Thomas Watson, 1660
An exposition of Matthew 5:1-12
A discourse of mercifulness
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7
These verses, like the stairs of Solomon's temple, cause
our ascent to the holy of holies. We are now mounting up a step higher.
'Blessed are the merciful.' There was never more need to preach of
mercifulness, than in these unmerciful times wherein we live. It is reported
in the life of Chrysostom that he preached much on this subject of
mercifulness, and for his much pressing Christians to mercy, he was called
of many, 'the alms-preacher, or 'the preacher for mercy'. Our times need
'Blessed are the merciful'. Mercy stands both in the van
and back end of the text. In the beginning of the text, it stands as a
duty. In the end of the text it stands as a reward. The Hebrew
word for 'godly' signifies 'merciful'. The more godly—the more merciful. The
doctrine I shall gather out of the words, which will comprehend and bring in
the whole, is this: That the merciful man is a blessed man.
Just so, there is a curse which hangs over the head of
the unmerciful man. 'When his case is called for judgment, let him be
pronounced guilty. Count his prayers as sins. Let his years be few; let his
position be given to someone else. May his children become fatherless, and
may his wife become a widow. May his children wander as beggars; may they be
evicted from their ruined homes. May creditors seize his entire estate, and
strangers take all he has earned. Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity
his fatherless children. May all his offspring die.' (Psalm 109:6-9). Why,
what is this crime? 'Because he refused all kindness to others' (verse 16).
See what a large vial full of the plagues of God, is poured out upon the
unmerciful man! So by the rule of contraries, the blessings of the Almighty
crown and encompass the merciful man. 'The merciful man is a blessed man' (2
Samuel 22:26; Psalm 37:26; Psalm 41:1). For the illustrating this I shall
show, first, what is meant by mercifulness; second, the several kinds of
1. What is meant by mercifulness? I answer, it
is a melting disposition whereby we lay to heart the miseries of others and
are ready on all occasions to be instrumental for their good.
How do mercy and love differ? In some things
they agree, in some things they differ, like waters that may have two
different spring-heads—but meet in the stream. Love and mercy differ thus:
love is more extensive. The diocese that love walks and visits in, is
larger. Mercy properly respects those who are miserable. Love is of a larger
consideration. Love is like a friend who visits those who are well. Mercy is
like a physician who visits only those who are sick. Again, love acts more
out of affection. Mercy acts out of a principle of conscience. Mercy lends
its hand to another. Love gives its heart to another. Thus
they differ—but love and mercy agree in this, they are both ready to do good
offices. Both of them have healing under their wings.
Whence does mercy spring? Its spring-head
rises higher than nature. Mercy taken in its full latitude, proceeds from a
work of grace in the heart. Naturally we are far from being merciful. The
sinner is a bramble, not a fig tree yielding sweet fruit. It
is the character and sign of a natural man to be 'unmerciful' (Romans 1:31).
'They made their hearts as hard as stone' (Zechariah 7:12). Their heart does
not melt in mercy. Before conversion the sinner is compared to a wolf
for his savageness (Matthew 7:15), to a lion for his fierceness
(Isaiah 11:6), to a bee for his sting (Psalm 118:12), to an adder
for his poison (Psalm 140:3). By nature we do not send forth oil—but
poison; not the oil of mercifulness—but the poison of maliciousness.
Besides that inbred unmercifulness which is in us, there
is something infused too by Satan. 'The prince of the air works in men'
(Ephesians 2:2). He is a fierce spirit, therefore called 'the Red Dragon'
(Revelation 12:3). And if he possesses men, then it is no wonder if they are
implacable and without mercy. What mercy can be expected from hell? So that,
if the heart is tuned into mercifulness, it is from the change that grace
has made (Colossians 3:12). When the sun shines the ice melts. When the Sun
of righteousness once shines with beams of grace upon the soul, then it
melts in mercy and tenderness. You must first be a new man, before you can
be a merciful man. You cannot help a member of Christ, until you yourself
are a member of Christ.
2. The several kinds of mercy, or how many ways a man may
be said to be merciful. Mercy is a fountain which runs in five
streams. We must be merciful to the souls, names, estates, offences, needs
We must be merciful to the SOULS of others.
This is a spiritual alms. Indeed soul-mercy is the chief of mercies. The
soul is the most precious thing; it is a vessel of honor; it is a bud of
eternity; it is a sparkle lighted by the breath of God; it is a rich diamond
set in a ring of clay. The soul has the blood of God to redeem it, the image
of God to beautify it. It being therefore of so high a descent, sprung from
the Ancient of days, that mercy which is shown to the soul must needs be the
greatest. This soul-mercy to others, consists in four things.
1. In pitying them. 'If I weep,' says
Augustine, 'for that body from which the soul is departed—how should I weep
for that soul from which God is departed!' Had we seen that man in the
gospel cutting himself with stones—it would have moved our pity (Mark 5:5).
To see a sinner stabbing himself and having his hands imbrued in his own
blood, should cause pity in our affections. Our eye should affect our heart.
God was angry with Edom because he 'cast off all pity (Amos 1:11).
2. Soul-mercy is in advising and exhorting sinners.
Tell them in what a sad condition they are, even 'in the gall of
bitterness'. Show them their danger. They tread upon the banks of the
bottomless pit. If death gives them a jog—they tumble in. And we must dip
our words in honey; use all the mildness we can: 'Gently teach those
who oppose the truth.' (2 Timothy 2:25). Fire melts; ointment mollifies.
Words of love may melt hard hearts into repentance. This is soul-mercy. God
made a law that, 'If you see the donkey of someone who hates you struggling
beneath a heavy load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and offer to help.'
(Exodus 23:5). Says Chrysostom, 'We should help a donkey which is struggling
beneath a heavy load; and shall we not extend relief to those who are fallen
under a worse burden of sin?'
3. Soul-mercy is in reproving refractory sinners.
That is a cruel mercy—when we see men go on in sin and we let them
alone. And there is a merciful cruelty—when we are sharp against
men's sins and will not let them go to hell quietly. 'Do not hate your
brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in
his guilt.' (Leviticus 19:17). Fond sentimentality is no better than
cruelty. 'Rebuke them sharply', cuttingly (Titus 1:13). The surgeon cuts and
lances the flesh—but it is in order to a cure. They are healing wounds. So
by cutting reproof when we lance men's consciences and let out the blood of
sin, we exercise spiritual surgery. This is showing mercy. 'Rescue others by
snatching them from the fire' (Jude 23). If a man had fallen into the fire,
though you did hurt him a little in pulling him out, he would be thankful
and take it as a kindness. Some men, when we tell them of sin say, 'O, you
are unloving!' No! it is showing mercy. If a man's house were on fire, and
another should see it and not tell him of it for fear of waking him—would
not this be cruelty? When we see others sleeping in their sin, and the fire
of God's wrath ready to burn about to burn them up--and we are silent, is
not this to be accessory to their damnation?
4. Soul-mercy is in praying for others. Prayer
is the remedy used in a desperate case, and often it recovers the sick
patient. 'The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much'
(James 5:16). As the remedy cures the sick body, so prayer cures the
sin-sick soul. There is a story of one who gave his soul to the devil, who
was saved through the prayers of Luther. When 'Eutychus was overcome by
sleep he fell down from the third story, and was picked up dead, Paul fell
on him', that is, he effectually prayed over him and he prayed him alive
(Acts 20:9-12). By sin the soul is fallen from a high loft, namely, a state
of innocence. Now fervent prayer oftentimes fetches life into such a dead
See what a blessed work the work of the ministry is! The
preaching of the Word is nothing but showing mercy to souls. This is a
mighty and glorious engine in the hand of the Lord Almighty for the beating
down of the devil's strongholds. The ministry of the Word not only brings
light with it—but eye-salve, anointing the eyes to see that light. It is a
sin-killing and soul-quickening ordinance. It is the 'power of God to
salvation'. What enemies are they to their own souls, who question the
ministry! It is said that the people that live at the equator, curse the sun
and are glad when the sun sets, because of its burning heat. Foolish sinners
curse the sun-rising of the ministry and are offended at the light of
it—because it comes near their sins and scorches their consciences, though
in the end it saves their souls!
It reproves those who have no mercy to souls: evil
magistrates; evil ministers.
Evil magistrates who either 'take away the key of
knowledge' (Luke 11:52), or give a toleration to wickedness, allowing men to
sin by a licence. The meaning of toleration is this, that if men will
themselves to hell—none shall stop them. Is not nature enough poisoned? Do
not men sin fast enough—but must have such political engines as serve them
up higher in wickedness? Must they have such favorable gales from the breath
of magistrates, as serve to carry them full sail to the devil? This is far
from soul-mercy. What a heavy reckoning will these magistrates have in the
day of the Lord!
Evil ministers are such as have no affections to the
souls of their people. They do not pity them or pray for them. They seek not
their souls—but only their money. They preach not for love—but filthy lucre.
Their care is more for tithes, than souls. How can they be called spiritual
fathers, who are without affections? These are mercenaries, not ministers.
Such men feed not the souls of their people with solid
truths. When Christ sent out his apostles, he gave them their text, and told
them what they must preach, 'Preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at
hand' (Matthew 10:7). 'Upon which place,' says Luther, 'the ministers of
Christ must preach things which pertain to the kingdom of God—pardon of sin,
sanctification, living by faith.' They are unmerciful ministers who, instead
of breaking the bread of life, fill their people's heads with airy
speculations and notions; who tickle the fancy—rather than touch the
conscience; and give precious souls music—rather than food.
Some there are who darken knowledge with words, and
preach as if they were speaking in 'an unknown tongue'. Some ministers love
to soar aloft like the eagle and fly above their people's capacities,
endeavoring rather to be admired than understood. It is
unmercifulness to souls to preach so as not to be understood. Ministers
should be stars to give light, not clouds to obscure the
truth. Paul was learned—yet plain. Clearness and perspicuity is the grace of
speech. It is cruelty to souls when we go about to make easy things hard.
This many are guilty of in our age, who go into the pulpit only to tie
knots, and think it their glory to amuse the people. This savors more
of pride, than mercifulness.
Such there are, too, as see others going on in sin but do
not tell them of it. When men declare their sin as Sodom, it is the
minister's duty to 'lift up his voice like a trumpet and show the house of
Jacob their sin' (Isaiah 58:1). Zeal in the ministry is as proper as fire on
the altar. He who lets another sin and holds his peace, is a man-slayer.
That sentinel deserves death, who sees the enemy approaching, and gives not
warning (Ezekiel 3:20).
Some ministers poison souls with error. How dangerous is
the leprosy of the head! A frenzy is worse than a fever. What shall we say
to such ministers as give poison to their people in a golden cup? Are not
these unmerciful? Others there are (unworthy the name of ministers),
itineraries, the devil's ambassadors, who ride up and down, and with Satan
compass the earth to deceive and devour souls! It would pity one's heart to
see poor unstable creatures misled by crude and illiterate men, who diet the
people with blasphemy and nonsense, and make them fitter for bedlam than the
New Jerusalem. All these are unmerciful to souls.
Let me beseech all who fear God to show soul-mercy.
Strengthen the weak; reduce the wandering; raise up those who are fallen.
'He which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul
from death' (James 5:20).
We must be merciful to the NAMES of others. A
good name is one of the greatest blessings upon earth. No chain of pearl so
adorns, as this. This being so, we ought to be very merciful to the
reputations of others. They are to be accounted in a high degree unmerciful,
who make no conscience of taking away the good names of their brethren.
Their throats are open sepulchers, to bury the fame and renown of men
(Romans 3:13). It is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name. 'The
keepers of the walls took away my veil from me' (Canticles 5:7). Some
expositors interpret it of her honor and fame which covered her, as a
beautiful veil. The ground of this unmercifulness to names is:
1. Pride. Pride is such a thing as cannot
endure to be out-shined. Pride cannot endure to see itself exceeded in
abilities and eminency; therefore it will behead another in his good
name—that he may appear something lower. The proud man will be pulling down
of others in their reputation, and so by their eclipse—he thinks he shall
shine the brighter. The breath of a proud man causes a blast or mildew, upon
the reputations of others.
2. Envy (1 Peter 2:1). An envious man maligns
the dignity of another, therefore seeks to harm him in his name. Piety
teaches us to rejoice in the esteem and fame of others. 'I thank my God for
you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world' (Romans
1:8). Envy, consulting with the devil, fetches fire from hell to blow up the
good name of another.
In how many ways may we be unmerciful to the names of
others? Diverse ways.
First, by slander, a sin forbidden. 'You shall not
raise a false report' (Exodus 23:1). Eminency is commonly blasted by
slander. 'They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like
deadly arrows' (Psalm 64:3). The tongue of a slanderer shoots out words to
wound the fame of another and make it bleed to death. The saints of God in
all ages have met with unmerciful men who have fathered things upon them,
which they have not been guilty of. Surius, the Jesuit, reported of Luther
that he learned his divinity of the Devil and that he died drunk; but
Melanchthon, who wrote his life, affirms that he died in a most pious holy
manner and made a most excellent prayer before his death. It was David's
complaint, 'They laid to my charge things which I knew not' (Psalm 35:11).
The Greek word for 'devil' signifies slanderer
(1 Timothy 3:11). 'Not slanderers'—in the Greek it is 'not devils'. Some
think that it is no great maker to defame and traduce another—but know, this
is to act the part of a devil. O how many unmerciful men are there, who
indeed pass for Christians—but play the devil in venting their lies and
calumnies! Wicked men in Scripture are called 'dogs' (Psalm 22:16).
Slanderers are not like those dogs which licked Lazarus' sores to
heal them—but like the dogs which ate Jezebel. They rend and tear the
precious names of men. Valentinian the Emperor decreed that he who was
openly convicted of this crime of slander should die for it.
Second, we are unmerciful to the names of others when we
receive a slander, and then report what we hear. 'You shall not go up
and down as a talebearer among your people' (Leviticus 19:16). A good man is
one who 'has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and
casts no slur on his fellowman' (Psalm 15:3). We must not only not raise
a false report—but not take it up. To divulge a report before we
speak with the party and know the truth of it, is unmercifulness and sin.
The same word in the Hebrew, 'to raise a slander', signifies to receive it
(Exodus 23:1). The receiver is even as bad as the thief. It is well if none
of us have (in this sense) received stolen goods. When others have stolen
away the good names of their brethren, have not we received these stolen
goods? There would not be so many to broach false rumors—but that they see
this liquor pleases other men's taste.
Third, we deal unmercifully with the names of others when
we diminish from their just worth and dignity; when we make more of their
infirmities and less of their virtues. 'Speak not evil one of another'
(James 4:11). I have read a story of one, Idor, that he was never heard to
speak evil of any man. Augustine could not endure that any should eclipse
and lessen the fame of others, therefore he wrote those two verses upon his
"Whoever loves another's name to blast,
This table's not for him; so let him fast."
Wicked men are still paring off the credit of their
neighbors, and they make thick parings. They pare off all that is good.
Nothing is left but the core, something which may tend to their
disparagement. Unmerciful men know how to boil a quart to a pint. They have
a devilish art so to extenuate and lessen the merit of others, that it is
even boiled away to nothing. Some, though they have not the power of
creation—yet they have the power of annihilation. They can sooner annihilate
the good which is in others, than imitate it.
Fourth, we are unmerciful to the names of others when we
know them to be calumniated yet do not vindicate them. A man may
sometimes as well wrong another by silence, as slander. He who is
merciful to his brother is an advocate to plead in his behalf when he is
injuriously traduced. When the apostles, who were filled with the wine of
the Spirit, were charged with drunkenness, Peter vindicated them openly
(Acts 2:15). A merciful man will take the dead fly out of the box of
Fifth, they are in a high degree unmerciful to the names
of others who bear false witness against them (Psalm 27:12). 'Put not
your hand with the wicked to be a false witness' (Exodus 23:1). 'Putting the
hand' is taking an oath falsely, as when a man puts his hand upon the book
and swears to a lie. This 'false-witness' is a two-edged sword. The party
forsworn wounds another's name and his own soul. A false witness is compared
to a maul or hammer (Proverbs 25:18). It is true in this sense, because he
is hardened in impudence he blushes at nothing and in unmercifulness. There
is no softness in a maul or hammer, nor is there any mercy to be found in a
false witness. In all these ways men are unmerciful to the names of others.
Let me persuade all Christians, as they make conscience
of religion, so to show mercy to the names of others. Be very watchful and
tender of men's good name.
Consider what a sin it is to defame any man.
'Laying aside all envy and evil speakings' (Titus 3:2; 1. Peter 2:1). Envy
and evil speaking are put together: 'laying aside', 'putting away', as a man
would put away a thing from him with indignation; as Paul shook off the
viper (Acts 28:5).
Consider also the injuriousness of it. You, who
take away the good name of another, wound him in that which is most dear to
him. Better take away a man's life—than his good name. By eclipsing his
name, you bury him alive. It is an irreparable injury; something will
remain. A wound in the name is like a flaw in a diamond, which will never
die out. No physician can heal the wounds of the tongue!
God will require it at men's hands. If idle words
must be accountable for, shall not reproachful slanders? God will
make inquisition one day as well for names, as for blood. Let all this
persuade to caution and circumspection. You would be opposed to steal the
goods of others. A man's name is of more worth, and he who takes away the
good name of another sins more than if he had taken the the wares out of his
Especially take heed of wounding the names of the godly.
God has set a crown of honor on their head, and will you take it off? 'Why
then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?' (Numbers 12:8).
To defame the saints is no less than the defaming God himself, they having
his picture drawn upon them and being members of Christ. Oh think how ill
Christ will take this at your hand in the day of reckoning! It was under the
old law a sin to violate a virgin, and what is it to calumniate Christ's
spouse? Are the names of the saints written in heaven, and will you blot
them out upon earth? Be merciful to the names of others.
Be merciful to the ESTATES of others. If a man
is your debtor and providence has frowned upon him, so that he has not the
means to pay, do not crush him when he is sinking—but remit something of the
rigor of the law. 'Blessed are the merciful'. The wicked are compared to
beasts of prey, which live upon rapine and robbery. They do not care what
harm they do. 'Their mouths are full of cursing, lies, and threats. Trouble
and evil are on the tips of their tongues. They lurk in dark alleys,
murdering the innocent who pass by. They are always searching for some
helpless victim. Like lions they crouch silently, waiting to pounce on the
helpless. Like hunters they capture their victims and drag them away in
nets.' (Psalm 10:7-9).
It is not justice but cruelty, when others lie at our
mercy, to be like that hardhearted creditor in the gospel who took his
debtor by the throat saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' (Matthew 18:28). God
made a law, 'No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone, for the
owner uses it to make a living' (Deuteronomy 24:6). If a man had lent
another money, he must not take both his millstones for a pawn. He must show
mercy and leave the man something to get a livelihood with. We should in
this imitate God who in the midst of anger remembers mercy. God does not
take the extremity of the law upon us—but when we have nothing to pay, if we
confess the debt, he freely forgives (Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 18:27).
Not but that we may justly seek what is our own—but if
others are brought low and plead for mercy, we ought in conscience to remit
something of the debt. 'Blessed are the merciful.'
We must be merciful to the OFFENCES of others.
Be ready to show mercy to those who have injured you. Thus Stephen
the proto-martyr, 'He kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay
not this sin to their charge' (Acts 7:60). When he prayed for himself he
stood—but when he came to pray for his enemies, he kneeled down, to show,
says Bernard, his earnestness in prayer and how greatly he desired that God
would forgive them. This is a rare kind of mercy. 'It is a man's glory to
pass over a transgression' (Proverbs 19:11). Mercy in forgiving injuries, as
it is the touchstone, so the crown of Christianity. Cranmer was of a
merciful disposition. If any who had wronged him came to ask a favor from
him, he would do all that lay in his power for him, insomuch that it grew to
a proverb: 'Do Cranmer an injury and he will be your friend as long as he
lives.' To 'overcome evil with good', and answer malice with mercy
is truly heroic, and renders piety glorious in the eyes of all. But I
leave this and proceed.
We must be merciful to the NEEDS of others.
This the text chiefly intends. A good man does not, like the snake, twist
within himself. His motion is direct, not circular. He is ever merciful and
lends (Psalm 37:26). This merciful charity to the needs of others stands in
1. A JUDICIOUS consideration. 'Blessed is he
who considers the poor' (Psalm 41:1); and you must consider these things.
It might have been your own case. You yourselves
might have stood in need of another's charity—and then how welcome and
refreshing would those streams have been to you!
Consider how sad a condition poverty is. Though
Chrysostom calls poverty the highway to heaven—yet he who walks this road
will go weeping there. Consider the poor; behold their tears, their
sighs, their dying groans. Look upon the deep furrows made in their faces,
and consider if there is not reason why you should scatter your seed of
mercy in these furrows. 'For a cloak he has a tattered vesture, for a
couch a stone.' 'You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the
bucketful' (Psalm 80:5). Like Jacob, in a windy night he has the clouds for
his canopy and a stone for his pillow.
Nay further, consider that oftentimes poverty becomes not
only a cross—but a snare. It exposes to much evil, which made Agur pray,
'Give me not poverty' (Proverbs 30:8). Need puts men upon sinful
courses. The poor will venture their souls for money, which is like throwing
diamonds into the sea. If the rich would wisely consider this, their alms
might prevent much sin.
Consider why the wise God has allowed an inequality in
the world. It is for this very reason—because he would have mercy
exercised. If all were rich, there were no need of alms, nor could the
merciful man have been so well known. If he who traveled to Jericho had not
been wounded and left half dead, the good Samaritan who poured oil and wine
into his wounds had not been known.
Consider how quickly the balance of providence may turn.
We ourselves may be brought to poverty and then it will be no small comfort
to us, that we relieved others while we were in a capacity to do it. 'Give a
portion to seven or even to eight, for you don’t know what disaster may
happen on earth' (Ecclesiastes 11:2). We cannot promise ourselves always
halcyon days. God alone knows how soon many of us may change our pasture.
The cup which now runs over with wine—may soon be filled with the waters of
Marah. 'I went out full—and the Lord has brought me home again empty' (Ruth
1:21). How many have we seen invested with great possessions, who have
suddenly brought their manor to a morsel?
So that it is wisdom to consider the needs of others.
Remember how soon the scene may alter. We may be put in the poor's dress
and, if adversity comes, it will be no trouble of mind to us, to think that
while we had an estate we laid it out upon Christ's indigent members. This
is the first thing in mercifulness, a judicious consideration
2. A TENDER commiseration. 'If you draw out
your soul to the hungry' (Isaiah 58:10). Bounty begins in
pity. Christ first 'had compassion on the multitude'. Then he wrought a
miracle to feed them (Matthew 15:32). Charity which lacks compassion, is
brutish. The brute creatures can relieve us in many ways—but cannot
pity us. It is a kind of cruelty (says Quintilian) to feed one in
need—and not to sympathize with him. True religion begets tenderness. As it
melts the heart in tears of contrition towards God, so in affections of
compassion towards others. 'My heart shall sound as a harp' (Isaiah 16:11).
Likewise, when our hearts of pity sound, then our alms make sweet music in
the ears of God.
3. Mercifulness consists in a LIBERAL contribution.
'If there is a poor man within your gates, you shall open your hand wide
unto him' (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8). The Hebrew word to 'disperse' (Psalm 112:9)
signifies 'a largeness of bounty'. It must be like water, which overflows
the banks. 'Not a meager dispersing of a mere trifle'. If God has
enriched men with estates and made 'his candle (as Job says) to shine upon
their tabernacle', they must not encircle and engross all to themselves, but
be as the moon which, having received its light from the sun, lets it shine
to the world. The ancients made oil to be the emblem of charity. The
golden oil of mercy must, like Aaron's oil, run down upon the poor which are
the lower skirts of the garment. This liberal disbursement to the needs and
necessities of others—God commands, and grace compels.
God Commands. There is an express statute law, 'If
one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among
you, help him' (Leviticus 25:35). The Hebrew word is 'strengthen
him'; put under him a silver crutch when he is falling. It is worth our
observation what great care God took of the poor, besides what was given
them privately. God made many laws for the public and visible relief of the
poor. 'The seventh year you shall let the land rest and lie still, that the
poor of the people may eat' (Exodus 23:11). God's intention in his law was
that the poor should be liberally provided for. They might freely eat of
anything which grew of itself this seventh year, whether of herbs, vines or
olive trees. If it be asked how the poor could live only on these fruits,
there being (as it is probable) no grain growing then, for answer Cajetan is
of opinion that they lived by selling these fruits and, so converting them
into money, lived upon the price of the fruits.
There is another law made: 'And when you reap the harvest
of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither
shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest' (Leviticus 19:9). See how
God indulged the poor. Some corners of the field were for the poor's sake to
be left uncut, and when the owners reaped they must not go too near the
earth with their sickle. The Vulgate Latin reads it, 'You shall not shear to
the very ground'. Something like an after-crop must be left. 'The shorter
ears of corn and such as lay bending to the ground, were to be reserved for
the poor,' says Tostatus.
And God made another law in favor of the poor. 'At the
end of every third year bring the tithe of all your crops and store it in
the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who have no inheritance among you,
as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows
in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will
bless you in all your work.' (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29). The Hebrews write that
every third year, besides the first tithe given to Levi which was called the
perpetual tithe (Numbers 18:21), the Jews set apart another tithe of their
increase for the use of the widows and orphans, and that was called 'the
tithe of the poor'. Besides, at the Jews' solemn festivals, the poor were to
have a share (Deuteronomy 16:11).
And as relieving the needy was commanded under the law,
so it stands in force under the gospel. 'Command those who are rich in this
present world, to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and
willing to share.' (1 Timothy 6:17, 18). It is not only a counsel but a
command, and non-attendance to it runs men into a gospel offense. Thus we
have seen the mind of God in this particular of charity. Let all good
Christians comment upon it in their practice. What benefit is there of
gold—while it is locked up in the mine? And what is it the better to have a
great estate—if it is so hoarded up as never to see the light?
As God commands, so grace compels to works of
mercy and beneficence. 'The love of Christ constrains' (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Grace comes with majesty upon the heart. Grace does not lie as a sleepy
habit in the soul—but will put forth itself in vigorous and glorious
actings. Grace can no more be concealed, than fire. Like new wine it will
have vent. Grace does not lie in the heart as a stone in the
earth—but as seed in the earth. It will spring up into good works.
The Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion—that we
are against good works. Indeed we plead not for the merit of
them—but we are for the use of them. 'Our people must also learn to
devote themselves to good works' (Titus 3:14). We preach that they are
needful both as they are enforced by the precept, and as they are needful
for the general good of men. We read that the angels had wings, and
hands under their wings (Ezekiel 1:8). It may be emblematic of this
truth. Christians must not only have the wings of faith to fly—but hands
under their wings to work the works of mercy.
'This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on
these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote
themselves to good works.' (Titus 3:8). The lamp of faith must be
filled with the oil of charity. Faith alone justifies—but justifying
faith is not alone. You may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from
fire, as works from faith. Good works, though they are not the causes
of salvation—yet they are evidences of salvation. Though they are not
the foundation—yet they are the superstructure. Faith must not be built upon
works—but works must be built upon faith. 'You are married to Christ—that we
should bring forth fruit unto God' (Romans 7:4). Faith is the grace which
marries Christ, and good works are the children which faith bears. For the
vindication of the doctrine of our Church, and in honor of good works, I
shall lay down four aphorisms.
1. Works are distinct from faith. It is vain to imagine
that works are included in faith, as the diamond is enclosed in the ring.
No! they are distinct, as the sap in the vine is different from the clusters
of fruit which grow upon it.
2. Works are the touchstone of faith. 'Show me your faith
by your works' (James 2:18). Works are faith's letters of credence to show.
'If,' says Bernard, 'you see a man full of good works, then by the rule of
charity you are not to doubt of his faith.' We judge the health of the body
by the pulse where the blood stirs and operates. O Christian, judge of the
health of your faith by the pulse of mercy and charitableness. It is with
faith as with a deed in law. To make a deed valid, there are three things
requisite—the writing, the seal, the witnesses. So for the trial and
confirmation of faith there must be these three things the writing, the Word
of God; the seal, the Spirit of God; the witnesses, good works. Bring your
faith to this Scripture touchstone. Faith justifies works; works testify
3. Works honor faith. These fruits adorn the 'trees of
righteousness'. 'Let the liberality of your hand' (says Clemens Alexandrinus)
'be the ornament of your faith, and wear it as a holy bracelet about your
wrists.' 'I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. I was a
father to the poor' (Job 29:14-15). While Job was the poor's benefactor and
advocate, this was the ensign of his honor; it clothed him as a robe and
crowned him as a diadem. This is that which takes off the odium and
obloquy—and makes others speak well of piety—when they see good works as
handmaids waiting upon this queen—faith.
4. Good works are in some sense more excellent than
faith; in two respects:
Because they are of a more noble diffusive nature. Though
faith is more needful for ourselves—yet good works are more beneficial to
others. Faith is a receptive grace. It is all for self-interest. It moves
within its own sphere. Works are for the good of others, and it is a more
blessed thing to give, than to receive.
Good works are more visible and conspicuous than faith.
Faith is a more hidden grace. It may lie hidden in the heart and not be
seen—but when works are joined with it, now it shines forth in its native
beauty. Though a garden is ever so decked with flowers—yet they are not seen
until the light comes. So the heart of a Christian may be enriched with
faith—but it is like a flower in the night. It is not seen until
works come. When this light shines before men, then faith appears in its
If this be the effigy of a good man, that he is of a
merciful disposition, then it sharply reproves those who are far from this
temper. Their hearts are like the scales of the Leviathan, 'shut up together
as with a close seal' (Job 41:15). They move only within their own
circle—but do not help the necessities of others. They have a flourishing
estate—but they have a withered hand and cannot stretch it out to
good uses. They have all as for themselves, not for Christ. These are akin
to the churl Nabal. 'Shall I take my bread and my water and give it unto
men, whom I know not whence they come?' (1 Samuel 25:11). It was said of the
emperor Pertinax, that he had a large empire—but a narrow scanty heart.
There was a temple at Athens which was called the
Temple of Mercy. It was dedicated to charitable uses; and it was the
greatest reproach to upbraid one with this—that he had never been in the
Temple of Mercy. It is the greatest disgrace to a Christian to be
unmerciful. Covetous men, while they enrich themselves, debase themselves,
setting up a monopoly and committing idolatry with Mammon. In the time of
pestilence, it is sad to have your houses shut up—but it is worse to
have your hearts shut up. How miserable it is—to have a sea of sin
and not a drop of mercy! Covetous hearts, like the Leviathan, are 'firm
as a stone' (Job 41:24). One may as well extract oil out of a flint, as the
golden oil of charity out of their flinty hearts. They say that
coldness of the heart, is a presage of death. When men's affections to
works of mercy are frozen, this coldness of heart is ominous and sadly
portends that they are dead in sin! We read in the law that the shellfish
was accounted unclean. This might probably be one reason, because its
meat was enclosed in the shell and it was hard to get to. They are to be
reckoned among the unclean who enclose all their estate within the shell of
their own cabinet and will not let others be the better for it. How many
have lost their souls—by being so selfish!
There are some who perhaps will give the poor good
words—and that is all. 'Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes
and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm
and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?'
(James 2:15). Good words are but a cold kind of charity. The poor cannot
live upon this air. Let your words be as smooth as oil, they
will not heal the wounded. Let them drop as the honeycomb, they will not
feed the hungry. 'Though I speak with the tongues of angels and have not
charity, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a
clanging cymbal' (1 Corinthians 13:1). It is better to be charitable as a
saint—than eloquent as an angel. Such as are cruel to the poor, let me tell
you—you unchristian yourselves! Unmercifulness is the sin of the heathen
(Romans 1:31). When you put off the affections of mercy—you put off the
badge of Christianity. Ambrose says that when we do not relieve one whom we
see ready to perish with hunger, we are guilty of his death. If this rule
holds true, there are more guilty of the breach of the sixth commandment
than we are aware of.
James speaks a sad word: 'For he shall have judgment
without mercy—who has showed no mercy' (James 2:13). How do they think to
find mercy from Christ, who never showed mercy to Christ in his members?
Dives denied Lazarus a crumb of bread—and Dives was denied a drop of water.
At the last day behold the sinner's indictment, 'I was hungry, and you
didn't feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn't give me anything to drink. I
was a stranger, and you didn't invite me into your home. I was naked, and
you gave me no clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'
(Matthew 25:42). Christ does not say, 'You took away my
food'—but 'You didn't feed me; you did not feed my members'. Then follows
the sentence, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire
prepared for the Devil and his angels!' When Christ's poor come to
your doors and you bid them depart from you, the time may come when you
shall knock at heaven's gate, and Christ will say, 'Depart from Me, you who
are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!'
In short, covetousness is a foolish sin. God gave
the rich man in the gospel that appellation, 'You fool!' (Luke
12:20). The covetous man does not enjoy what he possesses. He embitters his
own life. He troubles himself with care either how to get, or how to
increase, or how to secure an estate. And what is the result?
Often as a just reward of sordid penuriousness, God blasts and withers him
in his outward estate. That saying of Gregory Nazianzen is to be seriously
weighed: 'God many times lets the thief take away, and the moth
consume—that which is unmercifully withheld from the poor.'
Before I leave this matter, I am sorry that any who
profess Christianity should be impeached as guilty of this sin of
covetousness and unmercifulness. Sure I am that God's elect put on
'heartfelt compassion' (Colossians 3:12). I tell you, that devout misers
are the reproach of Christianity. They are blemishes and spots in the
face of true religion. They report that in India there is a creature having
four feet and wings, and a bill like an eagle. It is hard whether to rank
him among the beasts or the birds. So I may say of penurious professors—they
have the wings of profession by which they seem to fly to heaven—but the
feet of beasts, walking on earth and even licking the dust! It is hard where
to rank these, whether among the godly or the wicked. Oh take heed that,
seeing your religion will not destroy your covetousness, at last your
covetousness does not destroy your religion! One tells a story of the
hedgehog which came to the cony-burrows in stormy weather and desired
harbor, promising that he would be a quiet guest—but when once he had gotten
entertainment, he set up his prickles and never left until he had thrust the
poor conies out of their burrows. So covetousness, though it has many fair
pleas to insinuate and wind itself into the heart—yet as soon as you have
let it in, this thorn will never leave pricking until it has choked all good
beginnings and thrust all piety out of your hearts.
I proceed next to the exhortation to beseech all
Christians to put on 'heartfelt compassion'. Be ready to relieve the
miseries and necessities of others. Ambrose calls charity, the sum
of Christianity, and the apostle makes it the very definition of true
religion. 'Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to
look after orphans and widows in their distress' (James 1:27).
The Hebrew word for 'poor' signifies 'one who is empty'
or 'drawn dry'. So the poor are exhausted of their strength, beauty,
substance; like ponds they are dried up. Therefore let them be filled again
with the silver streams of charity. The poor are as it were in the grave.
The comfort of their life is buried. Oh Christians, help with your
merciful hands to raise them out of the sepulcher! God 'sends his springs
into the valleys' (Psalm 104:10). Let the springs of your liberality
run among the valleys of poverty. Your sweetest and most gracious
influence should fall upon the the needy. What is all your seeming
devotion, without bounty and mercifulness? 'I have known many,' says
Basil, 'pray and fast—but will not relieve those who are in distress. They
are for a zeal which will put them to no expense. What are they the better
for all their seeming virtue?'
We read that the incense was to be laid upon the
fire (Leviticus 16:13). The flame of devotion must be perfumed with
the incense of charity. Aaron was to have a bell and a pomegranate.
The pomegranate, as some of the learned observe, was a symbol of good works.
'They lack the pomegranate' (says Gregory Nazianzen) 'who have no good
works.' The wise men not only bowed the knee to Christ—but presented him
with gold, myrrh and frankincense (Matthew 2:11). Pretenses of zeal
are insufficient. We must not only worship Christ—but bestow something upon
his members. This is to present Christ with gold and frankincense. Isaac
would not bless Jacob by the voice—but he feels his hands, and supposing
them to be Esau's hands, he blessed him. God will not bless men by their
voice, their loud prayers, their devout discourses—but if he feels Esau's
hands, if their hands have wrought good works, then he blesses them.
Let me exhort you therefore to deeds of mercy. Let your
fingers drop with the myrrh of liberality. Sow your golden seed.
Remember that excellent saying of Augustine, 'Give those things to the poor
which you cannot keep—that you may receive those things which you cannot
lose.' There are many occasions of exercising your mercifulness. Hear the
orphans' cry; pity the widows' tears. Some need employment. It would do well
to set their wheel a-going. Others are to old or sick to work—be as eyes to
the blind and feet to the lame. In some cases whole families are sinking—if
some merciful hand does not help to shore them up! Before I press arguments
to liberality and munificence, there are THREE
OBJECTIONS which lie in the way, which I shall endeavor to
1. We may give and so in time come ourselves to need.
Let Basil answer this. 'Wells, which have their water drawn, spring ever
more freely.' 'The liberal soul shall be made fat' (Proverbs 11:25). There
is nothing lost by relieving the needy. An estate may be imparted—yet not
impaired. The flowers yield honey to the bee—yet do not hurt their
own fruit. When the candle of prosperity shines upon us, we may light our
neighbor who is in the dark, and have never the less light ourselves.
Whatever is disbursed to pious uses, God brings it back to us some other
way. As the loaves in breaking multiplied—or as the widow's oil
increased by pouring out (1 Kings 17:10).
2. I cannot do so much as others—erect
churches, build hospitals, augment libraries, maintain scholars at the
If you cannot do so much—yet do something. Let there be
much goodwill, though there is not much wealth to go with it. The widow's
two mites cast into the treasury were accepted (Luke 21:14). God (as
Chrysostom observes) looked not at the smallest of her gift—but at the
largeness of her heart. In the law, he who could not bring a lamb for an
offering, if he brought but two turtledoves, it sufficed. We read that the
people brought 'gold and silver, and goats' hair, to the building of the
tabernacle' (Exodus 35:22-24); on which place (says Origen), 'I desire,
Lord, to bring something to the building of your temple, if not gold to make
the mercy-seat, if not silk to make the curtains—yet a little goats' hair,
that I may not be found in the number of those who have brought nothing to
3. But I do not have anything to bestow upon the
necessities of others. Have you anything to bestow upon your
lusts? Have you money to feed your pride, your Epicurianism? And can you
find nothing to relieve the poor members of Christ?
Admit this excuse to be real, that you do not have such
an estate; yet you may do something wherein you may express your mercy to
the poor. You may sympathize with them, pray for them,
speak a word of comfort to them. 'Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem'
(Isaiah 40:2). If you can give them no gold, you may speak a word in season
which may be as 'apples of gold in pictures of silver'. Nay more, you may be
helpful to the poor in stirring up others who have estates to relieve them.
As it is with the wind, if a man be hungry the wind will not fill him—but it
can blow the sails of the mill and make it grind grain for the use of man.
So though you do not have an estate yourself to help him who is in need—yet
you may stir up others to help him. You may blow the sails of their
compassion, causing them to show mercy, and so you may help your brother by
Having answered these objections let me now pursue the
EXHORTATION to mercifulness. I shall lay down several arguments
which I desire may be weighed in the balance of reason and conscience.
1. To be diffusively good is the great end of our
creation. 'Created in Christ Jesus unto good works' (Ephesians
2:10). Every creature answers the end of its creation. The star shines, the
bird sings, the plant bears fruit; the end of life is service. He who does
not answer his end in respect of usefulness, cannot enjoy his end in respect
of happiness. Many have been long in the world—but have not lived. They have
done no good: 'a useless weight of earth'. A useless person serves for
nothing but to 'cumber the ground'. And because he is barren in figs—he
shall be fruitful in curses (Hebrews 6:8).
2. By mercifulness we resemble God who is a God of mercy.
He is said to 'delight in mercy' (Micah 7:18). 'His tender mercies are over
all his works, (Psalm 145:9). He gives good for evil, like the clouds which
receive ill vapors from us—but return them to us again in sweet showers.
There is not a creature which lives, but tastes of the mercies of God. Every
bird sings hymns of praise to God for his bounty—but men and angels in a
more particular manner taste the cream and quintessence of God's mercies.
What temporal mercies have you received! Every time you
draw your breath you suck in mercy. Every bit of bread you eat, the hand of
mercy carves it to you. You never drink but in a golden cup of mercy.
What spiritual mercies has God enriched some of you with!
Pardoning, adopting, saving mercy! The picture of God's mercy can never be
drawn to the full. You cannot take the breadth of his mercy, for it is
infinite, nor the height of it, for it 'reaches above the clouds', nor the
length of it, for it is 'from everlasting to everlasting' (Psalm 103:17).
The works of mercy are the glory of the Godhead. Moses prays, 'Lord, show me
your glory' (Exodus 33:18). Says God, 'I will make all my goodness to pass
before you' (verse 19). God accounts himself most glorious in the shining
robes of his mercy. Now by works of mercy we resemble the God of mercy. We
are bid to draw our lines according to this copy. 'Be you merciful—as your
Father also is merciful' (Luke 6:36).
3. Alms are a sacrifice to God. 'Do good and
to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased' (Hebrews
13:16). When you are distributing to the poor—it is as if you were praying,
as if you were worshiping God. There are two sorts of sacrifices;
expiatory—the sacrifice of Christ's blood; and thanksgiving—the
sacrifice of alms. This (says holy Greenham) is more acceptable to God than
any other sacrifice. The angel said to Cornelius, Your acts of charity have
come up as a memorial offering before God' (Acts 10:4). The backs of the
poor, are the altar on which this sacrifice is to be offered.
4. We ourselves live upon alms. Other
creatures liberally contribute to our necessities. The sun does not
have its light for itself but for us; it enriches us with its golden beams.
The earth brings us a fruitful crop, and to show how joyful a mother
she is in bringing forth, the psalmist says 'The meadows are clothed with
flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and
sing for joy!' (Psalm 65:13). One creature gives us wool, another oil,
another silk. We are glad to go a-begging to the creation. Shall every
creature be for the good of man—and man only be for himself? How absurd and
irrational is this!
5. We are to extend our liberality by virtue of a
membership. 'I want you to share your food with the hungry and to
welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.' (Isaiah 50:7). The poor
are 'of the same clay'. The members by a law of equity and sympathy
contribute one to another. The eye conveys light to the body, the heart
blood, the head spirits. That is a dead member in the body which does not
communicate to the rest. Thus it is in the body politic. Let no man think it
is too far below him to mind the needs and necessities of others. That hand
should be cut off, which disdains to pluck a thorn out of the foot. It is
spoken in the honor of that renowned princess, the Empress of Theodosius the
Great, that she herself visited the sick and prepared relief for them with
her own imperial hands.
6. We are not lords of an estate—but stewards,
and how soon may we hear the word, 'Give an account of your stewardship, for
you may be no longer steward!' (Luke 16:2). An estate is a talent to trade
with. It is as dangerous to hide our talent—as to waste it
(Matthew 25:25, 30). If the covetous man keeps his gold too long, it will
begin to rust, and the rust will witness against him (James 5:3).
7. The examples of others who have been renowned for acts
of mercy and munificence.
Our Lord Christ is a great example of charity, he
was not more full of merit, than bounty. Trajan the Emperor rent off a piece
of his own robe to wrap his soldiers' wounds. Christ did more. He rent his
flesh; He made a medicine of his body and blood to heal us. 'By his stripes
we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5). Here was a pattern of charity without a
The Jews are noted in this kind. It is a rabbinic
observation that those who live devoutly among the Jews distribute a tenth
part of their estate among the poor, and they give so freely (says Philo the
Jew) as if by giving they hope to receive some great gratuity. Now if the
Jews are so devoted to works of mercy, who live without Messiah, shall not
we much more profess our faith in the blessed Messiah!
Let me tell you of some heathen. I have read of
Titus Vespasian, he was so inured to works of mercy that remembering he had
given nothing that day, cried out, 'I have lost a day'. It is reported of
some of the Turks that they have servants whom they employ on purpose to
enquire what poor they have and they send relief to them. And the Turks have
a saying in their Koran, that if men knew what a blessed thing it were to
distribute alms, rather than spare, they would give some of their own flesh
to relieve the poor. And shall not a Christian's creed be better than a
Let all this persuade to works of mercy. Believe me, it
is a royal deed to support the fallen.
When poor indigent creatures like Moses are laid in the
ark of bulrushes weeping and ready to sink in the waters of affliction, be
as temporal saviors to them and draw them out of the waters with a golden
cord. Let the breasts of your mercy nurse the poor. Be like the trees of the
sanctuary both for food and medicine (Ezekiel 47:12). When distressed and
even starved souls are fainting, let your spiritual cordials revive them.
Let others see the coats and garments which you have made for the poor (Acts
8. The sin of unmercifulness.
The unmerciful man is an unthankful man, and what worse can be said?
You to whom the Lord has given an estate, your cup runs over—but you have a
miserly heart and will not part with anything for good uses; it is death to
you to relieve those who are dying. Know that you are in the highest degree
ungrateful; you are not fit for human society. The Scripture has put these
two together 'unthankful, without natural affection' (2 Timothy 3:2, 3). God
may repent that ever he gave such men estates, and may say as Hosea 2:9: 'I
will take back the wine and ripened grain I generously provided each harvest
season. I will take away the linen and wool clothing I gave her.'
The unmerciful man lacks love to Christ. They would be
very angry with those who should question their love; but do they love
Christ who let the members of Christ starve? No! these love their money more
than Christ, and come under that fearful 'Anathema' 'If anyone does not love
the Lord, that person is cursed' (1 Corinthians 16:22).
9. Lastly, I shall use but one argument more to persuade
to works of mercy, and that is the reward which follows alms-deeds.
Giving of alms is a glorious work, and let me assure you it is
not unfruitful work. Whatever is disbursed to the poor brethren,
is given to Christ! 'Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of
these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). The poor
man's hand is Christ's treasury, and there is nothing lost that is put
there. 'Whatever you give by stretching forth your hand on earth is as it
were given in heaven'. The text says, 'the merciful shall obtain mercy'. In
the Greek it is, 'they shall be bemercied'. What is it, that we need
most? Is it not mercy? Pardoning and saving mercy? What is it we desire on
our deathbed? Is it not mercy? You who show mercy, shall find mercy. You who
pour in the oil of compassion to others, God will pour in the golden
oil of salvation unto you (Matthew 7:2).
The Shunammite woman showed mercy to the prophet and she
received kindness from him another way (2 Kings 4:8-37). She welcomed him to
her house—and he restored her dead child to life. Those who sow mercy, shall
reap in kind; 'they shall obtain mercy'. Such is the sweetness and
mercifulness of God's nature, that he will not allow any man to be a loser.
No kindness shown to him shall be unregarded or unrewarded. God will be in
no man's debt. For a cup of cold water—he shall have a draught of Christ's
warm blood to refresh his soul. 'For God is not unrighteous to forget your
work and labor of love, which you have shown toward his name, in that you
have ministered to the saints . . .' (Hebrews 6:10). God's mercy is a
tender mercy, a pure mercy, a rich mercy. Mercy shall
follow and overtake the merciful man. He shall be rewarded in this life—and
in the life to come.
The merciful man shall be rewarded in this life.
He shall be blessed —
In his person: 'Blessed is he who considers the poor'
(Psalm 41:1). Let him go where he will, a blessing goes along with him. He
is in favor with God. God casts a smiling aspect upon him.
Blessed in his name: 'He shall be had in everlasting
remembrance' (Psalm 112:6). When the niggard's name shall rot, the name of a
merciful man shall be embalmed with honor, and give forth its scent as the
wine of Lebanon.
Blessed in his estate: 'He shall abound in all things'.
'The liberal soul shall be made fat' (Proverbs 2:25). He shall have the fat
of the earth and the dew of heaven. He shall not only have the venison—but
Blessed in his posterity: 'He is ever merciful and lends;
and his seed is blessed' (Psalm 37:26). He shall not only leave an estate
behind—but a blessing behind to his children, and God will see that the
entail of that blessing shall not be cut off.
Blessed in his negotiations: 'For this thing the Lord
your God shall bless you in all your works, and in all that you put your
hand unto' (Deuteronomy 15:10). The merciful man shall be blessed in his
building, planting, journeying. Whatever he is about, a blessing shall empty
itself upon him. 'Wherever he treads there shall be a rose'. He shall be a
prosperous man. The honeycomb of a blessing shall be still dropping upon
Blessed with long life: 'The Lord will preserve him and
keep him alive' (Psalm 41:2). He has helped to keep others alive, and God
will keep him alive. Is there anything then, lost by mercifulness? It spins
out the silver thread of life. Many are taken away the sooner for their
unmercifulness. Because their hearts are straitened, their lives are
Again, the merciful man shall be rewarded in the life to
come. Aristotle joins these two together, liberality and utility.
God will reward the merciful man hereafter, though not for his
works—yet according to his works. 'I saw the dead, small and great,
stand before God, and the books were opened, and the dead were judged out of
those things which were written in the books, according to their
works' (Revelation 20:12). As God has a bottle to put our tears in,
so he has a book to write our alms in. As God will put a veil
over his people's sins, so he will in free grace set a crown upon
their works! The way to lay up—is to lay out. Other parts of our estate are
left behind (Ecclesiastes 2:18)—but that which is given to Christ's poor is
hoarded up in heaven. That is a blessed kind of giving, which though it
makes the purse lighter, it makes the crown heavier.
You who are mercifully inclined, remember whatever alms
You shall have good security. 'He who gives to the poor
lends to the Lord; and that which he has given will he pay him again'
(Ecclesiastes 11:1; Luke 6:38; Proverbs 19:17). There is God's pledge. Yet
here is our unbelief—we will not take God's bond.
You shall be abundantly repaid. For a wedge of gold which
you have parted with—you shall have a weight of glory. For a cup of cold
water—you shall have rivers of pleasure, which run at God's right hand for
evermore. The interest comes to infinitely more than the principal.
Pliny writes of a country in Africa where the people for every bushel of
seed they sow receive a hundred and fifty-fold increase. For every penny you
drop into Christ's treasury, you shall receive above a thousand-fold
increase. Your after-crop of glory will be so great that, though you are
still reaping, you will never be able to gather the whole harvest. Let all
this persuade rich men to honor the Lord with their substance.
Before I conclude this subject, let me lay down
some brief rules concerning works of mercy.
1. Charity must be free. 'You shall give, and
your heart must not be grieved' (Deuteronomy 15:10). That is, you must not
be troubled at parting with your money. He who gives grievingly, gives
grudgingly. It is not a gift—but a tax. Charity must flow like
spring-water. The heart must be the spring, the hand the pipe,
the poor the cistern. God loves a cheerful giver. Do not be like the
fruit which has all the juice squeezed and pressed out. You must not give to
the poor as if you were delivering your purse to the robber. Charity without
cheerfulness, is rather a fine than an offering. It is rather doing
of penance than giving of alms. Charity must be like the myrrh which
drops from the tree without cutting or forcing.
2. We must give that which is our own (Isaiah
58:7). To give bread to the hungry, it must be 'your bread'. The Scripture
puts them together, 'To do justice, to love mercy.' (Micah 6:8). 'For I the
Lord love justice; I hate robbery and injustice' (Isaiah 61:8). He who shall
build an almshouse or hospital with ill-gotten goods, displays the ensign of
his pride and sets up the monument of his shame!
3. Do all in Christ and for Christ.
Do all IN Christ. Labor that you may be in
Christ. We are 'accepted in him' (Ephesians 1:6). Origen, Chrysostom, and
Peter Martyr affirm that the best works not springing from faith, are lost.
The Pelagians thought to have posed Augustine with that question, Whether it
was sin in the heathen to clothe the naked? Augustine answered rightly: 'The
doing of good is not in itself evil—but proceeding from infidelity it
becomes evil'. 'To those who are unbelieving is nothing pure' (Titus 1:15).
That fruit is most sweet and genuine which is brought forth in the vine
(John 15:4). Outside of Christ, all our alms-deeds are but the fruit of the
wild olive tree. They are not good works—but dead works.
Do all FOR Christ, namely, for his sake, that
you may testify your love to him. Love to Christ mellows and ripens our
alms-deeds. It makes them a precious perfume to God. As Mary did out of love
bring her ointments and sweet spices to anoint Christ's dead body, so out of
love to Christ bring your ointments and anoint his living body, namely,
saints and members.
4. Works of mercy are to be done in humility.
Away with ostentation! The worm breeds in the fairest fruit; and the
moth in the finest cloth. Pride will be creeping into our best
things. Beware of this dead fly in the box of ointment. When Moses' face
shone, he put a veil over it. So while your light shines before men and they
see your good works, cover yourselves with the veil of humility. As the
silkworm, while she weaves her curious works, hides herself within the silk
and is not seen, so we should hide ourselves from pride and vainglory.
It was the sin of the Pharisees while they were
distributing alms that they blew the trumpet (Matthew 6:2). They did not
give their alms—but sold them for applause. A proud man 'casts his bread
upon the waters', as a fisherman casts his angle upon the waters. He angles
for vainglory. I have read of one Cosmus Medices, a rich citizen of
Florence, that he confessed to a near friend of his, he built so many
magnificent structures, and spent so much on scholars and libraries, not for
any love to learning but to raise up to himself trophies of fame and renown.
A humble soul denies himself, yes, even annihilates
himself. He thinks how little it is he can do for God, and if he could do
more, it were but a due debt. Therefore he looks upon all his works as if he
had done nothing. The saints are brought in at the last day as disowning
their works of charity. 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?
Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you
hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick
or in prison, and visit you?' (Matthew 25:37-39). A holy Christian not only
empties his hand of alms—but empties his heart of pride. While he raises the
poor out of the dust, he lays himself in the dust. Works of mercy must be
like the cassia, which is a sweet spice—but grows low.
5. Dispose your alms prudentially. It is said
of the merciful man, 'He orders his affairs with discretion' (Psalm 112:5).
There is a great deal of wisdom in distinguishing between those who have
sinned themselves into poverty, and those who by the hand of God are brought
into poverty. Discretion in the distribution of alms consists of two things:
in finding out a fit object; in taking a fit season.
The finding out a fit object comes under a
double notion. Give to those who are in most need. Raise the hedge
where it is lowest. Feed the lamp which is going out. Give to those who may
probably be more serviceable. Though we bestow cost and dressing upon a weak
plant—yet not upon a dead plant. Breed up such as may help to build the
house of Israel (Ruth 4:11), that may be pillars in church and state,
not caterpillars making your charity to blush. 'Whenever we have the
opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian
brothers and sisters.' (Galatians 6:10)
Discretion in giving alms is in
taking the fit season. Give to charitable uses in time of health
and prosperity. Distribute your silver and gold to the poor before 'the
silver cord is loosed or the golden bowl is broken' (Ecclesiastes 12:6). 'He
who gives early, gives double'. Do not be as some, who reserve all they give
until the term of life is ready to expire. Truly what is then bestowed is
not given away—but taken away by death! It is not charity—but
necessity. Oh do not so marry yourselves to money that you are resolved
nothing shall part you from it—but death! A covetous man may be compared to
a Christmas-box. He receives money—but parts with none until death breaks
this box in pieces. Then the silver and the gold come tumbling out. Give in
time of health. These are the alms which God takes notice of, and (as Calvin
says) puts in his book of accounts.
6. Give thankfully. They should be more
thankful who give an alms—than those who receive it. We should
give a thank-offering to God that we are in the number of givers and not
receivers. Bless God for a willing mind. To have not only an large estate—but
a large heart, is matter of thankfulness!