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Jerome Zanchi (1516–1590) on the Mercy of God: General and Special

October 1, 2009

Zanchi:

Chap. 4.

Of the mercy of God.

The first Question.

Whether mercy be truly and properly attributed unto God.

Concerning this first question, the Stoics were of opinion that the name of mercy could by no mean be attributed to God, drawing a reason from the definition of mercy. For what is it else, say they, but weakness of mind, sadness and grief conceived upon an other’s misery and grief? and so does Cicero also define it as envy contrarily, is grief conceived of another’s prosperity. And so says Seneca also in his  book of clemency. Augustine also following in a manner the same definitions, says thus: “What is mercy but a certain compassion of another’s misery in our heart, by which we are compelled to help if we can?” and again, “Who knows not that hereof it is called mercy, for that it makes the heart miserable, grieving for another’s evil?” The like affirms Aristotle and Phavorinus. But no grief nor weakness can happen to God. For, if according to the Stoics’ opinion, it is not incident to a wise man, much less to God. But they are deceived. For God plainly calls himself merciful, and of great mercy. To the reason they bring, we make this answer: first, That it is manifest that God is not subject to grief nor weakness. But it therefore follows not, that therefore is is no mercy in God. For though man’s mercy defined by Cicero and others be a weakness of the mind; yet that Mercy which God attributes to himself, is not so. They only define that of men, but not that of God, and which the Scriptures speak of. Then the Latin word misericordia, we may thus interpret, as if we should take to heart another’s misery. If it was lawful for Augustine to derive it of miseria and corde, as that it is the misery of the heart conceived of another misery: why may not we say, that it is so called, for that we take another’s misery to heart? Truly this etymology can not be refuted by any good reason. And this definition does better agree with Mercy then that of Cicero’s, whether divine or human. For even God himself takes to heart the misery of his elect, as he teaches by his prophets. We commonly also call him merciful, not which has a miserable heart passively (for such a one is rather miserable then merciful), but actively, that is, him which desires and studies in his heart to help one in misery, and helps him as much as he is able. And so the Scripture calls men merciful: as where Christ says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” Math. 5:7. But I pray you whom calls he merciful here? not those which have a merciful heart: but those which study and endeavor from the heart to help those that are in misery. But although the Latin word did signify that they would have it, yet neither the Hebrew word racham, used by the Prophets, nor the Greek word eleeo, used by the Apostles, does include any weakness or grief of mind, as they that have skill in these languages do well know: but only either love, and an inclining of the heart towards the evil affected, or else alms, the very effects of love: and hence is that of the Apostle, Rom. 12, “He which shows mercy,” that is, which gives alms to the needy, “let him do it with a cheerfulness.” Wherefore it signifies not sadness of heart, but a work of love done to the needy, with cheerfulness of heart. But let us grant that which they gather out of Cicero, Aristotle, Seneca, Augustine, that misericordia signifies grief and weakness of heart conceived from another’s misery: follows it therefore, that that name can by no means be attributed to God? are not also the names of love, hatred, anger, and such like, which signifies affects and passions attributed to God amongst profane authors? yes: but not after the same manner, that they are to us. For they are in him without passion, but not so in us. And why then may we not say the same of mercy? Therefore the Stoics’ opinion is utterly to be rejected who do not it any place in a wise man. There are others which think that the manner of mercy may be attributed to God, and that God is in the Scriptures worthily called merciful, and to be of great mercy, but improperly: as he is also said to repent, be angry, and such like. And they are led with the same reason that the former, to wit that it is a grief and passion of the mind, which God cannot be subject unto, and therefore that it is improperly attributed unto him. And this is the common opinion, which yet  I do not simply approve. For the reason why they think thus is, because they consider mercy in us, and then transfer it from us unto God: thinking that it is so properly and of itself called mercy, as it is in us: and  so for that it cannot be so in God, to wit, with passion, as it were in us, therefore they think it is improperly attributed unto God in the Scriptures. But it is my judgment far otherwise. For the name of mercy is first in God, before it is un us: for it was in him first: and it is eternal in God. And this gift and virtue of mercy, as all other good gifts, is given us of God: and therefore God is called, “Father of mercies: and we are commanded by Christ to imitate the Father’s mercy, as the rule of all true mercy. But God’s mercy, which is the true mercy, is not any infirmity. For God is merciful, of his own eternal and simple essence, as also good, gentle, and mighty: therefore that particle, weakness of mind, is not necessary in the definition of true mercy: but it is by accident that it is such in us: for that we are of such a nature as is subject to griefs and passions, so as we cannot bear, see, or think of another’s misery, especially if he be of our affinity, or nation, or else joined unto us by the bond of nature, or friendship, without sympathy and grief. Wherefore it is so far off, that because of the weakness of mind, which is not incident to God, but is incident to us, it should be attributed to God improperly, and properly to us: that contrarily rather, as wisdom, life, justice, goodness, and other good gifts, so also mercy should first of itself and properly be said of God, and secondly and less properly of us: for that it is perfection in God, and imperfect in us…

The third Question

Towards whom the Mercy of God is shown: and how manifold it is.

For that God loves all things that are, and hates nothing that he has made, Sap. [Wisdom], 11:12, and mercy proceeds from love: and we pity the thing we love, if any evil befall them: therefore it cannot otherwise be, then that the mercy of God extends itself to all in misery, whether men, beasts, and things void of reason. But because the love he bears towards the elect, and towards other men and things is divers, therefore also his mercy towards them is likewise divers: let this therefore be the answer to the question.

The proposition.

The Mercy of God extends itself to everything that is in any misery: but his mercy is far otherwise towards the elect, then the reprobate, or any other of his creatures.

First, I say that God’s mercy is extended to all and every thing in misery, whether godly or wicked, living thing or without sense. This is manifest first by experience. For what thing is there in the world whereunto God is not present by his providence and mercy, either immediately by himself, or mediately by his creatures? By his mercy he ministers food to the hungry out of the earth: beasts’ skins to the cold and naked to cloth them: herbs and fruits out of the earth for medicine for the sick: thaws things frozen in winter by the sun’s heat: things too hot in the day, with the coolness of the night. But let us hear the Scriptures preaching God’s mercy towards all things that re: as Psalm. 104th, “The eyes of all things look up and trust in thee, O Lord: thou gives them their food in due season:” the whole Psalm. Likewise the 147th :“He gives food to the young ravens when they cry unto him.” And David shows throughout the Psalms that God shows his mercy to al things, and that whatsoever good thing is in the world, the same depends wholly of his mercy and goodness. Also Luke 6: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” He speaks of such mercy of the Father, by which he ministers unto the godly and ungodly. Wherefore there is neither man nor devil that can say that he is not a partaker of the mercy of God.

I say further, that his mercy towards his elect is far divers from that which he shows towards the reprobate and other his creatures: that is to say, another far divers will: and so, far divers effects. For of these two parts consists God’s mercy: in a will inclined to show mercy, and the effects of his will. And it is manifest that it is another will. For God’s will towards the elect is, that they may be freed from sin, from his wrath, from the power of Satan and death, and that so being delivered from all evil, they may enjoy eternal life. Christ has fully manifested this will of of the Father, when he said, Joh. 6: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone that sees the Son and believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In the 62th of Isaiah, God says of his Church, “Thou shall be called Hephzi bab as if he should have said, “in her only is my delight, and will.” But contrariwise he says of the wicked reprobates, Mal. 1, “I have no pleasure in you.” But rather as it is said, Ezek. 18, “Is not the death of the wicked my will?” who also doubts but that there are also other effects of God’s mercy to the elect differing from those towards the reprobate? for as he chose the elect through grace; so he calls, justifies, and glorifies them through his mercy. But so he does not towards the reprobate: but rather blinds, hardens, gives them over into a reprobate sense, imputes to them their sins, and at length condemns them to eternal death. The Scriptures therefore teach, that this special mercy of God belongs only to the elect, as Exod. 20: “I am a jealous God showing mercy to them that love me.” Deut. 32: “The Lord shows mercy to his servants.” Psal. 103: “As a father is merciful towards his son, such is God’s mercy towards them that fear him.” Psal. 86: “Thou Lord are good, and of great mercy to all that call upon thee.” 1 Tim. 1: “I have obtained mercy, for that I did it ignorantly.” This mercy he denies to the reprobate, as Eccles. 8: “Mine eye shall not spare them in my fury, neither will I pity them.” By all which places it appears plainly, that although God show mercy even to the wicked while that he helped them many ways in their necessities, yet that his mercy differs far from towards the elect: for to these it extends itself even unto eternal life: but to the reprobate, only during this life. For “Jacob I have loved, and Esau have I hated,” Rom. 9. Therefore the Apostle not without cause calls the elect, vessels of mercy, but the reprobate vessels of wrath: out of which places it is easy to gather, that there is a twofold mercy with God, one general, another special. The general extends itself, as has been shown, to all things living or without sense, especially to men, yea even to the wicked, showing mercy indeed unto them, but it is only temporal and for this life. And hither tends that in the 6th of Luke: “Be merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” The special mercy is that, whereby as a most free Lord, he shows mercy unto whom he will, Rom. 9. For by this, he shows mercy constantly unto the elect only, unto eternal life. And this is that Eph. 2, “God which is rich in mercy, through the great love wherewith he has loved us, when we were dead in sin, quickened us in Christ,” &c.

Object.

But if it be said, that God propounded in his word only one kind of mercy, and the same to all men without exception, I grant it.

Ans.

For though indeed God purposes not by his mercy to extend to same, the saving only to them whom he has from eternity predestined: yet not man is excluded from the same neither by Scriptures, nor by the preaching of the gospel: it is offered to every one that will embrace it: but for that man destitute of the grace of God can neither understand, nor by faith embrace this mercy: neither will God perform this part of his mercy so to the wicked as to the elect, either by enlightening their minds truly to know, or bowing their hearts to embrace the grace offered in Christ: therefore it comes to pass, that he does not indeed show mercy to all, but only to whom he will, as namely, to the elect, and so remains this special mercy reserved only unto the elect.

[Girolamo Zanchi] Live Everlasting: Or The True Knowledge of One Iehova, Three Elohim and Jesus Immanuel: Collected Out of the Best Modern Divines, and compiled into one volume by Robert Hill, ([Cambridge:] Printed by Iohn Legat, printer to the Vniuersitie of Cambridge. And are to be sold [in London] at the signe of the Crowne in Pauls Church-yard by Simon Waterson), 375-377 and 381-383. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; side-headers included; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: Worldcat and Wing identify this as as: “Largely a translation and abridgement of Zanchi, Girolamo. De natura Dei. Zanchi is identified in the side-note on page 655—STC…” I have inserted Zanchi’s name in the title as a reflection that because: 1) as noted, this is largely a translation of Zanchi’s work; 2) because it quite probably does reflect Zanchi’s theology; 3) because Wing attributes the authorship to Zanchi, and Hill as the translator; and 4) from the opening “Epistle Dedicatory” (3rd page) Hill identifies a work by Zanchi as the principal text upon which this work is based. Lastly, I actually suspect this is a much more reliable translation than Toplady’s briefer translation from the same work.]

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