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Mercy the Best Preparation for Judgment.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Second part of Sermon LI. for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity.

What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.  - 2 ST.  PET.  iii.  11, 12. 

(for the first part, on the Epistle.)...With a mind therefore thus softened, and prepared, and laid open to receive the good seed, let us come to the Gospel for this Sunday, and with solemn thoughts of eternity and the Day of Judgment on our hearts, attend to our Blessed Lord's own precepts of duty. 


Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 

Since the whole creation "groaneth and travaileth in pain together," what can be more suitable for us than mercy to each other?  Moreover, on this account, from the state of suffering which surrounds us, God Himself is mostly known to us for His mercy.  He “showeth His Almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.”  And not only this; but in this respect He has called upon us to imitate Himself.  Were we in a state of innocence, as we were originally created, we might have been called upon to imitate Him in His holiness and purity, His justice, or some other attribute; but as fallen creatures needing mercy, it is mercy to others that He most requires of us.  The very term compassion implies this, that of "suffering together" with others.  And how often is it spoken of our Lord Himself, that "He had compassion," His being "full of compassion," "He had compassion on His people," "His compassions fail not." And "bowels of compassion" are the words that express this merciful temper which He requires of us.  It is this which He puts forth especially with reference to the Great Day.  It is then that "the merciful shall obtain mercy."  In this then we may see one great need and benefit of the manifold sufferings of this present time with which we are surrounded, that they are calculated especially to call forth and exercise our sympathies and fellow-feeling with the distresses of each other, and so serve as the best preparation we can have to fit us to meet the terrors of the awful Day.  If it be asked, "what manner of persons ought we to be, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the Day of God?" there could be no more appropriate answer given than this, "Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful."


In furtherance of the same, it is added: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.  Now if we are impressed with the speedy coming on of the Day of Judgment, not knowing what then will be our portion, and the shortness of the intervening time, how exceedingly gracious is this declaration, whereby God is pleased to put into our own hands as it were the sentence which is to be passed upon us.  And indeed there is a peculiar fitness it should be so, for the more earnestly we seek, by repentance and prayer, to avert God's judgment from ourselves on account of our past sins, the more we tremble and pray lest we be condemned, the more we seek of God forgiveness for the past, by so much the more do we become disposed not to condemn, not to judge, but to forgive others.  And this of which I speak is but the Spirit of God within us, answering our sighs and prayers, and our desires to avert judgment with this very same declaration which our Lord Himself makes: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged:"  It is the good Spirit putting it into our better thoughts on such occasions, and whispering to us with His own still small voice, after the tempest of some worldly calamity, or the earthquake which hath shaken our earthly sense of stability, or the fire of God which hath entered the bones: it is His gracious voice at length being heard, and saying, "Art thou afraid?"  Well, "judge not, and thou shalt not be judged: condemn not, and thou shalt not be condemned: forgive, and thou shalt be forgiven."  He inclines the heart, I mean, on such occasions, to these duties, and then all-important is it that we act up to these His suggestions. 


Then follows a duty akin to the former, and like a fuller drawing out of the same into definite acts of the like mercy, under the apprehension of approaching judgment: as Daniel the prophet says to Nebuchadnezzar, when he saw the time of retribution just approaching, "wherefore break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility” [Dan. iv. 27.] —"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 ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.  Here are two things; first giving away or bestowing of alms; and secondly in our dealings with men in all matters of business being liberal and bountiful throughout in all the circumstances of it; "good measure;" and again, "pressed down and shaken together;" and yet further, "running over."  Now God does not expect us to give, without expecting anything again in return, for this is peculiar to His own goodness; He alone thus gives, expecting nothing again, for He can receive no recompense from us; but what God requires from us is next to this, it is to look for no return or reward from man, but from Himself only.  For He promises to treasure up, and remember, and to repay us for all that we thus do, looking to Him only for recompense, when He shall measure out to us His own free gift of eternal life.  "They cannot recompense thee," He says, of mercy to the poor, but "thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just."  And of the slightest act of this kind, "Verily, he shall in no wise lose his reward."  Nay, He will measure out to us even the same already, by bestowing upon us, in spiritual gifts and holy thoughts, all that we do for His poor.  Thus in a high, indeed, and spiritual manner, "The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself." [Prov. Xi. 25]


But now there is advice quite the contrary to all this, suggested to us by what is called worldly wisdom; and it has indeed a thousand tongues, and speaks much louder than the Spirit of God and the meek Saviour of the world; and, alas, our own evil hearts are on all occasions much more ready to listen to it.  Such are those numerous appeals to look to our own self-interest, to provide for our families and our own future wants, and it may be to other and greater opportunities of doing good, the excuses that often minister to selfishness and a hard heart.  Here is assuredly another guide, another master that presents himself to us, and invites our adhesion, with advice altogether different and contrary.  Nay, sometimes even in the Church itself, and from worldly-minded pastors themselves, we shall receive no better guidance than this; such as savours rather of earthly than of heavenly wisdom.  To all such, therefore, we may apply our Lord's next words:—


And He spake a parable unto them, He left with them a dark saying or similitude, suggesting to them rather than openly declaring this deceivableness and danger of such misguidance which surrounded them.  Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?  Shall the darkness of this world become the guide to the children of light? look before you to that “ditch,” which lies so near, that gulf, that corruption, to which it hastens, and in which with all its followers it will soon be involved.  It will indeed pretend to teach you of an easier, a more convenient path, whereby you may combine the good of this world with that of the next.  But what! if this were the case, would not your Blessed Saviour have told you? would He have chosen the harder and more difficult path, and bidden us follow Him in that, if another were equally safe to us, or in any way more desirable?  If this were the case, would He have confined us to that, the path of lowliness and self-denial, as the one and only path to salvation. 


The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.  Far above all particular commands or precepts is contained in this, “Shall be as his Master.”  What encouragement, what faith, hope, and love above all things centre in this! O that we might indeed consider it, and we should all of us be far other than what we are!  “Shall be as his Master;" to be like, to be drawn near to, by very likeness and love; to approach Him, to have burned out of us by affliction this love of self; to have laid aside resemblances and adhesions to the world; as we get nearer unto death to become more united unto life.  This is to be as He is.  "Every one that is perfect," says our Blessed Lord, "shall be as his Master."  In like manner, St. John, "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because, as He is, so are we in this world."  Here again is the answer, if it be asked, “what manner of persons ought we to be, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the Day of God?” to be in this world as He Himself was. 


In the meanwhile, what do we? each reforming his neighbour, and no one himself; seeing the exceeding beauty and wisdom of these precepts, and therefore applying them to the characters and conduct of others, rather than conforming our own to the same.  There is a twofold blessing, or a double promise of blessing; one is that of our Lord, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged;" the other spoken by His Apostle, "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged."  Whereas our tendency is to lose both of these, by judging others, and not ourselves. 


And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Thou art too quick in beholding the slightest blemish and infirmity in another; the light falls, and thou seest the motes as in the sunbeam in a dark room; but there lies all the while in thine own heart such sin as brings over thy soul a cloud of darkness, which thou art able to endure without notice or concern.  Nay more, not only in harsh judging of others is this seen, but in thy desire to reform them without beginning first with thine own heart, which hath such need of reformation. 


Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.  How shall anyone of us improve or convert to God his friends, or his children, or his household, or his parish, or his school, or the world at large?  He can do them no good unless he first begins with his own heart.  Alas, it is but self-deceiving hypocrisy to attempt to do otherwise!  And yet one half of the world are taken up with schemes for reforming the other, as if the judgment would be passed on others, not on oneself. 


But to return:—self-condemnation and a severe judgment of ourselves do in a wonderful manner dispose us to be merciful and lenient to others.  We are perhaps thus led in our affliction and self-reproach to drink of Christ's cup of mercy, every drop of which, being that of Divine love, fills us with something of the same.  Hence it is that men find it so much easier to be merciful, to forgive injuries and the like on their death-beds, and with a near prospect of eternity, than they had done before; because at that time they judge themselves more earnestly, and feel so much more sensible of their own need of forgiveness. 


And now, to draw all these reflections to one point, if works of mercy are the best preparation we can make for the Day of Judgment, as of all evils sin is the worst, what work of mercy can be greater than to amend and sanctify ourselves, in order that we may amend and sanctify others? [St. John xvii. 19.]  Thus may we strengthen the hope that they, together with ourselves, may be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."