Mercy (1656) (eleos) is the outward manifestation of pity. Mercy refers to the outward manifestation of pity and assumes need on the part of those who receive it and sufficient resources to meet the need on the part of those who show it.
The idea is to show kindness or concern for someone in serious need or to give help to the wretched, to relieve the miserable. Here the essential thought is that mercy gives attention to those in misery.
Wuest writes that eleos is...
God’s “kindness and goodwill toward the miserable and afflicted,
joined with a desire to relieve them” (Vincent). Grace meets man’s need
in respect to his guilt and lost condition; mercy, with reference to his
suffering as a result of that sin. (Wuest, K. S. Wuest's Word Studies
from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader.
Marvin Vincent adds that eleos...
emphasizes the misery with which grace deals; hence, peculiarly the sense of human wretchedness coupled with the impulse to relieve it, which issues in gracious ministry. Bengel remarks, “Grace takes away the fault, mercy the misery.”
The pre-Christian definitions of the word eleos include the
element of grief experienced on account of the unworthy suffering of
another. So Aristotle. The Latin misericordia (miser “wretched,”
cor “the heart”) carries the same idea. So
Eleos is found 27 times in the NAS: Matthew 3x; Luke 6x: Romans 3x: Galatians; Ephesians; 1 Timothy; 2 Timothy 3x; Titus; Hebrews; James 2x; 1 Peter; 2 John; Jude 2x. Eleos is translated as compassion, 2; mercy, 25.
In contrast eleos is used over 170 times in the OT (Septuagint) with 91 of those uses being in the psalms where it most often translates the Hebrew word for "lovingkindness" (2617) (hesed) a very prominent word in the OT (used some 248 times) which is defined as not merely an attitude or an emotion but an emotion that leads to an activity beneficial to the recipient. It differs somewhat from the NT meaning of eleos in that hesed is a beneficent action performed, in the context of a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties (especially a Covenant), by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who in the circumstances is unable to help him or herself.
In Classical Greek eleos was used as a technical term for the end of the speech for the defence, in which the accused tried to awaken the compassion of the judges. (Colin Brown. New International Dictionary of NT Theology.)
One needs to distinguish between grace and mercy. Grace is shown to the undeserving, while mercy is compassion to the miserable. Grace is God’s solution to man’s sin. Mercy is God’s solution to man’s misery. Grace covers the sin, while mercy removes the pain. Grace forgives, while mercy restores. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve while mercy withholds what we do deserve.
Grace is getting what we do not deserve.
Justice is getting what we do deserve.
Mercy is not getting what we do deserve.
Broadus writes that mercy ...
includes also the idea of compassion, and implies a desire to remove the evils which excite compassion. It thus denotes not only mercy to the guilty, but pity for the suffering, and help to the needy. (Broadus, J. Sermon on the Mount).
In the distinction between grace and mercy, Trench adds that...
“While charis (grace) has reference to the sins of men, and is that glorious attribute of God which these sins call out and display, His free gift in their forgiveness, eleos (mercy) has special and immediate regard to the misery which is the consequence of these sins, being the tender sense of this misery displaying itself in the effort, which only the continued perverseness of man can hinder or defeat, to assuage and entirely remove it.… In the divine Mind, and in the order of our salvation, as conceived therein, the mercy precedes the grace: God so loved the world with a pitying love (herein was the mercy), that He gave His only begotten Son (herein is the grace), that the world through Him might be saved. But in the order of the manifestation of God’s purposes in salvation, the grace must go before, and make way for the mercy.” (Trench, R. C.. Synonyms of the New Testament)
Larry Richards notes that...
Originally (eleos) expressed only the emotion that was aroused by contact with a person who was suffering. By NT times, however, the concept incorporated compassionate response. A person who felt for and with a sufferer would be moved to help. This concept of mercy--as a concern for the afflicted that prompts giving help--is prominent in both the Gospels and the Epistles. (Larry Richards. Expository Dictionary)
Eleos is often used in the Septuagint (LXX) for the Hebrew word hesed which refers to God's covenant faithful love.
Mercy includes three elements:
1. ”I see the need”—that’s recognition.
2. “I am moved by the need”—that’s motivation.
3. “I move to meet the need”—that’s action. Having a feeling of sorrow over someone's bad situation I now want to try to do something about it.
Mercy is more than a feeling, but not less than that. Mercy begins with simple recognition that someone is hurting around you. But mere seeing or feeling isn’t mercy. Mercy moves from feeling to action. It is active compassion for those in need or distress.
"Mercy is when that which is deserved is withheld to the benefit of the object of the mercy. God has demonstrated this attribute in abundance with respect to mankind. We from nearly the beginning of our existence have deserved nothing but wrath; having sinned and fallen short of eternal life in glory, we can do nothing to commend ourselves to or defend ourselves before God. But thankfully, God has been so amazing in His mercy. Over and against merely having the mercy to allow us to live out our miserable lives without destroying us instantly, God has chosen us to greatness and glory by the hand of His Son. The believer finds himself in Christ and enjoys full well the fruits of God's mercy. " Source: Blue Letter Bible
"The merciful are those who are conscious that they are themselves the unworthy recipients of God’s mercy, and that but for the grace of God they would be not only sinners, but condemned sinners."
William Barclay noted the Hebrew word (hesed) for "merciful" has the idea of
"the ability to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings." (He adds in another article)
Eleos is a word which acquired a new meaning in Christian thought. The Greeks defined it as pity for the man who is suffering unjustly; but Christianity means far more than that by eleos.
(a) In Christian thought eleos means mercy for the man who is in trouble, even if the trouble is his own fault. Christian pity is the reflection of God’s pity; and that went out to men, not only when they were suffering unjustly, but when they were suffering through their own fault. We are so apt to say of someone in trouble, “It is his own fault; he brought it on himself,” and, therefore, to feel no responsibility for him. Christian mercy is mercy for any man who is in trouble, even if he has brought that trouble on himself.
(b) In Christian thought eleos means mercy which issues in good fruits, that is, which issues in practical help. Christian pity is not merely an emotion; it is action. We can never say that we have truly pitied anyone until
until we have helped him. (W. Barclay, The Letters of James and
Peter, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed.
Leon Morris observes
"These are people who show by their habitual merciful deeds that they have responded to God's love and are living by His grace. They will receive mercy on the last day."
Nothing proves that we have been forgiven (received God's mercy) better than our own readiness to forgive (dispense God's mercy)!
Hiebert defines mercy as...
“the self-moved, spontaneous loving kindness of God which causes Him to deal in compassion and tender affection with the miserable and distressed.”
--Gary Hampton, Author and evangelist