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12. Mercy is also an attribute of benevolence. This term expresses a state of feeling, and represents a phenomenon of the sensibility. Mercy is often understood to be synonymous with compassion, but then it is not rightly understood.
Mercy, considered as a phenomenon of the will, is a disposition to pardon crime. Such is the nature of benevolence, that it will seek the good even of those who deserve evil, when this can be wisely done. It is "ready to forgive" (Psalms 86:5), to seek the good of the evil and unthankful, and to pardon when there is repentance. It is good will viewed in relation to one who deserves punishment. Mercy, considered as a feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, is a desire for the pardon or good of one who deserves punishment. It is only a feeling, a desire; of course it is involuntary, and has, in itself, no moral character.
Mercy will, of course, manifest itself in action, and in effort to pardon, or to procure a pardon, unless the attribute of wisdom prevent. It may be unwise to pardon, or to seek the pardon of a guilty one. In such cases, as all the attributes of benevolence must necessarily harmonize, no effort will be made to realize its end. It was this attribute of benevolence, modified and limited in its exercise by wisdom and justice, that energized in providing the means, and in opening the way, for the pardon of our guilty race.
As wisdom and justice are also attributes of benevolence, mercy can never manifest itself by efforts to secure its end, except in a manner and upon conditions that do not set aside justice and wisdom. No one attribute of benevolence is or can be exercised at the expense of another, or in opposition to it. The moral attributes of God, as has been said, are only attributes of benevolence, for benevolence comprehends and expresses the whole of them. From the term benevolence we learn, that the end upon which it fixes is good. And we must infer, too, from the term itself, that the means are unobjectionable; because it is absurd to suppose that good would be chosen because it is good, and yet that the mind that makes this choice should not hesitate to use objectionable and injurious means to obtain its end. This would be a contradiction, to will good for its own sake, or out of regard to its intrinsic value, and then choose injurious means to accomplish this end. This cannot be. The mind that can fix upon the highest well-being of God and the universe as an end, can never consent to use efforts for the accomplishment of this end that are seen to be inconsistent with it, that is, that tend to prevent the highest good of being.
Mercy, I have said, is the readiness of benevolence to pardon the guilty. But this attribute cannot go out in exercise, but upon conditions that consist with the other attributes of benevolence. Mercy as a mere feeling would pardon without repentance or condition; would pardon without reference to public justice. But viewed in connection with the other attributes of benevolence, we learn that, although a real attribute of benevolence, yet it is not and cannot be exercised, without the fulfillment of those conditions that will secure the consent of all the other attributes of benevolence. This truth is beautifully taught and illustrated in the doctrine and fact of atonement, as we shall see. Indeed, without consideration of the various attributes of benevolence, we are necessarily all in the dark, and in confusion, in respect to the character and government of God, the spirit and meaning of His law, the spirit and meaning of the gospel, our own spiritual state, and the developments of character around us. Without an acquaintance with the attributes of love or benevolence, we shall not fail to be perplexed to find apparent discrepancies in the Bible and in the divine administration and in the manifestation of Christian character, both as revealed in the Bible, and as exhibited in common life. For example: how universalists have stumbled for want of consideration upon this subject! God is love! Well, without considering the attributes of this love, they infer that if God is love, He cannot hate sin and sinners. If He is merciful, He cannot punish sinners in hell, etc. Unitarians have stumbled in the same way. God is merciful; that is, disposed to pardon sin. Well, then, what need of an atonement? If merciful He can and will pardon upon repentance without atonement. But we may inquire, if He is merciful, why not pardon without repentance? If His mercy alone is to be taken into view, that is, simply a disposition to pardon, that by itself would not wait for repentance. But if repentance is, and must be, a condition of the exercise of mercy, may there not be, nay, must there not be, other conditions of its exercise? If wisdom and public justice are also attributes of benevolence, and conditionates the exercise of mercy, and forbid that it should be exercised but upon condition of repentance, why may they not, nay, why must they not, equally conditionates its exercise upon such a satisfaction of public justice, as would secure as full and as deep a respect for the law, as the execution of its penalty would do? In other words, if wisdom and justice be attributes of benevolence, and conditionates the exercise of mercy upon repentance, why may and must they not also conditionate its exercise upon the fact of an atonement? As mercy is an attribute of benevolence, it will naturally and inevitably direct the attention of the intellect to devising ways and means to render the exercise of mercy consistent with the other attributes of benevolence. It will employ the intelligence in devising means to secure the repentance of the sinner, and to remove all the obstacles out of the way of its free and full exercise. It will also secure the state of feeling which is called mercy, or compassion. Hence it is certain, that mercy will secure efforts to procure the repentance and pardon of sinners. It will secure a deep yearning in the sensibility over them, and energetic action to accomplish its end, that is, to secure their repentance and pardon. This attribute of benevolence led the Father to give His only-begotten and well-beloved Son, and it led the Son to give Himself to die, to secure the repentance and pardon of sinners. It is this attribute of benevolence that leads the Holy Spirit to make such mighty and prolonged efforts to secure the repentance of sinners. It is also this attribute that energized in prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and saints of every age, to secure the conversion of the lost in sin. It is an amiable attribute. All its sympathies are sweet, and tender, and kind as heaven.