Saturday, December 16, 2023

Post # 27 The Doctrine of God - P2 God's Attribute Of Mercy: Distinctions And Applications


    In our last post, we began consideration of God's mercy here We offered definitions and reflections on the richness of this attribute.  Theologian Wayne Grudem comments on God's mercy, "God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress." Certainly the mercy of God expresses the goodness of God toward those who don't deserve and who did nothing to merit such a bestowal of goodness. In today's post we continue our exploration of God's mercy, noting distinctions of it in the Bible, as well as applications.

God's mercy is what He chooses to bestow, not what He has to show.

    In the Bible, mercy is a choice God makes to withhold judgment and take pity on the distressed, on someone, or something. If mercy were obligatory for God, then it would not be mercy, but rather "justice", or "righteousness". God as God must uphold His glory, since His glory expresses all that He is in His attributes and being. Mercy, on the otherhand, is what God chooses to grant to the undeserving. Paul brings this out in Titus 3:5, 

"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."

    I often think of the illustration R.C. Sproul used in his teaching on mercy. He once drew a circle on the chalkboard, called "mercy". Then, He drew another circle on the board, called "justice". He then noted that God deals with us in one of two ways - "mercy" or "justice". God, as he rightly points out, is never "unjust" (compare Genesis 18:21). We know from Scriptures that God's throne is established on justice (Psalm 89:14). Mercy is a form of "non-justice", since it is dispensed not out of obligation, but by God's choice to do so. Sproul then notes that anything outside those two circles spells "injustice", which as we've already noted, is impossible for God.   

Distinctions of God's mercy

    God's mercy is so rich, so wonderful, so comforting. We could draw out several distinctions and shades that Scripture presents to us about this attribute of God. As I study God's Word, I find at least four subheadings that summarize for us God's mercy.

1. God's elective mercy.

2. God's saving mercy.

3. God's providential mercy.

4. God's tender mercies. 

    I'll define each of these, and then give representative Scriptures. 

1. God's elective mercy.

    We find that "God's purpose of grace" in Sovereign election is rooted in His mercy. Some 100 times we find reference to Divine election in the Bible, whether corporate election (the nation of Israel, Deuteronomy 7:7-9), Messianic election (concerning Jesus Christ, Isaiah 49:5-6), or individual election unto salvation (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-5). All three sorts have God's mercy as their motivation. 

    The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 alludes to this point in its fifth article,

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable."

    All sinners deserve justice (Romans 3:23). Due to Adam's sin, all of us inherited his sin, his guilt, and condemnation due to he being their representative before God in the Garden of Eden (Romans 5:18a). Its not judgment that ought to shock us, but God's mercy! 

    God's elective mercy teaches that He chose, before time began, specific persons out of all humanity because of His mercy (John 1:13; Romans 9:14-15; Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Tim 1:9). He chose Israel out of all the nations, for the sake of His mercy (Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Romans 11). God chose the human bloodline leading from Adam to Noah to Shem to Abraham to David to the virgin Mary. He singled out that bloodline, as opposed to all others, to bring forth the eternal Son in true humanity, and thus to reveal His mercy. This first mercy of God ought to cause humility, thankfulness, and dependance on God. 

2. God's saving mercy.

    God's saving mercy flows as a mighty stream from His eternal mercy described by His elective mercy. We must emphasize that the Gospel of Jesus' finished work on the cross is to be communicated indiscriminately to all individuals, without exception. God's elective mercy reminds us of why anyone would believe on Jesus Christ. God's saving mercy is extended to all people, urging each of them to repent and to believe the Gospel. In the Biblical record, there is no conflict between the two expressions of mercy. 

    God's mercy, flowing from the cross, touches all human beings historically as an established fact of God's well-meant offer of mercy and forgiveness to them (Romans 15:9; 1 Peter 2:10). God's mercy is also shone into the hearts of sinners that, upon their awakening, respond freely to the saving mercy personally brought to them (John 16:8-12; 1 Peter 1:3). The only reason anyone responds to the Gospel is due to God's mercy (Titus 3:5). This is where sinners are urged to cry out to God "be merciful to me, a sinner". 

3. God's Providential mercies.

    This third sub-division of God's mercy pertains to those mercies He bestows indiscrimately on all people - whether believer or unbeliever. Psalm 145:3 reminds us of how God displays His mercy "over all His works" - whether works of redemption in the lives of saints or in providence for all people. No one can claim they never had contact or some sort of hint that God was a merciful God. The entirety of Psalm 107 gives detailed example of how God bestows general, providential mercy on those is distress, in rebellion, in prison, and other type of difficulties. Jesus Himself teaches about God's common grace, or what we are refering to here as God's "providential mercy" (Matthew 5:45, compare Paul's words recorded in Acts 14:17). 

4. God's tender mercies.

    This fourth category of mercy is reserved for believers. Psalm 103:4 and its New Testament counterpart in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 enshrine this particular expression of God's mercy to the redeemed. Such mercy supports, sustain, encourages, uplifts, energizes, and refocuses the people of God in times where they are overwhelmed, weak in faith, and discouraged. The phrase "sure mercies of David" or "mercies of David" is a catch-phrase to point us toward such tender mercies (2 Chronicles 6:42; Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:34). Jeremiah captures the definitive description of tender mercies in Lamentations 3:22-24,

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him."

    God's mercy is certainly an attribute worthy of our focus, praise, and thanksgiving. 

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