“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” —Psalm 103:8-12
THE LORD IS MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS
All of those with whom the Lord deals are sinners, there are no exceptions. However much he favours them they are guilty and need mercy at his hands. He is not slow to be compassionate toward their lost estate, nor reluctant by his grace to lift them out of it. Mercy pardons sin, grace bestows favour: in both the Lord abounds. This is that way of his which he made known to Moses (Exodus 34:6), and in that way he will stay as long as the age of grace shall last, and men are yet in this life.
He who “works righteousness and justice” delights in mercy, and is slow to anger. He can be angry, and can deal out righteous indignation upon the guilty, but it is his strange work; he lingers long, with loving pauses, tarrying by the way to give space for repentance and opportunity for accepting his mercy. In this way he deals with even the greatest sinners, and with his own children much more so: towards them his anger is short-lived and never reaches into eternity, and when it is shown in fatherly chastisements he does not afflict willingly, and soon pities their sorrows.
From this we should learn to be ourselves slow to anger; if the Lord is long-suffering under our great provocations how much more ought we to endure the errors of our brethren! He is plenteous in mercy, rich in it, quick in it, overflowing with it; and so had he need to be or we should soon be consumed. He is God, and not man, or our sins would soon drown his love; yet above the mountains of our sins the floods of his mercy rise.
“Plenteous grace with thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within.”
All the world tastes of his forbearing mercy, those who hear the gospel partake of his inviting mercy, the saints live by his saving mercy, are preserved by his upholding mercy, are cheered by his consoling mercy, and will enter heaven through his infinite and everlasting mercy. Let grace abounding be our hourly song in the house of our pilgrimage. Let those who feel that they live upon it glorify the plenteous fountain from which it so spontaneously flows.
HE WILL NOT ALWAYS CHIDE
He will sometimes, for he cannot endure that his people should harbour sin in their hearts. But not for ever will he chasten them; as soon as they turn to him and forsake their evil ways he will end the quarrel. He might find constant cause for striving with us, for we have always something in us which is contrary to his holy mind, but he refrains himself lest our spirits should fail before him.
It will be profitable for any one of us who may be at this time out of conscious fellowship with the Lord, to inquire at his hands the reason for his anger, saying, “let me know why you contend against me” (Job 10:2) For he is easily entreated of, and soon ceases from his wrath. When his children turn from their sins he soon turns from his chidings. Neither will he keep his anger for ever. He bears no grudges. The Lord would not have his people harbour resentments, and in his own course of action he sets them a grand example.
When the Lord has chastened his child he has done with his anger: he is not punishing as a judge, or else might his wrath burn on. He is acting as a father, and, therefore, after a few blows he ends the matter, and presses his beloved one to his bosom as if nothing had happened; or if the offence lies too deep in the offender’s nature to be thus overcome, he continues to correct, but he never ceases to love. He does not suffer his anger with his people to pass into the next world, but receives his erring child into his glory.
HE DOES NOT DEAL WITH US ACCORDING TO OUR SINS
If he did, Israel would have perished outright, and we also long ago would have been consigned to the lowest hell. We ought to praise the Lord for what he has not done as well as for what he has wrought for us; even the negative side deserves our adoring gratitude. Up to this moment, at our very worst estate, we have never suffered as we deserved to suffer; our daily lot has not been apportioned upon the rule of what we merited, but on the far different measure of undeserved kindness. Shall we not bless the Lord? Every power of our being might have been rent with anguish, instead of which we are all in the enjoyment of comparative happiness, and many of us are exceedingly favoured with inward joy; let then every faculty, yes, all that is within us, bless his holy name.
AS HIGH AS THE HEAVENS ARE ABOVE THE EARTH
Boundless in extent towards his chosen is the mercy of the Lord; it is no more to be measured than the height of heaven or the heaven of heavens. “Like the height of the heavens” is the original language, which implies other points of comparison besides extent, and suggests sublimity, grandeur, and glory. As the lofty heavens canopy the earth, water it with dews and rains, enlighten it with sun, moon, and stars, and look down upon it with unceasing watchfulness, even so the Lord’s mercy from above covers all his chosen, enriches them, embraces them, and stands for ever as their dwelling place.
The idea of this is a very noble one, for who shall tell how exceedingly great is the height of heaven? Who can reach the first of the fixed stars, and who can measure the utmost bounds of the starry universe? Yet so great is his mercy! Oh, that great little word so! All this mercy is for “those who fear him”, there must be a humble, hearty reverence of his authority, or we cannot taste of his grace. Godly fear is one of the first products of the divine life in us, it is the beginning of wisdom, yet it fully ensures to its possessor all the benefits of divine mercy. It is, indeed, here and elsewhere, employed to set forth the whole of true religion.
Many a true child of God is full of filial fear, and yet at the same time stands trembling as to his acceptance with God; this trembling is groundless, but it is infinitely to be preferred to that contemptible presumption, which incites men to boast of their adoption and consequent security, when all the while they are in the gall of bitterness. Those who are presuming upon the infinite extent of divine mercy, should here be led to consider that although it is wide as the horizon and high as the stars, it is only meant for them that fear the Lord, and as for obstinate rebels, they shall have justice without mercy measured out to them.
AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST
Oh glorious verse, no word even upon the inspired page can excel it! Sin is removed from us by a miracle of love! What a load to move, and yet it is removed so far from us that the distance is incalculable. Fly as far as the wing of imagination can bear you, and if you journey through space eastward, you are further from the west at every beat of your wing. If sin be removed so far, then we may be sure that the scent, the trace, the very memory of it must be entirely gone.
If thus is the distance of its removal, there is no shade of fear of its ever being brought back again; even Satan himself could not achieve such a task. Our sins are gone, Jesus has borne them away. Far as the place of sunrise is removed from furthest west, where the sun sinks when its day’s journey is done, so far were our sins carried by our scapegoat nineteen centuries ago, and now if they be sought for, they shall not be found, yes, they shall not be, says the Lord. Come, my soul, awaken yourself thoroughly and glorify the Lord for this richest of blessings. Hallelujah. The Lord alone could remove sin at all, and he has done it in a godlike fashion, making a final sweep of all our transgressions.