There is no section of the New Testament more intensely characteristic of Christ - and therefore of God - than the Beatitudes.  Nothing conceivable is more ‘Christian’.  The Beatitudes, said Lord Acton, are the root of the Christian revolution in ethics: “they were new ideas in the world, the real revelation of a new morality”.  Our Lord began His whole ministry by unveiling the ideal character: not what a good man does, but what a good man is; in the Beatitudes He reveals the roots of character, leaving the fruits to come of themselves; and to this ideal character, and to this ideal character alone, He assigns the coming Kingdom of God.  A character so startlingly unworldly, so extraordinarily unearthly, opens before us a new world of beauty and holiness and joy, such as never before entered the heart of man.


Poverty of Spirit


Our Lord strikes the first note – humility - in the heavenly character.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”: for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 3).  Here, at once, is a sharp, profound revolution in all human thought, something deeply alien to the spirit of the world.  “Nothing carries a man through the world,” says the infidel David Hurne, “like a true, genuine, natural impudence On the contrary, our Lord Himself is the essence of the Beatitudes. “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11: 29).  It is not poverty of circumstances; it is not necessarily poverty in gifts, such as intellect, graces, strength of character - the Lord Himself was immeasurably so gifted: it is the absence of self-sufficiency, of pride, of worldly ambition: “for of such is the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN As Isaiah had put it centuries before:- “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Is. 66: 2).




The second beatitude is divine grief.  “Blessed are they that mournfor they” - in all the Beatitudes the ‘they’ is emphatic; they, and no others – “shall be comforted Blessed, says the world, are they that laugh, and dance, and sing; even though millions are starving to death a few hundred miles away, and a whole world is rapidly sinking into Hell.  Which is right?  A single tear can disclose a deeply-fountained heart: the spirit of mourning - unknown in Heaven, and ungranted in Hell - reveals a soul acutely sympathetic with God, as when our Lord looked on Peter, Peter wept bitterly.  It is the noble grief over past sin, present failure, broken communion, growing iniquity, multiplying backsliders, perishing millions - it is God’s sorrow which will bring God’s comfort.  “The sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7: 10): the sorrow of the saint worketh life.  As an old writer puts it:‑ “Here thou drinkest the water of tears; shortly thou shalt drink the wine of Paradise




The third beatitude is the beatitude of the obscure.  “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” : the landed property, which of all is the surest.  The contrast is as startling as ever: it is just the meek, in a world of violence and wrong, that are sure to be disinherited, robbed, despoiled.  The French version is,‑ “Happy are les debonnaires” - the gracious, gracious characters, that attract and win.  Meekness is an absence of ‘antagonism’ in the character: it is not weakness - on the contrary, it means immense self-control: it can be found in men of fiery spirit - like Moses, and John the Apostle: it means a willingness to forego claims; to rate low our own position and dignity; to stand insult and neglect.  To such characters of ripened self-control belongs the control of the coming earth.  “Dost thou wish to possess the earth? beware then lest thou be possessed by it” (Augustine).  “Self-renunciation is the way to world-dominion” (Stier).  “For a thousand years shall joy swallow up the bitter remembrances of the past” (Govett).




The fourth beatitude is sanctity.  “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness” - sheer goodness, sought for itself alone: “for they shall be filled” - they shall be rewarded in kind.  The Catacombs have a figure marked on many tombs - a stag, drinking at a silver stream.  The ache, the craving in the soul to be good, is a famine planted in the soul by God: such are out for the highest “with the full force of the instinct of the sustentation of life”: one day “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more”, for bread of either body or soul.  Here it is a sprinkling on the lips, there a full, long, deep draught: the very dilating of the vessel is a daily increase of capacity to receive.  “They shall be filled”, with righteousness.




The fifth beatitude is pitifulness. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy So of Onesiphorus Paul says:‑“The Lord grant him to find mercy of the Lord in that day” (2 Tim. 1: 18).  It is most significant that the heart of mercy startlingly follows the passion for righteousness: so often, the most righteous are the least merciful!  Mercy is not a soft, easy-goingness, that confounds right and wrong; it is a sensitive perception of sin, combined with a boundless compassion for the sinner; it is having a man in your power, by just right, and instead of a blow, it is a kiss.  “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment”: its delight is to limit punishment, not to impose it: it is a great pityfulness, big enough to take in a world.  And on such will break a great shower of pitying mercy at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  “So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty.  For judgment is wothout mercy to him thast hath shown no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment” (Jas. 2: 12).




The sixth beatitude is purity.  “Blessed are the pure in heart”; not merely the pure in act: “for they shall see God  It was said of Sir Isaac Newton by those who knew him best, that he had the wisest soul they had ever known.  A look of lust, under the new code of Christ, is an act of adultery.  We read of Mount Sinai – “They saw the God of Israel: also they saw God, and did eat and drink” (Ex. 24: 9-11): so “every one that hath this hope PURIFIETH HIMSELF  Only the eyes that have behind them a pure heart can dare to look on God.




The seventh beatitude is the sole beatitude of the eight that deals with action.  “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called – acknowledged, publicly recognized, before men and angels, by God – “the sons of God.”  To stand up for peace in a world full of peace-breakers, is hard enough: to make peace requires a tact, a wisdom, a courage, a love that is no light achiecement.  Charles Simeon and Robert Hall were once seriously estranged.  After several had failed in making peace, John Owen wrote half a dozen lines, and left them at the house of each.


How rare that task a prosperous issue finds,

Which seeks to reconcile discordant minds

How many scruples rise to passion’s touch

This yields too little, and that asks too much.

Each wishes each with other’s eyes to see:

And many sinners can’t make two agree;

What mediation, then, the Saviour show’d,

Who singly reconciled us all to God!


Simultaneously, the two men hurried to each other’s houses; they met in the street; and looked in each other’s eyes, never to quarrel again.




The last beatitude is the hallmark of the Kingdom.  “Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven The Beatitudes opened with the Kingdom; they close with the Kingdom: they express the ripeness that enters: these are the children of the Kingdom.  How remarkable that they are eight!  Eight is the number of resurrection: theirs is the character stamped and sealed for the First Resurrection.  So our Lord closes with the hall-mark of the Kingdom - suffering.  “Those who are hunted, harassed, spoiled: the term is properly used of wild beasts pursued by hunters, or of any enemy or malefactor in flight” (Webstein).  Some seven millions of Christians are laid to rest in the Catacombs, two millions of whom were martyrs.  Sufferings for Christ are the title-deeds of the Kingdom.  “Rejoice,” for ‘blessed’ and ‘happy’ are interchangeable words at last: “leap for joy” - not in spite of the persecution, but because of it; “for great is your reward in heaven The greater the suffering, the greater is the reward already in the heavens.  “All that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3: 12); and our persecutors, by their very persecution, are actually adding to our blessing.




In the parallel passage in Luke our Lord closes with an inexpressibly solemn negative of the Beatitudes.  “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.  Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger.  Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.  Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6: 24).