[An exposition by Rebert Govett, taken from The Sermon On The Mount]


2. "And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying" -


Whom did Jesus teach?  The disciples, as the words show.  It is true that the unbelieving multitudes were present and listened; and commented, at the close of the sermon, on the wonderful words they had heard.  But disciples only were the parties directly addressed.  This will appear clearly proved to any one who will go carefully through the Sermon.  He will find, that the persons addressed are the world's salt and light; that God is their Father; that His pearls are theirs; His holy things theirs; and they are children of faith, though it be but "little faith."  The same conclusion may greatly be strengthened, if need be, by comparing with this the similar sermon in Luke 6, "The whole multitude sought to touch him ... And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye Poor; for yours is the kingdom of heaven."*


[* The sermon in Luke 6, greatly as it resembles the one in Matthew, is not the same.  Greswell has well pointed out the differences.  In Luke there is no reference to the law's commands, which is so prominent a feature in Matthew.]


He "opened his mouth"; for mighty was the assembly, and loud the voice needed.


3. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."


There is blessing conditionally offered, in the law.  But twelve curses precede it. Deut. 27.  The curse upon a single transgression goes before the blessing of Moses and nullifies it.  Moses' blessing encircled the tribes of Israel; this encompasses disciples of every nation.


The style of blessing is also very different, even to contrast. ‘Blessed,’ said Moses in effect, ‘are the rich in the flesh: Deut. 28: 3-6.  But Jesus pronounces blessed "the Poor in spirit."  What now is meant by poverty of spirit?  The first blessing in Luke sixth is devoted to the disciples who are Physically Poor; but this is poverty, not of nature, or of the flesh, but of the spirit.


It is the studied contrast to the spirit of Israel at Mount Sinai, which was confidence in the flesh.  God promises blessing, on condition of their keeping His covenant.  "And all the People answered together, and said, ALL THAT THE LORD HATH SPOKEN, WE DO." Ex. 19: 8.  When the commands of the Lord are again definitely given and spoken by Moses, they repeat their promise; and a third time, when read before the multitude assembled to enter into covenant, the cry still is, "ALL THAT THE LORD HATH SAID WE WILL DO, AND BE OBEDIENT": Ex. 24: 3, 7.  At once the covenant was based on this ground, and the blood sprinkled.  But how did that confidence end?  In an open national breach of its chief command, before the very face of the mount!  Confidence in the flesh, then, is no standing-ground for a disciple. Phil. 3: 3.


Poverty of spirit is the temper of the Psalmist, sensible of transgression, of its deep roots in the soul, and of its just desert: yet confident of God's grace and His provided righteousness, as we see in Psa. 51: 5, 6, 10, 16, 17.  It is the temper described by the prophet, after pouring contempt upon the law's material residence provided by God.  "To this man will I look, even to him that is Poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word": Isa. 66: 2.


It is the proper answer to God's call, just raised by the Baptist ‘Repent!’  Yes! the soul is by it made sensible of no deserts from justice, but eternal death.  It confesses that there is no strength in the flesh to obey, and win itself eternal life by obedience.  It would not put itself under law, but under grace.  It is the perfect contrast to the spirit of the Pharisee, strong in assurance of its own powers and righteousness; 'tis the spirit of the publican. Luke 18: 9.  To this temper the law was designed to lead.  It was given on purpose to bring down man's false notions of his strength.


It is the contrast to the spirit of the world, and of the flesh still.  That is still boasting of "progress."  Still prophesying the ‘world's regeneration,’ and the ‘good time coming,’ through man's strength and goodness.  ‘Poverty in self, riches in Christ,’ is the true sentiment of a son of the kingdom. Rom. 7: 18; 4: 13; 1 Cor. 1: 30, 31.  It is at the root of Jesus' prohibition of oaths and vows.


But why are they blessed?  Because "theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  What is meant by this kingdom?


1. 'Tis commonly understood to signify - The Gospel dispensation but this idea has poured darkness over many passages, which else had shone with surpassing lustre.


2. It really means, in every case - THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM OF MESSIAH.  'Tis that kingdom which Daniel promised (Dan. 7: 13) to Christ and to the saints, 18, 22, 27.  It is the kingdom which Israel was then expecting; a kingdom in which the patriarchs and prophets are to have part by rising from the dead. Matt. 8 : 11.  'Tis the kingdom for which angels are to make way, by execution of judgment on the living sons of iniquity, and in which the righteous have a portion, when their bodies shine as the sun. Matt. 13: 41, 43.  'Tis the kingdom for which we are instructed in this very Sermon to pray, that it may come and effect a revolution "on earth."  'Tis the kingdom which is the complement of the Law and the Prophets, and of the promises to Abraham and his seed.  'Tis the true Sabbath figured by the law, in its seventh day, seventh month, seventh year, and seven times seventh year of jubilee.  It is the "rest which remaineth for the people of God." Heb. 4: 2.  Under the old dispensation God commanded rest: under the new He is to give it.  'Tis the kingdom of the Christ foretold in the Apocalypse.  Jesus pronounces those "BLESSED," who enter it.  So does the beloved Apostle. "BLESSED and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection : on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years": Rev. 20: 4.


The Pharisee then, or the self-justifier, cannot enter this glory.  We are not even at the starting point of the race, till we renounce our own righteousness, and welcome Messiah’s. Phil. 3; Rom. 4: 12, 15.


4. "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted."


This is in accordance with Isa. 61, which Jesus assures us (Luke 4: 17-19) describes His mission.  He was sent to comfort all that mourn!; and that, after "the day of vengeance of our God": Isa. 61: 2.


What can call forth the mourning of disciples?


1. Their own sins. Isa. 59: 11; 2 Cor. 2: 7.


2. The trials and sorrows of time, felt either directly, or by sympathy. Rom. 12: 15.  Thus, Jesus wept with the sisters of Bethany. John 11: 33, 35.  Especially those peculiar sorrows which arise out of faith.  Thus, Paul speaks of his many tears arising from the persecution of the Jews (Acts 20: 19, 31) and from his service among believers.  The bridegroom is away: the children of the bride-chamber rightly mourn. Matt. 9: 15.


3. The sins of the world and the church may also lawfully and fitly call forth tears. 1 Cor. 5: 2; 2 Cor. 2: 4; Ezek. 9: 4.


JESUS pronounces mourning disciples "blessed," of whatever nation they may be. Isaiah, as the prophet of Israel, has a word of blessing for "mourners in Zion," as well "as for all that mourn": Isa. 61 : 2, 3.


(1). This spirit is the contrast to the law.  That bade its subjects to rejoice.  If obedient, they should be happy.  It had festival-seasons, in which they were to display joy. Lev. 23: 40; Deut. 12: 6, 7; 16: 14, 15; 26: 11.  None such are commanded under the gospel.  The old skin is unsuited to the new wine.


(2). 'Tis the contrast also to the ideas of nature. ‘Happy are the merry,’ is the notion of mankind.  But, as ‘the sorrow of the world works death,’ (2 Cor. 7: 10) so the Saviour utters a woe against the mirthful disciple.  Luke 6: 25.  The world's time of laughter is now in the saint's time of sorrow: but the day of reversal is coming. John 16: 1, 20, 22.


Why are they blessed?


Because they shall be "comforted."  When?  In the millennial kingdom.  That is the season of rest and of comfort for God's sorrowing and suffering ones.  There is a woe on the rich disciple, who obtains his consolation here and now. Luke 6: 24.  The comfort is to come, (as Isaiah intimates) after the ‘acceptable year’ is finished, and after the ‘day of vengeance.’ Isa. 61.  The sufferers for Christ's sake appear prominently in the sketch of the millennial kingdom. Rev. 20: 4.  Christ shall comfort then!  For a thousand years shall joy swallow up the bitter remembrances of the past.  Look onward, mourner for Christ, the bright morning is near!


5. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."


Meekness is strictly the patience of one suffering unjustly.  It is seen in its fulness, where there is power to avenge one's self, yet not even a word of impatience or of threat is uttered.  This is to be the temper of the disciples of Jesus.  As forgiven in grace by God, it is becoming in them to be meek before men.  The note thus struck was one for which Israel was quite unprepared.  They expected in Jesus a Joshua, who would at once put down evil with power.  The law supposed might to be on the side of righteousness.  ‘Eye for eye,’ was its principle.  ‘Let the evil-doer suffer!  Let justice triumph!’  The manslayer was to be slain: the thief punished.  The gospel supposes power to be on the side of evil: and the disciples of Jesus consequently to be called to suffer. 1 Pet. 2: 20, 21.  This word of Jesus teaches the spirit in which that suffering is to be borne.


But, perhaps, it may be said,- ‘These words are a quotation from the Psalms: your contrast cannot be maintained.’  Tis true, that the promise here given was previously made in Psalm 37.  But it is to be observed, that the Psalms and Prophets occupy a position a long way ahead of the law: and that, in most cases, they utter sentiments approaching to those of the Gospel. David, the writer of the Psalms, was God’s anointed, but long was he kept out of the kingdom, and power was arrayed against him. He was content to wait God's time for his entrance into the kingdom.


At Nazareth Jesus read. Isa. 61 :1, 2.  Here again He takes up its strain.  "The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek." But why are the meek blessed?  Because they "shall inherit the earth."


These words of the Saviour are in full contradiction to the self-reliant, self-avenging, and revolutionary feelings of men. Patience, men think, is only folly.  It leads men to the endurance of heavier loads.


I remember reading an anecdote of a lady, standing near the cottage of a poor widow about the time of her dinner, who overhead her, as she gave thanks over her poor fare, to say with holy joy - What! all this! and Christ besides!’ Whereupon, the writer says, ‘Thus do the meek inherit the earth!


But, that is wholly to pervert the sentiments of the text.  It is not that the meek do at present enjoy the power, and riches, and happiness of the earth.  Meekness is the way to lose the things of the world.  Tis ‘the man of spirit who stands up for his rights,’ who generally keeps his property secure.  The meek are often robbed, scorned, trodden down.  The promise is, that they shall inherit the earth.


When?  When the kingdom of heaven is come.  When the saints of the heavenlies take the kingdom under the whole heaven. Dan. 7.  To this the 37th Psalm looks forward, as the time of consolation for the meek.  God's hand, as the Great Avenger, shall cut off the wicked and violent from the earth. His enemies shall be destroyed.  Psa. 37: 10, 17, 28, 34, 38.  Then the righteous shall enjoy the earth. 29,39,40.


But, is the earth the portion of a disciple of Jesus?  Yes, in part. Heb. 11: 8-16.  Jesus speaks of the sons of the resurrection: and they, while possessing the heavenly Jerusalem as their great centre, are yet to reign over the earth: and to be upon it, in conjunction with our Lord.


This then conveys to the believer in Jesus the lesson, that he is not to avenge himself: not to stand up for his rights, whether by the sword, or by law.


But how then will those meet the Saviour, who have transgressed in this respect?  Cromwell seems to have been a truly converted person: but his spirit was that of the law.  To redress grievances, he took the sword.  By the sword, he sought to maintain righteousness and avenge evil.  What bitterness that career brought with it, even in this world!  But can those who refuse meekness as their principle, look for the portion of the meek in the millennial kingdom?


6. "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."


The temper spoken of in this verse is strongly allied to poverty of spirit.  The renewed soul that is sensible of sin, is likely to feel a desire for holiness.  The sense of spiritual want craves, like a natural appetite, its fill.  The world is felt to be a place of wickedness.  Even within the renewed, sin lodges, though hated.  The regenerate desires the victory of holiness, in himself and others. This is a blessed feeling: wrought by the Spirit of God.  Jesus gives a present gratification to this spirit, by laying before it the precepts of righteousness, which are now well pleasing to God.  There seems to be a reference to the invitation to the hungry and thirsty. Isa. 55: 1.  Here is a standing very different from that of the law.  Law assumed that its subjects were already full of righteousness; and that they would cause its streams to flow forth from themselves throughout their life.  Here we have a sense of deficient holiness, together with the desire for it, strong as hunger, abiding as thirst.


How contrary the tone of all this to the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees; haughty, envious, ambitious, artful, revengeful, confident at the same time of righteousness already attained!


Israel was hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.  But it was natural, not spiritual hunger.  They were not blessed, but cut off in their unholiness. 1 Cor. 10.


Why are these hungerers blessed?


Because "they shall be filled."


There was a partial fulfilment of this, when the completed righteousness of Christ was set before the disciples of Jesus, and received by them. Law was but the conviction of sin and the introduction of its power, together with the terrors of the penalty. But now, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace:"* Rom. 6: 14.  The imputation of the perfect righteousness of Jesus is the pledge of the complete internal sanctification of the Holy Spirit.


[* See Greek. Some say, that there is no such expression as ‘the righteousness of Christ.’ They are mistaken.  "To them that obtained like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." See Greek. 2 Pet. 1: 1.]


But the promise awaits its fulfilment in the future: "They shall be filled."


1. The first and nearest fulfilment will be in the millennial kingdom. In that day of the resurrection of the just, this body of sin will be put off for ever.  There will be no more a traitor within: no more will Satan tempt.  There will be the reign of righteousness also, in some good degree around.  The earth will be ruled over by the saints: righteous vengeance will put down the rising of evil; the wicked will be cut off, so that the dwellers in the flesh may be holy. Of Israel it is said, "Thy people also shall be all righteous."


The risen saints will possess, in the New Jerusalem, a city of righteousness perfect and entire.  Into it, even in millennial days, nothing of evil shall enter.


2. But in the new heavens and earth, upon which the city of God shall descend, righteousness shall perfectly and finally dwell. 2 Pet. 3: 13.  Thirst not then for gold, Christian!  The covetous is an idolator.  The covetous shall not inherit the kingdom, as he is not, even now, to abide in the Church. 1 Cor. 5: 11; 6: 10.


7. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."


Mercy is the spirit which is displayed when offenders are in our power: when we might exact our dues, and inflict woe upon our enemies. It appears also to include kindness to those in distress.


The law set up justice as its standard. "Justice, justice (marg.) shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee": Deut. 16: 20.  It bade the Jew use this principle in his dealings with his fellows, because that was the principle of God's dealings with himself.  It supposed that he rendered to the law all its dues, and it therefore permitted him to exact the same of others.


But the gospel has come in with its cry of ‘Repentance!’  It asserts the sinfulness of all.  It teaches, that only in God's grace is there any hope for transgressors.  It bids us, therefore, to use in our dealings, both with the church and with the world, the principle on which we take our stand before God.  The parable of the unmerciful servant is designed to show us the unseemliness of the contrary conduct, and its terrible results, when God shall judge. Matt. 18: 21.  And James states the same principle in plain words. "So speak ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy : mercy rejoiceth against judgment":* Jas. 2: 12, 13.


[* The kai omitted by critical editions.]



Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
   Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit,
   Let us find Thy promised rest;

Take away the love of sinning;
   Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
   Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, almighty to deliver,
   Let us all Thy grace receive!
Suddenly return, and never,
   Never more Thy temples leave;

Thee we would be always blessing,
   Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
   Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then Thy new creation,
   Pure and spotless may we be;
Let us see our whole salvation
   Perfectly restored in Thee!

Changed from glory into glory,
   Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
   Lost in wonder, love, and praise.