April 22, 2009

The importance of compassion

I was reading A Treatise Concerning the Religions Affections by Jonathan Edwards and came across a passage that I think has particular importance for the contemporary Evangelical church.

Again, the holy Scriptures do frequently speak of compassion or mercy, as a very great and essential thing in true religion, insomuch that good men are in Scripture denominated from hence; and a merciful man and a good man are equivalent terms in Scripture; Isa. 57:1, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away.”

Colossians 3:12-14
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

And the Scripture chooses out this quality, as that by which, in a peculiar manner, a righteous man is deciphered; Psalm 37:21, “The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth;” and v. 26, “He is ever merciful, and lendeth.” And Prov. 14:21, “He that honoreth the Lord, hath mercy on the poor.” And Col. 3:12, “Put ye on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies,” etc.

This is one of those great things by which those who are truly blessed are described by our Savior; Matt. 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” And this Christ also speaks of, as one of the weightier matters of the law; Matt. 23:23, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

Matthew 9:13
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

To the like purpose is that, Mic. 6:8, “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?” And also that, Hos. 6:6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.” Which seems to have been a text much delighted in by our Savior, by his manner of citing it once in Matt. 9:13 and again in Matt. 12:7.


  1. I think this is where the American culture and the scriptures clash -- Americans have that independent, fighting spirit. That spirit has flowed over into American churches. In our culture, we tend to see mercy and gentleness as marks of weakness instead of strength. This is where we as believers really need to wrap our head around the scriptures and allow it to permeate our hearts and our behaviors. Most often the church is only merciful with a sinner AFTER he repents, welcomes only the recovering rather than the addict. We save our truth for the people who look for it. This is entirely backwards!!

  2. Good reminder of what true religion truly is - loving those who need it most, with little if any thought to our own comforts. Thanks, Richard.

  3. Recently I read a book called "Beyond Religion" It speaks to how religion has done a lot to prevent people from living a spiritual life.

    The author compares Spirituality to a large body of water that ANYONE can drink from. Over the years religious groups have drained out some of the water, put fences around it and made claims that THEIR water was the most delicious and holy. These groups came up with rules that would help decide who could have access to THEIR part of the water. Pretty soon, that big body of water had been broken down into small ponds. All with fences around them. No longer could people find the big lake to drink from. They instead had to figure out a way to gain access to water, which was now controled by religion.

    I don't mean this as an attack on religion, but sometimes it feels like religion makes it more difficult to have a relationship with God.

    I work with people of different religions and I'm struck by all the rules they must follow. Our receptionist is Jehovah Wittness and she is unable to celebrate any holidays, including her own birthday. Another co-worker spent much of the last month complaining that she couldn't eat chocolate because of lent. My boss is Jewish and on Sundays he can't so much as push a button on an elevator. If there is a God, I imagine him/her to be loving and concerned with what is in our hearts. I don't imagine a God who is all wrapped up in having people play these silly games, to show how much they love God.

    I mentioned the Biblical story of the man who took his young daughter and burnt her to death, to show God that he was loyal. You can explain to me how terrible sin is over and over, but this will never make sense to me. If God knew what was in this mans heart, then why did he have to go to this kind of measure to prove it to God.

    Richard called Barrack Obama our most arrogant President. I think all of our Presidents had some high degree of arrogance. But none of them would make the kind of arrogant demands that God has made.

  4. This is such an important principle, and the easiest one to toss aside, sometimes. But it's our job to love the Lord our God and our neighbor as ourselves. Only, love has to be more than a feeling, it has to be a continual sacrifice on our parts to show the mercy, grace, and charity that we have been shown by God.

  5. Tim - I'm sorry I've been missing in action. Work and life have been particularly demanding recently.

    My comment about our president's arrogance was in reference to, and in the context of, his comments about America being an arrogant nation. That is not the type of comment I would normally make about the president of our nation.

    I don't like to mention definitions, as that it a technique quite often employed to obfuscate the truth. But in this case I think it is necessary to answer your concerns about God being arrogant.

    First of all, your viewpoint is not at all unusual. In fact, C.S. Lewis wrote early in his life that he saw God as the ultimate narcissist because God demands praise from everyone. It's an understandable viewpoint.

    However, the definition of arrogant is: "1. Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance. 2. Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one's superiority toward others" (The American Heritage Dictionary).

    By that definition, it is actually impossible for God to be arrogant. God is the creator of the universe. Apart from God, there would be no us--no others. So God, as the source of all others, is by definition superior. Romans 11:36 says that "From him and through him and to him are all things."

    The reason arrogance is seen as a vice is that none of us is better than any other of us. We are all equal. So a sense of superiority is clearly a character flaw and our society reacts negatively to such an attitude. But if God were to view himself as equal to us, when he is in fact not our equal, he would be wrong.

    A description of this that arose from a study of C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and the Bible was written eloquently by a pastor in your neck of the woods, Minneapolis.

    God is absolutely sovereign. "Our God is in the heavens he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). Therefore He is not frustrated. He rejoices in all His works when He contemplates them as colors of the magnificent mosaic of redemptive history. He is an unshakably happy God.

    His happiness is the delight He has in Himself. Before creation, He rejoiced in the image of His glory in the person of His Son. Then the joy of God “went public” in the works of creation and redemption. These works delight the heart of God because they reflect His glory. He does everything He does to preserve and display that glory, for in this His soul rejoices.
    All the works of God culminate in the praises of His redeemed people. The climax of His happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in the praises of the saints. This praise is the consummation of our own joy in
    God. Therefore, God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in Him are the same pursuit.

  6. Thanks Richard, That is a side of the Christian God that I rarely hear about.

    At the moment my brain feels a bit mushy, so I'm not even going to debate the issue. (Try not to be too disappointed)

    Hope you're having a great day!

  7. Thanks, Tim. I feel like I've made a new friend. And it feels good. I hope that Mary and I present the God of the Bible, who I truly believe is a kind, loving, and happy God. But I know that I fail often and as you read older blog posts, you'll probably run across some of those failings. May they not reflect badly on God.

    I am having a good day and I hope you are too. And even more, I hope that some day you will find the delight and happiness in God that Mary and I know. Thanks for the debate. And when the debate becomes tiring, thanks for the general conversation. You are openly welcome here.


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