Whenever I come across pictures of soldiers on the way to a tour of duty, holding their children in their arms, weeping for the impending separation (possibly for a lifetime), my heart is broken. As a father myself, I vicariously feel their pain. A parent longs to always be with his child, to commune with him, to raise him up—to personally love him. If such noble virtues exist in finite, created man, it is but fitting to ground them eminently on the infinite Creator.
It is said that God is merciful, but the kind of mercy that He lavishly bestows on His children is properly borne out of love, a love that has its moorings in God's eternal being. Plainly said, God is merciful to the elect because He loved them as His children before the foundation of the world, coddled in His eternal affections. This adequately negates any notion of worthiness on the part of the objects of love. In fact, God is able to show mercy to His evil, debauched, and sinful foreloved children because they are precisely that—His children.
Geerhardus Vos, in his sermon on Ephesians 2:4,5 entitled, The Spiritual Resurrection of Believers, comments:
Imagine for a moment that you seek the good of someone with whom you do not have a relationship, that you do everything in your power to advance his welfare; you sacrifice yourself for him. But look! Instead of thankfully acknowledging that, he remains indifferent, begins to hate you, and ends up by cursing you. What do you think? Would the miserable condition of such a person be likely to evoke your mercy?
But now, imagine for a moment that all the circumstances just mentioned are the same, except that this time the scoundrel is not a stranger but your own son. Could you stop loving him because he hates you? Could you cease praying for him because he curses you? Could you restrain the urgings of your fatherly mercy because he has seared his conscience? I think not! You will say: He is still my son, whom I have carried in my arms. The more such a rogue causes you shame and heartbreak, all the more will you watch, moved by deep pity for him, how he willfully throws himself into ruin.
Where now is the distinction? Why can't you show mercy to a stranger who behaves like this but can towards your own child, although he may be ten times more vile than the stranger? The answer is simple: in the first case, no love drove you to pity; in the second, a great love had to be expressed in rich mercy.
Our case is no different. In themselves sinners are not objects of mercy but vessels of wrath. Sin is enmity and enmity as such does not fall within the scope of pity. But from eternity God had loved those sinners, those enemies, those spiritually dead, with a fatherly love. This love was the foundation of everything and was before everything. It is useless to ask after its origin. It came from the inscrutable being of God and embraced the objects of its free choice even before they had existence. It determined to make them in such a way as to reflect that love. And look what happened! Those children fell, sank into sin and death. Instead of sons they became devils. Love was answered with hate. Nevertheless—and here lies the precious core of our text—all this was not able to extinguish that love, because it is impossible to tear the son from the heart of the father. On the contrary, it now first came to light clearly that it was love and not just kindness. Where the latter would have stopped it went further and emerged triumphant. It did not love the righteous and virtuous, but the godless. In this "God demonstrates his love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." This is the deepest reason why Paul knows to ascribe to no other cause than a great, divine love the fact that those who lay in the midst of sin and death and were enemies of God were nevertheless endowed with the greatest benefits that could befall them, namely that God, according to his rich mercy, made them alive together with Christ, the Lord.
These truths brought home by Vos hit me like a freight train. Though they are truths often considered as "common knowledge," the peculiar twist of grounding God's mercy on His parental love flooded me with Gospel comfort.
The Heavenly Father loved me before a single atom of my being became reality, and it is precisely by virtue of this love that He created me, sustains me, pitied me in my wretched state of sinfulness, and brought me to Christ, whose union ensures the continuity of the fatherly love that had no beginning and will have no end.
"I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).