H. P. Wotton
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”. Matthew 5.7.
I. The nature of mercy
To find the true nature of a thing it is best to look at it in its purest form; and so our view of mercy should not be in fallen man, where it is tainted by imperfection, but in God, in whom there is no imperfection, for God’s mercy is one of His attributes.
Mercy is the outworking of compassion and pity towards those who are in need and unworthy, and this is seen in that God’s tender mercies are over all His works. His mercies are in His creation, both animate and inanimate. We see it in that He has
ordained what distance the sun should be from the earth, to safely convey its blessings to us, for were it a little nearer the earth would be consumed by intolerable heat. Mercy is seen also in that the sea does not overflow the earth, for God has made a decree that thus far and no farther shall their proud waves come. These blessings are conferred on sinful humans, for their sake who are unworthy of the least of His mercies.
God, who is infinite in mercy, will not, however, exercise mercy at the expense of justice, for He had no mercy on His Son, when, in our place, He suffered for our sins on the cross, where, in the mysterious economy of grace, mercy and justice met together to meet the requirements of the broken law and of the wrath of God. The exercise of justice upon One who died, the Just for the unjust, meant the exercise of everlasting mercy upon the great multitude of the redeemed in whose place Christ stood.
II. Merciful in thought
If we are to be full of mercy it must be in every part of our moral being, in thought, word and deed. Some may think it is not important to be merciful in thought as long as we are so in word and deed. This is not so, for as a man thinks so he is, and words and deeds without thought are as empty as a shell without a kernel. That God considers a man merciful who is merciful in thought is seen in that He has declared that ‘the desire of a man is his kindness’ (Proverbs 19.22). There are some people in this world who have little opportunity to express mercy in deeds. But this does not mean that they are unmerciful in their thoughts.
III. Merciful in word
‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but calling names won’t hurt me.’ So runs the children’s rhyme, but unhappily it is not true, for calling names may be more painful than sticks or stones, for the wounding of the spirit is more painful than the wounding of the flesh.
David, the psalmist, was a man of war, who doubtless received many cuts from the edge of the enemy’s sword, but he has little or nothing to say about this in his psalms. He has, however, much to say about the slaying power of the tongue. In Psalm 57. 4 he says, “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword”. To quote from another psalm, he writes of those “who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not” (Psalm 64. 3,4). From which we may gather that this great warrior and leader of the armies of Israel was more afraid of words than he was of swords.
It is a great thing to be delivered from the tongues of our enemies, and from those of our friends also. Poor Job may have
suffered more from the ‘comforting’ words of his friends than he did from his boils; but on one occasion one of them had a really comforting word for the sufferer. He said (coupling the scourge of the tongue with destruction), “Thou shall be delivered from the scourge of the tongue; neither shall thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh” (Job 5. 21).
IV. Merciful in deed
We may be merciful in deed by not taking advantage of our enemy when it is in our power to do him harm. There is an incident in the life of David that illustrates this. He was being pursued by Saul and three thousand men in the wilderness of Engedi. David and his men were hiding in a cave when Saul entered apparently to rest, while David and his men remained unseen in the sides of the cave. What better opportunity could David have had to rid himself of his enemy? His men thought so too, for they said to him, “Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee” (1 Samuel 24. 4). But David said unto his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Samuel 24. 6). David showed mercy unto Saul by forbidding his men to harm his enemy when he had the power to do so.
Then there is the positive way of showing mercy by supplying the wants of people who are in need. This is illustrated in the story of the good Samaritan. A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who left him by the roadside in a terrible plight. Though a priest and a Levite both passed that way, neither offered him help; but when a Samaritan came along he had mercy on him and did what he could to help.
There are many ways in which we may have mercy on those who are in need; and perhaps the most important way of doing so is by standing true to God’s word, for it is the truth that makes men free from the terrible bondage of sin.
V. We need mercy
We all need mercy, but some are more conscious of their need than others. In The Mercies of a Covenant God we read of the troubles of John Warburton and of the mercies of God in his life. Throughout his ministry he was always in and out of trouble of one kind or another, in his personal and family circumstances; in his spiritual life tempted and tried and set upon by the powers of darkness; and then there were troubles in the church over which God had made him minister. Sometimes the clouds were so dark that he even despaired of life, and thought that God had utterly forsaken him; but time and time again he found that mercy compassed him about, for God would come to his aid by filling his soul with joy unutterable and full of glory.
Some people are not fond of the word mercy, perhaps because it pre-supposes sin, and so they replace it with steadfast love. But the guilty sinner needs mercy, for he is debtor to mercy alone.
We are not aware of all the dangers inherent in the circumstances of our lives, and this is doubtless a merciful provision, for we could not live comfortably if, instead of trusting in God, we were always mindful of what could happen to us in our
going out and coming in, in our lying down and rising up.
VI. The merciful man does good
In Proverbs 11.17 we read that “the merciful man doeth good to his own soul; but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh”. Mercy and goodness are inseparable companions, for where one is there
the other is also. The psalmist said that goodness and mercy would follow him all the days of his life, and that he would dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The merciful man in showing mercy to others does not aim at doing good to himself, but he cannot avoid doing so, for no one can perform an act acceptable to God without receiving personal benefit from it. We read in Job 42. 10 that “the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends”.
Apart from exercising mercy to others, we are bound to be merciful to ourselves also. He that is cruel is cruel not only to others but to himself, for his wickedness will most certainly destroy him if he does not repent. But he has no right to destroy his soul, for, though he may have sold it to Satan, it belongs to God.
Some may think that a man is selfish who seeks his own salvation, but by doing so he is being merciful to the most important part of his being, and to the image of God. It should be borne in mind that no man is truly merciful in the spiritual realm to others who is not first merciful to himself. We are in no position to put others right until we are right with God ourselves. The Philippian gaoler could be merciful to his own house only when he was prepared to obey the apostle’s injunction to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy houseÂ” (Acts 16.31).
VII. Everlasting mercy
The merciful are the subjects of God’s everlasting mercy in whatever circumstance or condition they may be in, for “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him” (Psalm 103. 17).
From everlasting invites us to view the antiquity of the mercy bestowed upon the children of God, which, though it is given freely to them, is still the mercy of the Lord, sovereignly exercised towards them. When we look back to the antiquity of everlasting mercy we see the Lord himself, for in Him mercy has its being, and here our minds are overwhelmed, for the Person in
whom this attribute resides had no beginning in eternity past.
The mercy of the Lord is also to everlasting on them that fear Him; and because of this they are merciful to others who belong by creation or by creation and grace to their Father. This ‘to everlasting’ is a wonderful word, for God’s infinite ocean of mercy will always be full to bestow upon His children according to their needs. For the faithful child of God there will be mercy all the way from earth to heaven, for “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25. 10). And when we reach the glory, mercy will be seen alone in Him who loves us with an everlasting love, and has redeemed us to God by His precious blood.