THE BEATITUDES (2)
By D. M. PANTON
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
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
The second beatitude is divine grief. Blessed are they
that mourn ‑ for 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 Gods sorrow which will bring Gods 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
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
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 passions touch
This yields too little, and that asks too much.
Each wishes each with others eyes to see:
And many sinners cant make two agree;
What mediation, then, the Saviour showd,
Who singly reconciled us all to God!
Simultaneously, the two men hurried to each others houses; they met in the street; and looked in each others 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
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).