MORAL ATTRIBUTES---No. 3.
MERCY OF GOD
FIRST. Show what Mercy is not.
SECOND. What it is.
THIRD. In what cases it can be exercised.
FOURTH. To what extent.
FIFTH. On what conditions.
SIXTH. That Mercy is an attribute of God.
First. Show what Mercy is not.
1. Not mere goodness. Justice is as much an attribute of goodness as mercy is. A judge is good in proceeding to pass sentence and command the execution of law upon a criminal; but in this there is no mercy.
2. Mercy is not mere grace. Grace is gratuitous favor; something unearned, and of course undeserved.
Second. Show what Mercy is.
Mercy is a disposition to pardon crime. Its exercise consists in the arresting and setting aside the execution of law, when its penalty has been incurred by disobedience. It is in reference to crime the exact opposite of justice. Justice executes the penalty, and mercy pardons or sets aside the execution.
Third. When it can be exercised.
It can be exercised only where there is guilt. An innocent being cannot possibly be the subject of mercy. He may be the subject of benevolence, and of justice; but he cannot be forgiven, unless he has incurred guilt. Hence,
Fourth. To what extent Mercy can be exercised.
It can be exercised no farther than desert of punishment goes. If a man deserves to be punished for one year, or for a thousand years, thus far he may be forgiven, but no farther. All beyond his desert of punishment is justice and not mercy. If a man be sentenced to the state prison for three years, for three years he may be pardoned; but for a longer time he cannot. When his three years are expired, it is justice and not mercy that releases him from farther confinement.
Fifth. On what conditions.
I have said that in respect to crime, mercy and justice are, in their exercise, direct opposites. Of course they can be reconciled with each other only upon certain conditions. The conditions of mercy are always two, and if in any case mercy is exercised without regard to these conditions, injustice is done.
1. Satisfaction must he made to public justice. Public justice is that which the public have a right to demand for their own security in case of a violation of law. Something must be done, that will as effectually secure the public interests, and act as efficiently in the prevention of crime, as the execution would do, or the penalty cannot be set aside by an act of mercy. Where this can be done, however, to the full satisfaction of public justice, mercy and justice are at one.
2. The other condition is, that the subject of it must be in a suitable state of mind.
(1.) He must be fully sensible of his great guilt and desert of punishment. And while he justifies himself in whole or in part, he is not a proper subject for the exercise of mercy.
(2.) He must repent. He must deeply abhor his conduct, and fully justify the government. He must love the law and abhor himself, or he ought not to be forgiven.
(3.) He must be willing to make his confession as public as his crime; and while he is too proud to confess, he is in no state of mind to be forgiven. And should he be forgiven without confession, his pardon would be a virtual condemnation of the law.
(4.) He must forsake his crime and all disposition to repeat it. Should a man confess that he had committed murder, and yet plead his blood thirsty disposition as an excuse, and shamelessly avow the continuance of this disposition, this were an infinitely good reason why he should not be forgiven.
(5.) He must make restitution. While a thief has the stolen property in possession and refuses to restore it, he is in no state of mind to be forgiven. Nor is the fraudulent man, the liar, or any sinner, in a suitable state of mind to be forgiven, until he has done, and is willing to do all within his power, to make restitution in every case of wrong.
(6.) He must justify the law, both precept and penalty. While he condemns either, as unnecessarily strict or severe, it is a denial of his desert of the threatened punishment; and his asking for mercy is, under these circumstances, only a demand of justice; praying that the penalty may be set aside, upon the ground that he does not deserve it.
(7.) He must justify all the measures of government by which he has been brought under condemnation. While he has any excuse to make, any quarrel with the government, any caviling at the precept or penalty of the law, or any objections to those governmental measures that have laid him under the sentence of death, to forgive him under these circumstances were but to justify his cavils, to echo his sentiments, to adopt his principles, to turn against the law, and go against the government. This, in any just government cannot be.
Sixth. Mercy is an attribute of God.
1. That God is merciful, or disposed to pardon sin, when it can be consistently done, must be fairly inferred from the divine forbearance, as manifested in this world.
2. The same may be inferred from the manifestly disciplinary nature and design of many of his providences.
3. All nations have believed that God is merciful, which belief must be founded upon proof everywhere existing of the divine forbearance.
4. We justly infer the mercy of God from the constitution of our own nature. We naturally and necessarily admire and approve of a merciful disposition, while we naturally and necessarily disapprove and abhor an unmerciful disposition. If, therefore, God is not merciful, but unmerciful, we need only to know him to be under the necessity of abhorring him.
5. God must be merciful or unmerciful, and perfectly so; for these being opposite states of mind, can never be exercised by the same being at the same time.
6. If God is merciful or unmerciful he must be infinitely so. As his nature is infinite, so are all his attributes.
7. As a matter of fact, the universe cannot be under the government and providence of an unmerciful being.
8. God's mercy must be unchangeable, as whatever is infinite is unchangeable of course.
9. That God is merciful is an irresistible inference from his benevolence. If God is benevolent, a disposition to forgive, in case the public interests can be made consistent with it, is a thing of course in a benevolent mind.
10. If God is unmerciful, he is so in spite of infinitely and fully perceived motives to the contrary.
11. If God is not merciful, he must abhor himself; as a moral being he cannot help it.
12. If God is unmerciful, it is our duty to abhor him.
13. If he is unmerciful, he must be infinitely miserable; as the feelings of self-reproach and self-condemnation must be infinitely strong in his mind.
The doctrines of Atonement and forgiveness of sin, are but a revelation of the mercy of God. The Bible everywhere ascribes mercy to God, and speaks of its exercise as that in which he has peculiar delight:
Mich. 7:18: "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in MERCY."
Psalms 25:10: "All the paths of the Lord are MERCY and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies."
Psalms 52:8: "I trust in the MERCY of God forever and ever."
Psalms 62:12: "Also unto thee, O Lord belongeth MERCY."
Psalms 86:5: "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in MERCY unto all them that call upon thee."
Psalms 130:7: "With the Lord there is MERCY, and with him is plenteous redemption."
Luke 1:50, 54: "And his MERCY is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his MERCY."
INFERENCES AND REMARKS.
1. If God is infinitely merciful, no sin is too great for forgiveness, if repented of.
2. If he is infinitely merciful, he is just as ready to forgive the greatest as the least sin.
3. If mercy cannot be exercised, but upon the two conditions already specified, but for the Atonement no sin could have been forgiven.
4. Notwithstanding the Atonement, no sin can be forgiven without repentance, reformation, and restitution.
5. Many are deceived in supposing themselves forgiven, who have not confessed and made restitution.
6. Many are shut up in impenitency, by refusing to confess and make restitution.
7. If God is infinitely merciful, we need not wait in the use of means, to move him to the exercise of mercy; as he is continually using means with us to make us willing to accept, or bring us into a state of mind in which it can be consistent for him to exercise mercy.
8. They deny the mercy of God, who say that men are punished according to their deeds, and then go to heaven. This is justice and not mercy. When sinners have been punished according to their deeds, whether in this or any other world, there is no mercy in exempting them from farther punishment. It is justice that gives them a discharge when their term of punishment is completed.
9. To ask or expect pardon, without repentance, forsaking sin, and making restitution, is an insult to God.
10. The necessity of repentance is as much a doctrine of natural as revealed religion. Both alike declare, that without repentance there is no forgiveness.