The SECOND Commandment
"You shall not make unto you any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord your God am jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." Exodus 20:4-6.
I. You shall not make unto you any graven image.
In the first commandment worshiping a false God is forbidden; in this commandment, worshiping the true God in a false manner is forbidden.
"You shall not make unto you any graven image." This does not forbid making an image for civil use. "Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, It is Caesar"s." Matt 22:20, 21. But the commandment forbids setting up an image for religious use or worship.
"Nor the likeness of anything," etc. All ideas, portraitures, shapes, images of God, whether by effigies or pictures, are here forbidden. "Take heed lest you corrupt yourselves, and make the similitude of any figure." Deut 4:15, 16. God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye!
"You shall not bow down to them." The intent of making images and pictures is to worship them. No sooner was Nebuchadnezzar's golden image set up—but all the people fell down and worshiped it. Dan 3:7. God forbids such prostrating ourselves before an idol. The thing prohibited in this commandment is image worship. To set up an image to represent God is debasing him. If anyone should make images of snakes or spiders, saying he did it to represent his prince, would not the prince take it in disdain? What greater disparagement to the infinite God than to represent him—by that which is finite; the living God—by that which is without life; and the Maker of all—by a thing which is made?
 To make a true image of God is impossible. God is a spiritual essence and, being a Spirit, he is invisible. John 4:24. "You saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spoke with you out of the midst of the fire." Deut 4:15. How can any paint the Deity? Can they make an image of that which they never saw? "There is no depicting the invisible." Ambrose. "You saw no similitude." It is impossible to take a picture of the soul, or to paint the angels because they are of a spiritual nature; much less can we paint God by an image, who is an infinite, uncreated Spirit.
 To worship God by an image is both absurd and unlawful.
(1) To worship God by an image, is absurd and irrational; for, "the workman is better than the work," "He who has built the house has more honor than the house." Heb 3:3. If the workman is better than the work, and none bow to the workman, how absurd, then, is it to bow to the work of his hands! Is it not an absurd thing to bow down to the king's picture, when the king himself is present? It is more so to bow down to an image of God when God himself is everywhere present.
(2) To worship God by an image, is unlawful; for it is against the homily of the church, which runs thus: "The images of God, our Savior, the Virgin Mary, are of all others the most dangerous; therefore the greatest care ought to be had that they stand not in temples and churches." So that image-worship is contrary to our own homilies and affronts the authority of the Church of England. Image-worship is expressly against the letter of Scripture. "You shall make no graven image, neither shall you set up any image of stone—to bow down unto it." Lev 26:1. "Neither shall you set up any image; which the Lord your God hates." Deut 16:22. "Confounded are all those who serve graven images." Psalm 97:7. Do we think to please God by doing that which is contrary to his mind, and that which he has expressly forbidden?
 Image worship is against the practice of the saints of old. Josiah, that renowned king, destroyed the groves and images. 2 Kings 23:6, 24. Constantine abrogated the images set up in temples. The Christians destroyed images at Baste, Zurich, and Bohemia. When the Roman emperors would have thrust images upon them, they chose rather die than deflower their virgin profession by idolatry; they refused to admit any painter or sculpturer into their society because they would not have any carved statue or image of God. When Serapion bowed to an idol, the Christians excommunicated him and delivered him up to Satan.
Use one. The Church of Rome is reproved and condemned, which, from the Alpha of its religion to the Omega, is wholly idolatrous! Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their church windows as an old man! They also make an image of Christ on the crucifix. And, because it is against the letter of this commandment, they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism and divide the tenth commandment into two. Image worship must need to be very impious and blasphemous because it is giving religious worship to the creature, which is due to God only. It is vain for Papists to say, they give God the worship of the heart, and the image only the worship of the body; for the worship of the body is due to God, as well as the worship of the heart; and to give an outward veneration to an image, is to give the adoration to a creature which belongs to God only. "My glory will I not give to another." Isa 42:8.
The Papists say they do not worship the image—but only use it as a medium through which to worship God. "Not even to a statue of Christ is any reverence owed, since it is only a piece of carved wood." Aquinas.
(1) Where has God bidden them worship him by an effigy or image? "Who has required this at your hands?" Isa 1:12. The Papists cannot say so much as the devil, "It is written."
(2) The heathen may bring the same argument for their gross idolatry, as the Papists do for their image-worship. What heathen has been so simple as to think gold or silver, or the figure of an ox or elephant, was God? These were emblems and hieroglyphics only to represent him. They worshiped an invisible God by such visible things. To worship God by an image, God takes as done to the image itself.
But, say the Papists, images are laymen's books, and they are good to put them in the mind of God. One of the Popish Councils affirmed, that we might learn more by an image, than by long study of the Scriptures.
"What profits the graven image, the molten image, and a teacher of lies." Hab 2:18. Is an image a layman's book? Then see what lessons this book teaches. It teaches lies; it represents God in a visible shape, who is invisible. For Papists to say they make use of an image—to put them in mind of God, is as if a woman should say she keeps company with another man—to put her in mind of her husband.
But did not Moses make the image of a brazen serpent? Why, then, may not images be set tip?
That was done by God's special command. "Make you a brazen serpent." Numb 21:8. There was also a special use in it, both literal and spiritual. What! does the setting up of the image of the brazen serpent, justify the setting up images in churches? What! because Moses made an image by God's appointment, may we set up an image of our own devising? Because Moses made an image to heal those who were stung, is it lawful to set up images in churches to sting those who are whole? Nay, that very brazen serpent which God himself commanded to be set up when Israel looked upon it with too much reverence and began to burn incense to it, Hezekiah defaced, and called it Nehushtan, mere brass; and God commended him for so doing. 2 Kings 18:4.
But is not God represented as having hands, and eyes, and ears? Why may we not, then, make an image to represent him, and help our devotion?
Though God is pleased to stoop to our weak capacities and set himself out in Scripture by eyes, to signify his omniscience, and hands to signify his power—yet it is absurd, from such metaphors and figurative expressions, to bring an argument for images and pictures; for, by that rule, God may be pictured by the sun and the element of fire, and by a rock; for he is set forth by these metaphors in Scripture; and, sure, the Papists themselves would not like to have such images made of God.
If it is not lawful to make the image of God the Father—yet may we not make an image of Christ, who took upon him the nature of man?
No! Epiphanies, seeing an image of Christ hanging in a church, broke it in pieces. It is Christ's Godhead, united to his manhood, which makes him be Christ; therefore to picture his manhood, when we cannot picture his Godhead, is a sin, because we make him be but half Christ—we separate what God has joined, we leave out that which is the chief thing which makes him be Christ.
But how shall we conceive of God aright, if we may not make any image or resemblance of him?
We must conceive of God spiritually:
(1) In his attributes—his holiness, justice, goodness—which are the beams by which his divine nature shines forth.
(2) We must conceive of him as he is in Christ. Christ is the "Image of the invisible God" as in the way we see the print of the seal. Col 1:15. Set the eyes of your faith on Christ, the God-man. "He who has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9.
Use two. Take heed of the idolatry of image worship. Our nature is prone to this sin as dry wood to take fire; and, indeed, what is the need of so many words in the commandment: "You shall not make any graven image, or the likeness of anything in heaven, earth, water; you shall not bow down to them." I say, what is the need of so many words—but to show how subject we are to this sin of false worship? It concerns us, therefore, to resist this sin. Where the tide is apt to run with greater force, there we had a need to make the banks higher and stronger. The plague of idolatry is very infectious. "They were mingled among the heathen, and served their idols!" Psalm 106:35, 36. It is my advice to you, to avoid all occasions of this sin.
(1) Come not into the company of idolatrous Papists. Dare not to live under the same roof with them—or you run into the devil's mouth!
(2) Go not into their chapels to see their crucifixes, or hear mass. As looking on a harlot draws to adultery, so looking on the popish gilded picture may draw to idolatry. Some go to see their idol worship. A vagrant who has nothing to lose cares not to go among thieves; so such as have no goodness in them, care not to what idolatrous places they come or to what temptations they expose themselves; but you who have a treasure of good principles about you, take heed the popish priests do not rob you of them, and defile you with their images!
(3) Dare not join in marriage with image-worshipers. Though Solomon was a man of wisdom, his idolatrous wives drew his heart away from God. The people of Israel entered into an oath and curse, that they would not give their daughters in marriage to idolaters. Neh 10:30. For a Christian and Papist to marry, is to be unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14); and there is more danger that the Papist will corrupt the Christian, shall hope that the Protestant will convert the Papist. Mingle wine and vinegar, the vinegar will sooner sour the wine, than the wine will sweeten the vinegar.
(4) Avoid superstition, which is a bridge that leads over to Rome. Superstition is bringing any ceremony, fancy, or innovation into God's worship, which he never appointed. It is provoking God because it reflects much upon his honor as if he were not wise enough to appoint the manner of his own worship. He hates all strange fire to be offered in his temple. Lev 10:1. A ceremony may in time lead to a crucifix. Those who are for altar-worship, and will bow to the east, may in time bow to the Host. Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship. Psalm 106:37. If you search through the whole Bible, there is not one sin that God has more followed with plagues, than idolatry. The Jews have a saying, that in every evil that befalls them, there is an ounce of the golden calf in it. Hell is a place for idolaters. "Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters . . ." Rev 22:15. Sensuous calls the devil a rejoicer at idols because the image-worshipers help to fill hell.
Use three. That you may be preserved from idolatry and image-worship.
(1) Get good principles, that you may be able to oppose the gainsayer. Whence does the popish religion get ground? Not from the goodness of their cause—but from the ignorance of their people.
(2) Get love to God. The wife who loves her husband is safe from the adulterer, and the soul who loves Christ is safe from the idolater.
(3) Pray that God will keep you. Though it is true, there is nothing in an image to gain (for if we pray to an image, it cannot hear, and if we pray to God by an image, he will not hear)—yet we know not our own hearts, or how soon we may be drawn to vanity if God leaves us. Therefore pray that you are not enticed by false worship, or receive the mark of the beast in your right hand or forehead. Pray, "Hold me up—and I shall be safe." Psalm 119:117. "Lord, let me neither mistake my way for lack of light nor leave the true way for lack of courage."
(4) Let us bless God who has given us the knowledge of his truth, that we have tasted the honey of his Word, and our eyes are enlightened. Let us bless him that he has shown us the pattern of his house, the right mode of worship; that he has discovered to us the forgery and blasphemy of the Romish religion. Let us pray that God will preserve pure ordinances and powerful preaching among us. Idolatry came in at first by the lack of good preaching. The people began to have golden images when they had wooden priests.
II. "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God." The first reason why Israel must not worship graven images is, that the Lord is a jealous God. "The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Exod 34:14. Jealousy is taken,  In a good sense, as God is jealous of his people.  In a bad sense, as he is jealous of his people.
 In a GOOD sense; as God is jealous of his people. "Thus says the Lord, I am jealous for Jerusalem, and for Zion, with a great jealousy." Zech 1:14. God has a dear affection for his people, they are his Hephzibah or delight. Isa 62:4. They are the apple of his eye, Zech 2:8, to express how dear they are to him, and how tender he is of them, "Nothing is dearer than the apple of the eye." Drusius. They are his spouse, adorned with jewels of grace; they lie near his heart. He is jealous of his spouse, therefore he will be avenged on those who wrong her. "The Lord shall stir up jealousy like a man of war; he shall roar, he shall prevail against his enemies." Isa 42:13. What is done to the saints, God takes as done to himself (2 Kings 19:22); and the Lord will take revenge upon all who afflict Zion. "I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you." Zeph 3:19.
 Jealousy is taken in a BAD sense, in which God is jealous of his people. It is so taken in this commandment, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God." I am jealous lest you should go after false gods, or worship the true God in a false manner; lest you defile your virgin profession by images. God will have his spouse keep close to him, and not go after other lovers. "You shall not play the harlot" Hos 3:3. He cannot bear a rival. Our marital love, a love joined with adoration and worship, must be given to God alone.
Use one. Let us give God no just cause to be jealous. A good wife will be so discreet and chaste, as to give her husband no just occasion of jealousy. Let us avoid all sin, especially this of idolatry, or image-worship. It is heinous after we have entered into a marriage covenant with God, to prostitute ourselves to an image. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, and God is a jealous God, he will avenge it. Image-worship makes God abhor a people. "They made God angry by building altars to other gods; they made him jealous with their idols. When God heard them, he was very angry, and he rejected Israel completely." Psalm 78:58, 59. "Jealousy arouses a husband's fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge." Prov 6:34. Image-worship enrages God; it makes God divorce a people. "She is not my wife." Hos 2:2. "Jealousy is cruel as the grave." Canticles 8:6. As the grave devours men's bodies, so God will devour image-worshipers.
Use two. If God is a jealous God, let it be remembered by those whose friends are popish idolaters, and who are hated by their friends, because they are of a different religion, and perhaps their maintenance cut off from them. Oh, remember, God is a jealous God; better move your parents to hatred, than move God to jealousy! Their anger cannot do you so much hurt, as God's anger. If they will not provide for you, God will. "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Psalm 27:10.
III. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation." Here is the second reason against image worship. There is a twofold visit. There is God's visiting in mercy. "God will surely visit you:" that is, he will bring you into the land of Canaan, the type of heaven. Gen 50:25. Thus God has visited us with the sunbeams of his favor; he has made us swim in a sea of mercy. This is a happy visitation. There is God's visiting in anger. "Shall I not visit for these things?" that is, God's visiting with the rod. Jer 5:9. "What will you do in the day of visitation?" that is, in the day when God shall visit with his judgments. Isa 10:3. This is the sense that God's visiting is taken in this commandment, "visiting iniquity," that is, punishing iniquity. Observe here three things:
 Sin is that which makes God visit in anger. "Visiting iniquity." Sin is the cause why God visits with sickness, poverty, etc. "If they keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod." Psalm 89:31, 32. Sin twists the cords, which pinch us; it creates all our troubles, is the gall in our cup, and the gravel in our bread. Sin is the Trojan horse, which causes all the trouble. Sin is the womb of our sorrows and the grave of our comfort. God visits for sin.
 One special sin for which God visits is idolatry and image-worship. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers." Most of God's envenomed arrows have been shot among idolaters. "Go now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it." Jer 7:12. For Israel's idolatry he allowed their army to be routed, their priests slain, the ark taken captive. Jerusalem was the most famous metropolis in the world; there was the temple. "Where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord." Psalm 122:4. But for the high places and images, that city was besieged and taken by the Chaldean forces. 2 Kings 25:4. When images were set up in Constantinople, the chief seat of the Eastern empire, a city which in the eye of the world was impregnable, it was taken by the Turks, and many cruelly massacred. The Turks in their triumphs at that time reproached the idolatrous Christians, caused an image or crucifix to be carried through the streets in contempt, and threw dirt upon it, crying, "This is the God of the Christians." Here was God's visitation for their idolatry. God has set special marks of his wrath upon idolaters. At a place called Epoletium, there perished by an earthquake 350 people, while they were offering sacrifice to idols. Idolatry brought misery upon the Eastern churches and removed the golden candlesticks of Asia. For this iniquity, God visits.
 Idolatrous people are enemies not to their own souls only—but to their children. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children." As an idolatrous father entails his land of inheritance, so he entails God's anger and curses upon his children. A jealous husband, finding his wife has stained her fidelity, may justly cast her off, and her illegitimate children too, because they are none of his. If the father is a traitor to his prince, no wonder if all the children suffer. God may visit the iniquity of image-worshipers upon their children.
But is it not said, "Every man shall die for his own sin; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father?" 2 Chron 25:4, Ezek 18:20. How then does God say, he "will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children?"
Though the son is not damned—yet he may be severely punished for his father's sin. "God lays up his iniquity for his children" (Job 21:19); that is, God lays up the punishment of his iniquity for his children—the child smarts for the father's sin. Jeroboam thought to have established the kingdom by idolatrous worship—but it brought ruin upon him, and all his posterity. 1 Kings 14:10. Ahab's idolatry wronged his posterity, who lost the kingdom, and were all beheaded. "They took the king's sons, and slew seventy people." 2 Kings 10:7. Here God visited the iniquity of the father upon the children. As a son catches a hereditary disease from his father, so he catches misery from him: his father's sin ruins him.
Use one. How sad is it to be the child of an idolater! It had been said to have been one of Gehazi's children, who had leprosy entailed upon them. "The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto you and unto your seed forever." 2 Kings 5:27. So it is said to be a child of an idolater or image-worshiper; for his seed is exposed to heavy judgments in this life. "God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children." Methinks I hear God speak, as in Isa 14:21, "Prepare slaughter for his children, for the iniquity of their fathers."
Use two. What a privilege it is to be the children of godly parents. The parents are in covenant with God, and God lays up mercy for their posterity. "The just man walks in his integrity, his children are blessed after him." Prov 20:7. A religious parent does not procure wrath—but helps to keep off wrath from his child; he seasons his child with pious principles, he prays down a blessing on it; he is a loadstone to draw his child to Christ, by good counsel and example. Oh, what a privilege it is—to be born of godly, pious parents! Augustine says that his mother Monica travailed with greater care and pains for his new birth than for his natural birth. Wicked idolaters entail misery on their posterity; God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children;" but pious parents procure a blessing upon their children; God reserves mercy for their posterity.
IV. "Of those who hate me." Another reason against image-worship is, that it is hating God. The Papists, who worship God by an image, hate God. Image-worship is a pretended love to God—but God interprets it as hating him. "She who loves another man hates her own husband." An image-lover is a God hater. Idolaters are said to go a whoring from God. Exod 34:15. How can they love God? I shall show that image-worshipers hate God, whatever love they pretend.
 Those who go contrary to his express will hate him. He says, you shall not set up any statue, image, nor picture, to represent me; these things I hate. "Neither shall you set up any image; which the Lord your God hates." Deut 16:22. Yet the idolater sets up images and worships them. This God looks upon as hating him. How does the child love his father—who does all it can to cross him?
 Those who turned Jephthah out of doors hated him, therefore they labored to shut him out of his father's house. Judges 11:7. The idolater shuts the truth out of doors; he blots out the second commandment; he makes an image of the invisible God; he brings a lie into God's worship; which are clear proofs that he hates God.
 Though idolaters love the false image of God in a picture, they hate his true image in a believer. They pretend to honor Christ in a crucifix and yet persecute him in his members. Such hate God.
Use one. This confutes those who plead for image-worshipers. They are very devout people; they adore images; they set up the crucifix; kiss it; light candles to it; therefore they think that they love God. Nay—but who shall be the judge of their love? God says they hate him and give religious adoration to a creature. They hate God—and God hates them! And they shall never live with God—whom he hates! He will never lay such vipers in his bosom! Heaven is kept as paradise, with a flaming sword, that they shall not enter in. He "repays those who hate him to their face." Deut. 7:10. He will shoot all his deadly arrows among idolaters. All the plagues and curses in the book of God shall befall the idolater. The Lord repays him who hates him to his face.
Use two. Let it exhort all to flee from Romish idolatry. Let us not be among God-haters. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." 1 John 5:21. As you would keep your bodies from adultery, keep your souls from idolatry. Take heed of images, they are images of jealousy to provoke God to anger; they are damnable. You may perish by false worship, as much as by scandalous sins. You may perish by image-worship, as much as by drunkenness and whoredom. A man may die by poison as much as a pistol. We may go to hell by drinking poison in the Romish cup of fornication, as much as by being pistoled with gross and scandalous sins.
To conclude, "God is a jealous God," who will admit of no co-rival; He will "visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children;" he will entail a plague upon the posterity of idolaters. He interprets idolaters to be such as hate him. He who is an image-lover is a God-hater. Therefore keep yourself pure from Romish idolatry; if you love your souls—keep yourselves from idols!
V. "Showing mercy unto thousands."
Another argument against image-worship is that God is merciful to those who do not provoke him with their images and will entail mercy upon their posterity. "Showing mercy unto thousands."
The golden scepter of God's mercy is here displayed, "showing mercy to thousands." The heathen thought they praised Jupiter enough when they called him good and great. Both excellencies of majesty and mercy meet in God. Mercy is an innate propensity in God to do good to distressed sinners. God showing mercy, makes his Godhead appear full of glory. When Moses said to God, "I beseech you, show me your glory;" "I will," said God, "show mercy." Exod 33:19. His mercy is his glory. Mercy is the name by which he will be known. "The Lord passed by, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious." Exod 34:6. Mercy proceeds primarily, and originally from God. He is called the "Father of mercies" (2 Cor 1:3) because he begets all the mercies which are in the creature. Our mercies compared with his, are scarcely so much as a drop to the ocean.
What are the properties of God's mercy?
(1) It is free and spontaneous. To set up merit—is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy or force it. We cannot deserve it nor force it, because of our enmity. We may force God to punish us—but not to love us. "I will love them freely." Hos 14:4. Every link in the golden chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. The election is free. "He has chosen us in him according to the good pleasure of his will." Eph 1:5. Justification is free. "Being justified freely by his grace." Rom 3:24. Say not I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God would show mercy only to such as deserve it—He would show mercy to none!
(2) The mercy which God shows is POWERFUL. How powerful is that mercy—which softens a heart of stone! Mercy changed Mary Magdalen's heart, out of whom seven devils were cast: she who was an inflexible adamant was made a weeping penitent! God's mercy works sweetly—yet irresistibly. It allures—yet conquers! The law may terrify—but mercy mollifies. Of what sovereign power and efficacy is that mercy which subdues the pride and enmity of the heart, and beats off those chains of sin in which the soul is held!
(3) The mercy which God shows is SUPERABUNDANT. "Abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands." Exod 34:6. God visits iniquity "to the third and fourth generation" only—but he shows mercy to a thousand generations. Exod 20:5, 6. The Lord has treasures of mercy in store, and therefore is said to be "plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 86:5), and "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). The vial of God's wrath, only drops—but the fountain of his mercy, runs. The sun is not so full of light, as God is of love.
God has the mercy of all dimensions. He has a depth of mercy—it reaches as low as sinners, and height of mercy—it reaches above the clouds.
God has mercies for all seasons; mercies for the night, he gives sleep; nay, sometimes he gives a song in the night. Psalm 42:8. He has also mercies for the morning. His compassions "are new every morning." Lam 3:23.
God has mercies for all sorts. Mercies for the poor: "He raises up the poor out of the dust." 1 Sam 2:8. Mercies for the prisoner: he "despises not his prisoners." Psalm 69:33. Mercies for the dejected: "In a little wrath I hid my face from you, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you." Isa 54:8. He has old mercies: "Your mercies have been ever of old." Psalm 25:6. New mercies: "He has put a new song in my mouth." Psalm 40:3. Every time we draw our breath—we suck in mercy! God has mercies under heaven, and those we taste; and mercies in heaven, and those we hope for. Thus his mercies are superabundant.
(4) The mercy of God is abiding. "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting." Psalm 103:17. God's anger to his children lasts but a while (Psalm 103:9)—but his mercy lasts forever. His mercy is not like the widow's oil, which ran awhile, and then ceased (2 Kings 4:6)—but over-flowing and ever-flowing. As his mercy is without bounds, so is it without end. "His mercy endures forever." Psalm 136. God never cuts off the entail of mercy from the elect.
We are all living monuments of God's mercy! In how many ways is God said to show mercy?
(1) He shows mercy to us in daily SUPPLYING us. He supplies us with health. Health is the sauce that makes life sweeter. How would they prize this mercy, who is chained to a sick-bed! God supplies us with provisions. "God who fed me all my life long." Gen 48:15. Mercy spreads our tables, and carves for us every bit of bread we eat! We never drink but in the golden cup of mercy!
(2) God shows mercy in lengthening out our GOSPEL-LIBERTIES. 1 Cor 16:9. There are many adversaries; many would stop the waters of the sanctuary, that that they would not run. We enjoy the sweet seasons of grace, we hear joyful sounds, we see the goings of God in his sanctuary, we enjoy Sabbath after Sabbath; the manna of the Word falls about our tents when in other parts of the land there is no manna. God shows mercy to us in continuing our forfeited privileges.
(3) He shows mercy in PREVENTING many EVILS from invading us. "You, O Lord, are a shield for me." Psalm 3:3. God has restrained the wrath of men, and been a screen between us and danger; when the destroying angel has been abroad and shed his deadly arrow of pestilence, he has kept off the arrow that it has not come near us.
(4) He shows mercy in DELIVERING us. "And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (namely, Nero). 2 Tim 4:17. He has restored us from the grave. May we not write the writing of Hezekiah, "when he had been sick and was recovered of his sickness?" Isa 38:9. When we thought the sun of our life was setting God has made its return to its former brightness.
(S) He shows mercy in RESTRAINING us from sin. Lusts within—are worse than lions without! The greatest sign of God's anger is to give men up to their sins. "So I gave them up to their own hearts' lust." Psalm 81:12. While the ungodly sin themselves to hell, God has laid the bridle of restraining grace upon us. As he said to Abimelech, "I withheld you from sinning against me." Gen 20:6. So he has withheld us from those sins which might have made us a prey to Satan, and a terror to ourselves!
(6) God shows mercy in GUIDING and directing us. Is it not a mercy for one that is out of the way to have a guide?
 There is providential guidance. God guides our affairs for us; chalks out the way he would have us to walk in. He resolves our doubts, unties our knots, and appoints the bounds of our habitation. Acts 17:26.
 Spiritual guidance. "You shall guide me with your counsel." Psalm 73:24. As Israel had a pillar of fire to go before them, so God leads us with the oracles of his Word and the guidance of his Spirit. He guides our heads to keep us from error, and he guides our feet to keep us from scandal. Oh, what mercy is it to have God to be our guide and pilot! "For your name's sake, lead me and guide me." Psalm 31:3.
(7) God shows mercy in CORRECTING us. He is angry in love. He smites—that he may save. His rod is not a rod of iron to break us—but a fatherly rod to humble us. "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." Heb 12:10. In each affliction, God will mortify some corruption, or exercise some grace. Is there not mercy in this? Every cross, to a child of God, is like Paul's crosswind, which, though it broke the ship, brought Paul to shore upon the broken pieces. Acts 27:44.
(8) God shows mercy in PARDONING us. "Who is a God like unto you, who pardons iniquity?" Mic 7:18. It is mercy to feed us—and rich mercy to pardon us! Pardoning mercy is spun out of the bowels of the free grace, and is enough to make a sick man well. "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." Isa 33:24. Pardon of sin is a mercy of the first magnitude. God seals the sinner's pardon with a kiss. This made David put on his best clothes, and anoint himself. His child was newly dead, and God had told him the sword should not depart from his house—yet he anoints himself. The reason was that God had sent him pardon by the prophet Nathan. "The Lord has put away your sin." 2 Sam 12:13. Pardon is the only fit remedy for a troubled conscience. What can give ease to a wounded spirit—but pardoning mercy? Offer him the honors and pleasure of the world. It is as if flowers and music were brought to one who is condemned.
How may I know that my sins are pardoned?
Whenever God removes the guilt of sin, he breaks the power of sin. "He will have compassion; he will subdue our iniquities." Mic 7:19. With pardoning love—God gives subduing grace.
(9) God shows his mercy in SANCTIFYING us. "I am the Lord who sanctifies you." Lev 20:8. This is the partaking of the divine nature. 2 Pet 1:4. God's Spirit is a spirit of consecration; though he sanctifies us but in part—yet it is in every part. 1 Thess 5:23. It is such a mercy, that God cannot give it in anger. If we are sanctified, we are elected. "God has chosen you to salvation through sanctification." 2 Thess 2:13. This prepares for happiness, as the seed prepares for harvest. When the virgins had been anointed and perfumed, they were to stand before the king (Esth 2:12). Just so, when we have had the anointing of God, we shall stand before the King of heaven.
(10) God shows mercy in hearing our PRAYERS. "Have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer." Psalm 4:1. Is it not a favor, when a man puts up a petition to the king, to have it granted? So when we pray for pardon, adoption, and the sense of God's love, it is signal mercy to have a gracious answer. God may delay an answer, and yet not deny an answer. You do not throw a musician money at first, because you love to hear his music. God loves the music of prayer—but does not always let us hear from him at first, but in due season gives an answer of peace. "Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me." Psalm 66:20. If God does not turn away our prayer, he does not turn away his mercy.
(11) God shows mercy in SAVING us. "According to his mercy, he saved us." Titus 3:5. This is the top-stone of mercy, and it is laid in heaven. Here mercy displays itself in all its orient colors. Mercy is mercy indeed when God perfectly refines us from all the lees and dregs of corruption; when our bodies are made like Christ's glorious body, and our souls like the angels. Saving mercy is crowning mercy. It is not merely to be freed from hell—but enthroned in a kingdom! In this life we desire God, rather than enjoy him; but what rich mercy will it be—to be fully possessed of him, to see his smiling face, and to lay in his bosom forever! This will fill us with "a glorious, inexpressible joy!" 1 Peter 1:8. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your likeness." Psalm 17:15.
Use one. Let us not despair. What an encouragement we have here to serve God. He shows mercy to thousands. Who would not be willing to serve a prince who is given mercy and clemency? God is represented with a rainbow round about him, as an emblem of his mercy. Rev 4:3. Acts of severity are forced from God; judgment is his strange work. Isa 28:21. The disciples, who are not said to wonder at the other miracles of Christ, did wonder when the fig tree was cursed and withered, because it was not his manner to put forth acts of severity. God is said to delight in mercy. Mic 7:18. Justice is God's left hand: mercy is his right hand. He uses his right hand most; he is more used to mercy than to justice. "God is more inclined to mercy than to punishment." God is said to be slow to anger (Psalm 103:8)—but ready to forgive. Psalm 86:5. This may encourage us to serve him. What argument will prevail, if mercy will not? Were God all justice, it might frighten us from him—but his mercy is a loadstone to draw us to him.
Use two. Hope in God's mercies. "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his mercy." Psalm 147:11. He counts it his glory—to scatter pardons among men.
But I have been a great sinner, and am sure that there is no mercy for me!
Not if you go on in sin, and are so resolved; but, if you will break off your sins, the golden scepter of mercy shall be held forth to you. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and let him return unto the Lord—and he will have mercy upon him." Isa 55:7. Christ's blood is "a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and defilement." Zech 13:1. Mercy more overflows in God, than sin in us. His mercy can drown great sins, as the sea covers great rocks. Some of the Jews who had their hands imbrued in Christ's blood were saved by that blood. God loves to magnify His mercy—and display the trophies of free grace! Therefore, hope in his mercy.
Use three. Labor to know that God's mercy is for you. He is "the God of my mercy." Psalm. 59:17. A man who was being drowned, seeing a rainbow, said, "What am I the better, though God will not drown the world, since I am drowning?" So, what are we the better, though God is merciful if we perish? Let us labor to know God's special mercy is for us.
How shall we know God's mercy belongs to us?
(1) We know that God's mercy belongs to us—if we put a high value and estimate upon it. He will not throw away his mercy on those who slight it. We prize health—but we prize adopting mercy more. This is the diamond in the ring; it outshines all other comforts.
(2) We know that God's mercy belongs to us—if we fear God, if we have reverent awe upon us, if we tremble at sin, and flee from it, as Moses did from his rod turned into a serpent. "His mercy is on those who fear him." Luke 1:50.
(3) We know that God's mercy belongs to us—if we take sanctuary in God's mercy; if we trust in it as a drowning man catches hold of a cable. God's mercy to us is a cable let down from heaven. By taking fast hold of this by faith, we are saved. "I trust in the mercy of God forever." Psalm 52:8. As a man trusts his life and goods in a garrison, so we trust our souls in God's mercy.
How shall we get a share in God's saving mercy?
(1) If we would have saving mercy, it must be through Christ. Outside of Christ, there is no saving mercy. We read in the old law, that none might come unto the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat stood—but the high-priest: to signify that we have nothing to do with mercy but through Christ our High-priest. That the high-priest might not come near the mercy-seat without blood, is to show that we have no right to mercy—but through the expiatory sacrifice of Christ's blood, Lev 16:14. That the high-priest might not, upon pain of death, come near the mercy-seat without incense, Lev 16:13, is to show that there is no mercy from God without the incense of Christ's intercession. If we would have mercy, we must be in Christ. Mercy swims to us through Christ's blood!
(2) If we would have mercy, we must pray for it. "Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation." Psalm 85:7. "Turn unto me, and have mercy upon me." Psalm 25:16. Lord, put me not off with common mercy; give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me—but mercy to pardon me. Lord, give me not only sparing mercy—but saving mercy. Lord, give me the cream of your mercies; let me have pardoning mercy and loving-kindness. "Who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies." Psalm 103:4. Be earnest suitors for mercy; let your needs quicken your importunity. We pray most fervently when we pray most feelingly.
VI. "Of those who LOVE me."
"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." Matthew 22:37-38
God's mercy is for those who love him! Love is a grace that shines and sparkles in his eye, as the precious stone upon Aaron's breastplate. Love to God is a holy expansion or enlargement of soul, by which it is carried with delight after God, as the chief good. Aquinas defines love as "a complacent delight in God, as our treasure." Love is the soul of religion; it is a momentous grace. If we had as much knowledge as the angels, or faith to do great miracles—yet without love it would profit nothing. 1 Cor 13:2. It is so, because, if it is lacking, there can be no true religion in the heart; there can be no faith, for faith works by love. Gal 5:6. All else is but pageantry or a devout compliment.
Love meliorates and sweetens all the duties of religion, it makes them savory food, without which God cares not even to taste them. As to the excellence of this grace, love is the first and great commandment. Love is the queen of graces; it outshines all others, as the sun the lesser planets. In some respects, it is more excellent than faith; though in one sense faith is more excellent, as it unites us to Christ. It puts upon us the embroidered robe of Christ's righteousness, which is brighter than any the angels wear. In another sense, love is more excellent, in respect of the continuance of it: it is the most durable grace; as faith and hope will shortly cease—but love will remain. When all other graces, like Rachel, shall die in travail, love shall revive. The other graces are in the nature of a lease, for the term of life only; but love is a freehold that continues forever. Thus love carries away the garland from all other graces, it is the most long-lived grace, it is a bud of eternity. This grace alone will accompany us in heaven.
How must our love to God be characterized?
(1) Love to God must be PURE and GENUINE. He must be loved chiefly for himself. We must love God, not only for his benefits—but for those intrinsic excellencies with which he is crowned. We must love God—not only for the good which flows from him—but for the good which is in him. True love is not mercenary, he who is deeply in love with God, needs not to be hired with rewards, he cannot but love God for the beauty of his holiness; though it is not unlawful to look for benefits. Moses had an eye to the recompense of reward (Heb 11:26); but we must not love God for his benefits only, for then it is not loved of God—but self-love.
(2) Love to God must be with ALL THE HEART. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart." Mark 12:30. We must not love God a little, give him a drop or two of our love; but the mainstream must flow to him. The mind must think of God, the will choose him, the affections pant after him. The true mother would not have the child divided, nor will God have the heart divided. We must love him with our whole hearts. Though we may love the creature—yet it must be a subordinate love. Love to God must be highest, as oil swims above the water.
(3) Love to God must be FLAMING. To love coldly is the same as not to love. The spouse is said to be, "love-sick." Canticles 2:5. The seraphim are so-called, because of their burning love. Love turns saints into seraphim; it makes them burn in holy love to God. Many glasses of water cannot quench this love.
How may we know whether we love God?
(1) He who loves God desires his presence. Lovers cannot be long asunder, they soon have their fainting fits, for lack of sight of the object of their love. A soul deeply in love with God desires the enjoyment of him in his ordinances, in Word, prayer, and sacraments. David was ready to faint away and die when he had not a sight of God. "My soul faints for God." Psalm 84:2. Such as care not for ordinances plainly manifests lack of love to God.
(2) He who loves God, does not love sin. "You who love the Lord, hate evil." Psalm 97:10. The love of God, and the love of sin, can no more mix together than iron and clay. Every sin loved, strikes at the being of God. He who loves God has an antipathy against sin. He who would part two lovers is a hateful person. God and the believing soul are two lovers; sin parts between them, therefore the soul is implacably set against it. By this try your love to God. How could Delilah say she loved Samson when she entertained correspondence with the Philistines, who were his mortal enemies? How can he say he loves God who loves sin, which is God's enemy?
(3) He who loves God is not much in love with anything else. His love is very cool to worldly things. His love to God moves swiftly, as the sun in the sky; to the world, it moves slowly, like the sun on the dial. The love of the world eats out the heart of piety; it chokes holy affections, as the earth puts out the fire. The world was a dead thing to Paul. "The world is crucified unto me and me to the world." Gal 6:14. In Paul, we may see both the picture and pattern of a mortified man. He who loves God—uses the world but chooses God. The world is his pension—but God is his portion. Psalm 119:57. The world engages him—but God delights and satisfies him. He says as David, "God, my exceeding joy," Psalm 43:4. That is, "God is cream of my joy!"
(4) He who loves God cannot live without him. Things we love we cannot be without. A man can do without music or flowers—but not food. Just so, a soul deeply in love with God looks upon himself as undone without him. "Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down into the pit." Psalm 143:7. He says as Job, "I went mourning without the sun;" chapter 30:28. I have starlight, I lack the Sun of Righteousness; I enjoy not the sweet presence of my God. If God is our chief good--we cannot live without him! Alas! how do they show they have no love for God who can do well enough without him! Let them have but food and drink, and you shall never hear them complain of the lack of God.
(5) He who loves God will be at any pains to get him. What pains the merchant takes, what hazards he runs, to have a rich return from the Indies! "The merchant races to the farthest Indies." Jacob loved Rachel, and he could endure the heat by day, and the frost by night, that he might enjoy her. A soul that loves God will take any pains for the fruition of him. "My soul follows hard after you." Psalm 63:8. Love is "the pendulum of the soul." Augustine. It is the weight that sets the clock going. It is much in prayer, weeping, fasting; it strives as in agony, that he may obtain him whom his soul loves. Plutarch reports of the Gauls, an ancient people of France, that after they had tasted the sweet wine of Italy, they never rested until they had arrived at that country. He who is in love with God never rests until he has a part in him. "I will seek him whom my soul loves." Canticles 3:2. How can they say they love God, who is not industrious in the use of means to obtain him? "A slothful man hides his hand in his bosom." Prov 19:24. He is not in agony—but lethargy. If Christ and salvation would drop as a ripe fig into his mouth, he would be content to have them; but he is loath to put himself to too much trouble. Does he love his friend, who will not undertake a journey to see him?
(6) He who loves God, prefers him before estate and life.  Before estate. "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things." Phil 3:8. Who that loves a rich jewel, would not part with a flower for it? Galeacius, marquis of Vico, parted with a large estate to enjoy God in his pure ordinances. When a Jesuit persuaded him to return to his popish religion in Italy, promising him a large sum of money, he said, "Let their money perish with them who esteem all the gold in the world worth one day's communion with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit."  Before life. "They loved not their lives unto the death." Rev 12:2: Love to God carries the soul above the love of life and the fear of death.
(7) He who loves God loves his favorites, the saints. 1 John 5:1. "The mind reacts to the likeness of an object just as it does to the object itself." To love a man for his grace, and the more we see of God in him, the more we love him, is an infallible sign of love to God. The wicked pretend to love God—but hate and persecute his image. Does he love his prince, who abuses his statue, or tears his picture? They seem true to show great reverence to saints departed; they have great reverence for Paul, and Stephen, and Luke; they canonize dead saints—but persecute living saints, and do they love God? Can it be imagined that he loves God—who hates his children because they are like him? If Christ were alive again, he would not escape second persecution.
(8) If we love God, we cannot but be fearful of dishonoring him, as the more a child loves his father the more he is afraid to displease him, and we weep and mourn when we have offended him. "Peter went out and wept bitterly." Matt 26:75. Peter might well think that Christ dearly loved him when he took him up to the mount where he was transfigured and showed him the glory of heaven in a vision. That he should deny Christ after he had received such signal tokens of his love, broke his heart with grief. "He wept bitterly." Are our eyes dropping tears of grief for sin against God? It is a blessed evidence of our love to God, and such shall find mercy. "He shows mercy to thousands of those who love him.
Use. Let us be lovers of God. We love our food, and shall we not love him who gives it? All the joy we hope for in heaven, is in God; and shall not he who shall be our joy then, be our love now? It is a saying of Augustine, "Is it not punishment enough, Lord, not to love you?" And again, "I would hate my own soul if I did not find it loving God."