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Francis Turretin on the Mercy of God

May 7, 2008

Francis Turretin was one of the most Spartan and clinical exponents of the moral attributes of God, but yet, his lack of warmth notwithstanding, in his Institutes he does affirm all the classic distinctives of the doctrine of common grace and its related doctrines.

Turretin:

How mercy is
to be ascribed
to God.

X. Mercy attends upon the grace of God. For as the latter exercises itself about man as a sinner (granting the pardon of his sin) so the former is exercised about man as miserable (relieving his misery). This is properly ascribed to God not as signifying grief arising from the misery of another (as it is in men), but as indicating a prompt and disposed will to succor the miserable without any anguish or perturbation of mind.

XI. It does not spring from any external cause which usually excites this effect in men (as the tie of blood, of friendship, the company of misery, imbecility of age, sex, etc.). Rather it springs from his goodness alone (as he loves to communicate himself to the creature and as he does not refrain from succoring the miserable). Indeed it requires misery in the object, but only as holding the relation of condition and quality and not of a cause. So freely is it occupied about it, that it can exert or not exert itself without injury to anyone. Hence it is said “he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy” (Rom. 9:18).

General and
special.

XII. Mercy is commonly considered as twofold: the one general by which God succors all creatures subjected to any misery (Ps. 104:27); the other special by which he has compassion on his own, electing out of the mass of fallen men certain ones to be saved through Christ (who are, therefore, called “vessels of mercy”). The former is temporal, occupied only with secular things (ta biotika) and the good of this life; but the latter is saving and eternal, blessing us with the possession of salvation and of eternal life.

XIII. The magnitude of his mercy may be collected from various sources: (1) with regard to the principle of pitying, (viz., God who, perfectly happy in himself and in want of nothing, yet moved by his good pleasure [eudokia] alone, condescended to have mercy upon us); (2) with regard to the objects (i.e., men upon whom he takes pity who not only deserved nothing, but are totally unworthy of this favor as sinners and enemies of God); (3) with regard to the mode and effects because he pardons our innumerable sins, removes eternal misery from us and bestows an infinite and eternal good (to wit, life and salvation); (4) with regard to duration because it is eternal (chmd ‘vlm, Is. 54:8; Hos. 2:19; Lam. 3:22; Lk. 155″). Hence it is to be opposed: (a) to the severity of the divine justice, in which sense it is said “to rejoice against judgment” (Jam. 2:13); (b) to the number and heinousness of sins (Mic. 7:18); “For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20), and “God hath concluded all in sin, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32); (c) to the multitude of miseries and temptations because there is not one so great from which the supreme mercy of God, according to his inexpressible riches, does not free us (Ps. 103:8; Eph. 2:4, 5); (d) to the terror of death and the divine judgment because in that decisive day all the pious will obtain mercy (2 Tim. 1:18).

XIV. Although the mercy of God is most ample and manifold with regard to the effects which are innumerable (in which sense he is called “abundantly merciful” [polyekos, Ps. 51:l; 1 Pet. 1:3], oiktirmoi [i.e., commiseration and bowels of compassion are ascribed to God, Rom. 12:1]), yet it has its own objects and vessels into which it is poured out (viz., the elect and believers upon whom he determined to have mercy from eternity, who are distinguished from others whom he decreed to pass by and are therefore called “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” Rom. 9:22). It is an asylum for the penitent and pious, but not a refuge for the impenitent and impious.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, T3. Q20. S10-14; 1:243-4.

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