IV.–1. Grace, Mercy and Peace, say the Scriptures, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.1 So that peace flows from mercy, and mercy from grace. And in another place, they carry us further still: thus, after that the kindness and love of God our Savior to men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.2 So that God’s Goodness is the cause of his Love–his love the cause of his mercy; his mercy the cause of our salvation: and thus salvation is the effect of them all.
2. As the Goodness of God when manifested toward objects considered in their unworthiness, is called grace; and when manifested toward objects considered in their desirableness to God is called Love: so when that Goodness is manifested toward objects considered in their misery, it is called mercy: and finally, when manifested toward objects considered in their guiltiness, it is called long-suffering. Mercy, therefore, is that divine propension which leads God to succor the miserable; and is attributed to him throughout the Scriptures3 as an eternal, unalterable, necessary, active, and free attribute of his being.
3. Amongst these Perfections of God which bear upon us in the most obvious manner–and of which the evidences are most constant and conclusive, his mercy stands conspicuous. For human misery is an inheritance of the whole race, and of every individual of it–as broad as the sin which produced it at first, and which is continually increasing its bitterness. By disobedience came sin, and by sin death; and the sin and the death have passed together–through all generations and with unfaltering steps, around the circuit of the whole race. For the sin, the grace of God provides the remedy: for the misery his mercy offers the consolation and the deliverance. And in some shape or other, that mercy is exhibited to every creature that suffers–so long as the creature has not passed out of the state in which mercy is possible. But the mercy of God flows, not only from the same Goodness from which his grace flows; but, also, from the Grace itself; and Grace and Mercy, both alike have reference to sin–one regarding the unworthiness of the creature, and the other regarding the misery which that unworthiness produces. When, therefore the Grace of God is clean taken away, his mercy also is clean taken away: for it is only in proportion as sin is removed through grace, that the misery produced by sin, can be solaced by mercy. Even the infinite mercy of God, could avail nothing in removing misery without removing the cause of it: and when the cause of it, is not only given over as irremediable forever–but falls under the Justice of God, under the other aspect of sin, which we call guilt–and that even beyond the Long-suffering of God: then it is not only, so to speak, essentially impossible for the mercy of God to avail any thing for the sinning sufferer; but any attempt to do so, would involve a direct conflict of the divine Attributes.
4. For us to object that the mercy of God is not manifested in an equal degree to all his creatures, is wholly absurd. That would be of itself impossible unless the miseries of all were precisely equal, and the destinies of all not only uniform, but exactly similar; both of which suppositions are not only inconsistent with the frame of the present universe–but with that of any universe, that could fully exhibit the perfections of God. Moreover, when we consider that whatever mercy any of us receives is, in its very nature, just so much goodness which we did not deserve: and, further, that the mercy of God, of whatever kind and to whomsoever extended, must be exercised with relation to the chief end of his work of creation, of providence and of grace, and must be put forth in accordance with all the perfections of his infinite being : the folly of such repinings is shown to be surpassed only by their presumption.
5. To urge that the mercy of God ought to have led him to prevent the introduction of any suffering into the universe, or to its total extirpation after it had found an entrance, is only saying, on the first point, that God’s mercy ought to deprive itself of all possibility of making itself manifest in the universe, and that this ought to be done in subordination to the sins of men: and, on the second point, it is only saying, that God having failed in his grand design of such a universe as he proposed, but could not accomplish, ought now by an irregular and miraculous interposition to subvert the order, and the event of all things, and cure such defects of his plan and operation, as he had not, at first, foreseen and provided for: and that all things ought to be done, by God, to prevent sin from being followed by misery: the whole of which is impious.
6. If it be still further alleged–that God ought to have prevented the introduction of sin itself into the universe–and thereby excluded the possibility of suffering: in addition to what has been said before, it is obvious to reply, that this cavil of infidelity is leveled more directly at natural Religion than at Christianity; since sin and misery are actually in God’s world, and Christianity only proposes to redress them. As a blasphemous cavil against God for having acted as he has done in the matter of creation, providence and grace–perhaps before we are fully satisfied of our right to make it–and thus to assail him in his being, and all his attributes, we ought to reflect that God is at least as wise, as Powerful, and as Good, as an infidel: that he is at least as much bent on the preservation of his essential glory, and the manifestation of his declarative glory, as any infidel is; that being such a God, and working to such an end, he is as likely to be right, in the means as any infidel. Especially we ought to reflect, that what things are possible–what things are best amongst those that are possible –and amongst the best possible, which are they that on the whole God ought to prefer, are matters he may as well be trusted with as any infidel: and that–as for us–the undeniable facts of the universe,–as for example–God, creation, and salvation on one side–and sin, misery, and perdition on the other, had as well be accepted as they assuredly exist ; as that we should revolt against God because they do exist; and accomplish by that revolt, nothing, except one more proof of the things we impiously reject, and one more ground of the certainty and justice of our perdition–along with every infidel.
Robert J. Breckinridge, The Knowledge of God, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859), 299-301. [Some spelling modernized; footnote values modified; and underlining mine.]
11 Tim., i. 2.
2Titus, iii. 4, 5.
32 Cor., i. 3; Eph., ii. 4; James, i. 13.