of his Father, his whole life and undertaking was a continued work of mercy; he went about doing good to the Souls of Men, by Preach∣ing the Gospel to them; and to the Bodies of Men, in healing all manner of Diseases. There is nothing that he recommends more to us in his Gospel than this Spirit and Temper; Mat. 5.7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. How many Parables doth he use to set forth the mercy of God to us, with a design to draw us to the imitation of it? The Parable of the Prodigal; of the good Samari∣tan; of the Servant to whom he for∣gave 10000 Talents. We should i∣mitate God in this; in being tender and compassionate to those that are in misery.
This is a piece of natural, indispen∣sable Religion, to which positive and instituted Religion must give way; Amos 6.6. I desired mercy, and not sa∣crifice; which is twice cited and used by our Saviour. Micah. 6.8. He hath Page 129 shewed thee, O Man, what it is that the Lord thy God requires of thee, to do justice, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
This is always one part of the de∣scription of a good Man, that he is apt to pity the miseries and necessities of others. Psal. 37.26. He is ever merciful and lendeth. He is far from cruelty, not only to Men, but even to the brute Creatures; Prov. 12.10. A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. There is nothing more contra∣ry to the nature of God, than a cruel and savage disposition, not to be af∣fected with the miseries and sufferings of others; how unlike is this to the fa∣ther of mercies, and the God of consolati∣on! When we can see Cruelty exerci∣sed, and our Bowels not be stirred within us, nor our hearts be pricked; how unlike is this to God, who is ve∣ry pitiful, and of tender mercies! But to rejoyce at the miseries of others, this is inhumane and barbarous. Hear how God threatens Edom for rejoycing at the miseries of his Brother Jacob; Obadiah 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. But to delight to make others miserable, and to aggravate their sufferings, this is Page 130 devilish; this is the temper of Hell, and the very spirit of the Destroy∣er.
It becomes Man above all other Creatures to be merciful, who hath had such ample and happy experience of God's mercy to him, and doth still continually stand in need of mercy from God. God hath been very mer∣ciful to us. Had it not been for the tender Mercies of God to us, we had all of us long since been miserable. Now as we have receiv'd mercy from God, we should shew it to others. The Apostle useth this as an Argument why we should relieve those that are in misery and want, because we have had such experience of the mercy and love of God to us; 1 John 3.16, 17. Here∣by perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. But whoso hath this worlds goods, and seeth his brother have need, &c. how dwelleth the love of God in him? That Man hath no sense of the mercy of God abiding upon his Heart, that is not merciful to his Bro∣ther. And 'tis an Argument why we should forgive one another; Eph. 4.32. Be ye kind one to another, tender heart∣ed, forgiving one another, even as God Page 131 for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Chap. 5.1. Be ye therefore followers of God as dear Children. Col. 3.12, 13. Put on therefore (as the elect of God holy and beloved) bowels of mercies, kindness, hum∣bleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
And we continually stand in need of mercy both from God and Man. We are lyable one to another, and in the change of human Affairs, we may be all subject to one another by turns, and stand in need of one a∣nothers pity and compassion; and we must expect, that with what measure we mete to others, with the same it shall be mea∣sured to us again. To restrain the Cru∣elties, and check the Insolencies of Men, God has so order'd in his Provi∣dence, that very often in this World Mens Cruelties return upon their own heads, and their violent dealings upon their own pates. Bajazet meets with a Tamerlane.
But if Men were not thus liable to one another, we all stand in need of mercy from God. If we be merciful Page 132 to others in suffering, and forgiving them that have injured us, God will be so to us, he will pardon our sins to us. Prov. 16.5. By mercy and truth iniquity is purged. 2. Sam. 22.26. With the merciful thou wilt shew thy self merciful. Prov. 14.21. He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. Prov. 21.21. He that followeth after mercy findeth life. Matth. 6.14. If ye for∣give men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But on the other hand, if we be malicious and revengeful, and implacable to those that have offended us, and inexorable to those who desire to be received to favour, and cruel to those who lye at our mercy, hard hearted to them that are in necessity; what can we expect, but that the mercy of God will leave us, that he will forget to be gra∣cious, and shut up in anger his tender mercy. Mat. 6.15. If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespas∣ses. That is a dreadful passage, S. James 2.13. He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy. How angry is the Lord with the Servant who was so inexorable to his fellow Page 133 Servant, after he had forgiven him so great a debt, as you find in the Para∣ble, Mat. 18.24. He owed him ten thousand Talents, and upon his sub∣mission and intreaty to have patience with him, he was moved with com∣passion and loosed him, and forgave him all: but no sooner had this favour been done to him by his Lord, but going forth he meets his fellow Ser∣vant, who owed him a small inconsi∣derable debt, an hundred Pence, he lays Hands on him, and takes him by the Throat, and roundly demands payment of him; he falls down at his Feet, and useth the same form of sup∣plication that he had used to his Lord, but he rejects his request, and puts him in Prison. Now what saith the Lord to him? v. 32, 33, 34. O thou wicked Servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And the Lord was wroth, and deliver'd him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. Now what application doth our Saviour make of this? v. 35. So likewise shall my heaven∣ly Father do also unto you, if ye from your Page 134 hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
God's readiness to forgive us should be a powerful motive and argument to us to forgive others. The greatest Injuries that we can suffer from Men, if we compare them to the sins that we commit against God, they bear no proportion to them, neither in weight nor number; they are but as an hun∣dred pence to ten thousand talents. If we would be like God, we should for∣give the greatest Injuries; he pardon∣eth our sins tho' they be exceeding great: many Injuries, tho' offences be renewed, and provocations multi∣plied; for so God doth to us, He par∣doneth iniquity, transgression, and sin, Ex. 34.7. Is. 55.7. He will have mer∣cy, he will abundantly pardon. We would not have God only to forgive us seven times, but seventy seven times, as often as we offend him: so should we forgive our Brother.
And we should not be backward to this Work; God is ready to forgive us; Neh. 9.17. And we should do it heartily, not only in word, when we retain malice in our hearts, and while we say we forgive, carry on a se∣cret Page 135 design in our hearts of revenging our selves when we have opportunity; but we should from our hearts forgive every one; for so God doth to us, who when he forgives us, casts our iniqui∣ties behind his back, and throws them in∣to the bottom of the sea, and blots out our transgression, so as to remember our ini∣quity no more.
If we do not do thus, every time we put up the Petition to God, For∣give us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us, we do not pray for mercy, but for judgment; we in∣voke his wrath, and do not put up a Prayer, but a dreadful Imprecation against our selves; we pronounce the Sentence of our own Condemnation, and importune God not to forgive us.
Ʋse 4. If the mercy of God be so great, this may comfort us against Despair. Sinners are apt to be deject∣ed, when they consider their unwor∣thiness, the nature and number of their Sins, and the many heavy ag∣gravations of them; they are apt to say with Cain, That their sin is greater than can be forgiven. But do not look only upon thy sins; but upon the mercies of Page 136 God. Thou canst not be too sensible of the evil of sin, and of the desert of it; but whilst we aggravate our sins, we must not lessen the mercies of God. When we consider the mul∣titude of our sins, we must consider also the multitude of God's tender mercies; we have been great sinners, and God is of great mercy; we have multiplied our provocations, and he multiplies to pardon.
Do but thou put thy self in a capa∣city of mercy, by repenting of thy sins, and forsaking of them, and thou hast no reason to doubt but the mercy of God will receive thee; If we confess our sins, he is merciful and faithful to forgive them. If we had offended Man as we have done God, we might despair of pardon; but it is God and not Man that we have to deal with; and his ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts; but as the hea∣vens are high above the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts a∣bove our thoughts.
We cannot be more injurious to God, than by hard thoughts of him, as if fury were in him, and when we have provoked him, he were not to Page 137 be appeased and reconciled to us. We disparage the Goodness and Truth of God, when we distrust those gracious declarations which he has made of his mercy and goodness, if we do not think that he doth heartily pity and compassionate sinners, and really de∣desire their happiness. Doth not he condescend so low as to represent him∣self afflicted for the miseries of Men, and to rejoyce in the conversion of a Sinner? and shall not we believe that he is in good earnest? Doth Christ weep over impenitent Sinners, because they will not know the things of their peace? and canst thou think he will not par∣don thee upon thy repentance? Is he grieved that Men will undo them∣selves, and will not be saved? and canst thou think that he is unwilling to forgive? We cannot honour and glorifie God more, than by entertain∣ing great thoughts of his Mercy. As we are said to glorifie God by our repentance, because thereby we ac∣knowledge God's holiness and justice; so we glorifie him by believing his mercy, because we conceive a right opinion of his goodness and truth; we set to our Seal that God is merciful Page 138 and true; Psal. 147.11. 'tis said, That God taketh pleasure in them that hope in his mercy. As he delights in mercy, so in our acknowledgments of it; that Sinners should conceive great hopes of it, and believe him to be what he is. Provided thou dost sub∣mit to the terms of God's mercy, thou hast no reason to despair of it; and he that thinks that his sins are more or greater than the mercy of God can par∣don, must think that there may be more evil in the Creature than there is goodness in God.
Ʋse 5. By way of Caution against the presumptuous Sinner. If there be any that trespass upon the goodness of God, and presume to encourage them∣selves in sin upon the hopes of his mer∣cy, let such know, that God is just as well as merciful. A God all of mercy is an Idol, such a God as Men set up in their own imaginations; but not the true God, whom the Scriptures de∣scribe. To such persons the Scripture describes him after another manner; Nah. 1.2. God is jealous, the Lord revengeth and is furious, the Lord will take venge∣ance on his adversaries, and reserveth wrath for his enemies. If any Man a∣buse Page 139 the mercy of God to the strength∣ning of himself in his own wickedness, and bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, tho' I walk in the imagi∣nation of my own heart, and add drunkeness to thirst: The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his jealou∣sie shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lye upon him, and he will blot out his name from under heaven, Deut. 29.19, 20.
Though it be the nature of God to be merciful, yet the exercise of his mercy is regulated by his Wisdom; he will not be merciful to those that de∣spise his mercy, to those that abuse it, to those that are resolved to go on in their sins to tempt his mercy, and make bold to say, Let us sin that grace may abound. God designs his mercy for those that are prepared to receive it; Is. 55.7. Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy, and to our God, for he will abun∣dantly pardon. The mercy of God is an enemy to sin, as well as his justice; and 'tis no where offer'd to counte∣nance sin, but to convert the sinner; Page 140 and is not intended to encourage our impenitency, but our repentance. God hath no where said that he will be merciful to those, who upon the score of his mercy are bold with him, and presume to offend him; but the mercy of the Lord is upon them that fear him, and keep his covenant, and remem∣ber his commandments to do them. There is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared; but not that he may be despi∣sed and affronted. This is to contra∣dict the very end of God's mercy, which is to lead us to repentance, to en∣gage us to leave our sins, not to en∣courage us to continue in them.
Take heed then of abusing the mer∣cy of God; we cannot provoke the justice of God more than by presuming upon his mercy. This is the time of God's mercy, use this opportunity; if thou neglectest it, a day of justice and vengeance is coming; Rom. 2.4, 5. De∣spisest thou the riches of his goodness, not knowing that the goodness of God leads to repentance? And treasurest up to thy self wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God? Now is the manifestation of God's mercy; but there is a time a Page 141 coming, when the righteous Judg∣ment of God will be revealed against those who abuse his mercy, not know∣ing that the goodness of God leadeth to re∣pentance. To think that the goodness of God was intended for any other end than to take us off from sin, is a gross and affected ignorance that will ruin us; and they who draw any con∣clusion from the mercy of God, which may harden them in their sins, they are such as the Prophet speaks of, Is. 27.11. A people of no understanding; therefore he that made them will not save them, and he that formed them will have no mercy on them. Mercy it self will rejoyce in the ruin of those that abuse it, and it will aggravate their Condem∣nation. There is no person towards whom God will be more severely just, than toward such. The justice of God exasperated, and set on by his injured and abused mercy, like a Ra∣zor set in Oyl, will have the keener edge, and be the sharper for its smooth∣ness. Those that have made the mer∣cy of God their Enemy, must expect the worst his justice can do unto them.