But what is the first want that the living soul most pressingly and most urgently feels?
Mercy. Was not that the first cry which was raised up in the heart of the publican: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Mercy was a word that never before had been in his lips: the craving after mercy was an experience utterly unknown in his soul. But no sooner did sin and guilt fall upon his conscience, no sooner was he spiritually convinced of his state as a sinner before God, than a need of mercy was sensibly opened up in his heart; and no sooner was the want raised up in his heart, than the groaning cry burst forth from his lips, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Now, I believe, in my conscience, that there are hundreds, if not thousands of persons, in a profession of religion, who never once, from their hearts, lifted up that earnest cry to God; the words may have passed through their lips, but the groaning cry before a heart-searching God to visit their souls with mercy, never really burst forth from a broken heart.
And if a man has not taken that first step in the divine life, there is no use his talking about how established he is in the doctrines of grace. If he has not come in by “the door,” he has clambered over the wall, and is but a thief and a robber. The sweetness of mercy, its suitability to our ruined condition, can only be felt by one who has groaned under the pressure of guilt: and when guilt is really laid upon a man’s conscience, nothing but manifested mercy can ever heal his wound, or suit his case. Nor will this need of, and cry for mercy, be confined just to one or two periods in a man’s life: but he will often be, as Hart says,
“Begging mercy every hour.”
Daily sinners want daily mercies; hourly iniquities cry out for hourly pardon; whatever, therefore, a man may have experienced in his soul in times past of granted mercy, yet, as he is perpetually a sinner against God, and is continually doing things, which his conscience bears its solemn testimony against as evil, there will be from time to time a cry in his soul, that God would look down upon him in mercy, and heal his perpetual backslidings from him.