All About Mercy*

Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath …”

~Portia to Shylock, in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

Benedict XIII decreed that German Catholics should greet each other with “Laudetur Jesus Christus“ (“Praised be Jesus Christ”), the response being “In aeternum! Amen” (“Forever, amen”), a salutation aptly fit for Protestants.

The word mercy is used in the Bible 214 times; it seems to be the favorite word of all Scripture. Sometimes it glances feebly on us like dew in the starlight; then with bolder hand it seems to build an arched bridge from one stormcloud of trouble to another; and then again it trickles like a fountain on the thirst of the traveler.

The finest roads I have ever seen§ are in Switzerland. They are built by the government, and at short intervals you come across water pouring out of the rocks. The government provides cups for men and troughs for the animals. And our King has so arranged it that on the highway we are traveling toward heaven, ever and anon there shall dash on us the clear, sweet water that flows from the eternal Rock.

I propose to tell you some things about God’s mercy.


First, think of His pardoning mercy. The gospel finds us shipwrecked; the wave beneath ready to swallow us, the storm above pelting us, our good works foundered, there is no such thing as getting ashore unhelped. The gospel finds us incarcerated; of all those who have been in thick dungeon darkness, not one soul ever escaped by his own power. If a soul is delivered at all, it is because someone on the outside shoved the bolt, opened the door, and freed the prisoner.

The sin of the soul is not, as some think, just a little dust on the knee or elbow that you can strike off in a moment, without any damage to you. Sin has utterly discomfited us; it has ransacked our entire nature; it has ruined us so completely that no human power can ever reconstruct us; but through the darkness of our prison gloom and through the storm there comes a voice from heaven, saying, “I will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).


Then think of His restraining mercy. I do not believe that it is possible for any man to tell his capacity for crime until he has been tested. There have been men who denounced all kinds of frauds, who scorned all mean transactions, who would have had you believe that it was impossible for them ever to be tempted to dishonesty, and yet they may be owning today the chief part of the stock in the Crédit Mobilier.

There are men who once said they never could be tempted to intemperance. They had no mercy on the drunkard. They despised any man who became a victim of strong drink. Time passed, and now they are the victims of the bottle, so far gone in their dissipation that it is almost impossible that they ever should be rescued.

So there have been those who were hard on all kinds of impurity, and who scoffed at unchastity, and who said that it was impossible that they should ever be led astray; but tonight they are in the house whose gates are the gates of hell! It is a dangerous thing for a man to make a boast and say, “Such and such a sin I never could be tempted to commit.”

There are 10,000 hands of mercy holding us up; there are 10,000 hands of mercy holding us back, or we would long ago have gone over the precipice, and instead of sitting tonight in a Christian sanctuary, amid the respected and the good, our song would have been that of the drunkard, or we would be “hail fellows well met” with the renegade and the profligate. Oh, the restraining mercy of God! Have you never celebrated it? Have you never rejoiced in it?


Think also of His guiding mercy. You have sometimes been on a journey, and come to where there were three roads—one ahead of you, one to the right, and one to the left. It was a lonely place, and you had no one of whom to ask advice. You took the left-hand road, thinking that was the right one, but before night you found out your mistake, and yet your horse was too exhausted and you were too tired to retrace your steps, and the mistake you made was an irretrievable mistake.

You come on in life, many a time, and find there are three or four or fifty roads, and which one of the fifty to take you do not know. Let me say that there are forty-nine chances out of fifty that you will take the wrong one, unless God directs you, since it is a great deal easier to do that which is wrong than that which is right, our nature being corrupt and depraved.

Blessed be God, we have a directory! As a man lost on the mountains takes out his map and sees the right road marked down, and makes up his mind what to do, so the Lord, in His gospel map, has said: “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Blessed be God for His guiding mercy!


Think also of the comforting mercy of God. In the days when men lived 500, 600, or 700 years, I suppose that troubles and misfortunes came to them at great intervals. Life did not go so fast. There were not so many changes or circumstances; there was not so much jostling. I suppose that now a man in forty years will have as many vexations and annoyances and hardships and trials and temptations as those Antediluvians had in 400 years.

No one escapes. If you are not wounded in this side, you must be wounded in that. There are foes all around about you. There is no one who has come up to this moment without having been cleft of misfortunes, without having been disappointed and vexed and outraged and trampled on.

The world comes and tries to solace us, but the most impotent thing on earth is human comfort when there is no gospel mixed with it. It is a sham and an insult to a wounded spirit—all the comfort that this world can offer a man; but in his time of darkness and perplexity and bereavement and persecution and affliction, Christ comes to him with the solace of His Spirit, and He says: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He tells the invalid, “There is a land where God shall wipe away all tears … and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). He says to the assaulted one, “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

He comes to the bereaved one and says: “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). And if the trouble be intricate, if there be so many prongs to it, so many horns to it, so many hoofs to it, that he cannot take any of the other promises and comforts of God’s Word to his soul, he can take that other promise made for a man in the last emergency and when everything else fails: “All things work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Oh, have you never sung of the comforting mercy of God?


Think also of His enthroning mercy. Notwithstanding there are so many comforts in Christ’s gospel, I do not think that we could stand the assault and rebuff of the world forever. We all were so weary of the last war [Civil War]. It seemed as if those four years [1861-65] were as long as any fifteen or twenty years of our life. But how could we endure 100 years, or 500 years, or 1,000 years of earthly assault? The spirit would wear down under the constant chafing.

Blessed be God, this story of grief and trouble and perplexity will come to an end! There are twelve gates to heaven (Revelation 21:12, 21), and they are all gates of mercy. There are paths coming into all those gates, and they are all paths of mercy. There are bells that ring in the eternal towers, and they are all chimes of mercy. There are mansions prepared for us (John 14:1-3) in this good land when we have done with the toils of earth, and all those mansions are mansions of mercy. Can you not now strike on your soul, saying, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, for His pardoning mercy, for His restraining mercy, for His guiding mercy, for His comforting mercy, for His enthroning mercy!”

“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God” ~Charles H Spurgeon

Copyright © 2018 Alexandra Lee

*Adapted from “All About Mercy,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], Around the Tea-Table (New York: Bible House, 1895). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.

§ In the days before automobiles and modern highways.


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