An Examination of the Mercy of God
By: Zac Costello
When we examine the perfect and unfathomable attributes of God, it can be difficult with finite words and finite minds to do justice to an infinite, self-existent being. However, such is the task I have undertaken: To examine the mercy of God…in 3 pages or less.
In undertaking this task, I will present 3 biblical arguments regarding the mercy of God. Firstly, I will cover the fact that mercy must be examined in light of the wrath of God. Secondly, I will show God’s mercy to be sovereign, that is, dispensed according to His will. And thirdly, I will show that apart from the mercy of God, salvation is impossible.
As Steve Lawson has illustrated, one cannot truly understand the good news of the Gospel and salvation without understanding the bad news. He gives the illustration of the display of beautiful diamonds in a jewelry store. It can be difficult to see all the beauty of a particular diamond, until the jeweler removes it from the shimmering case and places a piece of black velvet behind it. The backdrop of the velvet reveals the incredible beauty of the stone, seemingly bursting with majesty that was yet unseen. Such is the case with the mercy of God. I have heard it said that while grace can be thought of as receiving that which one does not deserve, but that mercy can be thought of as one not receiving what they do deserve.
Scripture declares unequivocally that what we all do deserve as Adam’s fallen offspring is the wrath of God. At the Fall, God cursed the whole creation (Gen. 3:16-19). Due to Adam’s failure and sin, everyone born thereafter was born under this curse and tainted with original sin from birth (Psalm 51:5). Hence, being born with a sin nature and at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7-8), we are all by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). This is the “black velvet” upon which we must understand God’s mercy. “Mercy is His decision not to pour out wrath on all people, but to provide forgiveness of some. If we are not clear on the depth of our fallenness, then both mercy and grace become things we are owed or do not even need because we have not committed cosmic treason in our sinning” 1. It is essential for the sinner to understand the depth of his depravity before he can see the greatness of the Lord’s mercy.
The objection of many remains however that God must be merciful to all. “Everyone deserves a second chance!” they will cry, However, such a bold and arrogant claim defies the very definition of mercy. If mercy can be demanded, then it is no longer mercy, but rather has become something one can earn or merit. Would those same objectors declare the same obligation upon an earthly king or judge? Of course not, quite the opposite in fact. When questioned, those same complainers would agree that if a judge were to be “merciful” to all guilty criminals in his court room in an act of “mercy”, then that judge would be deemed unjust. This earthly example falls short in comparison to the ultimate judge of all the earth who can only do what is right as Abraham declared (Gen. 18:25).
Far above any earthly judge, being omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign creator who knows the hearts of men, God is able and allowed to dispense His mercy freely according to His sovereign pleasure upon whomever He wishes. Such is the revelation of God concerning the example of Rebekah’s twins in Rom. 9:12-23: 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.
No other scripture more clearly reveals the truth that God’s mercy is sovereign! But is there injustice with God? Certainly not. His mercy is given according to His perfect and holy character, which is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4). He is so rich in mercy and unfathomably patient. God endures the wicked and the tireless persecution they perpetrate against His people so that those in His presence cry out in a loud voice saying “How long, O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:10). So not only do we see the sovereignty of God’s mercy bestowed upon many sons of glory, but also temporal mercy and delay of judgment against the wicked, even while they mock and hate Him. RC Sproul said: “The greatest distortion in our thinking, dear friends, is thinking that God owes us mercy.” 2
Lastly we declare that apart from the mercy of God, salvation is impossible. This of course goes hand in hand with the sovereignty of said mercy. For apart from God’s mercy we would all get exactly what we deserve. Since all have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), we are all guilty of cosmic treason and have earned our wages, which Rom. 6:23 declares is eternal death. Apart from the mercy of God, we would be left alone in the state of Rom. 3:10-12, that none of us are righteous, and none of us would seek for God, but instead would be consumed by the darkness we love (John 3:19). But praise God the story does not end there!
Although we deserve to be left in the sin which we love by nature, God declares in the second half of Rom. 6:23 that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”! And this God, who is rich in mercy, even while we were dead in our sins and trespasses, by the power of His Holy Spirit through the power of the Gospel, made us alive together with Christ! And we shout with the Apostle Paul, “by grace you have been saved!” We deserved to be left dead at the bottom of the sea, rotting in our trespasses and sins. We walked in them, followed the course of this world, and followed the prince of the power of the air as sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-2). But God chose to do something incredible in His unsearchable ways and immeasurable mercy. He did not give us what we deserve! Instead, he proved that apart from His mercy, salvation is impossible. That mercy was demonstrated as God the eternal Son, in an act according to the eternal covenant of redemption, willingly condescended, and shone forth as the light of the world. The eternal Word through whom all things were created humbled Himself in humiliation even to the point of death upon a cross for all of those whom the Father had given Him in eternity past. On that great day, God the Father did not give us what we deserve, but instead according to His mercy, poured out His wrath upon God the Son. He then died and rose again, granting eternal life and justification for all those untied to Him by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone and to the praise of His glorious grace and mercy. Praise the Triune God that I have not been given what I deserve.