Yesterday we looked at the first part of Niels Hemmingsen’s discussion of mercy in his Postil sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity on Luke 6:36-42. There, I noted that Hemmingsen analyzes mercy into four parts. Today we come to the second part, signified by the words, “Condemn not”; I translate the relevant passage below.
As the first part dealt with the heart, so the second part deals with the tongue. And as there were both legitimate and illegitimate forms of judgment, so there are both legitimate and illegitimate forms of condemnation. He gives several examples of legitimate condemnation, many of which are once again expressions of the duty of rightly constituted authoritative office.
This distinction is important. But perhaps equally important is his warning at the end of his remarks, evocative of the one we say yesterday. Hemmingsen has a keen sense of our almost limitless capacity for self-deception and self-justification, such that we tend to cloak what is really our own malice behind pious-sounding biblical examples.
There is, of course, a place and a right use for these, but we ought not to pass too quickly by what we might call the “existential” dimension on which Hemmingsen is so perceptive: Yes, someone could conceivably be following the godly example of Paul in a given controverted situation–but is that what you are doing, and no fingers crossed? Is it what I am doing? I am reminded here of a relevant lyric from “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream“:
Well, I rapped upon a house
With the U.S. flag upon display
I said, “Could you help me out
I got some friends down the way”
The man says, “Get out of here
I’ll tear you limb from limb”
I said, “You know they refused Jesus, too”
He said, “You’re not Him”
What It Means To Be “Merciful” (Continued)
The second part of the mercy that Christ requires toward our neighbor is noted in the following words: “Condemn not.”
By this statement, he requires that we speak kindly and lovingly of our neighbor, renouncing that most foul vice by which we are prone to speak ill of others and to condemn them with impunity. Briefly, Christ wishes us to seek our neighbor’s honorable name and safety with our voice and tongue.
This statement is also relevant to private condemnation, by which one condemns another out of malice, not in accordance with the duties of the magistrate and ministers of the Word, who often pronounce God’s judgment against the evil in accordance with the duty entrusted to them. Thus Peter condemned Ananias and Sapphira, as is recorded in Acts; thus Paul condemned Alexander and Hymenaeus; thus Christ pronounced the judgment of condemnation against hypocrites when he said, “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites”; thus we, when we condemn the Antichrist, pronounce God’s judgment against him.
But here let everyone watch out lest, without the warrant of the Word of God, he condemn out of insolence rather than with true judgment.