Trusting in God's Mercy
Text.--Ps. 52:8: "I will trust in the mercy of God forever and ever."
In discussing this subject I shall enquire,
I. What mercy is.
II. What is implied in trusting in the mercy of the Lord forever.
III. Point out the conditions on which we may safely trust in God's mercy.
IV. Allude to several mistakes which are made on this subject.
I. What mercy is.
II. I am to show what is implied in trusting in the mercy of God.
Thus a man on trial before a civil court, so long as he pleads justifications and excuses, appeals to justice; but if he goes before the court and pleads guilty, offering no justification or apology whatever, he throws himself upon the clemency of the court. This is quite another thing from self-justification. It sometimes happens that in the same trial, the accused party tries both expedients. He first attempts his own defense; but finding this vain, he shifts his position, confesses his crime and ill desert, and throws himself upon the mercy of the court. Perhaps he begs the court to commend him to the mercy of the executive in whom is vested the pardoning power.
Now it is always understood that when a man pleads guilty he desists from making excuses, and appeals only to mercy. So in any private matter with my neighbor. If I justify myself fully, I surely have no confession to make. But if I am conscious of having done him wrong, I freely confess my wrong, and appeal to mercy. Self-justification stands right over against confession.
So in parental discipline. If your child sternly justifies himself, he makes no appeal to mercy. But the moment when he casts himself upon your bosom with tears, and says, I am all wrong, he ceases to make excuses, and trusts himself to mercy. So in the government of God. Trust in mercy is a final giving up of all reliance upon justice. You have no more excuses; you make none.
III. We must next consider the conditions upon which we may confidently and securely trust in the mercy of God forever.
Perhaps no measure of government is more delicate and difficult in its bearings than the exercise of mercy. It is a most critical point. There is eminent danger of making the impression that mercy would trample down law. The very thing that mercy does is to set aside the execution of the penalty of law; the danger is lest this should seem to set aside the law itself. The great problem is, How can the law retain its full majesty, the execution of its penalty being entirely withdrawn? This is always a difficult and delicate matter.
In human governments we often see great firmness exercised by the magistrate. During the scenes of the American Revolution, Washington was earnestly importuned to pardon Andre. The latter was eminently an amiable, lovely man; and his case excited a deep sympathy in the American army. Numerous and urgent petitions were made to Washington in his behalf; but no, Washington could not yield. They besought him to see Andre, in hope that a personal interview might touch his heart; but he refused even to see him. He dared not trust his own feelings. He felt that this was a great crisis, and that a nation's welfare was in peril. Hence his stern unyielding decision. It was not that he lacked compassion of soul. He had a heart to feel. But under the circumstances, he knew too well that no scope must be given to the indulgence of his tender sympathies. He dared not gratify these feelings, lest a nation's ruin should be the penalty.
Such cases have often occurred in human governments, when every feeling of the soul is on the side of mercy and makes its strong demand for indulgence; but justice forbids.
Often in family government, the parent has an agonizing trial; he would sooner bear the pain himself thrice told than to inflict it upon his son; but interests of perhaps infinite moment are at stake, and must not be put in peril by the indulgence of his compassions.
Now if the exercise of mercy in such cases is difficult, how much more so in the government of God? Hence the first condition of the exercise of mercy is that something be done to meet the demands of public justice. It is absolutely indispensable that law be sustained. However much disposed God may be to pardon, yet he is too good to exercise mercy on any such conditions or under any such circumstances as will impair the dignity of his law, throw out a license to sin, and open the very flood-gates of iniquity. Jehovah never can do this. He knows he never ought to.
On this point it only need be said at present, that this difficulty is wholly removed by the atonement of Christ.
Suppose a man convicted and sentenced to be hung. He petitions the governor for pardon, but is too proud to confess, at least in public. "May it please your Honor," he says, "between you and me, I am willing to say that I com mitted that crime alleged against me, but you must not ask me to make this confession before the world. You will have some regard to my feelings and to the feelings of my numerous and very respectable friends. Before the world therefore I shall persist in denying the crime. I trust however that you will duly consider all the circumstances and grant me a pardon." Pardon you! miscreant, the governor would say--pardon you when you are condemning the whole court and jury of injustice, and the witnesses of falsehood; pardon you while you set yourself against the whole administration of justice in the state? never! never! You are too proud to take your own place and appear in your own character; how can I rely on you to be a good citizen--how can I expect you to be anything better than an arch villain?
Let it be understood then that before we can trust in the mercy of God, we must really repent and make our confession as public as we have made our crime.
Suppose again that a man is convicted and sues for pardon, but will not confess at all. O, he says, I have no crimes to confess; I have done nothing particularly wrong; the reason of my acting as I have is that I have a desperately wicked heart. I cannot repent and never could. I don't know how it happens that I commit murder so easily; it seems to be a second nature to me to kill my neighbor; I can't help it. I am told that you are very good, very merciful; he says to the governor; they even say that you are love itself, and I believe it; you surely will grant me a pardon then, it will be so easy for you--and it is so horrible for me to be hung. You know I have done only a little wrong, and that little only because I could not help it; you certainly cannot insist upon my making any confession. What! have me hung because I don't repent? You certainly are too kind to do any such thing.
I don't thank you for your good opinion of me, must be the indignant reply; the law shall take its course; your path is to the gallows.
See that sinner; hear him mock God in his prayer: "trust in the mercy of God, for God is love." Do you repent? "I don't know about repentance--that is not the question; God is love--God is too good to send men to hell; they are Partialists and slander God who think that he ever sends any body to hell." Too good! you say; too good! so good that he will forgive whether the sinner repents or not; too good to hold the reins of his government firmly; too good to secure the best interests of his vast kingdom! Sinner, the God you think of is a being of your own crazy imagination--not the God who built the prison of despair for hardened sinners--not the God who rules the universe by righteous law and our race also on a gospel system which magnifies that law and makes it honorable.
See that man of the world. His whole business career is a course of over-reaching. He slyly thrusts his hands into his neighbor's pockets and thus fills up his own. His rule is uniformly to sell for more than a thing is worth and buy for less. He knows how to monopolize and make high prices, and then sell out his accumulated stocks. His mind is forever on the stretch to manage and make good bargains. But this man at last must prepare to meet God. So he turns to his money to make it answer all things. He has a large gift for God. Perhaps he will build a church or send a missionary--something pretty handsome at least to buy a pardon for a life about which his conscience is not very easy. Yes, he has a splendid bribe for God. Ah, but will God take it? Never! God burns with indignation at the thought. Does God want your price of blood--those gains of oppression? Go and give them back to the suffering poor whose cries have gone up to God against you. O shame to think to filch from thy brother and give to God! not merely rob Peter to pay Paul, but rob man to pay God! The pardon of your soul is not bought so!
Suppose there is a villain in our neighborhood who has become the terror of all the region round about. He has already murdered a score of defenseless women and children; burns down our houses by night, plunders and robs daily; and every day brings tidings of his crimes at which every ear tingles. None feel safe a moment. He is an arch and bloody villain. At last he is arrested; and we all breathe more easily. Peace is restored. But this miscreant having received sentence of death, petitions for pardon. He professes no penitence whatever, and makes not even a promise of amendment; yet the governor is about to give him a free pardon. If he does it, who will not say, He ought to be hung up himself by the neck till he is dead, dead! But what does that sinner say? "I trust," says he, "in the great mercy of God. I have nothing to fear." But does he reform? No. What good can the mercy of God do him if he does not reform?
Mark that convicted criminal. He doesn't believe that government has any right to take life for any crime; he demurs utterly to the justice of such a proceeding, and on this ground insists that he must have a pardon. Will he get it? Will the governor take a position which is flatly opposed to the very law and constitution which he is sworn to sustain? Will he crush the law to save one criminal, or even a thousand criminals? Not if he has the spirit of a ruler in his bosom. That guilty man if he would have mercy from the execution must admit the right of the law and of the penalty. Else he arrays himself against the law and cannot be trusted in the community.
Now hear that sinner. How much he has to say against his ill desert, and against the justice of eternal punishment. He denounces the laws of God as cruelly and unrighteously severe. Sinner, do you suppose God can forgive you while you pursue such a course? He would as soon repeal His law and vacate his throne. You make it impossible for God to forgive you.
Suppose a criminal should plead that there had been a conspiracy to waylay and arrest him--that witnesses had been bribed to give false testimony--that the judge had charged the jury falsely, or that the jury had given an unrighteous verdict; could he hope by such false allegations to get a pardon? Nay verily. Such a man cannot be trusted to sustain law and order in a community, under any government, human or divine.
But hear that sinner complain and cavil. Why, he says, did God suffer sin and temptation to enter this world at all? Why does God let the sinner live at all to incur a doom so dreadful? And why does God block up the sinner's path by his providence, and cut him down in his sins? Yet this very sinner talks about trusting in God's mercy! Indeed; while all the time he is accusing God of being an infinite tyrant and of seeking to crush the helpless, unfortunate sinner! What do these cavils mean? What are they but the uplifted voice of a guilty rebel arraigning his Maker for doing good and showing mercy to his own rebellious creatures? For it needs but a moment's thought to see that the temptation complained of is only a good placed before a moral agent to melt his heart by love. Yet against this the sinner murmurs, and pours out his complaints against God. Be assured that unless you are willing to go the full length of justifying all God does, he never can give you pardon. God has no option to pardon a self-justifying rebel. The interests of myriads of moral beings forbid his doing it. When you will take the ground most fully of justifying God, and condemning yourself, you place yourself where mercy can reach you, and then it surely will. Not before.
IV. We now notice some mistakes into which many fall.
If we ask for but little mercy, we shall get none at all. This may seem strange, but is none the less true. If we get any thing we must ask for great blessings. Suppose a man deserved to be hung, and yet asks only for a little favor; suppose he should say so, can he be forgiven? No. He must confess the whole of his guilt in its full and awful form, and show that he feels it in his very soul. So, sinner, must you come and confess your whole guilt as it is, or have no mercy. Come and get down, low, lower, infinitely low before God--and take mercy there. Hear that Universalist. All he can say at first is, "I thank God for a thousand things." But he begins to doubt whether this is quite enough. Perhaps he needs a little more punishment than he has suffered in this life; he sees a little more guilt; so he prays that God would let him off from ten years of deserved punishment in hell. And if he sees a little more guilt, he asks for a reprieve from so much more of punishment. If truth flashes upon his soul and he sees his own heart and life in the light of Jehovah's law, he gets down lower and lower, as low as he can, and pours out his prayer that God would save him from that eternal hell which he deserves. "O," he cries out, "can God forgive so great a sinner!" Yes, and by so much the more readily, by how much the more you humble yourself, and by how much the greater mercy you ask and feel that you need. Only come down and take such a position that God can meet you. Recollect the prodigal son, and that father running, falling on his neck, weeping, welcoming, forgiving! O! how that father's heart gushed with tenderness!
It is not the greatness of your sins, but your pride of heart that forbids your salvation. It is not anything in your past life, but it is your present state of mind that makes your salvation impossible. Think of this.
You need not wait to use means with God to persuade him to save you. He is using means with you to persuade you to be saved. You act as if God could scarcely be moved by any possible entreaties and submissions to exercise mercy; Oh, you do not see how his great heart beats with compassion and presses the streams of mercy forth in all directions, pouring the river of the waters of life at your very feet, creating such a pressure of appeal to your heart, that you have to brace yourself against it, lest you should be persuaded to repent. O, do you see how God would fain persuade you, and break your heart in penitence, that He may bring you where He can reach you with forgiving mercy--where He can come and bless you without resigning his very throne!
To deny your desert of endless punishment is to render your salvation utterly impossible. God never can forgive you on this ground, because you are trying to be saved on the score of justice. You could not make your damnation more certain than you thus make it, if you were to murder every man you meet. You tie up the hands of mercy and will not let her pluck you from the jaws of death. It is as if your house were on fire, and you seize your loaded rifle to shoot down every man that comes with his bucket to help you. You stand your ground amid the raging element until you sink beneath the flames. Who can help you? What is that man doing who is trying to make his family believe Universalism? It is as if he would shoot his rifle at the very heart of Mercy every time she comes in view. He seems determined to drive off Mercy, and for this end plies all the enginery of Universalism, and throws himself into the citadel of this refuge of lies! O! what a work of death is this! Mercy shall not reach him or his family; so he seems determined--and Mercy cannot come. See how she bends from heaven--Jehovah smiles in love--and weeps in pity--and bends from the very clouds and holds out the pierced hand of the crucified One--But no! I don't deserve the punishment; away with the insult of a pardon offered through mere mercy! What can be more fatal, more damning, more ruinous to the soul?
You see very clearly why all are not saved. It is not because God is not willing to save all, but because they defeat the efforts God makes to save them. They betake themselves to every possible refuge and subterfuge; resist conviction of guilt, and repel every call of mercy. What ails those young men? What are they doing? Has God come down in His red wrath and vengeance, that they should rally all their might to oppose Him? O, no, He has only come in mercy--this is all--and they are fighting against his mercy, not his just retributions of vengeance. If this were his awful arm of vengeance, you would bow right soon, or break beneath its blow. But God's mercy comes in its soft whispers, (would you but realize it) it comes to win your heart--and what are you doing? You band yourselves together to resist its calls--you invent a thousand excuses--you run together to talk, and talk away all solemn thought--you run to some infidel or Universalist to find relief for an uneasy conscience. Ah, sinner this can do you no good. You flee away from God--why? What's the matter? Is God pouring down the floods of his great wrath? No, no; but Mercy has come, and would fain gather you under her outspread wings where storms of wrath can never come. But no, the sinner pleads against it--cavils, runs, fights, repels the angel of mercy--dashes from his lips the waters of life. Sinner, this scene is soon to close. The time is short. Soon God comes--death shakes his dart--that young man is sick--hear his groans. Are you going to die, my young friend? Are you ready? O, I don't know, I am in great pain. O! O! how can I live so? Alas, how can I die? I can't attend to it now--too late--too late! Indeed, young man, you are in weakness now. God's finger has touched you. O, if I could only tell you some of the death-bed scenes which I have witnessed--if I could make you see them, and hear the deep wailings of unutterable agony as the soul quivered, shuddered, and fain would shrink away into annihilation from the awful eye--and was swept down swift to hell! Those are the very men who ran away from mercy! Mercy could not reach them, but death can. Death seizes its victim. See, he drags the frightened shrieking soul to the gate-way of hell; how that soul recoils--groans--what an unearthly groan--and he is gone! The sentence of execution has gone out and there is no reprieve. That sinner would not have mercy when he might; now he cannot when he would. All is over now.
Dying sinner, you may just as well have mercy today as not. All your past sins present no obstacle at all if you only repent and take the offered pardon. Your God proffers you life. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in your death, turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" Why will you reject such offered life? And will you still persist? Be astonished, O ye heavens! Indeed if there ever was anything that filled the universe with astonishment, it is the sinner's rejection of mercy. Angels were astonished when they saw the Son of God made flesh, and when they saw him nailed to a tree--how much more now to see the guilty sinner, doomed to hell, yet spurning offered pardon! What do they see! That sinner putting off and still delaying and delaying still, until--what? Until the last curtain falls, and the great bell tolls, tolls, tolls the awful knell of the sinner's death eternal! Where is that sinner? Follow him--down he goes, weeping, wailing, along the sides of the pit--he reaches his own final home; in "his own place," now and forevermore! Mercy followed him to the last verge of the precipice, and could no longer. She has done her part.
What if a spirit from glory should come and speak to you five minutes--a relative, say--perhaps your mother--what would she say? Or a spirit from that world of despair--O could such a one give utterance to the awful realities of that prison house, what would he say? Would he tell you that the preacher has been telling you lies? Would he say, don't be frightened by these made-up tales of horror? O, no, but that the half has not been told you and never can be. O, how he would press you if he might to flee from the wrath to come!
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
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