By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up into the mountain: and when He had sat down, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth. and taught them (Matt. 5: 1).
It is disciples, though within earshot of the multitude, that our Lord, in solemn session, sets Himself to teach. Luke is equally explicit: "He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, and said" (Luke 6: 20). The Sermon on the Mount, as Bishop Gore succinctly puts it, “was spoken into the ear of the Church and overheard by the world.”
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It is spiritual character upon which our Lord strikes the first deep, strong note. Blessed is the man who is before he does. The new creation of the indwelling Spirit enfolds within itself all potentialities of blessed action. But consequent acts of love and mercy are the indispensable proofs that travel down into life's little things - the robbed cloak and the assaulted cheek. "I am trying to build up new countries," Cecil Rhodes said to General Booth; "you and your father are trying to build up new men; and you have chosen the better Part." In a ripe maturity of political experience second to none, Mr. Gladstone said: "The welfare of mankind does not now depend on the State, or on the world of politics: the real battle is being fought out in the world of thought; and we politicians are children playing with toys in comparison to that great work of restoring belief." On the threshold of the Sermon Christ erects the gate of humility. "And He called to Him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18 : 3). Without a changed nature the malignant evils of the social order, deeply seated in a diseased heart, would reproduce themselves for ever, and reduce even God's Kingdom to chaos. The Celestial Hills can be reached only through the Vale of the lowly heart.
4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed, says the Socialist, is a general diffusion of comfort: Blessed, says the politician, is the greatest happiness of the greatest number: "Blessed," says Christ, "are they that mourn." This radical divergence springs from antagonistic views of the world. The philosopher is content to reform without regenerating; sin, to him, is a distemper of the skin; the world is disordered, but not condemned. Christ reveals that the world, jarred out of all harmony with God, is deeply cankered with sin. Wickedness predominates, therefore mourning is blest. The disciple is bowed by the cross he has lifted. But of righteous sorrow Christ approves; the mourners shall be comforted when earth is regenerate, and the Curse departs from every island and continent like a lifted shadow. Sorrow, in a sinless world, would be sinful.
5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
An exquisite proof of the truth of Christ's words is their amazing unworldliness. It is precisely the meek who are uniformly excluded from earthly inheritance; high places yield to the assault of wealth, ambition, and organized power. The meek waive, rather than prosecute, their claims; sufferers, doing right, with patience , much forgiven, they are much forgiving. For such the earth, when become Messiah's in its uttermost parts, is reserved, as the hundredfold compensation for suffered wrong. The earth is yet to be governed by its aristocracy of grace. But the possession is reached by the path of renunciation. "Dost thou wish," says Augustine, "to possess the earth? Beware then lest thou be possessed by it."
6. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Not, Blessed are the righteous; but blessed are disciples consciously imperfect and sinful, eager to crown imputed righteousness with active goodness. The daily recurring appetite is set on weaving the pure, bright linen of the Bride. The love of righteousness, a thirst planted in the soul by God, is for ever baffled in the spheres of labour, politics, religion: Wealth triumphs in monopoly; Cabinets shape the course of kingdoms by expediency; the great State Churches dare not uproot powerful corruptions; the individual writhes under the tyranny of habitual sin. Nevertheless the hunger shall be satisfied. For the righteousness of Christ, falling on the shoulders of faith, is a pledge of ultimate sanctification. The body of resurrection will harbour no traitor within. Divine might shall establish upon earth a Kingdom of right. But here and now, blessed is the disciple whose passion is to translate all divine truth into the living facts of his own life.
7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
was the foundation principle of the Law (Deut. 16:
20). MERCY is the soul of
[* "Even believers," says Dr. Tholuck, "may inherit a partial unblessedness. This is a point,"he significantly adds, "on which our doctrine requires further elaboration." - Sermon on the Mount, p. 39. Before the Bema disciples are to be arraigned (Rom. 14: 10; 2 Cor. 5: 10), with possible loss of all but eternal life (1 Cor. 3: 15; 9: 27), and a possible infliction of active but temporary punishment (Luke 12: 46-48; Matt. 25: 14, 30). Gift (Rom. 6: 23) is retained after prizes (Rev. 3: 11) are lost.]
8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
This is explicit. The beatific vision is for the pure alone; and for the pure, not in act only, but in heart. Purity of heart is far rarer than purity of life. But the entry into the sacred presence is, even among disciples, conditional: God dwells in a privacy of holy light inaccessible to all but the heart-pure. "Without sanctification none shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12: 14). The Resurrection of Life, in which the Father reveals Himself, belongs to disciples whose righteousness exceeds the Levitical purity of the flesh. In the words of Spurgeon: "Make a full surrender of every motion of thy heart : labour to have but one object, and one aim. And for this purpose give God the keeping of thine heart, that thy soul, being preserved and protected by Him may be directed into one channel, and one only, that thy life may run deep and pure, its only banks being God's will, its only channel the love of Christ and a desire to please Him."
9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
It is characteristic that obedience to these commands falls within the compass of the lowliest and the humblest. As quarrels are universal, so are the opportunities of the peacemaker. Christ's disciples are not only to be peaceful, but makers of peace, as oil upon the world's waters: sons of God in character, as also, in the Regeneration, in title.*
[* "Pity, purity, peace," comments Dr. Tholuck, "not accidental ethical virtues, but characteristic Christian graces, the possession of which presupposes the possession of salvation." - Sermon on the Mount, p. 88.]
10. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Antagonism to the world is an essential of discipleship. The "world" in modern literature has lost the shadowed, fallen, terrifying sense with which it was burdened on the lips of Christ. But so fundamental is the antagonism that He lays it down as a perpetual basis of action. Reproaches, damaged reputation, and the cruelty of false reports pursue even the holder of every beatitude, and constitute an ineradicable note of discipleship. ("All that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer Persecution" (2 Tim. 3: 12). But it is for His sake whom we love: that is enough. There are times when merely to suffer is the truest service that can be rendered to Christ.
"Have been persecuted." Here our Lord strikes a note of profound discord with all Utopian ideals. No slow process of evolution, reaching after centuries the full flower of social perfectness, can justify a God of goodness and love. For what of the trampled myriads of bygone agonies? What of the servants of God slain? Without a resurrection, a tender reunion upon an earth regenerated and crowned with an opened heaven, who could justify, the ways of God to men? But "these all, having had witness borne to them through, their faith, received not the promise : God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11 : 39, 40); nor we, apart from them. Half-lights of dawn break through the midnight of suffering. For painful service God is pledged to recompense: by it the disciple is proved in the blessed succession of the righteous.
Royal rank awaits the sufferer. Throughout the Beatitudes the Kingdom, with its riches - many names, as Augustine says, but one reward - is the prize held forth: a Kingdom of the heavens, for its metropolis is the heaven-born Jerusalem (Rev. 19: 7; 21: 10); an inheritance upon earth, for to the fallen soil Christ returns (Zech. 14 4); a vision of the Father, for it is also His Kingdom (Rev. 11 15); a treasured reward in heaven, for it is no worldly State reformed to perfect conditions, or rebuilt on the ideals of Socialism.*
The Kingdom, as Dr. Tluck observes, was no new idea. To Christ’s hearers it was the Messianic Kingdom,
the lodestar of Israel; and the millennial Kingdom, four times associated with
"the Christ," is the Messianic (Rev. 11: 15; 12: 10; 20: 1-6). But its heavenly compartment,
for the risen saints, was not understood (Rev. 19:
6-9). Afterwards, it is the eternal Kingdom, on new heavens
and new earth (1 Cor. 15:
24; Rev. 21 and 22). "This view of
the Kingdom and its coming," says Dr. H. A. W. Meyer, "as the winding
up of the world’s history, a view which was also shared by the principle
Fathers (Tertullian, Chrysostum,
Augustine, Euth, Zigabenus),
is the only one which corresponds with the historical
conception ... throughout the whole of the New
Testament." On Matthew, trans.
Christ is yet to triumph in the arena of the nations. On earth God's will is yet to be done.