Behold, we count them happy which endure. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord…
Probably no one who believes that God is, disbelieves that He is merciful. But wherein the action of His mercy takes effect is not so clear but that minds may differ about it. Sometimes we figure the mercy of God acting like the mercy of man in granting exemption from responsibilities and liabilities. Mercy is said to be shown to a convict when the penalty imposed by law is in part or altogether remitted. There are difficulties in the way of thus construing the action of God's mercy. One is its contrariety to what we see of God in nature, in whose phenomena we can nowhere see any cut-off interposed between causes and effects, but a stringently maintained law of consequences. That this law of nature is also a law of moral nature seems to be attested by the spiritual maxim: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Another difficulty in the way of supposing that the mercy of God works by remission of consequences, like the mercy of man, is in the doubtful utility of such a method. It is hardly to be doubted that the moral tone of society would be far more healthful than it is were there less interference, in the name of mercy, with the consequences of violated law. For a man to imagine he may lie or steal, and escape the evil consequence, is most immoral and dangerous. It fosters this illusion, whenever a weak, good nature averts from a guilty back the scourge of just consequence, Mercy does not seek first to make men comfortable, but to make them morally sound and strong in conformity to right. For this, a strict subjection to the consequences of conduct, whether in the State or in the family, is indispensable. It is not in the way of release from any part of our just responsibilities that we must think of the mercy of God. "Every man shall bear his own burden." Quite congruous with this is a saying in Psalm 62, where we shall find the mercy of God if we are thus strictly subjected to the law of consequences: "To Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for Thou renderest to everyman according to his work." While this affirms the benevolence of strictly holding us to accountability for whatever is our work, it also permits us to think of a procedure which — at least, in comparison with human judgments — deserves to be called merciful. When we discriminate in a man's work that which is strictly his from that which is the work of his parents, or teachers, or of disease, or of the spirit of his time, even a wicked man appears less culpable. Many a man shows the work of his father, or of his surroundings, mixed with his own. If childhood has been subjected to a training which stunts virtue or piety, the resulting vice or scepticism of the man is not all his work. To unravel the tangled skein of responsibility, to crown each man with the pearls or thorns which are due to the work that is strictly his, is the perogative of that Divine judgment which the sinner, thus dealt with, may well deem merciful. In what appears to us the most execrable life, Omniscient may discriminate in the wreck the contributing agency of more than one wrongdoer. Where human judgments are unmerciful in loading one with the guilt of many, the mercy of God appears in apportioning to each no more than is strictly his own. To this we have to add the work of mercy in the forgiveness of sins — the blotting out of offences by the kiss that makes the prodigal again at one with the father — the inspirations of filial trust in the grace of God, by which the forgiven one is empowered to retrieve and repair the past, till the tear of repentance is dry in the joy of a complete remission of his sins.
(J. M. Whiton, Ph. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.