From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

Mercy is a concept integral to an understanding of God's dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, it comes to expression in phrases such as "to be merciful, " "to have mercy on, " or "to show mercy toward." The corresponding term, "merciful, " describes a quality of God and one that God requires of his people. The noun denotes compassion and love, not just feelings or emotions, as expressed in tangible ways.

Several Hebrew and Greek terms lie behind the English term "mercy." The chief Hebrew term is hesed [חֶסֶד חֶסֶד], God's covenant "lovingkindness." In both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) and the New Testament, the term behind "mercy" is most often eleos [Ἔλεος] in one form or another, but oiktirmos/oiktiro [Οἰκτιρμός/Οἰκτίρω Οἰκτείρω] (compassion, pity, to show mercy) and splanchna/splagchnizomai [Σπλαγχνίζομαι] (to show mercy, to feel sympathy for) also play roles.

The Old Testament. Mercy: A Part of God's Nature . Although people have the capacity for showing mercy, especially toward those with whom they already have a special relationship ( 1 Kings 20:31;  Isaiah 49:15;  Jeremiah 31:20; cf.  1 Maccabees 2:57 ), a lack of mercy is more natural to the human condition ( Proverbs 5:9;  12:10;  Isaiah 13:18;  47:6;  Jeremiah 6:23;  50:42; cf. Wisd. of  Song of Solomon 12:5 ). Mercy is, however, a quality intrinsic to the nature of God. It is for this reason that in some situations "merciful" was a sufficient description of God ( Psalm 116:5; cf.  Tobit 6:17 ). Sometimes it appears alongside other qualities as one expression of his nature that God's children particularly observe and recount ( Exodus 34:6;  Deuteronomy 4:31;  2 Chronicles 30:9;  Psalm 86:15;  Daniel 9:9;  Jonah 4:2 ). The experience of God's people is that God's mercy, unlike human mercy, cannot be exhausted ( 2 Samuel 24:14;  Lamentations 3:22 ). Yet divine mercy is not blind or dumb; although God tolerated Israel's rebellion with mercy for a very long time ( Nehemiah 9:17,19 ,  31;  Jeremiah 3:12 ), ultimately ungodliness in Israel was met by a withdrawal of God's mercy, leading to judgment ( Lamentations 2:2,21;  Zechariah 1:12 ). But even in judgment and discipline God's mercy can be seen and hoped for ( 2 Samuel 24:14;  Psalm 57:1;  Isaiah 55:7;  60:10;  Jeremiah 31:20;  Habakkuk 3:2; cf.  Tobit 6:17 ), for it is part of the basic disposition of love toward his people, and it directs his actions ultimately in ways that benefit his people.

Mercy as the Foundation of God's Covenant . Mercy and hesed [   Exodus 34:6;  Deuteronomy 4:31;  13:17;  Hosea 2:19 ); its meaning through hesed [   Psalm 25:6;  40:11;  69:17;  Isaiah 63:7;  Jeremiah 16:5;  42:12;  Hosea 2:19;  Joel 2:13;  Zechariah 7:9 ). God's mercy is mediated through the covenant, by which he becomes the God of a people promising protection, provision, guidance, and his constant presence ( Psalm 23:6 ). Because God is the initiator, the mercy he gives is gracious, unmerited, undeserved ( Genesis 19:16;  Exodus 33:19;  Jeremiah 42:12 ). Within the relationship, God's mercy is thus closely linked to forgiveness ( Exodus 34:9;  Numbers 14:19;  Jeremiah 3:12;  Daniel 9:9 ), a more basic disposition of compassion ( Deuteronomy 13:17 ) leading to forgiveness, and to the steadfast love by which God sustains the covenant and repeatedly forgives his people ( Psalm 25:6;  40:11;  51:1;  69:16;  103:4;  119:77;  Jeremiah 3:12;  16:5 ).

Salvation, membership in the covenant, and the promises of God all derive logically from the constellation of divine qualities that includes mercy. God's ability to provide, protect, and sustain a people finds its channel and direction through his gracious mercy acted out in historical contexts.

Mercy in the New Testament . The pattern of God's dealings with people in the Old Testament, at the core of which is mercy, also provides the shape for understanding his dealings in the New Testament. God desires a relationship with humankind, but must show mercy to them in order for this relationship to be built. Of course, the New Testament expounds the theme of God's mercy in the light of Christ, the supreme expression of love, mercy, and grace.

The Continuance of God's Covenant Mercy . Although the redemptive ministry of Christ comes to be thought of as the clearest expression of God's mercy, the Old Testament theme continues to be sounded as the basis for a people of God. In the "Magnificat" Mary recalls the mercy of God, God's hesed [   Luke 1:50,54,58,72,78 ). Paul links this same divine commitment of mercy to undeserving people in the Old Testament with God's stubborn pursuit of Israel in and through Christ in the New Testament era and its extension to the Gentiles ( Romans 9:15-16,23;  11:31-32;  15:9 ). This latter thought is taken up in  1 Peter 2:10 : "Once you were not a people; but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (NRSV). Applied with special emphasis to the Gentile believers to remind them of their undeserved blessings, the fact is equally true of Gentiles and Jews: people come into relationship with God only because God shows mercy to them.

Similarly, the New Testament writers echo the Old Testament belief that mercy belongs to God ( 2 Corinthians 1:3;  James 5:11 ) and that this resource of mercy is inexhaustible ( Ephesians 2:4 ). For this reason, people can confidently cry out to God for mercy in time of need ( Luke 18:13;  2 Timothy 1:16,18; cf.  Matthew 15:22;  17:15 ).

God's Mercy Displayed in the Ministry of Christ . The great Acts of mercy shown by God to the people of Israel found intimate expression in the ministry of Christ. The pattern he set, however, was not a new one, for he simply worked out the mercy of God at the human level. This is seen most clearly in his Acts of healing. Cleansed of the legion of demons, the healed man is told to return home and declare the mercy that God has shown to him ( Mark 5:19 ). The man had received from God without even asking. Others who beseeched Jesus to heal them or people with various afflictions knew that what they requested was for God to "be merciful" ( Matthew 15:22;  17:15;  Mark 10:47-48; [par]  Luke 17:13 ). And invariably he was. Mercy was manifested in practical help, not simply in a consoling message that God was sympathetic with their plight.

Mercy as the Foundation of Salvation . Ultimately the mercy of God that Jesus demonstrated in individual salvific Acts becomes for the New Testament writers the illustration of the release from sin and death that God offers to the whole world through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ. The counterpart to the theme of the establishment of God's covenant with Israel in the Old Testament is the New Testament theme of God's gracious provision of salvation through the work of Christ. Each redemptive act of God—the exodus from Egypt and Jesus' crucifixion/resurrectionis interrelated. The one grounds and shapes the other, which receives clarity and development through the concept of salvation in the New Testament. What God did for Israel in rescuing them from slavery in Egypthe "saved" themwas a part of the relationship he made with this people. Now in Christ the new exodussalvation from sin forms the basis for the relationship God desires with humankind. But the fundamental factor in each act of God is mercy: God's compassionate love for his creation that leads him to do for it what it cannot do for itself. Mercy thus forgives and liberates those who have no right to such blessings.

Salvation thus rests on God's mercy as executed in and through the Christ-event. This is perhaps seen most clearly in Paul's discussion with the Roman Christians about the Gentiles' place in God's family in  Romans 9:15-18 (cf. 11:30-32). The point is made that salvation depends utterly on God's mercy and that the salvation of the Gentiles is but another display of this mercy: "For he [God] says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'" (9:15; quoting   Exodus 33:19 ). Mercy is such a dominant concept within salvation that the heirs of salvation are called "vessels of mercy" (9:23) in contrast to those who fail to receive it and are called "vessels of wrath" (9:22).

This theme is echoed elsewhere in the New Testament. Peter ( 1 Peter 1:3 ) reached back to the Old Testament records of God's establishment of a covenant with Israel and connected them with the new life in Christ to describe the salvation of Christians: "By his great mercy he has given us a new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (NRSV).  Titus 3:5 declares: "he saved us not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy" (NRSV).   Ephesians 2:4-5 links the salvation of the Gentiles with God's richness of mercy. Throughout the New Testament it is clear that God's mercy is displayed to the world in Christ.

Mercy as the Response of Those to Whom Mercy Has Been Shown . Beyond viewing salvation as God's great act of mercy, the profound effect on the early church that God's mercy had can be seen in several other ways. Paul was conscious that his own rescue from a life as the church's and God's enemy came about because of God's mercy ( 1 Timothy 1:13,16 ). His behavior deserved judgment, but God in his mercy bestowed salvation instead. Paul also regarded the right to participate in ministry as a decision of God grounded on his mercy ( 2 Corinthians 4:1 ). He saw with great sensitivity that even seemingly mundane events were actually manifestations of God's helping mercy ( Philippians 2:27 ). It is this kind of imprint on the heart that made mercy a common wish and blessing of one believer to another ( 2 Timothy 1:16,18 ), and in some cases the opening greetings of letters included the wish for mercy ( 1 Timothy 1:2;  2 Timothy 1:2;  2 John 3;  Jude 2; cf.  Galatians 6:16 ). In view of these examples, it is not exaggerating to say that life in Christ gives birth in believers' hearts to a consciousness not only of being recipients of God's mercy in one gift of salvation, but also of being daily recipients of fresh "mercies" of God, emblems of his ownership of us and care for us ( Romans 12:1;  2 Corinthians 1:3; all of the greetings cf.  Lamentations 3:22-23 ).

In this awareness of God's past, present, and future ( Jude 21 ) mercy toward us, an element of our response to God takes on a new force in the New Testament. Christians are to be channels of God's mercy in the church and in the world.

The awareness in Judaism and early Christianity of the responsibility to show mercy is evident in the practice of almsgiving ( eleemosyne [   Matthew 6:2-4 ), but in Luke's writings especially it is cited as an example of true spirituality. Thus in  Luke 11:41 the value of giving alms is placed high above religious rules about purity, which the Pharisees guarded so carefully. In 12:33 mercy expressed in charitable giving is made a characteristic of discipleship. This specific way of showing mercy is praised in the early church (  Acts 9:36;  10:2 ) and clearly regarded as an aspect of the normal Christian life (cf.  Acts 24:17 ). In this way Christians become living signs of God's perfect mercy introduced in Christ and one day to be fully realized (cf.  Acts 3:3,6 ).

In more general terms, to show mercy is a characteristic of life in God's kingdom, a demonstration of kingdom power. The beatitude (an announcement of blessing) in  Matthew 5:7 indicates that showing mercy is one of the marks of righteousness, the gift of God associated with the inbreaking of God's kingdom. God has made it possible; therefore his people must do it. In so doing, they mirror the God who has saved them (  Luke 6:36; cf. the opposite picture in  Matthew 18:33;  James 2:13 ). To illustrate fulfillment of the half of God's law given to direct human relationships, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. Thus, showing mercy to our "neighbors" is part of the basic response of God's people to his covenant ( Luke 10:25-37; cf.  Leviticus 19:17-18;  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ). Compassion and merciful action in behalf of those around us are the essence of spiritual living. The absence of mercy is a sign of unbelief and rejection of God ( Romans 1:28,31 ). The Jews were reprimanded for emphasizing cultic Acts and ignoring mercy toward one another ( Hosea 6:6 ). Jesus took up this reprimand to denounce the legalistic practices of the Pharisees ( Matthew 9:13 ). True Christian faith produces genuine compassion and fruit in the form of Acts of mercy toward those in need. It was this characteristic of mercy that caused Christ to go among all kinds of people to help. Believers are to respond to the mercy shown them in the same way.

Philip H. Towner

Bibliography . R. Bultmann, TDNT, 2:477-87; 5:159-61; J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament  ; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT 2:593-601; N. Glueck, Hesed in the Bible  ; R. A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding  ; E. Kä emann, New Testament Questions of Today  ; N. H. Snaith, T he Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament .

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]


1. Mercy of God. —Mercy is ‘that essential perfection in God whereby He pities and relieves the miseries of His creatures’ (Cruden). In the OT the mercy of God (חֶסֶר, רַחֲמִים; חֶנַן ‘to show mercy’) is sought and celebrated in ( Psalms 51:1,  Lamentations 3:22), or more frequently where no connexion with sin is expressed ( Psalms 89:1;  Psalms 118:1). Sin and the distress which is the consequence of it are not always separated in thought ( Psalms 41:4;  Psalms 79:8-9).

In the NT a clearer division can be made of places where the mercy spoken of is temporal or spiritual. Those who came to Christ for help asked for mercy , that is, for pity and relief ( Matthew 9:27;  Matthew 15:22;  Matthew 17:15;  Matthew 20:30; cf.  Mark 5:19). The word used is ἐλεεῖν, while Christ’s twofold response is expressed by σπλαγχνισθείς, ‘moved with compassion,’ and by His act of healing ( Matthew 20:34). Along with these may be placed  Luke 1:58,  Philippians 2:27,  1 Corinthians 7:25, where particular instances of mercy are mentioned. On the other hand, the words ἔλεος, ἐλεεῖν are used of the whole of God’s saving work in Christ ( Luke 1:72;  Luke 1:78,  Romans 11:30,  2 Corinthians 4:1,  Ephesians 2:4,  1 Timothy 1:13;  1 Timothy 1:16,  Titus 3:3-7,  Judges 1:21). In the publican’s prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me the sinner’ ( Luke 18:13), the more exact translation is ‘be propitiated’ (ἱλάσθητι), as also in  Hebrews 8:12 (ἵλεως). In these places the obstacle of sin is recognized, and the mercy described is such as overcomes sin.

Generally in the NT sin is described not only as the source of human misery, but as itself the greatest evil from which men need to be delivered; and accordingly the work of God’s mercy is to save from sin (see  Ephesians 2:4-10,  Titus 3:3-7). In  Romans 11:30-32 something is said of the Divine purpose in permitting sin, so that we may believe that the severities of God’s judgments are not inconsistent with ‘that essential perfection of mercy whereby He pities and relieves the miseries of His creatures.’ But of this as creatures we have not the final right to judge ( Romans 9:15;  Romans 9:23). A deepened sense of the hopelessness of separation from God brings it about that no other deliverance is to be for a moment compared with salvation from sin ( Ephesians 2:1-4; cf.  Galatians 1:4,  Judges 1:21).

This is also seen to be the meaning of mercy when the method of God’s mercy in the Gospel is considered, and the aim of it.

(1) Its method .—Christ’s work teaches us that God’s mercy seeks a higher good for men than the relief of temporal distress. We must think of Christ as abiding in the constant sense of the mercy of His Father, and communicating the same to men in word and deed. ‘Be ye therefore merciful (οἰκτίρμονες), as your Father also is merciful’ ( Luke 6:36). ‘Love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this’ ( John 15:12-13). That is to say, the mercy of God beginning with compassion went on to action, in the Incarnation and Atonement. ‘This is he that came by water and blood’ ( 1 John 5:6). ‘I lay down my life that I may take it again.… This commandment have I received of my Father’ ( John 10:17-18, cf.  1 Peter 1:3).

Following upon the work of Christ, it is said of believers that they have obtained mercy ( 2 Corinthians 4:1,  1 Timothy 1:13;  1 Timothy 1:16,  1 Peter 2:10); and that they look for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life ( Judges 1:21). And mercy is still continuously needed, asked for, and received by believers ( Hebrews 4:16,  Philippians 2:27,  2 Timothy 1:16;  2 Timothy 1:18). Also the prayers in  1 Timothy 1:2,  2 Timothy 1:2,  Galatians 6:16,  2 John 1:3,  Judges 1:2, indicate that it becomes us to go in prayer to seek the mercy which it remains always with God to bestow. It is noteworthy that mercy is added to the usual ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ of the salutations just in those places where some more intimate affection and tender sympathy is naturally to be expected ( e.g.  Galatians 6:16, the Letters to Timothy, and Jude’s Epistle). Whatever there is painful in the experience of believers constitutes for them a new need of the Divine mercy, and is to be explained as a part of God’s purpose of greater good by saving them more and more completely from sin.

(2) Its aim .—The aim of God’s mercy is expressed in Christ’s words, ‘That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’ ( Matthew 5:45). The parable of the Unmerciful Servant ( Matthew 18:23) sets forth the purpose of God negatively, and in  1 John 2:5;  1 John 4:12;  1 John 4:17 the positive side is given. God’s mercy or love to us comes to perfect realization when we have learned to be like Him. Because He loves us He will have us to be merciful, that we may be at our best. In this way also the progress of the Kingdom of God among men is assured, as we see in a concrete instance in 2 Corinthians 4-7 (cf.  Acts 20:18-35).

2. Mercy of man to man. —We have seen that it is the aim of the Divine mercy to reproduce itself in the spirits of men. As mercy has two parts, pity and active beneficence, we are commanded to love not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth ( 1 John 3:16). This is Christ’s teaching in  Matthew 9:13;  Matthew 12:7;  Matthew 23:23, and in the parables of the Good Samaritan ( Luke 10:30) and of the Sheep and the Goats ( Matthew 25:31), as well as in that of the Unmerciful Servant ( Matthew 18:28). From these we learn that if gratitude to God does not avail to make men merciful to one another, they will be dealt with by penalties (see also  James 2:13;  James 3:17,  1 John 2:9-11;  1 John 3:15). This right disposition of heart is a product not so much of enlightenment of the mind as of such experiences as touch the springs of affection. The passage in 2 Corinthians 4-9, beginning ‘as we have obtained mercy’ (and, indeed, the whole Epistle), is a treasury of evangelical motives to philanthropic conduct. ‘Our mouth is opened unto you, our heart is enl arged’ ( 2 Corinthians 6:11). Similarly, in the case of St. Peter, ‘Thou knowest that I love thee.… Feed my sheep’ ( John 21:17; cf.  Romans 12:1 ‘I beseech you … by the mercies (οἰκτιρμοί) of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice’).

Selflessness, and the constraint that Christ’s love lays upon a believer, are the important features of his behaviour in this matter of mercifulness. ‘Though I be nothing’; ‘I will very gladly spend and be spent for you’ ( 2 Corinthians 12:12;  2 Corinthians 12:15). ‘I am debtor … as much as in me is, I am ready’ ( Romans 1:14-15). ‘The love of Christ constraineth us’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:14). ‘We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’ ( 1 John 3:16). When we look at Christ’s own life for an example, we do not find in His case the indebtedness of one who has been forgiven, but we do find the readiness of unreserved surrender to His Father’s will. ‘I came not to do mine own will’ ( John 6:38). ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me’ ( John 7:16). ‘I have not spoken of myself’ ( John 12:49). Thus the mercy of God does not work in vacuo , but in the concrete example of Christ and of men possessed by His spirit, and made vehicles of His mercy ( Romans 11:31,  1 John 4:12).

In the OT the word חָסֶר ‘mercy’ is used of the duties of piety between kinsmen ( Genesis 20:13), or persons who are in covenant with each other ( Genesis 21:23). And it might seem in conflict with this that one of the most striking instances in which an appeal for mercy is disallowed in the NT is that of the rich man to his father Abraham ( Luke 16:24). Similarly, Christ subordinated the ties of kindred ( Luke 14:26) even with Himself ( Mark 3:33,  Luke 11:28) to the higher bonds of the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless the effect of Christian faith is to strengthen, and not to weaken, all the ties of human affection, raising them into the region of religion. The early motto of Christ’s ministry was, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ ( Matthew 9:13;  Matthew 12:7); the same thought pervades the later chapters of the Gospel of John (13–17) and his First Epistle, passim , while both in Acts ( Acts 20:38;  Acts 21:13) and in his Epistles there is evidence of the overflowing, self-forgetting affection of St. Paul for the Christian Churches. The rule of pity and of active helpfulness is the teaching and the practice of Christ and His disciples. Mercy is the note of the Christian temper. See, further, artt. Grace, Kindness.

Literature.—Cremer, Lexicon, s.v. ἔλεος; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Mercy’; Seeley, Ecce Homo , chs. xix. xx.; Dykes, Manifesto of the King , p. 101 ff.; Paget, Studies in the Christian Character , p. 221 ff.; Butler, Serm. v. vi. ix. xi. xii.; Browning, Ring and the Book , x.; C. Watson, First Ep. of John  ; Dean Stanley Corinthians , vol. ii.

T. Gregory.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [3]

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.

See Beneficence, Charity, Love

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [4]

A characteristic of God is that he is merciful and compassionate ( Exodus 34:6;  Nehemiah 9:17;  Psalms 103:13;  2 Corinthians 1:3;  Ephesians 2:4). This characteristic showed itself clearly in Jesus Christ who, though God, lived in the world as a human being and demonstrated the mercy that God has towards a needy human race ( Matthew 9:36;  Matthew 14:14;  Luke 7:13).

The most striking demonstration of divine mercy is God’s great act of salvation in saving sinners from the just consequences of their sins and giving them forgiveness and eternal life ( Numbers 14:18-19;  Psalms 86:5;  Isaiah 63:9;  Romans 2:4;  Romans 11:32;  Titus 3:4-5;  1 Peter 2:3). Even in the rituals of the Old Testament, the sinners were dependent entirely on God’s mercy for their acceptance with God. It was God’s mercy, not their religious acts, that saved them. For this reason God’s throne was called the mercy seat. It was the place where God symbolically sat and where he mercifully accepted repentant sinners into his presence ( Exodus 25:21-22; cf.  Hebrews 4:16; see Tabernacle ).

Those who claim to be God’s people must also be merciful and compassionate ( Luke 6:36;  Luke 10:36-37;  Colossians 3:12;  1 Peter 2:10). This means more than that they should have pity and concern for others. They must actually do something ( James 2:15-16;  1 John 3:17-19). In particular they should give help to those in society who are liable to be disadvantaged, such as orphans, widows, aliens, the persecuted, the afflicted and the poor ( Deuteronomy 14:28-29;  Deuteronomy 24:19;  Proverbs 19:17;  Micah 6:8;  Zechariah 7:9-10;  Luke 10:29-37;  Romans 12:8;  James 1:27). They should show mercy even to those who annoy or oppose them ( 2 Kings 6:21-22;  Luke 6:35;  Romans 12:20;  Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus’ parables and other teachings are a constant reminder that God takes notice of the way people treat others. God promises that he will have mercy upon those who practise mercy to others ( Matthew 5:7;  Matthew 25:34-40). Those who show no mercy to others will receive no mercy from God in the day of judgment ( Matthew 18:21-35;  Luke 16:24-26;  James 2:13). (See also Grace ; Love .)

King James Dictionary [5]

MER'CY, n. L. misericordia.

1. That benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant. In this sense, there is perhaps no word in our language precisely synonymous with mercy. That which comes nearest to it is grace. It implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.

The Lord is long-suffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty.  Numbers 14

2. An act or exercise of mercy or favor. It is a mercy that they escaped.

I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies.  Genesis 32

3. Pity compassion manifested towards a person in distress.

And he said, he that showed mercy on him.  Luke 10

4. Clemency and bounty.

Mercy and truth preserve the king and his throne is upheld by mercy.  Proverbs 28

5. Charity, or the duties of charity and benevolence.

I will have mercy and not sacrifice.  Matthew 9

6. Grace favor.  1 Corinthians 7;  Jude 1:2 . 7. Eternal life, the fruit of mercy.  2 Timothy 1 8. Pardon.

I cry thee mercy with all my heart.

9. The act of sparing, or the forbearance of a violent act expected. The prisoner cried for mercy.

To be or to lie at the mercy of, to have no means of self-defense, but to be dependent for safety on the mercy or compassion of another, or in the power of that which is irresistible as, to be at the mercy of a foe, or of the waves.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) Compassionate treatment of the unfortunate and helpless; sometimes, favor, beneficence.

(2): ( n.) Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it; compassionate treatment of an offender or adversary; clemency.

(3): ( n.) Disposition to exercise compassion or favor; pity; compassion; willingness to spare or to help.

(4): ( n.) A blessing regarded as a manifestation of compassion or favor.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [7]

The divine goodness exercised towards the wretched and the guilty, in harmony with truth and justice,  Psalm 85:10 . The plan by which God is enabled to show saving mercy to men, for Christ's sake, is the most consummate work of infinite wisdom and love. The soul that has truly experienced the mercy of God will be merciful like him,  Luke 6:36 , compassionate to the wretched,  Psalm 41:1,2 , and forgiving towards all,  Matthew 5:7   18:33 .

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [8]

Properly speaking, the name of Jesus. For David, speaking of grace, and pleading for it before the Lord, saith, as an argument and plea for receiving it, There is mercy (that is, there is Jesus) with thee. ( Psalms 130:4) And when Zecharias prophesied, under the influence of God the Holy Ghost, at the coming of Christ, he said it was to perform the mercy promised. ( Luke 1:72) Jesus is the mercy promised.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Genesis 19:19 Exodus 20:6 34:6,7 Psalm 85:10 86:15,16 Matthew 5:7 18:33-35

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]


Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [11]

(properly חֶסֶד , Che'Sed, Kindness ; Ἔλεος , Pity ), a virtue which inspires us with compassion for others, and inclines us to assist them in their necessities. That works of mercy may be acceptable to God, as Christ has promised ( Matthew 5:7), it is not enough that they proceed from a natural sentiment of humanity, but they must be performed for the sake of God, and from truly pious motives. In Scripture mercy and truth are commonly joined together, to show the goodness that precedes and the faithfilness that accompanies the promises; or, a goodness, a clemency, a mercy that is constant and faithful, and that does not deceive. Mercy is also taken for favors and benefits received from God or man; for probity, justice, goodness. Merciful men-in Hebrew, chasdim are men of piety and goodness. Mercy is often taken for giving of alms,  Proverbs 14:34;  Proverbs 16:6;  Zechariah 7:9. (See Charity) .

Mercy, as derived from misericordia, may import that sympathetic sense of the suffering of another by which the heart is affected. It is one of the noblest traits of character. The object "of mercy is misery: so God pities human misery, and forbears to chastise severely; so man pities the misery of a fellow-man, and assists to diminish it; so public officers occasionally moderate the strictness of national laws from pity to the culprit. But only those can hope for mercy who express penitence and solicit mercy; the impenitent, the stubborn, the obdurate, rather brave the avenging hand of justice than beseech the relieving hand of mercy. (See Pardon).

Mercy is an essential attribute of Jehovah, for the knowledge of which we are indebted wholly to revelation. By the propitiatory sacrifice of our Divine Redeemer a way is opened for the exercise of mercy and grace towards the human family perfectly honorable to the attributes and government of God. He appears a just God and a Saviour: "He is just, and yet he justifieth him that believeth in Jesus." Thus the plan of salvation by Jesus Christ provides for the exercise of infinite mercy, consistently with the most rigid demands of truth and righteousness; so that, under this gracious dispensation, "mercy and truth" are said to "have met together," and "righteousness and peace have kissed each other" ( Genesis 19:19;  Exodus 20:6;  Exodus 34:6-7;  Psalms 85:10;  Psalms 86:15-16;  Psalms 103:17;  Luke 18:13;  Romans 9:15-18;  Hebrews 4:16;  Hebrews 8:12). The expression "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" ( Hosea 6:6;  Matthew 9:13), signifies, as the connection indicates, that God is pleased with the-exercise of mercy rather than with the offering of sacrifices, though sin has made the latter necessary ( 1 Samuel 15:22;  Micah 6:6-8). (See Atonement).

Mercy is also a Christian grace, and no duty is more strongly urged by the Scriptures than the exercise of it towards all men, and especially towards such as have trespassed against us ( Matthew 5:7;  Matthew 18:33-35).