I'm continuing to preach through the Beatitudes on Sunday afternoons at CRBC and using Thomas Watson's exposition as a guide. Yesterday I preached on the fifth beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5:7).
Watson says that the beatitudes are like the stairs in Solomon’s temple that “cause our ascent to the holy of holies.” With this fifth beatitude, “We are now mounting up a step higher.”
What is meant here by mercifulness? Watson says, “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.”
As when the sun shines and ice is melted, so when Christ, 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 a merciful man.”
Watson says that mercy is “a fountain that runs in five streams. We must be merciful to the souls, names, estates, offenses, and wants of others.”
The Puritans were, no doubt, often maligned by their religious opponents. Perhaps this is what led Watson (and others of the Puritans) to so often speak of the importance of being careful with the names and reputations of men (Watson strikes a similar theme in his exposition of the Ten Commadments). Watson provides an extended discussion on the second of these five streams, stressing the importance of extending mercy to the names of men.
Below is a summary of Watson's comments on this stream (you can read Watson's full comments here):
Christians must be tender of one another’s names.
A good name is great blessing. Thus, we should be “very tender of names.” One is highly unmerciful “who makes no conscience of taking away the good name of their brethren… It is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name.”
Lack of mercy is grounded in…
Pride. Some hate to see others outshine them. They must “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.”
Envy. “An envious man maligns the dignity of another, (and) therefore seeks to mischief him in his name.” Envy consults with the devil, “lays a train (of powder) and fetches fire from hell to blow up the good name of another.”
How do men do damage to other men’s names?
They misreport them. “Thou shalt not raise a false report” (Exod 23:1). “The saints of God in all ages have met with unmerciful men who have fathered things upon them that they have not been guilty of.” David said, “They laid to my charge things which I knew not” (Psalm 35:11). To “defame and traduce another” is “to act the part of a devil.” Like vicious dogs, such men “rend and tear the precious names of men.”
They receive slander and then report what they hear. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people” (Lev 19:16). “We must not only not raise a false report, but not take it up.”
They diminish the just worth and dignity of men by making “more of their infirmities and less of their virtues.” Augustine is reported to have written two verses on this table:
Whoever loves another’s name to blast,
This table’s not for him; so let him fast.
Wicked men have “a devilish art so to extenuate and lessen the merit of others, that it is even boiled away to nothing.”
Next, we are unmerciful to men’s names “when we know them to be calumniated yet do nothing to vindicate them. A man may sometimes as well wrong another by silence as slander.”
Watson urges us to “show mercy to the names of others. Be very chary and tender of men’s good names.”
If you take a man’s good name away, you “wound him in that which is most dear to him. Better to take away a man’s life than his name. By eclipsing his name, you bury him alive. It is an irreparable injury; something will remain. A wound in a name is like a flaw in a diamond or a stain in azure, which will never die out. No physician can ever heal the wounds of a tongue.”
Men must one day give account for their idle words. “God will make inquisitions one day for names as well as for blood.” One should, “Especially take heed of wounding the names of the godly.” If it was an Old Testament law not to defame a virgin, then “what is it to calumniate Christ’s spouse?”
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