The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It drops as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest –
It blesses him that gives, and him that takes.1
Human beings can discern outstanding aspects of God’s character, for those are the things that “God has shown to them.” The evidence has been seen “since the creation of the world.” Mercy is one of these “invisible attributes” of God that “are clearly seen, understood by the things that are made.”2 This means that men and women are without excuse for being merciless, for example, for they know that God is merciful and good. And everyone knows they should be like God.3
Mercy is not strained – forced, given begrudgingly, against one’s “better judgment” or even because others are showing mercy. None of those things have the quality of mercy. True mercy is one of the highest quality things we ever give another person.
The profound difference between the mercy that the holy (the saints) and the men and women of the world can show is seen in the following verses:
Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NKJV)
This is the beginning of the story of the unmerciful servant. The verses quoted above, Matthew 18:31-35, tell the ending. They contain its lesson or moral, warning of the grave consequences for those so hardhearted as not to forgive their brother from the heart, even 490 times! The words “seventy times seven” are from (and for) another realm, one transcending the natural where nearly all men and women live their daily lives. There is only one place for disciples to heed these words about forgiving their brothers and sisters on a daily basis, and that is the community of the redeemed. It is the only place where such close contact is even possible! Like so much else in the New Testament this command, when taken seriously, is virtually meaningless outside of true community.
It is there that men and women are transformed by the astonishing love of their Father in heaven into the image and likeness of His Son.4 When He reveals something to their hearts, and they respond in obedience, they make progress along the path “from glory to glory.” In this, they follow their Savior, who went before them:
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:8-9, NKJV)
This begins, of course, with the reception of the Holy Spirit upon baptism in obedience to the good news.5 Then the Spirit becomes the guarantee of our final, full sanctification: body, soul, and spirit.6 He uses each aspect of the “many tribulations” Paul said by which “we must enter the Kingdom of God” to achieve the particular redemption we, as individuals and as a people, need.7 None, perhaps, has greater transforming and redemptive power in our lives than loving and forgiving our brothers their offenses, as well as those from outside the community who “spitefully use you and persecute you.” This is so, Jesus said, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”8
So, these very things, which the evil one uses to divide and destroy, cause us to be just like Him instead. That is, when we truly forgive and forget. Apart from the fall of man, which seemed to be the greatest triumph of the enemy, we would never have known this aspect of God – His forgiveness. That He always wanted us to know this, however, is seen in the fact that Jesus “was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”9 When we forgive from the heart we become partakers of that magnificent aspect of His divine nature — forgiveness.10 The schemes of the enemy, the cycles of action and reaction, sin and retaliation, by which he has destroyed many, are then undone in the holy people.
Seventy times seven stands for the extension of virtually unlimited forgiveness of one brother towards another. It speaks of the quality of forgiveness Jesus had for those who crucified Him. It is available to those who meet Him at the place He secured this power for us: the Cross. The good news tells us how. If you carry the guilt of division, alienation, and enmity between you and other “brothers in Christ” you must consider whether the good news you have received has made you a partaker of His divine nature. Perhaps it has merely given you knowledge of it. Just what did He die for?