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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Is that disposition of mind which excites us to pity and relieve those who are in trouble, or to pass by their crimes without punishing them. It is distinguished from love, thus: The object of love is the creature simply; the object of mercy is the creature fallen into misery. Parents love their children simply as they are their children; but if they fall into misery, love works in a way of pity and compassion: love is turned into mercy. "As we are all the objects of mercy in one degree or another, the mutual exercise of it towards each other is necessary to preserve the harmony and happiness of society. But there are those who may be more particularly considered as the objects of it; such as the guilty, the indigent, and the miserable. As it respects the guilty, the greatest mercy we can show to them is to endeavour to reclaim them, and prevent the bad consequences of their misconduct, James 5:20 . Mercy may also be shown to them by a proper mitigation of justice, and not extending the punishment beyond the nature or desert of the crime. With regard to those who are in necessity and want, mercy calls upon us to afford the most suitable and seasonable supplies; and here our benefactions must be dispensed in proportion to our circumstances, and the real distress of the object, 1 John 3:17 . As to those who are in misery and distress, mercy prompts us to relieve and comfort them by doing what we can to remove or alleviate their burdens. Our Lord strongly recommended this act of mercy in the parable of the man who fell among thieves, and was relieved by the poor Samaritan: and in the conclusion he adds, 'Go and do thou likewise, ' Luke 10:30-37 .

"This merciful temper will show and exert itself not only towards those of our own party and acquaintance, but to the whole human species; and not only to the whole human species, but to the animal creation. It is a degree of inhumanity to take a pleasure in giving any thing pain, and more in putting useful animals to extreme torture for our own sport. This is not that dominion which God originally gave to man over the beasts of the field. It is, therefore, an usurped authority, which man has no right to exercise over brute creatures, which were made for his service, convenience, support, and ease; but not for the gratification of unlawful passions, or cruel dispositions. "Mercy must be distinguished from those weaknesses of a natural temper which often put on the appearance of it. With regard to criminals or delinquents, it is false compassion to suppress the salutary abmonition, and refuse to set their guilt before them, merely because the sight of it will give their conscience pain: such unseasonable tenderness in a surgeon may prove the death of his patient: this, however it may appear is not mercy, but cruelty. So is that fondness, of a parent that withholds the hand of discipline from a beloved child, when its frowardness and faults render seasonable and prudent correction necessary to save it from ruin. In like manner, when a magistrate, through excessive clemency, suffers a criminal who is a pest to society to escape unpunished, or so mitigates the sentence of the law as to put it into his power to do still greater hurt to others, he violates not only the laws of justice, but of mercy too. "

Mercy to the indigent and necessitous has been no less abused and perverted by acts of mistaken beneficence, when impudence and clamour are permitted to extort from the hand of charity that relief which is due to silent distress and modest merit; or when one object is lavishly relieved to the detriment of another who is more deserving. As it respects those who are in tribulation or misery, to be sure, every such person is an object of our compassion; but that compassion may be, and often is, exercised in a wrong manner. Some are of so tender a make, that they cannot bear the sight of distress, and stand aloof from a friend in pain and affliction, because it affects them too sensibly, when their presence would at least give them some little comfort, and might possibly administer lasting relief. This weakness should be opposed, because it not only looks like unkindness to our friends, but is really showing more tenderness to ourselves than to them: nor is it doing as we would be done by . Again; it is false pity, when, out of mere tenderness of nature, we either advise or permit our afflicted friend to take or do any thing which will give him a little present transient ease, but which we know at the same time will increase his future pain, and aggravate the symptoms of his disease."

Seeing, therefore, the extremes to which we are liable, let us learn to cultivate that wisdom and prudence which are necessary to regulate this virtue. To be just without being cruel, and merciful without being weak, should be our constant aim, under all the circumstances of guilt, indigence, and misery, which present themselves to our view.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Mercy'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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Mercy of God