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should be noted. From first to last, the children of God have no other claim : it is mere mercy that took us into a state of grace at first, and mere mercy that keepeth us in it, and furnisheth us with all the supplies that are necessary to keep it up in vigour and comfort, and mercy that giveth us the final consummation and accomplishment of it at last. Our first entrance into the state of grace, is always ascribed to mere mercy. Nothing moved the Lord to bestow life upon dead and graceless sinners, but his mere pity and tender compassion: “His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope” (1 Peter i. 3); “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us” (Eph. iii. 4); “ According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration” (Titus iii. 5). Mercy was then exercised, not only without our desert, but against our desert: God was not moved to bestow his grace by any goodness which he did foresee or find in us, but merely by his own pity. Misery offered the occasion ; but mercy was the cause of all the good done unto us. After conversion, all our supports and supplies are given us of his tender mercy : “ As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy" (Gal. vi, 16). New creatures, and the most accurate walkers, are not so free from sin, but they still stand in need of mercy. All their receipts come to them, not in the way of merit, but undeserved mercy. Our peace and comfort, when we walk most according to rule, is the fruit of mercy. The elect are called “ vessels of mercy” (Rom. ix. 23), because, from first to last, they are filled up with mercy and supplied by the free favour and love of God in Jesus Christ. Our final consummation is from mercy: the same mercy that lays the first stone in this building, doth also finish the work : “ Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21). We take glory out of the hands of mercy; and it is mercy that sets the crown upon our heads, after we have done and suffered the will of God here upon earth. We can merit no more after grace than before.
2ndly, The utility of it: this giveth boldness and more hopeful expectation; that will appear, if we consider what mercy is, it is God's propension and inclination to do good to the sinful and miserable so far as his wisdom seeth convenient. As mercy is a perfection in the Divine nature, so God is necessarily merciful as well as just; but the exercise of it is (I confess) free and arbitrary : it is not necessarily exercised, but according to his will and good pleasure ; to some more, to some less, as his wisdom thinketh fit. Yet this advantage we have by it, that mercy rather seeketh a fit occasion to discover itself than a well-qualified object, as justice doth ; for it doth not consider what is due or deserved, but what is needed. Therefore, first, the needy and miserable have some hope; for misery, as misery, is the object of mercy; and therefore, when our afflictions are pressing and sore, our miseries and straits are some kind of argument which we may plead to God: “Let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are brought very low” (Psalm lxxix. 8): they plead their miserable condition. Mercy relents towards a sinful people, when they are a wasted people: he heareth the moans of the beasts, and therefore certainly he will not shut up his bowels against the cries of his people : their very misery pleadeth for them. Secondly, the broken-hearted, that have a sense of their misery, have a greater advantage than others, and are more capable of God's mercy, because they are not only miserable, but miserable in their own feeling, especially if this feeling be deep and spiritual; they are sensible of the true misery, and they are more troubled about sin than temporal incovenience : “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matt. ix. 13).
3rdly, When we flee to his mercy, and seek it in the appointed way of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord will not utterly destroy a sinner fleeing to his merey: he hath engaged his word and oath (Heb. vi. 18); and this comfort we may make use of, -partly, when the sense of guilt sits heavy upon the soul; go, humble yourselves before the merciful God, and sue out his favour and reconciliation with you, as David doth: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (Psalm li, 1). You know not what a merciful God may do for his undeserving and ill-deserving people. And partly, when God is upon his judicial process, and calleth a people to an account for their sins, he still retaineth his inerciful nature : “ In the midst of wrath, he remembereth mercy” (Hab. iii. 2): his wrath and indignation doth not so far transport him as that he should forget his merciful nature, and deal with his afflicted people without all moderation. When God is justly angry for sin, it is a special time wherein to plead for mercy.
Secondly, He beggeth that it may come to him. Let us see the meaning of the request, and then what may be observed upon it. Coming to him noteth a personal and effectual application.
1st, A personal application, as in the 41st verse of this psalm, “ Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to thy word.” David would not be forgotten, or left out or lost in the throng of mankind, when mercy was distributing the blessing to them.
2ndly, Effectual application : that noteth, 1. The removing of obstacles and hindrances; 2. The obtaining the fruits and effects of this mercy. First, The removing of obstacles. Till there be way made, the mercy of God cannot come ‘at us; for the way is barricaded and shut up by our sins: as the Lord maketh a way for his anger (Psalm lxxviii. 50), by removing the hindrances, eating out the staff and the stay, taking away that which letteth ; so the Lord maketh way for his mercy, or mercy maketh way for itself, when it removeth the obstruction. Sin is the great hindrance of mercy. We ourselves raise the mists and the clouds which intercept the light of God's countenance; we build up the partition wall which separates between God and us; yet mercy finds the way. Secondly,
The obtaining the fruits of mercy. The effects of God's lender mercies are common, or saving. We read, “ The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Psalm cxlv. 9); not a creature which God hath made, but the Lord pitieth it, and supplieth its wants. But there are spiritual effects of the Lord's tender mercy; his pardoning our sins, restoring us to his grace and favour, and repairing his image in us : “ Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. i. 3); such spiritual blessings as are a sure effect of God's favour, never given in anger. Riches may be given in anger, so may also temporal deliverance; but pardon of sin is never given in anger, nor the Spirit of the Lord Jesus to dwell in us. Of spiritual blessings, some are comfortable to us, others honourable to God; some fall in with our interest, others suit with God's end, as pardon is of the first sort, and the subjec. tion of the creature to God of the latter. We are willing to be pardoned and freed from the curse of the law and the flames of Hell; but to be renewed to the image of God, and quickened to the life of grace, and put into a capacity to serve our Creator and Redeemer, that we are not so earnest for; and yet these are the undoubted pledges of the special mercy of God to us, and absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of the other relative benefits: we must suppose David to intend both in his prayer, “Let thy tender mercies come unto me.” Once more, these spiritual benefits may be considered as to the effects themselves, and the sense that we have of our enjoyment of them : our safety dependeth upon the saving effects and fruits of God's special mercy; and our peace, joy, and comfort, upon the sense of them: both are comprised in that petition, “Let thy tender mercies come unto me.” This being stated as the full meaning of the words, let us observe,
1. That it is not enough to hear somewhat of God's saving mercies ; but we should beg that it may come unto us, be effectually and sensibly communicated unto us, that we may have experience of them in our own souls. The hearsay will do us little good, without experience: the hearsay is the first encouragement: “We have heard the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings ;' that moved them to make the address in an humble and submissive manner for their life and safety: “Let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel” (1 Kings xx. 31). We may reason at a better rate concerning the God of Israel: we have heard that the God of Israel is a merciful God, that he delights in mercy; but then, let us try what he will do for us. Upon the participation of the saving effects and benefits of his mercy, our comfort and interest beginneth. (1.) We shall never have such admiring thoughts of mercy as when we have felt it ourselves ; then we know “ the grace of God in truth” (Col. i. 6). A man that hath read of honey, or heard of honey, may know the sweetness of it by guess and imagination ; but a man that hath tasted of honey, knoweth the sweetness of it in truth : so, by hearing or reading of the grace and mercy of God in Christ, we may guess that it is a sweet thing; but he that hath had an experimental proof of the sweet effects and fruits of it in his own heart, and all that is spoken of God's pardoning and comforting of sinners, is verified in himself: this giveth him a more sensible demonstration of the worth and value of this privilege; then more admiring thoughts of mercy, when he can say as Paul, jhenanv, I was saved by mercy (1 Tim. i. 13). (2.) We shall more love God: “I pray that your love may abound in all sense” (Phil. i. 9): the spiritual gust maketh love abound. (3.) We cannot speak of it with that fulness, life, sense, and affection to others, nor so movingly invite others to share with us, as when the effects of his goodness are communicated to us : “Oh! taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm xxxiv. 8): a report of a report is a dead, cold thing ; but a report from experience is lively and powerful. Well then, Let it come to me.
3rdly, The sense or participation of God's saving mercies is to believers the life of their lives, the heaven they have upon earth, the joy and comfort of their souls; and the want of this is a kind of death to them; for so David expresseth himself, “Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live."
The reasons are taken partly from the object, and partly from the subject; from the thing itself, and from the disposition of a renewed heart.
1. From the thing itself, from the object; and there, (1.) The value of this privilege compared with all that may be called life. Life is either
natural, spiritual, or eternal. (i.) Compare it with life natural, and there the Psalmist will tell you, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Psalm lxiii. 3); life is not life without it; without the feeling of this love, or the hope of feeling it, it is little worth. To have the light of the sun, which is the comfort of the senses, without the light of God's countenance, which is the comfort of the soul, is a sad and dark estate; especially to the children of God, that know they are made for another world, and for this only in their passage thither. Natural life only giveth us a capacity to enjoy the comforts of sense, which are base, dreggy, and corruptive; but the special favour of God lets us into such consolations as perfect the soul, and affects it with a greater pleasure than our natural faculties are capable of. Life natural is a frail, brittle thing; but these saving effects of God's mercy lay a foundation of eternal happiness. Life natural may grow a burden; but the love of God is never burdensome: the days may come in which there is no pleasure (Eccl. xii. l): “His life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat” (Job xxxiii. 20); in sickness and age, in troubles of conscience. Men do pretty well with their worldly happiness, till God rebuke man for sin; then all the glory, profit, and pleasure of the creature do us no good: “ When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth” (Psalm xxxix. 11). Judas haltered himself, when filled with the sense of God's wrath. Job chose strangling rather than life. At death, when all worldly things cease, and are of no more use to us, the sense of God's love will be of great use to us. All the world understand the worth and value of God's love when death cometh. Then a child of God feeleth it: 'Oh!' saith he, I would not, for all the world, but that I had made sure of the love of God before this hour ! how terrible, else, would it have been to leave all, and leap out into an unknown world!' The unjust man, at the latter end, shall be a fool (Jer. xvii. ll); and, “ What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?” (Job xxvii. 8.)
(ii.) Life spiritual : the soul hath no life but in communion with God, who is the fountain of this new life. Now, the more sensible and close this is, the more they live; the vitality of this life lieth in the sensible participation of the effects of his special grace and mercy; then we “have it more abundantly” (John x. 10); not only living, but lively.
(iii.) For eternal life : a comfortable sense of God's mercy is the beginning and pledge of true and heavenly life. The shedding abroad the love of God in the heart of a believer maketh this his hope sure and certain (Rom. v. 4–6); he needeth not be ashamed, for he hath earnest beforehand.
(2.) God's favour furnisheth us with a remedy against all evils and miseries : i. e., wants, troubles, sins. (i.) The want of other things may be supplied by the love of God; but the want of the love of God cannot be supplied with anything else. If poor in the world, yet we may be “ rich in faith" (James ii. 5); if afflicted, destitute, yet this loss may be made up by the presence of God in the soul: “ Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. iv, 16). If they want the creature, they have God : there is no want of a candle, when they have the sun. If they want health, the soul may be in good plight, as Gaius had a healthy soul in a sickly body (3 John 2). If they want liberty, they lie open to the visits of his grace: the Spirit of God is no stranger to them, nor can his company and comforts be shut out. Tertullian telleth
the martyrs, • You went out of the prison when you went into it, and were but sequestered from the world, that you might converse with God:' the greatest prisoners are those that are at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God. If they want the favour of men, they have the favour of God: God smileth when the world frowneth; they may be banished, but every place is alike near to God and Heaven. Some climates are nearer, and some farther off, from the sun; but all alike near to the Sun of righteousness. Ibi pater ubi patria ; that is our country where God is: we are harassed, beaten, afflicted in sundry manners; but the sting is gone. The rod that is dipped in guilt, smarteth most; but a pardoned man may rejoice in tribulations (Rom. v. 3). But now, on the contrary, suppose a man high in honour, wallowing in wealth, spending his time and wealth in ease and pleasure ; but, after all this, God will bring him to judgment: the world is his friend; but God is his enemy, and he is all his life-time “subject to bondage" (Heb. ii. 15); not always felt, but soon awakened; and, during the time of his comfort and delight, he is dancing about the brink of Hell, liable to an eternal curse, and there is but the slender thread of a frail life between him and execution : a few serious, sober thoughts undo him.
(ii.) Sin; that is the great evil, both as to the guilt of it and the wages of it: the guilt and obliquity of it, no creature can provide a plaster for this sore: to get our consciences settled and our natures healed, this is the special fruit of God's mercy in Christ, his business is to save us from sin (Matt. i. 21): “God, having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts ü. 26); " There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. xi. 26), have God's image repaired, and restored to his grace and favour : those that have felt sin a burden, nothing will satisfy till the Lord looks graciously upon them.
(iii.) The favour of the Lord is the fountain of all blessings: get an interest in his special mercy, and then all things are yours; you have God for your God, who commandeth all things : “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours" (1 Cor. iii. 22); “ Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. vi. 33); “ The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it" (Prov. x. 22).
(iv.) It sweetens every comfort; a piece of bread, with the love of God, is a plentiful feast: “ A little that a righteous man hath, is better than the riches of many wicked" (Psalm xxxvii. 16). Quid prodest regium alimentum si ad Gehennam pascat? What profiteth it to be fatted for slaughter?
2. Reasons from the subject or disposition of the renewed heart :
(1.) They have once had an apprehension of their true misery by reason of sin and the curse. None prize the favour of God, but they that have been burdened with the sense of sin and misery. We speak in vain to most men; it is only the sick will prize the physician, the condemned be earnest for a pardon.
(2.) They are renewed: till a man be holy, he cannot rejoice in spiritual things : “The heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Eccl. vii. 4); for masks, and plays, and merry meetings, feasts and banquets, and vain company, and idle games and pastimes, these are the life and joy of their