JUSTICE, MERCY AND TRUTH—MATTHEW 5:25–26
Immediately preceding Christ’s words on adultery (Matthew 5:27–32), the Lord, not without significance, speaks of a debtor and his creditor. In this parable the Lord presents three principal characters—the creditor, whose rights have been abused and seeks redress, the debtor, and the judge who is Yahweh. The creditor being fully persuaded that the facts of the case are all in his favour, has no hesitation in appealing to Yahweh’s law to vindicate his rights. He dogmatically appeals to the letter of the law, which he feels no doubt will reveal the true character of his debtor. However in so doing, he lovelessly condemns his debtor to judgement without mercy, and unknowingly abrogates the very essence of the law to which he appealed. It is these words of Christ that leads James in his consideration of this very law to which the creditor was so quick to appeal, to speak of “the royal law”, because it is intimately connected with “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…”
“If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).
Where does such consideration leave the creditor in Christ’s parable and in James’s consideration? For if the old covenant taught anything, it taught that all were under condemnation because of sin. This realisation should have evoked the spirit of mercy. This spirit should have likewise permeated the debtor in his willingness to settle their differences. How much more should we have this spirit; we who live under the bonds of the everlasting covenant, purged through God’s unbounded love and mercy with the blood of Christ, who did no sin, who died and redeemed us from the burden of incalculable debt!
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgement is without mercy to one who showed no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:12–13).
We are to be judged by the law of liberty, not the law of an eye for an eye or just recompense for damage incurred. How thankful we ought to be for this, for what flesh will stand before the great judge if grace and mercy are not the characteristics of his law of love? It is this grace which must find its spontaneous outworking in the newly created lives of the children of light as manifestations of Yahweh’s character. We follow him who suffered for us, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21–23). The “law of liberty” frees us both in this life and that which is to come from the continuous chain of sin and retribution. Woe unto us who without exception, longingly desire God’s mercy, if we make Christ’s example—the law of liberty and the law of love—a law of condemnation and of judgement that in any way erects barriers or even destroys the principles of reconciliation and forgiveness! I have seen individuals and entire fellowships utterly destroyed because they refused to face these pressing responsibilities.
We deceive ourselves if we think that by adopting unscriptural principles we can compel ecclesial debtors to pay unscriptural penance, erecting unscriptural barriers in the name of maintaining ecclesial peace, that only serve to prohibit any possibility of reconciliation. When I have seen ecclesias do this, more and more cases arose which only served to compound the unscriptural, unloving, unChristlike position they adopted, eventually tearing them apart until their witness for Christ was no more! However, when as a fellowship, we take the yoke of Christ upon us and learn from him who is gentle and lowly in heart, we find “rest for our souls” in surrendering to his example, though at first the mind of the flesh may think that it is too hard and we recoil at the prospect. Regardless of how difficult the problems are that may arise in ecclesial life, when Christ is by our side “his yoke is easy and his burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–29).
When the facts of a particular dispute are examined and we inevitably appeal to God’s law to support our respective positions, it will not be a simple question of whether we are right or wrong, but whether the spirit of Christ was the governing principle at the heart of our actions. When we stand before the great King, he will not be interested in whether we can justify our actions by an appeal to his law in a cold legalistic manner, but will judge our spirit or disposition towards our fellow man or woman irrespective of the facts. Have we allowed any opportunity for reconciliation to pass? And even if all attempts failed, has love been our patient rejoinder, declaring that the path to reconciliation remains open, and if it was closed, that it was not by our doing? Why? Because by our new birth being “born from above,” born “not of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13) we are a godly seed. We know that he (God) is righteous and “that everyone that does righteousness is born of him” (1 John 1:29) and “are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
What is this ‘righteousness’ that the sons of God are to do? Bro. Thomas explains in one of his many treatises on God manifestation, “The manifestation of the Yahweh name is only initiated, not completed in the person of Jesus Christ. The manifestation of Deity in flesh by the Holy Spirit or truth is amplified in the characters of true believers among men, who are ‘partakers of the divine nature’ in its constitution, as the earnest of their future participation in the divine substance… He is manifested in them through the truth affectionately and righteously believed. If ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ is in men, thus Christ who is the truth, is in them and the spirit of Christ is in them, for ‘the spirit is the truth’” (1 John 5:6).
The evidence of God’s love was His reconciliation to Himself of His enemies. The supreme sacrifice was the giving of His beloved son, forsaken, violated, wronged, despised, rejected, whipped, spat upon and cursed, for truly what man did to Christ was done unto his Father. Tragically, we can return to that “old man” state as enemies arrayed against Yahweh, if by our actions we hinder the revelation of God’s work in us by consciously choosing not to follow Christ’s example in our responses to the personal and ecclesial trials through which we pass. Situations will arise in our lives which will help us gain a deep appreciation of that work and its motivation, that is, the spirit of forgiveness, mercy and love. If His work of reconciliation is central to that revelation of God, how much more should be His children’s, if we are His children indeed?
Reconciliation becomes the paramount issue of Christ’s parable; “whilst thou art with him in the way” (Matthew 5:25 RV). Of course the debtor must acknowledge his/her sin, must forsake his/her way. But the disposition of the creditor is often the primary means by which repentance can be facilitated and a true and lasting reconciliation forged. Yahweh in His grace, mercy and forgiveness becomes the great example of what the mind of every wronged brother or sister should strive to be. Upon a purely human basis, this reasoning obviously has certain shortcomings, for the debtor could very easily point out the blatant shortcomings of his creditor, if not on the current dispute, then most certainly on many others. Such a realisation ought constantly to temper the creditor’s attitude, who should perceive, that both he and his debtor are unredeemable debtors to God if His grace was not extended, lest he fall into the position of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–25).
The lot that is therefore common to all God’s servants is our need for continual reconciliation and mercy. As Yahweh is our creditor, we must “seek Him while He may be found”, to “call upon Him while He is near” and to forsake our wicked ways and thoughts and “return unto the Lord” while we are in the way, in the day of opportunity, before we come and stand before Him as our judge, that He will have “mercy” and “abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7).