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
Having answered these objections let me now pursue the EXHORTATION to mercifulness. I shall lay down several arguments which I desire may be weighed in the balance of reason and conscience.
1. To be diffusively good is the great end of our creation. ‘Created in Christ Jesus unto good works’ (Ephesians 2:10). Every creature answers the end of its creation. The star shines, the bird sings, the plant bears fruit; the end of life is service. He who does not answer his end in respect of usefulness, cannot enjoy his end in respect of happiness. Many have been long in the world—but have not lived. They have done no good: ‘a useless weight of earth’. A useless person serves for nothing but to ‘cumber the ground’. And because he is barren in figs—he shall be fruitful in curses (Hebrews 6:8).
2. By mercifulness we resemble God who is a God of mercy. He is said to ‘delight in mercy’ (Micah 7:18). ‘His tender mercies are over all his works, (Psalm 145:9). He gives good for evil, like the clouds which receive ill vapors from us—but return them to us again in sweet showers. There is not a creature which lives, but tastes of the mercies of God. Every bird sings hymns of praise to God for his bounty—but men and angels in a more particular manner taste the cream and quintessence of God’s mercies.
What temporal mercies have you received! Every time you draw your breath you suck in mercy. Every bit of bread you eat, the hand of mercy carves it to you. You never drink but in a golden cup of mercy.
What spiritual mercies has God enriched some of you with! Pardoning, adopting, saving mercy! The picture of God’s mercy can never be drawn to the full. You cannot take the breadth of his mercy, for it is infinite, nor the height of it, for it ‘reaches above the clouds’, nor the length of it, for it is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (Psalm 103:17). The works of mercy are the glory of the Godhead. Moses prays, ‘Lord, show me your glory’ (Exodus 33:18). Says God, ‘I will make all my goodness to pass before you’ (verse 19). God accounts himself most glorious in the shining robes of his mercy. Now by works of mercy we resemble the God of mercy. We are bid to draw our lines according to this copy. ‘Be you merciful—as your Father also is merciful’ (Luke 6:36).
3. Alms are a sacrifice to God. ‘Do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased’ (Hebrews 13:16). When you are distributing to the poor—it is as if you were praying, as if you were worshiping God. There are two sorts of sacrifices; expiatory—the sacrifice of Christ’s blood; and thanksgiving—the sacrifice of alms. This (says holy Greenham) is more acceptable to God than any other sacrifice. The angel said to Cornelius, Your acts of charity have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). The backs of the poor, are the altar on which this sacrifice is to be offered.
4. We ourselves live upon alms. Other creatures liberally contribute to our necessities. The sun does not have its light for itself but for us; it enriches us with its golden beams. The earth brings us a fruitful crop, and to show how joyful a mother she is in bringing forth, the psalmist says ‘The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!’ (Psalm 65:13). One creature gives us wool, another oil, another silk. We are glad to go a-begging to the creation. Shall every creature be for the good of man—and man only be for himself? How absurd and irrational is this!
5. We are to extend our liberality by virtue of a membership. ‘I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.’ (Isaiah 50:7). The poor are ‘of the same clay’. The members by a law of equity and sympathy contribute one to another. The eye conveys light to the body, the heart blood, the head spirits. That is a dead member in the body which does not communicate to the rest. Thus it is in the body politic. Let no man think it is too far below him to mind the needs and necessities of others. That hand should be cut off, which disdains to pluck a thorn out of the foot. It is spoken in the honor of that renowned princess, the Empress of Theodosius the Great, that she herself visited the sick and prepared relief for them with her own imperial hands.
6. We are not lords of an estate—but stewards, and how soon may we hear the word, ‘Give an account of your stewardship, for you may be no longer steward!’ (Luke 16:2). An estate is a talent to trade with. It is as dangerous to hide our talent—as to waste it (Matthew 25:25, 30). If the covetous man keeps his gold too long, it will begin to rust, and the rust will witness against him (James 5:3).
7. The examples of others who have been renowned for acts of mercy and munificence.
Our Lord Christ is a great example of charity, he was not more full of merit, than bounty. Trajan the Emperor rent off a piece of his own robe to wrap his soldiers’ wounds. Christ did more. He rent his flesh; He made a medicine of his body and blood to heal us. ‘By his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). Here was a pattern of charity without a parallel.
The Jews are noted in this kind. It is a rabbinic observation that those who live devoutly among the Jews distribute a tenth part of their estate among the poor, and they give so freely (says Philo the Jew) as if by giving they hope to receive some great gratuity. Now if the Jews are so devoted to works of mercy, who live without Messiah, shall not we much more profess our faith in the blessed Messiah!
Let me tell you of some heathen. I have read of Titus Vespasian, he was so inured to works of mercy that remembering he had given nothing that day, cried out, ‘I have lost a day’. It is reported of some of the Turks that they have servants whom they employ on purpose to enquire what poor they have and they send relief to them. And the Turks have a saying in their Koran, that if men knew what a blessed thing it were to distribute alms, rather than spare, they would give some of their own flesh to relieve the poor. And shall not a Christian’s creed be better than a Turk’s Koran?
Let all this persuade to works of mercy. Believe me, it is a royal deed to support the fallen.
When poor indigent creatures like Moses are laid in the ark of bulrushes weeping and ready to sink in the waters of affliction, be as temporal saviors to them and draw them out of the waters with a golden cord. Let the breasts of your mercy nurse the poor. Be like the trees of the sanctuary both for food and medicine (Ezekiel 47:12). When distressed and even starved souls are fainting, let your spiritual cordials revive them. Let others see the coats and garments which you have made for the poor (Acts 9:39).
8. The sin of unmercifulness. The unmerciful man is an unthankful man, and what worse can be said? You to whom the Lord has given an estate, your cup runs over—but you have a miserly heart and will not part with anything for good uses; it is death to you to relieve those who are dying. Know that you are in the highest degree ungrateful; you are not fit for human society. The Scripture has put these two together ‘unthankful, without natural affection’ (2 Timothy 3:2, 3). God may repent that ever he gave such men estates, and may say as Hosea 2:9: ‘I will take back the wine and ripened grain I generously provided each harvest season. I will take away the linen and wool clothing I gave her.’
The unmerciful man lacks love to Christ. They would be very angry with those who should question their love; but do they love Christ who let the members of Christ starve? No! these love their money more than Christ, and come under that fearful ‘Anathema’ ‘If anyone does not love the Lord, that person is cursed’ (1 Corinthians 16:22).
9. Lastly, I shall use but one argument more to persuade to works of mercy, and that is the reward which follows alms-deeds. Giving of alms is a glorious work, and let me assure you it is not unfruitful work. Whatever is disbursed to the poor brethren, is given to Christ! ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40). The poor man’s hand is Christ’s treasury, and there is nothing lost that is put there. ‘Whatever you give by stretching forth your hand on earth is as it were given in heaven’. The text says, ‘the merciful shall obtain mercy’. In the Greek it is, ‘they shall be bemercied’. What is it, that we need most? Is it not mercy? Pardoning and saving mercy? What is it we desire on our deathbed? Is it not mercy? You who show mercy, shall find mercy. You who pour in the oil of compassion to others, God will pour in the golden oil of salvation unto you (Matthew 7:2).
The Shunammite woman showed mercy to the prophet and she received kindness from him another way (2 Kings 4:8-37). She welcomed him to her house—and he restored her dead child to life. Those who sow mercy, shall reap in kind; ‘they shall obtain mercy’. Such is the sweetness and mercifulness of God’s nature, that he will not allow any man to be a loser. No kindness shown to him shall be unregarded or unrewarded. God will be in no man’s debt. For a cup of cold water—he shall have a draught of Christ’s warm blood to refresh his soul. ‘For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have shown toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints . . .’ (Hebrews 6:10). God’s mercy is a tender mercy, a pure mercy, a rich mercy. Mercy shall follow and overtake the merciful man. He shall be rewarded in this life—and in the life to come.