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
Before I conclude this subject, let me lay down some brief rules concerning works of mercy.
1. Charity must be free. ‘You shall give, and your heart must not be grieved’ (Deuteronomy 15:10). That is, you must not be troubled at parting with your money. He who gives grievingly, gives grudgingly. It is not a gift—but a tax. Charity must flow like spring-water. The heart must be the spring, the hand the pipe, the poor the cistern. God loves a cheerful giver. Do not be like the fruit which has all the juice squeezed and pressed out. You must not give to the poor as if you were delivering your purse to the robber. Charity without cheerfulness, is rather a fine than an offering. It is rather doing of penance than giving of alms. Charity must be like the myrrh which drops from the tree without cutting or forcing.
2. We must give that which is our own (Isaiah 58:7). To give bread to the hungry, it must be ‘your bread’. The Scripture puts them together, ‘To do justice, to love mercy.’ (Micah 6:8). ‘For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and injustice’ (Isaiah 61:8). He who shall build an almshouse or hospital with ill-gotten goods, displays the ensign of his pride and sets up the monument of his shame!
3. Do all in Christ and for Christ.
Do all IN Christ. Labor that you may be in Christ. We are ‘accepted in him’ (Ephesians 1:6). Origen, Chrysostom, and Peter Martyr affirm that the best works not springing from faith, are lost. The Pelagians thought to have posed Augustine with that question, Whether it was sin in the heathen to clothe the naked? Augustine answered rightly: ‘The doing of good is not in itself evil—but proceeding from infidelity it becomes evil’. ‘To those who are unbelieving is nothing pure’ (Titus 1:15). That fruit is most sweet and genuine which is brought forth in the vine (John 15:4). Outside of Christ, all our alms-deeds are but the fruit of the wild olive tree. They are not good works—but dead works.
Do all FOR Christ, namely, for his sake, that you may testify your love to him. Love to Christ mellows and ripens our alms-deeds. It makes them a precious perfume to God. As Mary did out of love bring her ointments and sweet spices to anoint Christ’s dead body, so out of love to Christ bring your ointments and anoint his living body, namely, saints and members.
4. Works of mercy are to be done in humility. Away with ostentation! The worm breeds in the fairest fruit; and the moth in the finest cloth. Pride will be creeping into our best things. Beware of this dead fly in the box of ointment. When Moses’ face shone, he put a veil over it. So while your light shines before men and they see your good works, cover yourselves with the veil of humility. As the silkworm, while she weaves her curious works, hides herself within the silk and is not seen, so we should hide ourselves from pride and vainglory.
It was the sin of the Pharisees while they were distributing alms that they blew the trumpet (Matthew 6:2). They did not give their alms—but sold them for applause. A proud man ‘casts his bread upon the waters’, as a fisherman casts his angle upon the waters. He angles for vainglory. I have read of one Cosmus Medices, a rich citizen of Florence, that he confessed to a near friend of his, he built so many magnificent structures, and spent so much on scholars and libraries, not for any love to learning but to raise up to himself trophies of fame and renown.
A humble soul denies himself, yes, even annihilates himself. He thinks how little it is he can do for God, and if he could do more, it were but a due debt. Therefore he looks upon all his works as if he had done nothing. The saints are brought in at the last day as disowning their works of charity. ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ (Matthew 25:37-39). A holy Christian not only empties his hand of alms—but empties his heart of pride. While he raises the poor out of the dust, he lays himself in the dust. Works of mercy must be like the cassia, which is a sweet spice—but grows low.
5. Dispose your alms prudentially. It is said of the merciful man, ‘He orders his affairs with discretion’ (Psalm 112:5). There is a great deal of wisdom in distinguishing between those who have sinned themselves into poverty, and those who by the hand of God are brought into poverty. Discretion in the distribution of alms consists of two things: in finding out a fit object; in taking a fit season.
The finding out a fit object comes under a double notion. Give to those who are in most need. Raise the hedge where it is lowest. Feed the lamp which is going out. Give to those who may probably be more serviceable. Though we bestow cost and dressing upon a weak plant—yet not upon a dead plant. Breed up such as may help to build the house of Israel (Ruth 4:11), that may be pillars in church and state, not caterpillars making your charity to blush. ‘Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.’ (Galatians 6:10)
Discretion in giving alms is in taking the fit season. Give to charitable uses in time of health and prosperity. Distribute your silver and gold to the poor before ‘the silver cord is loosed or the golden bowl is broken’ (Ecclesiastes 12:6). ‘He who gives early, gives double’. Do not be as some, who reserve all they give until the term of life is ready to expire. Truly what is then bestowed is not given away—but taken away by death! It is not charity—but necessity. Oh do not so marry yourselves to money that you are resolved nothing shall part you from it—but death! A covetous man may be compared to a Christmas-box. He receives money—but parts with none until death breaks this box in pieces. Then the silver and the gold come tumbling out. Give in time of health. These are the alms which God takes notice of, and (as Calvin says) puts in his book of accounts.
6. Give thankfully. They should be more thankful who give an alms—than those who receive it. We should give a thank-offering to God that we are in the number of givers and not receivers. Bless God for a willing mind. To have not only an large estate—but a large heart, is matter of thankfulness
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