48. The Beatitudes - Blessed are the Merciful (Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36)*
It is useful to sum up at this point the fundamental spiritual
truths which the Beatitudes have outlined to the disciple of Christ.
The first necessary virtue is for him to recognize that he has
no virtue--in this sense he is “poor in spirit”. This inner sense of
worthlessness (held, be it emphasized, in sheer honesty before God, and not
merely as a formal doctrine) expressed itself outwardly in a spirit of meekness
towards others. Further, there is a dejection of spirit because neither in the
world nor in one’s own inner life is God honoured as He should be.
Especially regarding self is there a great hunger for heavenly qualities, a
thirst insatiable in this life that the righteousness of Christ express itself
more truly in changed character.
Two of the Beatitudes, concerning the merciful and the
peacemakers, now illustrate essential aspects of this New Man of
Christian Blessedness in his attitude towards others.
Concerning the former of these virtues, it is important to be
clear in one’s mind as to just what this Christ “mercy” is
not. If is not soft-heartedness. It is not forbearance or
leniency. It is not even compassion. It is a forgiving spirit. This is
the basic Old Testament idea behind the word “mercy”. Indeed all
through the Bible this word is only rarely used to describe men. It is
essentially a divine attribute, and the chief field of its expression is in the
forgiveness of sins extended to men who have nothing to offer except their
Psalms and Prophets teem with expressions such as
“The Lord is slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Ps. 145:8).
The suggestion has been made of a distinction between mercy
and grace-thatgrace expresses the divine attitude to men in their sin, and mercy
His reaction to their misery. The distinction, if correct, is a fine one.
Certainly the two run together inasmuch as men’s miseries stem from their
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness” (Ps.
“In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with
kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer” (ls.
Mercy and Truth
It is specially to be noted that the familiar phrase
“mercy and truth” is earmarked in the Old Testament to describe
God’s Covenants of Promise: “Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob
and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers since the days
of old” (Mic. 7:20). “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham,
who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and truth” (Gen.
24:27). “My mercy will I keep for him (the promised Son of David) for
evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him” (Ps.
The reasons for the use of this expression are not difficult
to sort out. The Promises are God’s “Truth” because of their
certainty; they cannot fail. They are His “Mercy” because they are
His unearned offer of heavenly forgiveness. This is how Peter and Paul expound
the Blessing of Abraham in the greatest Promise of all (Gen. 22:18; Acts. 3;25;
Gal. 3:8, 9).
Mercy in Action
The merciful man emulates this characteristic of his God. As
he has experienced the forgiveness of sins so also he extends the like
forgiveness to others. So necessary and vital is this that the Lord was at pains
to emphasize it both positively and negatively in the only comment which he
added to the pattern prayer he framed for his disciples: “For if ye
forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if
ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
trespasses” (Mt. 6:14, 15; 18:33 RV; Jas. 2:13; Ps. 18:25,
It is a simple basic divine principle which, according to
personal experience, has received nothing like the emphasis it deserves. People
store up criticism and cherish resentment of others in flat denial of the
Lord’s simple truth that it is the merciful, the forgiving, who are happy;
it is they, and no others, who obtain mercy, enjoying the assurance of sins
The Answer to a Difficult Problem
Yet, for many who grope after the ideals of Christian
discipleship, this is one of the major problems of life - how to be
understanding, tolerant, forgiving, merciful towards those who themselves are
small-minded, spiteful, bitter, uncharitable. “An eye for eye and a tooth
for a tooth”, in spirit if not literally, seems to be the inevitable and
almost proper reaction of offended human nature. How can any different attitude
The simple solution is: instead of resentment, pity! Those who
behave badly and cause grievous offence to others are not to be given hatred for
hatred, nor even contempt or despising, but pity. For such show all too plainly
that they have failed to learn even the most elementary lesson in the school of
Christ. Their lack of spiritual progress is not to be denounced from the
superiority of a higher spiritual plane, but is to be pitied - with the
gentleness which comes only from the man who has miserably known himself in need
of a right disposition.
And why pity? Because they not only store up much unhappiness
for themselves here and now, there is also a Day of Reckoning.
So the man of mercy, who can extirpate hard feelings from his
mind and in all his mental attitudes think sympathetically regarding the
undeserving, ensures for himself now a peace of mind and a happiness unknown to
the other, and in the Day to come he will himself find mercy.
Luke’s version of this Beatitude is a straight
imperative: “Be ye therefore merciful (to your enemies; v.35), as
your Father also is merciful” (6:36). But in Matthew these words (with
“perfect” for “merciful”) come as the spiritual
climax to a chapter of impossible idealism! Is this because the man who can come
near to a true imitation of his Heavenly Father in this field of forgiveness is
not far from the summit of spiritual achievement?
This truth is delightfully emphasized in the designed parallel
between the gracious characteristics of the Lord God, catalogued in Psalm 111,
and the imitation of God by “the man that feareth the Lord” (Psalm
112). Phrase for phrase, from beginning to end, the two psalms correspond. In
particular, “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion” is matched
by: “he (the imitator of God) is gracious and full of compassion (the pity
for the unmerciful already commented on).” The psalm continues: “and
(thus) he is righteous.” Indeed, he is!