Truth & Mercy

Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.
~ Psalm 89:14, Psalm 100:5, Exodus 34:6-7, Micah 7:20

The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places;
~ Psalm 72:3, Isaiah 32:16-18

Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
~ Isaiah 45:24, Jeremiah 23:5-6

For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
~ Hebrews 7:1-4

The Union of Truth and Mercy in the Gospel, by Thomas Chalmers. Sermon XVI.

Psalm LXXXV. 10.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

It was not by a simple deed of amnesty, that man was invited to return and be at peace with God. It was by a deed of expiation. It was not by nullifying the sanctions of the law, that man was offered a free and a full discharge from the penalties he had incurred by breaking it. It was by executing these sanctions on another, who voluntarily took them upon himself, and who, in so doing, magnified the law, and made it honourable. To redeem us from the curse of the law, Christ became a curse for us. It was not by God lifting off our iniquities from our persons, and scattering them away into a region of forgetfulness, without one demonstration of his abhorrence, and without the fulfilment of his threatenings against them ; but lifting them off from us, he laid them on another, who bare, in his own person, the punishment that we should have borne. God laid upon his own Son the iniquities of us all. The guilt of our sins is not done away by a mere act of forgiveness. It is washed away by the blood of the Lamb. God set him forth a propitiation. He was smitten for our transgressions. He gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God. The system of the gospel no more expunges the attribute of mercy from the character of the Godhead, than it expunges the attributes of truth and righteousness. But all the mercy which it offers and proclaims to a guilty world, is the mercy which flows upon it through the channel of that Mediatorship, by which his truth and his justice have been asserted and vindicated; and, while it reveals to us the openness of this channel, it also reveals to us that every other which the heart of man may conceive, is shut, and intercepted, and utterly impassable. There is none other name given under heaven, whereby man can be saved, but the name of him who poured out his soul unto the death for us. Without the shedding of his blood, there could have been no remission. And he who hath not the Son, hath the wrath of God abiding on him.

It is due to our want of moral sensibility, that sin looks so light and so trivial in our estimation. We have no adequate feeling of its malignity, of its exceeding sinfulness. And, liable as we are to think of God, that he is altogether like unto ourselves, do we think that he may cancel our guilt as easily from the book of his condemnation, by an act of forgiveness, as we cancel it from our own memory, by an act of forgetfulness. But God takes his own way, and most steadfastly asserts, throughout the whole process of our recovery, the prerogatives of his own truth, and his own righteousness. He so loved the world, as to send his Son to it, not to condemn, but to save. But he will not save us in such a way as to confirm our light estimation of sin, or to let down the worth and the dignity of his own character.

The method of our salvation is not left to the random caprices of human thought, and human fancy. It is a method devised for us by unsearchable wisdom, and made known to us by fixed and unalterable truth, and prescribed to us by a supreme authority, which has debarred every other method; and though we may behold no one feature, either of greatness or of beauty to admire in it-yet do angels admire it; and to accomplish it, did the Son of God move from the residence of his glory; and all heaven appears to have laboured with the magnitude and the mystery of the great undertaking; and along the whole tract of revelation, from the first age of the world, do we behold the notices of the coming atonement; and while man sits at his ease, and can see nothing to move him either to gratitude or to wonder, in the evolution of that mighty scheme, by which mercy and truth have been made to meet together, and righteousness and peace to kiss each other, it is striking to mark the place and the prominency which are given to it, in the counsels of the Eternal. And it might serve to put us right, and to rebuke the levities which are so currently afloat in this dead and darkened world, did we only look at the stress that is laid on this great work, throughout the whole of its preparation and its performance, and how to bring it to its accomplishment, the Father had to send the Son into the world, and to throw a veil over his glory, and to put the cup of our chastisement into his hand -and to bid the sword of righteous vengeance awake against his fellow — and, that he might clear a way of access to a guilty world, had to do it through the blood of an everlasting covenant,—and to lay the full burden of our atonement on the head of the innocent sufferer,—and to endure the spectacle of his bitterness, and his agonies, and his tears, till he cried out that it was finished, and so bowed himself and gave up the ghost.

Man is blind to the necessity, but God sees it. The prayer of Christ in his agony was, that the cup, if possible, might be removed from him. But it was not possible. He could have called twelve legions of angels, and they would have eagerly flown to rescue their beloved Lord from the hands of his persecutors. But he knew that the Scripture must be fulfilled, and they looked on in silent forbearance. It behoved him to undergo all this. And there was a need, and a propriety, why he should suffer all these things, ere he entered into his glory.

We shall offer three distinct remarks on this method of our redemption, in order to prove that it fulfils the whole assertion of our text, that it has made mercy and truth to meet together, and righteousness and peace to kiss each other.

First, it maintains the entireness and glory of all the attributes of the Godhead. Secondly, it provides a solid foundation for the peace of every sinner who concurs in it. And, thirdly, it strengthens all the securities for the cause of practical righteousness among men.

I. In darkness, as we are, about the glory and character of the Supreme Being, it would offer a violence even to our habitual conceptions of him, to admit of any limit, or any deduction from the excellencies of his nature. We should even think it a lessening of the Deity, were the extent of his perfections such, as that we should be able to grasp them within the comprehension of our understandings. The property of chiefest admiration to his creatures is, that they know but a part, and are not aware how small a part that is, to what is unknown; and never is their obeisance more lowly, than when under the sense of a greatness that is undefined and unsearchable, they feel themselves baffled by the infinitude of the Creator. It is not his power as attested by all that exists within the limits of actual discovery; but his power, as conceived to form and uphold a universe, whose outskirts are unknown.—It is not his wisdom, as exhibited in what has been seen by human eye ; but his wisdom, as pervading the unnumbered secrecies of a mechanism, which no eye can penetrate.—It is not his knowledge, as displayed in the greater and prophetic outlines of the history of this world; but his knowledge, as embracing all the mazes of creation, and all the mighty periods of eternity.—It is not his antiquity, as prior to all that is visible, and as reaching far above and beyond the remote infancy of nature; but his antiquity, as retiring upwards from the loftiest ascent of our imaginations, and lost in the viewless depths of an existence, that was from everlasting. These are what serve to throne the Deity in grandeur inaccessible. It is the thought of what eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, that places him on such a height of mystery before us. And should we ever be able to overtake, in thought, the dimensions of any attribute that belongs to him,—and far more should we ever be able to outstrip, in fancy, a single feature of that character which is realised by the living and reigning, God should defect or impotency attach to him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, would we feel as if all our most rooted and accustomed conceptions of the Godhead had sustained an overthrow, would we feel as if the sanctuary of him who is the King eternal and invisible had suffered violence.

And this is just as true of the moral as of the natural attributes of the Godhead. When we think of his truth, it is a truth which, if heaven and earth stand committed to the fulfilment of its minutest article, heaven and earth must, for its vindication, pass away. When we think of his holiness, it is such that, if sin offer to draw nigh, a devouring fire goeth forth to burn up and to destroy it. When we think of his law, it is a law which must be made honourable, even though, by the enforcement of its sanctions, it shall sweep into an abyss of misery all the generations of the rebellious. And yet this God, just, and righteous, and true, is a God of love, and of compassion, infinite. He is slow to anger, and of great mercy. He does not afflict willingly; and as a father rejoices over his children, does he long to rejoice in tenderness over us all; and out of the storehouse of a grace that is inexhaustible, does he deal out the offers of pardon and reconciliation to every one of us. Even in some way or other does the love of God for his creatures find its way through the barrier of their sinfulness; and he who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, he who hath spoken the word, and shall he not perform it he of whose law it has been said, that not one jot, or one tittle of it, shall pass away, till all be fulfilled, he holds out the overtures of friendship to the children of disobedience, and invites the guiltiest among them to the light of his countenance, in time, and to the enjoyment of his glory and presence, in eternity.

There is no one device separate from the gospel, by which the glory of any one of these attributes can be exalted, but by the surrender or the limitation of another attribute. It is in the gospel alone that we perceive how each of them may be heightened to infinity, and yet each of them reflect a lustre on the rest. When Christ died, justice was magnified. When he bore the burden of our atonement, the truth of God received its vindication. When the sins of the world brought him to the cross, the lesson taught by this impressive spectacle was, holiness unto the Lord. All the severer perfections of the Godhead were, in fact, more powerfully illustrated by the deep and solemn propitiation that was made for sin, than they could have been by the direct punishment of sin itself, Yet all redounding to the triumph of his mercy, — For mercy, in the exersice of a simple and spontaneous tenderness, does not make so high an exhibition, as mercy forcing its way through restraints and difficulties, -as mercy accomplishing its purposes by a plan of unseаrchable wisdom, as mercy surrendering what was most dear for the attainment of its object,—as the mercy of God, not simply loving the world, but so loving it as to send his only beloved Son, and to lay upon him the iniquities of us all, as mercy, thus surmounting a barrier which, to created eye, appeared immoveable, and which both pours a glory on the other excellencies of the Godhead, and rejoices over them.

It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has poured the light of day into all the intricacies of this contemplation. We there see no compromise, and no surrender, of the attributes to each other. We see no mutual encroachment on their respective provinces –no letting down of that entire and absolute perfection which belongs to every part in the character of the Godhead. The justice of God has not been invaded : for by him, who poured out his soul unto the death for us, has the whole weight of this aggrieved and offended attribute been borne; and from that cross of agony, where he cried out that it was finished, does the divine Justice send forth a brighter and a nobler radiance of vindicated majesty, than if the minister of vengeance had gone forth, and wreaked the whole sentence of condemnation on every son and daughter of the species. And as the justice of God has suffered no encroachment, so, such is the admirable skilfulness of this expedient, that the mercy of God is restrained by no limitation. It is arrested in its offers by no question about the shades, and the degrees, and the varieties of sinfulness. It stops at no point in the descending scale of human depravity. The blood of Christ cleansing from all sin, has spread such a field for its invitations, that in the full confidence of a warranted and universal commission, may the messengers of grace walk over the face of the world, and lay the free gift of acceptance at the door of every individual, and of every family. Such is the height, and depth, and breadth, and length, of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus; and yet it is a mercy so exercised, as to keep the whole counsel and character of God unbroken,-and a mercy, from the display of which, there beams a brighter radiance than ever from each lineament in the image of the Godhead.

Now, if the glory of God be so involved in this way of redemption, what shall we think of the disparagement that is rendered to him, and to all his attributes, by the man who, without respect to the work and the righteousness of Christ, seeks to be justified by his own righteousness? It is quite possible for man to toil and to waste his strength on the object of his salvation, and yet, by all he can make out, may be only widening his laborious deviation from the path which leads to it. Do his uttermost to establish a righteousness of his own, and what is the whole fruit of his exertion?–the mere semblance of righteousness, without the infusion of its essential quality,–labour without love, the drudgery of the hand, without the desire and devotedness of the heart, as its inspiring principle. If the man be dissatisfied, as he certainly ought to be, then a sense of unexpiated guilt will ever and anon intrude itself upon his fears; and a resistless conviction of the insufficiency of all his performances will never cease to haunt and to paralyse him. In these circumstances, there may be the conformity of the letter extorted from him, in the spirit of bondage; but the animating soul is not there, which turns obedience into a service of delight, and a service of affection. In Heaven’s account, such obedience as this is but the mockery of a lifeless skeleton; and, even as a skeleton, it is both wanting in its parts, and unshapely in its proportions. It is an obedience defective, even in the tale and measure of its external duties. But what pervades the whole of it by the element of worthlessness is, that, destitute of love to God, it is utterly destitute of a celestial character, and can never prepare an inhabitant of this world for the joys or the services of the great celestial family.

And, on the other hand, if the man be satisfied, this very circumstance gives to the righteousness that he would establish for himself, the character of an insult upon God, instead of a reverential offering. It is a righteousness accompanied with a certain measure of confident feeling, that it is good enough for the acceptance of the Lawgiver. There is in it the audacity of a claim and a challenge upon his approbation. Short as it is, in respect of outward performance, and tainted within by the very spirit of earthliness, it is brought like a lame and diseased victim in sacrifice, and laid upon the altar before him. It is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against God; but it is a still more direct outrage upon his attributes, to expect that he will look on sinfulness with complacency. It is an open defiance to the law, to trample upon its requirements; but it were a still deadlier overthrow of its authority, to reverse its sanctions, and make it turn its threatenings into rewards. The sinner who disobeys and trembles, renders at least the homage of his fears to the truth and power of the Eternal. But the sinner who makes a righteousness of his infirmities, and puts a gloss upon his disobedience, and brings the accursed thing to the gate of the sanctuary, and bids the piercing eye of Omniscience look upon it, and be satisfied, tell us whether the fire which cometh forth will burn up the offering, that it may rise in sweetly smelling savour to him who sitteth on the throne; or will it seize on the presumptuous offerer, who could thus dare the inspection, and thrust his unprepared footstep within the precincts of unspotted holiness?

And how must it go to aggravate the offence of such an approach, when it is made in the face of another righteousness which God himself hath provided, and in which alone he hath proclaimed, that it is safe for a sinner to draw nigh. When the alternative is fairly proposed, to come on the merit of your own obedience and be tried by it, or to come on the merit of the obedience of Christ, and receive in your own person the reward which he hath purchased for you, only think of the aspect it must bear in the eye of Heaven, when the offer of the perfect righteousness is contemptuously set aside, and the sinner chooses to appear in his own character before the presence of the Eternal. When the imputation of vanity and uselessness is thus fastened on all that the Son hath done, and on all that the Father hath devised, for the redemption of the guilty,—when that righteousness, to accomplish which Christ had to travail in the greatness of his strength, is thus held to be nothing, by creatures whose every thought, and every performance, have the stain of corruption in them–when that doctrine of his death, on which, in the book of God’s counsel, is made to turn the deliverance of our world, is counted to be foolishness —when the sinner thus persists in obtruding his own virtue on the notice of the Lawgiver, and refuses to put on, as a covering of defence, the virtue of his Saviour, –we have only to contrast the lean shrivelled paltry dimensions of the one, with the faultless, and sustained, and Godlike perfection of the other, to perceive how desperate is the folly, and how unescapeable is the doom, of him who hath neglected the great salvation.

It is thus that the refusal of Christ, as our righteousness, stamps a deeper and a more atrocious character of rebellion on the guilty than before,–and it is thus that the word of his mouth, like a two-edged sword, performs one function on him who accepts, and an opposite function on him who despises it. If the gospel be not the savour of life unto life, it will be the savour of death unto death. If it be not a rock of confidence, it will be a rock of offence, and it will fall upon him who resists it, and grind him into powder. If we kiss not the Son, in the day of our peace, the day of his wrath is coming, and who shall be able to stand when his anger is kindled but a little ? We have already offended God, by the sinfulness of our practice, we may yet offend him still more, by the haughtiness of our pretensions. The evil of our best works constitutes them an abomination in his sight; but nothing remains to avert the hostility of his truth and his holiness against us, if by those works we seek to be justified. It will indeed be the sealing up of our iniquity, if our obedience, impregnated as it is with the very spirit of that iniquity, shall be set up in rivalship to the obedience of his only and well beloved Son, if, by viewing the defect of our righteousness, as a thing of indifference, and the fulness of his, as a thing of no value, we shall heap insult upon transgression,–and if, after the provocation of a broken law, we shall maintain the boastful attitude of him who hath won the merit and the reward of victory, and in this attitude add the farther provocation of a slighted and rejected gospel.

II. We shall conclude, for the present, these brief and imperfect remarks, by adverting to the solidity of that foundation of peace, which the gospel scheme of mercy provides for every sinner who concurs in it. It is altogether worthy of observation, how, under this exquisite contrivance, the very elements of disquietude, in a sinner’s bosom, are turned into the elements of comfort and confidence, in the mind of a believer. It is the unswerving truth of God, which haunts the former by the thought of the certainty of his coming vengeance. But this very truth, committed to the fulfilment of all those promises, which are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, sustains the latter by the thought of the certainty of his coming salvation. It is justice, unbending justice, which sets such a seal on the condemnation of the disobedient, that every sinner, who is out of Christ, feels it to be irrevocable. In Christ, this attribute, instead of a terror, becomes a security; for it is just in God to justify him who believes in Jesus. It is the sense of God’s violated authority, which fills the heart of an awakened sinner with the fear that he is undone. But this authority, under the gospel proclamation, is leagued on the side of comfort, and not of fear; for this is the commandment of God, that we believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he has given us commandment. It is not by an act of mercy, triumphing over the other attributes, that pardon is extended to the sinful; for, under the economy of the gospel, these attributes are all engaged on the side of mercy; and God is not only merciful, but he is faithful and just in forgiving the sins of those who accept of Christ, as he is offered to them in the gospel. Those very perfections, then, which fix and necessitate the doom of the rebellious, form into a canopy of defence around the head of the believer. The guarantees of a sinner’s punishment now become the guarantees of promise; and while, like the flaming sword at the gate of paradise, they turn every way, and shut him out of every access to the Deity but one, — let him take to that one, and they instantly become to him the sureties and the safeguard of that hiding-place into which he has entered.

The foundation, then, of a believer’s peace, is, in every way, as sure and as solid as is the foundation of a sinner’s fears. The very truth which makes the one tremble, because staked to the execution of an unfulfilled threat, ministers to the other the strongest consolation. It is impossible for God to lie, says an awakened sinner, and this thought pursues him with the agony of an arrow sticking fast. It is impossible for God to lie, says a believer; and as He hath not only said but sworn, there are two immutable things by which to anchor the confidence of him, who hath fled for refuge to the hope set before him. He staggers not at the promises of God, because of unbelief. He holds himself steadfast, by simply counting him to be faithful who hath promised. It is through that very faith, by being strong in which he gives glory to God, that he gains peace to his own heart; and the justice which beams a terror on all who stand without, utterly passes by the shielded head of him, who hath turned to the strong hold, and taken a place under the shadow of his wings, who hath satisfied the justice of God, and taken upon himself the burden of its fullest vindication.