Romans 9:15 mentions both God’s mercy and His compassion: “He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions and God of all encouragement.” What is the difference between mercy and compassion? It is somewhat difficult to differentiate them. Although compassion is close to mercy, compassion is deeper, finer, and richer than mercy. Mercy is somewhat outward, but compassion is inward. Furthermore, compassion is more long lasting than mercy. Therefore, compassion is both deeper and longer lasting than mercy.
The Greek word for mercy, eleos, refers to the kind of response that is motivated by the wretched condition of the poor party. Mercy refers more to the action or manifestation in response to wretchedness. The Greek word for compassion in Romans 9:15 and 2 Corinthians 1:3 is oiktirmos. The basic root of this word refers to the inward organs of man which were believed to be the center of tender affections in man. Hence, this Greek word for compassion refers to the inward feeling that originates in the heart of the affectionate party. This feeling is not mild but deeply affectionate. Compassion, therefore, refers to the inward feeling that resides in the one who looks upon wretchedness. It is the deepest of words showing the inward affection of God for man in his pitiful condition.
With these definitions in view, we may consider Romans 9:15 again for a full contrast, translating the verse in this way: “I will display My kind act of mercy to whom I will display My kind act of mercy, and I will have the deepest feeling of compassion upon whom I will have the deepest feeling of compassion.” The former refers to God’s outward doing motivated by our wretched state; the latter refers to His inward affection originating in His loving essence. We all should appreciate such a sweeter affectionate attribute of God.
Ephesians 2:7 says, “That He might display in the ages which are coming the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul testifies, “But by the grace of God I am what I am; and His grace unto me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” The grace of God is a matter of tremendous significance. It is important for us to find out the genuine and proper meaning of the grace of God in the New Testament. If we would understand what the grace of God is as revealed in the New Testament, we need a clear view of the New Testament as a whole.
When I was young, I was taught that grace means that we do nothing and that God does everything for us. According to this teaching, anything we do is work, not grace, but whatever God does for us is grace. However, according to the New Testament, grace is actually what God is to us for our enjoyment (John 1:16-17; 2 Cor. 12:9). Grace is actually God in Christ dispensed into our being for our enjoyment in our experience. Grace is mainly not the work God does for us; grace is the Triune God Himself dispensed into our being and experienced as our enjoyment. In brief, grace is the Triune God experienced and enjoyed by us. The New Testament reveals that grace is nothing less than God in Christ dispensed into our being for our enjoyment.
John 1:17 says that grace came through Jesus Christ. This indicates that grace is somewhat like a person. The personification of grace is God Himself. Paul realized this when he said, “Not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). For Paul, grace was a living person. In Paul this person became the very grace by which he labored. Therefore, grace is God Himself; it is what God is to us for our enjoyment. When God is enjoyed by us, that is grace. Grace is the very God in His Son Jesus Christ to be our portion so that we may enjoy all He is.
We need to emphasize the fact that grace is God as our enjoyment. When God becomes our portion for us to enjoy, that is grace. Do not consider grace as something less than God. Grace is nothing less than the Triune God enjoyed by us in a practical way as our portion. Concerning this definition of grace, the first stanza of Hymns 497 says:
Grace in its highest definition is God in the Son to be enjoyed by us; It is not only something done or giv’n, But God Himself, our portion glorious.
Grace is God not in doctrine, but in our experience, for grace is God in Christ with all He is for our enjoyment. This includes life, strength, comfort, rest, light, righteousness, holiness, power, and the other divine attributes. When we enjoy God and participate in Him, that is grace.
We have pointed out that in Ephesians 2:7 Paul indicates that God will “display in the ages which are coming the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” To display the riches of God’s grace is to exhibit them to the whole universe. The riches of God’s grace surpass every limit, for they are the riches of God Himself for our enjoyment. The riches of God’s grace will be publicly displayed for eternity.
In Ephesians 2:8 Paul goes on to say that we are saved by grace. In Ephesians grace denotes God dispensed into us. Therefore, to be saved by grace means to be saved by God dispensed into us in Christ. Most Christians, however, regard grace as a thing, not as a person. To them, grace is merely a gift freely given. According to this concept of grace, we were sinners who did not deserve God’s salvation, but God saved us freely by giving us His unmerited favor. This, however, is a superficial understanding of what it means to be saved by grace. Ephesians reveals that saving grace is God Himself in Christ wrought into our being. Hence, to be saved by grace actually means to be saved by the dispensing of the Triune God into us.
According to Ephesians, salvation is the transmission of God into us as grace. It was not a simple matter for God to be transmitted into us as grace. It was necessary for Him to be processed through incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. By being processed in this way, He is now able to transmit Himself into us. When the processed God is transmitted into us, He becomes saving grace to us in our experience. This grace is not only amazing grace; it is abounding grace. Grace is the processed God transmitted into our being.
If you read Ephesians 1 and 2 with much prayer, you will see that God processed and transmitted into our being is the saving grace and the abounding grace. We have been saved by the transmission of this processed God. In His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, God has saved us by His grace. In the ages to come—in the millennium and eternity—God will display this grace publicly to the whole universe.
In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul speaks three times concerning grace. Twice he speaks of the grace of God, and once, of “His grace.” In this verse grace is the Triune God becoming life and everything to us. It was by this grace that Saul of Tarsus, the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15-16), became the foremost apostle, laboring more abundantly than all the apostles.
First Peter 4:10 speaks of the varied grace of God: “Each one according as he has received a gift, ministering it among yourselves as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” The varied grace of God is the rich supply of life, which is the Triune God ministered to us in many aspects. As good stewards, by the gift we have received we should minister to the church and to the saints such grace, not mere doctrine.
In 1 Peter 5:10 we have a word concerning “the God of all grace.” In this verse “all grace” refers to the riches of the bountiful supply of the divine life in many aspects ministered to us in the many steps of the divine operation in God’s economy. The term “the God of all grace” is unique; it is found in the New Testament only in 1 Peter 5:10. Peter does not say merely that God is the God of grace; he says that God is the God of all grace. As believers, we should be encouraged by the fact that our God is the God of all grace. This divine grace is an outstanding attribute of our God who has favored us with it in Christ.
(Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 001-020), Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)