The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”(Exodus 34:5–7)
The great proclaiming of the name of God continues, and we move to two words which have a similar thrust: merciful and gracious.
When we look at these words, it is important to understand that they tell us both something about God and also something about ourselves. The things they tell us about God are plain to see: God demonstrates mercy; God is gracious. We have a God, after all, who sent his only Son to die so that those who place their faith and trust in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. What mercy! What grace! We have a God who forgives sin, and a God who pours out blessings. A God who has made himself known to us, a God who humbled himself and took on human flesh.
It is easy, when we think, to see the vast storehouses of grace which are piled up in the barns of heaven, to see the great handfuls of mercy which are scattered upon the earth. In fact, if anything we have allowed the mercy of God to obscure his justice. Do you think of God’s mercy overwhelming his justice? A God who turns a blind eye?
Well, consider the second aspect of these words: what they tell you about yourself. When my payslip from the Church Commissioners wafts down onto my doormat, I don’t see it as an act of grace or mercy! No, I have a contract with the church. I have worked hard, and the payslip is an acknowledgement of that. If, however, the bishop in a rush of blood to the head decided to give me a bonus - perhaps a holiday to the Bahamas - then I would see that as a great act of grace! I didn’t deserve it, but I was given it anyway.
If you see God as gracious and merciful, you necessarily see yourself as one who is in need of grace and mercy. Grace is undeserved, and so is mercy. That’s what makes them such a magnificently overwhelming gift. Why could Newton write “Amazing Grace” because he knew he was a “wretch”!
The more realistic you are about yourself, the more grace you see falling from the hands of God