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oppose such gloomy suggestions, therefore, and to lead the broken in heart to behold the benignant face of their heavenly Father, is an important as well as pleasing duty. The words of my text are well calculated for this design. They close the prophecies of Micah, and seem intended to console those who were really pious among the Jews, under the chastisement to which the sins of the nation were exposing them, and to strengthen their faith in the divine promises of future deliverance and salvation. We may consider from the text,
I. The matchless extent of God's pardoning mercy;
II. The consoling application of this mercy to the case of the penitent sinner;
III. The confirmation of both these topics, to be derived from the covenant of mercy itself.
I. THE MATCHLESS EXTENT OF GOD'S PARDONING MERCY.- 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. Ver. 18.
The prophet appears in these words to break out into an abrupt and impassioned admiration of God's mercy, as the cause of all his forbearance towards his rebellious people. Indeed, the uniform character of God in his dispensations
to his church in all ages, is that of a God who pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin. The eye of the penitent and humble sinner is to be directed, then, to this point. For before he can make any consolatory application of the promises of grace to his own case, he must view and admire the infinite benignity and love of God in general, his readiness to pardon, his delight in mercy. He must not imagine him to be a hard master, but a compassionate father, who hastens to welcome the returning prodigal, and to embrace him with the most condescending and exuberant affection.
This part of the character of God will appear as we review the several expressions in this portion of the text. HE PARDONETH INIQUITY. He is ever engaged in remitting the sins of those who plead his mercy in the Son of his love. This is his habitual and delightful employ. As soon as the awakened penitent feels and confesses and forsakes his iniquity, and approaches his offended God in the name of Jesus Christ, desiring to rely on his atonement and trust to his merits, his sins, however great or manifold, are pardoned. Guilt and the desert of punishment, which oppressed him with an insupportable load, are removed. He has redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins.
This is further evident by the following
clause, AND PASSETH BY THE TRANSGRESSIONS OF THE REMNANT OF HIS HERITAGE. This is a form of speech taken from the conduct of one who voluntarily overlooks an offence, or declines to exact the punishment due to it; and who therefore acts as if he did not see it. Thus our God and Saviour, when we come to him with a contrite heart, does not allow himself, as he justly might, to be hindered or stopped by our sins, but acts as one who sees them not. If he should indeed enter into judgment with us, no man living could be justified. If he should mark what is done amiss, none could stand. Our iniquities would immediately meet him, and present themselves before his eyes. But when God pardons sin, he passes, as it were, over it, even as a hastening traveller urges on his way and neglects the impediments in his road. Or, rather, like the commissioned angel, who, when he went out at midnight to slay the first-born of the Egyptians, passed over the houses where the blood of the expiatory lamb was sprinkled on the lintel and side-posts; the Almighty Avenger passes by the transgressions of those who are protected by the sacrifice of that Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. When he sees that sacred blood sprinkled, as it were, on the abode, he desists from his vengeance, and forgets all his displeasure. He looks with infinite complacency on the humble suppliant,
and accounts him as one of the remnant of his heritage; of that heritage which is no longer confined to the children of Abraham according to the flesh, but which embraces all the spiritual and invisible body of Christ's church.
With regard to such, HE RETAINETH NOT HIS ANGER FOR EVER. We find that of old he often laid aside his wrath towards his people; and though perhaps he delivered them up for a time to their enemies, yet he forgat not his mercy, but restored them again to his favour and protection. So now also he retains not his anger for ever against the lowly penitent. He is indeed provoked with the obstinate and rebellious. Whilst men go on in their wickedness, he is angry with them every day; and if they persist in their crimes, he will not spare them, but his anger and his jealousy shall smoke against them. But when they truly repent and turn unto him, immediately he lets go all his wrath, he views them with infinite compassion, he pardons them, he passes by their sins, and accepts them to the praise of the glory of his grace. It is true they may not have the full and immediate enjoyment of these privileges; they may not discern his gracious smiles; he may delay the manifestation of his mercy, and seem to keep his anger for a time, in order to humble them and to prove them; yet he soon, as though re
penting, comes back to them most placidly, and testifies that he is reconciled to them.
The spring of all this grace and condescension is, that HE DELIGHTETH IN MERCY. He does not pardon reluctantly, and pass by our sins with hesitation or backwardness, but with willing promptitude and satisfaction. He might indeed swear in his wrath that we should not enter his rest. He might crush us with his power, or terrify us into despair by his justice; but, lo, he brings salvation, he gives a Redeemer, he reveals a way of pardon, he lets go his anger, he bestows grace; because it is his nature to be good, because he delights in kindness and beneficence. There is a force in the original phrase, which deserves notice. The expression is literally, because, AS FOR HIM, he delighteth in mercy; or, because he delighteth in mercy, EVEN HE. This emphatic turn of the sentence marks more distinctly that it is the mind and inclination and pleasure and will and desire of God to be merciful. Remission of sins in the gift of Jesus Christ is what he delights in. His very nature prompts him to it. We need inquire no further; he will have mercy because he will have mercy. When he executes wrath on the impenitent, he is described as slow and reluctant-coming out of his place, doing his work, his strange work, and bringing to pass his act, his strange act. But mercy is