We naturally make three fundamental errors when interpreting Matthew 5:7.
- The first error is what we think it means to be merciful.
- The second error is how we think we become merciful.
- And the third error is thinking that we obtain mercy because we are merciful.
What does it mean to be merciful?
It means to be satisfied only with mercy established in the propitiatory sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cry of the Publican, “God, be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13), was a cry for mercy on God’s terms; on the basis of justice satisfied. Nothing else satisfies God (Psalm 85:10; Psalm 89:14). Nothing else preserves the King and upholds His throne (Proverbs 20:28). Nothing else clears the conscience and gives peace in the heart (Hebrews 9:14;10:17-18,22). Nothing else glorifies God. Mercy, apart from or independent of Christ, or mercy without regard to righteousness, is not mercy; it is antichrist religion that is pleased when men are eased and God is compromised. Men compromise truth to achieve their ends. They imagine and set before others alternatives to obtain mercy apart from God’s sovereign mercy in Christ. They imagine mercy to be a simple grant of kindness independent of truth and justice. Or they imagine that mercy can be obtained by barter, offering God something in exchange for it: man’s promise to reform, his consent to be saved, or his works of religion. But God will in no wise clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7). The truly merciful man holds the mercy of God in Christ in the highest regard because only it honors God. Therefore, a merciful person loves mercy that is in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:3) because it glorifies God. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10). "Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face" (Psalm 89:14). "Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy" (Proverbs 20:28).
It means to desire and seek for sinners be reconciled to God in Christ. God did not and does not desire the sacrifice of things (Matthew 9:12-13). Rather, He desires the reconciliation of sinners to Himself by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:7-10). Christ made satisfaction to justice (Romans 3:25; 5:10; Isaiah 53:11) and therefore Christ made peace with God for chosen sinners by the blood of His cross (Eph. 2:13-15; Col. 1:20-22). Believing sinners proclaim this truth, both to unbelieving sinners and to sinners saved by grace. They plead to God that He would be pleased to magnify His mercy to others, and they plead with sinners to seek mercy in Christ.
It means to seek out, comfort and minister to the needs of Christ’s people.
2 Timothy 1:16 "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: 2 Timothy 1:17 But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. 2 Timothy 1:18 The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well."
How do we become merciful?
A merciful man is merciful because God showed him mercy on the basis of Christ’s atonement (Ephesians 2:4-5; 4:32-5:2). Christ is ever and always in the mind and view that faith holds in the heart of the merciful man. Christ’s satisfaction to God and God’s mercy to me is the spring of all truly merciful attitudes, words and actions towards others. Don Fortner said it well: “The merciful have been made merciful by the experience of God’s mercy bestowed upon them in Christ.”
Do I obtain mercy because I am merciful?
I hate it when I hear a song with beautiful music but with lying words. The words to one such song was written by Francis of Assisi (perhaps he only wrote a part of it and it was further corrupted by a more modern artist):
For it is in giving, that we now receive;
it is in pardoning that we are now pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are now born again.
Can a sinner deserve pardon by reform or by attitudes or by offerings? Never! I am pardoned solely on the ground that Christ died in my place, made full compensation for my sins, and that God has received Him for me. If Christ died for me, God has abundantly pardoned me for His sake (Ephesians 1:7). If He did not die for me, I have no hope of pardon. I look to Christ alone for pardon (Micah 7:18). If I look to myself, I cannot be pardoned! (Romans 4:4-5, Christ, the object of faith, is counted to the believer as his righteousness).
We are born of the Spirit of God by sovereign grace alone, on the basis of the shed blood of Christ alone. Like God’s mercy, the Spirit of God gives life to whom He will, according to God’s will alone, just as God works all things at all times and in all places according to His own will (Ephesians 1:11).
Nothing is more revolting to the gospel than to think we are loved because we love or that we obtain mercy because we show mercy. It is revolting because it makes God’s grace a commodity that man may acquire by his own internal attitudes and emotions and words and deeds. Filthy lies! Man is guilty, corrupt, and has plunged himself under the judgment of God. There he lies (Ephesians 2:1-5). If God leaves man to himself, he will justly perish in his sins. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). God justifies, and He does so “freely by His grace", for no reason found in man, but only for reasons found in God, grounded on the redemption made by Christ (Romans 3:24-25). Justification and the new birth are the mercy of God to sinners.
"We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10). We are given mercy because God is sovereign and He is good to His chosen sinners in Christ. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).