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Charles Hodge on the General Mercy of God

January 23, 2009

Hodge:

X. The Tender Mercies of God. Vs. 146 : 9.
[March 11th, I860.]

There are two ways of conceiving of God, the philosophical and the religious, as he stands related to the reason and as he stands related to the heart. According to the one method we regard God as the first ground and cause of all things, as infinite, immutable, eternal, incapable of any relation to space or duration, without succession and without passion or change.

According to the other, we regard him as a person to whom we bear the relation of creatures and children, of responsibility and dependence, to whom we must look for all good, and with whom we can have intercourse, who has towards us the feelings of a father and to whom we can make known our joys and sorrows.

Both these are right, so far as limited and determined by the Scriptures. The one limits the other. If we press the philosophical method so far as to lose the object of the religious affections, we end in Atheism. If we let our affections have full scope we lose the infinite and absolutely perfect, as did the mystic enthusiasts. In the Bible both elements are harmonized; though the latter is the predominant, as it should be with us.

In the interpretation of all such passages as this in which human affections are attributed to God, two things are to be avoided. 1. That we do not ascribe to him anything inconsistent with his nature as the eternal and immutable Jehovah, any perturbation or excitement. 2. That we do not merge everything into figure, as though nothing real was intended; as though the God we worship was a God without consciousness, without knowledge, without regard for his creatures. There is in him something which really answers to the words we use, and which is the proper object of the affections which we exercise.

I. What is meant by the tender mercy of the Lord. The word racham is always used of natural affection of parents for children, at least the verb is always so used, and the noun expresses the paternal feeling, especially the maternal feeling. It is always rendered tender mercies, because there is no feeling in our nature more tender than that of a mother for her child.

The objects of the mercy of God, therefore, are not his works, not the universe, not irrational creatures, but his rational creatures. It expresses the relation which God sustains to them. Or it teaches that there is something in him analogous to parental love.

II. The characteristics of this mercy. 1. It is universal. All rational creatures and especially all men are its objects. It is merciful to the just and to the unjust. It takes no regard of character or conduct. This is illustrated in the arrangements of creation, in the dispensations of his providence, in the provisions of his grace, which are adapted to all and sufficient for all.

2. It is instinctive and natural as opposed to what is founded on congeniality, or conduct, or reciprocation of benefits. So it is with the love of parents.

3. It is indestructible. A parent never ceases to love his child, and cannot do it. Let the child be ever so ungrateful and wicked, and return to his father’s house, he is received with rejoicing as the prodigal. So with God, his mercy is everlasting.

4. It is untiring, long-suffering, tender.

5. It is perfectly consistent with holiness, and therefore with God’s hatred of sin, with his justice, and therefore with his determination to punish sinners.

III. The evidences of God’s mercy are to be found in creation, in providence, in redemption, in his dealings towards us personally.

IV. The importance of faith in this divine perfection. That is, it is important we should believe that there is in God this universal instinctive, and therefore indiscriminate love, which is indestructible. It gives us, 1. A ground of trust under all circumstances. If our fathers or mothers were only omnipresent and almighty and infinitely wise, we would be secure of blessedness. Why cannot we feel since God has this racham or tender mercy for us? 2. It gives encouragement to the vilest sinner to return. It gives no encouragement to sin, and no ground to hope for impunity for the impenitent. Charles Hodge, “The Tender Mercies of God,” in Princeton Sermons (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row, 1879), 14-16.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2009 9:05 am

    This is a very good insight from Hodge and one I have started to make many observations and illustrrations with as I am a father and makes it very easy for me to understand.

    Especially with the fact that God’s emotions in love, mercy, etc. Are not less than my finite ones but greater…not only greater, but literally defined by him because of who he is. How do I know love if I don’t look to God? How do I know desire? Mercy? Compassion? Hatred? Etc.

    Great find

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    January 23, 2009 9:09 am

    Hey Seth,

    Yes, I agree. I liked the way Hodge related racham to love when in action, and then love of a parent to a child. This love extends to all men.

    The second thing that I liked was his warning against extremes. The second extreme is now what we hear so much, that these expressions are simply figures, like empty signs, which do not speak to anything actually in God.

    Thanks,
    David

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