by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
(Chapter 23 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Justice)

'Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps." Psalm 85:10-13

"Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face." Psalm 89:14

Most people think that mercy is an evasion of justice. They think that mercy is not giving a person what he deserves. That is totally untrue! Mercy has nothing to do with evading or avoiding justice. Justice and truth go together, and truth and mercy meet together. They do not conflict with one another.

Mercy does not replace justice. If you show mercy to your child, it does not mean that you do not punish the child when he has done wrong. Mercy does not take away punishment, nor does it take away justice. Mercy is a part of justice. Let me give you six truths concerning mercy. These statements are almost synonymous.

1. Mercy does not operate in the place of justice.

2. Mercy and justice never oppose each other.

3. Mercy always operates within the boundary of justice.

4. Mercy is not overlooking or withholding punishment. If mercy were overlooking judgment, then mercy would not be just. God is never for anything that is not just. The greatest characteristic of God is not His love, but His righteousness and justice. If mercy were the withholding of punishment, then mercy would be unfair to all of those who had been punished for the same deed.

God never acts unjustly!

An unenforced rule is no rule at all. Friends of mine will sometimes ask me to help get their child out of some trouble at the college. I cannot do it because it would not be just. It would be unfair to others who had been punished for the same offence. I cannot break a rule in order to do someone a favor.

5. Justice always comes before mercy. Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, Oman, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Notice how the Christian life is wrapped up into one package in that passage. God requires three things of us: (1) Do justly; (2) Love mercy; and (3) Walk humbly. Justice comes first. It always does!

6. Mercy and truth always go together. Mercy never operates outside the boundary of justice. Mercy is the proper treatment one receives when justice is administered. Mercy is the adverb that describes the way justice is given. Mercy is the method. It is the way you do right.

How Mercy Works Within the Framework of Justice

1. Mercy is a guard to prevent punishment when there is no law or rule. When I first came to pastor the First Baptist Church of Hammond, there was no rule against Sunday school teachers or deacons smoking. Soon after I came, a rule was instituted that they could not smoke. There were already those who smoked who were deacons or Sunday school teachers before the rule was made. It would not have been just to enforce that rule upon them because there was no such rule when they were enlisted. I allowed them to continue in their positions, although no new deacons or teachers were enlisted who smoked. Soon, the others quit smoking or drifted away.

Mercy is that which prevents us from inflicting judgment on someone for a rule which was created after the offence was committed.

2. Mercy is that which does not automatically believe an accusation made against someone. When someone on my staff comes to me with an accusation against another staff member, I always defend the accused. Why? I want to be merciful.

3. Mercy prevents premature punishment. Mercy gives someone a chance for a fair trial before he is punished. It is what causes us to follow a process of fairness before administering punishment. It is what gives a child an opportunity to tell his side of the story before being spanked. Mercy gives a teenager an opportunity to explain why he came home late before being yelled at. Mercy is the restraint that makes you wait to make your decision until the trial is over. It prevents you from "blowing your stack" at someone. Mercy gives someone who has been accused of doing something wrong a fair trial before judgment is passed.

4. Mercy does not want to punish.

5. Mercy does not look for guilt. Anytime a public official is accused of doing some wrong, or is on trial, I hope he is innocent.

An accusation is not a guilty verdict! Mercy gives the accused the benefit of the doubt. Mercy does not believe it just because an accusation has been made. Mercy does not condemn someone until that person has had a fair trial and has been proven to be guilty. Mercy does not anticipate guilt or desire guilt.

6. Mercy watches to prevent excessive punishment. Mercy prevents you from punishing your child too severely for doing something wrong. Mercy keeps you from reacting harshly in anger. If a child breaks a vase, the cost of that vase should have nothing to do with the punishment of the child. If you told the child not to touch it, then touching it is the crime, not breaking it. The punishment should be the same whether the vase is expensive or inexpensive. The value would not be an issue in the judgment.

Mercy is what restrains you from over punishing because you are personally offended, and it keeps you from overreacting while you are offended.

7. Mercy is kind and loving treatment while justice is being administered. It is the way justice is administered. It is a weeping parent spanking a disobedient child and then hugging him after the punishment has been finished. It is the manner and method that justice is inflicted.

8. Mercy is helping the punished one during his punishment. It is not forsaking a person during his time of punishment.

9. Mercy allows for self-inflicted punishment when no law has been broken. Elaine Colsten is the proofreader at our church. There is no law concerning making a proofreading error; yet, if she makes a mistake, she inflicts severe discipline upon herself. I never need to correct or judge her because she inflicts judgment upon herself. There are others who make mistakes and do not repent that quickly. I have to go to them and seek repentance for their mistake. Mercy allows for self-inflicted repentance when an error has been made but no law is violated.

10. Mercy is the restoring of the punished after the punishment is complete. Mercy is not branding a child for the rest of his school years for something he did in the second grade. Mercy is the restoring of an individual after the punishment is complete.

Hosea 6:1-3, "Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."

The writer is saying that we have sinned and God has torn us; yet, after He has torn us, He will heal us. He has smitten us for our sin, but He will bind us back together. God punishes us for sin, but when that punishment is over, God heals that which He has broken.

Mercy keeps you from holding it in your heart. It gives the child who has been expelled from school a chance when he returns. Mercy is not always pronouncing judgment on someone for a crime or a sin for which he has already been punished.

11. Mercy ends the punishment when the payment is complete. One of the greatest injustices in America's history is the way President Nixon has been treated. He paid the penalty for what he did; yet, people continue to beat him like a dead dog. He did many good things, and he should be judged for all he did, not just for his mistakes. When I saw him say good-bye to his staff, get into the helicopter, and fly away, I said in my heart, "He has paid the penalty! Now, we should forgive him." He should not be consigned to exile for the rest of his life. That is not mercy!

God wants everyone to receive justice, but never out of the vengeance and hatred of men's hearts. As long as a person can be handled decently and respond properly, we are to judge him with love and dignity.

At Hyles-Anderson College we have a system called "the host system." We did not always have that plan in effect. Several years ago a group of area young men decided to infiltrate our college in an attempt to ruin our young ladies. Somehow they got onto our campus and began to hang around some of the girls. I did not know about it until we had to expel a young lady for misbehaving with one of the boys.

The expelled young lady's father was a pastor, and shortly after she was expelled, I was to preach in his church. I really dreaded going and having to face this pastor whose own daughter we had expelled. When I arrived, I had lunch with the pastor and his daughter. She had already been punished and did not deserve to be punished more!

After we finished eating, I asked the pastor if I could talk to his daughter. He excused himself and left me alone with his daughter at the table in the restaurant. I told her that I wanted her to help me by telling me how she got into trouble and how we could prevent it from happening to others. That young lady helped me draw up the initial plans for the host system designed to protect the young ladies at our college. Mercy allowed me to turn her punishment into a positive plan of action.

People who have made mistakes must be penalized, but they deserve to be treated with mercy. Mercy is a wonderful Saviour Who looks down and says in I John 2:1, 'My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." God in His mercy will run to our side, pick us up and love us, even after He had to knock us down.


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