The Mercy of God

He saved us,
not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but according to his own mercy,
by washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

Titus 3:5 ESV

Jonah was furious.

You are probably familiar with the story. After fleeing from the LORD, the God of Israel brought the prophet into submission via a massive storm. Pagan sailors cast Jonah into the heart of the tumultuous sea in order to placate the wrath of Jonah’s God. The LORD then sent a fish to swallow the prophet, and he remained in its stomach for three days. When the fish eventually vomited Jonah onto dry land, he was finally ready to obey God. So he went to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, one of the world’s first great superpowers, and declared to them, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4)! Miraculously, the people repented, and the king ordered a city-wide fast to the LORD for deliverance.

So why was Jonah so angry? Assyria was the great threat to Israel of Jonah’s day, and it was a wicked nation. The prophet wanted God to judge Nineveh. He wanted the great city to be overthrown. He wanted to witness a repeat of Sodom and Gomorrah. And while Jonah knew that these things were by no means too difficult for God, he also understood the character of God. As Jonah sat outside of the repentant pagan city, he prayed,

O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah 4:2-3

Jonah knew that God’s mercy was greater than His wrath, and he was furious that God could be so merciful, even to Ninevites.


Thomas Watson calls the mercy of God “his darling attribute, which he most delights in.”[1] As we noted last week, God’s mercy lies upon the other side of God’s jealousy, opposite His wrath. Both are outpourings of His jealous defense of His glory, but for the unrepentant, it bubbles over into wrath and judgment, whereas the repentant find mercy. Indeed, God’s mercy is the very opposite of His wrath, yet the two are also dependent upon one another. While His wrath is the full and unfettered exacting of His righteousness and justice, mercy is the compassionate withholding of that very judgment. Wrath is, therefore, precisely what we deserve, while mercy means gloriously not receiving what we deserve.

God’s abundant mercy is found throughout the Scriptures. His mercy upon Adam and Eve was evident even within His judgment upon them after the Fall. By His mercy He spared Noah from the flood. By His mercy, He gave Sarah a child, though she laughed at the very idea. By His mercy, He blessed Jacob, though he was a deceiver. By His mercy, He rescued the patriarchs of Israel from the famine, through the very brother whom they had sold into slavery. And these examples are only from Genesis.

The mercy of God is ever-present in the Scriptures because sin is ever-present within the world. All sin must be met with either wrath or mercy, and thankfully, the LORD is far more inclined toward mercy. Lamentations is traditionally said to be authored by Jeremiah in response to the horrific desolation of Jerusalem by the hands of the Babylonians. Yet in the midst of such a trauma, which Jeremiah himself prophesied was the judgment of God, the prophet declared, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). As surely as God’s love never ceases, so too will His mercies never end. In the 23rd Psalm, David wrote of his confidence in the LORD as his great shepherd to lead him even through the valley of the shadow of death, and he concludes with these eternal words: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).

Paul notably calls God “rich in mercy” in the context of describing the glories of the gospel. No greater portrait of mercy exists than the cross of Jesus Christ. Upon that tree of cursing, the sinless Son of God took upon Himself the full wrath of God in order for us to receive the full mercy of God.

Yet the receiving of this marvelous mercy does requires both faith in God’s mercifulness and humility from us. Thomas Watson reminds us that:

Mercy is not a fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of God’s goodness. Mercy is an alm that God bestows. They have no cause to be proud that live upon the alms of God’s mercy.[2]

Receiving mercy means overcoming our own pride. The mercy of God extended to us by Christ upon the cross only requires the humility of receiving what we could not produce, of depending solely upon the goodness and compassion of another. For the reality is that we are no less condemned by our sin than the wicked Ninevites nor the embittered Jonah. God’s mercy is vast toward all of sinful mankind through the withholding of His wrath, even for the present; yet His mercy is incomprehensible toward we who confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, for His mercy to us also results also in the giving of His immeasurable grace (but we shall save that attribute for next week).


As recipients of God’s supreme mercy, we must also be givers of mercy. Two statements of Jesus make this principle abundantly clear. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7), and “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). As God’s children in Christ, we are called to imitate Him, which means showing mercy to others as He has shown mercy to us.

Furthermore, one of Jesus’ parables illustrates our call to show mercy in vivid colors:

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

Matthew 18:23-35

The refusal of the servant to forgive the significantly smaller debt of his fellow servant is revealed to be all the more ruthless in comparison to the king who forgave the servant’s own enormous debt.

Likewise, a refusal of mercy from we who have received God’s infinite mercy is particularly cruel. Even while we were still sinners in the midst of our rebellion against the eternal and almighty King, Christ died for us. He forgave us of a debt far greater than ten thousand talents. Indeed, any sins commit against us should rightfully be seen as miniscule in comparison to our sins against the Holy One.

Therefore, of all people, followers of Christ should be the most willing to treat others better than they deserve, to forgive sins and to show mercy. We should be happy to bypass transgressions, showing mercy rather than vengeance, because in doing so we imitate our Lord. Through Christ, God has mercifully not given us the wrath that we so rightly deserve; we too, in Christ, must treat others better than they deserve.

Let us, therefore, love our enemies as God has loved us (Matthew 5:44). Let us bear with one another in love even as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us (Ephesians 4:2, 5:2). Let us be merciful, as our Father is merciful.

[1] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 93.

[2] Ibid. 95.


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