Mercy must have an ultimate source. This source must be pure, innocent, blameless, authoritative, offended or sinned against, and willing to create a world in which mercy is possible and preferable.
Think about it. I may extend mercy to you today, but I myself am in need of mercy, perhaps even from you. What then gives me the authority to forgive you of your sin and release you from the consequences thereof when I am no better than you and hold no higher place than you? A prisoner has no right to release another prisoner. If for some reason one prisoner does acquire such authority, it was granted him from a higher source--a warden, a prison board, or a governor. Meaningful mercy must have a source above and beyond and behind the one extending mercy.
If we were able to trace every act of mercy backwards, we would eventually come to one who is ultimate in authority, perfectly innocent, and not guilty of any offense. He would, in the most absolute sense, be the offended one who has every right to condemn and also the power to forgive, should he choose to forgive. And if this one should choose to forgive, that massive and mighty act would serve to legitimate every other act of mercy. In fact, without this first act, there could be no further acts.
As Aristotle meditated on the nature and genesis of the created order, he surmised that every effect has a cause. Simple enough, but as you ponder this fact you see that the cause itself must also have had a cause, and that cause must have had a cause of its own and so on. As we trace the trail of causation backward, Aristotle argued that we must eventually come to some ultimate cause that is itself uncaused. He referred to this as "the unmoved mover." I am not familiar enough with Aristotle's works to know what he thought this ultimate cause might be, but whatever his imaginings he was surely right to postulate that there must be one ultimate cause of everything that is itself uncaused. This Cause is God Almighty--without beginning of days, without end of days, the Alpha and Omega, the one was and is and is to come, forever and ever, amen! He is the uncaused Cause, the unmoved Mover, the uncreated Creator.
In the same way, mercy must have an ultimate source, an innocent authority that both commences the tide of mercy and legitimates, or puts his stamp of approval upon, every other act of mercy that follows. Without this ultimate source, mercy cannot exist in any meaningful sense.
Praise be to God, for he is also the ultimate source of mercy. He is the unforgiven Forgiver, for he has committed no offense for which to be forgiven. As such, he is "the Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:5-6). He is perfectly holy and absolutely pure. He, through no fault of his own, was offended once then twice then countless times by sin against his good and gracious commandments. He therefore has every right to condemn and destroy, and yet he is overflowingly rich in mercy and thus chose a different path.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son [Jesus Christ] that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God, knowing that the price of sin was infinitely higher than any or all of us could pay, chose to take the penalty upon himself and pay the price of himself, to himself. And this massive and mighty act of mercy is the source and authority of all other mercies. Were it not for this one solitary act, secondary mercies would not be possible.
So, the next time you receive mercy from any source, give thanks to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is the Source of all mercy received. And the next time you extend mercy to anyone for any reason, give thanks to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is the Source of all mercy given. All true acts of mercy manifest the glory and graciousness of God.
"Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13) because mercy flows from the very heart of God (Ephesians 2:4) who is the ultimate Source and the final authority. Praise be to his great and gracious name!