The Mercy of God
August 23rd, 1992 @ 10:50 AM
THE MERCY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-23-92 10:50 a.m.
Eleven sermons have I prepared and delivered on the first chapter of the Book of Romans [Romans 1:1-32]. And we now enter the second chapter and it reads like this, Romans, chapter 2:
You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are. . . for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
We know that the judgment of God is according to truth. . .
Do you think this, O man, you who judged those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that it is the goodness of God that leads you to change, to turning, to repentance?
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up, storing up, for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, “who will render to each one according to his deeds”:
eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, and honor, and immortality:
but to those who are self-seeking, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
tribulation, and anguish…
in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
[Romans 2:1-9a, 16]
A passage before which we cannot but tremble. “In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” [Romans 2:16]. So, the gospel has a characteristic that is always personal. “According to my gospel,” my gospel; in life the length of these days, in death beyond the grave—my gospel. Beyond any doubt or opposition in the face of scoffers and scorners, my eternal hope, my gospel. And do you notice in reading it, how many times it is addressed personally to you? To you? To you? Five times in that first verse he names “you,” “you,” “you” [Romans 2:1]. In the third verse, three times “you” [Romans 2:3]. In the fourth verse twice, “you” [Romans 2:4]; in the fifth verse twice, “you” [Romans 2:5]: the gospel addressed personally to you, each one in God’s sight, somebody precious, dear, loved.
You know, it’s a wonderful thing. God doesn’t look upon us by piles and by masses and by multitudes and by bucketsful. But God always looks upon us as you, individually you, preciously you, loved you. The sensitivity of our Lord to each one is a miracle to me as I read it in God’s Holy Word.
Our pastor spoke of it at the 8:15 hour this morning, and if I can continue the thought: Jesus, sensitive to each one, senses that woman with an issue of blood who timidly, quietly, furtively, secretly just came up from behind unseen by the crowd and reached forth her hand and touched the hem of His garment [Mark 5:25-28; Matthew 9:20-21].
And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” [Mark 5:31].
And the disciples said, “Lord, have You lost Your balance? Your equilibrium? You are pressed and thronged on every side and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched Me” [Mark 5:31].
“You.” “You.” And the whole ministry of our Lord was like that. In the last days going through Perea, crossing over through Jericho, and up to Jerusalem in the triumphal entry, there were thousands and multitudes and throngs who greeted Him in the glorious name of the Lord [Matthew 21:1-17]. And up a tree was little fellow named Zacchaeus. And God, the Lord stopped, “Zacchaeus, today I am to be a guest in your house.” “You” [Luke 19:1-5]. Or when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-6], speaking to those women He said, “You go tell my disciples that I am alive [Matthew 28:9-10]. And Simon Peter, tell him. He denied and cursed the Lord [Mark 14:66-72], “you tell Simon Peter” [Mark 16:7]. That’s the Lord. He is sensitive to us. He knows us all by name [John 10:3], and everything about us is precious in is sight.
Look again, not only the personal character of the gospel, but look at the personal description of our Lord. He says, “Our God, the riches of His grace in His chrēston, translated here, goodness [Romans 2:4]. Let me translate that word actually, in His gentleness and in His kindness, the grace of God in His gentleness and in His tenderness.
Do you remember how He is introduced in Matthew? “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He would not quench” [Matthew 12:20]. Or in the one hundred and third Psalm, “Like as a father pitieth his children.” He is tender toward his children, so the Lord is pitiful and tender toward us, His goodness, His gentleness, His kindness, His tenderness [Psalm 103:13]. Life is a gift from His loving hand, and everything we possess and enjoy that blesses is a remembrance of our precious Lord in heaven. The goodness, the chrēston, look at the anochē, translated here, forbearance. In classical Greek that word is used to refer to a truce in war. When the confrontations cease and they are at peace, that’s this word. The forbearance of God, and His longsuffering, makro, long, thumia. The spirit and the emotion of response, the longsuffering of God, delaying any judgment, the kindness and goodness of our Lord that leads you to repentance, leads you to repentance [Romans 2:4].
I can hardly think of anything more precious than that God not only calls us and bids us and invites us, but He leads us. He puts His gentle precious hand upon us and leads us into His presence and into the kingdom of everlasting life [Romans 2:4].
You know, sweet people, once in a while there will be a little thing in the Word of God that just astonishes me. Let me give you an example. In the first chapter of the Revelation, John sees the Lord high and lifted up, and His train fills the earth [Isaiah 6:1], and He is in the midst of the seven-branched candelabra, His churches [Revelation 1:13]. And seeing the Lord glorified, John falls at His feet. He writes “as one dead, as one dead” [Revelation 1:17].
And do you remember the next sentence? “And He laid His right hand upon me,” look at that, “And He laid His right hand upon me” [Revelation 1:17]. Why didn’t he say, “And He laid His hand upon me and raised me up”? “And He laid His right hand upon me.” You know what I think? In the days of His flesh when John was a disciple following the blessed Lord, how many times did the Lord lay His right hand upon John, leading him into the faith and into the depths of the truth of God? He laid His right hand upon him. That’s our Lord, leading us into the loving faith that saves us now and forever.
Not only the personal character of the gospel and the personal character of God, but also our personal appearance some day in the great assize, before the great white throne, in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus [Roman 2:16]. We shall some day all stand in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth [Romans 14:10-12]. And what calls it to mind here is what he calls our “hardness of heart” [Romans 2:5]. That is an unusual word, sklērotēs, an unusual word.
Do you know a doctor once in a while will have a patient, and he will diagnose the problem that leads him into the face of death as arteriosclerosis, “sclerosis”? And that’s this word exactly, sklēros, sclerosis, our hardness of heart, which is so difficult for me to enter into. Why would anyone, in the love and grace of our precious Lord Jesus, answer with a hardness of heart, an irreversible objection, hardness of heart? And the author of Romans says that we treasure up wrath in the day of wrath and the righteous judgment of God [Romans 2:5]. Hardness of heart, and that is so emphasized in the Bible that it carries with it an awesome confrontation with God.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul is speaking to the learned philosophers of Athens on the Areopagus, that hill just in front of the Parthenon [Acts 17:22-30], and he declares, in the climax of his message, that God has appointed a day in which He will judge all men according to that One that He has appointed, Jesus Christ [Acts 17:31]. The certainty of that; law is no law without a penalty. And moral government has as its ultimate consequence an accountability. And the iniquities of mankind fester in the presence of an ultimate and final judgment. The delay of that day, for some, is a reason even further to reject, “It will not ever be fulfilled, this threatening of God.” But, O Lord, in the last chapter of the letter to the churches of Galatia, “God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” [Galatians 6:7]. Dear God, and in this sentence here, God will judge the secrets of men [Romans 2:16]. As the fourth chapter of Hebrews avows, “all things are naked and open before Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:13], facing the judgments of God.
And sweet people, that judgment is now. I am not going to be lost or I am not going to be saved; I am either lost or I am saved even now, facing the great judgment of Almighty God. And here I stand before the Lord. On my left and below are the fires of damnation and hell. “He lifted up his eyes,” the [sixteenth] chapter of Luke says, “being in torments. . . I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:23-24]. And I hear the cries of these that are assigned to everlasting perdition. O God, O God, this on my left and below me; and on my right and above me, the beautiful city of heaven. And I look [at] those golden streets, those gates of pearl [Revelation 21:21], the great throng of angels [Hebrews 12:22] and the multitudes of the blood-bought redeemed saints of the Lord [Hebrews 12:23]. O God! And as I stand on this side, damnation and hell and the fires and the brimstone, and on this side the glory of heaven, I cannot help but cry, “O God, save me, save me from the damnation of perdition [Revelation 20:15], and please, Lord, open for me the gates of glory, please God” [Psalm 118:20].
And the Lord answers me, “By what right would I open the gates to My beautiful city and let you enter in to walk on My golden streets, to drink at the fountain of everlasting water and to eat the manna of the blessedness of life? Why should I let you enter My holy and heavenly city?”
And I answer, “Lord, Lord, I’m so worthy. Look at me. Look at the good that I have done. Look at the good that I have purposed in my heart. I pay my debts. I try to be honest. I try to be good. O Lord, I am worthy to enter Thy beautiful city and to mingle with Thy redeemed saints of glory.”
And the Lord replies— my next chapter—”All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. You say you are good and holy and righteous? There is none righteous, no, not one [Romans 3:10]. There is none who does good, no, not one” [Romans 3:12]. And I am forced to confess what the great prophet Isaiah confessed, “We are all like an unclean thing, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” [Isaiah 64:6].
Preacher, they don’t translate that, you wouldn’t do it, that filthy rag. “We are all like that unclean cloth. We all fade as a leaf: and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” [Isaiah 64:6]. And what shall I do and what shall I say? I’m not righteous. I’m not holy. I’m not pure. O God, what shall become of me? It is then that I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God [Acts 7:55-56], and, like that thief dying on the cross, I cry in supplication to Him, “O Lord Jesus, remember, remember me, be good to me, help me, save me” [Luke 23:42]. And the Lord said to that thief, sēmeron, “this moment, this day, this hour you are with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
And the Lord Jesus looks in pity and in mercy upon me in my sinful and lost condition. He is all in all [1 Corinthians 15:28; Colossians 3:11]. What hope would I have without Him? Take Him away and you take away every precious hope that I have that I can be with God in heaven, and with you, blood-bought redeemed saints of the Lord [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Take away my Lord and it’s like taking matter out of physics; like taking numbers out of arithmetic; like taking mind out of physics; like taking fragrance from the flowers; like taking melody from music; like taking cause and effect from philosophy; like taking hope and life from existence. Jesus is all in all. And that’s why He came down into this world incarnate, in human flesh [Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 27:26-50].
The Bible says God is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13]. And God, in mercy and pity for us, became one of us, incarnate [John 1:14], in the life of His Son, and He knows our weaknesses and our sins. As a Child, He knows all about childhood, and as a Man He knows all about the temptations and trials of manhood. Tempted and tried, the Book of Hebrews says, “In all points such as we are” [Hebrews 4:15], He knows all about us. He has experienced it Himself, and He suffered and died [Hebrews 2:9; Matthew 27:26-50].
And the Lord Jesus Christ turns to God the great Judge of all the earth, and the Lord says, “I know all about them. I have experienced every syllable of the providences that overwhelm them in life. I know their weaknesses, and dear Lord, I know the judgment of God upon sin, death [Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23]. And dear Lord God,” our Savior says, “I have paid that penalty. I have suffered that death. I paid that price [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And dear Lord God, as You open the door for Me into heaven [John 14:3], receive these as You would Myself” [John 17:24]. And God, for Christ’s sake, forgives us, and welcomes us, and saves us [Ephesians 4:32].
Sweet people let me take a leaf out of my life, seeking to explain how it is that we cannot but love and adore our glorious Savior. As you know, you’ve been here these years past Cameron Townsend chose to be a wonderful friend to me. Founder of the Wycliffe Translators, Uncle Cam on his journeys down through Central America and South America would always invite me to come along with him. And as fortune would be good to me, I would go. I loved to be with that wonderful missionary. What those translators do, of course, is they go to a tribe such as in the Amazon jungle, learn the unwritten language and translate God’s Word into the language of that pagan tribe. So down there in the Amazon jungle, I would watch them. And this member of the tribe, seated by the side of the Wycliffe missionary, the missionary would read God’s Word, and that Indian in the Amazon jungle would write it in his own language. So, translating the Holy Word into the language of the tribe, they finished the second chapter of I John and came to the third chapter. And the missionary read, “Behold what manner of love the Lord has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God!” [1 John 3:1]. And when he read the beautiful verse, and that Indian began to write it in his own language, the Indian bowed his head over the manuscript and began to weep and to weep. When finally he raised his face, the Indian said to the missionary, “Missionary, I can’t write it like that, that we should be called the children of God. I know my people and they are sinful and lost. Missionary, let me write it like this, ‘Behold the love of our Lord that we should be privileged to kiss His feet, that we should be privileged just to kiss His feet.’”
O Lord, I feel like that; Lord, not worthy to be called a son, much less Your brother. Lord, it’ll be enough if in that day I can just bow and kiss Your feet. How much and how great a debtor we are to our wonderful Savior, saving us from all of the perdition and damnation and hell [Revelation 20:15], opening for us the door into glory [John 14:3], and to bless us as a companion in our pilgrimage through the days of this world [Hebrews 13:5].
And to you who have listened on television, may it be that the Spirit of God has moved your heart to love and adore and to receive our Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13]. And if you will listen to the appeal of the Spirit, someday, some glorious day, I’ll see you in heaven. And to the great throng of people in God’s sanctuary this solemn hour, in the balcony around, you, and the press of people on this lower floor, you. “Pastor, God has spoken to me today and I am answering with my life.” Accepting Him [Romans 10:9-10], or coming into the fellowship of this wonderful church, or answering the call of the Spirit in your heart, come. May angels attend you in the way, and welcome in the name of the Lord, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The personal character of the gospel
“My gospel” – in life, death; mine forever(Romans
“You” – addressed to you individually, directly(Romans
with an issue of blood(Mark 5:25-34)
“Tell the disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7)
II. The personal character, description of
translated “goodness” – gentleness, kindness(Matthew
12:20, Psalm 103:13)
translated “forbearance” – refers to a truce in war
translated “longsuffering” – the spirit and emotion of response, delaying
“Leads to repentance”
only calls, but leads
gentle hand upon us(Revelation 1:17)
III. Our personal appearance in the great
cause, reason for our presence – the sklerotes, the hardness of heart(Romans 2:5, 16)
certainty of that day(Acts 17:31)
Law is no law without a penalty
government demands an accounting
delay of the day
some, a reason to reject
It is the goodness of God that delays the day of judgment(Romans 2:4)
The day will surely come (Galatians 6:7, Romans
2:16, Hebrews 4:13)
IV. The judgment is now – standing before
God facing that great assize
the left and below – damnation, fire, hell(Luke
the right and above – heaven, the beautiful city of God
cry, “O God, deliver me!”
God answers, “Why should I let you into my city?”
I answer, “Look at the good I have doneâ€¦”
God’s reply, “All have sinnedâ€¦” (Romans 3:10,
12, 23, Isaiah 64:4)
V. Jesus, standing on the right side of the
to Jesus, “Remember meâ€¦”(Luke 23:43)
is all in all
He understands, sympathizes(Hebrews 4:15)
for Christ’s sake forgives, welcomes and saves us
Love Him forever