| The Relation of Mercy Ministry to the Doctrines of the Bible.
about God in the Bible. God is….
“Father of the
fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy
mountain. God settles the
solitary in a home; he leads out the
prisoners to prosperity, But the
rebellious live in a parched land.”
Psalm 68: 5-6.
the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people
Psalm 69: 33.
“The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are
Psalm 103: 6.
“I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
And will execute justice for the needy.”
Psalm 140: 12.
How do these
ideas about God relate to the great doctrines of the Bible? Is
there a connection or are these just random statements and
without any important guidance for the Christian?
be careful to base their actions on Biblical principles that
come from God and not on sentimentality. Sentimentality finds a
verse here and there and latches onto these without
understanding how these relate to the whole of the Bible. This
is why systematic and expositional study of the Bible is so
calls on us, as we value our immortal souls, not merely in
general to be religious and moral, but specially to believe the
doctrines, and imbibe the principles and practice the precepts
What does the
Bible say about ministries of mercy?
is vital to the credibility of the Gospel.
is the necessary consequences and result of the doctrines of the
Bible; in particular the gospel recovered by Protestant
Theology – the
doctrines of God, sin, salvation – furthers the work of mercy.
examples. Many such examples can be found in history. The
history of the early Christians is filled with examples of them
taking in the needy to care for them. They transformed the
Roman Empire in the treatment of women, children and others who
had no advocate.
The church in
the Middle Ages took upon itself the role of ministering to the
poor and sick when the government institutions were falling
apart. These efforts were mixed with unbiblical practices, but
the Christian church appeared as the only institution that cared
for the poor.
Pastor Philip Ryken uses the historical example of John Calvin
in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to the Protestant Reformation and
the reforms under Calvin, the city was known for its vice and
immorality; drunkenness, disorderly conduct, gambling,
prostitution, unfair business practices, etc., etc.
council of Geneva passed laws against such practices, but people
did not obey the laws. What was needed was a transformation of
hearts. So the city Council (Counsel of Two Hundred) hired John
Calvin to preach and teach the Bible.
This is how
Geneva was reformed. Calvin taught the doctrines of the Bible;
he taught verse by verse through the Bible. He preached 5-7
times each week. His teaching came to be called Calvinism which
emphasizes the sovereignty of God in all things, including
People came to
Christ and began to live as Christians. As a result the entire
urban environment was changed. A ministry of mercy was
prominent in the city as practical Christian faith took root.
closed and alcoholism was reduced.
cleaned, reducing illness.
all over Europe were coming to Geneva and these were given
organized to care for the poor.
opened for boys and for girls.
awakening of the 18th century. It was these great
doctrines of the Bible that motivated the reformer, William
Eric Metaxas in
his book, Amazing Grace and the Heroic Campaign to End
Slavery, comments, “…in Wilberforce’s day, it was devout
Christians almost exclusively who were concerned with helping
the poor, bringing them education and acting as their advocates,
and who labored to end the slave trade, and other evils. ”
Metaxas goes on to
Christian character of the abolition movement is undeniable, for
its leaders were all consciously acting out of the principles of
their deeply held faith.”
It was the
Methodists (in the Church of England) and dissenters (Quakers,
Moravians) who made the connection between Christian faith and
opposition to slavery.
The work of
Metaxas tells only a small part of what was happening in the 18th
century among Christian evangelicals. All manner of reform
movements were inspired by the awakening of 1740s and even more
so in the 19th century.
biographer of Wilberforce commented on his influence,
little doubt that Wilberforce changed the moral outlook of Great
Britain….The reformation of manners [morals] grew into Victorian
virtues and Wilberforce touched the world when he made goodness
fashionable….Contrast the late eighteenth century….with its
loose morals and corrupt public life, with the mid-nineteenth
century. Whatever its faults, nineteenth century British public
life became famous for its emphasis on character, morals, and
justice and the British business world famous for integrity.”
reforms to which Wilberforce contributed:
British Foreign Bible Society.
Church Missionary Society.
Society for the Manufacturing Poor.
Society for the Better Observance of Sunday.
Relief of child labor conditions (using small boys as chimney
Agricultural reform (affordable food for the poor).
Restrictions on capital punishment.
Prevention of cruelty to animals.
Wilberforce wrote that Christianity “assumes her true
character…when she takes under her protection those poor
degraded being on whom philosophy looks down with disdain or
perhaps with contemptuous condescension…It was declared by its
great Author as ‘Glad tiding to the poor,’ and sill delights to
scour the needy, to comfort the sorrowful, to visit the
What do the doctrines of the Bible teach about mercy ministry?
(What does Reformation theology say about mercy ministry?)
In the incarnation Jesus Christ becomes man. He submits Himself
to the weaknesses of humanity, sin excepted. He knows what it
is like to live as a man in this world. He was tempted and
God is love,
compassionate and merciful. This is good, sound doctrine.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in human flesh is the fullest
expression of this doctrine.
meets people where they are. This is what Jesus Christ did. He
took on human flesh and came to us. He lived among people and
ministered to all kinds of people.
Samaritan women who cannot find a satisfying, lasting
relationship with a man. John 4: 10-14.
and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who
says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and he
would have given you living water. She said to Him, ‘Sir, You
have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do
You get that living water? You are not greater than our father
Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself,
and his sons, and his cattle?’ Jesus answered and said to her,
‘Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but
whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never
thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him
a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
reflect and pattern what the Lord of glory did for us. He
became one of us and had mercy on us.
We must get close to those in need. Think of how the Lord
ministered to people who needed healing from diseases and demon
We must be
willing to befriend those who are needy. We must be willing to
get close to people. Jesus Christ made the doctrines of the
Bible real and clothed in flesh and blood. He demonstrated what
God was like.
Wilberforce was living out the practical doctrines of the
Christian faith as he engaged in reform. In 1797, he explained
this in his book, A Practical View of Christianity.
The title of his
original edition was “A Practical View of the Prevailing
Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and
Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real
Christianity.” These were the people among whom Wilberforce
lived and worked, but he did not confine his works of mercy to
only these people. He sought to minister to all classes of
argued that these “peculiar doctrines” of the Christian religion
produced great changes in people:
True affection for spiritual things.
Breaking the power of sin; pride, greed and fear.
Transformed lives that lead to political and moral
transformation of the nation.
nominal Christians of his day, the doctrines of Christianity
were ignored and neglected. Consequently, these people were not
changed by the Christian faith.
John Piper in
his excellent little book, Amazing Grace in the Life of
William Wilberforce observes,
“This is what
made Wilberforce tick. He was not a political pragmatist. He
was a radically God-centered Christian who was a politician.
And his true affections for God based on the ‘peculiar
doctrines’ of Christianity were the roots of his endurance in
the cause of justice.”
lover of people.
Some people are
great law-makers and teachers, but they do not really like
people and they do not interact or get close to people. William
Wilberforce loved people. It is true that he enjoyed social
interaction before he was a Christian, but this was all aimed at
his own self-centered goals. Christianity sanctified and
redirected this sociability.
his naturally gregarious personality to advance His kingdom.
The Wilberforce home was a welcoming place. He brought the
needy into his own home. He was not just a politician dealing
with the needy from a distance. Guests to his home were
constantly coming and going. The children (he and Barbara had
six children) and pets were found all over the house.
commanded to be hospitable to all kinds of people. “Do not
neglect to show hospitality to stranger….”
the household, “cultivated chaos.” Part of the problem was that
Wilberforce loved life and he had many varied interests. His
friend, James Stephens, helped him to prioritize his interests
which greatly increased his efficiency. Wilberforce was humble
and took such criticisms to heart.
This kind of
humility came from his understanding of the doctrines of the
Bible. He matured in the Christian faith by balancing doctrine
2. The doctrine of God and mercy ministry.
God is rich in
mercy. Ephesians 2: 4-7. “But God being rich in mercy, because
of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead
in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ --- by
grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated
us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”
God’s mercy found us when we spiritually dead and alienated from
Him. Mercy is for those who have nothing to offer to God.
God closely related to mercy: compassion, kindness, love,
patience, longsuffering, justice.
characteristic which point to how God treats us and this is how
we should treat others.
Showing mercy often requires maintaining the righteousness of
their cause. God required the leaders of the nation of Israel
to uphold the cause of those who were treated unjustly.
Psalm. 82: 2-4. God speaks to rulers about how they should act
and condemns rulers who do not act justly.
“How long will
you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked. Give
justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of
the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Wilberforce as a member of the British Parliament and a
Christian had the duty to seek justice for those mistreated.
This is what motivated during years of struggle to end the
African slave trade.
“cordial unreserved devotedness to the glory and service of God
[is] indispensable to the character of the true Christian.”
“Policy, Sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say
it. There is a principle above everything that is political.
And when I reflect on the command that says, “Thou shalt do no
murder,” believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare
set up any reasonings of my own against it?”
All of these characteristics arise from the character of God.
Mercy ministry is a reflection of the being and nature of the
Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. The Doctrine of Creation and mercy ministry.
God made the universe out of nothing; He spoke the universe
into existence (Psalm 148:5). .
creation teaches us about the goodness of God. Psalm 104.
God cares for
“You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between
They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the
From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is
satisfied with the fruit of your work.”
“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for
man to cultivate,
That he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden
heart of man,
to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”
“The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of
Lebanon that he planted.
them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the
high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge
for the rock badgers.”
LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made
them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creature
living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in
These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your
hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away
they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew
face of the
made in the image of God and so it matters how they are
treated. James tells us the tongue is “a restless evil, full of
deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with
it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From
the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these
things ought not to be so.” James 3: 9-10.
fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life man. Whoever
sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God
made man in his own image.” Genesis 9: 5a-6.
This is God’s
covenant with Noah. Authorization for capital punishment is
based upon the high regard for human life because humans are
made in God’s image. An attack on any man is an attack upon
We have a
tendency to divide people into groups and separate them, but the
doctrine of Creation presents us with a fundamental connection
between all human beings. We are to recognize the image of God
in other people and treat them with kindness and justice.
“And he made
from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of
the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries
of their dwelling place.” Acts 17: 26.
This is Paul addressing the pagan philosophers at the Aereopagus
Greece. All humans have a common origin; God’s creation
(Protestant Reformed in Geneva, Switzerland). Neglecting the
poor is a kind of sacrilege. Caring for the poor was as sacred
as worshipping God. And so the city of Geneva under Protestant
Reformers developed extensive programs to care for the poor and
raise them to productive citizens.
Wilberforce. Did you notice in the life of Wilberforce how he
cared for all living creatures. He loved animals at the same
time that he fought for the human rights of slaves.
Proverbs 12: 10. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life
the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Wilberforce literally gave his wealth away as he invited the
poor into his
home to feed
mercy begin where we are; where God has placed us. It begins in
the family and it especially focuses on God’s people, but it
extends to anyone in need.
In serving people we serve God.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did
one of the
least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
4. Doctrine of Sin and the Fall.
A fallen world makes mercy ministry necessary.
The cause of
the misery all around us is sin. Human sin; total depravity is
the cause of this world’s injustice. Every part of man is
affected by sin; mind, emotions, affections. The very center
and soul of man, the heart, is corrupted by sin.
unwillingness to show mercy is an indicator of the problem of
sin. We are part of the problem.
of sin teaches that there is evil in the world and it resides in
the hearts of all people.
Our Lord Jesus
Christ taught that out of the heart of man proceeds all the
evils. Matthew 15: 18-20.
explains all the evil that we see around us. It explains the
breakdown of the family and all the subsequent problems. It
explains homelessness, drug addictions, pornography, abortion,
child slavery, prostitution, and all the other evils in this
Wilberforce. He devotes an entire chapter in his book, A
Practical View of Christianity, to “Corruption of Human
Nature” and observes that this doctrine is, “at the very root of
all true Religion.”
Christian doctrine of sin is humbling to human pride. Vice and
and easy for man. Virtue is difficult. Sin taints him to the
Christian (“watchful, diligent self-denying”) testifies to the
depravity of the human heart, his own heart. What does he see
Intentions that are complex and corrupted.
Weakness in his purpose to do good.
Slowness to do his duty.
Spiritual coldness in the performance of duty.
5. The doctrine of salvation.
The doctrine of salvation explains why mercy is possible.
God is at work
in the world to bring redemption through the person and work of
His Son, Jesus Christ.
“Blessed be the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According of his great
mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope
through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1: 3.
Jesus sends His
disciples into the world (John 20: 21). We are to follow this
pattern of Jesus in extending mercy.
Word. Jesus showed mercy in the words He spoke.
Action. Jesus showed mercy in what He did for people; healing,
resting, protection from Pharisaical authority.
“And Jesus went
throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their
synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing
every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he
had compassion for them, because they were harassed and
helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his
disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out
laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9: 35-37).
Wilberforce believed that people needed a change of heart and
that this was basic to the reform of society. He wrote his
book, A Practical View of Christianity, to address
people whose attachment to the faith was only superficial and
nominal. He wanted them to become genuine Christians who
trusted themselves to Christ alone. He explained,
“…It is the
true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow
creatures to the utmost of his power; and that he who thinks he
sees many around him, whom he esteems and loves, laboring under
a fatal error, must have a cold heart, or a confined notion of
benevolence, if he could refrain from endeavoring to set them
Christians must testify of God’s grace.
Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that the hard work of
mercy is not in vain.
same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in
needs are so desperate, only such power can meet these needs.
Jesus is the ascended Christ. Jesus now sits at the right hand
interceding for us. He presently reigns. He sent His mighty
to live in His people and empower His church.
I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that
I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am
going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will
do, that the Father may be glorified in me Son. If you ask me
anyting in my name, I will do it” (John 14: 12-14).
“God intends for the whole saving work of Christ to find
our own servant ministry.”
are to follow the example of the Lord.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to
others” (Philippians 2: 4).
sovereign in salvation. But nominal Christians, Wilberforce
points out, mistakenly consider salvation a contract in which
they have a part to do and God has a part to do. Such people
tend to emphasize the moral life of the Christian and
de-emphasize the redemptive work of Christ. They mostly trust
in their own merits.
This is why they do not have deep love for Jesus Christ.
Wilberforce: “They tend to prevent that sense which we ought to
our own natural misery and helplessness, and that deep
gratitude for the merits and intercession of Christ, to
which we are
wholly indebted for our reconciliation to God,
and for the
will and the power, from first to last, to work out our own
Conclusion and applications.
1. God calls
each Christian to a serious and searching evaluation of how he
or she can express God’s mercy in word and deed.
yourself, “How am I communicating God’s mercy to those around
“What am I saying to people?” “What am I doing for
apostle Paul pressed these issues upon the believers. He tells
warn the rich:
Don’t place your hope in riches.
Do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.
Store up treasure in heaven. Focus on future rest and not
1 Timothy 6: 17-19.
James also makes a similar point:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he
has faith but does
works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is
clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them,
‘Go in peace,
be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things
the body, what good is that?” James 2: 14-16.
need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ again and again. This
is the only thing that will warm our hearts to engage in such
ministries of mercy.
are sinners and alienated from God who is eternal and infinite.
We are His
enemies who hate Him who is love.
We have gone our way, not considering what God wants from us.
We have not been thankful to Him for all His kindness and mercy
We have fallen short of obeying His holy law; we are
As such we
are under condemnation and wrath. What we deserve is
to be forever
separated from Him.
We can only be reconciled to God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
His death is a substitute for what we deserved. His blood covers our
sin; He receives God’s punishment in our place.
His perfect life of obedience is credited to us. We receive His
righteousness in the place of our sins. We are clothed with His
illustrated this in the following way. There was a time when a
deadly forest fire was approaching fire-fighters who could not
escape. So they back-burned a circle of ground and covered
themselves in the middle of that burned-out area. The fire
passed by the area that was already burned. Likewise, those in
Christ will not be touched by the wrath of God that is coming.
We must trust
in Christ. We must turn from ourselves and turn to God through
faith in Jesus Christ.
we repent we turn from our sin. We turn from our self-absorbed,
‘me-first’ attitude, and we turn away from our neglect of God.
We turn from all the things that displease God.
turn to God through Christ by entrusting ourselves to Him,
casting our soul upon Him.
Trust in My Son, and Him alone, and you will be saved. God
I will save you
from the penalty of your sin.
I will save you
from the sin that entangles, snares and captures you.
But even more,
I will restore you to Me. You will be my child in My house
3. What about me?
Wilberforce wrote his book to the professing
Christians of his day. He observed that the great defect in
professing Christians of the day was that these doctrines did
not transform them.
Their understanding was not affected.
Their affections were not moved.
They did not sense the grievous nature of their sins.
They were not humbled.
They did not possess heavenly joy.
They did not have fervent love.
They were not filled with gratitude.
I living by this principle?
my life driven by showing mercy to others, or is it driven by my
Think about these things:
God’s mercy to you. Remind yourself of the mercy God has
about the servant life of Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will
be shown mercy”
(Matthew 5: 7).
“They shall not
hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor sun smite
them; for he
that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the
water shall he guide them.” Isaiah 49: 11.
Mere knowledge is not sufficient to motivate us. Yes, we
must know these doctrines but these must capture our hearts.
And the great object of our affections is Jesus Christ.
Christ we find all that we need to live a truly Christian life.
I growing more and more to love Christ?
Beware of compartmentalizing the Christian life, warns
Wilberforce. Compartmentalizing gives religion a certain place
in one’s life. This allows a person to use or not use religion
as he sees best. Religion is confined to a certain place beyond
which it cannot go.
people the only guide for life choices is self-gratification.
They live in a “shapeless idleness” and fill themselves with
Christ more and more master of all of my life?
Wilberforce: “when our religion does not have “universal
application and command in our lives,” it becomes a “cold
compilation of restraints and prohibitions.”
yourself to a life-long, serious and in-depth study of the great
doctrines of the Bible. Don’t be fooled by those who want to
separate doctrine from Christ or doctrine from experience.
All these Bible
doctrines find their focus and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. So
keep close to Christ. Like the branches of a vine feed on Him.
Wilberforce’s practice. In his life and book, Practical View of
Christianity. True Christians know and love Jesus Christ as He
is revealed in the Bible.
warnings from Paul to Timothy, Titus and the other churches.
False teachers will seek to draw people away from Christ.
Defend yourself with the doctrines of the Bible.
Timothy 3: 14-17. Hold close to the Word of God.
Titus 1: 10-2: 1. Empty talkers contradict sound
remember that there is unmatched joy and fulfillment in such a
of the biographers of Wilberforce wrote this about him,
the tones of his voice and expression of his countenance he
joy was the prevailing feature of his own mind, joy
from entireness of trust in the Savior’s merits and from love
to God and
man….His joy was quite penetrating.”
Wilberforce was a cheerful Christian. He was not gloomy.
“…his sun appeared to be always shining.”
He was fond of singing hymns both in family
prayer and alone.
Wilberforce stated, “A Christian should have a
joy and peace in
The idea for this
material comes from Philip Ryken, “A Reformed Theology of Mercy
www.reformation21.org and The Alliance of Confessing
William Wilberforce, A
Practical View of Christianity, p. 6.
Alvin J. Schmidt, How
Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Zondervan, 2001, 2004. His first five chapters deal especially
with how Christianity changed the Roman world. Human life was
protected, sexual relations were uplifted, women received
dignity and freedom and charitable work was developed.
Schmidt. See chapter 6,
“Hospitals and Health Care: Their Christian Roots.”
Eric Metaxas, Amazing
Grace and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. (Harper One,
Metaxas, p. 96.
Metaxas, p. 96.
Piper, p. 21, citing
Pollock, “A Man Who Changed His Times,” in Character Counts.
Metaxas, p. 232.
New American Standard
Bible. The Lockman Foundation, 1971.
A Practical View of Christianity. Edited by Kevin Charles
Belmonte. Hendrikson Publishers, 1996. First British edition,
John Piper, Amazing
Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce. (Wheaton, Illinois:
Crossway Books, 2006), p. 20.
Piper, p. 25.
Hebrews 13: 2 (New
American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, 1971).
Practical View of Christianity, p. 94).
Grace, p. 136.
Practical View of Christianity, p. 13.
Practical View of Christianity, p. xxxiv.
Philip Ryken, “A
Reformed Theology for Mercy Ministry,” Reformation 21 (Online
Magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals).
Accessed 3-28-2008, p. 4.
Practical View of Christianity, p. 70.
Practical View of Christianity, p. 105.
In John Piper (p. 57),