S. LUKE vi.36.
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."
"Mercy" is the one great cry of human nature. We dare not ask for justice, we can only plead for mercy. David, after his great sins, could utter nothing but the mournful cry, the model for all penitent sinners, "Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness." The publican standing afar off, and looking at his faults, and not at his virtues, offers the pattern prayer for all men, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." The blind man by the wayside, the leper filled with loathsome disease, speak in the same strain, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon us." And so now from ten thousand altars, from bedsides wet with tears, from stately mansion and humble cottage, there rises one cry to Heaven, "O Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us." And we know to our comfort that "to the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him."
But there is something more to think of beside our need of mercy. We, who want so much mercy from God, must learn to show mercy to our fellow men. We are bidden to be merciful, even as our Father is merciful. We are all ready enough to talk of the mercies and lovingkindnesses of God to us and to all men, but what mercy, what lovingkindness, do we show to our brethren here in the world? And yet an exceeding bitter cry is being heard amongst us. The poor cry to the rich, the starving to the well fed, the sorrowful to the prosperous, the weak to the strong. All along life's highway lie those who have fallen among thieves, who are wounded and stripped, who are friendless and fallen, and they cry not only to God, but to man for mercy. Think, my brothers, you who have this world's good, how often have you answered the cry? Have you ever stayed by the fallen traveller when others passed by; have you ever poured in the wine of help, and the soothing oil of sympathy; have you ever tried to bind up the wounds of one injured by the cruel tongues of this hard world? Or did you pass by with the crowd on the other side, saying how sad a sight it was, but still no affair of yours?
O brethren, for whom Christ died, for whose sake He went about with sad eyes, and weary feet, seeking to save the lost, how can we look to Him for mercy if we never show mercy, how can we ask forgiveness unless we forgive? The earthly life of Jesus is, in every respect, the model for our life. He came to seek and to save, to search for the lost sheep, to call home the prodigals, to bind up the broken-hearted, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, to assist the weary and heavy-laden to find rest. As Christ's disciples, we are bidden in a humbler way to go and do likewise. This world is full of sorrow and sickness, doubt and anxiety. All around us there are brethren with broken fortunes, or breaking hearts; there are those whose house is left unto them desolate, and over whose threshold has fallen the shadow of death. There are prodigals who only need a kind word to bring them home, wandering sheep who only want a loving hand to turn them back to the fold. And God bids us do what we can to help these our brethren, saying that inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of them, we have done it unto Him. We are all fellow-pilgrims through this world, and we must help one another. We are all dwelling in a world of sorrow and sin, and we must strengthen each other to bear their troubles. "We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Even "the dumb, driven cattle" have their share of suffering, and look at us with beseeching eyes, asking for mercy. And if we refuse mercy to them, our humbler brethren, or if we refuse it to our fellow men, how dare we look for mercy on the day of Christ's appearing? We are distinctly told that as we do unto others, so shall it be done unto us. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured unto you again."
Let us think, then, of some of the ways in which we can show mercy. First, we must shew mercy and lovingkindness practically, by deeds, not words. To cry over a starving man, and to leave him to starve, is of no use. To sigh over the sins and miseries of our fellow men, without trying to mend them, is mere waste of time. Practical mercy and kindness can be shown in a thousand different ways. Try to make the lives of others happy. We are always seeking our own happiness, let us try rather to make the lives of others brighter, helping our neighbour, and happiness will come to us. We often see people who are neglected and uncared for in life, and when they die men scatter flowers upon their coffin, and write their praises on their tomb.
My brethren, let us not keep our flowers for our neighbour's coffin, but send them to him now, to brighten and bless his life. Mary did not reserve her alabaster box of perfume till her Lord was dead, she filled the whole house with sweetness where the living Jesus was. Let us do likewise. If we have an alabaster box of love and tenderness, let us not keep it sealed till our friends are dead. Pour forth the sweetness of loving words and kindly thoughts now, make their lives happy, you cannot "charm the dull, cold ear of death" with your praises. When we die we have done with the troubles of this world, and its flowers, and its pleasant things concern us not. But now that we are alive, and have to bear many hours of suffering and sorrow, kind, loving words, and the touch of gentle hands, and the help of strong arms, cheer and strengthen us like the sight of flowers, or the perfume of Mary's gift. Scatter your choicest blossoms upon men's lives, instead of on their coffins. Blessed are they whose lives are like the violets, making the homes and lives of others sweet and fragrant.
"There be fair violet lives that bloom unseen
This world would be far more like Paradise, and less like the howling wilderness which it is to so many, if men would show love and mercy to their fellow men. Nothing opens the heart to angels' visits, and shuts them against the attacks of Satan, like love. Truly it has been said, "the heart of him who loves, is a Paradise on earth; he hath God in himself, for God is love."
We are sent into the world to make each other happy, by showing mercy and kindness. "Some men move through life as a band of music moves down a street, flinging out pleasure on every side through the air, to every one, far and near, who can listen. Some men fill the air with their presence and sweetness, as orchards in October days fill the air with perfume of ripe fruit. Some women cling to their own homes like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, sweeten all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. There are trees of righteousness which are ever dropping precious fruit around them." Blessed are those lives which make others better and happier, purer, and stronger, verily they have their reward.
Again, we can show mercy by forgiving those who injure us. Few things are more talked of, and less practised, than the duty of forgiveness. This world is darkened by the stinging hail of spite, and vindictive bitterness, just because people who have been wronged by others will not be reconciled, will not forgive. If you believe in prayer, you ask God for pardon every day, but is not that something like mockery, if you from your hearts do not forgive another's trespasses? And remember also that forgiveness does not mean merely abstaining from injuring one who has wronged us. We must try to do such an one good if we can. Once, after a great battle, an English officer, accompanied by his orderly, was examining the wounded on the field. He came to one of the enemy who was badly hurt. "Give him a drink of water," said the officer. As he turned aside, the wounded man raised his rifle and fired at the officer, the bullet just missing him. "Give him the water all the same," was the order of the brave man who knew how to forgive.
Time would fail me to speak of the many ways in which we may show mercy. Kind judgment of another's motives, patient bearing with another's temper, gentle sympathy with another's weakness, noble self-sacrifice for another's good, all these are signs of the life of mercy. Let me tell you, in ending, that mercy ever brings its sweet reward. Each act of lovingkindness comes back to us with abundant interest. "Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over."
Once, a farmer, out on the Western Prairies of America, started for a distant town, to receive some money due to him. As he left his house, his only child, a little girl, clung lovingly to him, and reminded him of his promise to bring her home a present. Late on the same night the farmer left the town on his way home. The night was very dark and stormy, and he was yet far from his home, and in the wildest part of the road, when he heard the cry of a child. The farmer thought that it might be the device of some robber, as he was known to carry money with him. He was weary and wet with his journey, and inclined to hasten on, but again the cry reached him. The farmer determined that whatever happened he must search for the child, if child there were. Groping in the darkness, at last he found a little figure, drenched with rain, and shivering with cold. Wrapping his cloak about the child, he rode homewards as fast as possible, but when he reached his house, he found it full of neighbours, standing round his weeping wife. One said to another, "do not tell him, it will drive him mad." Then, the farmer set down his bundle, and his wife with a cry of joy saw that it was their own lost child. The little one had set forth to meet her father, and had missed her way. The man had, without knowing it, saved his own daughter. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."