Murder: it’s the one thing Batman doesn’t do. Batman drives a tank. He dances. He fights sharks; disposes of bombs; acts like a pirate. But, Batman never kills. After his parents’ murder, Bruce Wayne refuses to kill. He’ll beat you, but he won’t kill you. Ultimately, Batman favours mercy over murder.
Yet, in an infamous scene at the end of Batman Begins, Batman’s mercy runs dry. Batman Begins ends with Batman, vastly outnumbered, racing against time to save his city. An ancient army of ninjas are focused on destroying Gotham by unleashing fear through a train and a microwave. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Batman clashes with their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, as the train hurtles towards Gotham’s destruction. Batman manages to overpower Ra’s al Ghul. But: Ra’s isn’t afraid. He knows, from past experience, that Batman favours mercy over murder.
Ra’s is relying on Batman’s mercy. Mercy means Ra’s al Ghul’s plot will be successful: Gotham will be crippled by fear. So, will Batman be merciful?
“I won’t kill you”, Batman grumbles, “but I don’t have to save you”. He leaps from the train, and leaves Ra’s al Ghul to die.
Brooks’s fifth device is about mercy. Satan lures us into sin by “presenting God to the soul as one made up all of mercy” (50). Unlike Batman, God doesn’t break His word or His rules. God’s mercy is not arbitrarily determined. God doesn’t offer His mercy on a Sunday, and then determine to crush us on a Monday. If you’re in union with Christ, as the gospel proclaims, God’s mercy is constantly guaranteed: “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Yet, Satan’s lies are so outrageous; he even warps our understanding of God’s wondrous mercy. Satan makes little Ra’s al Ghuls out of us all. He convinces us that God’s mercy means God’s passivity. If God is a God of mercy, delighting in mercy? Satan convinces our hearts “”you need not be so fearful of sin…so unwilling to sin…[God] will not take [action] against [this sinning soul]…so why should you make such a matter of sin?”” (50). In our wilful pride, we twist God’s mercy and grace. We bend our union with Christ into an excuse for sin.
How are we going to fight this device?
Remedy #1: seriously consider that it’s the sorest judgement to be left to sin.
“O unhappy man, when God leaveth thee to thyself, and doth no resist thee in thy sins”. Before exile, Israel was left to wallow in sin. This was judgement. There is no horror greater than being left to our stubborn hearts. There’s no terror more terrifying than being left to follow our own counsels (Psalm 81:12). Being left in sin isn’t a sign of God’s mercy; it is an unmistakable sign of God’s judgement. In fact, Brooks shows God’s true mercy when he prays: “ah Lord, this mercy I humbly beg…lay what burden thou wilt upon me, so thou dost not give me up to the ways to my own heart” (50-51, emphasis mine). Indeed, our false conceptions of God’s mercy lead us into true judgement:
“in the gospel days, the plagues that God inflicts upon…abusers of mercy are…blindness of mind, hardness of heart, benumbedness of conscience, which are the thousand times worse than the worst of the outward plagues that can befall you” (53).
In Brook’s mind, it’s self-evident: God is merciful when He reveals our sinfulness. God is merciful when He deals with our sinfulness through union with Christ. God is merciful when He empowers us to resist sinfulness by His Spirit. Therefore, Satan lies. The ‘mercy’ Satan promises only results in judgement.
Remedy #2: seriously consider that God is as just as He is merciful.
Scripture is clear: God is a merciful God. On Mount Sinai, the LORD proclaims: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Overwhelmingly, the LORD’s self-revelation is one of mercy and grace to stubborn, hard-hearted, golden-calf-following people. YHWH is a merciful God. But: the very next words remind God’s people that He is at the same time a holy-just God: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, 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” (Exodus 34:6-7). God is a just God.
It’s on the Cross that we see justice and mercy so clearly: “witness the pouring forth of all His wrath upon His bosom Son, when He did bear the sins of His people” (51). Our response, to the fully just and fully merciful God, should never be a continuation of our sin. Instead, like Moses hearing the LORD’s self-revelation, we worship God for His mercy and justice (Exodus 34:6-7).
Remedy #3: seriously consider that God’s saving mercy isn’t universal.
God’s mercy is extended to all who are made in His image. He mercifully sustains the universe; sustains the earth; sustains our lives. But, His saving mercy only extends to those He’s set apart through Christ for holy obedience by the Spirit. He shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments” (Exodus 20:6). “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).
Brooks’s mediates on these passages, before asserting:
“when Satan attempts to draw thee to sin by presenting God as all made up of mercy…reply that though His general mercy extends to all the works of His hand…His special mercy is confined…to them that love Him and keep His commandments…trusting in Him…and thou must be such a one here” (54).
As partakers in God’s special mercy, we rejoice in the gospel by holy obedience to the One who has set us free.
Remedy #4: seriously consider that God’s mercy is the most powerful argument to fence your soul against sin.
Finally, Brooks brings this device to its point. Batman’s mercy isn’t an excuse to overthrow Gotham with a microwave. If anything, Batman is a deterrent. God’s mercy has never been an excuse to overthrow His holiness. God’s mercy has never been an excuse for our rebellion. Instead: God’s mercy to us in the gospel is the single most powerful argument to flee from sin. Indeed, “there is nothing in the world that renders a man more…like Satan, than to argue from mercy to sinful liberty; from divine goodness to licentiousness” (55). Experiencing mercy is the “choicest means” to preserve our soul from sin. No-one makes this point clearer than Paul:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?…For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:1,2,5).
When Satan lies, muttering “oh, mercy” to our souls, Brooks reminds us of our best defence. We respond to his lies with “oh, the wondrous mercy of the Father, that has set me free”.