William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:Matthew Chapter 5
It has been already explained, though briefly, that one reason of the Spirit of God in putting the sermon on the mount out of its historical place in Matthew, if we may so speak, and giving it to us before many of the events which took place subsequently, was this: that the whole Gospel was written upon the principle of convincing Jews; first, to show who Jesus was - their Messiah (a man, but Jehovah), the LORD God of Israel; then to give full proofs of what He really was as their Messiah, according to prophecy, by miracle, moral principles and ways, both in His own person and in His doctrine.* In order to give the greater weight to His doctrine, the Spirit of God, in my opinion, has been pleased, first, to give as a general sketch the deeds of miraculous power which roused universal attention. The report went abroad everywhere, so that there was no possible ground of excuse for unbelief to argue that there was not sufficient publicity; that God had not sounded the trumpet loud enough for the tribes of Israel to hear. Far from that: throughout all Syria His fame had gone forth, and great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond Jordan. All this is brought forward here and grouped together at the end of chapter 4.
* A third point, I may add here, of immense moment was to make evident the consequences of His rejection by the Jews, not only to them but to the Gentiles; that is, the change of economy which turned on that solemn fact.
And just as there is this grouping of the miracles of Christ, which might have been severed from one another by a long space of time, so, I apprehend, the sermon on the mount was not necessarily a continuous discourse, unbroken by time or circumstances, but that the Holy Ghost has seen fit to arrange it so as to give the whole moral unity of the doctrine of Christ as to the kingdom of heaven, and specially so as to counteract the earthly views of the people of Israel.
Luke, on the contrary, was inspired of the Holy Ghost to give the questions that originated certain portions of the discourse, and the circumstances that accompanied it; and, again, to keep certain parts of that discourse back, connecting them with facts that occurred from time to time in our Lord's ministry, the actual incidents being thus interwoven in moral correspondence with any particular doctrine of our Lord. In some places of Luke the Spirit of God takes the liberty, according to His sovereign wisdom, of keeping back certain portions, and bringing in a part here and there according to the object He has in view. The great feature of Luke's Gospel, which runs through it from beginning to end, being its moral aim, we can perfectly understand how suitable it was that, if there were circumstances in Christ's life which were a sort of practical comment on His discourse, there you should have the discourse and the facts put together.
Now, as to the discourse itself, the Lord here clearly speaks as the Messiah, the Prophet-King of the Jews. But besides, all through you will find that the discourse supposes the rejection of the King. It is not brought clearly out yet, but this is what underlies it all. The King has the sense of the true state of the people, who had no heart for Him. Hence there is a certain tinge of sorrow that runs through it. That must ever characterize real godliness in the world as it is: a strange thing for Israel, and specially strange in the lips of the King, of One possessed of such power that, had it been a question of using His resources, He could have changed all in a moment. The miracles which accompanied His steps proved that there was nothing beyond His reach, if it were only a question of Himself. But you will find in all the ways of God that while He always makes good His counsels - so that if He predicts a kingdom and takes it in hand to set it up He will certainly accomplish it - nevertheless, He first presents the thought to man, to Israel, because they were His chosen race. Man has thus the responsibility of receiving or rejecting that which is the mind of God, before grace and power give it effect. But man always fails, no matter what God's purpose may be. His purpose is good, it is holy, and true; it exalts God but abases the sinner: this is enough for man. He feels that he is made nothing of, and he rejects whatever does not gratify his vanity. Man invariably sets himself against the thoughts of God: consequently there is pain and sorrow - rejection of God Himself. And the wonderful thing that the history of this world exhibits is God submitting to be rejected and insulted; allowing poor weak man, a worm, to repel His benign advances and refuse His goodness; to turn everything that God gives and promises into the display of his own pride and glory against the majesty and will of God. All this is the truth about man, so the tinge of it runs through this blessed discourse of our Lord. And as He is now bringing out (which is the great purport of the early part of this chapter) the character of the people who would suit the kingdom of heaven, He proclaims that their character was to be formed by His own. If there was men's dislike and contempt for what was of God, He shows that those who really belong to Him must have a spirit and ways characterized by, and in sympathy with His own. I only say "sympathy" here, because the truth of a divine life given to the believer is not spoken of in this discourse. Redemption never is touched upon, as it is not the subject of the sermon on the mount. If a person, therefore, wanted to know how to be saved, he ought not to look here with the thought of finding an answer. It could not be found in it, because the Lord is bringing out the kingdom of heaven and the sort of people that are suitable to that kingdom. It is clear that He is speaking of His own disciples, and therefore is not showing bow one alienated from God could be delivered from such a position. He is speaking about saints, not about sinners. He could lay down what is according to His heart; not at all the way for a soul consciously at a distance from God to be brought near. The sermon on the mount treats not of salvation, but of the character and conduct of those that belong to Christ - the true yet rejected King. But when we examine these beatitudes closely, we shall find an astonishing depth in them, and a beautiful order too.
The first blessedness, then, attaches to a fundamental trait which is inseparable from every soul brought to God, and that knows God. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Nothing more contrary to man! What people call "a man of spirit," is exactly the opposite of being poor in spirit. A man of spirit is one who - such as Cain was - is determined not to be beaten; a soul who would fight it out with God Himself. He who is "poor in spirit" is the very opposite of this. It is a person who is broken, who feels that the dust is his right place. And every soul that knows God must, more or less, be there. He may get out of this place; for although it is a solemn thing, yet it is easy enough to rise again, to forget our right place before God; it is even a danger for those who have been brought into the liberty of Christ. When there is sincerity of heart a man is apt to be low, specially if not quite sure that all is clear between his soul and God. But when full relief is brought to his spirit, when he knows the fulness and certainty of redemption in Christ Jesus, if then he look away from Jesus and take his place among men, there you will have the old spirit revived, the spirit of man in its worst form - so terrible is the effect of a departure from God in order to mingle with men. The poor in spirit, first in order, the Lord lays down as a sort of foundation, as being inseparable from a soul that is brought to God: - he may not even know what full liberty is, but there is this stamp, never absent where the Holy Ghost works in the soul - that is, poverty of spirit. It may be encroached on by other things, or it may fade away through the influence of false doctrine, or worldly thoughts and practice, but still there it was, and there, in the midst of all the rubbish, it is; and God knows how to bring a man down again, if he has forgotten his true place. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (ver. 3). If He is speaking about the kingdom, He forthwith says these are the people to whom it belongs. By the "kingdom of heaven" He does not mean heaven: it never means heaven, but always takes in the earth as under the rule of heaven. You will find that many persons are in the habit of confounding these things. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven," they think means "theirs is heaven." Whereas the Lord is not referring to heaven, but to the rule of the heavens over an earthly scene. It refers to the scene of the ruling Messiah; those who are poor in spirit belong to that system of which He is the Head. He does not ,peak of the Church here. There might have been the kingdom of heaven and no Church at all. It is not till the sixteenth chapter of this Gospel that the subject of the Church is broached, and then it is a thing promised and expressly distinguished from the kingdom of heaven. There is not in all Scripture a single passage where the kingdom of heaven is confounded with the Church, or vice versa. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the primary foundation, the broad characteristic feature of all that belong to Jesus.
"Blessed are they that mourn" is the second feature. There is more activity of life, more depth of feeling, more entrance into the condition of things around them. To be "poor in spirit" would be true if there were not a single other soul in the world; he thus feels because of what he is in himself; it is a question between him and God that makes him to be poor in spirit. But "blessed are they that mourn" is not merely what we find in our own condition, but the holy sorrow that a saint tastes in finding himself in such a world as this, and, oh, how little able to maintain the glory of God! So there is this holy sorrow in the second part. The first is the child of God experiencing the earliest feelings of holiness in his soul; the second is the sense of what is due to God - a feeling it may be of great weakness, and yet of what becomes the honour of God, and how little it is upheld by himself or others. "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (ver. 4). There is not a single sigh that goes up to God but He treasures and will answer it; "Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves." Here, then, we have the sorrowing of the godly soul.
But in the third case we come to that which is much deeper and more chastened. It is a condition of soul produced by a fuller acquaintance with God, and is especially the way in which God elsewhere describes the blessed One Himself. He was "meek and lowly in heart;" and this was what the Lord said after He had been groaning in spirit, for He knew what it was to have a deeper sorrow than we have spoken of, over the condition of men and the rejection of God that He witnessed here below. He could only say "Woe" to those cities in which He had done so many mighty works; and then Capernaum comes in for the deepest condemnation, because the mightiest works of all were done there in vain. And what could Jesus do but groan in spirit as He thought of such utter spurning of God, and indifference to His own love? But at the same hour we find He rejoices in spirit, and says, "I thank Thee, O Father." Such is the blessed proof of matchless meekness in Jesus. The same hour which sees the depth of His sorrow over man sees also His perfect bowing to God, though at the cost of everything to Himself. Conscious of this, He says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Now, then, I think I may be bold to say that this meekness, which was found in its absolute perfectness in Jesus, is also what the gradually deepening knowledge of the ways of God, even in the sense of the abounding wickedness of this world and of the failure of what bears the name of Christ, produces in the saint of God. For, in the midst. of all that he sees around him, there is the discerning of the hidden purpose of God that is going on in spite of everything; so that the heart, instead of being fretted by the evil which it witnesses and which it cannot set aside, instead of the least feeling of envy at the prosperity of the wicked, finds its resource in God - "the Lord of heaven and earth" - an expression most blessed because it marks the absolute control in which everything is held by God. Jesus is the meek one, and those that belong to Jesus are trained to this meekness also. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (ver. 5). The earth - why not heaven? The earth is the scene of all this evil, causing such sorrow and mourning. But now, having better learnt God's ways, they can commit all to Him. Meekness is not merely to have a sense of nothingness in ourselves, or to be filled with sorrow for the opposition to God here below; but it is rather the calmness which leaves things with God, and bends to God, and thankfully owns the will of God, even where naturally it may be most trying to ourselves.
The fourth blessedness is much more active. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (ver. 6). Perfect soul-satisfaction they shall have. Whatever was the form of the spiritual feeling of the heart, there is always the perfect answer to it on God's part. If there was sorrow, they shall be comforted; if there was meekness, they shall inherit the earth, the very place of their trial here. Now, there is this activity of spiritual feeling, the going out after what was according to God, and what maintained the will of God, especially as made known to a Jew in the Old Testament. Therefore it is called hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We learn deeper principles in the New Testament still, which had to be brought out when the disciples were able to bear them.
This closes what we may call the first section of the beatitudes. You will find that they are divided, as the series of Scripture often are, into four and three. We have had four classes of persons pronounced "blessed." All the traits ought to be found in one individual, but some will be more prominent in one than another. For instance, we may see great activity in one, astonishing meekness in another. The principle of all is in every soul that is born of God. In verse 7 we enter upon a rather different class: and it will be found that the last three have got a common character, as the first four have.
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (ver. 7). As righteousness is the key note of the first four, so grace is that which lies at the root of the latter three; and, therefore, the very first of them demonstrates not merely that they are righteous and that they feel what is due to God, but they appreciate the love of God, and maintain it in the midst of surrounding evil. Yea, there is something more blessed still: and what is that? "Blessed are the merciful." There is nothing on which God more takes His stand (as the active principle of His being in a world of sin) than His mercy. The only possibility of salvation to a single soul is that there is mercy in God; that He is rich in mercy; that there is no bound to His mercy; that there is nothing in man, if he only bows to His Son, which can hinder His constant flowing spring of mercy. "Blessed," then, "are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." It is not only a question of the forgiveness of their sins, but of mercy in everything. It is a blessed thing to hail the smallest sign of mercy in the saints, to take the little, and look for much more. "Blessed are the merciful." They will find, not that there is not difficulty and trial, but that though they shall know the cost of it, they shall know the sweetness of it; they shall taste afresh what the mercy of God is towards their own souls, in the exercise of mercy towards others. This is the characteristic feature of the new class of blessing; just as poverty of spirit was the introduction to the first blessings, so mercy is to these.
The next is the consequence of this, as in the former class. If a man does not think much of himself, men will take advantage of him. If a man is bold and boastful and self-exalting, even saints may suffer it (2 Cor. 11). If he does well to himself, men will praise him (Ps. 49). But the contrary of all this is what God works in the saint. No matter what he may be, he is broken down before God: he learns the vanity of what man is; he is content to be nothing. And the effect is that he suffers. Poverty of spirit will be followed by mourning. Then there is the meekness as there is deepening acquaintance with God, and withal the hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
But now it is mercy; and the effect of mercy is not a compromising of the holiness of God, but a larger and deeper standard of it. The fuller your hold of grace is, the higher will be your maintenance of holiness. If you only regard grace, as a wretched selfish being, to find an excuse for sin, no doubt it will be perverted. And so He speaks at once of the simple normal effect of tasting of this spring of mercy. They are "pure in heart." This is the next class, and it is, I believe, the consequence of the first - of being merciful. "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." It is exactly what is proper to God; for He alone is pure absolutely. Thus also He was perfectly reflected in His beloved Son. For not a single thought or feeling ever sullied divine perfectness in the heart of Jesus. In this case He is just telling out what He Himself was. How could He but put His own characteristics before those who belonged to Him? For indeed He is their life. It is Christ in us that produces what is according to God by the Holy Ghost - that blessed One whose very coming into the world was the witness of perfect grace and mercy on God's part; for we know God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son for it. And He was there, a man - the faithful witness of the mercy and of the purity of God. He, when He came with His heart full of mercy towards the vilest, was yet the very fulness and pattern of the purity of God in, its perfection. "He that sent me," He could say, "is with me; ... for I do always those things that please Him." The only way of doing anything to please God is by the cherished consciousness of being in the presence of God; and there is no possibility of this, except as I am drawn there in the liberty of grace and as knowing the love of God to me, as brought to Him in Christ. But this is not revealed here; for the Lord is rather unfolding the moral qualities of those that belong to Him.
The third and closing form of these beatitudes is, "Blessed are the peace-makers; for they shall be called the children of God" (ver. 9). Here we have the active side again, of which we saw an analogy in the closing one of the first four. These go out making peace, if there is any possibility of the peace of God being brought into the scene; and if it cannot be, they are content to wait on God, and look up to Him, that He may make this peace in His own time. And as this peace-making can belong only to God Himself, so these saints that are enriched with these blessed qualities of the grace of God as well as His righteousness, with His active mercy, and its effects are equally found now characterized as peace-makers. "They shall be called the children of God." Oh, this is a sweet title - sons of God! Is it not because it was the reflection of His own nature - of what God Himself is? The stamp of God is upon them. There is no one thing that more indicates God manifested in His children than peace-making. This was what God was doing, what His heart is set upon. Here are found men upon the earth who shall be called "the sons of God" - a new title from God Himself.
Then follow two blessings of exceeding interest. They add much to the beauty of the scene and complete the picture in a most striking way. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (ver. 10). This is evidently to begin over again. The first blessedness was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;" and the next three were all marked by righteousness. It is the first thing that God produces in a new-born soul. He who is awakened takes up God's cause against himself. He is, in measure at least, broken down, poor in spirit; and God looks for him to grow in poverty of spirit to the last. But here it is not so much what they are, as what their lot is from others. The last two beatitudes speak of their portion in the world from the hands of other people. The first four are characterized by intrinsic righteousness - the last three by intrinsic grace. These two, then, answer, one to the first four, and the other to the last three. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This does not go beyond the blessed state of things that the power of God will bring in upon the earth in connection with the Messiah. Being rejected, the kingdom of heaven is His with a stronger and deeper title, as it were - certainly with the means of blessing by grace for the lost. A suffering and despised Messiah is still dearer to the heart of God than if received all at once. And if He does not lose the kingdom because He was persecuted, neither do they. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Persecuted, not merely by the Gentiles or the Jews, but for righteousness' sake. Do not be looking at the people that persecute you, but at the reason why you are persecuted. If it is because you desire to be found in obedience to the will of God, blessed are you. You fear to sin? you suffer for it? Blessed are they which suffer for righteousness' sake: they will have their portion with the Messiah Himself.
But now we have, finally, another blessedness. And mark the change. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you for My sake." This change to ye is exceedingly precious. It is not merely put in an abstract form - "Blessed are they;" but it is a personal thing. He looks at the disciples there, knows what they were to go through for His sake, and gives them the highest and nearest place in His love. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you . . . for My sake." It is not now for righteousness' sake, but "for My sake." There is something still more precious than righteousness, and that is Christ. And when you have Christ, you can have nothing higher. Blessed indeed to be persecuted for His sake! The difference is just this: when a man suffers for righteousness' sake, it supposes that some evil has been put before him which he refuses. He would have perhaps to subscribe something against his conscience, and he cannot, nor would dare, to do it. He is offered a tempting bait, but it involves that which he knows is contrary to God. All is in vain: the tempter's object is seen. Righteousness prevails, and he suffers. He not only loses what is offered, but he is evil spoken of too. Blessed are they who suffer thus for righteousness' sake! But for Christ's sake is quite a different thing. There the enemy essays great execution. He tempts the soul with such questions as these: Is there any reason why you should stand up for Jesus and the gospel? There is no need for being so zealous for the truth. Why go out of your way so far for this person or that thing? Now in these cases it is not a question of a sin, open or covert. For, in the case of suffering for Christ's sake, it is the activity of grace that goes out to others. It answers to the last three of the seven beatitudes. A soul that is filled with a sense of mercy cannot refrain his lips. He who knows what God is, could not be silent merely because of what men think or do. Blessed are ye who thus suffer for Christ's name! The power of grace prevails there. Too often, alas, motives of prudence come in: people are afraid of giving offence to others, of losing influence for self, of spoiling the prospect of the children, etc. But the energy of grace, looking at all this, still says Christ is worth infinitely more; Christ commands my soul - I must follow Him. In suffering for righteousness' sake, a soul eschews evil earnestly and peremptorily, committing itself at all cost to what is right; but in the other it discerns the path of Christ - that which the gospel, the worship, or the will, of the Lord calls to, and at once throws itself with its whole heart on the Lord's side. Then comes in the comfort of that sweet word, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you.... for My sake." The Lord could not refrain the expression of His soul's delight in His saints: "Blessed are ye. . . . Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." Observe it is not now in the kingdom of heaven, but" in heaven." He identifies these with a higher place altogether. It is not only the power of God over the earth, and His giving them a portion here, but it is taking them out of the earthly scene to be with Himself above. "For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." What an honour to follow in earthly rejection and scorn those who preceded us in special communion with God - the heralds of Him for whom we suffer now! We may clearly then consider that these two final blessednesses, the persecutions for righteousness' sake and for Christ's sake, answer respectively to the first four blessings and to the last three.
In Luke, where we have these blessings brought before us, we have none for righteousness' sake - only for His name's sake. Hence in all the cases it is," Blessed are ye." To some it may seem a delicate shade, but the difference is characteristic of the two Gospels. Matthew takes in the larger view, and specially that view of the principles of the kingdom of heaven which was suited to the understanding of a Jew, to bring him out of his mere Judaism, or to show him higher principles. Luke, whatever the principles are, gives them all under the form of grace, and treats them as our Lord's direct addresses to the disciples before Him - "Blessed are ye." Even if he takes up the subject of the poor, he drops the abstract form of Matthew, and makes it all personal. Everything is connected with the Lord Himself, and not merely with righteousness. This is exceedingly beautiful. And if we pursue further the next few verses, which give, not so much the characteristics of the people as their general attitude in the world - the place in which they are set in the earth by God - we have it in a very few words, and strongly confirming the distinction which has been drawn between righteousness' and Christ's name's sake. Also, if you examine the 1st epistle of Peter, you will find this remarkably corroborated there also.
"Ye are the salt of the earth." Salt is the only thing that cannot be salted, because it is the preservative principle itself; but if this is gone, it cannot be replaced. "If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" The salt of the earth is the relation of the disciples here to that which already had the testimony of God, and therefore the expression "earth," or "the land," which was specially true of the Jewish land then. If you speak about the earth now, it is Christendom - the place that enjoys, either really or professedly, the light of God's truth. This is what may be called the earth. And this is the place which will finally be the scene of the greatest apostasy; for such evil is only possible where light has been enjoyed and departed from. In Revelation, where the closing results of the age are given, the earth appears in a most solemn manner; and then we have the peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - what we should call heathen lands. But the earth means the once-favoured scene of professing Christianity, where the energies of the mind of men have been at work, the scene where the testimony of God had once shed its light; then, alas, abandoned to utter apostasy.
"Ye are the salt of the earth" - they were the real preservative principle there: all the rest, the Lord intimates, were good for nothing. But, let us note, He gives a solemn warning that there is a danger that the salt should lose its savour. He is not now speaking of the question whether a saint can fall away or not. People go with their own questions to Scripture, and pervert the word of God to suit their previous thoughts. The Lord is not raising the question whether life is. ever lost; but He is speaking of certain persons who are in a given position; and among them there may be persons who take it heedlessly, or even falsely, and then comes the fading away of all that they had once possessed. He announces their judgment - a most contemptuous one - to be passed upon that which took so high a place without reality.
"Ye are the light of the world." This is another thing. Bearing in mind the distinction drawn in the series of the beatitudes and of the persecutions, we have the key to these two verses. The salt of the earth represents the righteous principle. This evidently involves the clinging to the eternal rights of God and the maintenance before the world of what is due to His character; but it is gone when that which bears the name of God falls below what even men think proper, and they scoff against what is called religion. All respect vanishes, and men think that the condition of Christians is a fair subject for ridicule. But now, in verse 14, we have not only the principle of righteousness, but of grace - the outflowing and strength of grace. And here we find a new title given to the disciples, as descriptive of their public testimony - ,'the light of the world." The light is clearly that which diffuses itself. The salt is what ought to be inward, but the light is that which scatters itself abroad. "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." There was to be a diffusion of its testimony around. Man does not light a candle to put it under a corn measure, but on a candlestick, "and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." After this manner let your light shine before men, "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Mark it well.
We have looked at these two striking sketches of the testimony of believers here below as the salt of the earth, the preservative energy in the midst of profession; and as the light of the world going out in the activities of love toward the poor world; and the danger of the salt losing its savour. and of the light being put under a bushel. Now we find the great object of God in this twofold testimony. It is not merely a question of the blessing of souls, for there is not a word about evangelizing or saving sinners, but of the walk of saints. There is a grave question that God raises about His saints, and this is about their own ways apart from other people. Calls to the unconverted we find abundantly elsewhere, and none can exaggerate their importance for the world; but the sermon on the mount is God's call to the converted. It is their character, their position, their testimony distinctively; and if others are thought of throughout, it is not so much a question of winning them, as of the saints reflecting what comes from above. This light is what comes from Christ. It is not, Let your good works shine before men. When people talk about this verse thinking of their own works, they are generally not good works at all; but even if they were, works are not light. Light is that which comes from God, without admixture of man. Good works are the fruit of its action upon the soul; but it is the light which is to shine before men. It is the confession of Christ that is the point before God. It is not merely certain things to be done. The light shining is the great object here, though doing good ought to flow from it. If I make doing good everything, it is a lower thought than that which is before the mind of God. An infidel can feel that a shivering man needs a coat or a blanket. The natural man may be fully alive to the wants of others; but if I merely take these works and make them the prominent aim, I really do nothing more than an unbeliever might. The moment you make good works the object, and their shining before men, you find yourself on common ground with Jews and heathen. God's people are apt thus to destroy their testimony. What so bad, in the way of a thing done professedly for God, as a work that leaves out Christ, and that shows a man who loves Christ to be on comfortable terms with those that hate Him? This is what the Lord warns the saints against. They are not to be thinking about their works, but that the light of God should shine. Works will follow, and much better works than where a person is always occupied with them. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven " (ver. 16). Let your confession of what God is in His nature and of what Christ is in His own person and ways - let your acknowledgment of Him be the thing that is felt by and brought before men; and then, when they see your good works, they will glorify your Father which is in heaven. Instead of saying, What a good man such a one is, they will glorify God on his behalf - connecting what you do with your confession of Christ.
The Lord grant that this, as it is the word and the will of Christ, may be that to which we surrender ourselves, and which we desire above all things for our own souls and for those who are dear to us; and if we see the forgetfulness of it in any saints of God, may we remember them in prayer, and seek to help them by the testimony of His truth, which, if it does not carry the heart with it, may at least reach the conscience and bear fruit later.
We have seen our Lord's statement of the character, and also of the position, proper to the heirs of the kingdom of heaven. We have found Him pronouncing those "blessed" whom man would not have counted so. But our Lord was the perfect pattern of all this. And what could have sounded more unreasonable, specially to a Jew, than to hear one deliberately and emphatically call those blessed and happy who were despised, scorned, hated, persecuted, yea, thought ill of, and treated as malefactors? No doubt it was expressly for righteousness' sake and Christ's sake. But to the Jew the coming of the Messiah was looked forward to as the crown of his joy - that most auspicious event on which all was to turn for Israel, both as to the accomplishment of God's promises made to the fathers and the fulfilment of the magnificent predictions which involve the overthrow of their enemies, the humiliation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Therefore, to suppose that the receiving of Him who was the Messiah would now entail inevitable shame and suffering in the world was indeed an enormous shock to their most cherished expectations. But our Lord insists upon it, declaring such only to be blessed - blessed with a new kind of blessedness, far beyond what a Jew could conceive. And this is part of the privileges into which we too are brought by faith of Christ. The instruction of our Lord in the sermon on the mount only comes out in stronger forms now that He has taken His place in heaven. The enmity of man has also come out to its full measure. The world has joined with the Jews in enmity to the children of God. And so the last book of the New Testament shows that those who take the name of Jews, without any reality, remain to the end the most hostile to all true testimony of Christ on the earth.
In the portion that follows we enter upon a most important subject. If there was this new kind of blessedness, so foreign to the thoughts of Israel after the flesh, what was the relation of the law to Christ's doctrine and the new state of things about to be introduced? Did not the law come from God through Moses? If Christ brought in that which was so unexpected, even by the disciples, what would be the bearing of this truth upon that which they had previously received through God's inspired servants, and for which they had His own authority? Weaken the authority of the law, and it is clear that you destroy the foundation on which the gospel rests; for the law was of God as certainly as the gospel. Hence came in a most weighty question, especially for an Israelite: what was the bearing of the doctrine of Christ, respecting the kingdom of heaven, upon the precepts of the law? The Lord opens this subject (vers. 17-48) with these words: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets." They might have thought so from the fact of His having introduced something not mentioned in either; but "Think not," He says, "that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." I take this word "fulfil" in its largest sense. In His own person the Lord fulfilled the law and the prophets, in His own ways, in righteous subjection and obedience. His life here below exhibited its beauty for the first time without flaw. His death was the most solemn sanction which the law ever could receive, because the curse that it pronounced upon the guilty, the Saviour took upon Himself. There was nothing the Saviour would not undergo, rather than God should have dishonour. But our Lord's words warrant, I think, a further application. There is an expansion of the law, or δικαίωμα (righteous requirement), giving to its moral element the largest scope, so that all which was honouring to God in it should be brought out in its fullest power and extent. The light of heaven was now let fall upon the law, and the law interpreted, not by weak, failing men, but by One who had no reason to evade one jot of its requirements; whose heart, full of love, thought only of the honour and the will of God; whose zeal for His Father's house consumed Him, and who restored that which He took not away. Who but He could expound the law thus - not as the scribes, but in the heavenly light? For the commandment of God is exceeding broad, whether we look at its making an end of all perfection in man, or the sum of it in Christ.
Far from annulling the law, the Lord, on the contrary, illustrated it more brightly than ever, and gave it a spiritual application that man was entirely unprepared for before He came. And this is what the Lord proceeds to do in the wonderful discourse that follows. After having said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled," He adds, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (vers. 18-20). Our Lord is going to expand the great moral principles of the law into commandments that flow from Himself, and not merely from Moses, and shows that this would be the great thing whereby persons would be tested. It would no longer be a question of the ten words spoken on Sinai merely; but, while recognizing their full value, He was about to open out the mind of God in a way so much deeper than had ever been thought of before that this would henceforth be the great test.
Hence He says, when referring to the practical use of these commandments of His, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" - an expression that has not the smallest reference to justification, but to the practical appreciation of and walking in the right relations of the believer toward God and toward men. The righteousness spoken of here is entirely of a practical kind. This may strike many persons sharply, perhaps. They may be somewhat perplexed to understand how practical righteousness is made to be the means of entering into the kingdom of heaven. But, let me repeat, the sermon on the mount never shows us how a sinner is to be saved. If there were the smallest allusion to practical righteousness where a sinner's justification is concerned, there would be ground to be startled; but there can be none whatever for the saint who understands and is subject to God's will. God insists upon godliness in His people. ,Without holiness no man shall seethe Lord." There can be no question that the Lord shows in John 15 that the unfruitful branches must be cut off, and that, just as the withered branches of the natural vine are cast into the fire to be burned, so fruitless professors of the name of Christ can look for no better portion.
Bearing fruit is the test of life. These things are stated in the strongest terms all through Scripture. In John 5:28-29 it is said, "The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation," or "judgment." There is no disguising the solemn truth that God will and must have that which is good and holy and righteous in His own people. They are not God's people at all who are not characterized as the doers of that which is acceptable in His sight. If this were put before a sinner as a means of reconciliation with God, or of having sins blotted out before Him, it would be the denial of Christ and of His redemption. But only hold fast that all the means of being brought nigh to God are found in Christ - that the sole way by which a sinner is connected with the blessing of Christ is by faith, without the works of the law - only maintain this, and there is not the least inconsistency nor difficulty in understanding that the same God who gives a soul to believe in Christ, works in that soul by the Holy Ghost to produce what is practically according to Himself. For what purpose does God give him the life of Christ and the Holy Ghost, if only the remission of the sins were needed? But God is not satisfied with this. He imparts the life of Christ to a soul, and gives that soul the Holy Spirit to dwell in him; and as the Spirit is not the spring of weakness or of fear "but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," God looks for suited ways and for the exercise of spiritual wisdom and judgment in passing through the present trying scene.
While they looked up with ignorant eyes to the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord declares that this sort of righteousness will not do. The righteousness that goes up to the temple every day, that prides itself upon long prayers, large ,alms, and broad phylacteries, will not stand in the sight of God. There must be something far deeper and more according to the holy, loving nature of God. Because with all that appearance of outward religion, there might be always, as there generally was in fact, no sense of sin, nor of the grace of God. This proves the all-importance of being right, first, in our thoughts about God; and we can only be so by receiving the testimony of God about His Son. In the case of the Pharisees we have sinful man denying his sin, and utterly obscuring and denying God's true character as the God of grace. These teachings of our Lord were rejected by the outward religionists, and their righteousness was such as you might expect from people who were ignorant of themselves and of God. It gained reputation for them, but there it all ended; they looked for their reward now, and they had it. . But our Lord says to the disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the 'kingdom of heaven."
Allow me to ask the question here, How is it that God accomplishes this in regard to a soul that believes now? There is a great secret that does not come out in this sermon. First of all, there is a load of unrighteousness on the sinner. How is that to be dealt with, and the sinner to be made fit for and introduced into the kingdom of heaven? Through faith, he is born again; he acquires a new nature, a life which as much flows from the grace of God as the bearing of his sins by Christ upon the cross. There is the foundation of practical righteousness. The true beginning of all moral goodness in a sinner - as it has been said and as it deserves to be often repeated - is the sense and confession of his lack of it, nay, of his badness. Never is anything right with God in a man till he gives himself up as all wrong. When he is brought down to this, he is thrown upon God, and God reveals Christ as His gift to the poor sinner. He is morally broken down, feeling and owning that he is lost, unless God appears for him; he receives Christ, and what then? "He that believeth hath everlasting life." What is the nature of that life? In its character perfectly righteous and holy. The man is then at once fitted for God's kingdom. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." But when he is born again, he does enter there. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," The scribes and Pharisees were only working on and by the flesh; they did not believe that they were dead in the sight of God; neither do men now. But what the believer begins with is, that he is a dead man, that he requires a new life, and that the new life which he receives in Christ is suitable to the kingdom of heaven. It is upon this new nature that God acts, and works by the Spirit this practical righteousness; so that it remains in every sense true, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven."
But the Lord does not here explain how this would be. He only declares. that what was suitable to God's nature was not to be found in human Jewish righteousness, and that it must be for the kingdom.
Now He takes up the law in its various parts, at least what has to do with men. Here He does not enter into what touches God directly, but first of all takes up that which flows from human violence, and after this the great flagrant example of human corruption; for violence and corruption are the two outstanding forms of human iniquity. Before the flood even, such was the condition of men: "The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." Here, in verse 21, we have the light of the kingdom cast on the command, "Thou shalt not kill: and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." The law took cognizance of this extreme form of violence; but our Lord gives length, breadth, height, and depth to it: "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (ver. 22). That is, our Lord treats as now coming under the same category with murder, in the sight of God, every kind of violence, and feeling, and expression; anything of contempt and hatred, whatever expresses the ill-feeling of the heart; any putting down of another, the will to annihilate others as far as character or influence is concerned: all this is no better than murder in God's searching eye. He is expanding the law; He is showing now One who looks at and judges the feeling of the heart. Therefore it is not at all a question merely of the consequences of violence to a man, for there might be no very bad effect produced by these words of anger, but they proved the state of the heart; and this is what the Lord is dealing with here. "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (vers. 23, 24). He is not yet manifesting the Christian in his entire separation from the Jewish system. These words clearly show a connection with Israel - though the principle applies to a Christian; for the altar has no reference to the Lord's table.
"Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing" (vers. 25, 26). I believe that Israel were guilty of that very folly - Israel as a people - that they did not agree with the adversary quickly. There was the Messiah, and they, being adversaries of Him, treated Him as their adversary and compelled God to be against them by their unbelief. The position of Israel morally, in the sight of God, was very much the one shown us here. There was a murderous feeling in their heart against Jesus. Herod was the expression of it at His birth, and it went through all the ministry of Christ, as the cross proved how utterly there was that unrelenting hatred in the heart of the Jews against their own Messiah. They did not agree with their adversary quickly, and the judge could only deliver them to the officer to be cast into prison; and there they remain until this day. The Jewish nation, from their rejection of the Messiah, have been shut out from all the promises of God; as a nation they have been committed to prison, and there they must remain till the uttermost farthing is paid. In Isaiah we have the Lord speaking comfortably to Jerusalem: "Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." Thus, while we come into His favour now, while we through the grace of God receive the fulness of blessing through Christ Jesus now, yet there can be no doubt that rich blessing is in store for Jerusalem. For God in His mercy will one day say to her, Your iniquity I now pardon: I will make you no longer the witness of My vengeance on the earth. And why is Israel not permitted to this day to amalgamate with the nations? There they remain, kept apart from all other people by God. But God has in store for them His signal mercy. "Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem . . . for she hath received at the Lord's hand double for all her sins." This figure we find elsewhere beautifully set forth in the case of the man guilty of blood, who fled to the city of refuge provided by God. And the book of Numbers teaches that there the man abode, out of the land of his possession, till the death, not of the manslayer, but of the high priest that is anointed with oil. The priesthood of our Lord is referred to there. When the Lord has completed His heavenly people and gathered them in where they do not need the activity of His intercession; when we are in the full results of all that Christ has wrought for us, the High Priest shall then take His place on His own throne. Then will be the termination of His present heavenly priesthood, and blood-guilty Israel will return to the land of their possession. I have no doubt that this is the just application of that beautiful type. I cannot understand what proper interpretation there could be of the death of the high priest anointed with oil, if you appropriate it to a Christian now; but apply it to the Jew, and nothing is plainer. Christ will terminate that character of priesthood that He is engaged in for us now, and will enter on a new form of blessing for Israel.
But there is another thing besides violence: there is the corrupt element in the heart of man - the heart lusting for that which it has not. This is taken up in the next word of our Lord: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee . . . And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (vers. 27-30). That is, whatever in our walk, or in our ways, or in our service, whatever it might be that exposes a soul to the danger of yielding to these unholy feelings, should never be spared, but departed from at any cost. There must be the excision of everything that is hurtful to the soul; the members of the body, such as the eye desiring and the hand which would take, being used as showing the various ways in which the heart might be entangled. The cutting off of these members sets forth a heart thoroughly exercised in self-judgment; not prompted to excuse itself by saying that it had not actually committed the sin, but whatever exposed to it must be given up.
The Lord then denounces the easy dissolution of the tie of marriage: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (vers. 31, 32). Thus our Lord shows that though there might be serious difficulties, still this human relationship receives the strong sanction of God's ordinance. Though an earthly relationship, the light of heaven is thrown upon it, the sanctity of marriage held up, and the possibility of allowing anything to interfere with its holiness entirely put down by Christ, save only where there was that which interrupted it in the sight of God, in which case the act of separation would be only a declaration of its being already actually broken.
The next case (vers. 33-37) brings us into a different order of things: it is the use of the name of the Lord. Here the reference is not a judicial oath, i.e., an oath administered by a magistrate. In some countries this might savour. of heathenism or popery, and no Christian ought to take such an oath. But if the declaration be simply God's authority, introduced by the magistrate to declare the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I do not see that the Lord in any wise absolves the Christian's obligation to this. But the matter here relates to communication between man and man. "Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black." They were simply the asseverations of common life among the Jews. If our Lord had meant to forbid the Christian from taking judicial oaths, would He not have instanced the oath that was usual in the courts of those days? But the oaths that He brings before us were what the Jews were in the habit of using when their word was questioned by their fellow-men, not what was employed before the magistrate. So far from thinking that a Christian is doing right in refusing a judicial oath, I believe he is doing wrong not to take it when the magistrate requires his testimony, when there is nothing to offend conscience in the form of the oath. If the magistrate does not acknowledge God in the oath, still the Christian is bound to acknowledge God in the magistrate, who is, to the Christian, a servant of God in the outward things of this world. Even the Assyrian was the rod of God, all the while that he thought only of carrying out his own purposes against Israel. Much more the magistrate, let him be who or what he may, represents the truth of God's external authority in the world, and the Christian ought to respect this, more by far than the men of the world; and therefore the oath, which simply demands the truth on ground of that authority, is a holy thing and not to be refused. The Christian, doubtless, has no business with prosecuting another himself. On the contrary, he owes it to Christ and His grace to let the world, if it will, abuse him - he may protest by word against it, and then leave it with the Lord. When our Lord Himself was dealt with unrighteously, He convicts the person of it, and there it ends, as man would think, for ever. There is no such thing as seeking to get present reparation of His wrongs. So should it be with Christians. There may be the moral conviction of those that do the wrong, but the taking it patiently is acceptable with God.
There is no way in which the Christian so shows how much he is above the world, as when he seeks not the world's vindication in anything. If we belong to the world, we ought all to be volunteers. If the world is our home, a man is called upon to do battle for it. But for the Christian this world is not the scene of his interests, and why fight for what does not belong to him? If a Christian fight in and with the world (save his own spiritual warfare), he is out of his place. It is the duty of men, as such, to repel wrong; and if the Lord uses the world in order to put down revolution and make peace, the Christian may well look up and give thanks. It is a great mercy. But the truth which the believer has to get firmly settled in his own soul, is that "they are not of the world." To what measure are they not of the world? "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world." In John 17, where our Lord repeats this wondrous word, He speaks in view of going to heaven, as if He were no longer on earth at all. Thus, in the spirit of one away from the world, He says, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." A little before He had said, "Now I am no more in the world." His going up to heaven is what gives its character to the Christian and to the Church. A Christian is not merely a believer, but a believer called to the enjoyment of Christ while He is in heaven. And, as Christ our Head is out of the world, so the Christian is in spirit lifted above the world, and is to show the strength of his faith as above his mere natural feeling. Nothing makes a man look so foolish as having no side in this world. Christians do not like to be nonentities; they are apt, one way or another, to wish their influence to be felt. But the Lord delivers from this.
It is below our calling, then, to indulge in affirmations beyond the simple statements of truth. "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil" (ver. 37). It is worthy of note, as a practical proof of the distinction here drawn, how our Lord acted when He was before the high priest. He was silent till the high priest put the oath to Him; then at once he answers. Who can doubt that He shows us the right pattern there?
Our Lord comes next to the case of any practical injury that may be done us. It is not that it is wrong for a man to punish according to the injury that has been inflicted upon another. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is perfectly righteous; but our Lord intimates that we ought to be much more than righteous, we ought to be gracious; and He presses this as the climax of this part of the discourse. First, He had strengthened the righteousness of the law, extended its depths, and put aside its license; now He goes further. He shows that there is a principle in His own ways and life which teaches the Christian that he is not to seek retaliation. "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." It is clear the Lord has no reference here to what governments have to do. The New Testament is written for the Christian, for that which has a separate existence and a peculiar calling in the midst of earthly systems and peoples. It belongs to those who are heavenly while they are walking upon earth. We become such by the reception of Christ, and to such the Lord says, "Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Personal injury is meant here. The evil done may be ever so undeserved, but it has to be overcome with good. Show that you are willing to take even more for Christ's sake. I 'And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." There the law' is evoked: that is, a man lays a claim, perhaps falsely, to one part of your clothing, and if he will "sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." Here it seems not exactly a man appealing to the law, but the public officers themselves. "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." The great principle our Lord marks in this - whether it is human violence, or the law ever so hardly or wrongly applied, - that while, according to the law, you might go one step, according to the gospel you would go two. Grace does twice as much as the law, whatever may be the point in hand. It was never intended in anywise to supplant obligations or to lower responsibilities, but, on the contrary, to give power and force to everything that is righteous in the sight of God. The law might say, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" here there is not only the endurance of that which is positively wrong, but grace that gives more than is asked. "The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." And this is one way of practically showing how far we value grace. It is not a question of the mere letter of our Lord's words. If you were to limit it merely to a blow on the face it would be a very poor thing; but the word of Christ is that which conveys to me the spirit that pleases God, and gives me the reality of grace. And grace is not the vindication of self nor the punishment of a wrong, but the endurance of evil and the triumph of good over it. Christ is speaking of what a Christian has to put up with from the world through which he passes. He is to receive tribulation as the discipline which God sees to be good for his soul; the great spectacle before men and angels - that there are men on this earth who are allowed and rejoice to suffer for Christ, because they have learned to give up their own will, to sacrifice their own rights, and to suffer wrongfully, looking onward to the day when the Lord will own whatever has been their sorrow for His sake, and when all evil shall be judged most solemnly at His appearing and kingdom.
Our Lord says, in verse 42, "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." It is an example of a great general principle that the Lord is insisting upon; as He had laid bare the character of violence, so here of another thing - the solicitation that addresses itself to the kindness of heart of a Christian. "Give to him that asketh thee." Most certainly this is, a comely and a gracious thing; but it is perfectly plain the Lord is not pressing upon His people that the thing be done heedlessly, nor as a mere gratification of their feelings, but with a conscience towards God. Supposing a person came to ask you for something, and you have reason to think that he would spend it improperly, you must limit it. Why not? He might say to you, Did not the Lord enjoin, "Give to him that asketh thee?" Certainly; but the Lord has given certain other words by which I judge as to the propriety of giving in each particular case. The asker might be going to do what I am sure would be absurd or wrong; am I still to give? or is not another principle introduced, namely, due discrimination? Perhaps he that asks has plans of his own which I believe to be worldly: am I to gratify his worldliness? What the Lord has in view is real need; and as there was wont to be great indifference to this among the Jews, as indeed such is apt to be everywhere, the Lord not merely insists upon the Christian helping his brother, but takes the broadest ground in urging generous giving; not, of course, for anything we may get by it, but out of love according to God.
"Give to him that asketh thee." We all know there are those who would impose. This shuts up and often hinders pity; and it may oftener still be an excuse for not showing pity. The Lord is guarding against the snare, and shows the great moral value, for our own souls and for the glory of God, of habitual, considerate, ungrudging kindness towards the distressed in this world. Not that I am always to give what a person asks, for he may seek something foolish; but still "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." Do you count up how often you have been deceived? Even then why be sore? You are entitled, at the word of Jesus, to do it as unto your Father. The receiver of your bounty may apply it to a bad use: that is his responsibility. I am bound to cultivate unsuspicious generosity, and this quite independent of mere friendship. Even the publicans and sinners are kind to those who are kind to them; but what ought a Christian to be? Christ determines the position, conduct and spirit of the Christian. As He was a sufferer, they are not to resist evil. If there was need, the Lord's heart went out to it. They might turn His love against Himself, and use the gifts of His grace for their own purposes, like the man who was healed, heedless of the Lord's warning and the sense of His benefits. But the Lord,, perfectly knowing it all, goes on steadfastly in His path of doing good, not in the mere vague thought of benevolence to man, but in the holy service of His Father.
But now a word as to what follows. It is the very pith and essence of that which concerns our relation towards others here below; the great active principle from which all right conduct flows. This is the question of the true character and limits of love. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy" (ver. 43). This was the expression that the Jews drew from the general tenor of the law. There had been the sanction of God for the extermination of their enemies; and from that they drew the principle, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." Here was a thing that the law never could teach - it is grace. In a thousand practical instances, the question is not whether the thing is right. We often hear Christians asking, Is such a thing wrong? But this is not the sole question for the Christian. Suppose wrong is done him; what is to be his feeling then? If there is enmity to him in another, what is he to cherish in his own heart? "Love your enemies . . . do good to them that hate you . . . that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven;" thus they show in practical ways that they belong to such a parentage, "For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.... Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (vers. 44-48).
This has no reference to the question of whether there is sin in our nature or not. There is always the evil principle in a man as long as he lives here below. But what the Lord insists on is this: Our Father is the perfect pattern in His ways with His enemies now, and He calls upon us to be thorough in that same grace and love in which our Father deals. It is in pointed contrast with the Jew, or with anything that had been enjoined before. Abraham was not called to walk in this way. He was, I believe, justified in arming his servants for the recovery of Lot; 'as were the Israelites in taking up the sword against the Canaanites. But we are called on (as a rule of Christian life, as that which governs our thoughts and feelings and ways) to walk on the principle of gracious long-suffering. We are in the midst of the enemies of Christ, of our enemies too because of Him. It may not come out at once, nor always. Persecution may pass out of fashion, but the enmity is always there; and if God were only to remove certain restraints, the old hatred would burst out as ever. Nevertheless, only one course is open to the Christian who desires to walk as Christ walked; "Love your enemies;" and this really not by a mere show of smooth ways or words. We know that, in certain cases, to go and speak to an angry person would only draw out bitterness of wrath, and there the right course would be to keep away; but under all circumstances there should be all readiness to seek the blessing of our adversary. To do real kindness to one who has injured me, even if it should never be known by a creature upon earth, is the only thing worthy of a Christian. The Lord thus gives us opportunities of showing love to those that hate us. When the provocation occurs, we should have it settled in our souls that the Christian is here for the purpose of expressing Christ; for indeed we are His epistle, known and read of all men. We ought to desire to reflect what Christ would have done under the same circumstances.
May the Lord grant that this may be true of our own souls, first in secret feeling with Him, and then as manifested lowlily and unselfishly toward others. Let us remember there is no Victory for us but what is an outward reflection of secret victory over self with the Lord. Begin there, and it is surely won in the presence of men, though we may have to wait for it.
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they 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 shall 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.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.