The mercy of God is defined as the withholding of deserved judgment by God. Forgiven souls are humble. They cannot forget that they owe all they have and hope for to free grace, and this keeps them lowly. They are brands plucked from the fire—debtors who could not pay for themselves—captives who must have remained in prison for ever, but for undeserved mercy—wandering sheep who were ready to perish when the Shepherd found them . . . . (J.C.Ryle)
God’s mercy is a holy mercy, which knows how to pardon sin, not to protect it; it is a sanctuary for the penitent, not for the presumptuous. (Bishop Reynolds)
Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. (Psalm 25:4-6)
If grace is God’s undeserved favor (as we will see in a later devotional), mercy is His unmerited compassion. Grace gives us what we do not deserve; mercy withholds from us the judgment we do deserve.
I don’t know about you, but one of the more frightening sights for me is, while I’m driving down the highway, to suddenly see flashing lights in my rearview mirror! The last time that happened to me, I immediately slowed down and prayed to the Lord, “O, Father, please don’t let me get a ticket! Please let this police officer be an instrument of Your mercy, instead of Your judgment!” As I slowed down, the police car sped past me, obviously hot on the trail of some other wicked offender. My thought as he whizzed by? “Get ’em, Copper!” Interesting how I wanted mercy for myself, but judgment for the next guy!
The psalmist has much to say about God’s mercy. He recognizes the holiness of God and the fact that no human has a right to God’s compassion: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).
In our age of victimhood, few people recognize God’s right to act in judgment. They believe either that God is too loving to condemn or that man is too good to be condemned—and they are wrong on both counts. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” makes little sense to them. Many would prefer the title “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners”!
But biblical Christianity teaches that “As a father has compassion [mercy] on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (103:13). He is a God who “is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (145:8).
All of Psalm 136 is an ode to God’s mercy, for the phrase “his mercy endureth forever” (KJV) forms the second half of each of its twenty-six verses. The most famous psalm of them all concludes with the words: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (23:6, KJV).
Although we are often stingy in showing mercy to others, giving sad testimony to the poverty of our compassion, the Apostle Paul speaks quite differently of the Lord: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
The story is told of a past-her-prime Hollywood star who was sitting for some promotional photos. She barked at the photographer, “I want these pictures to do me justice, young man!” He was heard to say under his breath, “Ma’am, what you need is not justice, but mercy” That’s what we all need—and his mercies “are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23) to those in Christ.
“Lord, what a mass of contradictions I find in my own life. I take Your mercies for granted and grant little compassion to others. Forgive me by Your abundant mercies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
If God were not willing to forgive sin, heaven would be empty. (German proverb)