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
I proceed next to the exhortation to beseech all Christians to put on ‘heartfelt compassion’. Be ready to relieve the miseries and necessities of others. Ambrose calls charity, the sum of Christianity, and the apostle makes it the very definition of true religion. ‘Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress’ (James 1:27).
The Hebrew word for ‘poor’ signifies ‘one who is empty’ or ‘drawn dry’. So the poor are exhausted of their strength, beauty, substance; like ponds they are dried up. Therefore let them be filled again with the silver streams of charity. The poor are as it were in the grave. The comfort of their life is buried. Oh Christians, help with your merciful hands to raise them out of the sepulcher! God ‘sends his springs into the valleys’ (Psalm 104:10). Let the springs of your liberality run among the valleys of poverty. Your sweetest and most gracious influence should fall upon the the needy. What is all your seeming devotion, without bounty and mercifulness? ‘I have known many,’ says Basil, ‘pray and fast—but will not relieve those who are in distress. They are for a zeal which will put them to no expense. What are they the better for all their seeming virtue?’
We read that the incense was to be laid upon the fire (Leviticus 16:13). The flame of devotion must be perfumed with the incense of charity. Aaron was to have a bell and a pomegranate. The pomegranate, as some of the learned observe, was a symbol of good works. ‘They lack the pomegranate’ (says Gregory Nazianzen) ‘who have no good works.’ The wise men not only bowed the knee to Christ—but presented him with gold, myrrh and frankincense (Matthew 2:11). Pretenses of zeal are insufficient. We must not only worship Christ—but bestow something upon his members. This is to present Christ with gold and frankincense. Isaac would not bless Jacob by the voice—but he feels his hands, and supposing them to be Esau’s hands, he blessed him. God will not bless men by their voice, their loud prayers, their devout discourses—but if he feels Esau’s hands, if their hands have wrought good works, then he blesses them.
Let me exhort you therefore to deeds of mercy. Let your fingers drop with the myrrh of liberality. Sow your golden seed. Remember that excellent saying of Augustine, ‘Give those things to the poor which you cannot keep—that you may receive those things which you cannot lose.’ There are many occasions of exercising your mercifulness. Hear the orphans’ cry; pity the widows’ tears. Some need employment. It would do well to set their wheel a-going. Others are to old or sick to work—be as eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. In some cases whole families are sinking—if some merciful hand does not help to shore them up! Before I press arguments to liberality and munificence, there are THREE OBJECTIONS which lie in the way, which I shall endeavor to remove:
1. We may give and so in time come ourselves to need. Let Basil answer this. ‘Wells, which have their water drawn, spring ever more freely.’ ‘The liberal soul shall be made fat’ (Proverbs 11:25). There is nothing lost by relieving the needy. An estate may be imparted—yet not impaired. The flowers yield honey to the bee—yet do not hurt their own fruit. When the candle of prosperity shines upon us, we may light our neighbor who is in the dark, and have never the less light ourselves. Whatever is disbursed to pious uses, God brings it back to us some other way. As the loaves in breaking multiplied—or as the widow’s oil increased by pouring out (1 Kings 17:10).
2. I cannot do so much as others—erect churches, build hospitals, augment libraries, maintain scholars at the university.
If you cannot do so much—yet do something. Let there be much goodwill, though there is not much wealth to go with it. The widow’s two mites cast into the treasury were accepted (Luke 21:14). God (as Chrysostom observes) looked not at the smallest of her gift—but at the largeness of her heart. In the law, he who could not bring a lamb for an offering, if he brought but two turtledoves, it sufficed. We read that the people brought ‘gold and silver, and goats’ hair, to the building of the tabernacle’ (Exodus 35:22-24); on which place (says Origen), ‘I desire, Lord, to bring something to the building of your temple, if not gold to make the mercy-seat, if not silk to make the curtains—yet a little goats’ hair, that I may not be found in the number of those who have brought nothing to your temple’.
3. But I do not have anything to bestow upon the necessities of others. Have you anything to bestow upon your lusts? Have you money to feed your pride, your Epicurianism? And can you find nothing to relieve the poor members of Christ?
Admit this excuse to be real, that you do not have such an estate; yet you may do something wherein you may express your mercy to the poor. You may sympathize with them, pray for them, speak a word of comfort to them. ‘Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 40:2). If you can give them no gold, you may speak a word in season which may be as ‘apples of gold in pictures of silver’. Nay more, you may be helpful to the poor in stirring up others who have estates to relieve them. As it is with the wind, if a man be hungry the wind will not fill him—but it can blow the sails of the mill and make it grind grain for the use of man. So though you do not have an estate yourself to help him who is in need—yet you may stir up others to help him. You may blow the sails of their compassion, causing them to show mercy, and so you may help your brother by a proxy.