Law and Mercy

Exodus 33‑34  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
XO 33-34{ A paper upon the same subject, in a recent number of "Words of Faith," has suggested, as will easily be seen, the present one, in which any difference of statement that may be found, or any real divergence of thought, may help to bring out the more (for those who will weigh all before God) some not unimportant truth.
First, let us notice, as to the book of Exodus, what is true of every other book of its class, that it has a double meaning, being at the same time a literal history, and a book of types; and that these latter are not disconnected and fragmentary, but a complete and connected series. The literal and the typical interpretation have, of course, to be kept distinct in our minds, otherwise any clear apprehension of the book is impossible. But everywhere the one underlies the other, the divisions of the book being the same for each. It thus divides into two parts at the end of chapter 18, the former part giving the complete redemption of the people from the land of bondage; the second, the Lord's own taking His place among them as their Lawgiver and King. It is with the latter part we have now to do, and this has necessarily a very different significance, according as we view it in letter or in spirit, as fact or as type.
As literal history, the giving of the law was the trial of man- a trial which could have but one issue, in the sentence afterward pronounced, "none righteous," "none that doeth good." As type, it is the expression of that government of God over His redeemed, in subjection to which lies our true freedom- a "law of liberty," as scripture calls it. We thus understand the preface to the ten commandments, in which He who gives them distinctly takes the place of the Redeemer.
Literally taken, the law- twice given in this book- is man's double testing: the first proving him "ungodly;" the second, "without strength." The first is pure law, which, before they receive it out of the mount, is already broken. They are but under the curse, and Moses takes the tabernacle, and pitches it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and calls it ‘the tent of meeting;’ for all that sought the Lord had now to go outside the camp to meet Him. For the first time the glory of God had gone outside; the second time it did so was when Ezekiel saw it leave the city. They were then indeed Lo-Ammi.
The first trial lasted only forty days- abundantly sufficient time to prove man's present state; the second, on the contrary, about nine hundred years, for now he had to have ample opportunity to see if he could recover himself out of this already proved condition.
Here, then, the mercy of God is declared, for in mere righteousness all would have been cut off. He takes them up again, in His sovereign good pleasure: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show compassion to whom I will show compassion." This is expressly connected with that proclamation of the "name of Jehovah" (Ex. 33:1919And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:19)) which is made in the next chapter: " Jehovah, Jehovah Elohim, compassionate and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and truth, keeping mercy for thousands." (Ex. 34:6,76And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6‑7).) Yet, sovereign mercy as this is, it is not absolute, or such as involves the salvation of the objects of it; on the contrary, the law is once more given, word for word, as before, and God expressly speaks of Himself at the same time as One "that will by no means clear the guilty."
The scene must be viewed as a whole, in order rightly to interpret the several parts of it. It is all clear and consistent thus, and only thus. The hiding of God's face is seen then as the necessary result of the legal footing upon which the people still are with Him, and with which, as their representative, Moses is identified. It is surely characteristic of the whole dispensation, and what the veil before the holiest bore constant witness to. Let the mercy of God be what it will, by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified- none shall see Him, and live.
It is not here the question of ability to anticipate His ways, nor can I see how this should interpret, "There shall no man see me, and live." It is only when we leave the literal, and take up the typical, meaning that we can find something akin to this; and here we have an instance of how important it is to keep these two applications distinct in our thoughts.
The law, in its typical meaning, is, of course, no longer ‘law’ properly. It is the expression of the authority of the Redeemer, as already said- a yoke, of which He who imposes it says, "my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
Yet it is none the less the expression of an authority which is absolute- a government of unswerving holiness, and whose ways (to such as we are) will be often strange, and, if not weighed in the sanctuary, severe. In this view of it, of even a throne of grace, we may often find that "clouds and darkness are round about" it. We may still say with the psalmist, on the one hand, "Thy way is in the sanctuary, O God;" on the other, "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known;" even though yet "Thou leddest thy people like a flock."
Here, indeed, are ways in which we cannot anticipate God, nor meet Him face to face: and here Moses, hid in the cleft of the rock, and covered with the divine hand, and permitted to see the glory of Him who had passed by, has most beautiful typical significance. But still, this is God in government, and we are looking at the typical application of the book, and not the literal.
A few words as to the difference between mercy and grace, before I close.
‘Grace’ is " free favor:” "if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace."
‘Mercy’ contemplates the relief of distress, and is linked with ‘pity’, or ‘compassion’, which is more the subjective feeling in the heart that prompts to this.
That which in view of my misery is ‘mercy’, in view of my ill desert is ‘grace’.
‘Mercy’ speaks more of how God has come down to me; ‘grace’ may go on to tell of how high He has lifted me.
It is 'grace' in the addresses to the churches; ‘mercy’ also to the individual; because we have a common standing and acceptance before God, but individual failure, weakness, and necessities.
F. W. G.