FRIDAY, FIRST WEEK IN LENT
ON EXERCISING WORKS OF MERCY
Consider first, that in order to find mercy we must show mercy. ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ said our Lord, ‘for they shall obtain mercy,’ Matt. v. 7. And on the other hand ‘judgment without mercy,’ saith St. James, ‘to him that hath not done mercy,’ ch. ii. 13. God expressly rejects the fast of them that refuse to show mercy to their neighbour, Isai. lviii. He declares he will neither give ear to their prayers, nor accept of their sacrifices. Prov. xxi. 13. Isai. i. 11, 15, 16, 17, 18. If then, my soul, thou desirest at this time effectually to sue for the divine mercy in the forgiveness of thy sins, see that thy fasting and prayer be accompanied with alms-deeds, ‘If thou have much, give abundantly; if thou have little, take care even so to be willing to bestow a little,’ Tob. iv: 9. This mercy and charity exercised by thee, will recommend thy fasting and prayer to that God who is all charity, and whose tender mercies are above all his works.
Consider 2ndly, how many ways, and upon how many occasions, the word of God recommends almsdeeds to us. It promises an eternal kingdom in heaven to all those who are diligent in this exercise, and threatens with eternal damnation all those who are negligent, Matt. xxv. It shows that the definite sentence which is to decide our eternal doom, is to pass upon each one of us according to his behaviour in this respect. Ibid. It encourages even the greatest sinners ‘to redeem their sins by alms, and their iniquities with works of mercy to the poor.’ Dan. iv. 24. It assures them that by the means of alms ‘all things shall be made clean to them,’ Luke xi. 41; that ‘alms deliver from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness,’ Tob. iv. 11; that Christ considers what is done for the poor, as done for himself; and will reward it accordingly, Matt. xxv.; that ‘he that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him,’ Prov. xix. 17. We pass over many other texts, promising all kind of good, both for this world and the next, to works of mercy; and threatening the hard-hearted and unmerciful, with the worst of God’s judgments. O! my soul, attend to these heavenly oracles; embrace with all the affection of the heart this lovely virtue of mercy, the favourite daughter of the great King. It was mercy brought him down from heaven to thee; and mercy must carry thee up to him thither.
Consider 3rdly, the conditions that must accompany our alms, that they may be capable of producing these great effects. 1st. They must be liberal, and proportionable to our ability; ‘He that soweth sparely shall reap but sparingly.’ What then can the worldling expect, who for every penny he gives to God, in the person of the poor, gives a pound to the devil, and to his own passions and lusts? 2ndly. Our alms must be given with a pure intention; that is, not out of ostentation or vain-glory, or for an other human motive, but for God’s sake; otherwise they will have no reward from God. 3rdly. Our alms can never effectually procure for us the remission of our sins except we join with them a sincere repentance for our sins, together with an effectual resolution of loving and serving God for the future. Christians, take good notice of these three articles; and particularly remember, that neither alms nor any thing else can give any manner of security to any man that wilfully persists in mortal sin.
Conclude to esteem, love, and practise, upon every occasion, this blessed virtue of mercy. But see that thy intention be pure, and beware of losing the benefit of it by an impenitent heart.