THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.

BY REV. WILLIAM HOWELS,
Luke i. 78, 79.
" Through the tender mercy of our God ; where-
by the day-spring from on high hath visited us,
to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in
the shadoio of death, to guide our feet in the way
of peace"
This is a very interesting portion of divine writ.
It is part of the triumphant song of Zechariah,
father of John the Baptist, embracing not only the
birth of his own son, but likewise Messiah himself,
with all the blessings which he descended to im-
part to the fallen sons and daughters of Adam.
Zechariah had disbelieved the promise an-
nounced by the angel Gabriel, that a son should be
born to him ; and I have often reminded you of
the folly of reasoning when God speaks. It is not
the province of reason to attempt to deny any
thing that he asserts ; on the contrary, it is the
wisdom of reason to believe, and to bow, with
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 1 1 1
the most profound submission, at the foot of his
throne. His truth will afford a richer feast for
reason than all the arts and sciences, or any thing
that has ever been devised by man. This feast
involves himself in all the glory of his perfections.
Zechariah says, " How shall I know these things ?
He was made to know them — he was struck
dumb till the angel's prophecy was fulfilled ; his
lips were then opened, and he begins in this tri-
umphant strain: " Blessed be the Lord God of
Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his
people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation
for us in the house of his servant David." He
anticipated the future blessings with which the
world was to be visited, in consequence of the
birth and triumph of the Saviour of mankind :
" That we should be saved from our enemies,"
evidently from spiritual enemies primarily, " to
perform the mercy promised to our forefathers,
and to remember his holy covenant."
God does everything in faithfulness to himself.
He remembers his holy covenant — he remembers
himself in all his glory, and in that remembrance is
mindful of man. It would be too much for us to
believe this truth, had it not been established by
the authority of God himself: had we not known,
from historical evidence, and from the lips of in-
dividuals themselves, that those who were most
devoted to sin and Satan, have been plucked as
112 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
brands from the burning, have been renewed in
the spirit of their minds, have been united to
Christ, and are now flourishing in eternal ver-
dure and fertility before the throne of God above.
We see the spirituality, the integrity, and the
source of the saint's joy. The oath which he
sware unto our father Abraham, that he would
grant unto us, " that we being delivered out of
the hands of our enemies, might serve him with-
out fear in holiness and righteousness before him,
all the days of our life." Wisdom will invari-
ably teach the sons and daughters of God to seek,
as the primary and most valuable blessing, deli-
verance from the hands of spiritual enemies —
from the guilt and tyranny of sin, looking for-
ward to deliverance from its very existence.
That deliverance involves in it perfect and eter-
nal freedom from every thing that is or can be
painful to our feelings. In triumphing over sin,
we triumph over every other foe.
" And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet
of the Highest." At the close of the Old Testa-
ment dispensation, a promise was given that Elias
should come, and, according to our Lord, John
was that Elias, teaching the Jewish nation to
recognize Messiah as their king. " Thou shalt
go before the face of the Lord to prepare his
ways ; to give knowledge of salvation unto his
people by the remission of their sins." John
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 113
truly preached the law that condemned man ;
but he also set forth the Saviour that was to
deliver him.
This period may justly be called the dawn of
the Sun of Righteousness, as we sometimes see
the light of the sun, before he actually ascends
above the horizon. John the Baptist not only
beheld this light, but, in prophetic vision, tra-
velled into futurity, and taught the church of God
a song which they may well adopt, and sing to
the end of time.
" Through the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the day-spring from on high hath vi-
sited us." The first thing that solicits our atten-
tion in this passage is,
The mercy of Jehovah.
Mercy, a most essential attribute in God, and,
like every thing else that inhabits Deity, infinite
and eternal. It is the developement of this attri-
bute that exhibits all the perfections of God in
their full splendour. Angels in a state of inno-
cence could have no idea of the mercy of God.
When some of them fell from their glorious es-
tate, neither those who fell, nor those who re-
mained in a state of primitive innocence, could
have anticipated any thing like mercy in God.
This was infinitely beyond their ken. Mercy
notwithstanding the glory that God had evinced
before, must have remained an eternal secret in
VOL. I. I
114 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
his own bosom, had he not been pleased himself
to make it known. Mercy could not deve-
lope itself to innocent beings. Love might, and
even in this we are amazed, when we consider
the perfections of God — this infinitely glorious
peculiarity in the Divine Being — that love as it
inhabits his bosom finds every thing worthy of
itself within the bosom of Deity, and this can-
not be said of any other existence. We won-
der at this ; but new glories present themselves
to our attention in meditating on the mercy of
God. Satan triumphed in one respect in Eden,
and sin extended its conquests to its utmost
bounds. When Deity made himself known
to our first parents in the person of Messiah,
and pronounced a blessing which lives in all
its glory in heaven at the present moment ; be-
fore he denounced the curse, what mingled emo-
tions of joy and sorrow must have been excited
within their breasts ! It is evident that they had
a clear view of Messiah, and of their interest in
him. Then mercy made itself known to angels
of light, to the hosts of darkness, and to ruined
man ; but man is eminently interested in this sub-
lime blessing.
This was the first developement of these pur-
poses of love and mercy, which had inhabited
the bosom of Deity from the countless ages of
eternity. In the Old and ew Testament the
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 115
mercy of God is dwelt on in the most triumphant
manner, and well it may be, for it involves all the
divine perfections in the redemption and salva-
tion of fallen man. Yes, our God is merciful !
" Have mercy upon me," says the psalmist, " ac-
cording to thy loving kindness/' It is the bless-
ing that pursues the church of God continually,
and preserves her from destruction. " It is of
the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, they
are new every morning ; great is thy faithfulness."
It is mercy that preserves us every moment.
It is mercy that must follow and preserve us
till the day of death, for " goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life." And it
is mercy in all its prolific blessings and effects,
that preserves the saints of light at this moment
in all the glories of bliss. If asked to define
mercy, my answer would be this ; that it com-
prises every thing that is absolutely necessary to
make sinful man eminently holy, and, as a neces-
sary consequence, eminently happy. Happiness
without holiness is an absolute impossibility ; it
cannot be communicated to any being. W hen
God makes a sinful being happy he invariably
first makes him holy. It is love, then, that em-
braces sinful man ; love in its most glorious ex-
ercise, surrounding humanity in all its shame and
degradation. It is pity that embraces man in
all his misery, and this is most emphatically de-
i2
116 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
signated the bowels of our God. We know that
tenderness inhabits the human bosom; love and
pity, though utterly imcomprehensible to us, in-
habit the bosom of God in all their glory, and
develope themselves in the bosom of humanity
like our own, in human feelings in the highest
exercise of their intenseness. Follow Jesus when
he wept over Jerusalem, over their temporal as
well as their eternal destruction — listen to him
when he says on the cross, in the midst of his
agonizing sufferings, " Father, forgive them, they
know not what they do ! " These are infinitely
glorious realities as inhabiting the bosom of God;
but let it be ever remembered, they can reach
and be applied to us only through one who is
man like ourselves.
Men have very little conception of the feel-
ings of mothers ; but our Lord knew more than
a mother's feeling. When Solomon, in his wis-
dom, foreseeing the issue, commanded a sword
to be brought, and the living child to be divided,
the spring of maternal affection was touched by
the master hand — exquisitely did it respond;
but what were these feelings compared with the
sympathies of Deity in visiting — who ? sons ?
daughters ? friends ? o ! enemies in open re-
bellion against him ? " God commendeth his love
towards us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us."
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 117
Listen to the prayers of the church ; the prayer
of those who are conscious that mercy, in all its
living, eternal glory, inhabits no bosom but that
of Deity. " Look down from heaven and be-
hold from the habitation of thy holiness and of
thy glory : where is thy zeal and thy strength,
the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies
towards me ? are they restrained ? Doubtless,
thou art our Father, though Abraham be igno-
rant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not:
thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer,
thy name is from everlasting."
It was in the advent of John, and afterwards
in the advent of Messiah, that the bosom of God
was thrown open, and every possible proof given
of God's love to sinful man, that love in all
its glorious dimensions involving the dimensions
of the love that embraces himself. O how
happy they must be in heaven ! their capacities
so wonderfully sublimed, that they can enter into
these subjects with the most intense delight, at
the same time unaccompanied by the least weari-
ness. John the Baptist was only the herald and
messenger of Messiah, the morning star, that
shone in the dawn of that eternal sun which
illumined the spiritual hemisphere of his church,
and will continue to shed his splendid beams upon
her through an eternal day.
The proof then of the mercy of God, consists
in three things —
118 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
In the incarnation, obedience and death of his
Son — all inseparably connected ; and we cannot
do justice to one without taking the whole into
consideration. The Saviour had been announced
to the church as the Sun of Righteousness. " To
you that fear my name, shall the Sun of Righte-
ousness arise with healino- in his wings." " Be-
hold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven,
and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly,
shall be as stubble ; and the day that cometh shall
burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it
shall leave them neither root nor branch." The
mercy and judgment of the Lord, as set forth in
this passage, were most conspicuously displayed,
when Jesus visited our earth, and in the period
immediately subsequent. We find, in perusing
the ew Testament, a perfect fulfilment of this
prophecy. There were some waiting for the
consolation of Israel, some who faintly beheld
his glory in the types and shadows, and who were
prepared by faith, and the discipline of the divine
Spirit, to look to him ; and when he came they
beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten
of the Father, full of grace and truth.
It is said of the ancient Persians, that they
worshipped the sun, and that they waited for him
every morning, and paid their devotions just at
the moment he rose above the horizon. We
may well weep over such folly. But Scripture
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 119
directs our attention to the Sun of righteousness.
We find all who knew him worshipping him
without exception ; " and again, when he bringeth
in the first begotten into the world, he saith,
Let all the angels of God worship him." Deity
worshipped by angels. Yes, and humanity too.
When the wise men of the east came, they
brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the most
precious things they had, and offered them, evi-
dently in testimony of their devotion. But they
had presented him first with a more valuable
offering — they had given their hearts. How
must they have been gratified, when they beheld
the Saviour of mankind : they saw his spiritual
glory when lying in a manger. O may our
hearts be like the stable — not like the inn — for
there was no room in the inn for Jesus. Mes-
siah was rejected, to make room for richer guests.
All the creatures of God are good, and the dif-
ferent grades of society are blessings ; these are
not to be despised, but on the contrary, to be
honoured and respected. But when these dis-
tinctions are opposed to the majesty of the Most
High, and the truth of his gospel, they imme-
diately become pregnant with the most awful
curse.
The history of good old Simeon will furnish
us with a salutary hint how to spend our Christ-
mas. May we follow his example, and spend it
120 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
with Jesus, in the full embrace of faith ! If you
spend it in any other way, your blood will not be
required at my hands.
Lastly. Consider the blessings and conse-
quences of the advent of the Messiah.
He obeyed, suffered, and died. He atoned
for sin, and brought in an everlasting righteous-
ness ; and he now has the Spirit at his disposal.
ow, behold, in the consequences, a most striking
contrast : — Man in a state of nature, and man in
a state of grace.
All comparisons fail, — and Scripture furnishes
us with many striking ones too — " The wilder-
ness and the solitary place shall be glad, and
the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the
rose." Contrast the polar regions of cold and
darkness, with the heat, light, and fertility of
southern climes. All these will give us very
faint ideas of the blessings with which believers
are visited, when God adopts them as sons and
daughters, makes them plants of his own right-
hand planting, and fructifies and fertilizes them
by the dew of his Spirit. He promises to water
his spiritual garden every moment ; and lest any
hurt it, he will keep it night and day.
The history of man is very concise. " To
give light to them that sit in darkness, and in
the shadow of death." The extreme of igno-
THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD. 121
ranee and the extreme of danger. Ruin im-
pending over him like a tottering edifice, or
a falling cliff, ready to crush him to destruction,
and, at the same time, accompanied by the most
astonishing insensibility ; for it is said, " To them
that sit in darkness." And we read of the world
lying in wickedness. Men sit and lie down when
they are, in their own estimation, in a state of
security. How truly awful ! And this was the
state of the world when visited by Jesus ; this
was your state and mine. Sitting in darkness
and the shadow of death. The shadow always
implies the contiguity of the substance. What
is implied in the shadow of death ? The prox-
imity of eternal death.
Learn, then, a few lessons from this important
subject.
We see the absolute necessity of being visited
by the Sun of Righteousness ; I mean indivi-
dually. The blessings of redemption must flow
from the bosom of Messiah into each of our bo-
soms. Causes and effects are inseparably united
in the natural world. o man expects to reap
without sowing. Means and ends are, if possi-
ble, more intimately connected in the spiritual
world than in the natural. God may, if he
please, work a miracle, and fertilize a desert ;
but it is inconsistent with his divine perfections
to visit any soul with spiritual blessings but in
122 THE TEDER MERCY OF GOD.
and through the Redeemer. othing- but death
is found any where except in the bosom of our
covenant head.
The last lesson is gratitude : and probably the
highest which we shall learn in heaven. There
is something very lovely in this grace ; and it is
attended with feelings eminently calculated to
make happy. To be grateful to a faithful friend,
whose unwearied services have been extended in
the midst of trials and difficulties, — a sense of such
love is a cordial to the human heart; but all
must be left behind when Calvary opens upon our
view. Are we seeking an enlarged, appropriate
view of that glorious sacrifice, that our hearts
may be inflamed, and our feet quickened in the
heavenly path ? Are we kissing the Son, lest he
be angry ? O unite with me at the throne of
grace, that this blessing may be ours, and then
our united praises shall eventually ascend before
the throne of God in glory !
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