And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering…
"Behold the goodness and severity of God," says the Apostle Paul. In most cases the goodness is illustrated by one kind of events and the severity by another, but in Christ's work the same event of His death displayed the two sides of God's character alike and at once, and thus pardon was never offered to the guilty without a loud protest against sin. Now the pains taken to inculcate both these qualities through the entire Scriptures seem to point at something in man, some conception of character which he needs to have impressed upon him and which he ought to realize in his own life.
I. And in pursuing this subject we remark, first, THAT AMONG MEN HE WHO IS CAPABLE OF EXERCISING ONLY HARD, UNRELENTING JUSTICE IS HELD TO BE FAR FROM PERFECTION, AND CANNOT BE LOVED; WHILE, ON THE OTHER HAND, A CHARACTER IN WHICH BARE KINDNESS OR GOODNESS IS THE ONLY NOTICEABLE TRAIT SECURES NO RESPECT. Only where we see the two qualities united can we feel decided confidence and attachment. They do not check each other, as might be supposed, but add to each other's power. The indiscriminately kind man is felt to be weak; the harsh rigorous nature may have intellect in abundance, but fails to warm the souls of men. When united they form character, a character in which there is depth, the depth of intellect resting below temper and impulse on a foundation of wisdom and true excellence of heart. There can be no moral government among men without wisdom, for he who makes men good must look not at immediate impressions, but at results: he must take long stretches of time into view, and long series and interactions of causes shaping character. When did instinctive benevolence ever fail to thwart its own wishes and to corrupt its beneficiaries? The union of these opposites, where alone wisdom can be found, ensures the best government, and as every one must be in some way a governor, of a family, or a workshop, if not of a town or state, the whole of the vast interests of mankind depend on this union.
II. IF GOD IS TO BE HONOURED AND LOVED BY HUMAN BEINGS, HE MUST PRESENT HIMSELF TO OUR MINDS UNDER THE SAME TWOFOLD ASPECT. He must be seen in the light of those qualities which we may call by the name of justice, and of those to which we give the names of goodness, kindness, tenderness, or mercy. Sinners are recovered and reclaimed first by a sense of sin, and then by a perception of Divine love, and without the latter they would not think of their sins, or grow into that filial fear, that holy worship which the Psalmist intends. Only under this twofold aspect of God is true religion, the religion of the soul, possible.
III. We add thirdly, THAT IT INVOLVES A VERY HIGH DEGREE OF WISDOM TO KNOW WHEN TO BE JUST OR SEVERE, AND WHEN TO EXERCISE GOODNESS OR GRACE. It is a great problem to govern a nation; it is a greater to govern a virtuous universe; but a greater still is presented when the element of evil is thrown into the question, and the interests of the many come into conflict with the happiness of the sinful few. Especially when we look on God as training His creatures up for a higher condition; enlarging their powers, helping the strong to grow stronger, pitying the weak and revealing Himself as their forgiving God; then above all does it appear that the balances of the moral universe are exceedingly delicate, and that there is need of a hand, firm and wise beyond our thought, to hold them. No solution of the intricacies of things has been offered to man deserving of notice but that which Christ has made. The reconciliation of holiness and love in His work, its just, well-balanced training of the whole moral nature challenge our respect, our admiration, even if we will stand aloof from Christ. He is made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
IV. And now, having brought your minds to Christ, I close with the remark that HE UNITED THE TWO SIDES OF CHARACTER WHICH WE HAVE SPOKEN OF, IN THEIR DUE MIXTURE, IN HIS ONE PERSON. And it is well worthy of being remarked that their union proves their genuineness and their depth. He who could love so and forgive so, notwithstanding His deep sense of the sin, what strength of character must He have had, what a depth and truth of love, what a power of loving, what an inexhaustible richness of soul! And He who could rebuke so and show such strong displeasure against evil doing, how hard, humanly speaking, must it have been for Him to love objects so far from loveliness; and if He loved them as He did, must not His love have been of another kind than ours, one superior to personal slights and injuries, wholly unlike instinctive kindness of temper, partaking of a quality of lofty wisdom!
(T. D. Woolsey.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
WEB: Yahweh passed by before him, and proclaimed, "Yahweh! Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth,