24/04/2008

Sermon On the triumph of mercy

James 2:13 Mercy rejoiceth against judgment

In the foregoing part of the verse we have an awful communication, which, if we are the persons described, and have any degree of sensibility, must be enough to make our ears tingle, and our hearts tremble. "He shall have judgement without mercy;" or, as it might be rendered, "an unmerciful judgment, who showed no mercy;" that is, to the proper objects of mercy, especially his poor brethren, the despised and distressed members of Christ. This unmerciful disposition is so contrary to the temper of Christ himself, who is a merciful, as well as faithful High Priest, and to the character which the Scriptures every where give of the most high God, whose mercy is continually displayed both in the world of providence and of grace, that it is justly resented now, and will be severely punished another day. Such may seek mercy, expect mercy, plead for mercy; saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" but they shall not be able to obtain it; the answer returned will be, "Verily I say unto you, I know you not." If we bid the deserving poor depart without a blessing, God will bid us depart with a curse. Now, in order to encourage a contrary disposition, to excite a charitable and benevolent temper, and put us upon consulting the true interest and welfare of our fellow-creatures, especially those whose circumstances call aloud for our compassion, the Apostle saith, "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment;" which may be understood in a twofold sense; for hereby he may intend to show either what we ought to be, or what God really is; both which considerations will furnish powerful arguments in application to ourselves.
1. The Apostle may, by these words, intimate the duty and privilege of the saints; what we ought to be, and what good men, as far as they act in character, and are under the influence of grace, will be.
Such as have obtained mercy should show mercy, and will show it, even to their beasts, for a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; they will not spur their horse to death, or muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn: to their fellow-men and fellow-mortals - to their bodies, in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and vindicating the rights of the oppressed; but especially to their souls, endeavouring to convert them from the evil of their ways, and save them
from eternal ruin and destruction. In a word, not only to their friends and neighbours, children and servants, but to strangers and enemies; their greatest, most inveterate, and implacable enemies. Religion teaches us to return good offices for evil ones; and when persons have done us the greatest injury, to heap coals of fire upon their heads, not to consume, but melt them into love. Now, supposing this to be the sense of the words, they may be explained in the two following particulars:
1 Persons of a merciful disposition will prefer the displays of mercy to the rigours of justice. They will be merciful where others would be cruel, and merciful to those who have been cruel to them. Many instances might be mentioned in which this compassionate temper should be discovered; I shall only take notice of two.
In the case where debts are owing to us
In case of crimes committed, strict justice requires that the punishment should be adequate to the offence, but here mercy should rejoice against judgment; and as God punisheth us, so we should punish others less than they deserve.
2 Persons endowed with a merciful disposition, springing from evangelical principles, have nothing to fear from the righteous judgments of God.

2. The other sense in which these words may be understood, "Mercy in God rejoiceth against judgment;" not only prevails, but, as it were, triumphs. You may observe, it is not said against justice, for we are not to suppose that one attribute in the Divine Being can militate against, or exult over, another. God is just, infinitely and inflexibly just, at the same time that he is a Saviour. Salvation by Christ is no impeachment, but a manifestation of Divine justice; "Whom God," says that clear reasoner, and evangelical writer, the Apostle Paul, "whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness;" and to show the importance of the sentiment, and how much his own mind was impressed with it, he repeats it: "To declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." If God could not have saved man without infringing the rights, and violating the claims, of his justice, men would never have been saved; so that by judgment here we are to understand the severe, though deserved, punishment of sin; and that mercy rejoiceth against this, will appear, if we consider -
1. Judgment is God's strange work : he calls it so, Isaiah 28:21. He sets about it with reluctance, and executes it with regret.
2. When he executes judgment, it is after much patience and long delays.
3. Judgment is deserved. " The wages of sin is death;" but mercy is entirely and absolutely free. "I will love them freely." This is implied in the very word "mercy," for where there is merit there can be no mercy. Here is mercy without cause in the sinner: " I will be merciful," says God, "to whom I will be merciful;" - without solicitation: - "I am found," says he, "of them who sought me not;" - nay, mercy exists on the part of God, when there is implacable enmity and heart-corroding rancour on the part of man.
4. One sin deserves judgment, that is, the eternal wrath and displeasure of God; but mercy extends to many, nay, numberless sins. Our sins are like the sands; God's mercy like the sea, that covers those sands. Our sins rise to heaven; God's mercy is above the heavens. Great mercies follow great provocations; multiplied mercies, multiplied provocations.
The latter part of this discourse may suggest the following duties:
1. To magnify the mercy of God. It is rich, abundant, inexhaustible mercy; mercy without a beginning or an end.
2. To trust in it. It is the proper object of trust, and makes God so. We should apply this general declaration to particular circumstances. Are providences dark and gloomy? - are appearances threatening? - are we in distress of soul on account of our sins? - are we drawing near to the grave, and our evidences of heaven obscured? Still mercy will rejoice against judgment.
3. To imitate it. God both gives and forgives; and so should we. Thus, when Christ had been exhorting his disciples to acts of mercy, he concludes by saying, "Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

No comments: