“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him…” -Dan. 9.9
The mercifulness of God is so contrary to the revenge-driven nature of humanity, that if we see Him rightly in light of the Gospel message we are overcome by His kindness and shocked to the core with how delightful He is.
We ought to be suspicious of a brand of Christianity that is so solemn that it removes us from the joy of His salvation, puts us under the weight of religious performance, and causes our souls to be continually downcast. There is a valid place for the burden of the Lord, and for weeping after His great intentions, but the mainstay of sonship, the foundation of our union with Him must always be found in a vital and active union with the God who is merciful.
Eugene Peterson has written:
“If we get our information from the biblical material there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.”
There is something dubious about a version of the faith which lacks the spontaneous joy that results from the reality of salvational experience. If we are gripped with a burden in prayer, it is meant to be unburdened right there, in the place of intercession. The burdens are not always to be carried in a public way or placed on the shoulders of other saints. There may be times when the Lord calls you to communicate that burden as the prophets of old, but if you carry it in such a way that the Lord has not intended, you will convey something in the name of God that is not marked with the Spirit of God. If the Lord gave it to you in the place of prayer, enjoin your soul immediately with His until the burden lifts and you have done your part as His co-laborer. If you parade the burden before men, and fail to pray it through to the satisfaction of God’s heart, you will defeat the purpose of the burden itself.
The Church is in a radically anemic place, and while much of the lack can be traced back to a casual, irreverent corporate disposition toward the Lord, one great source of our malnourishment is that we are not rightly receiving His good mercy and holy affection. We are in great need of the Spirit of the fear of the Lord, and we need ever to live in a consciousness of the judgment to come, but there is great need also for new and fresh immersions in the mercies of God.
We chase after material possessions, the preservation of our reputations, or religious and ministerial status improvements only because we are still functioning on carnal grounds, and we have not adequately received and delighted in the God who is merciful.
Consider these words from the great Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes (1577-1635):
Among the things that are to be taken heed of, there is among ordinary Christians a bold usurpation of censure towards others, not considering their temptations.
… we should not smite one another by hasty censures…
… Christ, for the good aims He sees in us, overlooks any ill in them, so far as not to lay it to our charge. Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak.
… The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that that Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition!
(The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes; Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA; pp. 32-33)
When we lose touch with the merciful nature of God and His distinct kindness, immediately we become that brand of Christian that receives power (albeit a false power) by searching out the shortcomings of others. The evidence that our smiting of “one another by hasty censures” is not prompted by the Lord is shown in the fact that rather than giving ourselves to secret intercession on the behalf of the weak ones, we harbor thoughts of superiority against them. If we are more apt to speak negatively about men, or to think ourselves superior to them, rather than giving ourselves to merciful prayer on their behalf, we can be sure that we are operating under the influence of darkness.
Yet if the “Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls,” and if “the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him,” far be it from us to reject a brother in his struggle and inconsistency! This is not to make light of sin, for we are called to purity, and to “speak the truth to one another in love.” Rather, we are to make much of His mercy, and we need to remember that His kindness is itself an expression of His holiness. His righteousness and His gentleness are not in opposition to one another, but are intrinsically linked attributes of the only true God. If He were not a merciful God, neither would He be a holy God.
Has your experience of “faith” driven you into a continually solemn place, where there is no longer any “dancing, leaping, or daring” in your spirit? Is the garden of your life overgrown with the weeds of criticism, superiority, and the continual examination of others? Dear saint, He did not save you to induct you into a life of lackluster seriousness, suspicion and censure, or depressive discipleship. His desire at the time of your salvation, and His desire today, is that “your joy may be full.” (Jn. 15.11b)
Delight in His goodness then, weary soul! Lay down your chapped and calloused frame of mind regarding yourself and those around you. Let it die and go into the ground, that new life and a God-centered perception might be your portion. Bask in the His mercies, for they have been extended to you. They are intensely available to all who would call on the name of the Lord.
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely . . . . Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love. And repose in his almighty arms. -Robert Murray McCheyne