The Majesty Of God’s Mercy

BY J. STUART HOLDEN

He healeth the broken in heart. . . He telleth the number of the stars (Psalm 148:3, 4).

WHAT A SURPRISING conjunction is found in this twin attribute of God–active pity in the small circles of human experience and unmeasured power in the great realms of creation! Here is God manifesting Himself in both the remotest and the nearest things of which we have any knowledge the universal and the personal.

At first sight, it seems incongruous to suggest that these two things have anything in common. Surely there can be little, if any, connection between the starry heavens above and the suffering hearts below; between that which is so infinitely great and that which is so infinitely little; between that of which no man knows much and that of which all men know a great deal; between that which transcends in its
greatness all our thoughts, and that which in its bitterness touches all our lives.

But in this declaration of the majesty and mercy of God, the psalmist is not indulging in mere flights of fancy. Nor is he doing violence to the separate revelations of God’s power and love, as though these could ever be in contrast.

Instead, he is pointing to an underlying relationship between stars and sorrows–one that unerringly points to the overruling care of God. If we can understand this truth as we should, it will direct our
hearts into the safe anchor of His love as nothing else could do.

Heaven’s Glories and Earth’s Griefs

This is the very glory of the gospel–anticipated here by the psalmist, but only fully revealed in Jesus

Christ–that heaven with its glories is close kin to earth with its griefs. Heaven with its holiness is always touching earth with its heartbreaks.

The God of the stars is the God of the saints and of the sinners too! More and more clearly do we see this as we read the record of Christ’s life and work–His unveiling of the glory of the Father.

Jesus seems always to be striving to convince men of the greatness of God so they may be subdued. And He tells them of the gentleness of God so they may be wooed into surrender and submission to His claims upon them.

The Father He reveals is all majesty, but all mercy too. He is certainly the God of lofty transcendence, but just as certainly He is also the God of loving tenderness.

His comprehension is universal; so too is his compassion. “He telleth the number of the stars,” and by the same power “He healeth the broken in heart.”

So what is the purpose of this word of testimony from the early days of men’s dealings with God? It may well come to us interpreted as it is now by the light that Christ’s Evangel sheds upon it–as just another of the many calls we are always receiving to fear of God, to have faith in Him, and to acknowledge our indebtedness by gratefully yielding our strength to His service.

Two Conceptions of God

Let us examine two popular conceptions of God, neither of which, taken by itself, is either right or adequate. The first idea is that God is so remote from men in the perfection of His power and greatness
that He has little if any concern with the trifling sorrows and cares of their lives.

In the other concept, God is regarded as being so friendly and–shall I say it?–human that He is almost one of us. In the first instance, He fails to get our love. In the second, He fails to inspire us with fear.

If we are in danger of having a God too far off we are also in anger of having a God too near–One with whom familiarity has bred in our hearts a kind of affectionate contempt. We are apt to forget the God who “telleth the number of the stars” in our happiness at finding the God who heals the broken hearts.

The person who falls into the error of thinking of God as nothing more than the Great Architect of the Universe One who is far removed from the poor human concerns of life–inevitably fails to realize His
personal grace and care.

Life for him may develop a sense of duty, but he never comes to regard himself as a son of God, the child of His love. What an eternal loss is his!

On the other hand, the person who rejoices in knowing God’s nearness and goodness but forgets that He is “the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity,” is inclined to lose sight of God’s superintending care and guidance in the larger things of life.

As a result, he is apt to be seized with panic and to yield to a faithless pessimism when things seem to be going wrong. He loses sight of the conjunction of mercy and majesty. Worse yet, he is no longer effective in service for God.

An old writer has said that God has two thrones–one in the highest Heaven, the other in the humblest heart! We need always to remember this balance of truth, which is just another way of saying that “He telleth the number of the stars” and that “He healeth the broken in heart.”

Stars and Broken Hearts

The connection between stars and broken hearts is not as obscure as we may at first think, for there is a general likeness between them that is far more than mere poetic imagination. For instance, both are
the common possession of all men.

No one has a monopoly on the starlit heavens. Rich men whose human instincts have not kept pace with their material prosperity’s may fence in their land and deny to others access to mountain or glen. But
they cannot stop anyone from gazing upon the heavens above their properties.

The brightest and remotest stars are the possession of the poorest and richest alike. So too are the sorest heartbreaks. From the prince in his palace to the peasant in his cottage, not a man among us is exempt from the ordinary workings of human experience. All of us, sooner or later, come to know what it means to be crushed, wounded, and broken. It is part of the price we pay for living.

Also, both stars and heartbreaks bring men to a realization of their own littleness and feebleness. Who has gazed out on the starry skies in mid-ocean or on some countryside where the light of the cities
does not obscure the panorama without realizing his infinite smallness?

Who has seen the grand constellations without saying in the awe of great loneliness, “What is man, that Thou are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4).

There is nothing that makes a man feel so tiny and so powerless as the sight of God’s myriad worlds–nothing, perhaps, but the heartbreaks of life, his own and those of others.

For we stand silenced before them, utterly powerless to avert or alleviate them. They are as great in their power to teach us our limitations as are the stars. Together they unite in this ministry to us.

Millions of the stars are hidden from our gaze even when we are assisted by the strongest telescopes. And as for counting them! Well, that is entirely beyond all human power.

How like our heartbreaks! Their causes are often hidden, and their number is incalculable. Both are the secret of God, and both will drive us back–if we rightly consider them–to His saving majesty and mercy.

These simple and obvious analogies lead us to a clear and necessary understanding of this great fact: It takes the God of the stars to heal our sorrows and to bind up our broken hearts.

There is no greater folly than that of the man who either cynically or in mere bravado makes light of his heart’s needs. The fact is, our needs are the greatest things we have far greater than our possessions or accomplishments or desires.

Our needs testify to our immortality. And none of our needs do so more clearly than the need of our broken hearts for solid comfort and lasting assurance. Indeed, it is our heartbreaks that prove there is
something within us which refuses to answer to material comforts or to be satisfied with anything temporal.

This fact establishes our relationship to God, who has made us for Himself. Perhaps we cannot comprehend His “telling of the stars,” but we can understand the healing of our own heartthrobs.

Things that are intellectually incomprehensible are always spiritually necessary, for it takes the same power to do the one as the other. In our hours of pain and loneliness and misery, we instinctively
turn to the greatness and majesty of God for unfailing comfort. We rely on the stupendous might of His grace. Is He not the One to whom great things are little and little things are great?

Why Do Our Hearts Break?

To illustrate this and to bring it home to us, think of some of those most common causes of heartbreak. When a man’s inner being is undergoing a great revolution, it is in no exaggeration that he cries out, “My heart is broken!”

For instance, when the conviction of sin is upon him, scourging him with its stinging lash, wrapping him round with its Nessus robe of condemnation, and haunting him with the sense of his sin-created exile
from God and love and Heaven. Who does not know that kind of broken heartedness?

More common is the heart that is broken and crushed by sorrow and loss. I came across a person in that situation not long ago.

He poured out his heart in his sorrow over a prodigal son–one who had left home and gone into sin’s far country. Despite his father’s love and prayers, this son had shown no signs of return.

If ever I saw into a broken heart, I did that day. I had no difficulty in recognizing its kinship with Him whose heart has long been broken over His prodigal children.

Still more common is the heartbreak of the young man (for middle life and old age have no monopoly in this matter) who feels that in his endeavors to live an upright and clean life he is contending against
unequal forces. He senses that temptation is stronger than his strength of resistance, and that failure, with all its bitter humiliation, is inevitable.

Many a young man, who bravely tries to turn a bright face toward others, weeps scalding tears in the secrecy of his own room at the discovery that he is in the grip of destructive forces, and he cannot
liberate himself His heart is broken, for he is an undone man.

Then there is the heartbreak of betrayal, when human love proves unstable and the light seems to be blotted out of the sky. All of life becomes drab and desolate.

And to us all, sooner or later, comes the heartbreak of separation. Death, with its ruthless blows and strange mocking silence, crushes the very life out of those who stand round the open grave, hopeless and paralyzed.

Yes, the heartbreaks of life are very many and very real! This mere mention of some of them verifies the truth already stated: It takes the God of the stars to deal with and heal them.

He alone is able to bind up and repair the bruised life. He alone can set it free in the field of renewed opportunity. He alone can cause us to live and witness to the still greater reality of His compassion–which is His power shot through with the light of His love.

Indeed, both stars and heartbreaks are definitely related to His central government. The stars, as we know, run their courses and keep their places in the heavens entirely in virtue of their relation to the
great solar center. Thus it is that He telleth their number.

So too is it with our many heartbreaks. They have a distinct and definite relationship to Him who is the Sun of Righteousness. And it is only as that relationship is recognized by faith and love that we may
know His healing power, just as the stars know His guiding might.

The Proof of Experience

Does not our personal experience prove all this? What is it that has helped us in our most trying hours, when all has seemed lost or not worthy of the struggle?

What has made it possible to rise above unkindly circumstance and organize victory out of defeat? What has brought joy and peace into sorrow and storm?

Surely just the great fact of God’s majesty and mercy-His greatness and His grace, His sovereignty and His sympathy, His powerfulness and His pity.

The certainty of the power of God’s might, which “telleth the number of the stars” is at the disposal of the ” broken in heart” to help and heal them.

And doesn’t it help to know the assurance that it is offered in Jesus, God’s full and final Word of power! He alone meets the need and answers the instinct of the life which, because it has been created for
Him, can never find its comforts anywhere else.

What can it mean? Is it aught to Him
That the nights are long, and the days are dim?
Can He be touched by the griefs I bear,
Which sadden the heart and whiten the hair?
About His throne are eternal calms,
And strong, glad music of happy psalms
And bliss unruffled by any strife;–
How can He care for my little life?

And yet I want Him to care for me,
While I live in this world where the sorrows be.
When the lights die down from the path I take;
When strength is feeble and friends forsake;
When love and music that once did bless
Have left me to silence and loneliness;
And my life-song changes to sobbing prayers,–
Then my heart cries out for the God Who cares.

Yes, this ever-present positive instinct of the soul, as well as its past experiences of His power, proclaims the great truth that the God of the stars, who stoops and speaks to us in Christ, alone satisfies the aching need of any brokenhearted man.

Remote Enough to Awe Close Enough to Satisfy

And what is the ultimate significance of this message of the kinship of the stars of heaven with the sorrows of earth? Surely an inspiration to hope and cheer and peace, in the knowledge that He who
nightly works a miracle in the skies is the very One who cares and pities and stands by to strengthen us when we are broken in heart from any cause.

What joy to know that He “healeth,” with no thought of harshness or suspicion or criticism or of magnifying the fault which has caused the trouble, or of condemnation. And that we may, by reason of our need, draw near and yet nearer to Him who draws near to us in the person of His dear Son.

We shall always find Him remote enough to awe, but close enough to satisfy.

J. Stuart Holden (1874-1934), Vicar of St. Paul’s Church, Portman Square, London, was an Anglican preacher of great ability. Possessing an engaging personality and persuasive manner, Holden was known on both sides of the Atlantic for his convention ministries. Holden was leader of the Keswick movement for almost 30 years and guided it ably. Skilled as a diagnostician of the deeper spiritual life, he helped guide many in discerning the difference between spurious and genuine faith. This message on God’s mercy is from Life’s Flood-tide by J. Stuart Holden, published by Roxburghe House, London, 1913.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM CLASSIC SERMONS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, AND PUBLISHED BY HENDRICKSON PUBLISHERS, INC., BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT WITH AND PERMISSION OF KREGEL PUBLICATIONS, 1989, PAGES 22-30. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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