Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

Blessed are the merciful

The following post is by Troy Hostetter, an elder at Redeemer Church:

Recent events in the lives of friends and neighbors reminded me again of the need to be merciful to those who are in need of mercy.  What follows is a great call to be merciful by D. Martin Lloyd Jones in his Sermon on the Mount series, as he walks us through what it means for the Christian to be merciful.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Are we merciful?  The Christian is merciful.  However, to the Christian, being merciful does not mean ‘easygoing.’  It does not mean to be free minded, to have the right to do as one pleases, to not believe in law or discipline, to not believe in justice or righteousness.  God is merciful.  But God is also righteous, holy and just.  If we can think of mercy only at the expense of truth and law, it is not true mercy, it is a false understanding of the term.

So what is mercy?  When compared with grace, “mercy is especially associated with men in their misery whereas grace is especially associated with men in their sins.”  Grace looks upon sin as a whole, mercy looks upon the miserable consequences of sin.  Mercy means having a sense of pity with a desire to relieve suffering.  The sense of pity plus taking action.

The supreme example of mercy is the coming of the Son of God.  He saw our pitiable state, He saw the suffering, and, in spite of the law breaking, our pitiable state of suffering is what moved Him to action.  He entered our world, experienced the effects of sin and suffering, and then dealt with our condition.  The atonement, His death, was necessary.  There was no other way.  Both justice and mercy, or truth and mercy, required an awful action on the part of the Son.

So who are they that receive mercy?  Do we conclude then that if we are merciful towards others, then God will be merciful to us?  Or if we forgive others, we will be forgiven by God?  Is this what is being said? Are these the conditions to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness?  Does the Bible teach that we are forgiven by God only as we forgive others and to the extent that we forgive others?

First, if the Christian were judged strictly on these terms, it is very certain none of us would be forgiven nor ever see heaven.  Forgiveness is impossible in this narrow and strictly legal manner.  Second, this reasoning puts God in our debt, and cancels the whole doctrine of grace through faith, and that not of ourselves.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

What IS Jesus saying when he says “they shall receive mercy?”  Our Lord is simply saying that the Christian is only truly forgiven when he/she is truly repentant.  To be truly repentant means that you realize you deserve nothing but punishment, the wages for sin, and that if you are forgiven, it is attributed entirely to the love of God alone and to His mercy and grace alone, and to nothing else at all.  Further, if the Christian is truly repentant and realizes their position before God, and that they realize that they are only forgiven by God’s free mercy and grace alone, then of necessity they shall forgive those who trespass against them.

This beatitude, blessed are the merciful, follows 4 others, each building upon one another in the following manner:  The Christian is poor in Spirit; they realize that they have no righteousness; they realize that face-to-face with God and His righteousness they are utterly helpless; they can do nothing. They mourn because of their sin within them; they have come to see, with the Spirit’s help, the blackness of their own heart.  They know what it is to cry out “O wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me?”  They desire to be rid of this blackness.  The Christian is meek.  They realize that since they now have this true view of themselves before God, nobody else can hurt them, nobody else can insult them, and nobody else can ever say anything too bad about them.  They have seen themselves as something truly hateful, and it is because of this that they have hungered and thirsted after righteousness.  They have longed for it.  They have seen that they cannot create or produce righteousness, and that nobody else can.  They have seen their desperate position before God.

On that day, in the end, when the Christian stands before the judgment seat of Christ, and has to give an account of the deeds done on earth, the Christian will be in need of mercy.  There will be things which are wrong and sinful, and the Christian will need mercy in that day.  Thank God, in that day, if the grace of Christ is in us, if His spirit is in us, and we are merciful, we shall obtain mercy in that day.  The grace of God in Christ DOES make the Christian merciful.

So it comes to this.  If we are not merciful, there is only one explanation; we have never understood the grace and mercy of God; we are outside of Christ.  We are yet in our sins, and are unforgiven.

Let every man examine himself.  Are you merciful?  Are you sorry, and have pity, for every sinner even though that sinner offends you?  Do you have pity upon all who are the victims and dupes of the world, the flesh, and the devil?  That is the test.

Blessed … happy … are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.