The Attributes of God
by Arthur W. Pink
The Mercy of God
"O give thanks unto the Lord: for He is good: for His
mercy endures forever" (Psalm 136:1). For this perfection of the divine
character, God is greatly to be praised. Three times over in as many verses
does the Psalmist here call upon the saints to give thanks unto the Lord for
this adorable attribute. And surely this is the least that can be asked for
from those who have been recipients of such bounty. When we contemplate the
characteristics of this divine excellency, we cannot do otherwise than bless
God for it. His mercy is "great" (1 Kings 3:6), "plenteous" (Psalm
86:5), "tender" (Luke 1:78), "abundant" (1 Peter 1:3); it is "from
everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:17). Well may
we say with the Psalmist, "I will sing aloud of Your mercy" (59:16).
"I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will
proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and will be gracious to whom I
will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exo
33:19). Wherein differs the "mercy" of God from His "grace"? The mercy of
God has its spring in the divine goodness. The first issue of God's goodness
is His benignity or bounty, by which He gives liberally to His creatures as
creatures; thus has He given being and life to all things. The second issue
of God's goodness is His mercy, which denotes the ready inclination of God
to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, mercy presupposes sin.
Though it may not be easy at the first consideration to
perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, it helps
us thereto if we carefully ponder His dealings with the unfallen angels. He
has never exercised mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need
thereof, not having sinned or come beneath the effects of the curse. Yet,
they certainly are the objects of God's free and sovereign grace.
First, because of His election of them from out of the
whole angelic race (1 Tim 5:21).
Secondly, and in consequence of their election, because
of His preservation of them from apostasy, when Satan rebelled and dragged
down with him one-third of the celestial multitude (Rev 12:4).
Thirdly, in making Christ their Head (Col 2:10; 1 Peter
3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the holy condition in which
they were created.
Fourthly, because of the exalted position which has been
assigned them: to live in God's immediate presence (Dan 7:10), to serve Him
constantly in His heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from Him
(Heb 1:14). This is abundant grace toward them; but "mercy" it is not.
In endeavoring to study the mercy of God as it is set
forth in Scripture, a threefold distinction needs to be made, if the Word of
Truth is to be "rightly divided" thereon.
First, there is a general mercy of God, which is
extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to
the entire creation: "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm
145:9); "He gives to all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25). God
has pity upon the brute creation in their need, and supplies them with
Secondly, there is a special mercy of God, which
is exercised toward the children of men, helping and supporting them,
notwithstanding their sins. To them also He communicates all the necessities
of life: "for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt 5.45).
Thirdly, there is a sovereign mercy which is
reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a
covenant way, through the Mediator.
Following out a little further the difference between the
second and third distinctions pointed out above, it is important to note
that the mercies which God bestows on the wicked are solely of a temporal
nature; that is to say, they are confined strictly to this present life.
There will be no mercy extended to them beyond the grave: "It is a people of
no understanding: therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them,
and He who formed them will show them no favor" (Isa 27.11). But at this
point a difficulty may suggest itself to some of our readers, namely, Does
not Scripture affirm that "His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 136:1)? Two
things need to be pointed out in that connection. God can never cease to be
merciful, for this is a quality of the divine essence (Psalm 116:5); but the
exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will. This must
be so, for there is nothing outside Himself which obliges Him to act; if
there were, that "something" would be supreme, and God would cease to be
It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the
exercise of divine mercy. God expressly affirms this fact in Romans 9:15, "I
will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." It is not the wretchedness
of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not
influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by
the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them.
But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so
to do. Still less is it the merits of the creatures which causes Him
to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of
meriting "mercy." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but
according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5)—the one standing in direct
antithesis to the other. Nor is it the merit of Christ which moves God to
bestow mercies on His elect: that would be substituting the effect for the
cause. It is "through" or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ
was sent here to His people (Luke 1:78). The merits of Christ make it
possible for God to righteously bestow spiritual mercies on His elect,
justice having been fully satisfied by the Surety! Divine mercy arises
solely from God's imperial pleasure.
Again, though it be true, blessedly and gloriously true,
that God's mercy "endures forever," yet we must observe carefully the
objects to whom His "mercy" is shown. Even the casting of the reprobate into
the Lake of Fire is an act of mercy. The punishment of the wicked is to be
contemplated from a threefold viewpoint. From God's side, it is an act of
justice, vindicating His honor. The mercy of God is never shown to the
prejudice of His holiness and righteousness. From their side, it is an act
of equity, when they are made to suffer the due reward of their iniquities.
But from the standpoint of the redeemed, the punishment of the wicked is an
act of unspeakable mercy. How dreadful would it be if the present order of
things, when the children of God are obliged to live in the midst of the
children of the Devil, should continue forever! Heaven would at once cease
to be heaven if the ears of the saints still heard the blasphemous and
filthy language of the reprobate. What a mercy that in Heaven, "Nothing evil
will be allowed to enter—no one who practices shameful idolatry and
dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of
Life!" (Rev 21:27)
Lest the reader might think in the last paragraph we have
been drawing upon our imagination, let us appeal to Holy Scripture in
support of what has been said. In Psalm 143:12 we find David praying, "And
of Your mercy cut off my enemies, and destroy all those who afflict my soul:
for I am Your servant." Again, in Psalm 136:15 we read that God "overthrew
Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea—for His mercy endures forever." It was
an act of vengeance upon Pharaoh and his army, but it was an act of mercy
unto the Israelites.
Again, in Revelation 19:1-3 we read: "After this I heard
what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and
just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted
the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his
servants. And again they shouted—Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for
ever and ever."
From what has just been before us, let us note how vain
is the presumptuous hope of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their continued
defiance of God, nevertheless count upon His being merciful to them. How
many there are who say, I do not believe that God will ever cast me into
Hell; He is too merciful. Such a hope is a viper, which if cherished in
their bosoms will sting them to death. God is a God of justice as
well as mercy, and He has expressly declared that He will "by no
means clear the guilty" (Exo 34:7). Yes, He has said, "The wicked shall be
turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:17). As well
might men reason thus: I do not believe that if filth is allowed to
accumulate and sewage become stagnant and people deprive themselves of fresh
air, that a merciful God will let them fall a prey to a deadly fever. The
fact is that those who neglect the laws of health are carried away by
disease, notwithstanding God's mercy. Equally true is it that those who
neglect the laws of spiritual health, shall forever suffer the second death.
Unspeakably solemn is it to see so many abusing this
divine perfection. They continue to despise God's authority, trample upon
His laws, continue in sin—and yet presume upon His mercy! But God will not
be unjust to Himself. God shows mercy to the truly penitent, but not to the
impenitent (Luke 13:3). To continue in sin and yet reckon upon divine mercy
remitting punishment is diabolical. It is saying, "Let us do evil that good
may come," and of all such it is written that their "damnation is just" (Rom
3:8). Presumption shall most certainly be disappointed; read carefully
Deuteronomy 29:18-20. Christ is the spiritual Mercy seat, and all who
despise and reject His Lordship shall "be destroyed in your way, for his
wrath can flare up in a moment" (Psalm 2:12).
But let our final thought be of God's spiritual mercies
unto His own people. "Your mercy is great unto the heavens" (Psalm 57:10).
The riches thereof transcend our loftiest thought. "For as the heaven is
high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him"
(Psalm 103:11). None can measure it. The elect are designated "vessels of
mercy" (Rom 9:23). It is mercy which quickened them when they were dead in
sins (Eph 2:4,5). It is mercy which saves them (Titus 3:5). It is His
abundant mercy which begat them unto an eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:3).
Time would fail us to tell of His preserving, sustaining, pardoning,
supplying mercy. Unto His own, God is "the Father of mercies" (2 Cor 1:3).
"When all Your mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I'm lost,
In wonder, love, and praise."