Mic_7:18-20. Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon its; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.
TO acquire the knowledge of God we must study his word; but we should mark also particularly his works: e.g. of creation, providence, and redemption. The passage, if taken separately, is grand; but with the context it is infinitely more sublime. The prophet has been contemplating the glory of the latter day, and it is with an especial reference to that that he breaks forth into these strains of grateful adoration.
Let us consider the words,
As uttered by the prophet in the prospect of the mercies that await his people in the latter day—
To enter fully into his views we must mark,
The dispensation which he has been contemplating—
[He opens the subject of the Millennium, first, in a large and general view, (ch. 4:1–4.) He next shews the blessings of which the Jews shall partake in that day, (ver. 6, 7.) This, though accomplished in part at Babylon, (ver. 10.) is certainly posterior to Christ’s advent, as the events (ver. 11–13.) shew. It is to take place under the Christian dispensation, (ch. 5:2–4.) At this time the Jews are destined to act an important part, as God’s instruments for the conversion of the Gentiles, (ver. 7.) and for the subjugation of all opposers, (ver. 8, 9.) In the chapter before us, he represents, in moving terms, the Jews anticipating this period, (7:8–10.) Then, confirming this expectation as certainly to be fulfilled, (ver. 11–13.) he prays for it, (ver. 14.) To this prayer God returns a gracious answer, to the utter surprise and dismay of surrounding nations, (ver. 15–17.)]
The soliloquy in the contemplation of it—
[Picture to yourselves the prophet, or any other Jew, contemplating this event. He breaks forth into a devout ascription of praise, in a general view of the dispensation, (ver. 18.): in a view of the particular mercies that shall be vouchsafed under it, (ver. 19.) — — — in a view of the great result, (ver. 20.) — — —]
Now we may with propriety consider the words,
As uttered by a Christian in the review of his own daily experience—
Let us contemplate God in,
His mercy and loving-kindness—
[His people are a remnant, (Rom_11:5.) Towards them he exercises most stupendous mercy, “passing by their transgression,” “not retaining his anger,” “pardoning their iniquities.” He does so, purely because he “delights in mercy.” To him judgment is a “strange act.” He “waits to be gracious.” He deliberates long before he casts off any, (Hos_6:4.) He never casts off but with reluctance. (Luk_19:41.) If he prevail over any, he rejoices. (Luke 15.) How can we but exclaim, “Who, &c.”]
His power and grace—
[He continues with astonishing forbearance. They are prone to backslide from him; but he leaves them not to eat the fruit of their misconduct. He “turns again,” after hiding himself for a season, (Isa_54:7; Isa_57:16-18.) He restores to them the light of his countenance; nor does he pardon only, but “subdues their sins.” His very hidings are with a view to embitter sin. He renews their strength when faint, (Isa_40:29-31.); and gradually “perfects the work he has begun.” To complete all, he “casts their sins into the sea;” “all,” without exception, into “the depths” of the sea. Who can survey all this, and not exclaim, “Who, &c.”]
His truth and faithfulness—
[His promises, as made to Abraham and his seed, are “mercy.” As confirmed to Jacob and his Church, they are “truth.” They have been established with the sanction of an “oath.” And they will be fulfilled “to all the seed.” How will every glorified soul admire the Divine procedure in that day! — — — What energy will the sight of sins forgiven, of backslidings healed, of glory bestowed, give to the exclamation in the text!]
Let the careless, consider against whom their sins are committed—
[Will they never pause, and exclaim, as Joseph? (Gen_39:9.]
Let the penitent reflect on the description given of God in the Scriptures—
[Nor let them judge of him by the dictates of sense. Isa_55:8-9.]
Let the sincere believer apply to himself that congratulation (Deu_33:29.)
[Let him get a becoming frame of mind; and let him adopt that triumphant boast. Isa_25:9.]
Let all contemplate the joy that will be felt when Jews and Gentiles all join in this ascription of praise.
GOD’S MERCY, AS RESERVED FOR THE JEWS
Mic_7:18-20. Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again; he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities: and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old [Note: This Discourse is added to the foregoing, not only in order to elucidate it more fully, but especially in order to mark the connexion of the text with the future restoration and conversion of the Jews.].
TO acquire the knowledge of God, we must examine what is spoken of him in his word; and more especially the delineation which he has given of his own character, when, by an audible voice, he revealed himself to Moses [Note: Exo_34:6-7.]. Yet we must by no means overlook his character, as it is embodied in his works. In the works of creation, of providence, and of redemption, all his perfections are displayed; and in such a way as to make the deepest possible impression on our minds. The passage which we have just read, if taken apart from the context, exhibits Jehovah in the most glorious colours: but if we take it in connexion with the whole preceding prophecy, from which it results, it will present us with a view of the Deity surprisingly grand. It is evident that the prophet has been meditating on the Divine character as displayed in some stupendous acts of mercy, either already exercised, or designed to be exercised at some future period. Let us, then consider,
The dispensation which is here contemplated—
The Prophet Micah enters very fully into the subject of the Millennium, and opens it as circumstantially, especially as far as the Jewish nation are interested in it, as any prophet whatever. Let us hear what he says respecting it,
In the former part of his prophecy—
[In the fourth chapter he opens the subject nearly in the same terms with the Prophet Isaiah: “In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob: and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not rise against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts hath spoken it [Note: Mic_4:1-4. with Isa_2:2-4.].”
He then proceeds to show the blessings of which the Jews shall partake in that day: “In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth; and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted: and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever [Note: Mic_4:6-7.].” This, he adds, shall be accomplished, in part, by their deliverance from Babylon [Note: Mic_4:10.]: but yet, in immediate connexion with that, he foretells events which were not accomplished at that period, nor shall be till the time fixed for their future restoration to their own land: “Now, also, many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. But they know not the thoughts of the Lord; neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. Arise, and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass; and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth [Note: Mic_4:11-13.].” Nothing like this was effected at any time subsequent to the Babylonish Captivity: and therefore we must, of necessity, look to some future period for its accomplishment. But the prophet himself goes on to declare, that these glorious events were not to take place till after that the Messiah should have been born at Bethlehem: “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he (the Messiah) shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they (the Jewish remnant) shall abide: for NOW shall he be great unto the ends of the earth [Note: Mic_4:2-4.]. This shall be the time for the universal reign of Christ: at which time the Jews are destined to act a most conspicuous part upon the theatre of the world; being, on the one hand, God’s instruments for the conversion of the Gentile world; and, on the other hand, his agents for the destruction of all who shall oppose his will: “The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men. The remnant of Jacob shall also be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many people, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep; who, if he go through, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off [Note: Mic_5:7-9.].” Now, in this passage we have a complete summary of all that shall take place in that day. The whole world of Jews and Gentiles shall be converted to Christ; but the Jews shall lead the way, and be God’s honoured instruments for bringing in the Gentiles; by whom, in the first instance, they shall be fiercely opposed; but over whom they shall triumph with immense slaughter, and with the same facility as a lion triumphs over a flock of sheep.
Not less fully does the prophet speak also,]
In the chapter before us—
[He represents, in very moving terms, the Jew anticipating this blessed period: “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, Where is the Lord thy God? Mine eyes shall behold her: now shall she be trodden down, as the mire of the streets [Note: ver. 8–10.].” Then, after confirming this expectation as certainly to be fulfilled at the time appointed for the termination of their present sufferings [Note: ver. 11–13.], he himself cries to God in their behalf: “Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old [Note: ver. 14.].” And to this prayer God returns a most gracious answer; declaring, that he would interpose for them as wonderfully and effectually as he did for them at the time of their deliverance from Egypt, to the utter surprise and dismay of all surrounding nations: “According to the days of thy coming out of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things. The nations shall see, and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf: they shall lick the dust like a serpent; they shall move out of their holes, like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee [Note: ver. 15–17.].”
Thus it is that the words of my text are introduced: they arise altogether out of the foregoing subject, and ought to be considered in connexion with it. Let us then next mark,]
The soliloquy uttered in the contemplation of it—
The soliloquy may be regarded as proceeding from the prophet himself, or from any pious and believing Jew.
Picture to yourselves, then, a Jew contemplating this event—
[He breaks forth into a devout ascription of praise to God: first, in a general view of the dispensation; then, in a view of the particular mercies that shall be vouchsafed under it; and, lastly, in a view of the great result. Let us follow him in each successive step.
‘Who is a God like unto thee, O Lord, who dealest thus with the remnant of thine heritage? As thine “heritage,” we were bound to serve thee: and as a “remnant” preserved from so many dangers, we were still more bound to manifest the greatness of our obligations to thee. Yet have we been a rebellious people from the day that thou calledst us. Our sins against thee have been greatly multiplied: but most of all have we deserved thy wrathful indignation for our rejection of thine only dear Son, whom thou didst send to be our Saviour and Redeemer. I am amazed that thou shouldest “pardon such iniquities,” and “pass by such inconceivable transgressions.” But I trace it to thine own love of mercy. It would have been impossible but that thou must have “retained thine anger” for ever, if it had depended on us to get it removed: but within thine own bosom thou hast found motives which could have been found no where else: and I am beyond measure astonished that ever thou shouldst contemplate such mercy towards thine offending people.
‘The things which are so indispensable to our happiness, thou hast of thine own mercy decreed to give. Though we have so provoked thee to anger by our unparalleled iniquities, yet “wilt thou turn again, and have compassion upon us;” subduing for us the sins which have led us captive, and “casting into the very depths of the sea” the sins which have subjected us to thy displeasure. Once we saw our enemies subdued, and dead upon the sea-shore: and our sins, which are infinitely more formidable enemies, wilt thou treat in the same way, making us happy monuments of thine unbounded power and grace. O Lord, I look forward to that blissful period with eager expectation, and adore thee from my inmost soul, that thou hast such blessings in reserve for us.
‘Then shall all thy promises to our nation be fulfilled in their utmost extent. To Abraham they were the fruits of “mercy,” of free, unmerited mercy altogether: but to Jacob they were memorials of thy “truth;” seeing that thou hadst made them over to Abraham and his seed, by covenant and by oath. Then shall all that thou hast “sworn” receive its full accomplishment. Then shall the seed of Abraham possess, to a far greater extent than they have ever yet done, their promised inheritance; and, at the same time, “in him shall also all the nations of the earth be blessed.” When I look forward to these glorious events, I am altogether lost in wonder, love, and praise.’]
But, as we also are interested in this salvation, let us also contemplate God’s perfections as displayed in it—
[Here we may see distinctly marked, yea, written as with a sun-beam, his mercy and loving-kindness, his power and grace, his truth and faithfulness.
How greatly have we provoked him to anger, times without number! Yet “will he not retain his anger against us,” but “will pass by our transgressions,” yea, and “pardon them,” and “blot them out as a morning cloud;” and solely “because he delighteth in mercy.” It shall be in him altogether an act of sovereign love. Nothing have we ever done to merit it; nor is it possible for us, by any thing that we ever can do, to merit it: but the motives which he cannot derive from us, he will find within his own bosom: “he will have mercy, because he will have mercy; and will have compassion, because he will have compassion.”
And what is there that he will not do for us? Verily, there is no limit either to his power or grace. Has the guilt of sin subjected us to his heavy displeasure? and is it like a millstone around our necks, ready to sink us into the bottomless abyss of hell? He will cancel it; and “put it away from us, as far as the east is from the west;” yea, “and cast it behind him irrecoverably into the very depths of the sea;” so that to us, no less than unto the Jews, shall that gracious promise be fulfilled, “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve [Note: Jer_50:20.];” Nor is this all. He well knows that sin, if suffered to retain its power over us, would still be, as it were, a hell within us, and infallibly plunge us into everlasting perdition: he therefore takes to him his mighty power, and, by the effectual operation of his grace, subdues it in us; so that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds, and are “transformed into his image in righteousness and true holiness.” Thus, whilst he delivers us from hell, “he makes us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.”
And where is the person who ever laid hold on his covenant, and has not had it fulfilled to him in all its parts? No, verily: God has said, “I will never leave thee; never, never forsake thee:” and he is faithful to his word; nor has one jot or tittle of it ever failed. No, blessed Lord; to the final accomplishment of thy promises we look with unutterable joy. And, when we are once arrived at that promised land, the heavenly Canaan, O! what wonders of truth and faithfulness shall we have to contemplate! We shall view the acquisition doubtless as “mercy,” in the first instance; but we shall view it also as “truth:” for “thou hast sworn” to give it to thy believing people: and thou didst “confirm thy promise with an oath, on purpose that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for thee to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to the hope that is set before us [Note: Heb_6:18.].” Lord, keep us unto that day; and “fulfil unto every one of us that word wherein thou hast caused us to put our trust!”]
A reflection or two shall close our subject—
If such be the prospects of the Jew, in what a noble work are they engaged who are helping forward the attainment of them!
[God sent a Moses and an Aaron to bring his people out of Egypt. And shall he use no means to gather them from their present dispersion, and to restore them to the enjoyment of his favour? The whole Scriptures attest the contrary; and assuredly, when the time draws near, he will find persons to send to them, and will bless to the intended end their benevolent endeavours. What then should be our state in reference to them? Should we not say with the Prophet Isaiah, “Here am I: send me?” It is much to be lamented, that the Christian world feel a backwardness to this work, far beyond any which they feel in reference to the Gentiles. But wherefore is this? Has not God engaged to bring them to himself? And is he not as able to effect their salvation, as the salvation of the Gentile world? The truth is, that this backwardness is a remnant of that hatred and contempt which have subsisted against the Jews these eighteen hundred years, and have not even yet been dispelled by the kindlier offices of love. It is a scandal, however, to the Christian world, that this neglect of them should continue, in the midst of all the light which we now enjoy. It is a shame to ministers that they do not more unfold to their people the purposes of God respecting them; and to private Christians, that they never study the Prophecies relating to them. But I appeal to all of you: Is it not desirable that the glorious prospects of the Jews should be realized, and that Almighty God should receive the glory due unto his name? If, when Israel was saved from Egypt, they sang, “Who is like unto thee, O God, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” should we not labour, that more elevated songs of praise should be poured forth to him on account of that infinitely greater deliverance reserved for them? I call upon you, then, to unite in this blessed work. I call upon you to anticipate the event with confidence, and to help it forward with zeal.]
If such be the feelings of a Jew, in the mere anticipation of those promised mercies, what should ours be, who are in the actual possession of them?
[Thanks be to God! we are in possession of them. We know what it is to have “our iniquities forgiven, and our sins covered:” yea, we know what it is to “have peace with God, and to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Greatly as God has been provoked by us, we know that “his anger is turned away from us, and that he has comforted us.” True it is, that, at the period before referred to, these blessings will be enjoyed in a far higher degree; for, “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound [Note: Isa_30:26.].” But still our privileges are exceeding great: and we should contemplate them, not with indifference or with some transient emotions of joy: no; we should feel ourselves altogether overwhelmed with a sense of God’s goodness to us; and, in the spirit of our minds at least, if not in the audible expressions, we should be saying day and night, “O God, who is like unto thee?” I must say, that, if this be not our state, we are far from appreciating God’s mercy to us as we ought. And I call on all of you so to meditate on his kindness to you, that your present sense of it may be a foretaste of heaven, and your songs of thanksgiving be a recital of those which you shall sing for ever in the realms of bliss.
I know, indeed, that the trembling sinner feels it difficult to view God in this endearing light. But I would ask of any one, what evidence would you wish for of God’s disposition to forgive sin? Can you have greater evidence of it than in God’s promised return to his outcast people, even to that people who imbrued their hands in the blood of his only dear Son, and have for so many hundreds of years cast all possible odium upon his name? I say then, Hear the Jew speaking in my text, and adopt his language in reference to yourselves. And know, that, as God will return to the Jewish people in due season, so shall “mercy rejoice over judgment,” in reference to you: and, as they shall yet become most distinguished monuments of his mercy and truth, so shall mercy and truth abound towards you, and God be glorified in you for ever and ever. If there be here any one who is ready to suppose that the magnitude and long-continuance of his sins preclude a possibility of obtaining mercy, I would say to him, Though thou hadst upon thine own individual soul all the sins that ever were committed by the whole Jewish nation, if thou hadst even murdered the Son of God himself, and persisted in thy hatred of him eighteen hundred years; yet, on thy desiring to obtain mercy, thou shouldst find God all that he is represented to thee in the text. Let this saying sink down into your ears; and trembling as you are, your sorrows shall all be turned into joy.]