It is not an uncommon criticism of the Bible to say that God was one way in the Old Testament and another way in the New Testament. He is accused of being harsh and vengeful in the Old Testament while being more gracious and merciful in the New Testament. In his studies on the attributes of God, Tozer is honing in on those aspects of God that do not change and so he addresses this concern early in his chapter on the mercy of God. He writes, “There has been a lot of careless teaching that implies that the Old Testament is a book of severity and law, and the New Testament is a book of tenderness and grace. But do you know that while both the Old Testament and New Testament declare the mercy of God, the word mercy appears in the Old Testament over four times more often than in the New?” This dichotomy, as it is sometimes called, between the God described in the Old and New Testaments has led some to depart from the Trinitarian understanding of a God. Oneness Pentecostals, for example, believe that God is one person manifested as the Father in creation, then the Son in redemption, and then the Spirit in regeneration. They would argue that the being of God doesn’t change but the role He played did, therefore explaining the difference in how God did things in the past. We refute this assertion since the presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are clearly taught in Scripture, as is the mercy of God.
Mercy, Tozer writes, finds its source in the goodness of God. God is good and His goodness is taught throughout Scripture. Mercy is an extension of the goodness of “God which desires the happiness of His creatures,” as Tozer puts it, “and that irresistible urge in God to bestow blessedness. The goodness of God takes pleasure in the pleasure of His people.” It is in God to not only take pleasure when His people are happy in Him but also to suffer alongside them when they suffer. The mercy of God is that He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve but that He extends to us patience in our struggle to obey. Instead, Tozer explains, “According to the Old Testament, mercy has certain meanings: to stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon and to be actively compassionate.” God’s compassion toward us is not bestowed from a distance but instead in the manner in which God abides with us. He actively “compassionates” with our burdens and struggles exercising a level of pity and empathy that causes Him to draw near to us. He is mindful, as Psalm 103:14 describes, “that we are but dust.” The mercy of God is described as the love of a father for a child in the preceding verses.
Psalm 103:8-13, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.”
An integral part of the mercy of God is not just that He simply has compassion but that He acts compassionately. His mercy is put on display with the things He does, and nowhere is that more evident than by having Christ nailed to the cross to die for our sins. His mercy stirs up His compassion which sends His son to deliver us from our sin. Tozer writes, “We get the odd notion that God is showing mercy because Jesus died. No – Jesus died because God is showing mercy. It was the mercy of God that gave us Calvary, not Calvary that gave us mercy. If God had not been merciful there would have been no incarnation, no babe in the manger, no man on a cross. and no open tomb.” Lamentations 3:22 says, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.” His mercy never ceases because His compassion never fails. God was moved to stoop and have pity on us and because He is good, and we are recipients of His mercy. We are recipients because the mercy of God and the justice of God (as we discussed last time) have collaborated to provide justification: a justification that comes by faith.
Until next time when we consider: God’s Grace.
For Christ Alone,