Viewpoint: Blessed Are the Merciful

  • 6 August 2017

This reproduction by Grant Romney Clawson of the original “Sermon on the Mount” by Harry Anderson depicts Jesus describing the characteristics of true Christians in what are known as the Beatitudes.

Article Highlights

  • By recognizing our shared dependence on the Lord’s mercy, we can find the strength to be merciful to others.
  • Being merciful can unlock the power of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives by ridding our hearts of resentment.

“He [who] cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for every one has need to be forgiven.” —George Herbert, British poet

During the Revolutionary War in September 1777, an army of 12,500 British troops and a detachment of British marksmen made their way to the rebel capital in Philadelphia. In the woods along Brandywine Creek, British Captain Patrick Ferguson, an incredible marksman, had the opportunity to take advantage of the enemy in a big way.

Ferguson saw two patriot officers ride up the path on horses. He ordered his men to sneak up for an ambush. But Ferguson decided to show mercy by calling out his position, which caused the two horsemen to scatter.

During the same battle, Ferguson ended up in a field hospital where he found out one of the horsemen he had in his sights was none other than General George Washington. Had he not shown mercy, the Revolutionary War and history of the United States may have been a lot different (see Ernest Furgurson, “The Marksman Who Refused to Shoot George Washington,” historynet.com).

We all need mercy

According to the Gospel Topics section found on LDS.org, the term “mercy” means “the compassionate treatment of a person greater than what is deserved, and it is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

The Savior told His disciples, “Be ye … merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Whenever a person receives divine forgiveness for sin, the answer to prayer, a priesthood blessing of healing, or a blessing of any kind, he or she is the recipient of treatment “greater than what is deserved.”

It’s ironic that although every person on this earth needs a generous dose of mercy, there are many who stand ready to pounce on anyone who shows weakness, error, poor decision-making, or simply makes an innocent mistake.

The destructive spirit of resentment

Those possessed by arrogance, pride, and conceit struggle with showing mercy. In the April 2012 general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy”).

The Savior asks His followers to be kind, loving, compassionate, gentle, patient, and to see the good in others. The Savior promises, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Be merciful and you shall find mercy. Seek to help save souls, not to destroy them: for verily you know, that ‘there is more joy in heaven, over one sinner that repents, than there is over ninety and nine just persons [who] need no repentance’” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 77).

A two-word sermon

In that same address, President Uchtdorf said, “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!

“It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick.

“I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, ‘Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.’”

Not just for other people

Some people find it easy to forgive others but struggle to forgive themselves. President Thomas S. Monson said that early in his ministry as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he counseled with President Hugh B. Brown about a man who felt he could not serve in a ward position because he could not show mercy to himself. “He could forgive others but not himself; mercy was seemingly beyond his grasp,” said President Monson.

The counsel President Brown gave was, “Tell that man that he should not persist in remembering that which the Lord has said He is willing to forget” (“Mercy—The Divine Gift,” Apr. 1995 general conference).

And to those that feel justified in not showing mercy to others because of the “righteous” lives they are living, the Savior offered the following parable:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

“I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10–14).

President Monson said, “Should you or I have erred or spoken harshly to another, it is good to take steps to straighten out the matter and to move onward with our lives.” He then quoted poet George Herbert: “He [who] cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for every one has need to be forgiven.”