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
For the vindication of the doctrine of our Church, and in honor of good works, I shall lay down four aphorisms. (CONTINUED)
4. Good works are in some sense more excellent than faith; in two respects:
Because they are of a more noble diffusive nature. Though faith is more needful for ourselves—yet good works are more beneficial to others. Faith is a receptive grace. It is all for self-interest. It moves within its own sphere. Works are for the good of others, and it is a more blessed thing to give, than to receive.
Good works are more visible and conspicuous than faith. Faith is a more hidden grace. It may lie hidden in the heart and not be seen—but when works are joined with it, now it shines forth in its native beauty. Though a garden is ever so decked with flowers—yet they are not seen until the light comes. So the heart of a Christian may be enriched with faith—but it is like a flower in the night. It is not seen until works come. When this light shines before men, then faith appears in its orient colors.
If this be the effigy of a good man, that he is of a merciful disposition, then it sharply reproves those who are far from this temper. Their hearts are like the scales of the Leviathan, ‘shut up together as with a close seal’ (Job 41:15). They move only within their own circle—but do not help the necessities of others. They have a flourishing estate—but they have a withered hand and cannot stretch it out to good uses. They have all as for themselves, not for Christ. These are akin to the churl Nabal. ‘Shall I take my bread and my water and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they come?’ (1 Samuel 25:11). It was said of the emperor Pertinax, that he had a large empire—but a narrow scanty heart.
There was a temple at Athens which was called the Temple of Mercy. It was dedicated to charitable uses; and it was the greatest reproach to upbraid one with this—that he had never been in the Temple of Mercy. It is the greatest disgrace to a Christian to be unmerciful. Covetous men, while they enrich themselves, debase themselves, setting up a monopoly and committing idolatry with Mammon. In the time of pestilence, it is sad to have your houses shut up—but it is worse to have your hearts shut up. How miserable it is—to have a sea of sin and not a drop of mercy! Covetous hearts, like the Leviathan, are ‘firm as a stone’ (Job 41:24). One may as well extract oil out of a flint, as the golden oil of charity out of their flinty hearts. They say that coldness of the heart, is a presage of death. When men’s affections to works of mercy are frozen, this coldness of heart is ominous and sadly portends that they are dead in sin! We read in the law that the shellfish was accounted unclean. This might probably be one reason, because its meat was enclosed in the shell and it was hard to get to. They are to be reckoned among the unclean who enclose all their estate within the shell of their own cabinet and will not let others be the better for it. How many have lost their souls—by being so selfish!
There are some who perhaps will give the poor good words—and that is all. ‘Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’ (James 2:15). Good words are but a cold kind of charity. The poor cannot live upon this air. Let your words be as smooth as oil, they will not heal the wounded. Let them drop as the honeycomb, they will not feed the hungry. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of angels and have not charity, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13:1). It is better to be charitable as a saint—than eloquent as an angel. Such as are cruel to the poor, let me tell you—you unchristian yourselves! Unmercifulness is the sin of the heathen (Romans 1:31). When you put off the affections of mercy—you put off the badge of Christianity.
Ambrose says that when we do not relieve one whom we see ready to perish with hunger, we are guilty of his death. If this rule holds true, there are more guilty of the breach of the sixth commandment than we are aware of.
James speaks a sad word: ‘For he shall have judgment without mercy—who has showed no mercy’ (James 2:13). How do they think to find mercy from Christ, who never showed mercy to Christ in his members? Dives denied Lazarus a crumb of bread—and Dives was denied a drop of water. At the last day behold the sinner’s indictment, ‘I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me no clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ (Matthew 25:42). Christ does not say, ‘You took away my food’—but ‘You didn’t feed me; you did not feed my members’. Then follows the sentence, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!’ When Christ’s poor come to your doors and you bid them depart from you, the time may come when you shall knock at heaven’s gate, and Christ will say, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!’
In short, covetousness is a foolish sin. God gave the rich man in the gospel that appellation, ‘You fool!’ (Luke 12:20). The covetous man does not enjoy what he possesses. He embitters his own life. He troubles himself with care either how to get, or how to increase, or how to secure an estate. And what is the result? Often as a just reward of sordid penuriousness, God blasts and withers him in his outward estate. That saying of Gregory Nazianzen is to be seriously weighed: ‘God many times lets the thief take away, and the moth consume—that which is unmercifully withheld from the poor.’
Before I leave this matter, I am sorry that any who profess Christianity should be impeached as guilty of this sin of covetousness and unmercifulness. Sure I am that God’s elect put on ‘heartfelt compassion’ (Colossians 3:12). I tell you, that devout misers are the reproach of Christianity. They are blemishes and spots in the face of true religion. They report that in India there is a creature having four feet and wings, and a bill like an eagle. It is hard whether to rank him among the beasts or the birds. So I may say of penurious professors—they have the wings of profession by which they seem to fly to heaven—but the feet of beasts, walking on earth and even licking the dust! It is hard where to rank these, whether among the godly or the wicked. Oh take heed that, seeing your religion will not destroy your covetousness, at last your covetousness does not destroy your religion! One tells a story of the hedgehog which came to the cony-burrows in stormy weather and desired harbor, promising that he would be a quiet guest—but when once he had gotten entertainment, he set up his prickles and never left until he had thrust the poor conies out of their burrows. So covetousness, though it has many fair pleas to insinuate and wind itself into the heart—yet as soon as you have let it in, this thorn will never leave pricking until it has choked all good beginnings and thrust all piety out of your hearts.