By J.R. Miller
"Blessed are the merciful--for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7
Mercy is a shining quality. Yet, like all the qualities in this cluster of beatitudes, its brightness is heavenly, not earthly. Christian mercifulness is not a fruit of mere human nature; it is not found nor even remotely suggested among the "works of the flesh." It is a fruit of the Spirit. It is born from above.
Mercifulness manifests itself in two ways--first, in patience and forbearance toward those who do wrong, leniency toward those who fail; and secondly, in ministrations of kindness and love to those who are in need.
The first of these manifestations is negative. The merciful are not exacting. They do not insist on claiming all that is due to them. They do not deal harshly with those who injure or offend them. The word mercy has in it always the thought of grace. It is kindness to the undeserving. The merciful are those who look with pity upon the unworthy, and who are forgiving and long-suffering. In this view, mercy is akin to meekness.
The other phase of the quality is active and positive. The merciful are not only disposed to be forbearing and patient; they are ready to show their love in ministries of kindness, not to the good and worthy only--but to the unworthy and undeserving as well. They have a heart of gentleness, which prompts them to acts of mercy.
It is easy to find the lesson of mercifulness written out for us in the Book in which all our life's lessons are set down. We find it first in God Himself. What if God were not merciful? Where then would be our hope? The first favor we must ask and receive of Him--is mercy. Until we are forgiven--we cannot stand in His presence. Mercy is the first word of blessing we hear, as we look up into the divine face with penitence in our heart. The cross of Christ is the most wonderful point in all history; and the cross is the divine mercy giving itself, the Lamb of God bearing man's sin. Everywhere God's mercy shines. We live under a canopy of love.
When we turn to the narrative of God's dealing with men, it is one long story of mercy, divine forbearance, pity, compassion. In every line of the record of Christ's life, we find the same marvelous quality. We see it in His infinite patience with sin, injustice and wrong. We see it also in His life of love, in His ministry of kindness, in His unceasing work of compassion.
One of the old legends says that as our Lord walked away from the grave, on the morning of His resurrection, lovely flowers grew in the path where His footfalls pressed. It is only a legend--but there is a sense in which sweetest flowers did indeed grow in every path which those holy feet pressed. He went about doing good. We can count up a certain number of miracles which are recorded in the Gospels--but the miracles were the smallest part of His acts of love. His days were filled with unrecorded mercies. No one ever came into His presence in need--and went away without a blessing. His life was full of merciful deeds.
When we turn to the teachings of Christ, we find the lesson set for us in shining lines on every page. He called it love--He said His followers should love not God alone--but their fellow men as well. He was careful, too, to break down every fence, so that not one man or woman should be left out from the company of those whom we are to love.
He was particular to say that we are to love our enemies. Anyone can love a kind friend. Anyone can be kind--to one who is kind to him. But we are to go beyond what common human nature would do--we are to bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who harm us and persecute us.
Then in that wonderful story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it most clear that the love which His followers are to exhibit, must not be a mere gentle sentiment, like so much of what people call religion--but must be a love that ministers and stops at no cost in its ministering. The priest and the Levite were types of good men--we need not say harsh things about them, for the great majority of modern religionists do the same thing every day--but they lacked the true mercifulness which the need before them demanded. Then the Good Samaritan came along--a man who made no profession whatever of love for the Jews. The wounded man by the wayside hated him--but this did not hinder the flow of the Samaritan's compassion in immediate, costly and most helpful ministry. That is our Lord's thought of what mercifulness should be ready ever to do.
In His representation of the judgment, our Lord shows in a wonderful way the place which mercifulness has in the divine thought of a good and true Christian life. Those who are called to the right hand of the King, are not the great theologians, the brilliant scholars, the distinguished church leaders--but those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, shown hospitality to the strangers, clothed the naked and visited the sick and the prisoner--that is, the merciful, who with gentle heart and thoughtful sympathy--have ministered to the needy ones of the earth.
These are mere fragments of the teaching of our Lord, inculcating the duty of mercifulness. His whole gospel pulsates with tenderness. There never beat in this world, such another heart of gentleness as the heart of Jesus--and His followers are to be what He was--repeating the pity, the compassion, the patience, the comfort, the sympathy of His life, wherever they go. Everything that is harsh or unmerciful is denounced as unworthy a disciple.
"The servant of God must not strive--but be gentle," said Paul. Very rarely did Jesus utter a severe word--yet He spoke with burning condemnation of those who professed to be the religious teachers of the people--and yet were lacking in the spirit and practice of love" "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness."
The holy indignation of that great heart of love burned in hot flame against all injustice and unkindness, against all unmercifulness. In the same judgment scene in which such honor is put upon common kindnesses--the most withering curse is uttered against the mere neglect of mercifulness--not feeding the hungry, not giving drink to the thirsty, not showing hospitality to the stranger, not ministering to the sick. It is not enough to refrain from rudeness, harshness and unkindness; the lack of mercifulness is sin against the law of love!
As we study closely the New Testament definitions of true religion, we learn how inadequate are those conceptions of a Christian life, which leave out the practice of the law of mercy and love. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"
The blessedness pronounced on the merciful is: "They shall obtain mercy." Thus mercy is indeed twice blessed. It blesses him who gives--and him who receives.
It is true, that the merciful shall obtain mercy, and the unmerciful shall find no mercy. This is taught in the petition, "Forgive us our sins--as we forgive those who sin against us." Thus divine mercy and human mercifulness are linked together. If we will not forgive--we cannot be forgiven. But if we forgive--we shall find forgiveness. So important is this truth that our Lord repeated the teaching over and over, speaking one of His great parables to enforce the lesson that the unmerciful cannot obtain mercy from God.
But the same is true in our relations with our fellow men--the merciful obtain mercy; and the unmerciful find no pity. Those who judge others--shall be judged by others. With the measure that we mete out--it shall be measured to us. We receive--what we give. We find in the world--what we are prepared in ourselves to find. The lover of beauty finds beauty everywhere, even in a desert; while he who has no eye for loveliness finds dreariness even in a garden. He who has songs in his heart--hears songs in every place; while the man with no music in his soul--would hear only harsh discords if even angels were singing. The selfish man tells you everybody is selfish--while he who has a generous heart finds generous spirits in every company. The unmerciful find only coldness and ungentleness; while the merciful obtain mercy.
Then there is the law of spiritual harvest--whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. Those who deal unjustly--shall gather injustice into their own bosom, sooner or later; and those who scatter merciful deeds--shall harvest mercy.
Sometimes, however, this beatitude may seem to fail in this world, and those who sow love in the fields of need, may appear to get no return, or may suffer neglect or ingratitude in the days of their own need. But this world does not see the end. Ofttimes there is only the sowing here, the harvest coming in the life beyond. We may be sure at least, that in the end there will be no failure of fitting return. We have our Master's word that not even the giving of a cup of cold water shall miss its reward. No ministry of kindness will be forgotten, or will fail to bring its blessing.
There are two things which this old world needs--tenderness and cheer. All about us are hearts hungry for sympathy, for kindness. Then everywhere are weary and discouraged ones, needing the uplift of hope to make them brave and strong enough to go forward to meet the future. We could do nothing better with our life, than to consecrate it to a ministry of tenderness and encouragement. This is one of heaven's paths to happiness, for the merciful shall obtain mercy.