MERCY. BY THOMAS H.

SKI ER

There is in sentient being, so far as we are acquainted with it, a self-protective property called anger ^ which, on a sudden attack, instantly springs into exercise against the assailant. But in rational creatures this constitutional element is under the law of goodness, against the interest of which its indulgence is not to be allowed. When, therefore, its proper end, self-protection, ceases to require its exercise, it should be suppressed, since it would produce only pain or unhappiness, which, if not necessary, is inconsistent with the rule of goodness. A good being cannot indulge anger for no purpose : simply vindictive or malign anger resteth nowhere, except in the bosom of fools. (Eccles. vii. 9.) If this property belong to the nature of the Deity, it must in Him, also, be subordinate to goodness, the glory of every good being. The All-Perfect, the pattern of perfection to His creatures, can give no expression to useless anger. The Scripture ascribes this feeling to the Divine Being, in the strongest terms of irascible passion : " God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth ; the Lord revengetli and is furious ; the Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies." ( ah. i. 2.) But to apply such language to God, in a sense supposing Him

238 MERCY. to be reveBgeful, like a man iDfuriated with malignant passion, were to set the Scripture into discord with itself, and to make the Deity an object of infinite horror to His creatures. Over every thing in the

constitution and essence, and entire agency of God, the supremacy of goodness is immanent and absolute. His anger, in its highest manifestations, its severest inflictions, is the servitor and agent of His goodness. If it destroys some, it is becanse something worse would be involved in sparing them. If it makes a hell, it does this work of indignant justice, because in not doing it, it would cease to be goodness, or refrain from using the necessary means of the gTcatest good. It has had to do this dreadful work. The first sinners, the devil and his angels, are reserved under chains of everlasting darkness ; and the same is the inevitable doom of those of mankind who will not forsake their fellowship. For the way of goodness is not that of mere will : it has its own indispensable and immutable conditions. It would defeat itself, it would, in effect, cease to be goodness, if it did not observe proper mode ; or if it disregarded moral proportion or harmony in its actings. God cannot act out of harmony with Himself. He were no longer God, if, in any movement, in or out of Himself, there were a non-concurrence of any one of His perfections ; if, e.g.^ He should put forth an exercise of poiuer from which wisdom should dissent ; or an exercise of mercy against the protest of justice. In strictest truth, what God, as God, can do, is not what power or mercy can do — for God is more than power or mercy ¦'— but what can be

MERCY. 239 done by an activity in which every divine attribute can combine and coalesce. It is one of the worst fruits of sin, that an opinion which denies this highest of necessities prevails among men. They think the goodness of God may take the form of mercy by arbitrary will ; on this assumption they reason and construct their theories and systems ; — an assumption which is itself virtually the sum of delusion, involving the un-

deifying of God, the end of all good and goodness in the universe. There was, as the event proved, a possibility of showing mercy to man, when he brought the need of it on himself But this possibility had its ground in another, namely, the possibility to the Divine goodness, of so preparing its way to take the form of mercy, that it might do so and yet remain goodness to the end ; or not do ultimately more evil than good. There was 'this latter possibility, but the ground of it did not lie in simple will or power, but in a sufficiency and a readiness in the Divine goodness to make a self-sacrifice, which was itself the highest instance of that goodness, and the comprehension of all the good thenceforth to be communicated to mankind. Two subordinate ends required to be answered : First, the adequate revelation of Avenging justice, or the Divine displeasure against sin, the measure of which is nothing less than that of the Divine goodness itself, since of this goodness and all its possible fruits, sin is the enemy and would be the destroyer ; and, secondly, the application of an agency by which sin itself can be destroyed, and the original order restored in those to whom the

240 MBBCr. sacrifice is ultimately available -, since, otberwise, the effect of the sacrifice would be but to promote and aggrandize the power of sin. Self-evidently these two were indispensable prerequisites to the course of goodness toward man. Aud incidental to them, there was this contingence, namely, the aggravation of final unhappiness to such as might, in persistent contempt of goodness, choose to abide under the dominion of sin. The conditions involving the contingency were met : the possibility became a reality. The reign of Mercy was instituted: Goodness — establishing itself on its

own firm and everlasting foundation ; meeting all exigencies of Holy justice ; securing itself against ultimate defeat and abuse — changed its original form, and, thenceforth, instead of simple kindness or favor, became favor to the guilty ; wlierein, in countless varieties, and in fulness, as that of the sea, it has abounded to mankind. It is impossible to us to know in what respects goodness had to forego its first course of agency, the course it would have pursued, if sin had been unknown. A different object was now before it. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world ; the end ultimately to be attained by them must, therefore, have also been known to Him ; but this, before the entrance of sin, did not hinder His earnestly pursuing the end which might have been attained in the absence of sin ; else, as has been already said, God's foreknowledge would subject Him altogether to Fate, — that is to say, there were in truth no God. And if He did aim at this end, means suited to

MERCT. 241 its attainment murft have been employed by Him. What they were, or, beyond the negative intuitions of reason, what they were not, it were presumptuous in us to attempt to imagine, much more to claim, as too many have done, to have positive knowledge. ot contingent possibilities or requisitions, but inspired teaching and the facts of history and experience, are what we are concerned with. According to these, the economy of goodness proceeding on its new basis, was wonderfully new in many fundamental particulars. It required Human ature to be constituted anew, under a new Head, and in a new Root. It made new conditions and terms of favor with God ; it appointed new institutions and ordinances of life ; it gave access to

new resources of strength and happiness ; it opened new prospects ; it made new promises, and threatened new penalties ; it called for a new and highly peculiar form of character ; it involved new and stupendous fortunes to mankind. It applied its provisions and influences to the entire race ; it blessed the entire race with mercies innumerable, and of immeasurable value. But it did not at once undo the perversions and mischiefs of sin ; it did not restore at once the original order of the world ; it did not abolish natural evils ; it did not exclude temptation or the tempter; it did not reverse the sentence of bodily dissolution, or exempt man from disappointment, pain, or any form of disease ; it did not preclude enmities among men toward one another ; it left itself subject to malignant opposition from evil angels and men ; it was to make its way through desperate con11

242 MEBGT. flicts, and alternate success and defeat, to be continued to the end of time ; and at last the dire necessity would remain to it of consigning the impenitent to enhanced unhappiness. The manifestations and achievements of Goodness, both before and after the change of its way, will at last demonstrate the undeviating supremacy of Optimism in the universe. It will then be made evident that as the best world was brought into existence by creative power, so the best management of it will have been maintained through the entire course of time. There will be nothing to be excepted, nothing instead of which something better might have been done. ot so good would have been the agency necessary to prevent the entrance of sin, as that negative agency

which permitted this, connected with its sequel, the institution of the Eeign of mercy. ot better would it have been to have employed a different agency to that which was exerted to prevent the predominance of sin and the doom of the lost. Still it will remain self-evident that greater good would have been possible if sin, with its evils, had never been known. The doing of mercy will fill Heaven with eternal wonder and joy ; it will make revelations of goodness which but for it would have had no place ; God, in one aspect of His character, will be known, as otherwise He could not have been. But better, nevertheless, had it been if no occasion for the exercise of His mercy had arisen ; if His goodness had been left to pursue its course as goodness simply ; to employ its unsearchable resources for the production of goodness and happiness in the

MERCY. 243 universe, without a necessity for a Hell. The inflictions of Avenging justice in punishing incorrigible sin, are not to be spared ; thej produce a sense, as salutary as it is awful, of the majesty of law, and the strength and stability of government. But it is pure malignity only that can refrain from regret at the demand for them ; and it is only this demand, this inexorable necessity, that enables goodness to reconcile itself to them.

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