Blessed are the Merciful

March 6, 2005 / No. 3244

Dear Radio Friends,

          In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 the Lord Jesus is giving the spiritual marks of those who belong to His kingdom.  We may call the Beatitudes “birthmarks.”  As a child is born with a mark to distinguish him lifelong, so spiritually those who are born again with that life which is from above have also been given certain marks by which they might be known.  Jesus, in Matthew 5, when He speaks the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are they that mourn…”) is describing the marks, the spiritual marks, of the citizens of His kingdom.  Our Lord is choosing them very carefully.  You must not come to Matthew 5 and think that there is a haphazard list here thrown together.  But they follow,that is, each one comes out of the one that is before.  The first four Beatitudes deal with the internal feelings present in the heart of one who has been brought into the kingdom of Jesus.  They are poor in spirit:  they know that they have nothing, can do nothing, and deserve nothing.  They mourn:  they have a sorrow over their sin.  They are meek:  they possess humility before God.  They hunger and thirst after righteousness:  they desire to be filled with righteousness — a righteousness to pardon them of their sins, a righteousness to make them holy.

          The next four Beatitudes—Blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake—are the fruits of the first four in our lives.  This is what we will be.  There is a very close relationship, then, between the fourth and the fifth Beatitudes.  In the fourth Beatitude, the Lord said, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst; for they shall be filled.”  He said there that the citizens of the kingdom would be fully satisfied with a righteousness that God will give to them.  The result of that will be that they possess mercy and they will exercise mercy one toward another.  The fourth Beatitude expresses our deepest longing, that we hunger and thirst after a perfect righteousness that God alone can give to us.  And now, having supplied that, having given that to us, in the fifth Beatitude the Lord speaks of the fruit:  being filled with His grace we shall become merciful.

          What a test of the reality of our Christian confession.  What a test of our standing as children of God.  Are you one who has received righteousness—the righteousness of Jesus Christ?  Are you merciful?  Is there within you a disposition of compassion toward the miserable?  That is the first test if we are for real.  If our confession of Jesus Christ is a genuine confession, and if our trust in Him for righteousness is true, then we shall be made merciful.

          Perhaps you dislike personal probing, analysis, and testing.  You find that to be very disturbing.  You do not like that.  You want to leave that along.  But, you see, the Scriptures are constantly probing our hearts.  Though this probing might hurt, it is essential.  It is good for you and it is good for me to be brought face-to-face with what we are. It is very good to be humbled.  And it is also very good to see His work in us.  We read in I John 3, “And hereby we know that we are of him and can assure our hearts before him.”  We know that when God gives to us to be merciful.

          “Blessed,” said Jesus, “are the merciful:  for they shall obtain mercy.”  The mercy of God is free.  You cannot earn it.  It is freely given and we must freely give mercy the one to the other.  The Lord here is not talking about the reason or ground of our acceptance of God, but He is speaking of the fruit or the result of having been accepted by God.  Those who insist that the Bible teaches salvation by works would appeal to this verse in support of their proud error.  They say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  They shall obtain things from God because of their mercy.  They shall inherit the earth.”  I’ll have more to say about that in a moment, but right now I would like you to see with me that Jesus is not describing the reason or ground upon which our hope of salvation rests, but He is talking of the fruit or the result of salvation in those who have freely received of God mercy.  We do not show mercy in order to merit or earn mercy from God.  That would overthrow the gospel of God’s grace.  But the truth is that those who have received mercy are now made merciful one to another.  Mercy of God is free.  Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  You did not earn God’s mercy!  The Lord freely bestowed it, out of His own eternal will, through Jesus Christ.  Are you merciful?

          This is what the Lord taught us in the parable of the unmerciful servant, when in that parable in Matthew 18 the servant whom his lord had forgiven a great debt that he could never have paid, found his fellow servant who owed him but a minor debt and grabbed him by the throat and said, “Pay me what thou owest.”  And the Lord said to that servant:  “Oh, thou wicked servant.  Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant even as I had pity on thee?”  This is what Jesus means.  The gospel places emphasis upon what we are.  The Christian must be made something before he can do something.  We must first be Christians before we can act like Christians.  Christianity is not an act.  It is not, first of all, that you do this or that.  But it is something that you have been made, by grace, to be, by the Holy Spirit.  The Beatitudes are telling us this:  The Christian faith is not something on the surface, it is not a veneer, but it is a change that God makes in the inward man.  Now all of the actions and the thoughts proceed out of that inward change.  God has shown us mercy, and when God shows us mercy in Jesus, then we are made merciful.

          But what is it to be merciful?  The idea here is not that we are simply easy going, that we do not bear grudges, and that we let things go.  The Lord is not referring to a human virtue or a human characteristic.  Then mercy would be that when something evil is committed against me we simply carry on and we choose to forget about it.  But mercy, the mercy that Jesus is referring to, is the holy compassion of the soul whereby we are moved with pity toward someone in misery.  Mercy is the love of God for us who were in misery.  Mercy was God’s compassion and pity upon us in our misery to do us a great good.  And that great good was to give Jesus to be our full salvation.

          God’s mercy — the Bible points us to God’s mercy so often, for it is a wonderful thing.  For instance, when the apostle Paul would begin his letters, he would say to the various churches, “Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you.”  God’s grace is God’s favor — that is, His unmerited favor towards guilty sinners.  Mercy is very similar.  Only it looks at us in the misery of our sins.  It looks at us as we are destitute and as we are hopeless in the way of our sins.  In our sins we are wretched, we are shamed, so that no eye would ever have any pity upon us.  God’s mercy, which the Bible celebrates, is the compassion, the stirring of the heart of God, towards His elect as He sees them in their awful misery and He is moved to do them good.  Mercy is the holy pity of God toward us in our sins and the giving of Jesus Christ to wash away those sins.

          So, when God has mercy upon us, He also gives us to be merciful.  We possess, then, pity one toward another as we see each other in our misery of sin and we desire to help one another.  You see, mercy is not a callous, cruel, hard, cold thing.  A child of God has experienced the tender compassions of God, and then, as a result, his heart goes out in love and pity toward others.  The Scriptures speak of it.  The apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:1-4, says, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded.”  The apostle John says the same thing in I John 3:16ff., “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us:  and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”  God makes His child merciful.  That is, the child of God, knowing his own burden of sin and having experienced the pity and the love of God, now also is filled with pity toward others.  As God saw us in the misery of our sins and had pity, so now we also desire to show that mercy one toward another.

          Blessed are the merciful, said the Lord, for they shall obtain mercy.  The Lord looks at this as an activity.  As our cold, callous hearts are changed, they are stirred.  The heart moves the hand and the tongue to render aid and to help one another.  There are many examples in the Bible.  There is the example of the good Samaritan.  The Levite and the priest left alone the man who had been robbed and wounded and left for dead.  They passed by on the other side.  But the Samaritan was moved with compassion toward the man’s misery.  This is a very important thing today for us, as children of God, to understand.  Today we live in a culture in which people are daily ridiculed and humiliated and ragged on.  And many say, “Why should I do any good to him?”  That comes out in marriage so often.  The very nature that we possess is a nature that is harsh and cruel.  It shows itself in venomous words and deeds of revenge and sharp tongues.  But the child of God is made merciful.

          When you are merciful, then you deal in a gentle and kindly manner toward the needy.  It means that we gladly forgive those who have trespassed against us.  We do good to those who outwardly are in need of help.  The mercy of God melts our cold and frosted hearts.  It penetrates the block of rock in our heart.  That means that we must come to the Scriptures daily.  We must see the mercy of God upon us.  We must see how merciful God has been to us.  And then we must repent of our unmercifulness.  We must become more and more merciful.

          The merciful, then, are the ones who are clinging to Jesus Christ by grace, who are confessing that they deserve nothing, that they deserve in reality eternal punishment in the lake of hell.  But God has had mercy upon them.  God has seen them in their misery.  And now, out of that experience, they too reflect the mercy of God one to another.

          Blessed are the merciful, said Jesus, for they shall obtain mercy.  There is no Beatitude of the eight Beatitudes here that is so misunderstood and misused as this particular one.  Many say this means that if I am merciful, God will be merciful to me.  We make, then, this blessing conditional.  So we begin to think that deeds of mercy become brownie points and something whereby we are saved.  But the Lord does not teach that we obtain mercy through our mercy.  Yes, there certainly is a relationship here.  There is a relationship between our deeds of mercy that Christ works in us and the experiencing of mercy.  That is very true.  Only when we walk in the Christian way, only when we are sincere and true, only when, by God’s grace, our hearts are warm and generous one towards another, only in that way can we experience the mercies of God upon us.  That is certainly true.  But the relationship is never that our deeds earn God’s mercy towards us.  It is certainly true that we can only experience the mercy of God in the way of repentance and a true holy walk.  But again, repentance and a holy walk do not earn salvation.

          Would you really want to think so?  Would you want God to do to you as you have done?  Do you really want that?  If so, if you want God to do with you as you do, then do not think that you shall ever obtain mercy of God.  Do you want to be judged of God on the basis of your actions, on the basis of your heart?  Then, the Bible says, not one of us will see heaven.  In Psalm 143 the psalmist says, “Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no flesh living shall be justified.”  Salvation causes us to look to the cross as that which earns our salvation.  If God’s mercy is earned or conditioned by ours, then we must erase the whole gospel of grace from the Bible.  Then we must never say, Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God,” but we shall say, “For by grace are we saved and also by our own showing grace and mercy, for that is our work.”  No.  We must not make this conditional.

          But this is what it means.  We experience God’s mercy in the way of living in mercy.  There is an inward benefit, you see.  The Lord is referring to a blessing, a blessing that we experience in our hearts, a blessing that comes to us in the way of being merciful.  We shall obtain mercy.  We read in Proverbs 11:17, “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul:  but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”  Oh, the agony, the miserable life, of bearing a grudge, of being cruel, of being harsh.  Mercy, showing mercy as God has shown mercy to me, brings breath to my soul.

          We receive mercy from the hands of our fellow saints.  That is also the meaning here.  As you treat and live with your fellow saint, whether that fellow saint is your wife or husband, your father or mother, your child, your teenager, whoever that fellow saints is, as you live with that fellow saint, so shall you be treated.  The Lord said in Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you.”  Freely you have received, freely give.  Scatter abroad the mercy that God has shown you.  Sow richly in mercy.  Do not sow sparingly.  Envy, jealousy, harshness, bitterness, and cruel judgments all bring their fruit into our lives; they make life very narrow, confined.  They put you in a box.  But mercy opens doors, establishes ties and relationships, puts us on each other’s hearts to live and to die one for another.

          You will experience assurance of mercy from God in the way of being merciful.  Psalm 18:25, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright.”  We show mercy?  We, who are sinners?  We are now given a feeling of holy compassion one for another?  Well, that is certainly not of ourselves, is it?  That is a free gift of God.  That is a divine work of God’s grace in our hearts.  God has been merciful to me.  In the light of God’s mercy to me, will I not see others differently? There cannot be assurance of the mercy of God in any other way.  Psalm 66, “If in my heart I sin regard; my prayers He will not hear.”  That was a versification of one of the verses of Psalm 66.   Do you want to have roadblocks to your prayers?  Do you want to have roadblocks to your spiritual life?  Do you want to shrivel up and have a hard, cold heart?  Then live your life without mercy toward another.  Exact from them the pound of flesh.  But God’s grace in the child of God gives him to know a wonderful mercy in Christ.  And, living out of that mercy, we also receive the assurance that we have received mercy.

          Are you merciful?  I am not asking about your life, whether you have done this or that.  I am not asking you if you have some general interest in the kingdom of God.  I am not asking if you have some general knowledge of Christianity.  I am asking you:  Are you merciful?  Do you know God’s pity for a miserable sinner — yourself?  And do you also feel in your heart compassion toward those who are miserable and suffering, towards sinners wherever you meet them — in the church, in marriage, in the family — especially those sinners who sin against you?  That is the test.  Are you merciful?

          Blessed are the merciful, for they have obtained mercy from God.

          Let us pray.

          Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word, and we pray that it may be inscribed this day upon our hearts.  Give us, O Lord, to stand before the cross and to know that wondrous mercy, and then to show forth that mercy in everything that we do.  Soften our hearts, O Lord, by Thy holy Word and glorify Thyself in our lives.  We pray in the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, Amen.