Statement of Faith Current Teaching Teaching Index
God is Merciful
February 2012

          Let us start this study on mercy by giving the definition and then we will look at mercy’s distinct characteristics.  Webster describes mercy as “that benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant.  In this sense, there is perhaps no word in our language precisely synonymous with mercy. That which comes nearest to it is grace. It implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.”[1] 

            Seeing that the two words “Grace” and “Mercy” are so closely related and are often used interchangeably, which tend to causes confusion and misunderstanding, it is important for us to take a moment to clarify the difference between them. We can see that they are in fact different in Exodus 33:19 when the Lord speaking to Moses said; “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  The “Grace” of God has its root in His Divine goodness or His kindness of nature. Grace is therefore given liberally to His creation for no other reason than they are His own.  He has given life to all things, and He sustains all things (Colossians 1:16-17).  This is God’s grace.  The second issue of God’s goodness is His mercy, which denotes the natural tendency of God to relieve the misery of His fallen creation. Thus, "mercy" presupposes sin and acts to elevate it!  Mercy is a grace of God that is offered to His creation for the elimination of His fallen creation’s poor sinful condition.   God’s grace offers us mercy when we deserve God’s wrath.  Simply put “Grace is God's favor giving us what we do not deserve.  Mercy is a fruit of God's Grace that withholds from us what we do deserve.”

            Though it may not be easy at first to perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, let us look at this Biblical example to help us.  Let us carefully consider how God dealt with the un-fallen angels. He has never needed to exercise mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need of it, for they have never sinned or come under the curse of sin. Yet, we understand that they certainly are the objects of God’s free and sovereign grace. Why?

  1. Because they are the elect of God!  He chose them out of the whole angelic race (1st Timothy 5:21).
  2. He preserved them from apostasy.  When Satan rebelled and dragged down with him one-third of the celestial hosts (Revelation 12:4) these angels were preserved untainted.
  3. Christ was made their Head (Colossians 2:10; 1st Peter 3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the same holy condition in which they were created.
  4. Because they live continually in an exalted position; they live in God’s immediate presence (Daniel 7:10), to serve Him constantly in His heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from Him (Hebrews 1:14).

This is abundant grace but "mercy" it is not, for they have not sinned.  By God's mercy, we escape hell. By God's grace, we receive everlasting life.

            Mercy is often translated in the Bible as goodness, kindness, loving-kindness, pity, compassionate, forgiving. Mercy is used of man as well as of God, and is required on man’s part toward man (ref. Deut. 25:4; Psalm 37:2, 109:16; Proverbs 12:10; Matthew 5:7).  Mercy extends far beyond the readiness to pardon sin, but it is God’s attitude towards man and to the whole of creation. 

Now let us look at the characteristics of mercy.  Mercy is described in the Bible as:

Great – Numbers 14:18; Isaiah 54:7

Rich – Ephesians 2:4

Manifold – Nehemiah 9:27; Lamentations 3:32

Plenteous – Psalms 86:5, 15; 103:8

Abundant – 1st Peter 1:3

Sure – Isaiah 55:3; Micah 7:20

Everlasting – 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 89:28; 106:1; 107:1; 136:1-26

Tender – Psalms 25:6; 103:4; Luke 1:78

New every morning – Lamentations 3:23

High as the heavens – Psalms 36:5; 103:11

Filling the earth – Psalms 119:64,

Over all His works – Psalms 145:9

God’s delight – Micah 7:18

The ground of hope – Psalms 130:7; 147:11

The ground of trust – Psalms 52:8[2]
            Mercy is an intrinsic part of God’s character which causes Him to be actively compassionate (ref. Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 62:12; John 4:2, 10:11; 2 Corinthians 1:3).  It is natural and essential that God is longsuffering, and does not afflict upon man willingly, but due to His mercy He extends reconciliation instead.  His acts of judgment are not acts of desire, but actions required of Him as necessary in response to a rebellious and stiff-necked people (Isaiah 27:4; Lamentations 3:33).  God’s mercy is the magnet that draws sinners to Him.  Without mercy God would be unapproachable, and man would be hopeless and helpless in the face of an angry God. 

          Mercy is an exercise regulated by His sovereign will, 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 God. God’s only obligation to extend mercy is caused by His love for His creation. We see this fact stated in Romans 9:15, "For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."  It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Him-self as we are. If the merits of His creation would cause Him to bestow mercies upon them, it would be a contradiction in God’s nature for we know that we can not merit "mercy." It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of Divine mercy.  Man can not merit God’s favor by his works: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The work and merits of Christ are not the cause of mercy, but are rather an effect or fruit of mercy extending from God’s grace. 

            There are three types of mercy found in scripture. 

  1. There is a “General mercy” which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to God’s entire creation: “The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:9): “Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25). God has supplied suitable provision for all His creations needs.
  2. There is a “Special mercy”, which is extended to the children of men for help and support, despite their sinful state. To them also He communicates all the necessities of life: “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45b).
  3. There is “Sovereign mercy” which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way, through our Mediator Jesus Christ. Notice Romans 5:5-9Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (6) For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (7) For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. (8)  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Hebrews 9:13-15 “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, (14) how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” And 1st Peter 1:18-19 “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

          It is important to note that, where “General mercy” is timeless, “Special and Sovereign mercy” are solely of a temporal nature; they are confined strictly to this present life.  No mercy will be shown to them once they die.  God gives us a lifetime, no matter how long that might be to receive His mercy, once that lifetime is over, if you have not accepted it – you have rejected it. “When its boughs are withered, they will be broken off; the women come and set them on fire. For 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” (Isaiah 27:11).

            Some of you may be asking yourself how this can be true, for God’s mercy endures forever.  How can mercy therefore, only be temporal or limited to a lifetime?  That is an excellent question, one in which I will endeavor to answer.  Though God’s mercy is everlasting (refer 1st Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 89:28; 106:1; 107:1; 136:1-26) in order to understand what might be misconstrued as a contradiction we must factor into our understanding the objects to whom His mercy is shown.  All mankind was shown the ultimate act of mercy when Christ came and died for them.  God’s mercy bought us all the eternal blessings that God showed us in the beginning of creation.  The blessings of God bestowed upon us as a result of Christ’s death are too numerous for me to list in these few pages.  Receiving these blessings is contingent however, on only one act on our part, “believing.”  Look at Romans 10:9-11 “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame”

            Those who do not accept this condition have rejected the mercy of God and declared openly that they do not want it causing them to be cast into the Lake of Fire, which is in fact, an act of mercy as well.  Thinking of Hell as an act of mercy is extremely hard to comprehend.  Examining Hell as an act of mercy can be done in many different ways and from many points of view.  Let me give you just three which will help you understand how this can be so. 

  1. Let us look at it from God’s side, it is an act of justice for it justifies God’s honor. The mercy of God finds its foundation in His Holiness and righteousness and therefore can never be shown to be prejudice.  It was extended to all mankind throughout all generations freely to be accepted or rejected according to ones own free will.  
  2. Let us look at it from the sinner’s side; it is an act of justice, because of their own rejection of God’s mercy they are required to suffer the due reward of their iniquities.  Ask yourself, where is the mercy in making the wicked live in an environment designed for the righteous, an environment they consider unacceptable, unappreciated and horribly distasteful.  Where is our sense of justice when on the one hand we can condemn a murderer to life in prison or even to death and on the other hand we consider Hell for those who reject God’s mercy as a punishment cruel and unjust?  
  3. Let us look at it from the standpoint of the redeemed; the punishment of the wicked is an act of unspeakable mercy. How can justice and mercy be established if the children of God who are told not to unequally yoked with unbelievers, have no fellowship with the, come out from among them (the wicked) and be separate, (2nd Corinthians 6:14-18) then be required to live in the midst of these children of the Devil, forever!  Heaven would at once cease to be heaven if the ears of the saints still had to hear the blasphemous and filthy voices of the reprobate, and observe their reprobate actions.  We would then be forced to live in an environment we deem as unacceptable, unappreciated and horribly distasteful. “There shall by no means enter it (heaven) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27)! 

            Brethren when mercy is viewed by itself, pardon would be given without repentance or condition; it would pardon without any regard to public justice and therefore it would cease to be an attribute of God.  But when it operates in conjunction with God’s other attributes, mercy becomes balanced, pure, and true.  The atonement illustrates this fact beautifully. If we consider mercy without the harmonious influences of all the various attributes of God’s love, confusion results, especially in respect to God’s character and government.  How do we justify the spirit and meaning of God’s law; with the spirit and meaning of the atonement?  We can not!  One in this state of confusion can not help but find inconsistencies in the Bible, in God’s divine administration and in God’s character, as revealed in His Word, and as it is exhibited in our world and in our lives.

            The confusion caused by these inconsistencies manifest themselves with doubts about God, a search for something that makes more sense, sincere questions about religion, and the reality and necessity of the atonement itself.  For example, we have all heard questions like this; how can God allow all the cruelty in the world without stepping in and stopping it?  Or; how can God allow the death of an innocent child and allow that wicked person to live?  How can we justify the fact that God is love and God hates sin?  If God is merciful, how can He punish sinners, so what need is there for an atonement?  If He is truly merciful, than why can’t He pardon without repentance or without the atonement?  On the other hand if we are to understand that His mercy forces Him to be actively compassionate then why is there a need for one to repent at all? 

            I believe that these questions are asked in sincerity, with a heart filled with confusion, misunderstanding, and a heart needing the healing power of truth.  The truth is that if we do not take into consideration the other attributes of God’s nature, the truth can never be seen, and these questions will remain.  When God takes any action all His attributes must come into play they must all work in harmony and therefore, they must have a direct effect on each other regulating their execution.  Every attribute of God’s nature must work in harmony one with another.  Not one attribute of God is or can be exercised at the expense of another, or in opposition to it.  God character is pure and complete therefore every action taken by Him encompasses the sum of them all.

            If wisdom and public justice are also attributes of God, how can they not equally contribute to the administration of mercy; satisfy public justice; and thereby protect the integrity and legitimacy of the Law?  In other words, if wisdom and justice are attributes of God’s nature in the same manner as mercy is, should not their actions also influence the exercise of the others.  If we can understand this we can see the reason God hates sin, and why there is the need of repentance.  The necessity of the atonement then becomes clear.

            Mercy, as an attribute of God will naturally and inevitably cause Him to devise ways and means to exercise His mercy in conjunction with His other attributes of benevolence.  It will develop means to remove all the obstacles of its free and full exercise. Mercy will secure efforts to acquire the repentance and pardon of sinners, and it will take an energetic action to accomplish that end.     

            Mercy therefore is an act that travels in two ways, note these verses; Psalm 143:12 we find David praying, “In 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 hosts, but it was an act of "mercy" unto the Israelites. Again, in Revelation 19:1-3 we read, “After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! (2) For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her." (3) Again they said, "Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!”

            It is only the wicked who walk in ignorant hope who presumes they can trample upon the laws of God and claim His mercy for their own.  How can a loving and merciful God send a person to hell they ask?          They never come to the understanding that God can never be unjust to Himself, or in His actions toward His creation. God shows mercy to the truly penitent, but not to the impenitent (Luke 13:3). To continue in sin and yet impose upon God’s Divine mercy to remit their punishment is absurd, outrageous and devilish.  Look at Romans 6:1-2; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (2) Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it” (Romans 6:1-2)?  To all who reject God’s mercy, which is extended to us in grace whose foundation is His holiness and righteousness it is written, their “their condemnation is just” (Ref. Romans 3:8).

            In conclusion let me break down mercy using R. A. Torrey’s New Topical Textbook (1897)[3], and give you a summation taken from the Blue Letter Bible.

Mercy is manifested:
In the sending of Christ - Luke 1:78
In salvation - Titus 3:5
In long-suffering - Lamentations 3:22; Daniel 9:9
To his people - Deuteronomy 32:43; 1st Kings 8:23
To them that fear him - Psalms 103:17; Luke 1:50
To returning backsliders - Jeremiah 3:12; Hosea 14:4; Joel 2:13
To repentant sinners - Psalms 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 55:7; Luke 15:18-20
To the afflicted - Isaiah 49:13; 54:7
To the fatherless - Hosea 14:3
To whom he will - Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:15, 18
With everlasting kindness - Isaiah 54:8

Mercy should be:
Sought for ourselves - Psalms 6:2
Sought for others - Galatians 6:16; 1st Timothy 1:2; 2nd Timothy 1:18
Pleaded in prayer - Psalms 6:4; 25:6; 51:1
Rejoiced in - Psalms 31:7
Magnified – 1st Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 115:1; 118:1-4, 29; Jeremiah 33:11

Mercy is exemplified in:
Lot
- Genesis 19:16, 19
Epaphroditus - Philippians 2:25
Paul – 1st Timothy 1:13

            Mercy is when that which is deserved is withheld to the benefit of the object of God’s mercy. God has demonstrated this attribute in abundance with respect to mankind. We from nearly the beginning of our existence have deserved nothing but wrath; having sinned and fallen short of eternal life in glory, we can do nothing to commend ourselves to or defend ourselves before God. But thankfully, God has been so boundless in His mercy. Over and above merely having the mercy to allow us to live out our miserable lives without destroying us instantly, God has chosen us to greatness and glory by the hand of His Son. The believer finds himself in Christ and enjoys fully the fruits of God's mercy. This attribute of benevolence led the Father to give his only-begotten Son, and it led the Son to give Himself to die on the cross for you and me, so that through that atonement and our repentance man may be restored to his rightful place in God’s kingdom. It is this attribute of benevolence that leads the Holy Spirit to make such mighty and protracted efforts to secure the repentance of sinners.[4]


[1] Webster’s 1828 dictionary, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1828

[2] R. A. Torrey in His New Topical Textbook, Sword of the Lord Publishers, P.O. Box 1099, Murfreesboro, TN, 37133, (1897)

[3] Sword of the Lord Publishers, P.O. Box 1099, Murfreesboro, TN, 37133

[4] The Blue Letter Bible on line @ www.blueletterbible.

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