Prayer for Divine Mercy!
William Nicholson, 1862
"O satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." Psalm 90:14
In prayer the mind ought always to be in a state suitable for that important exercise:
a deep sense of our sinfulness and impotency;
an abiding conviction that we are frail and dying, and every moment liable to be called from time into eternity;
and a full and constant assurance that God's mercy, through Christ, is unbounded, and adapted to prepare us for all exigencies.
This is the state of mind necessary for sincere, fervent, and successful prayer.
The mind of Moses was in such a frame, as this Psalm sufficiently indicates. The preceding verses declare life to be short, uncertain, and full of sorrow — and no Christian can attentively read them without feeling the force and appropriateness of his prayer, "O satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
I. That Man Needs Divine Mercy.
This is uniformly stated by the sacred penman, but it will appear more obvious by considering the circumstances in which man is placed:
(1.) As a sinner. Stated verse 7 and 8, "We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence!"
Here man is recognized as a sinner in his relationship to the Divine Being — his Creator, Benefactor, and as his Governor and Lawgiver. By his "iniquities" and his "secret sins," he is represented as a transgressor of that law which is "holy, just, and good." He has resisted God's authority, despised his counsels, and followed the devices of his own corrupt heart. Having acted thus, he is exposed to the Divine displeasure, and to the penalty denounced against rebellious men. "We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation!"
For a proof of man's need of mercy, see Romans 3:10-17; Galatians 3:10. "Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil!" Isaiah 1:5-6
Man is . . .
guilty — and needs pardon;
condemned — and needs justification;
impure — and needs righteousness and holiness;
a wanderer, an outcast — and needs reconciliation and adoption;
an heir of wrath, exposed to perdition — and needs salvation and a title to Heaven.
These things he cannot procure for himself, for he has no merit; nor by the intervention of any human being, for "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." View man
(2.) As frail and mortal. This is the state of all, and it is the fruit of sin. Look at your frail, decaying body . . .
how it sickens and languishes;
how it is pained and agonized;
how its bloom and its strength depart;
how it withers and dies, and "says to corruption, you are my father — and to the worm, you are my mother!" Job 17:14
All this has been produced by sin! "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin — and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned!" Romans 5:12
Most affecting representations of man's frailty and mortality are given by Moses in the context.
Man is destined to return to dust, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19. "Remember him, before . . . the dust returns to the ground it came from." Ecclesiastes 12:6-7.
His life is a dying one, "You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning — though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered!" Psalm 90:5-6
"You carry them away as with a flood," ever gliding down the stream of time into the ocean of eternity; the flood of mortality is ever flowing, and he is carried away with it — carried with it surely and irresistibly.
Time passes unobserved by him (they are as asleep, verse 5), as it does with people asleep, and dreaming of happiness and security — and when it is over, it is as nothing.
His life is short and transient, "The length of our days is seventy years — or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away!" Psalm 90:10. See also verses 5, 6. He resembles the "grass," which in the morning grows up and flourishes in its beautiful greenness, but which in the evening is cut down, and instantly withers, changes its color, and loses all its beauty. So it will be with man. "You always overpower them, and they pass from the scene. You disfigure them in death and send them away!" Job 14:20
Come, then, O man, and behold your picture! You are a sinner, and perdition is your prospect — the blackness of darkness forever. You are "like grass." This is the emblem of your life and of all your works! "Grass!" Not the strong and enduring tree of the forest; not even the shrub, but "grass," which flourishes in the morning, and by evening it is dry and withered.
"All the glory of man," all that beautifies and adorns his life, all that is beauty to the eye, or gives pleasure to the senses — is still more frail; it does not endure the life of the short-lived plant, which arrays itself in its beauty. "The grass withers," etc.
How short-lived the glory of your physical nature! Youth, beauty, strength, intellect, energy — are fast failing you! The wind of sickness, or cares, or toil, or old age — will pass over them, and they will be entirely gone! A frost shall lay the flower in the dust — or a blight may leave its withered remains to shiver on the stem — just so, with frail man!
Observe the flowers which remind us most of the bloom of Eden, and which shed their delightful fragrance on the path of life:
the happy social hearth;
the friendships founded on virtue;
the hallowed domestic relationships;
the fellowship of saints.
Separation by death changes all these scenes! Loneliness and solitude follow — the place of many, knows them no more.
Behold the cemeteries around you — they cover the generations of short-lived men.
Like the herbage of the season, life and death have trodden in each other's footsteps, and the career of each goes on. Death is at the heels of life, cutting down its present plans, and sternly trampling into dust its constant but vain creations. "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall." 1 Peter 1:24
"It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment!" Hebrews 9:27
From these two statements, man a sinner, frail and dying, it is evident that he needs mercy — mercy to restore his soul to the favor of God, and his body from the effects of mortality, and to raise it to an endless glorious life.
II. That Divine Mercy Has Been Manifested, and Is Adapted to the Circumstances of Sinners.
"What must we do to be saved?" To this question human reason has never succeeded in rendering a satisfactory answer. It has failed in every attempt to form a religious system that shall meet the case, and satisfy the conscience of man. This question has been asked amid the untutored simplicity of nature, and amid the refinement of cultivated society. The savage has paused amid his wild pursuits, to ponder his relation to the mighty spirit. The philosopher, in his profound inquiries into the moral laws of the universe, has cast his line into "the deep profound," that lies in half-unveiled obscurity between earth and Heaven. But both the attempts have failed. The only result has been, that the savage has deified an impersonation of his own passions — and the philosopher has been compelled to give in to the popular creed, absurd and unsatisfying as he may think it to be; or to adopt the dreary alternative of unmitigated and uninquiring atheism. "The world by wisdom knew not God."
However, we are not left to the futility of vain man. "We have a more sure word of prophecy, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place!" 2 Peter 1:19. "God, who at sundry times, has in these last days spoken to us by His son." Hebrews 1:1-3.
He is called "the Mercy promised to the Fathers," Luke 1:72; and the fathers derived their salvation and felicity through him, as by faith they saw his salvation symbolized in every shadow and type, and exhibited in every prediction. He was the "light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel." Hence, Simeon sang in the temple, as he clasped the Redeemer in his arms:
"Now I can leave this world (he cried),
Behold your servant dies;
I've seen your great salvation, Lord,
And close my peaceful eyes.
"This is the light prepared to shine
Upon the Gentile lands;
Your Israel's glory and their hope,
To break their slavish bands."
(1.) Mercy is a very comprehensive term, implying the pity, compassion, love, and favor of God — to fallen and ruined man. It implies all that pity, grace, and help, which the circumstances of ruined man require. Mercy is the glorious attribute of Jehovah, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion!" Exodus 33:19. "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." Exodus 34:6-7
(2.) This mercy flows to man through the mediation of Christ. Through the mediation of Christ, the Divine substitute for sinners, who "died the just for the unjust to bring them to God," "bearing their iniquities in his own body on the tree" — a way was opened for the exercise of mercy to guilty rebels, consistent with the honor of the Divine law, and all the perfections of Deity. For now "God is just in justifying the ungodly who believe in Jesus," in virtue of whose atoning sacrifice he has promised to be "merciful to their unrighteousness," etc. Hebrews 8:12.
(3.) This mercy, it will be seen, is adapted to the circumstances of the sinner. Here is . . .
an atonement for his guilt,
pardon for his sins,
purity and righteousness for his vileness,
adoption for the outcast.
And for the frail and dying, Christ is the "resurrection and the life," "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body!" Philippians 3:21, etc.
(4.) This mercy is available, and perfectly free and gratuitous.
III. The Application for Divine Mercy.
The Psalmist prayed for it, "O satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
1. A conviction that divine mercy is necessary. The applicant feels himself to be a lost sinner — one ready to perish. Thoughts of death impress his mind, and he feels he cannot die happily, and pass into eternity with triumph without Divine mercy. Therefore "O satisfy us early with your mercy!"
(2.) It is the application of believing prayer. He does not trust in himself. He perceives the adaptation of the Redeemer's sacrifice to his sinful and lost state, and earnestly prays God to manifest his mercy to him through the finished work of Christ. "O satisfy us early with your mercy" — to pardon my sins — to justify, and to save to the uttermost.
(3.) It is an application for its immediate manifestation. "Satisfy us early." Not at some future time, but now, while we have life, and health, and mental vigor — and while conviction of its importance and necessity is so strong. Sickness may prevent the calm exercise of our rational powers — sin and earthly cares may divert our attention from it, and harden the heart, and death may place Divine mercy beyond our reach. "O satisfy us early," before the harvest is past, and we are not saved!
Let the young utter this prayer. You are like the morning grass, or flower; in the bloom, beauty, and vigor of youth. All will soon fade, and be cut down. "All flesh is grass." "O satisfy us early with your mercy!"
Let the middle-aged utter this prayer. The freshness of the morning flower is partly gone. Physical decay and decrepitude indicate that you "fade like a leaf." The hand of death will soon cut you down. "O satisfy us early with your mercy!"
Let the aged adopt this prayer. It is winter with you. The beauty and vigor of the flower are over! See Ecclesiastes 12. "What you do, do quickly."
IV. Lastly. Divine Mercy Will Satisfy and Produce Joy and Gladness."That we may rejoice and be glad all our days." OBSERVE:
(1.) Divine mercy does that which nothing else can. To produce satisfaction, joy, and gladness — all human expedients fail. Can the world, wealth, carnal pleasures, friends, associates, do this? Impossible! That which is finite, cannot satisfy an immortal spirit.
(2.) Because Divine mercy gives the assurance of salvation, and this produces joy. "The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God — he and his whole family!" Acts 16:34
(3.) Because it is immutable. Divine mercy is not like earthly vanities, which are like grass. See 1 Peter 1:24, 25.
(4.) Because Divine mercy sweetens all the bitters of life. Afflictions, conflicts, trials, sorrows, death, etc.
(5.) Because Divine mercy inspires with the hope of eternal life. "Rejoicing in hope of the glory of God."
(1.) Be thankful for Divine mercy.
(2.) How insensible are men to their best interests! The mercy of God would cause them to "rejoice, and be glad all their days," but they prefer "vanity and vexation of spirit!"