God Would Rather Pour Out Mercy Than Wrath

What is happening in our society? It looks like sinners are getting their way, getting what they want. We shouldn’t be surprised. We see it in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth….

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise…

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…RO 1:18, 24, 26, 28

Notice that the passage says “God gave them up” three times. JI Packer, in his classic book Knowing God said this many years ago:

To those who have eyes to see, tokens of the active wrath of God appear here and now in the actual state of humankind. Everywhere the Christian observes a pattern of degeneration, constantly working itself out – from knowledge of God to worship of that which is not God, and from idolatry to immorality of an ever grosser sort, so that each generation grows a fresh crop of “ungodliness and unrighteousness.” In this decline we are to recognize the present action of divine wrath in a process of judicial hardening and withdrawal of restraints, whereby people are given up to their own corrupt preferences and so come to put into practice more and more uninhibitedly the lusts of their sinful hearts. Paul describes the process, as he knew it from his Bible in the world of his day, in Romans 1:19-31, where the key phrases are “God… gave them over…to sexual impurity”;”God gave them over to shameful lusts”; “he gave them over to a depraved mind” (1:24, 26, 28).

What is happening in our society has been happening since the beginning. It was obviously happening in Paul’s day. It may look like sinners are getting their way, but God, in his wrath, is giving them over to to their desires. When we refuse to worship God and worship “the creature” – created things, like sex, money, drugs, pleasure – good gifts from God, but never intended to be idolized. When we want these things more than God, so God says, OK, have your fill. I’ll give you what you want. So what we are seeing is God giving multitudes over to their own sinful desires. This is a manifestation of his wrath. But God only pours out wrath as a last resort. He would much rather show mercy to multitudes.

AW Pink says mercy “denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson said, “God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath. Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in. Mic 7:18. Mercy pleases him…. Acts of severity are rather forced from God; he does not afflict willingly. Lam 3:33. The bee naturally gives honey, it stings only when it is provoked; so God does not punish till he can bear no longer. ‘So that the Lord could bear no longer, because of the evil of your doings.’ Jer 44:22. Mercy is God’s right hand that he is most used to; inflicting punishment is called his strange work. Isa 28:21.”

God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath.

He is merciful again and again, and holds back his wrath until his justice requires it. God would much rather pour out mercy than wrath. In Scripture, there’s no comparison between God’s anger and his mercy:

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. PS 30.5

For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer. IS 54.7-8

A moment of anger compared to a lifetime of favor. A brief moment of anger compared to everlasting love. He revealed himself this way to Moses on Mount Sinai:

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 (or ‘to the thousandth generation’), 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.” EX 34.5-7

God doesn’t begin describing himself as wrathful, but that he is “a God merciful and gracious.” Then he goes on to say that he is a God who is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” – all these traits reveal his mercy and grace. He does mention his justice – “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 fourth generation.” But contrast the third and fourth generation to “keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” God may visit a man’s iniquity to the third and fourth generation, but he pours out his kindness to a thousand generations.

Multitudes in our country are getting what they want. They are celebrating sin. But in getting what they want, in his wrath, God is giving them over to their sin. Yet God still desires to rescue them from his wrath. So we should pray that God would have mercy on multitudes in this nation, bring them out of their sin and into the kingdom of God.

I’m so glad our God is a God who is inclined to mercy, who would much rather pour out mercy than wrath. For he had mercy on me. I was no different than any other human being. I rebelled against God, worshipped created things, and gave myself to sin, yet God was patient and forbearing and withheld his wrath, poured out mercy and sent his Son Jesus to save me.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.