The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.
This proverb is important! It can change your life! It will affect your life! You can do yourself a world of good, or you can torment yourself, depending on what you do with this lesson. The proverb is an inspired axiom about mercy, and the results are certain.
God blesses merciful men with goodness, but He chases cruel men with trouble. Merciful men are kind even to themselves, but unmerciful men torment themselves. The merciful man will be in heaven, but the cruel man will not, for he knows nothing of God's grace.
Humanity is cruel and selfish by nature. Adam gave all men a depraved, sinful nature that is cruel, hateful, and malicious (Rom 3:13-18; Titus 3:3). Mercy toward others is only by the Holy Spirit, and it is a trait only of godly men (Jas 3:17-18). Such men, by showing mercy to others and themselves, bring blessings on their own souls. But unmerciful men, with hard hearts toward others or themselves, bring pain and suffering on their own lives.
What is mercy? Consider it very carefully. "Forbearance and compassion shown by one person to another who is in his power and who has no claim to receive kindness; kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected" (OED). Mercy is kind to those who do not deserve it and cannot repay it. It forgives proper obligations and debts. Mercy gives up rights in order to help another, even when the choice is costly.
Men by nature are unwilling to give up rightful claims to help others - they are selfishly cruel, only thinking of themselves. Following the prince of the power of the air, they accept his murderous ambitions (Eph 2:1-3; John 8:44). His Hebrew name, Abaddon, means destroyer; and his Greek name, Apollyon, also means destroyer (Rev 9:11).
Since being rejected from heaven for pride, he seeks to destroy men in this life and in hell to come. False religion is generally marked by a cruel and perverse form of worship. Baal and Molech required terrible suffering: self-mutilation by the former, and child sacrifice by the latter (I Kgs 18:25-29; Lev 18:21; Jer 32:35; Ezek 20:26; 23:36-39)!
The blessed God despises the devil and wicked men: He loves mercy, and He rewards it in men. He values mercy even more highly than His own ceremonial commandments (Matt 12:1-7). When a man shows mercy to others, God blesses that man with extra favor and mercy (Pr 14:21; 22:9; 28:27; 29:14; Matt 5:7; 6:14-15; 25:34-40; Luke 6:38; Jas 2:13). This is the passive reward for mercy - what the LORD does for merciful men. And the passive punishment for cruelty is what He does against the cruel and unmerciful man.
Grasp the law of mercy! God will bless, protect, and strengthen the merciful man (Ps 41:1-4). He will show him light and establish him forever (Ps 112:4-10). God will cause the liberal man to stand (Is 32:7-8). And the Lord will prosper him in many ways (Pr 11:24-26; 19:17; Is 58:6-12). But God will destroy and grind the cruel man on the inside and outside for his lack of mercy (Pr 21:13; 22:16; 28:8,27; Job 20:10-29; Jas 5:1-8)!
Are you merciful? How merciful? Are you cheerful and eager to show mercy? The great God measures you every day by opportunities to show mercy (Pr 29:7; Luke 10:25-37). Do you forgive those who offend you (Gen 45:4-15; Matt 18:21-35)? Are you compassionate toward the helpless (Is 1:16-17; Jas 1:27)? Are you generous with the poor (Job 29:11-17; 31:13-22)? Do you release those who owe you (II Sam 3:12-21; 19:13)? Do you charitably think the best about others' actions and always defend them in private?
But there are also active rewards for mercy - what a merciful man can do for himself! God is merciful, and He expects His children to be good to their own souls. Jethro taught Moses to have mercy on himself by appointing assistants (Ex 18:13-26). David taught the importance of putting things in God's hands and going to bed (Ps 127:1-2)! Solomon added the exhortation to rejoice in all good things (Eccl 9:7-10)! And Paul told Timothy to teach that rich Christians could still enjoy the good life (I Tim 6:17-19).
There are active punishments for cruelty, which an unmerciful man causes himself by his stingy choices. The miser is miserable and cannot sleep - he has the evil disease of greed that torments him (Eccl 4:8; 5:10-17; 6:1-2). Money is to be spent and used, but the covetous man cannot think of pleasure, only more hoarding. The workaholic does not know mercy, because he never does any good to his own soul. He troubles his own flesh!
Monasticism - vows of celibacy and poverty, abstaining from meat - required by Rome denies the pleasures God intended men to have (Col 2:20-23; I Tim 4:1-3). They are lies of the destroyer to promote the heresies of will worship and bodily neglect. The seventh day was not an inviolate religious institution, as the Adventists imagine; it was mercifully given for Israel's rest and refreshment (Ex 23:12). If a man could obtain mercy for himself, a friend, or an ox by breaking it, he could do so (Luke 6:1-5; 13:15-17; 14:5-6).
True Christianity rejects these two cults: it reflects the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, Who together displayed infinite mercy by redeeming the elect (Eph 2:4-7; Titus 3:5; I Pet 1:2-5). God set His undeserved mercy and compassion on the elect, without regard for the will or efforts of men, so they are thus the vessels of mercy (Rom 9:15-24). It should be easy for these ransomed souls to show mercy to others and to themselves, remembering that they were given undeserved mercy and that the merciful shall obtain mercy.