The Biblical Illustrator
There is no cluster to eat
The unrevived church
The picture before the eye of the prophet is that of famine in the midst of plenty, want in time of harvest, sterility amid summer fruits, soul fasting and wretchedness in a season of external prosperity and fulness. The time of ingathering is at hand. And yet Israel knew not the day of Divine visitation; she had no appreciation of the golden fruit, no heart or no capacity to pluck and eat the ripe clusters. This is a truthful representation of the experience of very many Christians and churches. There is no heartfelt appreciation of God’s outward mercies, or of His gracious, spiritual manifestations.” He comes to them in the “summer fruits,” and in the autumn “vintage”; but so dull are their spiritual perceptions, so vitiated are their tastes, so surfeited are they with the “apples of Sodom” and the wild grapes of sinful indulgence, that they know it not, and feel no hungering after righteousness; “there is no cluster” in all God’s vintage which they can eat. So have we seen souls in times of glorious revival, when sinners were pressing into the kingdom, and many souls were refreshed and full of rejoicing, unrevived, unblest, crying, “Woe is me!” “There is no cluster to eat.” So have we seen whole churches and communities left to darkness and desolation and death, while the mighty God had bared His arm for salvation, and was deluging the land with a wave of regenerating and sanctifying power. (Homiletic Monthly.)
My soul desired the first ripe fruit--
The joy of the harvest inaugural
The nation of Israel had fallen into so sad and backsliding a condition that it was not like a vine covered with fruit, but like a vineyard after the whole vintage has been gathered, so that there was not to be found a single cluster. The prophet, speaking in the name of Israel, desired the first fruit., but there was none to be had. The lesson of the text, as it stands, would be that good men are the best fruit of a nation; they make it worth while that the nation should exist; they are the salt which preserves it; they are the fruit which adorns it, and blesses it. But I take the text out of its connection, and use it as the heading of a discourse upon “ripeness in grace.” We can all say, “My soul desired the first ripe fruit.” We would go on to maturity, and bring forth fruit unto perfection, to the honour and praise of Jesus Christ.
I. The marks of ripeness in grace.
1. Beauty. There is no more lovely object in all nature than the apple blossom. Much loveliness adorns youthful piety. Can anything be more delightful than our first graces? Autumn has a more sober aspect, but still it rivals the glory of spring. Ripe fruit has its own peculiar beauty. What a delicacy of bloom there is upon the grape, the peach, the plum, when they have attained perfection! Nature far excels art. The perfumed bloom yields in value to the golden apple, even as promise is surpassed by fulfilment. The blossom is painted by the pencil of hope, but the fruit is dyed in the hue of enjoyment. There is in ripe Christians the beauty of realised sanctification which the Word of God knows by the name of the “beauty of holiness.” This consecration to God, this setting apart for His service, this avoidance of evil, this careful walking in integrity, this dwelling near God, this being made like unto Christ,--in a word, this beauty of holiness, is one of the surest emblems of maturity in grace.
2. Tenderness. The young green fruit is hard and stone-like; but the ripe fruit is soft, yields to pressure, can almost be moulded, retains the mark of the finger. The mature Christian is noted for tenderness of spirit. I think I would give up many of the graces if I might possess very much tenderness of spirit. An extreme delicacy concerning sin should be cultivated by us all.
3. Sweetness. The unripe fruit is sour, and perhaps it ought to be, or else we should eat all the fruits while they were yet green. As we grow in grace we are sure to grow in charity, sympathy, and love. We shall have greater sweetness towards our fellow Christians.
4. A loose hold of the earth. Ripe fruit soon parts from the bough. You shake the tree and the ripest apples fall. You should measure your state of heart by your adhesiveness, or your resignation, in reference to the things of this world. The master will not let his ripe fruit hang long on the tree.
II. The causes of this ripeness. So gracious a result must have a gracious cause.
1. The inward working of the sap. The fruit could never be ripe in its raw state were it taken away from the bough. Outward agencies alone may produce rottenness, but not ripeness; sun, shower, what not, all would fail,--it is the vital sap within the tree that perfects the fruit. It is especially so in grace. Everything between hell and heaven which denotes salvation is the work of the Spirit of God, and the work of the grace of Jesus. That blessed Spirit, flowing to us from Christ, as He is the former of the first blossom, so He is the producer of the fruit, and He is the ripener of it until it is gathered into the heavenly garner.
2. The teaching of experience. Some fruit, like the sycamore fig, never will ripen except it be bruised. Many of us seem as if we never would be sweet till first we have been dipped in bitterness; never would be perfected till we have been smitten. We may trace many of our sharp trials, our bereavements, and our bodily pains, to the fact that we are such sour fruit; nothing will ripen us but heavy blows. Ripeness in grace is not the necessary result of age. Little children have been ripe for glory. Many an aged Christian is not an experienced Christian. Time may be wasted as well as improved; we may be petrified rather than perfected by the flow of years.
III. The desirability of ripeness in grace. Many Christians appear to think that if they are just believers it is enough. To be just alive as a Christian is horrid work. The fruit which under proper circumstances does not ripen is not a good fruit,; it must be an unwholesome production. Your soul can surely not be as it should be if it does not ripen under the influence of God’s love and the work of His grace. It is the ripe fruit that proves the excellence of the tree. The Church wants mature Christians very greatly, and especially when there are many fresh converts added to it. The Church wants, in these days of flimsiness and time-serving, more decided, thorough going, well-instructed and confirmed believers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The good man is perished out of the earth
The wail of a true patriot over the moral corruption of his country
The departure of excellence from his country. “The good man is perished out of the earth.” Probably they had emigrated to distant lands, perhaps they had gone into eternity. Goodmen are the “lights of the world.” Their influence penetrates the mass as salt, counteracts its tendency to corruption, removes its moral insipidity, gives it a new spirit--a spirit pungent and savoury.
II. The rampancy of avarice in this country.
1. The working amongst the general community. To get wealth for themselves was with them such a furious passion that the rights and lives of others were disregarded.
2. Its working amongst the higher classes. “That they may do evil with broth hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.” The idea seems to be this: that the “great man,” the “prince,” for some corrupt motive, seeks the condemnation of some innocent person; and the “judge,” for a bribe, gratifies his wish. A judge from avarice will pronounce an innocent man guilty. All this is done very industriously, “with two hands.” Possible, lest some event should start up to thwart them; and when it is done “they wrap it up.” “So they wrap it up.” Avarice, like all sinful passions, seeks to wrap up its crimes.
III. The mischievousness of the best in his country. “The best of them is as a briar; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge.” There is a gradation of wickedness of the men in the country, but the best of them is like a prickly thorn, and worse than a thorn hedge. The prophet is so struck with this, that the thought of retribution takes hold of him, and he says, “The day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh: now shall be their visitation.” Another thing which the patriot here bemoans is--
IV. The lack of truthfulness in the country. “Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide,” etc. “Place no faith in a companion; trust not a familiar friend; from her that lieth in thy bosom guard the doors of thy mouth. For the son despiseth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies are the members of his own family.”--Henderson. All social faith was gone; a man had lost all confidence in his brother. Social scepticism and suspicion prevailed in all circles. No faith was to be put in a friend. (Homilist.)
The lack of good men
These words are the cause of the prophet’s sorrow. So deep a concern it was, that the words of Micah 7:1 may signify not only mourning but howling. It arises from the scarcity of men truly good. Such a passion as this for the want of good men became the prophet in all capacities, as a man, as a subject, and as a prophet. As a man, he could not but be concerned to see a nation of men so changed and degenerated by vice and luxury. As a subject, he could but consider what misery would suddenly betide the nation, for want of goodness and religion. As a prophet, he could but note how they slighted his errand, and were sturdy and resolute in their vices.
I. Wherein the goodness of this good man, the prophet mentions, did express itself. The Christian Church, as well as the prophet, may justly bewail her barren Christians, and the scarcity of men truly good. We call ourselves saints and elect, but where is the patience, the temper, and the spirit of them? Let our religion be never so primitive and apostolical, except it makes us really good it is but wrangling hypocrisy and noise.
1. True goodness doth express itself in plainness and sincerity in all our respective dealings with men.
2. Goodness expresses itself in the exercise of good nature, and charitable allowances for the errors of others.
3. The good man is of a spirit truly public, whose care and attention looks abroad.
4. The good man takes up religion only to serve a spiritual purpose. Religion without this good purpose is only fashion or faction, hypocrisy and formality, superstition or interest.
II. What grew up and prevailed in the prophet’s time in the place of true religion or goodness.
1. Superstition and false religion, which naturally produce trouble and disquiet in all governments.
2. Wicked lives in the professors of the true religion, which will surely cause misery and ruin in a nation.
3. Atheistical persuasions prevailed, or there was no religion at all.
III. What particular reasons may move us to bewail the want of real goodness.
1. The want of it is the principal cause of our distractions about religion.
2. Real goodness is the best way to unite us among ourselves. Real goodness purges our judgment, removes our prejudices. (Gregory Hascard, D. D.)
Ancient and modern pessimism
When we ourselves are down it is hard to believe that anybody else is up; when our prayer is choked in our throat it is easy to believe that God hears no prayer at all, nor cares for petitioning and supplicating men. We interpret all things by ourselves. There is a curious self-projection of the soul upon the disc of history, and we read according to the shadow which we throw upon that disc. This is what we call pessimism. We are always inventing strange words, and imagining that thereby we are making some kind of progress. Man has a fatal gift of giving names to things, and once give a name and it will be almost impossible to obliterate it. We call this pessimism,--that is, seeing all the wickedness, and none of the goodness; seeing all the darkness, and none of the light; seeing the utter desolation of all things, and not seeing in all the wilderness one green blade, one tiny flower, or hearing in the grim silence one trill of lark or soft note of thrush or nightingale. There are persons gifted with the genius of darkness. It may do us good to visit them occasionally; but on the whole it is better to live in the sunshine, and to hear the music, and to come under the influence of intelligent vivacity and cheerfulness. If people will shut themselves up in their own little houses--for the biggest house is little, the palace is a mere hut--and never keep any company but their own, they will go down. It is so ecclesiastically. There are persons who never see the universe except through their own church window, and as no window is as big as the horizon, there steals insidiously upon the mind a disposition to deny the existence of the horizon itself. It is so with reading. There are those who read only a certain set of books. They go down; there is no mental range, no scope, no variety, no mystery of colour, no hopefulness, no imagination. The very earth needs to have its crops changed. If you will go on growing the same crops you will cease to have any crop that is worth gathering. There is, on the other hand, what is termed optimism. That is the exact contrary of pessimism. Optimism sees the best of everything. There is a danger along that line also; the danger is that we may not be stern enough, real enough, penetrating enough, going into the heart and inmost fibre of things to find out reality and truth, how bad or good soever the case may be. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the Judge asketh, for a reward
Success in sin: how it comes, and what it is
This is a picture, given at a stroke, of a proficient in sin in the highest state of sinful activity.
He is doing evil “earnestly,” systematically, persistently, with a certain enthusiasm as if it were the very instinct of his being and the very business of his life. In order that he may be stimulated and kept at it, he asks a reward, a pecuniary consideration from those who are to profit by his villainy. The man stands at the uttermost point from duty, and is ready to perish in his own corruption: This is terrible as a moral phenomenon. Terrible as an illustration of the natural history of sin, and its tendency to run out to unspeakable issues. None of us have a proper and adequate idea of sin, either as in God’s sight or in its deadly influence on ourselves. There is no sin which has not its root in the human heart. And wherever there is the root there may be the fruit. Wherever there is the germ there may be the growth. Upon the development of this possibility God does not put any mechanical restraint. He tells us our duty; He plies us with motives; He presses us with arguments, with reasons, with threatenings, with promises. He does not override our nature, so as to destroy that free agency which makes us responsible, and without which we should belong to a totally different circle of life. Sometimes God does make His providence seem to stand in the way, as when He made the angel cross the path of Balaam. But it is to make a man pause and reflect before he goes further, not to compel him to desist. Is it not a strange thing that God should reward men with success who are breakers of His laws? But these men are not breaking those of His laws from which they receive their reward. Whichever of God’s laws you obey, that law will reward you according to its kind, just because it is a law. Why does God allow the ungodly man to attain wealth? Simply because that ungodly man has sought wealth with all his might. He has made it the one aim of his life, and in order to secure it he has scrupulously obeyed those laws with which the attainment of it stands connected. The man obeys the law of success in that department. But he also allows the law which he disobeys to bring to him the natural result of that disobedience. And if the law which he disobeys be the higher law, the law of his spiritual life, then, whatever he may gain in the lower sphere, he is a loser in the higher, and therefore a loser in reality, a loser in the end, for he destroys his soul. As this success in sin is not prevented by providence, so neither is it prevented by the circumstance of possessing religious privileges. Privileges are a means of good; but the more good we resist the more hardened we become. Learn--It is not necessary that we should disobey the laws in the lower sphere; they can be obeyed in subordination to the higher. But if we practically make the lower the highest, then that which is really highest avenges itself by destroying the soul. The lesson of the text is just this--If we have not yet turned to good, the sooner we do so the better, There must be a great turning on the part of every one. (A. L. Simpson, D. D.)
“With both hands earnestly”
This is how bad men work. At least, it is how they wrought in the prophet’s time. There is no excellence in mere earnestness. Earnestness may be as fiery as the flame, and at the same time as destructive to real life and goodness. Yet every man should be in earnest. We ought to live our life and do our work “with both hands earnestly.”
I. Without hands. There are some good men who seem to be without hands altogether. From dawn of life until dusk they do nothing expressly for Christ. They could work with hands, because they do, in other things, a song, a political struggle, or their business. I know the excuses that will be pleaded, and the bars that will be put in for arrest of judgment:
II. With one hand. So, many of His servants serve Him. And this is well when it is just at the beginning of the service. A little is attempted at first. A little more is added, and so the service grows into some fulness, and the worker into some strength. You may be tender with the green blade if you see that it is green and therefore growing. A man may be touching Christian work only “with one hand,” but better so than not at all. More will come. Ha will be weary soon working with one hand. He will need the other for his own relief. He will take if he is not discouraged. Let all the one-handed men hear the “God-speed” of the older workers.
III. With both hands. For, after all, there is no perfection, even of a relative kind, with one. And the continued use of one only is a shocking imperfection in the Christian service. For as both hands have been given for use, the other will not be idle. It will be working in forbidden ways. It will be undoing what is done by the other. “With both hands,” then, for very safety. When we think of it, how very few things there are in the house, or in labour, or in business that we can do with one hand. A man without an arm is considered disabled as a workman.
IV. With both hands earnestly. It is not enough that all the talents are laid out; they must all be laid out to the best advantage. It is not enough that every power and passion shall be enlisted in the Lord’s service; they must all be baptized, inspired, and energised with a Christian earnestness. Thought must be suffused with feeling, and work must be filled and vitalised with love. There are those who work “with both hands,” who keep nothing back. There is no conflict of principles in their souls, and no visible flaw in their obedience. But the mechanism is mechanical, there is no vital action. The Christian earnestness is not mere vehemence and heat. It is essential that it be informed with full intelligence. The difference between fanaticism and zeal is chiefly a difference in knowledge. Christian earnestness is wise and thoughtful in the application of knowledge, in the judgment of persons, events, times, or seasons. Christian earnestness is very patient. Some reasons for an earnest life.
1. Self-preservation requires it.
2. Honesty requires it.
3. Benevolence requires it.
4. Gratitude requires it.
5. Time requires it.
6. The text requires it.
This text is one taken from the enemy. We have seized it as from the devil. It describes his hosts. We thank them for the attitude. We accept the challenge. We are no soldiers unless we do. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
And so they wrap it up--
The author of this book, though a contemporary of Hezekiah, evidently sketches a period in Jewish history far more corrupt than his own day. The period he refers to in the context was a period when the good man had “perished out of the earth,” and when “upright men existed not”; a period when all were “lying in wait for blood,” and every man was “against his brother.” Yet though the people and the authorities of this period were so corrupt, they had not entirely lost all shame of the abominations, for the prophet says, “they wrap it up.” All were busy in artful endeavours to conceal from others the wickedness of their conduct. Now, the endeavour of these people to wrap up their sin in concealment is worthy our attention, for several reasons--
I. Because it is general. Sin seems to have in it an instinct of self-concealment; it cannot bear the light. Like the noxious reptiles of the earth, it shrinks from observation. Hence no sooner does a man commit a sin than he seeks “to wrap it up.”
1. He seeks “to wrap it up” from society. In all grades of society, in all departments of action, men are active in wrapping up their sin. The dishonest tradesman wraps up the thousand sins of his daily avaricious life in the bland smile, the cringing bow, and the false statement which he makes to his customers. Every parcel he delivers to the purchaser is wrapt up in falsehood. In the professions you have the same wrapping. The lawyer, the physician, the priest, each has his sins, and each has his method of wrapping them up. Candidates for public offices will “wrap up” the sinful wishes that prompt them to seek the post, by many an avowal of patriotism and benevolence, as false as they are fair. This general “wrapping up” of our sins from the eyes of our fellow men shows the essential hideousness of sin. The conscience of universal man feels that it is an execrable thing, therefore he seeks to conceal it.
2. He seeks to “wrap it up” from his own conscience. This the sinner does by specious excuses which he offers to himself for his wickedness. Sometimes he will seek to “wrap” his sin in the garb of custom, so as to hide its enormity from his conscience, and he hopes that the custom of his trade or his profession will justify his doings. Sometimes he will “wrap” his sin in the infirmities of men who have been regarded as good, and he will seek to satisfy conscience by reference to the imperfections of men whom the world, the Church, and even the Bible itself, canonise as saints. Sometimes he will endeavour to “wrap up” his sin of religious neglect by promises of improvement in a future time, as Felix did of old. The endeavour of this people to wrap up their sin is important to notice--
II. Because it is wicked. It is adding sin to sin; the concealment of a sin is a double sin. By wrapping a sin up, however strong may be your motives for doing so, you enhance the guilt, and make the matter worse. The serpent hatches its brood under the cover.
1. Concealing sin is a sin against our constitution. We are organised to be open and revealing; we have organs made to reveal fully and faithfully what is in us, and our natural instincts urge us to this revelation.
2. Concealing sin is a sin against society. We have no right to appear to others what we are not. The hypocrite is, of all forgers, the most wicked and dangerous.
3. Concealing sin is a sin against God. It is an insult to His omniscience. The endeavour of these people to wrap up their sins is important to notice--
III. Because it is unwise.
1. The endeavour must inevitably prove fruitless. Even here, circumstances often occur in a man’s history to bring out to the full view of his contemporaries his hidden sins. The wrappage gets rent, and the unswathed monster leaps into the light, and men shudder. “Murder will out”; and not only murder. Yes, and to a man’s own conscience here, often by the force of moral conviction, all the monsters are unwrapt. But in the future there will be a full and complete unfoldment. Fold after fold, however intricately and numerously winded round the evil tiling, will be unloosed and thrown away in the flames of the last day. “God will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 10:26; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
2. The endeavour is eternally inimical to happiness. The child who commits a crime against his parents will move in wretched gloom in the happy circle of love, so long as he seeks to wrap up his offence. Let him confess it in tears, and the dark cloud will break, and the sun will shine again into his heart. Thus David felt, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long” (Psalms 32:3). “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh shall have mercy.”
3. The endeavour, if persisted in, will involve in unutterable ruin. (Homilist.)
I will look unto the Lord (taken with Isaiah 66:2)
The two looks
Man is a creature requiring help.
Where is he to look?
I. Man’s look.
1. Personal--“I.” Whatever it may cost, whoever else will not, I will.
2. Reliance--“unto.” In weakness, confusion, difficulty I will look unto the Lord.
3. Object--“the Lord.” Jehovah. He is able, willing, has promised to help.
II. God’s look.
1. God has promised to look to, i.e., after. “I will.” It is look is one of power, and it means help and protection.
2. Object--poor--needy. “Him that hath no helper” applies both to temporal and spiritual concerns of God’s people.
3. Contrite--repentant. Applies to spiritual condition: one humbled on account of sin; sorrowful, returning one.
4. Trembles at My Word. Not as Felix, but one who has reverence for it, tries to keep it, fears to break it. To Him will I look. Others may despise and disregard Him, but I will look to (after) Him. Let us look to God, and God will look to us (John R. Taft, M. A.)
The Church looking and waiting for the Lord
If you survey the human race you will find among them numberless differences. They differ in their condition, in their complexion, their stature, speech, apparel, manners. Yet there is a great resemblance among them too. The things in which they agree are far more important than those in which they differ. The resemblance regards what is essential in human nature; the variety is what is accidental only. This is an image of the Church of God. Differences in opinions, speculations, discipline, religious usages, forms and ceremonies, only concern the dress of religion; the body is essentially the same. In every ago of the world, under every dispensation of society, God’s people have been the same, their wants the same, their dependence the same, their tastes the same, their principles the same. Resolution rashly formed in our own strength not only fails, but often proves a snare to the soul. Resolution made in reliance on the power of Divine grace will be found serviceable to remind us, to humble us, to stimulate us, and to bind us. Thus resolution will resemble a hedge round a meadow, to keep the cattle from straying; and the hemming of a garment, to keep the threads from ravelling out.
I. To whom does the resolution of this text refer? The Lord. This term, Lord, is characterised by the Church in two ways. The one regards God’s work for them; the other, His relation to them. The Church calls Him “the God of their salvation.” And so He is, in every sense of the word. Every kind of deliverance is from Him. He is the preserver of men. But there is a deliverance that is emphatically called “salvation”; a deliverance from the wrath to come, from the powers of darkness, from the tyranny of the world, from the slavery of sin,--from all its remains and its consequences. Of this salvation, the purpose, the plan, the execution, the application, and the consummation are of God and of grace. The Church also calls Him her God. “My God will hear me.” “This is not too much for any Christian to utter. Every Christian has a much greater propriety in God than he has in anything else; indeed, there is nothing else that is his own. As He is really, so God is to us eternally and unchangeably. The relation between God and us, so as to authorise us to call Him ours, results from two things: donation on our side, and dedication on ours.
II. By what is this resolution excited? “Therefore.” Read the preceding verses. The prophet turned away from creatures, knowing that they were broken cisterns, cisterns that could hold no water. A designed experience this is, and not a casual one (so to speak) on God’s side. God is concerned for our welfare, infinitely more than we are ourselves, and therefore He does not wait for our application, but He excites it. It is a necessary experience on our part. We have a strong propensity to make flesh our arm and earth our home. It is the privilege of the real Christian, that he knows to whom he can go in the hour of distress; that though all be rough under foot, all, when he looks up, is clear overhead.
III. What does the resolution include? Two things--prayer and patience. Looking to Him is seeking Him in prayer. You should look to Him--
1. For explanation under your affliction.
2. For support in your trouble.
3. For sanctification.
4. For deliverance.
And you are to “wait.” Waiting supposes some delay in God’s appearance on the behalf of His people. These delays have always been common.
IV. What is it that sustains this relation? It is confidence in God as the hearer and answerer of prayer. According to some, the success of prayer is confined entirely to its exercise and influence. But we can recognise actual interpositions and benedictions. If a man prays aright, he will believe that God does something in answer to his prayer. (William Jay.)
Faith and hope in God
The Lord Jehovah is a never-failing source of consolation to His believing people. In Him, therefore, they put their trust, and receive ample supplies of mercy and grace in every time of need. In the preceding verses Micah addresses the few who were pious among them by way of caution, against treacherous friendships and creature confidence, and by way of encouragement, to trust solely in the Saviour of Israel for preservation and deliverance. The words of the text announce--
I. The prophet’s resolution. “I will look unto the Lord,” etc. This pious determination was evidently the result of eminent wisdom and prompt decision of character; it discovers a devout and gracious state of mind, and regards both the--
1. Active character of faith. Looking is a vigorous act of the mind. This vital principle includes a full renunciation of self-dependence; an implicit confidence in the Divine perfections and promises; and an entire devotion of the heart and life to His service.
2. The patient exercise of hope. “I will wait for the God of my salvation.” Genuine faith is invariably productive of practical piety. If we believe in God we shall delight in waiting upon Him in fervent devotion, and waiting for Him in earnest expectation. Waiting for the Lord is not a suspension of mental activity, nor a cessation of personal exertion; it is a lively exercise of the mind, ardently desiring and diligently seeking the blessings of salvation in all the duties and ordinances of the Gospel. We must wait for God humbly, believingly, faithfully, patiently, and perseveringly, in all the means of His appointment.
II. The prophet’s confidence. “My God, the God of my salvation.” This is the language of humble assurance. Genuine religion is its own evidence. It is attended with an internal witness of its personal enjoyment.
1. The inestimable portion claimed--“My God.” It is the distinguishing promise of the new covenant, “I will be your God, and ye shall be My people.” This is happily realised in the experience of all the saints. God is not only theirs in the natural relations of creation and preservation; but He is also theirs by the special engagements of His covenant and the benefits of salvation.
2. The unspeakable privilege enjoyed. “The God of my salvation.” The prophet had obtained mercy of the Lord, and was a partaker of His saving influence. But he still believingly waited for the progressive and perfect accomplishment of the work which He had already begun. Thus all the righteous are subjects of present salvation, and heirs of eternal life.
III. The prophet’s encouragement. “My God will hear me.” This persuasion afforded him inexpressible consolation. The rebellious Jews rejected his message; but he rejoiced to know that his God would propitiously hear and answer his pious devotions. He was encouraged by--
1. His communion with God. Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ, is the exalted privilege of all His people. They not only deem it their bounden duty, but they also esteem it their highest honour, to address the God of all grace.
2. His expectation from God. “My God will hear me.” He was not presumptuous in his confidence, nor enthusiastic in his anticipation. He relied on Scripture promises. He had the evidence of experience. The promises and goodness of God should excite our confidence, and promote gratitude and praise. Let us, then, consider the folly of trusting in the world for happiness, and the necessity of looking to God for salvation. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Looking unto God, and waiting for Him
Here is a general ground of encouragement.
1. The Lord makes use of troublesome and declining times to drive His people the more to their duty and thrift.
2. There is in God sufficient matter of encouragement to counterbalance any difficulty or discouragement that His people meet with in the world. Looking unto the Lord is an all-sufficient remedy to keep them from being carried away in a declining time, and from discouragement in a sad time.
3. In declining and sad times the people of God ought to be most earnest in dealing with Him, defending on Him, and expecting His help. Lukewarm dealing with God, however it may please fools in a calm day, yet will not bear out in a time of public defection.
4. In the reeling and turning upside down of things here below the people of God are not so much to look to these uncertainties as unto the immutability of God in what He is to His people.
5. With our faith and ardency in expecting God’s help, patient waiting is also to be conjoined, by keeping His way, notwithstanding difficulties or delays of deliverance, and resolving to have faith exercised before it get the victory.
6. In all the waiting of the people of God upon Him there is still hope and confidence, though it be not always seen to the waiter; for the same word in the original signifies both waiting and hoping. (George Hutcheson.)
1. These are the words of one who was saddened, and chafed, and perplexed. The depravities of society, its treacheries, its selfishness, and its furious lust overpowered all faith but faith in God, and compelled, through a terrible discipline, and yet a gracious one, to that Christlike attitude of perfect resignation and perfect devotion and perfect hope depicted by the text. The feeling expressed is one of personal devotion and social separation.
2. When the oppressions of sin beat down the soul, and the burden on the conscience is heavy; when convictions lacerate and fears overwhelm, and the heart is agonised with the apprehension of the wrath of an angry God; when man is wearied and distracted with the world and sin, wondrous is the change to purity, freedom, and peace, when the vow of the prophet can formulate the soul’s aspirations as in the text.
3. When man is converted and saved, the spiritual occupation of his new life is a looking, a waiting, and a praying; that occupation is permeated with hope and perpetuated by faith, and the certainties of a glorious issue illumine the path and lighten the soul.
4. No one can say “My God” who cannot also say “My God will hear me.” Every saved soul prays. There is a necessary connection, in virtue of an essential law of the spiritual life, between the “receiving of the atonement” and the offering up of our desires unto God.
5. Those who are saved were, in the language of Scripture, “lost.” Their salvation is the work of the Lord. Their Redeemer is the Deity.
6. The words, God of my salvation, My God,” indicate the exercise of that appropriating faith by which we “lay hold on the hope set before us” in the everlasting Gospel. (T. Easton.)
My God will hear me--
Our assuring confidence
Faith is “the victory that overcometh the world.” God is the object of that faith; His Word is the ground upon which it rests, and confidence and peace and assurance forever are its invariable fruits. When confiding in God, the soul intrenches itself in God; it is unassailable from within or from without; it can triumph over the most adverse circumstances, and cling to the everlasting rock amidst the swellings of the angriest sea. Nothing ought at any time to shake our confidence in God. No ground for distrust in God can possibly exist. It is well, when faith’s trial comes, to be prepared with some great standard truth to which we may hold fast under all circumstances. The whole teaching of Scripture assures us that confidence in God cannot be misplaced--cannot be disappointed.
I. The soul’s confidence grounded upon Deity--upon what God is. This is the highest of all grounds for confidence,--what God is in Himself, irrespective of all other considerations whatsoever. There is no deficiency of resources in Him; God is all-sufficiency. No want of inclination in Him; He is all goodness. All His attributes attest Him to be altogether qualified for the supply of our need, and His promises absolutely pledge Him to supply the need of all those who seek unto Him.
II. The soul’s confidence is here grounded on relationship to God. “My God will hear me.” It is the province of faith to appropriate God, as much as it is the province of faith to believe in His existence. The only revelation God gives us of Himself in His Word has reference to the offices He sustains for His people, and the relation He bears to poor sinners.
III. The soul’s confidence is founded also on the promise, “My God will hear me.” It is not a question, Will God hear me? “My God will hear me.” The same word in the Hebrew that signifies God hears, signifies also God answers. Whensoever we call, God will hear. Howsoever we call, God will hear. A look is a prayer; a desire is a prayer. And there is the personal element in the assurance--“the Lord will hear me.” (Marcus Rainsford.)
A sweet silver bell ringing in each believer’s heart
“My God shall hear me.” What a charming sentence! There is more eloquence in that sentence than in all the orations of Demosthenes. It is a choice song for a lone harp.
I. The title. “My God.” It is not God alone, but God in covenant with me, to whom I look for help. To call Him “My God” means election and selection. “My God” supposes an appropriation of faith. “My God” signifies knowledge and acquaintance. “My God” implies an embrace of love. “My God” implies that the obedience of your life is rendered to Him most cheerfully. A man cannot call God his God in truth unless he desires to obey Him. And the phrase “My God” hints at a joy and delight in Him.
II. The argument. The title contains within itself a secret logical force. As surely as He is my God He will hear me. Why?--
1. Because He is God, the living and true God: The oracles of the heathen are but liars. Those who sought unto the false gods did but dote upon falsehoods. You see in what a tone of confidence this prophet speaks; and why should not every child of God speak with the same confidence? There let it stand like a column of brass,--though all things else should fail, God must hear prayer. He may do this, and He may do that, but He must hear prayer.
2. Because He has made Himself my God He will hear me. He has given Himself to be my God.
3. Because my God has heard me so many times. Therefore, be it far from me to doubt His present and future favour.
4. Because in the covenant His hearing prayer is included.
5. Because if He did not hear prayer, He would Himself be a great loser.
III. The favour. “My God will hear me.” It is better for us to have a promise that God will hear us, than a promise that God will always answer us. If it were a matter of absolute fact that God would always answer the prayers of His people as they present them, it would be an awful truth. The text means that He will hear me--
1. As a listener.
2. As a friend, full of sympathy.
3. As a judge patiently hears a case.
4. As a helper.
IV. The person. “My God will hear me.” Will He hear you? Are you cast down under a sense of sin; persecuted; or disappointed? Be sure that God will hear you. If any mall wills to have God to be his God, grace is given him so that He will. If you desire Christ, you may have Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Keep on the outlook
A beautiful little book, entitled “Expectation Corners,” tells of a king who prepared a city for some of his poor subjects. Not far from them were large storehouses where everything they could need was supplied, if they but sent in their requests. But on one condition--they should be on the lookout for the answer, so that when the king’s messengers came with the answer to their petitions they should always be found waiting and ready to receive them. The sad story is told of one desponding one who never expected to get what he asked, because he was too unworthy. One day he was taken to the king’s storehouses, and there, to his amazement, he saw, with his address on them, all the packages that had been made up for him, and sent. There was the garment of praise and the oil of joy and the eye salve, and so much more; they had been to his door, but found it closed; he was not on the outlook. From that time on he learnt the lesson Micah would teach us: “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Andrew Murray.)
Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fail, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me
The rejoicing foe rebuked
The rejoicing foe. At the moment of conversion, the soul enters upon a conflict which continues until his dying day. The bugle that calls him to peace with God, calls him also to battle. Over and above the conflicts arising from his own evil heart, and the temptations of a godless world, the saint has in Satan a sworn foe. Let me beseech you to remember that in Satan you have a personal living foe. In order to form some idea of the foe we have to fight, look at the names given to him in Scripture. These best reveal his character. Apoliyon, the destroyer. Satan, the accuser. The Devil, or murderer. He comes at unawares. He assaults our weakest part.
II. The rejoicing foe rebuked. In our text there is no attempt to deny the fact of the fall, or excuse its guilt. Whence does the fallen Christian obtain his comfort, if it be not in ignoring the past? He rejoices in the thought of restoration. The future is his reservoir of gladness. I shall arise, he says, a wiser man; a more watchful man; a humbler man. God’s true saints shall be raised from the ground, however hard their fall. Next to the salvation of the sinner, the recovery of the saint brings glory to our Lord. (A. G. Brown.)
I. The conflict supposed. The language is very strong; the figurative terms employed suggest their own images; it is a sad but not a desperate case; there is hope in the Lord concerning this thing; but, meanwhile, there is a conflict going on which puts to the proof the strength and courage of Micah. We are here meditating upon the mental warfare that went on in the battlefield of a prophet’s heart. That which belonged to him is common to us all--not always, but at certain times. Some Christians make this mistake; they seem to expect that because they are Christians they shall be exempt from the temptations and evil inclinations of other men.
II. The sources of this spiritual conflict. We want nothing but the history of our heart to explain this. The sources of this conflict of thought and feeling are threefold,--the world, the devil, and death.
III. Thy frequent anticipation of death, which is a source of perpetual conflict to many. The fear of death is natural; it is probably a principle implanted from above, to prevent man from rushing unbidden into the presence of God. And to this fear the believer is liable, even as the unbeliever. (W. G. Barrett.)
I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him
The believer, conscious of God’s displeasure, confessing his sin
This is the language of the Church of the living God.
It is a sincere and upright acknowledgment of her own fault. She saw God in the dealing and conduct of her enemies. This led her to confession. This led her to holy determination; and also to patient waiting; and a believing confidence.
I. The solemn purpose of the soul. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord.” She saw the Lord’s hand in her afflictions. It is no small wisdom, when we are enabled to see clearly the mind and the dealings of God with us in our afflictions. What was the “indignation” that the Church had to bear? Not that which God shows to those who despise Him and rebel against Him; but the eternal display of God’s wrath against sin, a holy indignation against iniquity; the indignation of a Father’s displeasure. It is not the less painful for that. It is the very love of the father that makes his displeasure so keen to the heart of the child.
II. The reason that she gives for it. “Because I have sinned against Him.” Sin should be regarded in three different points of view. There is a course of sin. There are sins into which a child of God may be surprised. There is the missing of the aim of the child of God. There are two features in her confession. She acknowledged the sin to have been against God. And she threw the blame upon herself. Excuse mars confession. She did not throw the blame on inward corruption. Some confess sin, but they only confess it in the general. If a man truly confesses, he searches sin to the root. Nothing more humbles the spirit than such thorough and sincere confession. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The child of God under chastisement
The consequences of national backsliding could only be national judgments. This the prophet foresees; and in the name of the pious remnant, he turns to God for that hope and consolation which nothing on earth can yield. As for the chastisement which the Jewish Church was about to suffer, she is taught, in our text, to use the language of submission and of hope. Learn from the text, what are the feelings, what is the behaviour of a child of God under affliction.
I. He submits himself to God. Various are the trials which the people of God are called to endure. There is no promise that they shall be exempt from distressing circumstances. Each one shares the common sorrows of humanity. Each one has also sorrows peculiar to himself, arising from his disposition and circumstances. Yet, in all, the real child of God beholds God’s hand. He knows that, whatever he may have to suffer, it is from the Lord. Knowing, then, whence his troubles come, the child of God bows beneath the chastisement, it may be with a keen feeling of their loss, or woe, but with a patient submission to God’s will.
II. He justifies God. Pride may sometimes enable a man resolutely to bear evils which cannot be avoided. A naturally cheerful temper, also, will not feel the burden of sorrow so heavy as it is felt by a mind naturally anxious and desponding. But Christian submission is accompanied by a feeling which mere cheerfulness cannot produce, and which pride steadily opposes--a feeling of conscious guilt. Every grief is the offspring of sin. The Lord afflicts us, either that we may not forget our original deserts, as children of wrath; or, because we have committed some new transgression; or, as a means of correcting and renewing our naturally corrupt hearts. The child of God, therefore, while he smarts beneath the stroke of chastisement, acknowledges the propriety of it. He submits, for he knows that he has deserved it. This is the state of mind which God desires to behold in every sinner. This is the very end for which earthly trials are sent.
III. Hopes in God. “Until He plead my cause.” Trust in the mercy of God is no less the duty of a true Christian, than submission to the will of God and an acknowledgment of His justice in afflicting us. The child of God puts his trust in that very hand which smiteth him. Faith enables him to see, that chastisement, when patiently endured, is a sign of his adoption. Being assured of this, he can trust his Father’s kind affection for removing the trial in due time. Thus doth the afflicted child of God “lean only upon the hope of His heavenly grace.” Worldly sorrows thus become light and tolerable even when they are manifestly the consequences of sin. As I have cautioned you against a merely proud submission to God, and against an impenitent confession of your sinfulness, let me also warn you against a presumptuous hope of God’s mercy. God is a “jealous” God. There is a hope which will prove at last no better than a vain presumption: and the Bible does not leave us in doubt as to what that hope is. It is the hope of the hypocrite. It is the hope of the careless, thoughtless sinner, who talks loudly about God’s mercy. There is but one way in which you are authorised to hope in God. Approach Him with deep and heartfelt penitence; abhor and forsake every sin; and then your confidence in Him will stand on a secure foundation. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Culture under trial
Transfer this language from the lips of the Church to the lips of the individual Christian, and consider it as an indication of a spirit which needs to be more largely cultivated.
I. Determination to be cultured under trial. “I will bear, etc . . . against Him.” Two kinds of indignation spoken of in Scripture. Of one it is said, “Who can stand before His indignation?” Of the other the Church says, “I will bear it.” The one, fiery wrath of an offended King; the other, chastening displeasure of a loving Father. The one, hot anger, which utterly consumes; the other, loving correction, which melts, refines, and purifies. While before one none can stand, before the other, that we may be partakers of His holiness, God yearns that we may bow. When the Christian sees chastening displeasure issuing from a Father’s wounded love, he says, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord.” But something more. “Because I have sinned.” I will bear it, because it is less than I deserve; because I know who sends it, and the object He has in view. Illustrate Shimei’s conduct, and David’s treatment of him (2 Samuel 16:5-14). Recollect that God’s indignation may fall on us through others, or may come direct from Him.
II. Limit of endurance to be proposed. “Until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me.” In the trials which the Church had schooled herself to bear, there had been much of harshness, injustice, and wrong. God permits others to afflict us, whose purpose may be different to His own. Though the wrath of man is hateful, God makes it subservient to His wise purposes, and restrains its exercise. In every case of this kind, we should distinguish between man’s purpose and God’s purpose, or patience is beyond our reach. Illustrate Joseph in Egypt; and Israel in Egypt. If then, besides looking at man’s purpose, we will train ourselves to look at God’s purpose, and also for God’s limit, we shall be able to appropriate the language of the text, and so follow the example of Christ, who, under trial, committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.
III. Expression of confidence to be maintained. He will bring me forth . . . light . . . righteousness.” Observe the meaning of the language. Obviously figurative: sorrow, trouble, desolation (whether the temporal or spiritual) continually spoken of as “darkness,” and the reverse as “light.” But, when the proper season comes, God fulfils His promise to make darkness light before His servants, by turning doubt into confidence, affliction into prosperity, sorrow into joy; and He brings them forth into the light by removing their burdens, making clear their way, vindicating them from false charges, and revealing, at least in some measure, the reason and benefit of their grief. (W. D. J. Straton, M. A.)
In the day that thy walls are to be built
The good time coming
It will be a time for rebuilding the ruined. “In the day that thy walls are to be built.” The walls of Jerusalem are referred to--the walls of fortification, protection, these are to be rebuilt. There is, however, a more important rebuilding than this--a rebuilding that is going on, and will go on, until the great moral city shall be complete.
1. The human soul is a building; it is a temple, a “spiritual house” reared as a residence for the Eternal. It is “a city whose builder and maker is God.”
2. The human soul is a building in ruins. The walls are broken down; its columns, arches, roof, rooms, all in ruins.
3. The human soul is a building to be rebuilt. Christ is to be the foundation stone, etc. This rebuilding is going on according to a plan of the Great Moral Architect; is being worked out by agents that know nothing of the plan.
II. It will be a time for regathering the scattered. “In that day also He shall come even to thee from Assyria, and from the fortified cities, and from the fortresses even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain.” The human family, which heaven intended to live as one grand brotherhood, has been riven into moral sections, antagonistic to each other, and scattered all over the world. The time will come when they shall be gathered together, not, of course, in a local sense, but in a spiritual--in unity of sentiment, sympathy, aim, soul. All shall be one in Christ. They will be gathered in spirit together from the four winds of heaven. (Homilist.)
For the fruit of their doings
Man’s ruin the fruit of his own conduct
Assuming it to be a fact that man’s ruin is evermore the fruit of his own conduct, three things must follow--
That his misery will be identified with remorse. Morally it is impossible for a man to ascribe his ruin to his organisation, to circumstances, or to any force over which he has no control. He must feel that he has brought it on himself.
II. That in his sufferings he must vindicate the Divine character. “Just and right art Thou,” etc. As fruit answers to seed, as echoes to sound, their calamities answer to their conduct.
III. That his salvation from ruin requires a change of life.
IV. That christianity is the only system that can meet his case. The mission of Christianity is to change the heart, to renew the life, and effect a spiritual reformation. This it is designed to do, this it is fitted to do; and no other system on earth is capable of accomplishing this work. (Homilist.)
Feed Thy people with Thy rod, the flock of Thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old
Christ’s pastoral care
The prophet gives an account of the state of the professing, visible Church, which he looks upon to be like unto a field or vineyard after the harvest is past and the vintage over.
God never leaves a professing Church to be a wilderness, unless upon the utmost apostasy; but He many times leaves them to be as a field after harvest, or a vineyard after the vintage. He takes down the hedge, He suffers the wild beasts to come in, lets persons spoil at their pleasure; but there will come a time of culture again, when He will have fruit brought forth to His praise. The prophet says that those who were good were very few; and that those who were evil were very bad. When this is the condition, inevitable destruction lies at the door of that place or nation. If either of these be otherwise, there is yet hope. This being the state and condition of the people of the land, the prophet makes in the name of the Church a threefold application of himself--
1. To God. “I will look unto the Lord.”
2. To her enemies. Who is this enemy? Wherein did she show her enmity?
3. To himself. “I will bear the indignation,” etc.
Here is a very becoming frame under the present state of affliction. In this state and condition, the prophet puts up this request, “Feed Thy people with Thy rod.” In these words we have--
I. What is prayed for. The rod is the sign of the shepherd. Three things in the feeding of God’s people--
1. That God would supply their spiritual and temporal wants.
2. That God, in that state which is coming upon them, would give them pledges, singular pledges of His own tenderness and love.
3. By “feeding” is intended rule, protection, deliverance. The shepherd has to preserve his flock from all evil.
II. The arguments of faith to be pleaded in this case.
1. They were the people of God--
2. They were “the flock of Thine heritage.” They are a “flock.” And as such they are helpless, harmless, useful--useful, because a secret blessing goes with them; by reason of their good example; and by reason of their industry. They are “the flock of God’s heritage.” As such, if God take not care of it, no one else will. It is the heritage of Him whom the whole world looks upon as their greatest enemy.
3. The third argument is taken from their state and condition. The first argument pleads God’s glory, His love and faithfulness. The second pleads God’s interest. The third pleads God’s pity and compassion. They dwell “solitarily,” that is disconsolately. “In a wood,” that is, ins dark and entangled condition. (J. Owen, D. D.)
This prayer recognises three things.
I. An interesting relation between God and His people. Flock and Shepherd.
1. He is the absolute Owner of the flock. “All souls are Mine.”
2. He has a perfect knowledge of the flock.
3. He has an infinite love for the flock.
4. He has abundant supplies for the flock.
II. The trying condition in which God’s people are sometimes found. “Which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel.” The primary reference is to their captivity in Babylon.
1. It is caused by self. Souls have not been driven away into moral captivity. “All we like sheep have gone astray.”
2. It is undeliverable by self. No soul ever found its way back to God by its own unaided efforts; hence Christ came to “seek and to save the lost.”
III. The importance of restoration to former enjoyments. “Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.” The regions of Bashan and Gilead, on the east of the Jordan, were celebrated for their rich pasturage, and on this account were chosen by the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 12:1-16; Deuteronomy 3:17). Morally, the great need of man is the restoration of normal rights, normal virtues, normal enjoyments. (Homilist.)
Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity?
The grace of God to sinners
Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries. They lived in the same land, they lived in the same city; they ministered, we may say, to the same congregation, and they preached the same Gospel. They were very unlike in some respects, so far as we can judge from the remnants of their ministry they have left behind them. Isaiah was, perhaps, the most eloquent man that God ever made, and He made him for the most splendid of service. Long ago, Jerome, the great Latin scholar, in translating into the Vulgate these books, said of Isaiah that he was the evangelical prophet, and ever since that day the Church of Christ in all her branches has subscribed to that striking description of Isaiah. Micah, again, would seem to be a man of different kind, with a full equipment of spiritual experience. His sayings are short and penetrating; not so captivating to the mind, it may be, as Isaiah’s eloquence, but piercing and penetrating to the understanding and conscience and heart of all who heard him. We have an epitome of his ministry in these closing verses, a summary of his lifelong service of God and Jerusalem. “Who is a God,” he says, “like unto Thee?” He begins to speak to the people, but forgets the people in the presence of God and His glorious grace, and he makes his sermon begin with a doxology, a cry of wonder, an astonishment at the grace of God. It is not written, but I can read it--I am as sure of it as if it had been written--that many a time before he exclaimed, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” he said, “Who is a sinner like unto me?” No man ever is amazed at the grace of God till he is confounded with his own sin. There is a thrill of astonishment and amazement at the grace of God that has borne with him for so long and fruitless a ministry and so sinful and unsanctified a life. There may be an allusion, as allusions run up and down all the prophets, comparing the God of Israel with the gods of the nations round about. The form of the exclamation is, no doubt, taken from that which was a continual debate between the prophets of Israel and false prophets and false gods of the nations round about. They had their gods--he admits that in a kind of way for argument’s sake--but he turns and says, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” What priest of Baal or Ashtoreth has a god like unto the prophet Micah? They had their gods of war and their gods of wine; gods of love, gods of the woods, gods of the streams, gods of the seas, gods of the storm clouds; but never did any prophet outside of Israel say, “Our God pardoneth iniquity.” The thing that astonishes him is that God forgives iniquity. “He pardoneth iniquity.” Rabbi Adam Duncan, the great Hebrew professor, a man of genius and a saint, if there has been one in our day in Scotland, one day was tottering along the street to his class. A wag of a fellow came out of the door of one of the clubs in Edinburgh: and thought he would have a joke out of the old Doctor, a story to tell. “Well, Doctor, any news the day?” “Oh, great news,” says the Doctor, with his blazing eyes; “great news, sir.” It staggered the youngster. He said, “What is it, Doctor?” He thought it was some revolution, some tremendous thing that had not come to their ears in the club yet. But, says the Doctor, laying his hand on the youth’s shoulder, “the blood of Christ still cleanseth from all sin.” There is grace in the grammar, he pardoneth iniquity. He does it now. The school boy will tell you this is the present tense. It is not that He pardoned in Micah’s day, but His grace is dried up this day; or will pardon some time again when there is more prayer and preparation and faith; but He pardons now--He pardons here. This is the joy of the Gospel; this makes it fresh every morning; this makes every minister experimental and autobiographical, because he can say, like Rabbi Duncan, “Come all ye people, and I will tell you what God has done for my soul this very morning; He pardoneth iniquity--things you would rather drown yourself than hear it ever said you had done; He pardoneth it, and you will go home clapping your hands, and saying, ‘Who is a God like unto Thee?’” We need many things, but first pardon. If you went into your prison and some man lay waiting execution, and you said, “What can I do for you, my man? I have influence with the magistrates, the Government, the King--what can I do?” He would reply, “Get the rope off my neck, get that scaffold taken away, and then there may be other things you can do; but get my pardon, and get it quick.” And therefore it is in the forefront of the message to you and me, when we wakened this morning. There is a note of the Passover there. He passeth by, He does not see it, He does not want to see it. “He retaineth not His anger forever.” He is angry, mind you. He is maybe very angry with you here this morning. I am quoting Goodwin, but I am in a good atmosphere. He says: “The conscience is a little window in the soul through which God throws in a coal of hell fire to let a man taste beforehand what it will be to make his bed in hell.” You say, some fine, young gentleman, that there is no fire in hell. Wait and see! Says Goodwin again: “Hell is not culinary fire.” There were sceptics in his day, too, and he said: “Oh, no, not kitchen fire; quite right. You know better than the apostles and prophets and the Master Himself. It is not culinary fire--that could be put out. But I will tell you what cannot be put out, remorse.” But though He is angry for a little season, He delighteth in mercy. It is worth travelling across the country just to say that to a fellow sinner. Our Maker and Judge and Redeemer, He delighteth in mercy. It is never said He delighteth in anger. It is against His nature, but mercy is His very innermost nature. If the devil casts my sins in my teeth, I will say, “Yes, it is all true, and you cannot tell the half of it, but I have to do with One who delighteth in mercy.” “He delighteth in mercy.” He enjoys it, it is His nature, and you can satisfy His mercy as, maybe, no one else can. There may be some sin in your case that makes you a peculiar sinner, and makes you a peculiar ornament to the grace of God to all eternity. “He will turn again.” Has He left you? Have you sinned away the peace of God out of your conscience? But He will turn again. He is, maybe, turning this moment. “He will have compassion.” Samuel Rutherford was once at the Communion season talking to the elders after the people were away, and said, “Now, we have been preaching about justification today; whether do you think you will be more thankful in heaven for justification or sanctification?” None of them spoke; then an old man said, “Mr. Samuel, we’ll thank Him for baith.” So we will thank Him, some of us, “for baith,” for a pardon that passeth all understanding, and for a sanctification of sinful hearts rotten to the core and running over with all manner of sin. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Peculiarities in God’s pardoning
God regards you, and the Bible describes you as sinners; and so you are. Sinners condemned, and needing pardon; for condemnation follows sin as a matter of course. When a man has sinned he must receive a pardon, or suffer the penalty. One great object of revelation is to tell you that you may be pardoned. Revelation declares the ground, the manner, the conditions of pardon. What is there peculiar and distinguishing in God’s exercise of pardon? There are not many points in which creatures resemble God. The attributes and ways of creatures are for the most part in contrast to those of God. In nothing is God more unlike other beings than in pardoning.
1. No being pardons with such honour to the law broken, and with such security to the government offended, as God.
2. No one pardons at such an expense to Himself as God does.
3. No one pardons with such a good effect on the sinner pardoned.
4. No one pardons so many as God.
5. God also pardons many sins of each sinner. Men’s pardonings are limited and restrained. He abundantly pardons.
6. Notice the peculiar character of the sins which God pardons.
7. He forgets as well as forgives.
8. He makes provision for the pardon of future sins.
9. God does more than pardon; He justifies, adopts, sanctifies, and eventually glorifies us.
10. God pardons on the most reasonable conditions.
11. These very conditions of pardon God fulfils in us. He gives us repentance, and our faith is the gift of God. (W. Nevins, D. D.)
In the Gospel of our salvation, all God’s moral perfections are developed and glorified. No one of them is sacrificed to another, nor eclipsed by another’s splendour. Each has its own special office, but freely accords their claims to all the rest. But there is one of these perfections on which the sacred writers dwell with peculiar pleasure--mercy, the first need of the fallen, the everlasting song of the redeemed. It is the theme of the Old Testament prophecy, and the charm of the New Testament history. In this text the prophet asserts, not merely that God is merciful, but that “He delighteth in mercy.” Develop the thought of the peculiarity of the Divine mercy in the forgiveness of human guilt.
I. Who pardoneth at so great a cost? Take parable of sending only son to the rebellious husbandman. The affection of a father for an only son, though the best that human relations can furnish, is a poor emblem of God’s ineffable delight in His co-equal and co-eternal Beloved. And from the first He foresaw what His Son must suffer.
II. Who pardoneth on so easy a condition? Offenders are frequently forgiven in consideration only of some valuable service rendered. Many imagine that they can merit Divine mercy by their moral virtues. It is a fatal delusion. Man is a creature. His Creator has the unquestionable right to all he is, and all he has. When the creature has done his utmost, he is still an unprofitable servant. And man is a fallen and guilty creature. As such, he is already in arrears with God. His perfect obedience being always due, he can never make up any deficiencies. There is no possibility of doing anything beyond our bounden duty, to be set down to our credit over against any record of former delinquency. Moreover, the fallen creature cannot keep the Divine law, without the grace of its Divine Author--His prevenient grace to prepare the way--His cooperative grace to assist the effort. Not through any worthiness of our own can we hope for absolution. What is the condition of a sinner’s pardon? Simple faith in Christ. What is the justifying faith? It is accepting the record which God hath given of His Son, and relying upon that Son’s mediatorial merit with an undoubting trust. It is receiving Christ as the one only suitable and sufficient Saviour, and thus appropriating His purchased and proffered salvation. It is quite conceivable that other and altogether different conditions might have been imposed. But what other could have been so merciful in God, so suitable to sinners, and so easy of performance as this?
III. Who pardoneth with so cordial a liberality? What heathen divinity? What human government? What prince or potentate? Often, in the exercise of human clemency, the rich and the powerful are preferred to offenders of inferior rank; and generally, small offences are more readily forgiven than greater. But God pardoneth without partiality, and without respect of persons. Alike, to His all-forgiving love, is the debt of fifty pence, and the debt of five hundred. Though men may pardon a second or third offence, they are not likely to pardon the same offence in its frequent repetition. But God pardoneth a thousand times, pardoneth the same crime a thousand times committed. Monarchs and governors require to be petitioned and importuned for mercy: often it is necessary that others with their intercessions should enforce the plea of the offender, and even thus pardon is obtained with great difficulty, and after long delay. But God waiteth to be gracious, hasteth to be merciful, more ready to forgive than sinners are to be forgiven. Men pardon one offence out of many, and leave the rest for punishment; or they forgive, but never forget. But God pardons all offences at once, and blots them from His memory forever. You may pardon the offender, without giving him any intimation of the fact. But God absolves when He forgives. Such is the mercy of God in the forgiveness of human guilt--rich beyond all parallel in earth or heaven--admirable beyond all expression of men or angels. Then who can despair? Who can even doubt? (J. Cross, D. D., LL. D.)
A pardoning God
In this marvellous and mysterious world alone is mercy harmonised with justice, and it is manifested that “there is forgiveness with God that He may be feared.” None pardons like God. This is the sublime import of the text.
I. None pardons so freely as God. He acts self-prompted, self guided. Free must His salvation be, for it was devised before earth began. There is no other fountainhead whence the tide of boundless love gushes forth to a ruined race. Will it be thought any let or bar to the freedom of God’s sovereign love in our salvation, that His love flowed to us through the channel of His own Son crucified for us, bringing to us pardon and forgiveness?
II. None pardons so graciously as God. Freely as He has prepared forgiveness, so freely does He dispense forgiveness. If we think to purchase it with a price, God will say unto us, “Thy money perish with thee.” It costs the poor suppliant sinner nothing but acceptance,--nothing but simple, humble, self-abandoning reception.
III. None pardons so promptly as He. God’s promptness in forgiving is a striking peculiarity which ought not to be passed over. “Before they ask, I will answer.” This is the rule of God’s dealing.
IV. None pardons so perfectly as God does. It is a pardon that He represents as so absolute that it utterly puts away all that is past as if it never had been. The sinner is pardoned completely, accepted completely, in the very righteousness of God--the Divine righteousness wrought out by Immanuel, in our nature, for us, and imputed to us when we believe in Him.
V. None pardons so consistently and majestically as God does. “A God all mercy were a God unjust.” God might cease to be, rather than cease to be just.
VI. None pardons so effectually as God does. Then “shall we sin in order that grace may abound”? Nothing slays the carnal mind in us like sovereign grace. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
The Lord’s pardoning mercy
The ground foundation of all our hope and comfort, in our restoration after our distresses, is the Lord’s pardoning mercy. “Who is a God like unto Thee?” This abrupt and passionate admiration of God’s pardoning mercy showeth that all these promises had their rise there. There were great difficulties to be overcome before these promises could take place; but the greatest difficulty and obstruction lay in their sins. And the prophet wondreth more at His grace subduing sin, than at His power overcoming difficulties.
1. Sin is the greatest obstacle. Take that out of the way, and then mercies come freely from God. If there be any restraint of God’s blessing, it is because of man s sin.
2. Sin is the cause of all our evils, as well as it stoppeth and hindereth our mercies. Sin being pardoned, the cause of the misery is removed, and the cause being removed, the effect ceaseth.
3. Outward mercies, were they never so great and full, would never yield any true satisfaction, unless they be joined with reconciliation with God, and pardon of sin. No solid happiness till pardon. Use this to reprove
4. To instruct us, what should most affect our hearts. Not so much God’s acts of power, as His acts of grace. Doctrine--That the chief glory of the true God consisteth in the pardon of sins, wherein there is none like Him. Evidence this by these considerations--
1. We have not a true apprehension of God, till we see Him singular and matchless in excellency, and do give Him a distinct and separate honour, far above all other things which are in the world.
2. Among all His excellences, His pardoning mercy shineth forth most conspicuously in the true religion, and is represented with such advantages as cannot be found elsewhere. The business of a religion is to provide sufficiently for two things; to provide a suitable happiness for mankind, and a sufficient means for the expiation of the guilt of sin. Till there be a due course taken for the pardon of sin, there is no provision made for establishment, either of the creature’s comfort or duty. Natural light giveth some evidence of this truth, that God is placable. The Gentiles were all of this opinion, that their gods were inclined to pardon. Thence came all their sacrifices and expiations. They thought their gods would be propitious to sinners, if they did come humbly and ask pardon. God’s commanding us to forgive one another is an argument that mercy and forgiveness are pleasing to God. In the Christian religion all things are provided for which are necessary to establish a regular hope of pardon.
1. There is full satisfaction given to Divine justice, and the foundation laid for pardon in the death of Christ.
2. We have privileges offered to us by a sure covenant in Christ’s name.
3. It is dispensed upon rational terms, such as faith and repentance.
4. In the manner of dispensing forgiveness. God doth it in a free, full, and universal remission of our sins. It is a free pardon. It is not given without our desiring, but it is without our deserving. God doth it for His name’s sake, pitying our misery, and for the glory of His own mercy. And there is no renovation of any one sin, but that sin for which men will not ask pardon.
1. Information. To show us the excellency of the Christian religion above other religions in the world; because it discovereth pardon of sins upon such terms as may be most commodious for the honour of God, and satisfactory to our souls. The heathen were mightily perplexed about the terms, how God might dispense it with honour, and man receive it with comfort. Somewhat they conceived of the goodness of God, but they could not apprehend Him reconciled to the sinner, without debasing His holiness.
2. To put us upon self-reflection. Do we entertain this offered pardon as such a singular thing deserves?
What impressions should it leave upon us?
1. The sense of God’s glorious grace in pardoning, should work in us a great love to God, and commend and endear Him to our hearts.
2. Where it is rightly entertained, it breedeth admiring thoughts. Everything about God is marvellous, but especially His mercy.
3. It breedeth a reverence of God. That sense of pardon which worketh no reverence, but rather a contempt and commonness of spirit in all our transactions with God, is justly to be suspected.
4. It confirmeth us in the true religion. Carnal comforts tickle the senses. False religions leave us in darkness and perplexity. But the grace of Christ truly propounded, soon brings ease and peace.
5. It takes off the heart from other things, and brings us back from the flesh to God.
6. It giveth us strength and encouragement to new obedience.
7. It melteth us into the forgiveness of others. We press you to admire the grace of God in the pardon of sins. It is a necessary mercy: a great mercy. This truth should refresh the weary, and make glad the mournful soul. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The pardoning God
How is God magnified in pardoning sin?
I. In the pardon of sin, we see a manifestation of the Divine sovereignity. It is the prerogative of God to give law. It is equally, and on the same grounds, the prerogative of God to forgive the breach of law. Hence the Jews accused Christ of blasphemy, etc. Human forgiveness does not affect guilt. Divine majesty appears, then, in forgiving.
II. In the pardon of sin, we see a manifestation of marvellous forbearance. Sin denies God’s propriety in us. It disclaims His authority as a Ruler. It denies the perfection of His character as a standard. Hence it sets aside His Godhead and Being. It wars with and injures all that are His.
III. In the pardon of sin, we see a glorious manifestation of mercy.
1. Consider from whence man had fallen, and there was nothing to awaken compassion.
2. Consider him as fallen, and there was seemingly nothing to provoke commiseration. There is--
IV. In the pardon of sin, there is a bright display of the infinite love of God. In order that sin might be pardoned, God gave His Son to suffer and die. We cannot apply this measure of God’s love. The love, however, like the gift, must be infinite.
V. In the pardon of sin, there is a terrible and striking proclamation of the justice of God. Justice pronounces the pardon of sin. And it is justified in doing so. He who sings of pardon, sings of mercy and judgment.
VI. In the pardon of sin, there is an unequalled display of the unsearchable wisdom of God. Seen in reconciling what seemed necessarily and eternally at variance. Not only is man’s salvation made consistent with God’s glory, but God is glorified thereby. Apply--
Who is a God like unto Thee
I. The chief particulars of God’s gracious dealings with his people (Micah 7:18). What now calls forth the admiration and praise of the prophet, is the manner in which God deals with His people’s sins. Our God is distinguished from all others as a God that pardoneth iniquity. All iniquity is rebellion against infinite love and goodness, a trampling upon God’s laws, a casting off of His authority, a doubt of His holiness, a contempt for His power. Then it surely is marvellous that the Most High God should pardon iniquity; and go about to pardon iniquity in such a costly way, even by the incarnation and death of His own co-equal Son. But the prophet is not content with merely stating this precious truth, but he amplifies it, and keeps our attention fixed on it, by adding more particularly, “and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage.” God calls His Church His heritage or possession, His “peculiar treasure.” His heritage is only a remnant. And even this remnant, is not pure and holy. As a person can least brook faults or blemishes in that which he hath especially set apart for his own honour and pleasure, so it was least to be expected that the “transgression of the remnant of God’s heritage” should be spared. It was every way most justly to be feared that they would be cast off as unprofitable, rejected forever. But such are not the ways of our God. He passeth by their transgression. The reason is not in them, but in God Himself. He is thus merciful to them, because He “delighteth in mercy.”
II. The believer’s encouragement in the expectation of yet future mercies. This is the invariable result of a lively sense of God’s goodness, it leads us to desire and look for more. The Lord hath always abundantly more grace in store for His people than they have appetite to enjoy. The prophet adds to his previous account of God’s great mercy to His people, this confiding expectation of future blessing. It is not all God’s desire that sin should be forgiven, He would also have it overcome. He will subdue our iniquities.
III. The believer’s warrant for his hopeful anticipations. The grounds on which these promises rest for their fulfilment. It is because of the covenant which God made with Abraham and his seed for evermore, that we may confidently look for the sure performance of God’s gracious word to them that believe. It is called “mercy to Abraham,” because it was made with him, in the first instance, entirely of God’s free grace. This covenant was “truth to Jacob,” because the faithfulness of God was now engaged to make good to the son of Isaac what He had freely promised to his father. And God confirmed His promise to Abraham by an oath. And “because God could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.” This covenant was made sure in Christ. Can we then, after this brief review of God’s great mercy to us in Christ, refuse to unite with the prophet in ascribing glory to His name? And must we not, at the same time, be careful to see to it, that we answer to this description of Christ’s covenant members; and that we “do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”? (W. E. Light, M. A.)
An end to sin
Micah is so struck with the Divine patience as to break out in the adoring language of the text, “Who is a God like unto Thee?” He sees a day coming when the promises, frustrated so long by man’s unbelief, shall be fulfilled to the letter, and the reproach of prophecy shall be rolled away. God’s matchless way of redeeming man is the subject for wonder presented by the text.
I. God is without his; like in forgiving our sins. Micah has an eye to the notorious sins of the nation. In saying that God retains not His anger forever, he means to say that there was cause for anger. A patience that bears daily with many provocations, when it can deal summarily with its objects, is, indeed, a wonder. It is more agreeable to God to forgive than to punish. He delighteth in mercy, and judgment is His strange work. He forgives to the uttermost, and that is only saying that He forgives like Himself--royally, absolutely, omnipotently. We honour God when we magnify His saving power. And God is a very ready God to pardon. His compassion is ever ready to awake at the call of penitence. Compassion kindles within His merciful bosom without any constraint. He is ever only too ready to turn to us, and it takes far less to turn Him to us, than it takes to turn Him from us. Our sins do hurt the fatherly heart of God. We must not think that God cannot be grieved.
II. God is without his like in subduing our sins. When Micah said, “He will subdue our iniquities,” he probably had in view the beneficial effect of the captivity on the religious future of the people. Babylon would give the deathblow to their besetting sin. It did so. They never returned to idolatry after the severe lesson of those seventy years by the rivers of Babylon. They were cured of that great defect in their national life; but even Babylon could not cure them of their iniquities. Idolatry vanished, but their iniquities, like the fabled Hydra, were not long in repairing the loss of this one severed head by throwing out the seven new and deadly heads of pharisaism. The words teach us to believe in a power which is death to sin, even as sin at first was death to man. Man’s conqueror is to be in turn conquered by man. If Satan had the brief pleasure of nailing our Saviour to the accursed tree, it was at the expense of being himself crushed to death beneath His subduing heel. We learn from this promise that it is the purpose of God to renew us in His own image, to fill us with that hatred of iniquity and love of holiness that distinguish His own nature. With the Gospel freedom, there comes the call to take on the yoke of Christ, the yoke of obedience, and consequently the yoke of peace and joy. Our faith, being assured of the reality of Christ’s victory over sin, gives us an assurance of our own victory over it, and summons us to the attempt. Ideally, in the mind and purpose of God, we are already complete, already without sin, already with the earnest of eternal life, already without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. This ideal is not to be thought of as a picture of the imagination. It should be the very best help to the working out of a high practical aim.
III. God is without His like in removing our sins. Micah here warrants us in believing that the forgiveness of our sins by God is irrevocable. When he says, “And their sins Thou wilt cast into the depths of the sea,” he prophesies a complete forgetfulness of them, a total burial as of something sunk in mid-ocean. What is sunk in the depths of the sea never rises up to the surface again. Such will be the merciful dealing of God with us if we ask Him to forgive our sins. He will not even mention them again, as having no desire to raise one thought of shame in the pardoned breast ever after. (David Davies.)
On venial sin, and auricular confession
These words are to be understood as ascribing the power of forgiving sins to God only; as declaring that to do so is His sole prerogative; and that He is jealous of this attribute. Mercy, as an attribute, belongs to God only. We must ascribe to God the whole power of forgiving sin. This doctrine is so consonant with reason, so agreeable to Scripture, and so honourable to God, that it might seem unnecessary to say anything with a view to confirm its truth, or to illustrate its importance. Yet there are many who deny it in substance, and more who, though they admit it in words, do not act as if they believed it. Such a doctrine goes directly to show the infinite evil which sin involves in every ease. It is the disposition of our corrupt minds to think lightly of the evil of sin. In consequence of this habit, multitudes live without feeling any lively concern about forgiveness at all. Some with but an imperfect sense of guilt in their consciences, conceive that they may merit forgiveness by their good works, or by doing penance, or in some other way equally fallacious and unsatisfactory.
1. As all sin is committed against God, and is an offence in which His honour is concerned, we are led to the conclusion that forgiveness is an act, the exercise of which God will reserve to Himself, and which He will not delegate to any other. Sin is a transgression of His law, and implies a disregard of His will, and a contempt of His authority. The kinds of sins that men may be guilty of are various, and some discover a greater degree of impiety and of depravity of character than others. But the very first departures from the line of duty involve the guilt of despising the command, of contemning the authority, and of contravening the will of God, and are therefore exceedingly sinful. From overlooking this, many seem to be insensible of the danger of first steps in sin, which are usually so decisive of the character and of the future destiny of a man. When you can sin against God without remorse or fear, you have already lost the only principle which can effectually secure your continuance in the paths of righteousness. As every sin is a dishonour done to God, and an offence committed against His government, it seems peculiarly appropriate that God should reserve the exercise of mercy wholly to Himself, and render it necessary for guilty and rebellious creatures to humble themselves before Him, confess their guilt, and seek for mercy. No repentance can be considered genuine which does not originate in a sense of the evil of sin as committed against God.
2. God alone knows what the honour of His government, and the maintenance of His glory, render necessary. There is no act of government which requires greater wisdom and prudence than that of dispensing pardon; for if it be done without care, it is calculated to give rise to the most pernicious results. Injudicious and indiscriminate mercy emboldens offenders to go on in wickedness, induces others to be less careful to avoid transgression than they would be, and leads to a general contempt of the authority of law, and of the obligations of duty. To conceive that God would surrender to a mere creature the power of forgiving sin, is as difficult to be believed as that He would give a creature power to govern the material creation. In what sense then was power to remit or retain sins given to the apostles? They were specially inspired; and were only agents in stating God’s forgiveness.
3. In exercising His power to forgive, God must have regard to His other attributes. The work of mercy must be perfect, as every work of God is perfect. God will exercise mercy only in perfect consistency with the truth, the righteousness, the wisdom, the holiness of His nature. That God might thus exercise mercy in consistency with all the perfections of His nature, He sent His Son into the world, to die in our room and stead. Since God has appointed this way of forgiving sins, who may safely act in opposition to it, either for himself, or by leading others to neglect the great salvation? The way in which forgiveness is exercised, is the way in which God has seen it best for His glory, and most consistent to His perfection, that it should be exercised. He is consulting, in the work of redemption, high and holy ends.
4. As the forgiveness of sins is an inestimable blessing, it is reserved by God to Himself to exercise it, that He may draw forth our love and gratitude, in return for His infinite compassion and kindness. The blessing implied in the forgiveness of sin, is of all others the most precious which men can receive, and the most important which they can seek for. How daring is that individual who would step in between God and His creatures, and lay claim to the power of exercising pardon, and dispensing forgiveness! Four grounds of practical improvement--
And passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage--The prophet speaks these words in a transport. He is telling us something about God which drew his wonder and amazement. It was God’s pardoning mercy to His sinful creatures.
I. Whom God pardons. “The remnant of His heritage.” The reference is to the Jews, but the expression is equally descriptive, in all ages, of those whom the Lord pardons. They are but a small remnant of a sinful world. All need pardon, but multitudes die without having received pardon. Men like to hear of pardon, but they like not the way in which God offers to bestow it on them. Those whom the Lord pardons are also called “His heritage,” or His inheritance, His portion, His property. The term is frequently applied to Israel, but it is applicable, in a stricter sense, to that company of pardoned sinners who constitute the Church of Christ. They are, peculiarly, eternally, the Lord’s heritage. How many belong to this heritage of God we know not.
II. How does God pardon? Observe the variety of expressions which the prophet uses. Literally it is “who beareth iniquity,” and it refers to the way in which the Lord pardoneth sinners by bearing their iniquities Himself. He hath caused them to rest like a tremendous burden on His own sacred head, and what sinners themselves deserved to suffer, He hath suffered in their room. The prophet also says, “He passeth by the transgression.” Here is the consequence of a man’s coming to the Cross, of his putting faith in what the Saviour has been doing for him. God “passeth by” that man’s “transgression,” just as He passed over the blood-sprinkled houses in Egypt. The prophet says, “He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us.” Here is another representation of the riches of God’s pardoning grace. And what an affecting representation does it give of God’s tender dealing towards the penitent transgressor! The prophet says, “He will subdue our iniquities.” Here our iniquities are considered in the light of formidable enemies rising up against us to destroy us. What will God do on behalf of those who make His Son their Saviour? He will “subdue” both their past and their present iniquities. The last expression the prophet uses is, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Here is indicated the extent of God’s pardon, and the completeness of it. The pardon is final, unchangeable, eternal.
III. Why does God pardon? What moves the Holy and the Just to save a remnant of His guilty creatures from destruction? The text does not answer in a way to flatter man; as if any estimable qualities in him were the moving cause of Divine compassions, The reason is “because He delighteth in mercy.” It is, as it were, His favourite attribute. He hath pleasure in mercy. Gladly do the redeemed of the Lord ascribe every tittle of their blessedness to the mercy of their God. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
He retaineth not His anger forever--
God’s anger and mercy
Can God be angry? The ancient philosopher, and the modern man of science, represent the Infinite Spirit as incapable of any emotion. The old Greek thinkers tell you that the Divine existence is passionless and free from pain. Our modern men of science laugh at us if we attribute feeling to the Almighty. They tell us we are guilty of anthropomorphism, and that is a pitiable weakness in their eyes, if not a sin. Not only is it impossible for God to be angry. He is incapable of any emotion at all. And we must admit there is considerable difficulty in reconciling the idea of anger in the Divine nature with any large and spiritual conception of it. Note two considerations--
1. Anger, as shown by man to man, always goes along with some measure of surprise. But God cannot be surprised.
2. In anger there is a desire to put some one to pain. The disobedient child, the careless servant, the treacherous friend, shall be made to suffer for what they have done. But you cannot think of God as desiring to put any one to pain. How stand the facts of the case, and what do they teach? They teach that we, with our triple nature of body, mind, and spirit, stand in the midst of an everlasting order, and live in a universe of unvarying law. This constancy of nature, this unfailing order, this universality of law is the great postulate upon which all our action proceeds, and all our thought. The cause being the same, the effect will be the same always and everywhere. Law is everywhere; facts teach that. But they teach something besides. That to disobey the laws, to violate the order, brings punishment and pain. These two truths are of capital importance in answering the question whether psalmists, prophets, and apostles meant anything when they spoke of the anger of God. We say that the fact of universal law is not the ultimate fact. There is somewhat behind it--not somewhat, but some One. Eternal Power, Infinite Life, God. This law and order we call the will of God. Then if the laws under which we live are to us the declaration of the personal will of the Eternal, then it is no figure of speech to say that the pain and punishment that follow on the violation of the laws are the anger of the Eternal. Anger not vindictive, but righteous. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” Of what law? Of the law which unfolds to us the conditions of spiritual life and health for us; the law which stands written in the conscience of every man, which may be spelled out from the sacred writings of all nations, of whose growing clearness and fulness the Bible is a magnificent record--the law which tells us that if we would enter into life, we must keep the commandments. To love God--that is religion. To love man--that is morality. Obedience to this twofold law is the way to the enjoyment and strengthening of the very highest life possible to man. If, knowing this law, you do not obey it, there will come to you a sense of defeat, of unrest, of dissatisfaction, of spiritual weakness and decay, which will be keen and crushing in proportion to your knowledge of your moral and religious duty. This experience is the punishment and pain which always follow upon the violation of God’s law. It is His anger. It is anger with a heart of love as its centre. But God does not retain His anger forever. He delights in mercy, He pardons iniquity, He passes by transgressions. Are these things true? In one sense He does not forgive sin. God is Infinite Love and Infinite Law. Forgiveness of sins, as commonly understood, means one of two things. Either it means that when you ask God to forgive you your sins, you ask Him to forbear to retaliate; or it means that you ask Him to save you from the consequences of them. But the first meaning is inconsistent with God’s nature as the Infinite Love. What does your request signify? This--that you entreat Him not to serve you as you have served Him. But can Infinite Love ever be suspected of such conduct? And the second meaning is inconsistent with God’s nature as the Eternal Law. The law of God--the expression of His will--brings pain and punishment to him who transgresses it. This is the case in all spheres of life, bodily, mental, spiritual. The consequences of transgressions are natural, bound up with the very constitution of things. To pray for the forgiveness of sins is, in many minds, equivalent to a prayer for deliverance from their consequences. But such deliverance would involve a perpetually repeated miracle, the suspension of the action of those very laws which God has placed us under as the conditions of life and good for us. Is He, then, going so to stultify and contradict Himself? In one sense for God to forgive sin is an impossibility. Yet, in another sense, God does forgive sin. God retains His anger only so long as you are transgressing His law. The moment you repent, that moment His mercy, in which He delights, comes to you, bringing healing and remedial blessing on its soft wing. In those spiritual relations between God and ourselves, with which, in the great question of sin and its forgiveness, we are primarily concerned, the central thought of the soul when awaking to a sense of sin, is not the violation of the impersonal laws, but the grieving of the Father-spirit behind the laws, whose expression they are. We dare not attribute to the Eternal such anger as is vindictive, and desires to put the cause of it to pain, but we may attribute to Him such grief over human sin as found its most pathetic earthly expression in the broken heart of Christ upon the Cross. (Henry Varley, B. A.)
He delighteth in mercy--
For the proof of this we are entirely dependent on revelation. The deist is challenged to produce one valid argument in demonstration of the Divine mercifulness. The light of nature discovers nothing beyond mere forbearance, and forbearance does not necessarily imply mercy.
1. Announces to us that God is merciful, and this repeatedly, and in terms the most explicit. The fact is declared that God is merciful; but there is something very peculiar in the manner in which this doctrine is taught. Notice the words that are synonymous, or nearly so, with mercy; such as gracious, long suffering, slow to anger, pitiful. Notice that the inspired writers, not content with the singular, mercy, by a felicitous fault of style, employ the plural form, mercies. They speak of “the multitude of His mercies.” Notice that they speak of God as rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy, and full of compassion. Notice that the mercy of God is compared to certain human exercises. “Like as a father pitieth,” etc. Notice that it is said of God, “He delighteth in mercy.” Some things we do by constraint, some by a sense of duty; others we delight to do. It is not by constraint that God is merciful. See some proofs that God delights in mercy. Infer it from the fact that He has made mercy a part of our moral constitution. He has made it a part of our duty, not merely to show mercy, but to love it: He requires us to delight in it. He expresses the highest displeasure against the unmerciful Infer it from the manner in which God exercises mercy to sinners of the human race.
Illustrate by following particulars--
1. He shows mercy without waiting to be asked to do it.
2. He shows mercy at great expense to Himself.
3. He lets us see how it is that He can consistently exercise mercy towards us; discloses to us the plan of salvation, as well as the fact of its possibility.
4. The first moment that sinners manifest a willingness to comply with the terms on which He exercises mercy, they are met by His mercy.
5. The terms of mercy are brought down as low as they could be.
6. To those very terms His mercy brings us. He even fulfils in us the conditions of salvation.
7. He waiteth to be gracious; spares us long, and overlooks many provocations.
8. He makes many offers of mercy.
9. He shows mercy to many sinners.
10. He shows mercy to His enemies. Then what shall we make of this doctrine? Shall we infer that God is not just, not holy, not faithful, because He is merciful? Surely sinners, sensible of their sins, have the greatest encouragement to hope in God’s mercy. If God delights in mercy, what can be plainer than that men should? (W. Nevins, D. D.)
God’s delight in mercy
When we speak of mercy in God, we must realise that it differs from the corresponding affection in man. In God it is not a passion, causing any mental disturbance. In Him, infinite goodness, perpetually, without any disquiet, impels to the manifestation of kindness. In the exercise of this attribute Jehovah delights. The ministration of justice is necessary, that of mercy is voluntary.
I. Consider the nature of God. His very essence is love, and mercy is but one of the forms of love.
1. Take a view of the perfections of His nature. Infinite, Eternal, All-wise, Just, Almighty, Faithful. Turn to whatever perfection of God you may, still His mercy comes into view.
2. View His nature in the powers which He exercises. In Scripture we read of His eyes, ears, lips, hands, etc. He is said to think, to will, to remember. He is afflicted, and He rejoiceth. All these powers are set forth as occupied in the exercise of mercy.
II. Listen to the words of God.
1. The words of His law. Here mercy holds a distinguished place. It requires of us that we “be merciful.”
2. His words in the Gospel. Truly these are full of mercy. Viewed as a whole, the Gospel is simply “the grace of God, which hath appeared unto all men, and bringeth salvation.” Doctrines, promises, and invitations are all full of mercy.
III. Survey the doings of God.
1. What God does in the purchase of redemption.
2. In the application of redemption.
IV. Observe the gifts of God.
1. Their value and variety.
2. Their constancy and permanence. Then be merciful, as God is merciful.
He will have compassion--
He delighteth in mercy
My text is the keynote of the Bible, and reveals the very heart of God. You will see there is in the beginning of the passage a recitation of God’s wonderful works, “pardoning iniquity, passing by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage, and retaining not His anger forever.” And then the Prophet gives the reason for it, and looks joyously out into the future and says, “He will turn again; He will have compassion upon us, He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
I. I want to explain the text, “God delighteth in mercy” What is meant by mercy? Of course, a great many people don t think about God. It never enters into their heads to ask what God is, what His intentions are; and there are those who seem to confound His attributes most painfully. Some confound this beautiful word mercy with others of His attributes. They confound it with love, with pity, with justice. We cannot make an error in this matter without suffering more or less from doubts and fears. Let us try to get a clear idea of the meaning of this blessed word. Now, I will put the question to each of you, what do you understand to be the meaning of this word mercy? Let my illustration help us. Here is a man who is a father and a master. Let us follow him five minutes, and I think we shall have a clear idea of the meaning of the word mercy. The men go to the master for the wages. When you go to the master for the wages do you ask for mercy in that transaction? Your labour is your capital, and you have entrusted your master with your capital for six days, and now you bring in your bill for your master to pay; if the master pays you, you say he is just; if he does not pay, you say he is unjust. There is no idea of mercy in that transaction. We have not found mercy, have we? We have found justice, having to do with right. Let us try again. I said this man was a father. Tomorrow is his child’s birthday. He has had a good week, and is in a generous mood. He makes up his mind on his way home that he will buy a book that will gladden his child’s heart. He reaches the bookseller’s shop, purchases the book, pays the money, and goes on his way. What was that? That was not justice, for he had not promised it to the child. You say at once it was love, having to do with the lovable. Now then, there is nothing of mercy in that. We have found justice having to do with right, and we have found love having to do with the lovable; but we have not found mercy yet. As he goes along he sees on the doorstep a little half-naked, hunger-bitten, shivering child. He hurries by; but he has seen that face, and he cannot get away from it. He compares it with the little sunny faces awaiting his arrival at home. That morning when he was with his companions he said what a wrong thing it was to relieve beggars, it did harm to the recipient and it did harm to society, and it ought to be carefully avoided. That is his theory. But he can see the child s face, and he stops, and his heart runs away with his head. He comes back to the child, puts his hand into his pocket for the third time, and puts something into the little trembling hand. That was not justice. The claims of justice were met in the Poor Law arrangement. It was not love; for when he had relieved the child he shrank from kissing it. What was it? Pity, to be sure, pity having to do with misery; but no mercy in the sense used in my text. Let us try again. A concrete instance. I said this man was a master. He has in his employ a man who is a splendid workman, but he is a drunkard. He knows where some of his master’s property is, and under the shadow of evening he lays his hand upon it, and takes it to the pawn shop, and finds his way to the drink shop again. Just after the master had relieved the little child he meets this man full face. The poor man wishes there was a corner to run into; but there is not one. The master says, “William, you have not been for your wages today.” “No, sir; I have not done anything this week.” “And you knew that you had work to do that was very important, and you knew that I should suffer by your absence.” “I am very sorry, sir.” “But that is not the worst of it; not only have you not done your duty, but you have taken my property, and you have applied it to your own base, sensual purpose.” Tell me, what will that man say to the master.? Will he say, “Be just”? That would be to imprison him. Will he say, “Love me”? Such a thought never presents itself. Will he say, “Have pity”? He would have pity on the drunkard’s wife and children. He looks at the master and he says, “Do have mercy on me.” When the master says, “Well, William, I will. The past shall be as if it had never happened, and shall never be mentioned. Here’s your full week’s wages. Go, and sin no more,” would not that man know what mercy was? Mercy is kindness shown to the guilty. When you go, then, to God in prayer, let this thought be before you: I am coming not for justice, I am coming for mercy. If I am wronged I can appeal to God’s justice, and He will take my part. If I am in trouble I can appeal to His pity and He will sympathise with me. But if I am guilty, mercy is the only attribute that I can appeal to. There is an attribute which can touch the sinner without damning him.
II. I want to give you a few proofs that this blessed declaration is true. Why should I do that when it is expressly stated in the Book? My answer is this, as soon as a man’s eyes are opened and he sees his sins, then despair takes hold of him. I read the text to him tonight, “God delighteth in mercy,” and he says, “Too good to be true, too good to be true.” The Devil brings out the past sins, and aggravates them and flings them into our heart till the pangs of hell get hold of us and we dare not think of God. Can it be true, He delights in mercy? Let me give one or two proofs.
1. First, I know God delights in mercy because He says so much about it. “Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.” That is so with man, and that is so with God. I go to a home where I hear the music of children’s voices, and I always know I shall be happy with such music. I sit down at the tea table, and the mother tells me about the wonderful things the children have said and done, and she goes on and on, and I listen interestedly. I try to say a little about my own, but it does not go, so I listen to her and thank God for a mother’s love. When I get home they ask me, “Well, how did you get on?” “Very well, but how she does delight in her children.” They ask, “How do you know?” “Because she was never tired of talking about them, that is how I know.” I come to you tonight and I say to you with a glad heart, our God delights in mercy, for He is never tired of talking about it. Take the Book. What did I say, mercy was kindness to the guilty? To whom did God give the Bible? Not to saints, but to sinners. Now, I find that this word “mercy” studs the pages of the Bible like the stars stud the heavens. God’s mercy is higher than the heavens, is longer than eternity. God is rich in mercy, “God delighteth in mercy.” Over and over you have it in one of the Psalms. In that one Psalm we are told twenty-six times God delights in mercy, because “His mercy endureth forever.”
2. Again, I know God delights in mercy, because so many people have found mercy. Look at the millions on the earth in all lands, in all climes, in all colours, that could stand before us and bear the same testimony. “I obtained mercy.” If we could write out the names of the people who ha(l found mercy, and were to unroll it, would it not reach from the gate of heaven to hell and back again? And hundreds of you could say, My name is there. Ah, what a lot of trouble God took to get us to yield to Him. How He followed us, how He knocked at the door, how He pleaded with us many long rebellious years. When at last we cried for help He shewed us mercy, and our names were on the roll. Thank God, if your name is not there it may be there tonight. Does God delight in mercy? Yes. How do I know it? You want solid ground to rest upon. How do I know that God delights in mercy! “Behold the Lamb of God.” How can one speak in His presence, beholding the bleeding Saviour, and hearing Him say, I suffered this for thee.” See Him on the Cross. Is it too easy? Is the mercy bought at such a price too easy? Fling thy doubts to the wind. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “It is so easy,” said a young girl; “I wonder I did not believe before.” We have all felt the same, I daresay. It is so blessedly easy that a dying man may find mercy. And now, may I say a word to you? When you go to the Throne of Grace, never forget that you are coming for mercy. The Devil never troubles me so much as in prayer. He brings up the horrible past, and asks me how dare I to stand face to face with that holy God. It is said, in the time of Napoleon one of his officers was accused of disloyalty and was apprehended. His daughter prepared a petition. One day when the Emperor entered Paris she approached with her petition. The Emperor was struck with her looks, and the earnest words she used in presenting the petition, and he read it. He said, I will inquire about it. In a day or two her father was liberated. Two or three years afterwards that same officer was involved in some scheme against the Emperor and was again apprehended. The daughter came again with a petition to the Emperor. The Emperor saw the petition, but did not take it. He said, “Child, you came to me before for your father, and I granted your request; I cannot grant it again.” “Sir,” she said, “my father was innocent then, and I asked for justice; now my father is guilty, and I ask for mercy.” Take the name of Jesus with you; link Him with your prayers, and ask for that mercy which God never denies. (C. Garrett.)
The mercy of God
The deliverances from Egypt and Babylon were types of our deliverance from the captivity and bondage of a natural state by our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. The mercy of God.
1. Mercy is an essential attribute of the Divine nature. Mercy in God differs in two important respects from mercy as it is to be found in any of His rational creatures. Not only is the mercy of God infinite, while in them it is only finite; but mercy is essential to God, while it is not so either to men or angels. In them mercy is only a quality which they either may or may not possess.
2. Guilty and miserable creatures are the proper objects of Divine mercy. Mercy is otherwise named bounty or grace. The bounty of God respects all the creatures as creatures. Grace respects the creatures as unworthy. Sinners are the proper objects of mercy. In what does the mercy of God towards them consist? In His willingness and readiness to pity, help, and relieve them. Sympathy with the distressed, or a fellow feeling of their sorrows and pains, is not essential to mercy.
3. The exercise of mercy in God depends entirely on His sovereign will and pleasure. In this justice differs. It requires that every sin shall be punished. Were God to allow sin to pass with impunity He would cease to be what He is--the infinitely perfect Jehovah; there would be an end to His moral government, which consists in governing His rational creatures according to the law of perfect holiness and righteousness. But this is not the case with the exercise of mercy. It is as natural for God to exercise mercy as justice; for both are essential to His nature. The difference lies here. The existence of sin in His rational creatures is a sufficient reason for the exercise of justice; but the existence of misery in these creatures is no reason why mercy should be dispensed to them; for misery is richly deserved as the just consequence of sin, and certainly neither sin nor its consequence, misery, can entitle the sinner to mercy. When God exercises mercy, it is of His sovereign, wise, and gracious pleasure.
II. How does it appear that God delighteth in mercy?
1. From the express testimony of Scripture.
2. From the astonishing medium through which mercy flows to sinners, namely, the atonement of Christ. By a single act of His will the scheme of human redemption was devised and fixed.
3. From the names of glory which God takes to Himself from the exercise of mercy, “The Lord God, merciful and gracious,” etc. etc.
4. From the great variety of means which God employs to make sinners partakers of His mercy. Such as the mediation of Christ, a standing ministry, gracious providences, etc.
5. From the sins that mercy pardons.
6. From the kindness which He shows to His own people after they have been made sharers of mercy. They are under a dispensation of mercy.
7. From His merciful conduct towards sinners in this world. There is nothing more wonderful than God’s unwearied patience and mercy towards sinners. (J. Clapperton.)
A God of mercy
I. The mercy of God. See His mercy in pardoning iniquity. It is a full pardon. It is a free pardon. Observe the persons to whom pardon is extended. The promises do not apply to the careless, thoughtless, and indifferent. This full pardon is not promised to any who are ignorant of the scheme of salvation offered to us in Christ. It is those who have known God, who have been called to God, and who have been sanctified through the Spirit, who are pardoned. But mercy and anger, on the part of God, do and must consist together. Chastisements are fatherly mercy.
II. The claims that mercy has on our obedience. It has a claim on our love. We are always to remember that our love does not purchase God’s love, but that God’s love has a claim upon ours. If we would have our love increased towards Him we must avoid all those things that would lead us from Him. We must be jealous of ourselves, lest we dishonour Him by our inconsistency. (Montagu Villiers, M. A.)
The mercy of God
Causes are best discovered in their effects. We judge of men’s principles and dispositions by their pursuits and conduct. God Himself, so to speak, submits to be examined in the same way. To ascertain what He is, we have but to consider what He does. The proofs and illustrations of this text are more wonderful than the assertion itself. “What hath God wrought” to gain the confidence of our guilty, and therefore foreboding and misgiving, minds? In God’s sending His Son, the inspired John saw most clearly that “God is Love.” God’s soul delights in His own Son, yet He would seem to delight more in mercy. He delights not only in the exercise of mercy to us, but by us. He therefore would not leave mercy to the operation of reason and religion only; but as our Maker, He has rendered it a law of our being. By our very physical constitution pity is an unavoidable emotion. We involuntarily feel an uneasiness, which prompts us to succour a fellow creature in distress, even to relieve ourselves. Though this be originally an instinct only, by cherishing it we render it a virtue; and by exciting and exercising it, from religious motives, we turn it into a Christian grace. See what stress God has laid upon it in His Word. He has told us that no clearness of knowledge, no rectitude of opinion, no fervour of zeal, no constancy of attendance on ordinances, no talking of Divine things, will be a compensation for charity. Let us therefore not only believe and admire, but let us be followers of Him who delighteth in mercy. We cannot love Him unless we are concerned to please Him, and we cannot please Him unless we are like minded with Him. Neither can we enjoy Him. Resemblance is the foundation of our communion with Him. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (William Jay.)
The grace of God in pardoning sin
There is scarcely anything in religion more difficult than deeply to feel our sins, and mourn over them, and yet to believe firmly in the readiness of God to forgive them. It is easy to yield to despondency, and to consider the pardon of them as impossible. To oppose such gloomy suggestions is an important as well as pleasing duty.
I. The matchless extent of God’s pardoning mercy. The uniform character of God in His dispensations to His Church in all ages is that of a God who “pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin.” Note the several expressions in Micah 7:18. He is ever engaged in remitting the sins of those who plead His mercy. “He pardoneth iniquity.” He voluntarily overlooks offences. “Passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage.” He does not allow Himself, as He justly might, to be hindered or stopped by our sins, but acts as one who sees them not. When God pardons sin, He passes, as it were, over it, even as a hastening traveller urges on his way, and neglects the impediments in his road. “He retains not His anger forever.” He is provoked with the obstinate and rebellious; but when they truly repent and turn to Him, He lets go His wrath, He views them with infinite compassion, He pardons them, He passes by their sins, and accepts them “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” The spring of all this grace and consideration is, that He “delighteth in mercy.” He does not pardon reluctantly, and pass by our sins with hesitation or backwardness, but with willing promptitude and satisfaction. There is a force in the original phrase which deserves notice. It reads literally: “Because, as for Him, He delighteth in mercy”; or “He delighteth in mercy, even He.” His very nature prompts Him to it. Why, then, should any inquiring and self-condemned penitent despair of pardon? The difficulties in the way of remission may be great, and to us may appear insurmountable, but the glory of God in bestowing it is therefore so much the more illustrious.
II. The consoling application of this mercy to the case of the penitent sinner. In the text this general truth is applied to the particular circumstances of the Jewish Church. It would be of little moment to have some surprising ideas of the clemency of God unless this application of it to the actual circumstances of the Church were added, and unless the faithful were assured for themselves that God would be merciful to them when they call upon Him. And this is indeed the true reasoning of humble piety in every age. The awakened inquirer may be assured that God “will turn again.” Though He may have withdrawn from us on account of our sins, yet He will return and bless us with His salvation. And how will He return? “He will have compassion upon us.” All the misery and distress which we endure will be observed by Him; all our state will touch His heart, and move His pity. A claim to merit we cannot advance, but an appeal to the compassion of God in Christ will never fail. And what will be the effect of this compassion? “He will subdue our iniquities”; that is, God will bestow the very blessing we need, and which we most ardently desire. He will, by His grace, overcome the power and dominion of iniquity in the heart, and enable the penitent to love and obey Him. To subdue the tyranny of our sins is one blessing which flows from the compassion of God. But what shall become of our past iniquities and present imperfections? To meet this question, it is added, “God will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” His forgiveness shall be signal and complete. It shall be as ii the whole mass of our guilt were buried in the mighty waters. What is cast into the depths of the fathomless ocean sinks never to rise again.
III. The confirmation both of the extent of God’s pardoning mercy, and of the consoling application of it, which is to be derived from the covenant of mercy itself. God had chosen Abraham, and had made a covenant with him and his seed. In this covenant, pardon, grace, strength, consolation were assured to all God’s heritage. A distinction may be observed between the words “mercy” and “truth” as they are applied to this covenant. God is said to “perform His truth to Jacob, and His mercy to Abraham.” Possibly because His covenant, as it was given to Abraham, was an act of mere mercy; but in ratifying it to Jacob, God only made good what He had before promised. Mercy first bestowed, then truth confirmed, the covenant. So still, God first offers Himself freely to us, and then is faithful and true to His promises. Application--
1. Encourage the trembling penitent to act on the views thus unfolded.
2. Ascertain your interest in the Everlasting Covenant.
3. Allow that possibly your sins may be pardoned, and your case relieved.
4. Nay, cherish a fully assured hope of being pardoned and accepted. (D. Wilson, M. A.)
The matchless mercy
The drift and scope of this place is to show God’s infinite and constant mercies to His children. This is propounded in the benefits they receive: justification by the blood of Christ, and sanctification by His Spirit. Justification is thus set forth. He shows what He will take away; even original sin, and our rebellion. What He will pass by; “the transgression of the remnant of His heritage.” Sanctification is amplified in two degrees: in this life, and in the life to come. The reasons moving God are taken from His nature, from His mercy, and from His truth. Strengthened and confirmed from divers other reasons, from antiquity, from the often repetition thereof; and God has even sworn it. Doctrine
1. There is none so merciful as God. Reasons--Mercy is God’s nature. All creatures in heaven and earth have their mercy by derivation from this mercy of God. Mercy in God is free, without any cause of us moving Him to the same. Doctrine
2. That it is the mercy of all mercies to have our sins forgiven, to have them covered, buried, and done quite away, Reasons--Because other mercies reprobate men may have, as an abstinence from some sins, a show of sanctification, some outward gifts of the Spirit, etc.; but this mercy of forgiveness none can have but the elect. Because this benefit is the chiefest fountain which flowed from Christ’s blood. Because it bringeth unto us the happiest fruits and benefits here and hence. Because it brings us to an everlasting peace in heaven. Doctrine
3. That God in a wonderful and special manner respecteth His heritage. Reasons--Because they are God’s purchase. Because of His providence, in that He keepeth a continual watch over them. Because He dwelleth amongst His Church, and therefore He will have a special care to His own heritage, to do them all manner of kindnesses. Doctrine
4. That the people of God be, but a remnant in regard of the wicked, even like the gleanings of the corn, a small company. We must not be discouraged though we see few go with us in the way to heaven. Doctrine
5. That the afflictions of God’s children shall have a seasonable and a speedy end. Reasons--Because “the Lord doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” Because we have such a sure Friend in the court of heaven. Because by afflictions we gain instruction. Because God correcteth only for our profit. Doctrine
6. Those who have once heel any saving comfort shall have it again. Reasons--Because all God’s saving graces be given for everlasting. Because He will turn again and have compassion, for His heart is near unto us. Because of all burdens the absence of God’s favour is so intolerable. Doctrine
7. Where God forgiveth sin, there He also subdueth sin. Reasons--Because the virtue of Christ’s death can never be separated from the merit of the same. Because without this subduing of sin upon forgiveness, neither should we have comfort from Him, nor He glory from us. Doctrine
8. Those who have their sins subdued whilst they live shall have them all drowned when they are dead. Doctrine
9. That wherein God delighteth it is impossible but it must needs come to pass. And He delighteth in mercy. Doctrine
10. God is bound, in regard of His truth, to fulfil all His former mercies to His children. Too often we neglect God’s promises, because we do not receive immediate help. We must labour by all means to remember and apply the promises, and so turn them into prayers. (R. Sibbes.)
The God of the Christians a God delighting in mercy
Heathen religions rest on the principle of terror. This appears in the very aspect of their gods. The enlightened nations even formed their gods on this principle. They put the thunder into the right hand of their Jupiter; they placed the eagle at His feet; they represented Him as ruling the world by terror. It was reserved for revelation to present the Divine character in the full circle of His perfections. To “delight in mercy” was a conception, in connection with the Deity, which the heathen world would never have formed.
I. The God of the christians is Love. “God is Love,” said the Apostle John; and all His various perfections are but so many modifications of love.
II. All His transactions with men have proved how much He delights in mercy. Even the covenant of works was but an introduction to the display of Divine mercy; and if sin had not entered into the world we should not have known the thousandth part of His love.
III. The God of the Christians has written His character in a book. Its histories, prophecies, laws, doctrines, threatenings, promises, all tell of the mercies of the Lord.
IV. All the works of God go to show that the God of the Christians delighteth in mercy. The world was made as a theatre for His mercy. His providence displays His mercy. Every act of mercy is to allure men to the provisions of mercy; every act of judgment is to alarm men that they may avail themselves of His mercy.
V. View the subject in regard to the scheme of our recovery. This, from first to last, is a revelation of the richest mercy. What is the incarnation of the Son of God? What are the miracles? What were His sighs, but the heart’s breath of His mercy? What His death, but the sacrifice of His mercy? What is the Gospel, but the royal proclamation of mercy?
VI. All the perfections of God are employed in illustrating His mercy. His eyes are employed in exercises of mercy, in watching its objects, and ascertaining their wants. His ears are ever open to the cry of the needy. His lips are employed in uttering the thoughts and purposes of mercy. His hands are engaged in works of mercy. His feet are ever hastening to the relief of the objects of His mercy. His wisdom, power, justice, truth, sovereignty, immutability are all occupied in the designs of His mercy.
VII. The innumerable forms in which God’s mercy appears show that He delighteth it mercy. The whole of the water of the world is called the ocean, but this takes various names, according to the shores it washes. As the Atlantic, German, Pacific, Indian, etc. So it seems with the mercy of God. It bears different names, according to the state of those whom it visits. It is either calling, protecting, pardoning, or comforting mercy. How unbounded are the stores and resources of Divine mercy. Then should not we too be merciful; delighting in mercy even as doth our heavenly Father? (A. Waugh, D. D.)
In the Old Testament much is special to its age, and has to us only a secondary value. But while the elements that were local and special to one people and one age no longer have to us the importance which they had to them to whom they were first delivered, yet other portions contain universal truths,--that is, truths that belong to men everywhere, in every age. Joys, sorrows, the literature of those sorrows, universal afflictions, remorse, yearnings after goodness; in short, all the moral sentiments, and all the natural affections, are the same under all governments, under all laws, and in every age. The Scriptures that relate to these things are perennial. If you cast into oblivion the Psalms of David, you throw away the best literature of the feelings that has ever appeared in human language; and where can you replace it? The noblest applications of moral principles to human affairs are to be found in the prophets. Let anyone ask himself where he will find a substitute for that sublime conception of God that rules throughout the Old Testament. There are not, even in the New Testament, any descriptions of God that, for majesty and completeness and symmetry and harmony, go beyond and higher than those contained in the oldest parts of the Old Testament. One of these Divine elements comes before us this morning--God’s great patience with men, and His forgiveness of them.
1. Our sin is not so much a violation of a law that lies outside of the bosom of God, as it is a disregard of the feelings and nature of God Himself. There is a marked distinction between personal feeling infringed upon and law transgressed. In worldly affairs there is a distinction between a disregard of the rules of business and a personal disagreement with you yourself. When a man offends against you, his wrong is more heinous and provoking than when he offends against your rules and laws. God and His laws are one, in such a sense that when you offend against His moral law you offend against His own personal feeling. In this light it may be seen that every man sins every day of his life. There are innumerable evils and wrongs and injuries, against God’s feelings in the history of every single man Men have been living in a perpetual violation of all the thoughts and feelings of God’s mind. And yet the race has thriven; there have been joys, there have been mercies and blessings, there have been reforming and stimulating influences developed in the world. These things explain what is meant when God is spoken of as being so patient, so long suffering. He suffers and endures; and the reason is, that He delighteth in mercy. He delights to be kind. Kindness harmonises with His nature. Consider the literature of this kindness as it is represented in the Bible. He is the one who, though offended, needs no persuasion to forgive. He is not only merciful, He is magnanimous.
3. Consider what it is to have such a Being as this at the centre of power and administration. The most intensely thoughtful and the most intensely active of any being in the universe is God. In view of this brief opening of the character of God, and of His feelings towards men that are sinning and trespassing against Him, I remark--
The mercy of God
Consider God’s mercy--
I. In its rise.
II. In its progress.
III. In its consummation. (Skeletons of Sermons.)
The incomparableness of God illustrated in His forgiveness of sin
I. The nature of His forgiveness. The Bible generally sets Divine forgiveness forth under figures corresponding to the aspects in which sin stands before the mind of the writer at the time. For example--
1. When sin appears as a debt, an unfulfilled obligation, then pardon is spoken of as cancelling.
2. When sin appears as an estrangement from God, then forgiveness is represented as reconciliation.
3. When sin appears as an indictment, forgiveness is spoken of as justification.
4. When sin appears as a pollution, forgiveness is represented as a cleansing.
5. When sin appears as a disease, forgiveness is represented as a healing.
6. When sin appears as an obstruction between the soul and God, forgiveness is represented as a clearing. There are three points of contrast between Divine forgiveness and human.
II. The source of His forgiveness. Anger in God is not passion but principle; not antagonism to existence, but to the evils that curse existence. Here is the source of forgiveness, “He delighteth in mercy.”
1. Forgiveness as a merciful act. It is not an act of equity but of compassion; not of justice, but of love.
2. This act of mercy is the delight of God. Mercy is a modification of benevolence.
III. The completeness of His forgiveness (Micah 7:19).
1. The entire subjugation of all sins. Sin is the enemy of all enemies. Divine forgiveness is the destruction of sin in us.
2. The entire submersion of all sin. Forgiveness is deliverance from sin. Figures employed--“Blotting out of a thick cloud.” “Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” Casting sins “into the depths of the sea.” “Remembering sin no more.” All true forgiveness involves forgetfulness. (Homilist.)
And Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea
God putting away the iniquity of His people
The mercies and promises of the Old Testament were but the outline of the glory thereafter to be revealed.
The latter portion of this chapter abounds with assurances of Jerusalem’s restoration, involving in it the confusion and degradation of its enemies. The prophet’s apostrophe to Jehovah in the last verses, both in the clearness of its views and the fulness of its statements, is one well suited to the Christian. It is much to be released from sin’s captivity, to have its iron yoke removed, and the foul garments of its bondage torn away. But it is more to find that He who pardoneth iniquity because He delighteth in mercy will also have compassion on us, and subdue our iniquities; not merely cleanse us from their stain by the blood of Jesus, but also deliver us from their power by His Holy Spirit. The particular turn of the language of the text appears to be taken from the destruction of the hosts of Egypt in the Red Sea. As their ruin was so utter that they were to be seen alive no more forever, it implies that our great spiritual tyrants and foes, our sins, shall, when God by His Spirit arises to subdue them, be as completely cast out, and their final penalty be as thoroughly put away, as though they were buried in the depths of the sea. Sin is closely connected with suffering. If, then, God may be said in a metaphor to cast sin into the sea, may we not literally say the same of the suffering? What the sea is said typically to do for the former, it often actually does for the latter. With so much of injury and destructiveness connected with the sea, there is also bound up much of benefit; benefit especially to suffering humanity, in the multiform maladies which embitter our existence. Then let the sea remind you how noble is the gift of spiritual health; how all-important that the moral disease of evil should be washed away, and your sins through mercy cast into the depths of the sea--that ocean of heavenly grace and love which shall hide them forever from merited condemnation! (Edmund Lilley, M. A.)
What God would do with our sins
“Our iniquities.” “Our sins,”--is it possible for us to be quite rid of these? This great question finds in the text a still greater answer. The words are two clauses of promise, each with its own shade of figurative meaning--a strong shade, and a stronger.
I. The Divine One as effecting the conquest of human sins. “He will subdue our iniquities”; that is, He will tread them down, will trample them in triumph under His feet. The very sound of the words suggests that it is no easy enterprise, this managing of our sins. We are apt to think lightly of sins. We underestimate the terrible capacity of wrong and death which lurks in them, and in each one of them. We yield them quarter, rations, parole, friendship. They swarm round us, and we cannot subdue them. Give your welcome, then, to Him who conquers this haunting throng on your behalf. Here He stands, at your side and mine. With Him beside us the whole matter passes beyond mere hopefulness into utter assurance. “But,” it may be asked, “is it not an arduous and a daring task for any one to undertake for me?” It is so much this, and so much more this than you can think, that only the One need attempt to undertake it. You may safely entrust the great task to Him. See the comprehensive completeness of the conquest. Christ not only conquers all the bad legions that had mustered around us during bygone years, but He tramples down the up-springing legions as they venture to arise,--thinning their ranks and enfeebling their energy, and impoverishing their condition, with the sure prospect for us that soon the hour will have struck when He can look back upon nothing but conquest, and forward upon nothing to conquer.
II. The Divine One as effecting the destruction and oblivion of human sins. The new figure substantially repeats the sense of the other; yet it advances further, and is more vividly full of the gracious truth upon this subject. “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” “Sins,” not “iniquities” only, but the gravest as well as the lightest violations of Divine law. “Into the sea,” and into the deep places of the sea; far to seaward, where the sounding line descends in miles--buried, without resurrection, for evermore. Some who have entrusted themselves to God’s grace are still timid and doubtful as to whether it can really be all, and once for all, and irrecoverably, settled about those sins of theirs. Be sure that when God pardons at all He pardons altogether, The sins of a Christ-trusting man are not only lost, but are what may be called securely lost. A thing is most safely gone, not when it is banished we know not whither, but when, knowing where it is, we are sure that it is absolutely irrecoverable. Apply. Never dream of managing your sins yourself. When God has put our sins into forgetfulness we ought ourselves no more to remember them. (J. A. Kerr Bain, M. A.)
How God forgives
The gist of the two verses is in the sentence, “And Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” However unlike to each other we may be, we all have need of pardon. In human pardon there is nothing remarkable save this, that it is often remarkably slow in coming, and as remarkably ungracious when it does come; and that when it is born it is remarkably short lived. Our pardons, like ourselves, are full of imperfections. What a painful operation it is to be forgiven! A man seldom forgives without first humiliating. When God forgives He does it in a style worthy of Himself. There is a dignity about His forgiveness; it is a positive luxury to be forgiven by Him. God only is perfect in the art of pardoning. In the text God’s pardon is described by four words--
I. Pardon. “Pardoneth iniquity.” While in everything God is incomparable, He is most unrivalled in the “matter of forgiving. The glory of God is His ability and willingness to forgive. The word “pardoneth” in the Hebrew means “to lift up and carry away.” Do not run away with the idea that pardoning is only a matter of uttering a word. God cannot forgive at the expense of His own righteousness. He is a God that lifteth up the iniquity. The Soil lifted the sin up on His shoulders, and He walked away with it.
II. Passeth by. “And passeth by the transgression.” Transgression here means “rebellion.” “Passeth by,”--that is, as if He did not see it. God deals with sin as if He did not see it. He has seen it once. He saw it on Christ. He does not see it on me, because He saw it on Him.
III. Subdue. The R.V. has, “He will trample under foot our iniquities.” When God forgives the guilt of a sinner’s sins He breaks their power. Have you ever tried to trample on your own iniquities? When God forgives the guilt He says: “I will do more--I will put My foot down on the neck of your iniquities.”
IV. Cast into sea. God provides that His act of grace shall never be repealed. He will never take back the pardon He has once bestowed. “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” That is how God puts away the sins of His people. When God pardons a man’s sins He takes the sins, and drops them into the deepest place He can find, and there they lie, forever forgiven, forever forgotten. Micah may have had the drowning of the Egyptian host in his mind when he penned this passage. When God pardons, the tablets of His memory, if I may so put it, are wiped, and there is no remembrance forever made of this sin. When God buries our sin He takes it right out into the mid-ocean of Divine pardon and Divine forgetfulness, and it is forever forgotten. (Archibald G. Brown.)
Divine compassion to sinners
Though the Almighty is absolutely incomprehensible, and cannot be found out to perfection, yet He has explicitly revealed Himself as a God “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and ready to forgive.” And this propitious character of the Deity is peculiarly appropriate and interesting to mankind. Infinite mercy has graciously provided a way of salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ, which is perfectly consistent with Divine justice, and admirably suited to the necessitous circumstances of the “world that lieth in wickedness.”
I. The blessings piously anticipated. “He will subdue our iniquities,” etc. There may be an allusion to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptian bondage. As the Lord then literally subdued Pharaoh and His host, so He will spiritually “subdue the iniquities” of His faithful servants, and by His pardoning mercy “cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” The prophet evidently anticipates--
1. The absolution of the guilt of sin. As “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” we must certainly either be pardoned or punished. When sinners return unto God with penitent and believing hearts, He graciously forgives their transgressions, and heals their backslidings. This inestimable blessing is called in the text, “casting all our sins into the depths of the sea,” which is a mode of expression that intimates both the extent and completeness of pardon.
2. The subjugation of the power of sin. We are not only guilty, but depraved. Sin is frequently personified in. Scripture, and described as a vile usurper and destructive tyrant, reigning in the hearts and lives of the disobedient. Hence it is not only necessary that the guilt of sin be mercifully cancelled, but that its power be effectually subdued. Omnipotence alone is equal to this glorious’ achievement. He principally accomplishes this work of grace by His Son, as the Saviour of sinners, by His Word as the instrument of salvation, and by His Spirit as the agent of personal religion.
II. The source distinctly specified. “He will turn again; He will have compassion upon us.” The prophet attributes the pardon and destruction of sin to the Lord Jehovah. These blessings are Divine in their origin. God only can forgive sin, and save the sinner. It is His sole prerogative to absolve our crimes and purify our souls. And this perfectly harmonises with the perfections of His nature.
2. These blessings are propitious in their medium. We have no natural right or claim to the Divine mercies, and can only receive them by way of sovereign favour, “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” For this purpose He assumed our nature, died for our sins, and ever lives to intercede for sinners.
3. These blessings are gracious in their bestowment. We cannot receive them on the ground of personal worthiness or human merit. Nor does the Lord require any previous goodness or moral fitness to render us worthy of the blessings of salvation. He freely and graciously pardons and saves the truly penitent, for the glory of His name, through the merits of the Redeemer.
III. The confidence devoutly expressed. “He will turn,” etc. This is not the language of enthusiastic presumption, but of inspired and rational assurance; it is founded on--
1. The character and covenant of God.
2. The atonement and intercession of Christ.
3. The doctrines and promises of the Gospel.
We may infer from this subject--
1. The necessity of repentance and faith.
2. The possibility of pardon and holiness.
3. The felicity and duty of the saints. (Eta, in “Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons. ”)
Three ideas involved in figures of Divine forgiveness.
I. An antecedent liability to punishment. All the terms imply something wrong, and the wrong is moral. It is crime, and crime must ever expose to punishment. Because of this moral wrong there must be a liability to punishment.
II. The exercise of a merciful prerogative. God is disposed to forgive. Two things connected with this pardoning prerogative which marks it off from its exercise in human governments.
1. In human governments it is exercised with most cautious limitations.
2. In human governments forgiveness is invariably valued by those to whom it is exercised.
III. An actual deliverance from all liability to punitive suffering. The forgiven man is delivered from punishment. (Homilist.)
Sins lost in the depths of the sea
You see the Thames as it goes sluggishly down through the arches, carrying with it endless impurity and corruption. You watch the inky stream as it pours along day and night, and you think it will pollute the world. But you have just been down to the seashore, and you have looked on the great deep, and it has not left a stain on the Atlantic. No, it has been running down a good many years and carried a world of impurity with it, but when you go to the Atlantic there is not a speck on it. As to the ocean, it knows nothing about it. It is full of majestic music. So the smoke of London goes up, and has been going up, for a thousand years. One would have thought that it would have spoiled the scenery by now; but you get a look at it sometimes. There is the great blue sky which has swallowed up the smoke and gloom of a thousand years, and its azure splendour is unspoiled. It is wonderful how the ocean has kept its purity, and how the sky has taken the breath of the millions and the smoke of the furnaces, and yet it is as pure as the day God made it. It is beautiful to think that these are only images of God’s great pity for the race. Our sins, they are like the Thames; but, mind you, they shall be swallowed up--lost in the depths of the sea, to be remembered against us no more. Though our sins have been going up to heaven through the generations, yet though thy sins are as crimson, they shall be as wool, as white as snow. (W. L. Watkinson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Micah 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25