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ferts it for an established principle in the government of God; “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful.” And it seems to have been in the dispensations of his providence a law of retributive justice, that as men dealt with others, so also would he deal with them.
It was reserved for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to represent the Lord of all in the fulness of his mercy, compassion, and benevolence. Of this we have a feeling fense, when we consider at the same time what the Gospel more fully represents, the demerit of mankind. It is one chief element of Christian knowledge, that we are all by nature in a state of sin, and therefore liable to the wrath of God. Yet if he were extreme to mark our transgressions, we should not be able to abide the severity of his just displeasure. To cheer our doubtful and dejected hearts under this conviction, he is manifested to us in the last revelation of himself as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. As brotherly love was the peculiar quality, by which our Saviour fought to distinguish men, fo mercy was the peculiar attribute, by which he represented God to human view. His Gospel is fitly styled by the Apostle « The grace of God, which bringeth salvation to all
men.” Therein his mercy is most conspicuously shewn in that great mystery of redemption and atonement by his only Son, by which he reconciled the world to himself. Therein he is pourtrayed in the character and relation of a tender Father, as taking complacence in the good conduct of his prudent and virtuous Children, as lamenting over those who go astray, yet even in their apostasy looking upon them with parental regard, solicitous to reclaim them, and exerting every means consistent with a state of discipline to recover them from the error of their ways; and when by falutary warnings they are brought to themselves, as going forth in the spirit to meet them on their return, receiving them with compassion and clemency, readmitting them into his household, and rejoicing over their restoration from the death of fin to the life of righteousness h.
But this divine mercy must not be regarded as an unconditional indulgence. In order to have an interest in the atonement of Christ on the cross, and his intercession at the mercy-seat of Heaven, we must comply with those terms of grace, by which alone this mercy can extend to us. We must have
b Luke xv. 11-32..
: Y 2
a lively faith in God's mercies through Christ, we must repent us truly of all those fins which demanded the atonement of his precious blood, and we must stedfastly resolve with the assistance of divine grace to present ourselves both body and soul a living facrifice to God, to yield him the reasonable service of a holy life. But the more immediate condition, the more appropriate means of obtaining compassion for ourselves, is to shew compassion to our brethren. It is highly agreeable to the reason of things, as well as to the word of God, that if we would prevail on him to be merciful to us, we must imitate his character in being merciful to one another. For this purpose our Lord has taught us in his Sermon on the Mount, when we think of offering any gift upon the altar, in other words, of paying any sacrifice of prayer, any tribute of devotion, to consider first, whether we are in charity with men, and if we recollect any matter of offence between us and our brethren, to suspend on the instant our tribute of devotion to God, and to seek immediate reconciliation with them; for then, and not before, we shall be competent to yield an acceptable offering to God. To the same intent, having taught us in our daily prayers to fupplicate of God the remis
fion of our debts, even as we forgive our debtors, he adds in support of this instruction, that if we forgive our brethren, we may hope for ourselves the forgiveness of God; but if we do not forgive them, we can have no ground of hope that we shall be forgiven ourselves.
This doctrine is well illustrated in the Parable of the King, who took an account of his Servants. Of these one was brought before him, who owed him a sum immense, and such as he could never pay. In the severity of his justice he commanded, that he and his family and all his possessions should be sold, and payment as far as that would reach be made. Hereupon the Servant fell at his feet, and said, “ Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” His Lord was moved with compassion, and forgave him all the debt. Notwithstanding this great act of clemency, the servant was no sooner released, than he went and arrested one of his fellowservants, who owed him a sum comparatively very small. The poor debtor made the same supplication to him, which himself had recently made to bis Lord; “ Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” But he rejected his suit, and committed him to prison till he should pay the debt. On
hearing this, their common Lord called this unmerciful servant into his presence, and upbraided him for his conduct, saying; “Oughtest thou not to have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee?" In conclusion, he retracted that mercy, which had been lately shewn to him; and as he had rigidly insisted on payment from another, so was payment rigidly required of him. The application of this parable is obvious. We are all in the condition of this insolvent fervant. - We owe our Lord an immense debt in fins committed and in duties left undone : and if he were rigid in exacting what we owe, who indeed would be able to endure it? Yet on our earnest fupplication for pardon or forbearance, with our sincere resolution and endeavour to surrender all we can, he generoully remits the boundless debt we owe him. But one condition on our part is implied in this promise of grace and clemency on his, that we also be merciful to our brethren, even as God is merciful to us all : Otherwise we can have no pretension to suppose, that his overtures of mercy can apply to us.
But this motive is placed in the clearest and most impressive light in that solemn pic
i Mat. xviii. 23——35: