Concerning The Throne of Grace
Sermon 6 of 13
by Robert Trail
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
From this text, I have already spoken to three of the things I did take up in it.
1. Unto the throne of grace itself, that is erected for, and revealed to sinners in the gospel; that new court of grace, which the Lord invites the fallen seed of Adam to come unto.
2. I have spoke to that boldness that is allowed and commanded in coming to it. We are not only allowed to come, but we must come, or perish, and bring the guilt of our own soul’s blood upon our heads, by refusing (Acts 18:6). We not only may come and try, but we may and must come boldly and confidently, expecting to speed in our coming.
3. I have spoke to the great ground of this confidence, couched in the word therefore, in the text, and relating to verses 14, 15. Were it not for Christ’s place, and business, and heart in heaven, no man on earth could have boldness at the throne of grace.
HEAD IV. The fourth and last thing in the verse, is, the end we should come for, and the great blessings we may receive by coming; expressed in two words, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. God’s mercy and grace are the most comprising, comprehensive blessings; and these expressions of them contain all that is needful for our happiness. Nothing can be added to them; no blessing but is in them; no blessing is without them. It is the common apostolic prayer, (and such prayers made by the penmen of the holy scripture, under the immediate guidance of the Holy Ghost, are equivalent to divine promises, yea are such), Grace be to you; sometimes, Grace, mercy, and peace be to you. So that these words, as they stand in the text, do equally answer these two inquiries:—
1. What good things shall we get at the throne of grace? The Spirit of God answers, You may, and shall obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. And are not these well worth coming for? are they any where else to be had? And here they may surely be found. How should this endear the throne of grace to us, and engage to coming to it?
2. Wherefore should we come? with what design? what end should be in our eye? Come, saith the Spirit, by the apostle’s pen, that ye may obtain the one, and find the other. Come, that you may get both. Design this getting in your coming.
I would first speak of our coming, that we may obtain mercy, and on it discourse of these three things:
I. Of the mercy that is to be got at the throne of grace. II. Of the import of the phrase, obtaining of mercy. III. Of the duty required of coming with this design, that we may obtain this mercy.
I. I shall discourse of the mercy that is to be obtained at the throne of grace. You see that it is only mercy that is named, without any mention made, whose mercy it is, or of what sort it is. But when miserable sinners are invited to come to God’s throne of grace for mercy, it may be easily known whose it is, and what it is. It is God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, who is the mercy seat, or throne of grace. It is not angel-mercy, or creature-mercy; but God’s mercy. And who can tell what a great and vast thing his mercy is? Mercy, in the proper notion of it, is a kind, relieving, compassion to the miserable. The object of mercy, is a miserable creature. Divine goodness shines in giving being to nothing, and in creating all things; wisdom, in ordering them, and guiding them to his glory; justice, in disposing of them according to his will, the essential rule of righteousness. But mercy hath no fit object, till misery appear for mercy to act on. The shewer of mercy is a compassionate person; its nature and end is, to relieve the miserable. Mercy with God is another sort of mercy than what is required of, and can be practised by creatures. We may, and should have compassion on the miserable, whom we are not able nor allowed to relieve. The judge that condemns the criminal, should do it with mercy and compassion; but he breaks the law, if he suffer his mercy to delay or divert a righteous sentence and execution. But the Lord’s mercy is not only tenderness and compassion in his own heart, (so we borrow words, by the pattern of sound words in the scripture, to speak of God after the manner of men), but it is always relieving to the person on whom it is bestowed. Let the misery be never so great, and of what kind soever it be; whoever they be that are the objects of his mercy, they are certainly relieved thereby. There is no redemption out of the pit, though their misery that are there is the greatest. Why? Because there is no mercy for them. If it were possible that God’s mercy in Christ could enter into hell itself, (as it falls on many very near to it,) that mercy would bring them out. But the door of mercy is quite shut upon them; and the Lord hath resolved and declared, that his mercy shall never visit them.
That we may the better understand what this mercy of God is, the getting whereof we should make our great errand to the throne of grace, it will be needful to consider that misery in men that renders them needy of this mercy.
And this I would consider, as it actually lies on them, and is incumbent; or as it is coming on them, and imminent.
1. The misery that all natural men lie under. It is true, they do not see it, nor feel it; but this makes not their misery the less, but the greater. For insensibleness of misery, especially where it is removable, and when this insensibleness is a hindrance of using the right means of removing it, is a great plague, and an aggravation of the misery. I shall give you a few scripture-accounts of this misery.
1st, The misery of a natural man, and of all natural men, is, that they are utterly destitute of all true good: In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing (Rom 7:18). Must it not be so much more with them that are flesh, and in the flesh, and have nothing in them but flesh? the first notion we have of misery is this, that it stands in a deprivation of good. And the greater that deprivation be, and the more good things a man is deprived and destitute of, the more miserable we count the person to be. He is a miserable man that is blind; because the light of the world is so pleasant and useful, and the eye simply needful to behold and use it. It is a great addition to this man’s misery, if he be dumb also; because the tongue is a man’s glory, and the organ of expressing our thoughts, and communion with our own kind. The misery is yet farther heightened, if a man be also deaf; for the ear is the door of knowledge, both of things natural and divine. If you go to the inward senses or powers; if a man be deprived of those, his misery is yet greater; as it is a greater misery to be void of understanding and memory, to be an idiot, (an innocent, as we call them), than it is to be deprived of any of the bodily senses. Now, if one wanted all the senses of the body, and powers of the soul (if such a creature should be called a man), would we not account this a most miserable creature? But if there be yet somewhat better than all these, surely then he that is altogether void of that, must be more miserable still. That there is somewhat better than all these good gifts of body and mind, and that every man by nature is without it, is most manifest in the word. To be without God, without Christ, without hope (Eph 2:12), is more and worse, than to be without any, or all outward good things. This destitute state is expressed by our Lord, (Rev 3:17) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. What a great difference is there betwixt Christ’s, and their opinion of their state? And must not Christ’s be right and true, and theirs false if it contradict his? Were they any thing the less miserable; were they not rather much more so, that they so misjudged? Our Lord aggravates both their sin and misery from their ignorance, Because thou knowest not. Spiritual blessings are of that nature, that all are miserable indeed that are without them; but no man is sensibly miserable, till he seeth that he is without them. It is the knowledge of this want that brings in the sense of misery: as every unpardoned sinner is a miserable man; but he never counts himself miserable, till he feel the weight of sin, and see the want of pardon.
2dly, Every natural man is needy of God’s mercy, because he is a condemned man. A condemned man, is a dead man in law. As there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1); so there is nothing but condemnation to all that are not in him: (John 3:18,36) He that believeth not, is condemned already; and the wrath of God abideth on him. You may have seen and heard, how malefactors will cry for mercy from the judge, when he cannot, and ought not to pity them, so as to spare them: when they are bid hold up their hand at the bar to receive their doom, how earnestly on their knees, with tears, they will cry, Mercy, my lord, mercy for God’s sake. Every natural man is condemned. But how few of their consciences can witness for them, that they ever sought God’s mercy? so as convicted criminals an earthly judge’s mercy? The mercy they beg is small, in regard of what sinners stand in need of from God. An earthly judge may reprieve or pardon today, and the pardoned man may die tomorrow. But if the great Judge condemn you, and you are not pardoned, you are sentenced to a never-dying misery. Prisoners beg mercy of a man, who, may be, is bound up by law, and conscience of his oath, to shew none, but to execute justice. Here the case is just contrary. The Lord bids men beg his mercy, and condemns them only that despise it. We have his command, and promise, and many acts of pardon, for our encouragement. What pleading for pardon would there be at earthly bars, if they had the judge’s command to ask, his promise to grant it, and his hand and seal to that promise? Such is our case; yet few beg it in good earnest. Be ashamed, and convinced of your sin, when you see men begging a frail, short life of a judge; and say, “Alas! I never begged the mercy of eternal life so earnestly at the throne of grace, as these wretches do a frail, short, uncertain life.”
3dly, The natural man hath all the creation against him, and therefore is needy of God’s mercy. The whole creation groans under him; he is a burden to God’s earth, a plague to the creation (Rom 8:20-22). What a noise do men make, and what pains do they take, to heap up dust? If God prosper their endeavours, they think he blesseth them, and count themselves happy in their enjoyment. But what is all this for, to a natural unrenewed man? All these creature-comforts will be but as so many witnesses against them in the day of the Lord (James 5:1-4). Men seek the creatures to satisfy their carnal desires, and supply their outward wants; but they do not remember, that, unless the special saving mercy of God come along with them, the creatures are abused, and, in their way, witness and groan to God against them. They groan to be put in God’s room in men’s hearts, and to be made fuel for men’s lusts. They all wait but for God’s call to execute vengeance on his enemies. Is not such a man needy of God’s mercy, that hath the whole creation of God at war with him?
4thly, But there is worse than all these: The man himself, and all he is, hath, and doth, is under the curse of God (Gal 3:10). What is the curse? It is the malediction of God, on a man: it is God’s devoting him to ruin. He is cursed in his body, cursed in his soul, cursed in his family, cursed in his trade and estate, cursed in his crosses, cursed in his mercies, cursed in his life, and cursed in his death; cursed in time, and cursed to eternity. Ah, how long and broad is this curse! (Zech 5:2-4). O what need is there of God’s mercy! for it is this mercy only that can take away the curse. There is no evil we are in danger of from an angry God, but must be removed or prevented by the opposite good from a reconciled God. If God’s anger be our plague, nothing can remove it but his love. If his curse be our burden, only his blessing can take it away. The whole creation cannot make up the loss of God’s favour. And this they know well, that ever saw the face of an angry God.
So much of the necessity of God’s mercy, from the present misery of natural men.
2. I might proceed to speak of that which is coming on them, without the intervening of this mercy of God. We do not reckon a man miserable only, on the account of what he feels, but also on that of his just fears. And generally the smart of misery is raised from fear, rather, and more than from feeling. If any thing renders a man’s present state miserable, the apprehension of the duration or increase of what he feels, adds greatly to his misery. Many things would be little complained of as great evils, were a man sure that in a moment they shall be removed. But in a sinner’s case, for as bad as it is at present, it will surely be worse with him shortly, if mercy prevent not. There is certainty of its coming, and an eternal duration of it when it comes. It is called the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10). Nothing like it ever came on them. Present wrath, though dreadful, is but a trifle to that that is to come. It is wrath to come; for it will surely come. As surely as God lives, as surely as God is true in his word of threatening, this wrath will come on the world of the ungodly. There is no putting of this evil day far away, but in vain thoughts; no diverting or keeping it back a moment. All the united force of the rebellious part of the creation will not be able to stem or stop this fearful tide of wrath. It is wrath to come; for it is still coming and approaching. As many days and years as an ungodly sinner counts in his life, as many days and year’s journeys hath God’s wrath made towards him. Think on this, old sinners; God’s wrath and you are near to meet, except mercy interpose. You think that you run from it, but it runs after you. It will come upon you, and pursue you, and overtake you, as Deuteronomy 28:45. It is wrath to come; because it is always a-coming, and never past. The tide of God’s wrath on the damned is an eternal flood; there will never be an ebbing. Look down to hell, and see how they fare there. Alas! men will not believe, and fear, and fly; and therefore must feel. How many daily hear of this wrath to come, and yet never have any fear of it, till they be irrecoverably plunged into it? who never awaken out of the sleep of security, till they are awakened by the flashes of hell-fire? who will never believe God’s wrath, till they feel it? No true believer goes to hell; all unbelievers are sent thither: but as soon as they come there, they become woeful believers, because eternal feelers of this wrath to come.
Men’s danger of this dreadful state, should make them cry mightily for God’s mercy, as it renders them unspeakably needy of it. But your own serious thoughts about it, would do you more good than many words can.
II. The second thing proposed, is, What is the obtaining of mercy? A frequent manner of speech in scripture: (1 Tim 1:13) Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, (1 Peter 2:10) Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
This phrase of obtaining mercy speaks forth,
1. That the mercy is God’s gift. Our obtaining, is the fruit of his giving. I obtained mercy, saith Paul, and may every believer say. How so? He gave it; he shewed, he demonstrated it, as 1 Timothy 1:16. It is the Lord’s shewing it, tendering, and giving of it, that is the only spring of our obtaining it. We do not buy it, we do not work it out, we are no way meet for it but by misery. God’s mercy springs not out of the earth, but comes down from heaven. It is the gift of God: and as such must all seek it, that would obtain it; and as such will all eternally own it, that do obtain it.
2. This phrase speaks forth a particular application of mercy to the receiver by the giver of it. I obtained mercy, saith Paul. “General mercy would not do my business, another man’s mercy would not save me; I must have it of my own, for myself; and so I got it. Mercy came to me, made me a visit, and applied itself to me in particular.” So must it be with you. You will never be saved, you shall never see God’s face in glory, unless his mercy deal with you, and apply itself as particularly to you, as if there were no other person in the world to be saved by mercy besides thyself. There is indeed a blessed multitude of the vessels of mercy, and the Captain of our salvation brings many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). But yet there is a personal particular application of saving mercy to every saved sinner. And for this application of mercy, we should come to the throne of grace. Though there be infinite mercy at his throne, and though many receive of this mercy; yet you must have of this mercy for yourselves, or you cannot be saved. Your soul is your own, and no man’s else; your danger, sun, and misery, is your own, and no man’s else; and the mercy that saves you, must be as much your own, and not another body’s mercy. That deep discourse of the apostle looks this way, (Rom 11:30-32) For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. It is a great mystery of judgment and mercy the apostle is speaking of; the rejecting of the Jews, and calling in of the Gentiles. Mercy took occasion, from the just casting off of the Jews, to visit the Gentiles; and will in due time bestow itself again upon the Jews. But both of them must have mercy of their own. Mercy to the Jews will not save the Gentiles; mercy to the Gentiles will not save the Jews. Both must have their own mercy. The fountain is the same, the streams are the same; but the vessels are not the same, and every vessel of mercy must have its own measure of its own particular mercy. So must it be with you, if you be saved by mercy. It must be your own, and no man’s else.
3. Obtaining of mercy, speaks forth the receiver’s possessing of it. Obtained mercy, is not only bestowed and applied mercy, but it is possessed mercy. Such things as cannot be possessed and kept, are worth little pains in seeking. But God’s mercy is well worth the seeking; because it may be both had by seeking, and kept when obtained, and is unspeakably beneficial when enjoyed: (Psa 103:17) The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him. As if the Psalmist had said, “Man is but a flower; his life is a wind and vapour that quickly and surely passeth away. But it is not so with God’s mercy, it eternally abides on all it falls upon.” O that men would think on this! As God lives, and is true in his word, God’s everlasting mercy, or God’s everlasting wrath, will eternally lie upon every one of you. And what an amazing difference is there betwixt these two! And yet how many behave, as if indifferent which of these two shall be upon them? God’s saving mercy is such a jewel, that though the Lord gives it but to few, yet he will never take it away from any he hath given it to (Psa 89:28-33). Believers, God may take any thing from you, but his mercy; and you may spare any thing, but his mercy. If God come to take away your children, give them; if he come to take away your estate, let him have it; if he come to take away your health and lives, yield them; strive not with him; bless a giving, and bless a taking God. If he crave thy right eye, or right hand, and what is dearest to you, give, yield all to him. But say, “Let me only keep thy mercy; I cannot part with that, it is the only thing I cannot spare.” The blessed Canaanite’s striving with Christ was about his mercy: “Be silent, disown, reproach me, I care not; but thy mercy I must have.” It were a cruelty that only unbelief can charge God sinfully with, to take away so precious a gift as saving mercy is. Let but this mercy follow me, as Psalm 23:6, and it is no great matter where I go. If I be in the lowest hell, mercy will bring me out: (Psa 86:13) For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. There is no time-hell that a vessel of mercy can be in, but mercy will bring him out again; and this mercy will secure him from the eternal hell. This mercy is God’s mercy; therefore sovereignly free, therefore almighty, therefore eternal. You sin, believers, when you fear his taking away his mercy. He gave it at first, that you might be eternally possessed of it. Mercy gave mercy, and mercy will keep mercy, and mercy will stay with you, and keep you for ever.
III. The third thing to be spoke to, is, the end and design of coming to the throne of grace; and that is, that we may obtain mercy. Not only that this mercy is to be got at the throne of grace, and there only; nor that this throne of grace is erected on purpose to dispense this mercy; nor is it only that we should come to the throne of grace, to ask and beg this mercy; but that we should come to obtain it. This is the duty exhorted to in the text. And in the setting about this duty, two things are required.
1. Come as sensible of your need of mercy. No man can come truly without this sense. He that hath no sense of misery, compliments God in asking mercy, and takes this saving name of God in vain. It is dreadful to provoke God to wrath in our way of asking his mercy: and all such contract this guilt, and expose themselves to his wrath, that have no heart-sense of their need of this mercy. It is an amazing stupidity that the power of sin hath brought on men, that, in a world of sinners sinking into everlasting misery, so few are really sensible of their need of saving mercy. And no man is sensible, till God by his grace make him so.
2. Come in faith of his mercy. You cannot come at all without this faith. Faith is coming to God (Heb 11:6). Unbelief is departing from the living God (Heb 3:12). No man can come, but he that is sensible of misery; for coming is the act of a man drawn and moved by the cords of a man. No man can come but in faith; for there is no other coming for a Christian. These three things should be in this faith:—
1st, A believing that there is abundance of mercy with the Lord; which if shewed and put forth to you, and on you, would save you abundantly. So argues the prodigal, (Luke 15:17,18) And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go to my father, and say &c. (Psa 130:7) Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. The highest working of unbelief is, when men judge their misery greater than his mercy: the great work of faith is, to get these two to meet fairly: and mercy will surely prevail. His tender mercy is over all his works; much more is his abundant mercy above a sinner’s misery. Cain’s words should be left for himself, and used by none else, (Gen 4:13) And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear; or, My iniquity is greater than that it may be forgiven; words sounding like the language of hell, and not to be spoken by any that would escape it. I know many secure people find no difficulty in that they count believing of this, that there is mercy enough with the Lord. But yet the matter is far otherwise. It is mighty difficult to believe the abundance of his mercy, when men are in great pressures of misery. The best of saints have sometimes stumbled here. When Moses is pleading with the Lord for mercy to Israel, (Num 14:17,19) And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken. And pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of thy mercy. As if Moses had said, “Lord thou hast proclaimed thy name, and I heard it, and believed it; but I did not think, that their wickedness would have been so great, as now I find it to be.” Was not Moses a great believer? yet he stumbled in this point of the power of God’s mercy (Num 11:18-23). Israel murmureth for flesh, God promiseth a whole month’s diet of it. What saith Moses (vv 21,22)? How doth the Lord answer him? (v 23) And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? thou shalt see now, whether my word shall come to pass unto thee, or not. This great man’s unbelief was greatly aggravated, in that he saw the Lord bring that people out of Egypt, with signs and wonders, and with a mighty hand; he saw them daily fed, clothed, and led, and protected with miracles of divine power and mercy: yet one new difficulty shakes his faith. When Paul gives us his last account of his faith, (for that epistle was his last writing), he lodgeth his faith on Divine power: (2 Tim 1:12) I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. “If I be persuaded that he is able, I shall not doubt of his being willing to keep that charge safe I have committed to him.” Let the eye of faith take up clearly the power of mercy; and the faith of its application to thy benefit, will be the more easy. But he is a rare believer, whose view of the power of mercy is not darkened by a clear sight and deep sense of his own great misery, at least at sometimes.
2dly, To come for mercy in faith, is to believe the fitness and suitableness of God’s mercy to our misery. Here many stumble woefully. Their question is, “Am I fit for mercy?” when it should rather be, “Is his mercy fit for me?” And this question every sensible soul can answer; the other none in heaven or earth can answer. If any man think himself fit for mercy, of all men, that man is most unfit for it, and farthest from receiving of it. But every sensible soul will say, “Though I be unfit for, and unworthy of mercy; yet mercy is very fit for me. Is there pardoning mercy with God? who is it so fit for as a guilty vile sinner? Is there saving mercy with him? who is it so fit for as for a lost man, as I am?” Come to the throne of grace for mercy, in faith of this, “Mercy is fit for me exactly, though I be utterly unworthy of it.” They that think they are fit for mercy, will never get it, nor indeed can ask it. But they that think they are needy of it, and that it is fit for them, will both ask it and get it.
3dly, To come to the throne of grace in faith for mercy, is, to believe that there is all good will in him that sits on this throne to give and shew mercy. It is implied in the text, Let us come to obtain mercy. But what if, when we come, he will not shew mercy? That is an ungodly supposition, mischievous to ourselves, and reflecting upon God. He hath mercy in abundance to give; he delights in giving, he never refused mercy to any that came for it, he hath promised he never will: and why should men harbour such a suspicion, that we may come and not obtain? Benhadad could adventure on a report, that the kings of Israel were merciful kings; and yet Ahab was one of the worst of them (1 Kings 20:31). And shall not sinners come upon a more sure report of the mercifulness of the King on this throne of grace? It is on this truth of the Lord’s good-will to shew mercy that our faith so readily halts. Many think they ought not to believe this good-will to shew mercy. I would have you consider some instances of Christ’s dealing with sinners. (John 4:10) Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest this gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink: thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Where we are to regard, 1. To whom these words were spoken by our Lord: To a Samaritan; a vile creature, as to the former course of her life; a blind, ignorant, sottish sinner, that was guilty of refusing Christ a cup of water, the greatest sin she ever committed in her life. 2. What our Lord saith to her: If thou knewest me, thou wouldest have asked; if thou hadst asked, I would have given thee living water. And before he had done he made her know him; made her ask, and gave her of his living water. But that I mainly observe from the word of Christ, is a truth, which few will believe when they hear it, even few believers themselves will believe it as they ought, That Christ is more ready to give begging sinners eternal life, than they can be to give Christ himself a cup of cold water. Our Lord saith it, but men will not believe it. Another of Christ’s words is in Luke 11:13, If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? Christ makes the comparison favourably (vv 11,12) of a child’s asking necessaries; will a parent refuse that desire, and give what is hurtful? But consider our Lord’s design in this saying. It is plainly to encourage to seeking. And the argument he useth, is from the greater love and readiness in God to give the best things, than earthly parents have to give their children the necessaries of this life. The preference is not here given to God’s greater riches and fulness, than that of parents, who may have their children beg of them what they have not to give, as in Lamentations 4:4; but it is a preference given to God’s greater willingness to give. Now, who believes this, and makes the just application to his own case? and says confidently, “The Lord is much more willing to give me saving mercy, if I ask it, than I am to give a bit of bread to maintain the life of the nearest and dearest relation I have in the world?”
APPLICATION. I shall only add a few words of application. 1. There is no principle of natural religion engraven more deeply on the hearts of men, than that there is misery in men, and mercy in God; and that God’s mercy only can relieve men under this misery. This runs through the whole world in all ages; and will continue as long as sense of misery is in men, and any notions of God are preserved in the minds of men. And these sentiments are not to be defaced. Attempts of atheists are damnable to themselves, but vain efforts against the Rock of ages.
2. Notwithstanding of this, God’s true mercy in Jesus Christ is the greatest riddle, offence, and stumbling-block, to all natural men. God’s mercy they like well enough, and would have applied to their own relief under misery; but God’s only and true mercy in Christ, they cannot away with. That there is no mercy with God for sinners, but what flows through the blood of Jesus Christ; that God’s love should appear in sending his own Son, under the charge of men’s sin, and under the smart and feeling of their miseries; that as God shews mercy only this way, so men that would have it, must only seek it this way; the world never did, never can, never will understand, nor relish it, nor betake themselves to it. They would have mercy to come to them another way; and so seek it, and look for it in vain, and perish by the miss of it.
3. There is no address made to God, more honourable to God, more acceptable to him, and more becoming a miserable sinner, than an address to God for his mercy. It is his glory to be the sovereign Lord of mercy; it is his honour to be attended with the addresses of miserable men; it is his delight to dispense mercy to the addressors. What is more becoming God, than to shew mercy? and what can be more fit, than that a miserable sinner should beg his mercy?
4. There is no provocation more common, than sinful ways of begging God’s mercy. I shall briefly instance in a few. Many profane careless creatures have this word frequently in their mouths, God be merciful to me; who yet have no more sense, either of God or of themselves, of his mercy or of their misery, than the ground they go on. This is a gross taking of God’s name in vain. Undue addresses to God for mercy, are great provocations. Some beg only outward mercies. Such people would like this text well, if it had been, “Let us come that we may obtain gold, and silver, and health, and long life.” If prayer was ordained by God for such mercies, the throne of grace would be crowded with supplicants. But you will never ply prayer rightly, till you understand that there is something to be got at this throne of grace, that is better in itself, more needful for you, and that will do you more good, than all that the world hath to give. Some beg mercy only when they are under God’s afflicting hand: (Psa 78:34) When he slew them, then they sought him. Some beg God’s mercy limitedly; they only beg one mercy, and desire no more. His mercy is of a large extent, and we should beg it all. We may beg a particular mercy, according to our present felt necessities; yet we must not make an exception against any act of mercy. We must not beg the mercy of pardon, with a heart-quarrel against the mercy of sanctification. The Lord be merciful to thy servant in this thing (2 Kings 5:18) was a faulty prayer, if there was any sincerity in Naaman. Though we may ask any particular mercy, yet we must lay open our hearts to the whole flood of mercy: (Psa 119:132) Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. So Psalm 106:4,5. Lastly, some beg mercy for themselves, and for their idols in the same address. One part of their prayer is for mercy to themselves, and another part of it is for mercy to their idols. Is not that a woeful, ill-made prayer? and yet how frequently is it done? Idols are such things as have a greater, nearer room in the heart, than God hath. Whatever is loved, feared, trusted, and delighted in, more than God, that is an idol, be it the best or basest thing we can name, or think on. These idols are of two sorts; lawful, and unlawful. Not that it is lawful to have any idol; but many make idols of lawful things: such things I mean, that in their proper place may be sought, and lawfully used; but are woefully abased, when put in God’s room. These are the most dangerous, because least perceived idols. Christian, it is lawful to love thy relations, to pray for wife and children, to beg God’s blessing on thy lawful diligence in thy calling: but watch well, that none of these lawful things come in between thy heart and God. If they do, thou wilt fall into this snare, of begging God’s mercy to thyself and idols in the same prayer. Unlawful idols, or idols in unlawful things, are, sins, lusts, and heart-plagues. Woe to him that begs God’s mercy to them. We should daily beg God’s mercy against them. The more mercy (that is, forbearance) God sheweth to such idols, the more wrath, and the less mercy, he sheweth to the man himself. God’s mercy cannot be shewn both to a man and his idols. The purest mercy is then shewn to a man, when the Lord dealeth severely with his idols. Kill my sinful idols, and save me, is a fit prayer at the throne of grace; and he is a happy man that gets it answered.
5. Sinful addresses for God’s mercy, are great provocations of his wrath. His mercy is so sacred a name of God, that he will hold no man guiltless that taketh it in vain. In this matter the best contract much guilt. All have many sins in their holy things, and in their approaches to the holiest of all, the throne of grace, and do stand in need of atonement. And we should all come to the throne of grace, for mercy to pardon the sins that are in our seeking of mercy. But where then shall the ungodly and sinner appear? He perisheth for want of mercy. He should come for it; and he cannot come for mercy, while he is what he is, but he provokes the Lord to more wrath against him. This is one of the inextricable straits that every unbeliever is in, that nothing but sovereign grace and mercy can bring one out of. Look to him for this deliverance, and he will shew you mercy.