That God would do good and show mercy unto rebel and vile sinners is the wonder on which the saints are going to muse throughout all eternity.
God has shown mercy unto sinners, sinners which were chosen by His mercy, sinners who believe through the power of His mercy. God has shown mercy unto sinners. The faithful preaching of the gospel always has in it this note, a note of wonder and holy amazement at the mercy and the goodness of God. Preaching is written in the key of wonder.
As God has commissioned us to preach Him, to make known His praises and His virtues, so God has commissioned us to preach His goodness and mercy unto sinners. The proclamation of God’s mercy unto sinners was an essential part of God’s proclamation of Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. Turn in your Bibles to Exodus 34, to that dramatic moment when the Lord God would pass before Moses and proclaim Himself to Moses. He said, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” God proclaimed Himself as a merciful God unto Moses.
This proclamation of God’s mercy was also given a prominent place in the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 63:7 Isaiah, that great prophet of the holiness of God, is given to proclaim these words: “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.”
There is a very important point that can be made here. It is a point you ought never to lose sight of in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is not, as many would define it today, concerned first of all with what man must do and what man is called to do. But the preaching of the gospel is concerned first of all with who God is and what He has done. The burden of the gospel as it comes to you in the preaching is not, first of all, a burden about man and his needs. But it is a burden about God and His glory. And, in the light of who God is and in the light of what God has done, in that light you are shown what man’s need is and what your need is. God is good and merciful and has done good and shown mercy to sinners. And this must be proclaimed.
Rehearse with me, for a moment, the rudiments of God’s mercy and goodness. God’s mercy is His pity, His lovingkindness. God’s mercy emphasizes that God’s heart is a heart which is filled with compassion. He is a God who commiserates, who is touched and moved with pity unto His people. And it reflects on us. The mercy of God has something to say about us. It proclaims that we are miserable. We are wretched, desolate, and ruined. His pity, or His mercy, is His compassion for those who are miserable, those who are the objects of His election but who, of themselves, are miserable. It is His strong desire to do them good. Lamentations 3:22, “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed.” God’s mercy, according to the Bible, is tender. It comes softly and gently and soothingly to us. God’s mercy is abundant. It is plenteous, covering the multitude of our sins. God’s mercy endureth forever, that is, it is faithful, never removed from us. And God’s mercy is infinite; you can never come to the end of it. Psalm 103:11, “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.”
Still more, the mercy of God is sovereign. That means this, that God’s mercy is given to those and to those only whom God, in His eternal good pleasure, is pleased to give it. We read in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” You see, there are no types of mercy in God. God is one. And all of His virtues are one in Him. That means that His virtues, and now His mercy, are not to be compared to modern products. Modern products are always intended for different groups so that we can have breakfast cereal which is fortified for the aged, or breakfast cereal which has no calories for weight-watchers, or which has extra iron for women – all different varieties of breakfast cereals. That is not the way God’s virtues are. God has one mercy. It is a tender, compassionate mercy. It is faithful and abundant; it is infinite. And it is sovereign, that is, it is given only to those whom God has chosen. We proclaim God’s mercy. We preach His mercy. When we preach the grace of God to you, we are emphasizing God’s freedom: that God has shown an unmerited favor unto His children. The word “grace” tells you that there is nothing that you can do. The word “grace” focuses upon the impotency of the sinner.
But we also proclaim a mercy which is God’s compassion and pity. God’s mercy focuses upon you in the misery of your sin, in your lowliness and brokenness, and God’s great pity to do us good. We proclaim the abundant, tender mercy of God. God is a God of compassion. God is a God who has pity upon miserable sinners. And out of that pity and mercy He has willed to do them good. That is the message of the gospel.
And that is a wonder! That is the greatest wonder you can ever hear. When the church proclaims, in obedience to God, the truth of creation, we call all men to wonder, to wonder at the God whose power is such that He speaks and the world springs into being – the moment He said it. “God said … and it was so!” When we teach the real, the historically accurate, miracles of the Bible; when we proclaim to you that the Red Sea was parted by the hands of God; when we say that the walls of Jericho fell down, we call upon you and everyone else to wonder before the great God. When we instruct you in His commandments, we call upon you to bow in reverence before God and to obey Him. When we declare the righteousness of God, the holiness, the justice of God, we summon men and women to hide their faces and to take their shoes from off them, for He is a holy God.
Now, when we preach in His name the full and wonderful truth of His mercy and goodness which has been shown to miserable and poor and wretched sinners, a mercy which will actually lift you up and crown you with salvation, we can but command you: Stand in awe and wonder before the God who shows mercy unto sinners.
You see, the wonder is that it is shown unto sinners. Therefore, it is something that is free and saving.
If you turn in your Bibles to a well-known passage: Romans 9:23, 24, you will see that in Romans, chapter 9, the apostle Paul has said that the Potter has power over the clay, over the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another vessel unto dishonor. He is talking there of the truths of God’s eternal election, of who will be saved – God’s selecting or choosing of who will be saved – and God’s eternal will concerning who will not be saved, what the Bible calls “reprobation.”
In verse 23, those vessels that God forms are called vessels of mercy. We read: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” God has shown mercy unto sinners. We read that the vessels of mercy, those who receive mercy, were made of the same lump as the vessels of wrath, the same piece of clay. Those who are fashioned to be vessels of mercy were, by nature, no better than any other man. They were taken from the same miry clay. God’s mercy is distinguishing. When one has received the mercy of God that does not mean that, of himself, he is in any sense better than another. He was taken from the same lump of miry clay.
And they are vessels. A vessel is never anything more than a receiver. A vessel is not a fountain, a spring. It does not create water. It receives the water. So those who have received mercy cannot look to anything in themselves as being the fountain whereby they have received this mercy. No! They are only sinners. God has had mercy unto sinners, to those who, of themselves, are fit only for destruction, who are only clay, who can never produce anything good of themselves. By His grace God has shown mercy to them.
And that mercy that God has shown is a powerful mercy. It is a mercy which will surely save. It is a mercy which will bring you to believe and to repent of your sins. His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him (Ps. 103:17).
Although we proclaim the mercy of God before all, and we must proclaim it before all, nevertheless that mercy of God is promised not to all. That mercy is promised only to those who, by the grace of God, believe and repent of their sins. God proclaims His mercy to all who hear the gospel because the proclamation of that mercy is the means by which the Holy Spirit works the call of the gospel in the hearts of God’s children, the elect. And God also, by proclaiming the truth of His Word and proclaiming His mercy, leaves without excuse those who despise that mercy and who shun it.
The mercy of God which we proclaim is the particular possession, not of all, but of those who are God’s children, who by His grace repent and believe in the grace of God. You see, the mercy of God which we preach is not of the nature of an offer. It is of the nature of a powerful promise. God’s mercy is not of the nature of an intention on the part of God. God’s mercy is not simply that He would like to do something, that He would hope that you would comply with His offer, that it is something that He intends for you to have but He really cannot make you have. No, God’s mercy is of the nature of a reality to be enjoyed. God’s mercy is not seen as an offer to save, or that He desires all to be saved, or that He shows some sort of general goodness to everyone who hears His gospel. No, God’s mercy is seen in that He will and does save! God does not only desire to save, but He saves. By the very power of His desires He actually does good to those He has chosen. You see, an offered mercy, a mere desire of God to be merciful, is no mercy at all. Mercy, in order to be real mercy, must act. It must be powerful. It must reach down. It must save those who are miserable. Mercy is not God’s intention to be kind. But it is being kind.
Therefore, we proclaim the sure mercies of God. The mercies which are rooted in His promises, the mercies which are accomplished in Jesus Christ, the mercies which are experienced in your heart in the way of repentance and faith. Repent and believe the gospel. A repentance which is true and thorough. Forsake your wicked way. Forsake your thoughts. Believe that gospel by a wonder of His grace. And experience the rich mercy of God.
Therefore we proclaim that mercy of God as an encouragement to sinners. God will have mercy upon the sinner as the sinner, in His grace, is brought to Him in the way of repentance. An abundant mercy, an infinite mercy. A mercy which is greater than the sea.
You see, when the gospel of the mercy and goodness of God is proclaimed there can only be two responses. The one is to reject. Unless you are made sensible of your misery of sin the gospel of mercy is an offense. If you go to a healthy man, who is healthy, strong, sufficient, and has all the money that he needs, and you come up to him and say, but I will have mercy on you, you insult that man! He does not need mercy. He is fine the way he is. So man, unless by the Holy Spirit he is given to see his need and his sin, will reject this mercy of God. And rejecting it, he is left without excuse. Or the response to the gospel of God’s mercy is, by the grace of God, to bring us into sorrow, a sorrow over our sins, over a knowledge of our sins, so that we would conclude that our sin is just too much, that it could never be forgiven. And then comes the promise, the encouragement: I will abundantly show mercy. I will have tender compassion.
We preach to you the mercy of God revealed unto sinners, revealed in the holy gospel, a wonder. Something that now has been made known and needs to be published. In fact that Lord said, We must publish these glad tidings to all nations. We proclaim a mercy that has a basis to it: the blood of Jesus Christ. A mercy which is wrapped up and covered by the merits of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. And we proclaim a mercy which will never fail, a goodness that is so great that it can never be reckoned as to its depth and value. A mercy and a goodness of God which calls you to repent and believe. A mercy which is powerful for those who repent and believe by the power of God’s grace to them. A mercy which is tender.
Turn to the living God for He will have mercy, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
Let us pray.
Lord, we thank Thee for the gospel of Thy mercy in Jesus Christ. And we pray that we might be ever faithful to proclaim it on the Reformed Witness Hour. Wilt Thou cause, O Lord, that this sure word of Thy mercy may bring forth abundant fruit in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.