DEVICE 5: TO PRESENT GOD TO THE SOUL AS ONE WHO IS ALL MERCY
Oh! Satan says, you don’t need to make a big deal of sin, you don’t need to be fearful of sin, not so unwilling to commit sin; for God is a God of mercy, a God full of mercy, a God that delights in mercy, a God that is ready to show mercy, a God that is never weary of showing mercy, a God more prone to pardon his people than to punish his people; and therefore he will not punish your soul; so why, says Satan, should you make such a big deal about sin?
Remedy (1). The first remedy is, seriously to consider, That there is no greater judgement in the world than to be left in sin. You are left in an unhappy state when God leaves you to yourself, and does not fight against your sins. Woe to whoever God winks at your sin. When God lets the way to hell be a smooth and pleasant way, that is hell on earth, and a dreadful sign of God’s anger against a man; a sign of his rejection, and that God does not intend good for him. That is a sad word, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone’ (Hosea 4:17); he will be unteachable; he has united with mischief, he shall have his bellyful of it; he falls with open eyes; let him fall at his own risk. And that is a terrible saying, ‘So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lusts, and they walked in their own counsels’ (Psalm 81:12). A soul given up to sin is a soul ripe for hell, a soul quickly heading to destruction!
Oh Lord! have mercy! I humbly beg, that whatever you give me up to, you will not give me up to the ways of my own heart; if you will give me up to be afflicted, or tempted, or reproached, I will patiently wait, and say, It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes. Do anything with me, lay whatever burden you want upon me, rather than to give me up to the ways of my own heart.
Augustine says, ‘It is a human thing to fall into sin, devilish to persevere therein, and divine to rise from it. Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man—myself!
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That God is as JUST, as he is merciful. As much as Scriptures declare God is merciful, they also declare him to be just. See the example of His casting the angels out of heaven and His binding them in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day.* See the example of His kicking Adam out of Paradise. Witness His drowning of the old world. Witness His raining hell out of heaven upon Sodom. Witness all the troubles, losses, sicknesses, and diseases, which are in the world. Witness the city Tophet, which “has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze.” (Isaiah 30:33) Witness His treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath. But above all, witness the pouring forth of all His wrath upon His bosom Son, when Jesus bore the sins of His people, and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
*God hanged them up in gallows, as it were, that others might hear and fear, and not act so wickedly.
Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That sins against God’s mercy will bring the greatest and most painful judgments upon men’s heads and hearts. Mercy is God’s Alpha or first characteristic, justice is His Omega or final characteristic. David, speaking of these attributes, places mercy first, and justice last, saying, “I will sing of Your love and justice.” (Psalm 101:1). When God’s mercy is despised, then His justice takes the throne!* God is like a prince, who does not sent his army against rebels before he has sent his pardon, and proclaimed it by a special messenger: he first hangs out the white flag of mercy; if this wins men in, they are happy forever; but if they remain rebellious, then God will put out his red flag of justice and judgment. If His mercy is despised, His justice shall be felt!
The higher we are in pride and rank, the more severe is our fall and misery.
God is slow to anger—but he compensates his slowness with severeness of punishment. If we abuse His mercy to serve our lust, then, in Salvian’s (a Christian writer of the fifth century) phrase, God will rain hell out of heaven, rather than not visit for such sins.
This was true with the Israelites. He loved them and chose them when they were in their blood, and most unlovely. He multiplied them, not by ordinary means—but by miracle; from seventy souls they grew in a few years to six hundred thousand; the more they were oppressed, the more they prospered. Like camomile flowers, the more you tread it, the more you spread it; or like a palm-tree, the more it is pressed, the further it spreads; or like fire, the more it is raked, the more it burns. Their mercies came to them like Job’s messengers, one right behind the other: God put off their sackcloth and mourning, and clothed them with gladness, and ‘compassed them about with songs of deliverance’; he ‘carried them on the wings of eagles’; he kept them ‘as the apple of his eye.’ (Psalm 32:7; Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32:10) But they, became the greatest objects of his wrath when they abused His mercy. Just like I don’t know a man who can understand God’s mercies; neither do I know a man who can add up the miseries which are coming for sins!
For as our Savior prophesied concerning Jerusalem, ‘that a stone should not be left upon a stone,’ so it was fulfilled forty years after his ascension, by Vespasian the emperor and his son Titus, who, having besieged Jerusalem, the Jews were oppressed with a severe famine, in which their food was old shoes, leather, old hay, and the waste of beasts. There died, partly by the sword and partly by the famine, eleven hundred thousand; two thousand in one night were slaughtered; six thousand were burned in a porch of the temple; the whole city was sacked and burned, and laid level to the ground; and ninety-seven thousand taken captives, and forced to lowly and miserable service, as Eusebius and Josephus says. (Vespasian broke into their city at Kedron, where they took Christ, on he same feast day that Christ was taken; he whipped them where they whipped Christ; he sold twenty Jews for a penny, as they sold Christ for thirty pence.) And to this day, in all parts of the world, are they not the outcasts of the world? None more hated, than they. Men will be deeper in hell, because heaven was offered unto them; but they abused God’s mercy. Men’s offenses are increased by their obligations.
And so Capernaum, that was lifted up to heaven, was threatened to be thrown down to hell. Those that are lifted closest to heaven and despise is are lowered the lowest in hell. You who are so prone to abuse God’s mercy, consider this, that in the gospel days, the plagues that God inflicts upon the despisers and abusers of mercy are usually spiritual plagues; as blindness of mind, hardness of heart, numbness of conscience, which are ten thousand times worse than the worst of outward plagues that can come upon you. And therefore, even though you may escape temporal judgments, yet you will not escape spiritual judgments: ‘How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?’ (Heb. 2:3) says the apostle. Oh! therefore, whenever Satan presents God to the soul as one made up all of mercy, that he may draw you to sin, say to him, that sins against God’s mercy, will bring the greatest misery on the soul; and therefore whatever may happen to you you, you will not sin against mercy
Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan, is seriously to consider, That even though God’s general mercy is extended to all his creation, yet his special mercy is confined to those who are divinely qualified. Augustus, during his formal feasts, gave inexpensive gifts, trifles, to some—but gold to others whom he set his heart upon. So God, by a hand of general mercy, gives these poor trifles—outward blessings, to those who he least loves; but his gold, special mercy, is only towards those who his heart is most set upon. So in Exodus 34:6, 7: ‘And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.’ Exodus 20:6, ‘And showing mercy unto thousands of those who love me, and keep my commandments.’ Psalm 25:10, ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.’ Psalm 32:10, ‘Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.’ Psalm 33:18, ‘Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, upon those who hope in his mercy.’ Psalm 103:11, ‘For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him.’ Ver. 17, ‘But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him.’
When Satan attempts to draw you to sin by presenting God as a God of only mercy, simply reply, that though God’s general mercy extend to all the works of his hand, yet his special mercy is confined to those who are divinely qualified, to those who love him and keep his commandments, to those who trust in him, those that hope in him, and who fear him; and that you must be such a one here on earth, or else you can never be happy in eternity; you must partake of his special mercy, or else eternally perish in everlasting misery, in spite of God’s general mercy.
Remedy (5). The fifth remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That those who were once glorious on earth, and are now triumphing in heaven, looked at the mercy of God as the most powerful argument to preserve them from sin, and to fence their souls against sin; and not as an encouragement to sin. Psalm 26:3-5: ‘For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth. I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites. I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked.’
Joseph strengthened himself against sin by remembering mercy: ‘How then can I,’ said Joseph, ‘do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Gen. 39:9). He had his eye fixed upon mercy, and therefore sin could not enter, though the hinderences entered into his soul; his soul being focused on God’s mercy, was not moved with his mistress’s audacity. Satan knocked often at the door—but the sight of mercy would not allow him to answer or open. Joseph, like a pearl in a puddle, keeps his virtue in tact. (The stone called Pontaurus, is of that virtue, that it preserves him who carries it, from taking any hurt by poison. The mercy of God in Christ to our souls is the most precious stone or pearl in the world, to prevent us from being poisoned with sin.)
Likewise with Paul: ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?’ (Rom. 6:1, 2). There is nothing in the world that makes a man less like a saint, and more like to Satan—than to argue from God’s mercy to sinful liberty; from divine goodness to prodigal behavior. This is the devil’s logic, and in whomever you find it, you may write, ‘This soul is lost!’ A man may as well say, ‘the sea burns’, or ‘the fire cools’—than to say God’s free grace and mercy should make a truly gracious soul to live wickedly.
So the same apostle: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service’ (Rom. 12:1). So John: ‘These things I write unto you, that you sin not (1 John 2:1, 2). What was it that he wrote? He wrote: ‘That we might have fellowship with the Father and his Son; and that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin; and that if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; and that if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ These choice favors and mercies the apostle holds out as the choicest means to preserve the soul from sin, and to keep sin at the greatest distance away; and if this will not do it— you may write the man absent of Christ and grace, and undone forever!