by Thomas Watson
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (v.7)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
A Discourse of Mercifulness
3. Mercifulness consists in a LIBERAL contribution. ‘If there is a poor man within your gates, you shall open your hand wide unto him’ (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8). The Hebrew word to ‘disperse’ (Psalm 112:9) signifies ‘a largeness of bounty’. It must be like water, which overflows the banks. ‘Not a meager dispersing of a mere trifle’. If God has enriched men with estates and made ‘his candle (as Job says) to shine upon their tabernacle’, they must not encircle and engross all to themselves, but be as the moon which, having received its light from the sun, lets it shine to the world. The ancients made oil to be the emblem of charity. The golden oil of mercy must, like Aaron’s oil, run down upon the poor which are the lower skirts of the garment. This liberal disbursement to the needs and necessities of others—God commands, and grace compels.
God Commands. There is an express statute law, ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him’ (Leviticus 25:35). The Hebrew word is ‘strengthen him’; put under him a silver crutch when he is falling. It is worth our observation what great care God took of the poor, besides what was given them privately. God made many laws for the public and visible relief of the poor. ‘The seventh year you shall let the land rest and lie still, that the poor of the people may eat’ (Exodus 23:11). God’s intention in his law was that the poor should be liberally provided for. They might freely eat of anything which grew of itself this seventh year, whether of herbs, vines or olive trees. If it be asked how the poor could live only on these fruits, there being (as it is probable) no grain growing then, for answer Cajetan is of opinion that they lived by selling these fruits and, so converting them into money, lived upon the price of the fruits.
There is another law made: ‘And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest’ (Leviticus 19:9). See how God indulged the poor. Some corners of the field were for the poor’s sake to be left uncut, and when the owners reaped they must not go too near the earth with their sickle. The Vulgate Latin reads it, ‘You shall not shear to the very ground’. Something like an after-crop must be left. ‘The shorter ears of corn and such as lay bending to the ground, were to be reserved for the poor,’ says Tostatus.
And God made another law in favor of the poor. ‘At the end of every third year bring the tithe of all your crops and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who have no inheritance among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.’ (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29). The Hebrews write that every third year, besides the first tithe given to Levi which was called the perpetual tithe (Numbers 18:21), the Jews set apart another tithe of their increase for the use of the widows and orphans, and that was called ‘the tithe of the poor’. Besides, at the Jews’ solemn festivals, the poor were to have a share (Deuteronomy 16:11).
And as relieving the needy was commanded under the law, so it stands in force under the gospel. ‘Command those who are rich in this present world, to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.’ (1 Timothy 6:17, 18). It is not only a counsel but a command, and non-attendance to it runs men into a gospel offense. Thus we have seen the mind of God in this particular of charity. Let all good Christians comment upon it in their practice. What benefit is there of gold—while it is locked up in the mine? And what is it the better to have a great estate—if it is so hoarded up as never to see the light?
As God commands, so grace compels to works of mercy and beneficence. ‘The love of Christ constrains’ (2 Corinthians 5:14). Grace comes with majesty upon the heart. Grace does not lie as a sleepy habit in the soul—but will put forth itself in vigorous and glorious actings. Grace can no more be concealed, than fire. Like new wine it will have vent. Grace does not lie in the heart as a stone in the earth—but as seed in the earth. It will spring up into good works.
The Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion—that we are against good works. Indeed we plead not for the merit of them—but we are for the use of them. ‘Our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works’ (Titus 3:14). We preach that they are needful both as they are enforced by the precept, and as they are needful for the general good of men. We read that the angels had wings, and hands under their wings (Ezekiel 1:8). It may be emblematic of this truth. Christians must not only have the wings of faith to fly—but hands under their wings to work the works of mercy.
‘This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works.’ (Titus 3:8). The lamp of faith must be filled with the oil of charity. Faith alone justifies—but justifying faith is not alone. You may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from fire, as works from faith. Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation—yet they are evidences of salvation. Though they are not the foundation—yet they are the superstructure. Faith must not be built upon works—but works must be built upon faith. ‘You are married to Christ—that we should bring forth fruit unto God’ (Romans 7:4). Faith is the grace which marries Christ, and good works are the children which faith bears. For the vindication of the doctrine of our Church, and in honor of good works, I shall lay down four aphorisms.
1. Works are distinct from faith. It is vain to imagine that works are included in faith, as the diamond is enclosed in the ring. No! they are distinct, as the sap in the vine is different from the clusters of fruit which grow upon it.
2. Works are the touchstone of faith. ‘Show me your faith by your works’ (James 2:18). Works are faith’s letters of credence to show. ‘If,’ says Bernard, ‘you see a man full of good works, then by the rule of charity you are not to doubt of his faith.’ We judge the health of the body by the pulse where the blood stirs and operates. O Christian, judge of the health of your faith by the pulse of mercy and charitableness. It is with faith as with a deed in law. To make a deed valid, there are three things requisite—the writing, the seal, the witnesses. So for the trial and confirmation of faith there must be these three things the writing, the Word of God; the seal, the Spirit of God; the witnesses, good works. Bring your faith to this Scripture touchstone. Faith justifies works; works testify faith.
3. Works honor faith. These fruits adorn the ‘trees of righteousness’. ‘Let the liberality of your hand’ (says Clemens Alexandrinus) ‘be the ornament of your faith, and wear it as a holy bracelet about your wrists.’ ‘I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. I was a father to the poor’ (Job 29:14-15). While Job was the poor’s benefactor and advocate, this was the ensign of his honor; it clothed him as a robe and crowned him as a diadem. This is that which takes off the odium and obloquy—and makes others speak well of piety—when they see good works as handmaids waiting upon this queen—faith.