In the closing paragraphs of our March cover-page article, reference was made to the faithfulness of God; here we propose to engage the reader with another of His excellencies--one of which every Christian has received innumerable proofs. We turn unto a consideration of God's loving-kindness, because it is our desire and aim to maintain a due proportion in treating of the divine perfections, for all of us are very apt to entertain one-sided ideas and views of the same.
There is a balance to be preserved here (as everywhere), as appears in those two summarized statements of the divine attributes, "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "God is love" (1 John 4:8). The sterner and more awe-inspiring aspects of the divine character--are offset by the gentler and more winsome ones. It is to our irreparable loss if our minds dwell almost exclusively on God's sovereignty and majesty, or His holiness and justice; we need to meditate frequently (though not exclusively!) upon His goodness and mercy. Nothing short of a full-orbed view of the divine perfections--as they are revealed in Holy Writ--should content us.
Scripture speaks of "the multitude of his loving kindnesses" (Isaiah 63:7), and who is capable of numbering them? Said the Psalmist, "How excellent is your loving-kindness, O God!" (Psalm 36:7) No pen of man, no tongue of angel, can adequately express it.
We read of God's "marvelous loving-kindness" (Psalm 17:7), and surely it truly is. Familiar as may be this blessed attribute of God's unto people--yet is it something entirely peculiar unto divine revelation. None of the ancients ever dreamed of investing his gods with any such endearing perfection as this. None of the objects worshiped by present-day heathens is conceived of as possessed of gentleness and tenderness: very much the reverse, as the hideous features of their idols exhibit! Philosophers regard it as a serious reflection upon the honor of the Absolute--to ascribe such qualities unto it. But the Scriptures have much to say upon God's loving-kindness, or His paternal favor unto His people, and His tender affection towards them. The first time this divine perfection is mentioned in the Word is in that wondrous and glorious manifestation of Deity which was vouchsafed unto Moses, when Jehovah proclaimed His "Name"--that is Himself as made known. "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" (Exo 34:6); though much more frequently the Hebrew word, chesed, is rendered "kindness" and "loving-kindness."
In our English Bibles, the initial reference, as connected with God, is Psalm 17:7, where David prayed, "Display the wonders of Your loving-kindness!" Wondrous it truly is--that One so infinitely above us, so inconceivably glorious, so ineffably holy, should not only deign to notice such worms of the earth--but set His heart upon them, give His Son for them, send His Spirit to indwell them, and so bear with all their imperfections and waywardness as never to remove His loving-kindness from them.
Consider some of the evidences and exercises of this divine attribute unto the saints:
"In love, having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself" (Eph 1:4-5); and, as the previous verse shows, that love was engaged on their behalf before this world came into existence!
"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9), which was His amazing provision for us as fallen creatures.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you" (Jeremiah 31:3)--that is, drawn unto Myself, by the quickening operations of My Spirit, by the invincible power of My grace, by creating in you a deep sense of need, by attracting you by My winsomeness.
"I will betroth you unto me forever; yes, I will betroth you unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies" (Hos 2:19). Having made us willing in the day of His power to give up ourselves unto Him, the Lord enters into an everlasting marriage contract with us. This loving-kindness of the Lord is never removed from His children. To our reason and sense, it may appear to be so, yet it never is; for since the believer be in Christ, nothing can separate him from the love of God (Romans 8:39). God has solemnly engaged Himself by covenant, and our sins cannot make it void. God has sworn that if His children keep not His commandments, that He will "visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes"; yet He at once adds, "Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor allow my faithfulness to fail! My covenant will I not break" (Psalm 89:30-35).
The loving-kindness of God toward His people--is centered in Christ. It is because His exercise of loving-kindness is a covenant engagement that it is repeatedly linked to His "truth" (Psalm 40:11; 138:2), showing that it proceeds to us by promise, and therefore, we should never despair.
"For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the LORD that has mercy on you" (Isaiah 54:10). No! That covenant has been ratified by the blood of its Mediator, by which blood the enmity (occasioned by sin) has been removed and perfect reconciliation effected. God knows the thoughts which He entertains unto those embraced in His covenant and who have been reconciled to Him, namely, "thoughts of peace--and not of evil" (Jeremiah 29:11).
Therefore are we assured, "The LORD will command his loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me" (Psalm 42:8). What a promise is that! Not merely that the Lord will give or bestow--but command His loving-kindness! It is given by decree, bestowed by royal engagement, as He also commands "deliverances" (Psalm 44:4), "strength" (Psalm 68:28), "the blessing, even life for evermore" (Psalm 133:3), which announces that nothing can possibly hinder these bestowments.
Well then, may we exclaim, "Your loving-kindness is better than life!" (Psalm 63:3)
And what ought to be our response thereto?
FIRST, "Be therefore followers ["imitators"] of God, as dear children; And walk in love" (Eph 5:1-2). "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, affections of mercies, kindness" (Col 3:12). Thus it was with David: "Your loving-kindness is before my eyes: and I have walked in your truth" (Psalm 26:3). His mind was employed thereon, he delighted to ponder it, and it refreshed his soul to do so; yes, it molded his conduct.
The more we are occupied with God's goodness, the more careful shall we be about our obedience--the constraints of God's love and grace are more powerful to the regenerate, than the terrors of His Law!
"How excellent is your loving-kindness, O God! therefore both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings." (Psalm 36:7).
Thus, SECOND, a sense of this divine perfection strengthens faith and promotes confidence in God.
THIRD, it should stimulate the spirit of worship: "Because your loving-kindness is better than life--my lips shall praise you" (Psalm 63:3; Psalm 117).
FOURTH, it should be our cordial when depressed: "May your unfailing love [same Hebrew word] be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant." (Psalm 119:76). It was so with Christ in His anguish (Psalm 69:17).
FIFTH, it should be made our plea in prayer: "Quicken me, O LORD, according to your loving-kindness" (Psalm 119:159). David applied to that divine attribute for new strength and increased vigor.
SIXTH, it should be appealed to when we have fallen by the wayside: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness" (Psalm 51:1): deal with me according to the gentlest of Your attributes, make my case an exemplification of Your tenderness.
SEVENTH, it should be a petition in our evening devotions: "Cause me to hear your loving-kindness in the morning" (Psalm 143:8): arouse me with my soul in tune therewith, let my waking thoughts be of Your goodness!