Is God pleased by Mercy more than Justice or Wrath? (Thomas Watson)

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Some say mercy is a more basic attribute than justice: mercy is what God prefers to show more than justice. Some will argue further with texts such as in Ezekiel that say God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked or in Micah that says that God delighteth in mercy.

We have Thomas Watson also say, "[2] God is more inclined to mercy, than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." Micah 7:18. Mercy pleases him. "It is delightful to the mother," says Chrysostom, "to have her breasts drawn; so it is to God to have the breasts of his mercy drawn." "Fury is not in me," that is, I do not delight in it. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:33.

The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked. Just so, God does not punish until he can bear no longer. "So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings." Mercy is God's right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his "strange work." He is not used to it. When the Lord would shave off the pride of a nation, he is said to use a hired razor, as if he had none of his own. "On that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave the head, the hair on the legs, and to remove the beard as well." Isaiah 7:20. "He is slow to anger," but "ready to forgive.""


Is Thomas Watson correct? If so, how does this mesh with God's freedom and divine simplicity? Shouldn't God be pleased with both mercy and justice? Shouldn't divine simplicity and divine freedom suggest that there is no one attribute of God that is exalted over another or is at the center of all the other attributes or that God by a necessity of nature favors over another?
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If so, how does this mesh with God's freedom and divine simplicity?

From the standpoint of the gospel revelation -- seek the Lord while He may be found, today is the day of salvation -- we hear the overtures of mercy. Justice is threatened against those who refuse these overtures. Mercy is at the forefront of the gospel revelation. There could be no hope for sinners otherwise.

Justice and mercy are sometimes described by the prophets as struggling with one another. We do not take this literally. God knows the thoughts He has towards His own. This kind of language shows God dealing with us according to our condition. It does not indicate any struggle within God Himself.

As long as we distinguish between God as He is in Himself and God as He reveals Himself to us according to our weak condition Watson's expression should pose no problem to divine simplicity.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
As long as we distinguish between God as He is in Himself and God as He reveals Himself to us according to our weak condition Watson's expression should pose no problem to divine simplicity.

So true, though the distinction (in se vs. as He reveals Himself) in my opinion has generally been lost...even among most of our Pastors In my most humble opinion. If not "lost" then not taught, for fear of being labeled as some type of freak.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
The question reminds me of a wonderful soul saving sermon by Christmas Evans (1776). He was remarkable in the illustrations he used, and preached 13,145 sermons in his lifetime. He would show mercy and justice as friends to satisfy the Law. Worth reading an excerpt from it on, www.sermon index.net entitled "The world as a graveyard" by Christmas Evans.( He was born on Christmas Day!)
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I quoted Thomas Watson in the OP. If he is speaking how God reveals himself rather than how he is, there is no problem.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Does God reveal Himself in a way other than He is? Does He paint us a certain picture of Himself when in reality He is far different from that picture that He gives? God's self-revelation tells us about Himself. He tells us about Himself in accommodated fashion, but He still tells us about Himself.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
Does God reveal Himself in a way other than He is? Does He paint us a certain picture of Himself when in reality He is far different from that picture that He gives? God's self-revelation tells us about Himself. He tells us about Himself in accommodated fashion, but He still tells us about Himself.

Can you tell me what part of the accommodated part God is, as He is, in His divine essence?
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Does God reveal Himself in a way other than He is? Does He paint us a certain picture of Himself when in reality He is far different from that picture that He gives? God's self-revelation tells us about Himself. He tells us about Himself in accommodated fashion, but He still tells us about Himself.
Does God have wings, eyes, hands, feet? Does God repent? Does God have passions? Does God have thoughts? Must God come down from heaven to gain knowledge?

On the other hand, the Scriptures also reveal that God is a Spirit, does all his pleasure, does all things according to the good pleasure of his will, is not a man that he should repent, I AM that I AM, and is God blessed forever. God's self-revelation tells us this about himself too. This too is accommodated to our human capacities, but he still tells us about himself.

If God was pleased more by mercy than justice in and of himself (as opposed to accommodated language), what prevents God from showing mercy on all, so as to maximize his pleasure? Why will God be satisfied with less than maximal pleasure? He has the power to convert all souls without harming the liberty of their will. Being an eternal being, such dis-satisfaction and unfulfilled desire will last forever; contrary to God being blessed forever.

I have seen discussions in the past that you have had with more studied minds than mine (indeed, this seems to me basically one of the same points at issue in the "well-meant" offer debate and the differences between the secret and revealed will), and if I recall correctly, you may hold to "paradox" to resolve the problem; I doubt anything I say on the matter has not been said before. But the point remains the same as in discussions past: God's self-revelation tells us about himself, but some things God reveals ought to be understood as revealing what he is, while other things ought to be understood as revealing what man ought to think of God in his covenant relation to him, how man should respond, what God does, and what God wills.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Ramon,

God's self-revelation tells us about Himself. Of course it is accommodated and of course God doesn't have eyes, but He has revealed these things to us for a reason - to demonstrate his omniscience. Thus we learn from every verse God talks about Himself and must abide by His revealed will and believe it to be true in at least some sense, lest we say God misleads us by His Word about Himself.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Pergamum said:
Thus we learn from every verse God talks about Himself and must abide by His revealed will and believe it to be true in at least some sense, lest we say God misleads us by His Word about Himself.
Yes, all agree with this. The sense that I questioned and am rejecting is that God is pleased more by mercy in and of himself (as that sense creates struggle in and of himself), even as all would reject that God repents in and of himself (as that also creates struggle in and of himself).
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
On the other hand, the Scriptures also reveal that God is a Spirit, does all his pleasure, does all things according to the good pleasure of his will, is not a man that he should repent, I AM that I AM, and is God blessed forever. God's self-revelation tells us this about himself too. This too is accommodated to our human capacities, but he still tells us about himself.

Do we understand God doing all of His good pleasure through the confines of finite human capacities, or do we admit that even His will to infallibly bring something to pass is language accommodated to our weaknesses? If we understand His pleasure as an accommodation and promote that our knowledge is ectypal, then there is no real paradox in accepting that there is a sense that He wills something and another sense in which He does not will the same thing. There is only a problem when we funnel God through the finite and act as if we have an archetypal knowledge of His will. Both representations teach us positive truths about God. Our inability to reconcile these truths completely should be expected if we make a proper ectypal/archetypal distinction. Does our insistence that one representation trumps the other magnify His self revelation or confine Him to our puny little brains?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Truth cannot be contradictory. Its non-contradictory nature is what enables us to distinguish truth from falsehood.

The reformed have adopted categorical distinctions in order to avoid contradiction, and one of those categorical distinctions is the use of anthropomorphism or anthropopathism in contrast with literal speech. God is perfect. Any predication that entails imperfection must be understood as an accommodation to human weakness, while any predication that reflects perfection should be taken as belonging to God Himself.
 
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timfost

Puritan Board Senior
The contradiction arises because of the inability to reconcile a truth with an untruth. The reformed have adopted categorical distinctions in order to avoid contradiction, and one of those categorical distinctions is the use of anthropomorphism or anthropopathism in contrast with literal speech. God is perfect. Any speech that entails imperfection must be understood as an accommodation to human weakness, while any speech that reflects perfection should be taken as referring to what belongs to God Himself.

If somebody said that they were three persons in one, we might say that person had a personality disorder. If we can call this disorder imperfection, couldn't we similarly conclude that the Trinity was an imperfection and thus not literal? If the Trinity is not an imperfection but is the very Essence of God-- though incomprehensible-- why must we deny incomprehensibility when it comes to the will of Him who is incomprehensible?

Shouldn't our theology bow to the God it studies and not the other way around?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
God's will is knowable. He has made it known in holy Scripture. By means of holy Scripture I can know that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. By means of this truth I can know that one who denies Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is speaking a falsehood. If I were to allow contradictory truths I could not know what falsehood is.

The doctrine of the Trinity utilises the categorical distinction of substance and subsistence so as to avoid contradiction.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Calvin declares that there is no contradiction, though because of our feebleness, we cannot reconcile a singular will that seems manifold.

"He makes no pretence of not willing what he wills, but while in himself the will is one and undivided, to us it appears manifold, because, from the feebleness of our intellect, we cannot comprehend how, though after a different manner, he wills and wills not the very same thing. Paul terms the calling of the Gentiles a hidden mystery, and shortly after adds, that therein was manifested the manifold wisdom of God, (Eph 3: 10) Since, on account of the dullness of our sense, the wisdom of God seems manifold, (or, as an old interpreter rendered it, multiform,) are we, therefore, to dream of some variation in God, as if he either changed his counsel, or disagreed with himself? Nay, when we cannot comprehend how God can will that to be done which he forbids us to do, let us call to mind our imbecility, and remember that the light in which he dwells is not without cause termed inaccessible, (1Ti 6: 16) because shrouded in darkness."

Let it be clear the reformed do not believe this to be an actual contradiction in God, but I would plead with you, Rev. Winzer, to call to mind "our imbecility" in this regard.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Calvin taught God wills that to be done which He forbids us. It is not a lack of will. There are no unfulfilled desires in God. Things which are stated as mere wishes are spoken according to human weakness, according to Calvin. He regularly deferred to accommodation to explain expressions of weakness. His appeal to incomprehensibility is to support his statement on accommodation, not to argue that we have to accept contradictions.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
James Buchanan, Analogy, pp. 538-539:

"For our own part, we can believe in Mysteries however profound, but we cannot believe in palpable contradictions. We hold that there neither are, nor can be, contradictory truths, although there are many errors which are really opposed to the truth, but which, under the semblance of truth, may impose upon the human mind. We cannot believe that the human mind is so constituted as to be capable of believing two contradictory statements, and assenting to them as equally true, when they are seen and known to be contradictory. In such a case, instead of believing both statements, it will believe neither; and will rather take refuge in utter Scepticism, than acknowledge that one truth, even as perceived by itself, can be at variance with any other truth. It will suspect that one or other of the two is, not a truth, but an error. And accordingly in every instance in which there are alleged to be contradictory truths, the mind instinctively seeks to show that they are not really such, — by proving, either, that one of them is not true, or that, if both be true, they involve no real contradiction. For instance, the supposed contradiction between the principle that 'every event must have a cause,' and the fact of 'our originality as agents,' — which is strangely represented as implying, not only that 'action is original in us,' but also that it 'has no cause,' — is sufficiently obviated by the doctrine which teaches that 'events fall out according to the nature of second causes, necessarily, contingently, or freely.' According to this doctrine, there is no contrariety, either between the agency of a first cause, and the operation of a second, — or between the two ideas of Divine power and human Free-will; and no pretence, therefore, for saying that the one of these, respectively, is contradictory to the other. There may be a mystery — something that is partly intelligible, and something also which is altogether incomprehensible — in the relation between first and second causes, and especially in the relation between the will of God and the will of man, — but assuredly there is no contradiction involved in the supposition that each of the two is real and operative — the one as supreme, the other as subordinate. In like manner, the supposed contradiction between the certainty of the Divine foreknowledge and the contingency of future events, proceeds on the supposition, that what is contingent in the view of man, must be contingent also to the omniscience of God. In short, one or other of the contrasted doctrines is not true, or, if they be both true, they involve no real contradiction. Accordingly, in treating of the Mysteries of Revealed Religion, Divines of the most opposite sentiments have equally proceeded on the assumption of this truth. They have been at variance in other respects, but they have been at one in this, — that propositions which can be shown to be contradictory cannot both be true. Socinians have attempted to show that a contradiction is involved in the doctrine of those who hold the Unity of God, and yet hold also a Trinity in Unity; and their opponents have met them, — not by affirming that if the two positions were contradictory they might, nevertheless, be equally true, — but by showing that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not said to be one, eodem sensu or eodem respectu, in which they are said to be three. And so some Necessitarians have attempted to show that, God being the only Agent in nature, it would be contradictory to affirm the free agency, or the moral responsibility of man; and their opponents have met them, — not by affirming that, notwithstanding God’s being the sole agent in nature, man is nevertheless a moral and responsible subject of His government, — but by denying the truth of that supposition, and affirming that man is a free agent, subordinate to, but also distinct from, the First Cause, and that his actions 'fall out according to his nature,' as a free, intelligent, moral, and responsible subject of the Divine government. And so, in all other cases, Mysteries are acknowledged, but not Contradictory Truths."
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
There are no unfulfilled desires in God? yes, and no.

"One answer is found in a distinction between God's preceptive will and his decretive will.

Consider Exodus 4:21-23 and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. God, through Moses, will command Pharaoh to let the people go. That is God's preceptive will, i.e., his will of precept or command. It is what God says should happen. Others refer to this as God's revealed will or his moral will. But God also says he will harden Pharaoh's heart so that he will refuse to let the people go. That is God's decretive will, i.e., his will of decree or purpose. It is what God has ordained shall happen. It is also called his hidden will or sovereign will or efficientwill. "Thus what we see [in Exodus] is that God commands that Pharaoh do a thing that God himself wills not to allow. The good thing that God commands he prevents. And the thing he brings about involves sin" (John Piper, "Are There Two Wills in God?" 114).

Thus, God's decretive will refers to the secret, all-encompassing divine purpose according to which he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. His preceptive will refers to the commands and prohibitions in Scripture. One must reckon with the fact that God may decree what he has forbidden. That is to say, his decretive will may have ordained that event x shall occur, whereas Scripture, God's preceptive will, orders that event x should notoccur.


John Frame put it this way:

"God's will is sometimes thwarted because he wills it to be, because he has given one of his desires precedence over another" (No Other God, 113).

"God does not intend to bring about everything he values, but he never fails to bring about what he intends" (113).



Or again: God is often pleased to ordain his own displeasure."
http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-there-two-wills-in-god
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
According to the two will theory of Piper and Frame God wishes things He does not will. Calvin calls this Epicurean: "If he be regarded as occupying an intermediate position between doing and suffering, so as to tolerate what he does not wish, then, according to the fancy of the Epicureans, he will remain unconcerned in the heavens. But if we admit that God is invested with prescience, that he superintends and governs the world which he has made, and that he does not overlook any part of it, it must follow that every thing which takes place is done according to his will." (Commentary on Psalm 115:3.) Contrary to the doctrine of duplicity taught by Piper and Frame, Calvin maintained the simplicity of God: "it is deserving of notice, that if God does whatsoever he pleases, then it is not his pleasure to do that which is not done." (Ibid.)
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Calvin declares that there is no contradiction, though because of our feebleness, we cannot reconcile a singular will that seems manifold.
This is not a proper exposition of the quotation you have given; at the very least, in the context of this discussion where we are discussing reconciling statements of Scripture according to rational categories, it is a vague exposition of the quotation. Calvin **does** reconcile the "two" wills: Calvin says that God wills something (volition/decree) that he forbids (prescription). And he speaks of the willing as being "after a different manner." Calvin is saying that the point at which the difficulty of reconcilement comes is not in understanding the different senses of the use "will" to refer to different things, but rather: If a thing is displeasing to God in and of itself, then why would he decree it to occur? This is the point of mystery (not contradiction). Of course, the Scriptures themselves reveal general principles for understanding such things (this is basically the problem of evil stated another way), but ultimately, the answer lies in God himself.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
This is the point of mystery (not contradiction). Of course, the Scriptures themselves reveal general principles for understanding such things (this is basically the problem of evil stated another way), but ultimately, the answer lies in God himself.

I agree with the above. I've maintained all along that it is not a contradiction.

I have adopted children. I love them dearly with the same love I have for my biological children. Am I glad that their biological parents had sex out of wedlock, bringing my children into the world? In one sense, yes and in another sense, no. Is this a contradiction?

I know that God uses bad instruments for good purposes. Certainly mysterious, but not contradictory.

Are you pleased your Savior suffered God's wrath on the tree?
 
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timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Some say mercy is a more basic attribute than justice: mercy is what God prefers to show more than justice. Some will argue further with texts such as in Ezekiel that say God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked or in Micah that says that God delighteth in mercy.

We have Thomas Watson also say, "[2] God is more inclined to mercy, than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy." Micah 7:18. Mercy pleases him. "It is delightful to the mother," says Chrysostom, "to have her breasts drawn; so it is to God to have the breasts of his mercy drawn." "Fury is not in me," that is, I do not delight in it. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:33.

The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked. Just so, God does not punish until he can bear no longer. "So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings." Mercy is God's right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his "strange work." He is not used to it. When the Lord would shave off the pride of a nation, he is said to use a hired razor, as if he had none of his own. "On that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave the head, the hair on the legs, and to remove the beard as well." Isaiah 7:20. "He is slow to anger," but "ready to forgive.""


Is Thomas Watson correct? If so, how does this mesh with God's freedom and divine simplicity? Shouldn't God be pleased with both mercy and justice? Shouldn't divine simplicity and divine freedom suggest that there is no one attribute of God that is exalted over another or is at the center of all the other attributes or that God by a necessity of nature favors over another?

Getting back to the OP, those suffering God's wrath are experiencing the end result of justice without mercy. I'm not persuaded that we can simply call wrath justice since justice has to do with a righteous judgment. God judges righteously all of Adam's posterity, whether finally found in Adam or Christ as their federal head. Justice requires both punishment and acquittal.

Mercy is exercised with justice, but justice without mercy produces wrath. Could God be more inclined to mercy as it is a demonstration of more of His attributes on the vessels of mercy?
 

NB3K

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've have been inclined to think that justice serves to magnify the riches of God's glorious grace.
 
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