"Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18)
IN the prophecy of the Old Testament it is clearly set forth that the Lord judges his people. I have heard it said by persons who profess to believe and teach the truth that mercy is God's darling attribute, and judgment is his strange work. It was very grating on my ears. I believe justice and judgment are as much attributes of God as mercy. He is a just God and a Saviour. Such an expression as that does not, in my view, agree with the declaration of God's holy Word. Those of you who are led to feel your sinnership have felt you have broken God's holy law. You felt the wrath of God was upon you, and that you were cut off from all hope of salvation. You could not see how it was possible for you to be delivered from impending ruin, from that awful hell you felt in your conscience. Under such circumstances, many a child of God has wandered about for days and months, and has cried, as Micah did in the first verse of this chapter, "Woe is me." You could not see how a holy and just God could justify such a wretched, ruined, hell-deserving sinner as you felt yourself to be. You could not say you had any claim on God; nor have you said so since. You felt that if God had sent you to hell for your sins, and shut you up in the pit of black despair for ever and ever, he would have been Just in the act; for when you were under the convincing power of the Holy Ghost you felt you deserved it.
But, my dear friends, although God was just in giving you to feel what a sinner you were, nevertheless he exhibited his mercy in such a way that it broke your heart. You were brought to contrition; and when the Lord said, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else," you were brought by precious faith, the faith of God's elect, divine faith, the faith of God's creating, of God's giving, you were brought by that blessed power to look unto Jesus Christ, the God-Man Mediator; and Christ was appropriated to you as your lawful Redeemer, your Salvation. You felt that there was no other salvation than Christ; and you feel so still. You have not yet been beaten off that ground, though you have had many tossings in your mind. There is much free-will rubbish about you; but still, after all, my dear friends, you know it is through Jesus Christ solely and entirely. That everlasting covenant of grace is based on a firm foundation, a sure rock. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are the foundation of the covenant of divine grace.
When you are led to see and feel your interest in that covenant, you endorse the language of the text. It is a question proposed: "Who is a God like unto thee?" Proposed by whom? By those poor sinners who have been led, in soul feeling, to realize mercy; to prove the greatness of the God of heaven and earth, the God who upholdeth all things by the word of his power; not the gods of the heathen, not the gods of wood and stone, not the gods that Israel sometimes in their backslidings ran after. "The eternal God is thy Refuge; and underneath are the everlasting arms."
I was just glancing over this chapter; and I could see, from the first verse to the words of the text, that the prophet was brought to feel experimentally his own helpless condition. In the first verse he represents himself as being in the vineyard. Of course it implies that he had got into the vineyard in order that he might have some grapes. Grapes are of a very refreshing nature. The juice of the grape is often referred to in the Word of God. The grapes of Eshcol were esteemed by Israel of old a delicious fruit. When the grapes were squeezed and the juice drunk, how invigorating and how cheering! The Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in these grapes, and in that wine that maketh glad the heart of both God and man. The Lord Jesus Christ is distinctly represented in the Scriptures of truth as everything lovely, everything beautiful, everything to be desired by the Lord's people. So it is here. Micah wanted to have some grapes, but he could not find any. "Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape-gleanings of the vintage; there is no cluster to eat; my soul desired the first ripe fruit." But he could not get it, although he had the desire. He did not know that there was one single berry left for him. The summer fruits had been gathered, and the grape-gleaners had come after; and he was the third person that had got into the vineyard with a desire. He could not see any fruit left; it was all gone; and he was looking about very anxiously for a cluster. The poor man was cast down, and in a very distressed condition. He did not know that God had reserved so many berries in the top branches. The Lord had fruit in reserve. Micah was cast down, bemoaning his sad condition. He thought Israel was all gone, and Samaria and Jerusalem; were swept away. What a sad condition to be brought into! But the Lord had his eye upon him. Although he was in that dark state, feeling his helplessness, he had a desire. That is the point. If you feel you have a desire from the Lord, the Lord will satisfy that desire. You do not want to be in a barren land. Neither did Micah; he wanted to be in the vineyard, where there was plenty.
You have been in the vineyard, and desired the first ripe fruit; but there seemed to be none. You have said, "If I knew I was the Lord's, and the Lord mine; if the Lord would but testify to my conscience that I was his redeemed child!" Like Micah, you have wanted the first ripe fruit. Like David, you have wanted the Lord to say to your soul, "I am thy salvation." You desired it, and you believed it to be true; but you wanted the Lord to speak the word with power unto your soul. You have desired to know that the Lord was your Portion and your God. So it was with Micah; but when he was brought to prove in his own soul that the Lord had not forgotten him, that he had manifested his mercy to him through Christ Jesus, pardoned his iniquity, and passed by the transgression, not only of him, but of the remnant of his heritage, then he could say, "Who is a God like unto thee?"
Friends, if you have spiritual views of the character of God, if you have been led to see God in his justice, in his holiness, and in his purity (for he is a holy, just, and perfect God), and if you have been led to see him as the God of all grace, blessed be his adorable Majesty! Peter could say, "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory." Mark, "His eternal glory;" not the glory under the law. There was a glory, a brightness, a special manifestation of the Divine power when the law was given on Mount Sinai; but the apostle says, "Which glory was to be done away." It could not continue by reason of the glory which excelleth. What is the glory which excelleth? The glory of his grace; the riches of his grace.
"Who is a God like unto thee?" My dear friends, you cannot understand God in the fullest sense of the word. God is a sovereign Ruler, and he does all his pleasure. You may sometimes think that the purposes of Jehovah must be suited or brought into unison with your contracted reason and your finite minds. People try to bind and subject the mind of Jehovah to their poor, feeble, polluted minds. "Who by searching can find out God?" "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" This God that Micah had in view at the time he wrote this prophecy is a God that pardoneth iniquity; and Micah seems evidently to be enraptured with the view. And are not you? Are not all God's children, at times, completely overwhelmed in their feelings, when they see God in Christ? God out of Christ is a consuming fire. But you have seen God in Christ, God reconciled to you through Christ, pardoning your iniquity through Christ, acquitting you, and setting you free from the claims of his Divine law through Christ, the Law-fulfiller. So it was with Micah. He could well exclaim, "Who is a God like unto thee?"
What a mercy, what a favor, if you have really proved that God justifies the ungodly! How opposite to the ideas of the people of the present day. Their idea is that God justifies the righteous, that he takes the good and leaves the bad. It is just the contrary; for the Lord did not come to call the righteous, hut sinners to repentance. It is a display of his mercy. If the Lord had not come on that errand of mercy and grace, there would be no hope for you and me. "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." You know what that means. You know that your God is a God "that pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage; because he delighteth in mercy." And he will make you to delight in mercy too. He will make you to exclaim, with Paul, "But God, who is rich in mercy," &c. Blessed be his gracious Majesty, we do know that he is rich in mercy, that his grace is boundless, and his love everlasting to all the chosen seed. We do know that the eternal Jehovah pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of his people through the blood-shedding of Christ. "Without shedding of blood is no remission." But the blood has been shed; the sacrifice was made more than 1800 years ago. The Son of God offered himself without spot to God; and "he hath by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified." "Sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Jesus Christ, and called."
Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?" &c. He can do it on the principles of strict justice. He pardons the iniquity of his people on the very ground of what his own dear Son hath done for them. And what hath he done for his people? Re stood for his people as their Representative, as their Substitute. He is the Bridegroom of his church, bone of his church's bone, and flesh of his church's flesh. There is a union, an indissoluble tie, a sacred bond that never can be severed or destroyed between Christ and his church. It is an eternal union based on principles of justice, mercy, and grace, according to the purpose of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Kent sings sweetly about it:
"Come, saints, and sing in sweet accord,
With solemn pleasure tell,
The covenant made with David's Lord;
In all things order'd well."
"Twas made with Jesus, for his bride,
Before the sinner fell;
Twas sign'd, and seal'd, and ratified;
In all things order'd well."
This is a different covenant from the Adamic covenant; that was of works, not of grace. But, according to the eternal purpose of Jehovah, the covenant of grace was prior to the Adamic covenant. Some people say it came after the other; but it preceded it, for it was in the Eternal Mind. Some people say that Adam fell from grace; and that he lost spiritual life in the garden. Nothing of the kind. Adam never had spiritual life. What he had came through the law he was under, and on account of his obedience to that law. That law said, "Do this and live." Adam disobeyed that command of God; and so he died. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." All died in Adam; all sinned in Adam; and all come short of the glory of God. Adam's happiness depended on his obedience, because he was under the covenant of works. The happiness of God's elect depends upon what Christ has done for them. What has Christ done for them? He hath redeemed his people from the law of works. Christ hath once and for ever liberated his people, saved his people with an everlasting salvation. And, therefore, the apostle said, "There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." You scribes and Pharisees may say what you please; it is the name, the blessed name of Jesus we preach, the Christ of God. The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, said, "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block," &c.
Poor sinner, if God would give you a faith's view of these things it would gladden your heart, and lead you to exclaim with the psalmist, "Bless the Lord, 0 my soul!" I do hope, if it be the will of God, that you may be led to see God's character in the covenant of grace, that you may be led to true repentance, and that you may be brought, with a broken and contrite heart, to confess your sins. The Word assures the poor penitent, "He that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy." There is mercy for thee, if thy heart is broken on account of sin. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves; but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Loose him, and let him go." It would be an infinite mercy if the Lord should bless you this morning, in liberating you and setting you free. It is emphatically declared by the Saviour, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free; and if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
"Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage?" There is the character, the remnant. In a commercial point of view a remnant is an article of very little value. It is so in a spiritual point of view. God's remnant is very little esteemed. God's elect people have from the very foundations been looked upon as earthen vessels, very common, and as things of no value. But they are not looked upon in that light by their God. Thy God esteems thee, poor tried one, as precious gold. This is the estimation that the Lord puts upon his own family: "Precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold." The Lord esteems you highly. You are his heritage, the purchase of his blood. "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in a waste, howling wilderness. He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye."
But you are ready to say, "I feel the load and burden; my conscience is wounded." I can sympathize with you; for I do know that it is the experience of all the Lord's family. And it will be to the end of time. David, when he felt his iniquities to go over his head, and to be a very heavy burden, and when he was brought to feel naked and bare before a holy God, his cry was, "0 Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath; neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. For thine arrows stick fast in me." "Lord, be gracious unto me." "I am thine; save me." "Out of the depths, [the depths of sore trouble, the depths of conscience, the depths of sore distress], cried I unto the Lord." Did you, poor sinner, ever cry unto the Lord? If you did with all your heart cry unto the Lord, he will hear your cry. He will not disregard the prayer of a poor sensible sinner. He is a God "that delighteth in mercy, and he passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage."
Some people say that when Israel's God once cast them off, he would have nothing more to do with them. When Israel sinned, God chastised Israel for his sin. When Israel destroyed himself (you know Israel's history), God said, "In me is thy help." There is the mercy. Israel of old was a typical people, a representative people, a people who, in their various circumstances, in their ups and downs in the wilderness, set forth, in my view, and, I believe, in a scriptural point of view, the experience, the trials, the ups and the downs God's people have in this wilderness world, and will have to the end of time. Israel was brought down to the dust; but they were not always in the dust. When the Lord has punished you, he does not retain his anger for ever. They were sometimes very anxious to be mixed up with other people, and do things contrary to the mind and will of God. What was the result? God visited them for their transgressions, punished them for their sins, and was wroth with them, though not to such an extent as not to have anything more to do with them. No. When you read of God's wrath and indignation, and his meeting his people like a bear bereaved of her whelps, and rending the caul of their hearts, it means God's chastisement and correction.
Now, my dear friends, has not God corrected you for your sins? Have not you been brought as a poor helpless one in private before the Lord to ask him to have mercy upon you, and to pardon your sins? This does not imply that Christ has not atoned for the sins of his people. It does not mean that God's people who feel sin in this way are cast away. Some people say they can fall from grace. But God's people cannot fall from grace, or fall out of the favor of God. Blessed be God for it. If it were possible, you know you would fall a hundred times a day. "Having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end." Some people say, "Did he love Peter when he was cursing and swearing?" He did; though he did not love his sin. His love was the same to Peter when he was thus taking a solemn oath that he did not know him. Christ turned and looked upon Peter. Do you remember how he has looked upon you?
"He brought my wand'ring spirit back,
When I forsook his ways;
And led me, for his mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace."
That look broke Simon's heart; and that look has broken your heart, and has brought you close to Christ. Blessed be his dear Name.
He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy." And yet you think there is never going to be an end to your darkness. You think you are never going to see again the sweet smiling face of Jesus. You have sinned against him; your mouth is stopped in prayer; you have not that sweet fellowship with God's people you used to have. Is there not a cause? Shall God be blamed? Is not the cause in yourself? You are ready to say, I am the sinner, vile and guilty. 0! If I could but believe and trust God, and feel the flowings of his grace in my soul as I was wont to do formerly! The text says. "He retaineth not his anger for ever." Now you are in darkness. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee." It is only for a small moment. "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways," till he vomits up his own doings. "But with great mercies will I gather thee." It is "thee." He will gather you with his arm, and carry you in his bosom. He will bring you back again. You have been carried into captivity and brought into a barren land, where there is nothing to subsist on,—no stream, no refreshing spring. "He retaineth not his anger for ever." He has come again when you have not expected him. He has led you to feel a desire after God in your soul. He has led you to feel that you wanted a place where you could pour out the desire of your soul unto him. And you have found that place; the Lord has blessed you there. That place you will never forget; for the Lord met with you there. Like poor old Jacob, in your extremity, trouble, and distress, you have exclaimed, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
"Because he delighteth in mercy." The Lord takes pleasure in his servants. He delights in them that fear him. Is your religion a natural thing, or is it spiritual? Are you carried away by a mere carnal notion about God's truth, or have you been led by God's Spirit to feel the power of that truth? If your religion is only a notional thing, if it is only built on freewill and merit, living and dying in that religion, hell will be your doom. I will tell you the truth, according to God's Word: Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again." A spiritual birth is a new creation, a renewing in the spirit of your minds, being brought spiritually to Christ by precious faith, not by outward things. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
"Because he delighteth in mercy." Have you been led to prove that mercy, to value that mercy that God delights in? The free, unmerited mercy of the eternal God,—sovereign mercy, how well it meets your case! How suitable to a poor, wretched, filthy, blind, helpless thing! You can see nothing right; you can believe nothing, can take nothing, only as you are led by the blessed Spirit of God.
It is delightful mercy, the mercy of God. He will show mercy, pardon the guilty, and be gracious to those who are brought to confess their sins. Natural religionists are making a stir about confessing to the priest. Do you not see how the State-church of this country is going over to Popery and idolatry? They think they can serve God by forms and ceremonies, and make people religious by training them up. I deny it; that work belongs to God. You can never make one fallen sinner a child of God, or an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. They write books and circulate them among young people, and want these young people to go to them and confess. Confess to God. When you are brought spiritually to confess to him, he will be faithful and just to forgive your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. If I were to go to confess to a priest, I should say, "The Word of God says, 'Confess your faults one to another.' You confess yours to me first, and then I will confess mine." They take a wrong view of the Scriptures. When you have done anything to a brother to injure him, then, according to the gospel law, go and confess your fault to him.
"Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy." Thy help, poor sinner, is in God, in the God of grace, the God of salvation, who has in strict justice set his people free through Christ. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
I do hope the Lord will give you eyes to see this truth, and prepare your hearts to receive it. Of course, I can only speak it to you in a blundering way; but I speak it as I believe and feel it. The forgiveness of sin is with God, and not with man. He pardoneth iniquity and blotteth out the transgressions of his people, not merely dasheth over them with one line. A tradesman may cancel a bill and just make a line with a pen across it, and you may read it after all. This blotting out means a covering so as not to be seen, to be put away for ever, never again to be preferred against the poor child of God! Do you feel sin in your carnal heart, and feel shame on account of it? Bless you, poor soul, it is all put away, and carried by the scapegoat into the wilderness of forgetfulness. Nothing can be brought against God's people, because they are united to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord does not retain his anger for ever. You may not feel it this morning. You may feel it hard work, a great struggle to hold this truth fast through such trying scenes, through such darkness; and you may tremble from head to foot. I can sympathize with you; but God is your help and salvation. He will surely appear in his own time and way. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." The Lord says, "I will he as the dew unto Israel." Poor Israel! You are much dried up in your feelings, like the mountains of Gilboa. What a poor sterile thing you feel yourself to be! But God, in his mercy, says, "I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon." His smell shall be beautiful. The Lord permits such wonderful things, because he delights in mercy, and because he regards you. That regard which God has for you is an eternal regard. It is not as the Arminians say,
"Ah, Lord, with trembling I confess,
A gracious soul may fall from grace;
The salt may lose its seasoning power,
And never, never find it more."
A better-taught man did not look at matters in that light. He was better instructed, and said,
"0 Love, thou bottomless abyss!
My sins are swallow'd up in thee;
Cover'd is my unrighteousness;
Nor spot of guilt remains on me;
While Jesu's blood through earth and skies,
Mercy, eternal mercy, cries."
When you are led by the Holy Spirit to an understanding of
the truth, you will see that this mercy which God delighteth in is in accordance with the character of the eternal God; it is free mercy, mercy unmerited by the creature, and it endureth for ever. And this mercy is round about them that fear God from henceforth and for evermore! What a mercy for you if you fear God! And what an awful position you are in if you have never felt that fear! Poor soul, I would not be in your position for ten thousand
worlds,—to live without God, without a knowledge of God, and to go on in a course of sin and iniquity. There are only two characters in this world, and only two places to which we can go after we have done with it,—heaven or hell. Those who live and die in sin will be where the devil is. Those who love and
fear God he will come again by and by and take to himself, that where he is they may be also. It is the will of the dear Redeemer.
May the Lord command his blessing. Amen.