"And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matt. 5:1-12)
To any one with a tender heart, I mean a heart sensitive to the touch of sin, this sermon of Christ's on the mount is anything but cheering or comforting; for, until he gets to know its meaning, it condemns him in almost every sentence. Many read it, and have read it, without feeling any self-condemnation: but, my dear hearers, if our salvation depends upon our strict observance of the precepts of this sermon, none can be saved. You all have heard part of it read this morning; that part is more than sufficient to condemn you. I pray you to read it all, and think over it, at your leisure, and then ask yourselves this question, "Have we done these things? Are we anything like the character that Christ approves in this sermon?" Oh, how it will condemn you, if you have any life in you! Some of us who have been blessed with a measure of grace can see a few streaks of Gospel light throughout this sermon; but, if we were to take it in its letter, we should be overwhelmed in despair. And yet, it is strange to say, that thousands of pharisees and formalists are quite in love with this sermon, and assert that by it we are to be judged, whilst they themselves continually neglect many of its precepts, and keep none of them in the spirit. Alas, for the inconsistency of mere professors!
But I would, under God, first show you the design or meaning of this sermon, and then the meaning of that portion of it which forms our text.
I. The main design of Christ in this discourse, was not only to instruct His own disciples, but to bring in the multitude guilty of breach of the law of God. The scribes and pharisees, and religious portion of the Jews, kept the law, and very punctiliously, too, but it was only in the letter. They failed completely in discerning the spirit of it, and the consequence was, they could see no need for Christ, who was to fulfill the law in every jot and tittle. It is the self-same mistake that is deluding pharisees in the present day. They keep the commandments (at least in a way), but, not understanding the spirituality of the law, they fail to see themselves sinners, and consequently they do not value Christ, at least as He must be valued by all who are saved. And, lest some of my young hearers should not understand what is meant by the spirituality of the law, let me explain. We will take the two commandments Christ Himself has taken by way of illustration, "Thou shalt do no murder," and "Thou shalt not commit adultery." See Christ's explanation of the spirituality of the law in connection with these two commandments. (Matt. 5:21,22,27,28) The religious Jew thought that as long as his hands were clear of actual blood, he was no murderer, and had not broken the sixth commandment. "But no," says Christ, "you do not understand God's meaning; it is not keeping the commandment in the letter, but observing it in the spirit (which extends to the thought and intent of the heart), that God requires." Again: the religious Jew thought that as long as he refrained from improper connection with another man's wife, he was no adulterer. "But no," says Christ, "you do not understand God's meaning. If you look upon a woman and lust after her, you are an adulterer in God's sight." Here is the meaning of the spirituality of the law. A breach of it, even in spirit, though it be never committed in the letter, brings a man in guilty before God.
Now, this was Christ's main design in preaching this sermon on the mount, to show the spirituality of the law, and to bring all in guilty of breach of that law. In short, the sermon on the mount is an exposition of the law of God, and as Christ observes in His concluding words, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" (Matt. 7:24,25)--whosoever doeth it, or keepeth it, spiritually, may be likened unto a man that built his house upon a rock; but whosoever doeth it not spiritually, may be likened unto a man that built his house upon the sand. And, as it is impossible for any fallen being thus to keep Christ's sayings, or the law of God, of course it follows that there is no other resource but Christ, who has kept it in every jot and tittle. I hope you all see this. Believe me, that the religious professors are completely wide of the mark here, or are out of the secret. It is no wonder, then, that they cannot see their lost and hopeless condition by nature. But to you and me, dear brethren in the Lord, who have been privileged to have our eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, it is as hopeless a thing to look for salvation by obedience to Christ's precepts in this sermon, as it is to look for salvation by our keeping the law of God in the spirit. The one is but a reflex of the other. Here again we are reminded of our shortcoming, and our sin and guilt, and are forced again and again to look to Him who has fulfilled for us every jot and tittle.
II. We now come to that portion of the sermon which forms our text. The manifest meaning of these eight beatitudes, as they have been termed, is this.
Ver. 1. Either, Blessed are they who are perfect in all these characteristics, whose they are not merely in letter, but in spirit;
Ver. 2. or, Blessed are they who can by grace trace out these characteristics in them, and, failing in any of them, can look unto Him who has fulfilled the law for them. The first, as we have seen, is an impossibility; we, then, adopt the second for profitable meditation.
Ver. 3. "The poor in spirit." No man by nature is poor in spirit; but, on the contrary, proud in spirit. The very beggars of the earth are as proud in spirit as they can be. The very religious professor, if he be but a professor, is as proud in spirit as it is possible. Every free-willer must necessarily be proud in spirit, for he is conscious of having done something that his neighbor has not done. But the poor in spirit are they, and they only, who can give all the glory of their salvation to God alone. Adam, in his innocence, was poor in spirit, for he knew that every blessing he enjoyed came gratuitously from heaven. But, after his fall, he was no longer poor but proud in spirit; for he began wrangling with God. Subsequently, however, when the Spirit of God convinced him of his sin, and that salvation was only of the Lord, he was poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are they who think meanly of themselves, and have no confidence in the flesh, but confess themselves debtors to mercy alone. Who amongst you can do thus? The Lord tells you that you are blessed, and that the kingdom of heaven is yours.
Ver. 4. "They that mourn." Who are they? Not they who mourn over their misfortunes or their afflictions, for the wicked can do that; but they that mourn over their sins and iniquities before God. These are the spiritual mourners to whom the promise of the verse is made. Brethren, it is no exaggeration to say that they who mourn over their sins, as sins in the sight of God, are truly blessed, and they that have no sins to mourn over are truly cursed: for the one party has been awakened by the Spirit of God; the other party is under the influence of the God of this world. "They shall be comforted," says Christ--ay, and so they shall--not only in the world to come, but here, by the Lord's drawing nigh to them, and applying His precious blood to their wounded souls and consciences. I may tell you that some of the sweetest moments of my life have been after mourning over my depravity--my incorrigibility and sin. The Lord has been especially faithful to me when I have put up the cry, "Lord, art Thou not weary of me? I am weary of myself." And the answer has come, "God is not man, that He should lie."
Ver. 5. "The meek." Who are they? Let us not forget the spirituality of the law. There are many meek persons by nature--persons who are naturally timid, unobtrusive, and retiring--who have the character of meekness. But a man might be all this, and yet be a very devil in his heart; for he might be enmity against God. This then, cannot be the meaning of "meek" here. It is not constitutional meekness, but gracious meekness, that is meant. By which I mean that disposition and bearing which emanate from a sense of pardoning love. Let a man be never so bold or domineering or impetuous by nature, if grace once takes possession of his heart, he will be meek towards God, and meek towards his fellow-sinners who have been, with him, partakers of grace. Oh, how is it possible, I would ask, for a recipient of grace, for one who is himself a debtor to mercy, to be the opposite of "meek" towards his brethren? I know, as well as any man, that there are deep injuries felt by, and foul wrongs done to, the saints of God: I know that these call up our basest passions: I know that during their first smart they are enough to tempt one to sin; but, when time and reflection and prayer have done their work, and when confession has been made by the sinning party, I cannot understand how forgiveness cannot be granted. I know, too, that there are some of God's people who are naturally of a forgiving temper, and that there are others who are naturally of an unforgiving temper; the first have not so hard a struggle for it as the last, but still how can a recipient of grace hold out against a fellow-recipient of grace, and refuse to exhibit meekness? I must say, I don't understand it. Yet I am no man's judge. But I can pray God to grant us all more and more meekness, that we may in some measure prove to our fellow-sinners that we are heirs of the promise of the text. The promise is somewhat obscure, "They shall inherit the earth." I think the Lord used Old Testament phraseology here, and that He meant some allusion to Canaan as the type of heaven. And then the meaning will be "they shall inherit heaven," or "they shall inherit what is the Lord's." Now "the earth is the Lord's and all the fullness thereof;" and whatever is Christ's is ours, for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. The simple meaning of the passage, then, is, "The meek shall inherit whatever is the Lord's. A great and wide promise truly! But one that is as sure to be fulfilled as that God is in heaven. I find I shall not have time to complete the exposition of this Scripture this morning; but, please God, I will revert to it next Lord's Day morning. In the meanwhile, I commend you to the care of God, and beseech you to give your best attention to this far-famed sermon on the mount, and see if, by study and prayer, you cannot master its difficulties.
I take it for granted that you all, according to my request last Sunday morning, have carefully read the whole of Christ's sermon on the mount; and, even supposing you all have not grace or light to see your miserable condition by nature, I ask you in all soberness these three simple questions: 1. Have you done, or are you in the habit of doing, the things suggested or recommended in that sermon? 2. Do you know of any one that has done, or is in the habit of doing, those things? 3. If your salvation depended upon your doing those things, tell me what possible hope have you of being saved? You must confess, if you have a spark of honor or honesty, that you have done nothing of the sort; and then, of course, it must follow that you are like the man who built his house upon the sand. (see Matt. 7:26)
First. You have not loved your enemies; secondly, you have not blessed them that cursed you; thirdly, you have not turned the left cheek to the smiter of your right one; fourthly, you have not given your coat to him who had taken your cloak; fifthly, you have not given to every one that asked of you; sixthly, you have not done to others as you would have them to do by you; lastly, you are not perfect as your heavenly Father in heaven is perfect. Then you must be like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. Where, then, your hope? I ask.
But I will press this matter closer. Even supposing you have done, and are in the habit of doing, some of these things, what of the others? Christ omits none. Again, even supposing you have done all of them, what about the spirit in which they have been done? You know it is possible to obey precepts in the letter, whilst we disobey them in the spirit. The lip may be sealed, whilst the heart is burning with anger. The purse may be opened, whilst the heart is grieved at the expenditure. The act may be performed, whilst the heart is far from the work. And what then? If these commandments are broken in spirit, yea, only one of them for once, salvation's door is closed for ever through the avenue of the law.
And now, my dear young hearers (young in the way, young in knowledge, I mean; the old know all these things as well as I)--but now, my dear young hearers, what think you of those professors who tell you they quite admire this sermon, and are hoping to be judged by it? You see their ignorance and their folly.
As I told you last Sunday morning, this sermon is nothing but an exposition of the spirituality of the law, and cuts us all off just as the law itself does; for it is written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the law to do them." And yet there is precious Gospel in this sermon. (ver. 17-20) I see the Gospel there, for I see Christ fulfilling the law in every jot and tittle for me who have broken all the commandments; and I see in His righteousness that righteousness alone that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. Again, in chap. 7:8,11: there is a sweet promise to poor evil me that every necessary blessing shall be given to me, not for my own sake, but for my dear Lord's who fulfilled the law for me.
And now let us resume where we left off last Sunday morning.
You will bear in mind the general meaning of these eight beatitudes (as they have been called) that I gave you: (1) either, Blessed are they who are perfect in all these characteristics, whose they are, not merely in letter, but in spirit; (2) or, Blessed are they who by grace can trace out these characteristics in them, and, failing in any of them, can look unto Him who has fulfilled the law for them. The first, as we have seen, is impossible, so we must adopt the second for profitable meditation. Let us remember, too, that none of these beatitudes allude to natural temper, but to gracious dispositions.
Ver. 6. The appetites of hunger and thirst introduced here speak volumes. We cannot bribe hunger and thirst; we cannot amuse hunger and thirst, so as to cheat their cravings. No; there they are, and will be till they are satisfied. Now it is so precisely, with spiritual hunger and thirst. Nothing in this world can appease them; no honors, no riches, no favors can satisfy them. They are craving after something higher and holier. The parties in whom they have been excited are dissatisfied with their highest attainments. They are like Paul in Phil. 3. They are grieved that they cannot be as holy as God is holy, and long for the time when all sin shall be no more, and they wrapt in the righteousness of God. My hearers, do you know what it is to sigh over your sins? to mourn over your transgressions? to cry out with Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Then you hunger and thirst after righteousness, and are blessed. Ay, and you shall be filled. Filled to satiety you never can be, no, not even in heaven; but, from time to time, you shall have a sufficiency to satisfy your craving; and by-and-by you shall have abundance to go to, and will fully realize the promise of your Lord and Saviour.
Ver. 7. Here, remember again, that none of these characteristics allude to natural tempers, but to gracious dispositions. There are many men naturally merciful; some are so merciful that they would not hurt a fly, and some who would not even punish a criminal. But this disposition arises from weakness of mind, and cannot possibly be the characteristic the Lord alluded to, for then imbecility would be a passport to the mercy of God. "But "merciful" here means that gracious disposition which springs from knowledge and experience of God's mercy to poor sinners, and is ever ready to show mercy to those who have not been sincerely favored. "These," says Christ, "are blessed, and shall obtain mercy." Not, mark you, because they show mercy to others, for these have already obtained mercy, and then it would overthrow grace; but, "Blessed are these merciful, for they give evidence that they are of those who shall obtain the fullness of the blessings of mercy by-and-by." They who are themselves converted, and take pleasure in proclaiming the scheme of mercy to others, are the merciful of the text. The very acme of mercy is to preach the Gospel of the grace of God to perishing sinners. And the very climax of cruelty is to preach a false Gospel. And yet, they who do the latter are looked upon as merciful, by the world, whilst the other party is regarded as hard-hearted and cruel!
Ver. 8. "Pure in heart." Who are they? Are we pure in heart, in the literal sense of the term? Is there a man on earth who is thus pure in heart? Surely not! The Lord Himself says as much in this very sermon. (chapter 7:11) "How can men that are evil "be pure in heart?" And yet it is quite true, that they who are pure in heart shall see God--shall be admitted into His glorious presence by-and-by. But, as there are none such, really and literally, we must look elsewhere for an explanation of the difficulty. Poor David, long ago found out that his heart was anything but pure, so he cried unto the Lord, "Create in me a clean heart!" And God has promised to give His people a heart to know Him, a heart to fear Him, a heart of flesh on which He would write His laws. (Jer. 32:38-40; Ezek. 11:19,20) And there is the explanation of the "pure in heart." They are they who, notwithstanding their possession of an evil and deceitful heart, are given a new heart or a new spirit, whereby they love God.
Ver. 9. "Peacemakers." Who are they? Many are literally "peacemakers" who never call upon God, and are at war with Him in their hearts. How could they be called "the children of God?" To understand this beatitude, we must bear in mind the state of opinion amongst the Jews at that time. They thought the Messiah was to lead them forth to war, and to be avenged upon their enemies: they dreamt of blood and carnage and victory over the Romans. So Christ in this remark intended to upset this carnal notion by pronouncing a blessing upon the peacemaker between God and men. And those who strive to promote this peace by proclaiming God's plan of making peace, and they, too, who endeavor to make the saints peaceable among one another, are really the parties alluded to here; they are blessed, and shall be called "the children of God," here and hereafter.
Ver. 10-12. This is the last of the beatitudes, and clearly shows what God's people are to expect in this world. We all like honor and peace and comfort, we like to stand well with our friends and neighbors, but Christ tells us that it cannot be, and that they were the truly honored who were reviled for His sake! Brethren, this is a hard saying; who can bear it? Yet it is Christ's. Oh, believe me, it is a blessed sign of interest in Christ, and of honor by-and-by, when we are despised and slandered for adhering to Christ's words and Christ's name. We are accused of bigotry and narrow-mindedness for simply teaching and holding up Christ's own doctrines and precepts and sayings. But let us think of the reward in store for us. Oh, I am certain it is a damning sign, if a man experience no contempt or persecution for his religion. He may have a false religion, I grant, and be contemned for it; but we cannot have the true religion and not be hated, slandered, and despised.