ŇBlessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.Ó Matthew 5:7
This verse containeth the fifth rule or precept of our Saviour Christ touching true happiness, in which observe two points: first, who be blessed; secondly, wherein this blessedness consists.
I. For the first, the parties blessed are the merciful. And that we may the better know them, shewing what mercy is; then, what be the chief duties thereof.
1. First, mercy is an holy compassion of heart, whereby a man is moved to help another in his misery.
(1) First, I call it a compassion of heart, because it makes one man to put on the person of another, and to be grieved for the miseries of another, as if they were his own; and therefore it is called the bowels of compassion (1 John 3:17), because when a manŐs heart is touched therewith, his very liver and entrails do stir in his body and are roused within him (Hos. 11:8) as the prophet speaketh; and he is affected, as though the bowels of him that is in misery were in his body.
(2) Secondly, I call it an (holy) compassion, to distinguish it from foolish pity, whereby a man doth unlawfully tender him that is in deserved misery; such was AhabŐs mercy to Benhadad (1 Kin. 20:30ff.), and SaulŐs in sparing Agag (1 Sam. 15:9), whereas the express commandment of God was to the contrary. But such mercy and compassion as God approveth, is a fruit of His Spirit, and a virtue commended and commanded in the Word of God.
(3) Thirdly, this virtue of mercy stirreth and moveth the heart to help another that is in misery; for help in misery is a notable fruit of true compassion. Neither can these be severed; for in the compassion of the heart, and in the act of relief, stands true mercy; and therefore John saith (1 John 3:17), He that seeeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? Whereby also we may see that no work of mercy is shewed to any man in misery, but that which cometh from compassion, and thus we see what mercy is.
2. Secondly, the duties of mercy are answerable to manŐs misery. Now manŐs misery is either in his soul or in his body. The greater miseries of man are in his soul; as ignorance, impenitence, and trouble of conscience. ManŐs bodily miseries are sickness, thirst, nakedness etc. and to these works of mercy are answerable. Some therefore concern the soul, and some the body. Mercy towards the soul is when a man is careful for the salvation of another, using means to bring a man from spiritual darkness unto light, from the power of Satan unto God, from the state of sin and the danger of hell fire, to the state of grace in true faith and repentance, and so to life eternal. And look how far the soul is more excellent than the body, so far doth this work exceed any work of mercy that concerns the body. Mercy towards the body is called alms or relief, whereby a manŐs outward necessity, for food, raiment or such like, is supplied. That this is a work of mercy is manifest (Isa. 58:10) where the relieving of the hungry is the pouring out of the soul unto him; and St John maketh the not relieving of our brother in need, to be the shutting of the door of compassion from him (1 John 3:17).
Now by this which hath been said concerning mercy and the work thereof, we may see who is a merciful man; namely, such an one as hath his heart touched with compassion towards the misery of another, and thereby is moved to help and relieve him in soul and body, according to his estate; and such a man is blessed by the testimony of Christ Himself, howsoever in the world he may be despised.
1. First, here we have to consider, what a number of miserable and cursed persons do live even in the bosom of GodŐs church; for if this rule of Christ be true, then unmerciful men are accursed. Now such are common among us. The richer sort which abound in outward blessings, think themselves happy; but if they be unmerciful, they are wretched. And such are all those that for the maintenance of their outward pomp and bravery, spoil the poor that live under them, by enclosing of commons, racking of rents, unreasonable fines, etc.; or for the satisfying of their vain pleasure and delight, bestow more upon hawks and hounds than on the poor. Such a wretched person also is the cornmonger, who hath his barns full, and his garners full, and yet suffereth the poor to want bread, waiting still for a dearer time. Such also are our common usurers, engrossers and forestallers of needful commodities whatsoever; all these seek themselves, and have no mercy on them that are in misery. Yea, such likewise are those householders who spend their time and wealth in some disordered course, as whoring, gaming, drinking, or such like, and so neglect their family; these deny the faith, and are worse than Jews and Turks (1 Tim. 5:8), nay, than brute beasts, for they are merciful towards their own. It were an easy thing thus to shew through all estates, the great multitude of miserable persons; for now the common proverb is become the common practice: Every man for himself, and God for us all.
2. Secondly, seeing that the merciful man is blessed, we must learn to put on tender mercy, or the bowels of compassion towards those that be in misery. And to move us hereunto, let us mark these things:
(1) First, the state of the merciful is here pronounced blessed of Christ.
(2) Secondly, mercy is a gift of the Spirit, and the grace of GodŐs elect (Col. 3:12), which always accompanieth the happy estate of those that be in Christ; for the power of grace doth change their carnal nature (Isa. 11:6,7).
(3) Thirdly, hereby we become like unto God our heavenly Father, who is the father of mercies (2 Cor. 1:3).
(4) Fourthly, hereby we are made instruments of GodŐs mercy to them that be in misery; for God conveys His blessings unto His poor creatures ordinarily by means. We count it an high honour and a great favour to be the kingŐs almoner [official distributor of alms]. Oh then, how great is this dignity, to be the almoner to the God of heaven, to disperse His goodness and mercies among the children of men? And hereto we are advanced, if we help the poor that be in misery.
(5) Fifthly, the exercise of mercy commendeth our religion, not only before men, but unto God, for (Jam. 1:27) pure religion and undefiled is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their distress; and (Hos. 6:6) God will have mercy and not sacrifice; therefore the apostle bids (Heb. 13:16) to do good, and to distribute, forget not; for with such sacrifice God is pleased. (Isa. 58:6,7) This is the fast which God requires, to loose the bands of wickedness, to take off the heavy burden, and to let the oppressed go free, to take off every yoke; and on the other side, to bread thy bread unto the hungry, to bring the poor that wanders into thine house, and to cover the naked, etc.
And because this duty is so necessary and excellent, I will propound certain rules to be observed for furtherance herein.
(1) First, we must exercise three of our senses: seeing, hearing and feeling, in other menŐs miseries:
(i) For seeing (Deut 15:3), we must be very wary it grieves us not to look upon our poor brother, but we must see and behold his misery and distress, whether it be in soul or body. This is the LordŐs practice. Israel is oppressed in Egypt, and the Lord saith (Exod. 3:7,9), I have surely seen the trouble of my people, and the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. And we must be followers of God, as dear children, and learn to visit them that be in misery, either through sickness, imprisonment, poverty or such like; for sight will stir up in a man a sense and compassion of othersŐ miseries. Hence it is said (Matt. 14:14) that, when Jesus saw a great multitude, He was moved with compassion towards them. And who can see a poor distressed person to lie in straw, or on the ground, without needful relief, as many a one would not suffer his dog to lie, and not to be moved with compassion?
(ii) Secondly, if we cannot come to see a manŐs misery, then we must be content to hear of it, and give heed and credit to the true reports that others make thereof unto us. Thus did Nehemiah, hearing of the affliction of the residue of the captivity (Neh. 1:3,4; 2:3), he wept and mourned, fasted and prayed, and sought for relief for them at the kingŐs hands.
(iii) Thirdly, for feeling, if the Lord shall afflict our bodies with sickness, or our souls with temptations, we must be willing to suffer the same patiently, that thereby we may be fitted to take more compassion upon others in like case, and to comfort them the better. Paul saith of himself and Timothy (2 Cor. 1:8) that in Asia, they were pressed with affliction above measure, passing strength, so as they altogether doubted of life; and yet (he saith, v.4) the Lord deals mercifully with them; that they might be able to comfort others which were in any affliction, with the same comfort wherewith God had comforted them.
(2) Secondly, we must make our particular callings wherein we live, the instruments of mercy, and in doing the duties thereof, shew forth compassion towards others. This rule is of great use, and therefore it will not be amiss to shew the practice of it in particular. The magistrate must rule and govern in mercy; and the minister must preach in mercy; every sermon must be a work of compassion towards the people, not only for the matter which it containeth, but for the manner of his delivery, and in the scope and drift which he aimeth at. He which preacheth otherwise, doth bar himself of all mercy, even then, when he entreats of mercy unto others. There is a carnal and human kind of preaching which nowadays takes place, wherein nothing is so much regarded as the vaunting of wit, memory and learning, by fine contrived sentences, multiplicity of quotations, variety of allegations of Fathers, Schoolmen, and other learning; but herein is no mercy nor compassion to the poor soul. It is said indeed that none condemn this kind of preaching, but they that cannot attain unto it; but the truth is that God will have His Word delivered (1 Cor. 2:4) not in the enticing speech of manŐs wisdom, but in the plain evidence of the spirit and of power; and therefore a man cannot with good conscience apply himself to such kind of preaching, else no doubt a man of mean gifts might find it more easy to attain unto, than to the true preaching of Christ crucified.
(3) Thirdly, every private man must make the duties of his calling, works of mercy; the rich man must know himself to be, not a lord, but a steward of GodŐs blessings, and therefore must employ and dispense the same in mercy, by giving and lending unto the poor freely, as God shall minister unto him just occasion. The tradesman must buy and sell in mercy, dealing justly with the rich, and shewing liberality to the poor. The master must only in mercy use the labour of his servant; and the servant thus in mercy do service to his master, for conscience towards God. And happy were it with all estates, if this rule of mercy were observed; the want whereof, is the bane of all societies.
(4) Fourthly, for the more cheerful practice of mercy, we must lay aside some part of our goods for the relief of them that be in misery. The Jews were commanded to set apart the firstfruits of their corn and cattle for the LordŐs altar; but in the New Testament the altar is ceased, and the poor come instead thereof; and therefore we must now bequeath something for their relief. Many are given to great excess in fare and in attire; but they may do well to abate some part thereof and bestow it on the poor, for hereby will the rest be sanctified to their more free and comfortable use; nay, in case of necessity, we ought to sequester some part of our own necessaries for the refreshing of the poor; so did the church of Macedonia, even beyond their power, give to the relief of the afflicted brethren (2 Cor. 8:3). Men are exceeding cold in charity, and one main cause thereof is want of observing this rule, in setting apart some thing, according as God shall bless us in our callings, for the relief of the poor.
II. The second point to be considered in this rule is, wherein this blessedness doth consist; namely, in the obtaining of mercy. He that shews mercy, shall find mercy, both with God and man. Where:
1. First, we may see the error of the church of Rome in their doctrine of merits; for they make a special part of human satisfaction to consist in alms-deeds and relieving of the poor, teaching that a man may hereby inherit eternal life. But they err grossly; for then Christ would not have said, blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy; but rather thus: they shall find justice; for that which comes of merit, is due by right.
2. Secondly, hereby we may see what to think of our church and nation, in respect of the true title to GodŐs mercy; for only the merciful shall find mercy. Now it were easy to go through all orders and conditions of men among us, and therein to shew abundance of unmercifulness and cruelty; so as we may justly be called a cruel people, and therefore cannot look for mercy at GodŐs hand; for to the merciful shall be judgment without mercy (Jam. 2:13). This is evident by the LordŐs dealing with His people; for all their sacrifices and duties of religion were abomination unto the Lord, because their hands were full of blood (Isa. 1:11,12,15); and because they had no mercy, therefore they were led into captivity, as we may see at large, Jer. 5:28; Ezek. 9:9,10; and Zech. 9:12. Now we being in the same case with them for unmercifulness and cruelty, have no doubt deserved long since the same punishment; even that the enemy should deprive us both of gospel and peace, and of all our prosperity and wealth. What then shall we do? Surely we must humble ourselves by prayer and fasting unto the Lord, if not publicly, yet privately; every man and every family apart, even for this one sin of unmercifulness; and withal in this humiliation, begin to practice mercy by bestowing that upon the poor, which we spare from our bodies in the day of our fast.