Tuesday, September 1, 2009

God Is Merciful To All

Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. (Ps. 36.5-7)

The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. (Ps. 145.8-9)

It is denied by some that God shows mercy to the reprobate, but rather only, always wrath. This view recoils at the notion that if grace is truly unmerited favor, therefore the reprobate in this life, as well as the elect, whether regenerate or not at a point in time, do in fact partake of God's lovingkindness by the mere fact that such are not consumed and cast into hell immediately and by the reception of undeserved gifts are allowed to enjoy blessings in this life which are favorable, merciful and indeed gracious.

Love is the bond that unites the ethically perfect. Grace is the objective pleasantness and the subject attraction of the ethically perfect. Mercy wills and desires the ethically perfect to be blessed. It should be evident from this that God cannot be merciful to the reprobate wicked and that His mercy toward his people must be founded in His sovereign election, according to which he beholds them eternally as perfectly righteous in the Beloved. (Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, p. 115, quoted by David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed, p. 35).

Silversides adds (pp. 42-43):

Remember Hoeksema's words, 'God cannot be merciful to the reprobate wicked.' Hoeksema's presuppositions require this conclusion. In fact, the Scripture teach that God can and does show mercy to the reprobate wicked in this world, according to his sovereign good pleasure.

The Apostle Paul says:

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Rom. 2.4)

Silversides (p. 16):

Romans 2:4-5 actually teaches that the guilt of the reprobate is increased by the fact that God does show lovingkindness to them. It is the genuineness of the kindness that heightens their guilt, albeit within the decree of God.
It must also be borne in mind that elsewhere Hoeksema's definition of the word 'goodness' is very different from the meaning commonly given to it by Reformed writers and, most particularly, its usage in the Westminster Standards. For example, in Answer 4 of the Shorter Catechism, we read, 'God is a Spirit, infinite eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.' The Shorter Catechism has been criticized by some at this point for not using the terms 'grace, mercy, love', but it must be recognised that in the minds of the Westminster Assembly the term goodness included all of these. This explains why the term 'goodness' is expanded in the Larger Catechism as equivalent to 'most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness' (Ans. 9) and in the Westminster Confession as 'most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness...forgiving inquity, transgression and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him...' (ch. II, i).

The terms 'good' and 'goodness' (Heb. tob) are consistently linked to God's mercy or faithful love (Heb. chesed), for example in Psalms 23:6, 25:7-8, 86:5, 100:5, 145:9 etc., and when Psalm 34:8 is referred to in 1 Peter 2:3, the term is rendered 'gracious' (Gk. chreestos: A.V. 'kind'). No doubt this explains why the term is rendered 'gracious' in the 1650 Metrical Psalter rendering of Psalm 86:5.

Puritans often distinguished between the general mercy of God to all his creatures and the special mercy shown to the elect.

Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (1803 ed., slightly modernized spelling), p. 550:

2. There is a second love and mercy in God, by which he loves all men and angels, yea, even his enemies; makes the sun to mine on the unjust man, as well as the just, and causeth dew and rain to fall on the orchard and fields of the bloody and deceitful man, -whom the Lord abhors; as Christ teacheth us, Mat. v. 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48. Nor doth God miscarry in this love; he desires the eternal being of damned angels and men; he sends the gospel to many reprobates, and invites them to repentance, and, with longanimity and forbearance, suffereth pieces of froward dust to fill the measure of their iniquity; yet does not the Lord's general love fall short of what he willeth to them.

William Jenkyn, An Exposition Upon the Epistle of Jude, p. 27 (re: v. 2):

For the sorts or kinds of God's mercy. It is either, 1. A general mercy, extended to all creatures in common, as there is no creature in any misery which in some respect he does not succour: he gives food to the hungry; warmth by wool, and sundry sorts of skins, to the naked; medicine by many kinds of herbs; the sun, the clouds, the winds, the rain, to refresh the earth severally: and thus he is merciful to the elect and reprobate, just and unjust, nay, men and beasts, Psal. cxlvii. 9; Matt. vi. 26, &c.; Psal. cxlv. 15. Or, 2. A special mercy bestowed upon the elect alone, different from the former both in regard of God's will to help, and also in regard of the effects of that will. It is the will of God, John vi. 39, that the elect should be delivered from their sins, his wrath, Satan's power, the sting of death, and that they should obtain eternal life in Christ. The will and pleasure of God is to do them good, they are his "Hephzi-bah," Isa. Ixii. 4; but he hath no pleasure in or special love to others, Mal. i. 10. The effects likewise of his will to help are different toward the elect from those he expresses upon the reprobate; he calling effectually, justifying, redeeming, glorifying the elect, Rom. ix. 15, 18; I Tim. i. 13. "The Lord pitieth them that fear him," Psal. ciii. 13. "He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about," Psal. xxxii. 10. The Lord is "plenteous in mercy to them that call upon him," Psal. Ixxxvi. 5. Of others he saith, "I will deal in fury; mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity," Ezek. viii. 18. The elect are vessels of mercy, the other of wrath. To the former he is merciful in bestowing upon them an eternal, to the latter in affording a temporal, life. These two differing as much as the mercy with which a man regards his beast does from that wherewith he tenders his son: the beast is fed to be slain, or to be fit for labour; the son to be preserved, and out of a paternal care for his good. To the wicked God affords a drop, to the godly a draught of mercy; to the wicked, the crumbs under the table, to the godly, Christ with all his benefits, that bread of life which endureth to eternal life.

We do well that remember that as Matthew Mead said, "Everything on this side of hell is mercy," and as Richard Allestree wisely noted, "The very breath with which we complain is a blessing" (The Art of Contentment).

We should sing with praise to God and thanksgiving for the Lord's lovingkindness and tender mercies to all with the Psalmist who wrote these words:

1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter:

9 Good unto all men is the Lord:
O'er all his works his mercy is.
10 Thy works all praise to thee afford:
Thy saints, O Lord, thy name shall bless. (Ps. 145.9)

6 Thy justice is like mountains great;
thy judgments deep as floods:
Lord, thou preservest man and beast.
7 How precious is thy grace!
Therefore in shadow of thy wings
men's sons their trust shall place. (Ps. 36.6-7)

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