James 2:13: The Obligation to Show Mercy

Verse 13:[1] For (Job 22:6, etc.; Prov. 21:13; Matt. 6:15; 18:35; 25:41, 42) he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and (1 John 4:17, 18) mercy rejoiceth (or, glorieth[2]) against judgment.

[Judgment, etc., ἡ γὰρ κρίσις ἀνίλεως— ἔλεος] In our Writers ἔλεος/mercy signifies, not only lenience in exacting punishments, but also every sort of Beneficence, answering to the Hebrew חֵן/grace/favor, as it appears in Genesis 19:19;[3] Numbers 11:15;[4] and elsewhere. So also in Matthew 9:13;[5] 12:7; 23:23.[6] The Law of the Gospel is that we do good to all: he that does not do this shall be treated harshly, Matthew 7:1, etc.; 25:41, 42 (Grotius). So that he might add weight to the preceding argument taken from the future judgment, he shows of what sort that future is, that is, diverse, as they have conducted themselves in diverse ways, and are merciful or unmerciful (Gataker). [Thus they render the words:] For judgment (or, damnation, or condemnation [Pagnine, Beza, Piscator, Arabic]: But it is better to take κρίσιν in a general way, as it is evident from the following induction of particulars [Gomar], so that it might be common to judgment both without mercy, and with mercy [Estius]: Understand, there shall be [Beza, Estius, etc.], that is, on the last day, when a reckoning of all things is to be rendered [Gataker]) without mercy (that is, tempered with no mercy, that is, sparing or condoning sin [Vorstius]: Hence it may be gathered that reprobates are not to be punished less than their deserving, but according to the inflexible justice of God [Estius]) to him that did not show mercy (Beza, etc.). Namely, to his neighbors (Estius, thus Beza); that was hard and severe toward them, or did not help them, Matthew 25:42 (Beza): and much more he that injured shall experience God as just and sever in his judgment (Estius).

For he shall have judgment without mercy; shall be judged according to the rigour of the law, by pure justice without any mixture of mercy. That hath showed no mercy; that hath been cruel and unmerciful to his neighbour here.

[It super-exalts, etc., καὶ κατακαυχᾶται ἔλεος κρίσεως] And (or, but [Castalio, Gataker]) glories (or, scoffs [Castalio], super-glories or super-exalts [Valla, Erasmus, Vatablus, Zegers], triumphs, that is, brings to pass that we triumph [Grotius]: or, contra-glories [Montanus]) mercy (or, pity [Castalio], or, beneficence [Grotius]) against (or, above [Zegers]) judgment (Erasmus, Tigurinus), or, condemnation (Illyricus, Pagnine, Beza, Piscator). Mercy here is understood, either, 1. of God as judge (certain interpreters in Estius); so that the sense might be, In the judgment of God, His mercy shall prevail over justice (certain interpreters in Estius, thus Louis Cappel), namely, toward those that are merciful (Louis Cappel); or toward the elect, who all are to be judged with mercy (certain interpreters in Estius). But this does not sufficiently cohere with the context (Gomar). Or, 2. of Man to be judged (Estius, thus Gomar, Gataker), that is, as he has done toward his neighbors (Estius, similarly Estius, Beza, Piscator, Vorstius); and mercy is put Metonymically for one exercising mercy (Vorstius, similarly Piscator). Mercy does not fear the just judgment of God (Vatablus, Castalio, Estius), but contends with it (Menochius, similarly Estius), and proves to be the conqueror (Menochius, thus Erasmus); and against that it glories in a certain manner (Estius, similarly Vorstius, Gomar), that is, it makes to glory (Gomar), because it shall, as it were, extort grace (Estius), by reason of which he shall escape the severity of judgment (Estius, similarly Tirinus); not indeed as absolution’s cause, but as its condition and evidence, according to the promise, Matthew 5:7; 25:35 (Gomar). The sense: But, on the other hand, Beneficence has this, that it does not fear condemnation, and that it frees us from that, Matthew 5:7; 25:37. God is not able to condemn the imitators of His goodness. For the Hebrews also say that among God’s מדות, or attributes, Clemency is first. See Jacchiades on Daniel 9:4, 5.[7] Seneca the Elder: The whole world would have perished, except mercy limited wrath.[8] In a manuscript, it is not incorrectly set down as κατακαυχάσθω, let it glory. Let it cause it to be that ye triumph through beneficence. And the Syriac follows this sense (Grotius). The sense: The merciful shall not so fear condemnation, that they scoff at it in a certain manner; and are able to glory and rejoice, as those that have escaped condemnation (Piscator). The Antithesis suggests this sense (Beza, similarly Piscator).

And mercy rejoiceth against judgment; either, 1. The mercy of God rejoiceth and glorieth over judgment, being as it were superior and victorious in relation to those that show mercy, to whom the promise of obtaining mercy is made, Matthew 5:7. Or rather, 2. The mercy of men, i.e. of those that deal mercifully with others; their mercy having the mercy and promise of God on its side, need not fear, but rather may rejoice, and as it were glory against judgment, as not being like to go against them. Objection. Is not this to make some ground of glorying to be in men themselves, contrary to Psalm 143:2; Romans 4:2? Answer. Mercy in believers is an evidence of their interest in God’s mercy, which prevails on their belief against his justice; and so its rejoicing against judgment, is not against it as overcome by itself, but by God’s mercy. Thus both senses are included.

[1] Greek:  ἡ γὰρ κρίσις ἀνίλεως τῷ μὴ ποιήσαντι ἔλεος·  καὶ κατακαυχᾶται ἔλεος κρίσεως.

[2] Greek:  κατακαυχᾶται.

[3] Genesis 19:19a:  “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace (חֵן; ἔλεος, in the Septuagint) in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life…”

[4] Numbers 11:15:  “And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour (חֵן; ἔλεος, in the Septuagint) in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.”

[5] Matthew 9:13a:  “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy (ἔλεον), and not sacrifice…”  Likewise in Matthew 12:7.

[6] Matthew 23:23:  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy (τὸν ἔλεον), and faith:  these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

[7] Rabbi Joseph, son of David, son of Joseph Jachia (died 1539), wrote a well-regarded Paraphrase on Daniel.

[8] Declamations 1:1:6.  Marcus Annæus Seneca, or Seneca the Elder (54 BC-39 AD) was a Roman rhetorician and author, father of the Stoic philosopher, Seneca the Younger.

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