And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
I. The Beatitudes open that discourse which, whatever may be the difficulties of particular parts of it, has always been recognized as the most important part of the New Testament. It is, as it has been well called, the magna charta of Christianity.
II. The Beatitudes put before us what are those qualities and what are those results which alone the Founder of our religion regarded as of supreme excellence. Often in revivals and in confessions on our death-beds people ask us, "Are you happy?" "Are you saved?" Christ gives us the answer: "You are happy, you are saved, if you seek the happiness (1) of modesty, (2) of compassion with sorrow, (3) of gentleness, (4) of an eager desire for justice, (5) of purity and singleness of purpose, (6) of kindness to man and beast, (7) of pacific and loving intercourse, (8) of perseverance in spite of difficulty."
III. Again, the Beatitudes, as they are called, or in other words declaring the happiness of those who fulfil these things in their own lives, is perhaps the best way of leading us to practise them. He does not say, "Be merciful," or "Be pure in heart," but He says, "Happy are the merciful, happy are the pure in heart"—that is to say, He points out that the happiness of which we all of us, rich or poor, are in search can be found in one or other of these Divine qualities.
IV. The Beatitudes furnish to us the great goal or end which will solve to us many difficulties in the great battle of life which we all have before us. Those qualities of which our Saviour spoke are within the reach of all of us; and they amply serve to sustain us in all the conflicts of poverty and distress with which many of us are encompassed.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 385.
Matthew 5:1-2General Outline of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount consists—
I. Of an introduction, beginning at Matthew 5:3 and ending with Matthew 5:16 of Matt. 5 The peculiar characteristic of these opening sentences is, the kind of man whom Christ pronounces happy. The Beatitudes open up to us a new world of spiritual character and holy beauty, and consequent joy, such as had not entered into the heart of man to conceive. They show us that happiness lies, not in outward circumstances, but in inward life.
II. The text or topic of the discourse (Matthew 5:17-19): "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." This appears to me to be the great leading principle discussed and illustrated in the remainder of the sermon. Christ did not come to destroy the law. Indeed, no true servant of God is ever sent merely on a work of destruction. He may have to pluck up, to pull down, but he has also to build and to plant.
III. Such being the great theme of this sermon, the rest of it appears to me intended to illustrate and enforce this statement. And He explains this principle by showing that the law must be kept, and not in the letter only, but in the spirit. (2) The second illustration of the great idea of the sermon is comprised in the first eighteen verses of the sixth chapter, and it is to the effect that God's law can only be fulfilled by utter sincerity and truthfulness. (3) The theme of the sermon is further enforced by a series of warnings and illustrations directed specially against a worldly spirit, and enjoining a practical faith in God, and this third part occupies the remainder of chap. vi., from Matthew 5:19 to the end. (4) The last illustration of the way in which the law is to be fulfilled is finely expressed in chap. Matthew 7:12 : "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." This is the great law of sympathy, without which we cannot do the will of our Father in heaven.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 1.
References: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 5:2.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 77; J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 92; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 209; C. Morris, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iii., p. 503; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 149. Matthew 5:1-3.—H. Wace, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 104; Bishop Cotton, Marlborough Sermons. p. 254. Matthew 5:2.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., Appendix, p. 13. Matthew 5:2-10.—E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 274.
Matthew 5:3-4I. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." This, like so many of our Saviour's words, is, as it were, a little parable in itself. As the poor man is with regard to the substance of this world, so is the poor man in spirit with regard to the various attractions of the soul and spirit. It is, as we should say, "Blessed are the unselfish; happy are those who live for others, and not for themselves; happy are those who leave a large margin in their existence for the feelings which come to us from what is above, and also from what is around us. It is well said that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We do not, perhaps, perceive at once the success of those who are thinking of higher things; but nevertheless, in the long run, it is sure to be theirs. There is a story told of a Welsh chieftain, who, on coming with his followers to a river, said, "He who will be master must first make himself a bridge;" and he carried them, one after another, on his back until they reached the opposite shore. That is what we must do; we must make ourselves the slaves of others, doing their work, securing their interests; if we wish to be in a high sense their lords and masters, we must be all of us in our way servants of the public, not by doing their bidding, but by defending their interests, not by listening to their follies, but by seeking their good.
II. "Blessed are they that mourn." There is in grief a tranquillizing, solemnizing, elevated wisdom, which transports even the most hardened into a region beyond himself. Any one who thinks how greatly he would regret bitter or foolish words or acts against the dead as they lie before him has a constant reminder that such acts and words are against the best spirit of man as he lives and moves among his fellows.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 401.
Matthew 5:3-12Introductory Beatitudes.
I. The first Beatitude pronounces a blessing on those who are Poor in Spirit. Let the limitation, the "in spirit," be carefully borne in mind. Poverty itself is not a blessing, nor does it always inherit a blessing.
II. The Lord blesses those that Mourn. Again, let me say that sorrow, no more than poverty, is a blessed thing in itself. God made laughter as well as tears, and grief is no more Divine than gladness. The grief, like the poverty, must be of a godly sort ere it profit much.
III. The Meek are blessed. The meek are those who go through the world in a gentle, unobtrusive way, without forward self-assertion. They shall inherit the earth; they do not lay any claim to it, and on that very account it shall be given to them.
IV. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be blessed. Blessed, verily, is that man, for he shall be satisfied, His longing shall find peace in Jesus Christ the righteous. He shall drink of the living water and never thirst again.
V. The Merciful are blessed. Mercy is twofold. We call it pity when it has compassion on those who are suffering; we call it mercy when it extends forgiveness to those who have done us wrong. The meek man endures an injury; the merciful man forgives it.
VI. The Pure in Heart are blessed. By this it is not meant to indicate men who are altogether sinless, for in that case, few as there may be now to inherit the blessing, they would be fewer still,—or rather, there would be none at all. The pure in heart are they who seek spiritual cleansing, who would purge out every evil thought, and all the leaven of unrighteousness.
VII. The Peacemaker is blessed. Very beautiful, surely, is the office of the peacemaker, well befitting the man whose God is a God of Peace, whose Saviour is the Prince of Peace, whose hope is in the Gospel of Peace, whose joy is that the very Peace of God keeps his heart and soul.
VIII. The Persecuted are blessed—those who are evil spoken of and evil entreated for Christ's sake. The world hates them, but the world is not worthy of them.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 20.
Reference: Matthew 5:9-12.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, vol. ii., p. 554.
Matthew 5:4(with Luke 6:21-25)
I. In all mourning, be it for the dead or for the living, or for what worldly loss or calamity it may, there is hid, as it were, a beginning and seed of blessedness. If instead of putting it from us as an unwelcome visitor, we will meekly sit at its feet to hear its voice, it will fetch forth from its dark bosom the very consolations of God. It is not difficult to understand how this should be so: (1) All real mourning makes the heart softer and the spirit humbler; (2) it preaches sin and calls to repentance.
II. When a sinner has become, in the words of the first blessing, "poor in spirit," he has not exhausted, by a great deal, the feelings proper to an adequate view of his whole condition before God. He has, in truth, taken in but one side of his condition, and that its lower and earthward side. In proportion as the light of hope dawns, the soul is able to entertain another view of its own state. Set free in any measure from the pressure of sin upon himself, as ruinous to his own prospects a man can the better enter into its intrinsic evil as against God; its wrongness and the stain it leaves, its full burden of shameful and sorrowful heinousness in the sight of the jealous and Holy One. This is the second stage of experience; the deeper, nobler mourning which survives the anguish of the first anxiety, and settles into an abiding frame of spiritual life.
III. The hour of repentance does not stand alone. To a spiritual man there is pain in the mere presence of sin. A Christian carries within him what may make all his days a time of heaviness. Sin within us and without is a fact too central, too omnipresent, and too depressing ever to let the Christian escape from beneath its shadow. He is a man who has learnt neither to forget nor to despise the dark side of life; for he has opened himself with Christ to the curse, and bent with Christ to the cross. Yet in this mourning one is blessed. To do this brings a man into the fellowship with the sorrowing Christ, and thus within the region of Christ's own comforts. It is comfort, too, which will grow at last to perfect bliss. The sources of mourning will be dried up when sin is for ever dead; and the source of comfort will be reached when God is at last enjoyed.
J. Oswald Dykes, The Beatitudes of the Kingdom, p. 45.
References: Matthew 5:4.—Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 97; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 47; Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 229.
Matthew 5:5The first three Beatitudes form the trilogy of Gospel humiliation, the descending steps—low, lower, lowest—by which the soul is converted, becomes as a little child.
I. In our endeavours to understand more exactly the quality of meekness, it will be suitable to start from the two Beatitudes already considered. When God brings a man to see that he is without resource, and must be lost in his own evil unless he will cry for help, it is commonly a considerable surprise and discomfiture to the man. The step down from an average state of content with himself to abject poverty of spirit is a deep step and must be taken with a shock. The pride of independence is broken for good. But whom God first breaks He afterwards melts. Sorrow softens, and the state which results from this twofold process of breaking and of softening—the attitude to God in which the "hammer" and the "fire" leave a man—is meekness. For I think this meekness is first of all a state towards God, not man. It is that tameness of spirit which ensues on the death of self-righteousness or self-assertion before our heavenly Father.
II. Let us next approach the text from its other side, the side of the promise. This promise has a history in Scripture. It dates back as far as the call of Abraham. Its form then was a promise to inherit, not the earth, but the land, though one term is used for both with such studied duality of reference as to baffle translation. Just as the "seed of Abraham" was an ambiguous expression, enclosing within its obvious national reference, as in a shell, a hidden kernel of spiritual significance, one day to burst and outgrow the national, so the promise of the land foreshadowed and enwrapt the much more magnificent promise of "the earth." From the worldly God wrests even this their chosen beatitude, and gathers up at last this crumb also for children's bread, that not even earth's old loveliness of material worth, and the primal blessing which it wore, may be lost or wasted. He will not let the saints lose what the saints count loss for Him.
J. Oswald Dykes, The Beatitudes of the Kingdom, p. 61.
The Meek and their Inheritance.
I. Who are the meek? whom, at least, would Christ be intending by the term? You know how it is generally applied. He is meek, we say, who submits uncomplainingly and with gracious resignation to inevitable ills; or who bears patiently, without passionate resentment, without seeking to retaliate, insult or injury. But if we would understand what it was that Christ meant by this term, we ought perhaps to look back to the Scriptures from which He is quoting, and see how it is employed there. The meek, on the page of the Psalmist, are those who, in spite of what is calculated to irritate, to unsettle, to stagger, to dishearten, or to draw aside from adherence to the true, are found calmly, quietly persisting in their allegiance. And would not such be the meekness which Christ was contemplating—the meekness which, believing deeply, serenely holds on, in fidelity to its best vision, whatever there may be to vex or beguile?
II. Meekness, you will find, is frequently indicated in our sacred Scriptures as a prominent trait of the ideal teacher and the ideal governor; while we may think of it mostly in connection with pupils and with subjects, these Scriptures are found connecting it again and again with teaching and with governing. The meek governor is he who can be content to move slowly, to bide his time, to continue quietly steadfast in the apparently barren labour of laying sure foundations, that the building, however decayed, may be stable and firm—in which sense God Almighty is the meekest of governors.
III. What is the inheritance of the earth promised to the meek? Suppose we take the land, as we well may, to represent what is most solid, substantial, and enduring; is it not true that meekness tends to inherit that? Men exhaust themselves, wear themselves out, in anxious devisings and weary working for things—for pleasure, for influence, for repute, for standing—when, if nobly at rest from impetuous self-seeking, and surrendered to calm, undistracted persistence in truth and duty, they would wake to find themselves presently in ample possession of these; for "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
S. A. Tipple, Sunday Morning at Norwood, p. 55.
References: Matthew 5:5.—Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 107; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 63; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 373.
Matthew 5:5-6I. "Blessed are the meek." The word "meek" hardly expresses the quality which is meant in the original. It is too passive a word; it does not sufficiently represent the actual character which is intended. In the French translation it is, "Bienheureux sont les debonnaires;" that is, "Happy are the gracious, graceful Christian characters who by their courtesy win all hearts around them, and smooth all the rough places of the world." Perhaps "Blessed are the gentle" would best express it.
II. The next quality which our Saviour blesses is thus expressed: "They who hunger and thirst after righteousness." He does not say those who have attained righteousness, but those who have a hungering and craving after that which they, perhaps, have not reached; and, perhaps, which they never, in this life, may fully attain to; but which to seek after is the truest ambition of the children of God. When we look out into the world, when we see how much there is of falsehood and injustice and oppression all around, there is one consoling thought, and that is to see some who are filled with earnest desire to make things better than they are. There is a representation in the Catacombs, on Christian tombs, and as the first sign of Christian life, of a stag drinking eagerly at the silver stream. This is the true likeness of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. When we toil towards the close of our earthly course, or in any especial period of it; when we feel stifled by the sultry and suffocating sense of the hardness and selfishness of the world about us; when our breath is, as it were, choked by the dust and trifles and forms and fashions of the world's vast machinery, we may still join the cry, "I thirst, for the refreshing sight of any pure, upright, generous spirit; I thirst, for the day when I may drink freely of God's boundless charity; I thirst, for the day when I shall hear the sound of abundance of rain, and a higher heaven than that which now encloses us round." Happy are they who, when they see generous deeds and hear of generous characters higher than their own, long to be like them. It is our business to keep up the chase; not to cease our efforts to quench this thirst; never to be weary in well-doing; and to believe that in this hunger and thirst is the spring of true religion.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 8.
Matthew 5:4-6The Ladder of Perfection. Though there is, and evidently there is meant to be, a progression, an ascent upwards, both in the characters that are blessed and in the blessings that are given, yet it is not meant that we are to be perfect in the lower character before we proceed to the higher. Far otherwise, for indeed the very first of all is humility; but if we waited till we were perfect in humility, before we attempted to rise to that which stands next above it, we should wait all our lives. A certain measure of humility is the condition of being a Christian at all, and perfect humility is the crown of Christian perfectness.
I. So, then, it is true that mourning for sin stands on a lower level than hungering and thirsting for righteousness. But for all that, we are not to wait till our sorrow for our faults shall be in some way commensurate with the evil of them before we endeavour to rise above faults altogether, and to render positive service. To mourn over faults and fight against them is not only right, it is indispensable. But some men's lives are quite filled with this. Such men are in some degree a burden both to themselves and others on this account. They have a much keener sense of the wrong of doing wrong than than the necessity of doing right. They hate disobedience, but their obedience is too anxious, too disturbed by fears that they are not obedient enough, to be hearty and cheerful.
II. While both are needed, both true penitence and true longing for holiness, yet the latter is the higher. It is of course possible, perhaps it is not very uncommon, to have neither the the one nor the other. But I speak to those who, while conscious that they are often wanting either in the one or the other, yet are not altogether without a sense of both. And to them I say it must be remembered that the desire for good is higher in its own nature than the sorrow for evil. The Christian is penitent, and the Christian strives to be a loving child of God, but he knows that the love is more than the repentance. Let not, then, your sorrow for sin stop at sorrow. Try to attain nobleness of obedience, and not mere preciseness.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 2nd series, p. 210.
What is hunger? It is to want, to crave, to feel an aching sense of emptiness, to long for that for the lack of which the very life seems to fail, the wheels of being to move slower—to want and not to get. Hunger is the goad of nature that makes us work; but the natural man hungers for that which effort can gain him. He hungers for bread. He hungers for wealth, for ease, for honour, for affection. We expect of life and of human organizations of it that hunger of other kinds should gain its satisfaction. But the Christian hunger is hunger that must remain hunger. The very paradox of the blessing pronounced is that those who follow the shadow shall find it the substance: "they shall be filled." The impossible is, in a deeper sense, the possible, the real. It is those who clutch, as they think, the substance, the solid, calculable "good things of this world," who find them turn to emptiness in their grasp. What does the text mean for us?
I. For ourselves in our own hearts, remember that the blessing, the high place in the kingdom, the real attainment of what they long for, is for those who hunger for goodness, in whose heart it is a real, passionate, unsatisfied craving.
II. Not for ourselves only. God has not set us each by himself to purify, as best we may, each his own heart. He has set us together. He has formed us into societies one with another, binding us by a thousand links to our fellows, so that none can stand without helping others to stand, nor fall without dragging others down with him; linking even generation to generation, so that the effect of our acts seems to echo through all time. We shall not love goodness, hunger and thirst for it, in ourselves, unless we love it, long and crave and cry and strive to see it also ruling in the world about us.
III. "They shall be filled." To be filled is to be satisfied, and to be satisfied is to cease from hungering; and that in this case would be death, not life. Yet in many cases it is a truth which we can verify. Those that hunger most have most. It means (1) that those who long most to find good in this world find it most—in place sundreamed of, in hearts given up as desperate. (2) That if they do not see it, those who look on see the wilderness round them blossoming; and, even if they do not fully realize it, that must carry peace into their hearts and joy of the Holy Ghost. (3) That God's chief way of rewarding effort is to open the way to further effort.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 51.
I. Though springing out of the three first Beatitudes, which I call the circle of humiliation, there is a new element apparent in this fourth one. These were negative: they weakened, they lowered, they discouraged; they were the emptying, saddening, and bruising, consequent on a knowledge of sin. This one, on the contrary, is positive and strong. It lifts itself up with wholesome and cheerful desire, and reaches out after far and high achievements in virtue. It is when Christian experience has plunged to the bottom and touched ground that, like the fabled giant, it leaps up with mightiest resolve to win heaven.
II. The features of special blessedness in the moral appetite of the Christian next deserve notice. (1) The Christian appetite has in it this excellent blessedness—that it has found the right object of desire. The soul's true food has been set before his eyes, and he has been taught to hunger after that. The hunger of a Christian soul after righteousness is now a hunger simply to be like Jesus, a hunger whetted evermore by the vision of Him in His beauty. The conformity of righteousness is desired now, not as conformity to a hard or cold imperative from heaven, but as assimilation through sympathy to the very heart which for ever beats and glows in holy love within the Beloved of our hearts. (2) A second blessedness, and the central one, attached to this Christian appetite for righteousness is that it shall be filled. Those who have tasted once of the Lord's grace need never suffer the pain and hopeless consumption of unsatisfied desire; but they ought to have a hunger, more regular, if less painful—hunger day by day for daily bread. Satisfaction, contentment for Christian men, there can be none short of righteousness in its supreme form—the righteousness of the Son's perfect likeness to the Father's character. For that let us hunger on; after that let us thirst: so shall ours be the blessedness, first, of desire, and then the better blessedness of attainment; for we "shall be filled."
J. Oswald Dykes, The Beatitudes of the Kingdom; see also The Manifesto of the King, p. 81.
References: Matthew 5:6.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 221, vol. xxii., p. 92; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 56; Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 119; C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 398; F. W. Farrar, In the Days of Thy Youth, p. 21.
Matthew 5:7"Blessed are the merciful." This does not mean the soft and easy natures which confound the distinctions of right and wrong. Nor does it mean that mere humanity and kindliness which are native to some spirits, and which find a pleasure in seeing all around them happy. But the mercifulness of the text is a principle and a grace. It comes from the happy sense of forgiveness. It is the mercifulness of one who not only seeks to obtain mercy, but who has obtained it already.
I. Mercifulness is commiseration for suffering men. Though under the government of a God of love, this world is the abode of much suffering, because it has been, and still is, the theatre of much sin. God leaves the Christian here that he may be the channel of God's beneficence and the perpetuation of His Master's kindness.
II. Mercifulness is compassion for the souls of men. This sort of mercy is a surer test of piety. Blessed are they whose pity, like the Divine compassion, seeks the lost.
III. The merciful man is considerate of the comfort and feelings of others—of their health and comfort. From want of forethought, or want of timely activity on their own part, people who are not cruel often perpetrate great cruelties. Blessed are they whose thoughtful vigilance and sympathetic delicacy make them the guardians and the comforters of acute and tender natures, a balm to those feelings which are over-exquisite, and a tonic to those which are too susceptible.
IV. The merciful man is considerate of his neighbour's character. Perhaps there is no production of our world so rare and precious, and yet none which has so many enemies or is so generally attacked, as character. We are apt, in needlessness or bitterness, to take up or even get up a prejudice against particular persons; their oddities, their opposition to our opinions, their successful rivalry in our own line of life, make us severe or hostile censors, and too ready to believe or repeat what is spoken to their disadvantage. But nothing can be more alien to the spirit of the Gospel. It urges us to resemble God Himself, who is the great Guardian of reputations and the Avenger of injured rectitude.
V. The merciful man is merciful to his beast. Blessed are the merciful; for their merciful disposition is an indication of what they are, and an earnest of what awaits them. They have found mercy, and they shall obtain mercy.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. vi., p. 1.
References: Matthew 5:7.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 37; Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 131; Bishop Magee, Three Hundred Outlines of Sermons on the New Testament, p. 4; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 101; F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 385; J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 1.
Matthew 5:7-8I. "Blessed are the merciful." The object of the Beatitudes is to bring out one particular quality, without commending the other qualities which may exist in the same character. We see many men of very imperfect morality, and yet in whom this quality of mercy is such that we feel that, if it were universal among mankind, the whole world would be the happier for it, and that in those in whom it is found it is a redeeming virtue in the proper sense of the word—a virtue which redeems from condemnation and detestation the whole character in which it is found embedded. We cannot believe that the generous and merciful acts of such men as these can ever be lost in the sight of God by reason of the other faults with which they are surrounded. It is the very quality on which our Saviour's blessing has been most distinctly pronounced. "Forgive," He says, "and ye shall be forgiven." And the feeling of posterity, and the feeling of contemporaries, is, after all, some slight index of what we may call in this respect the final judgment of God.
II. "Blessed are the pure in heart." The words may bear a twofold meaning—pure, disinterested love of truth, and pure, clean aversion to everything that defiles. (1) Pure love of truth. How very rare, yet how very beneficent! Look at Sir Isaac Newton, the most famous name which Westminster Abbey contains. It was said by those who knew him that he had the whitest soul they had ever known—the whitest especially in this, that no consideration ever came across his desire of propounding and of ascertaining the exact truth on whatever subject he was engaged. (2) Purity from all that defiles and stains the soul. Filthy thoughts, filthy actions, filthy words—we know what they are without attempting to describe them. Of all the obstacles which may intervene between us and an insight into the virtue which is the nature of the Invisible and the Divine, nothing presents so coarse and so thick a veil as, on the one hand, a false, artificial, crooked way of looking at truth, and, on the other hand, at the indulgence of brutal and impure passions, which lower our sight; and nothing can so clear up our better thoughts, nothing leave our minds so open to receive the impression of what is good and noble, as the single eye and the pure conscience.
A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 24.
Matthew 5:8To see God—that has been the deep desire of living souls through all time. Men of earnest spirits have ever felt, instinctively, that the highest blessedness of life must consist in the vision of God—not in a vision of His glory, revealed to the perishing eye of the body, but that spiritual vision of Him which belongs to the soul that has fellowship with the Divine.
I. We begin by inquiring into the meaning of purity of heart; for it is only by understanding in what that purity consists that we shall see how the vision of God rises from it. There is no true purity apart from the absolute enthronement of God in the affections. It is not the absence of unholy affections, it is the presence of a holy and surpassingly earnest love, that makes us really pure. The soul is so supremely an altar that it must worship something in its inmost shrine, and unless it worship God there it cannot be pure. His presence there, and it alone, can rob temptation of its charm, dispel all carnal longings, throw back the fierce onset of ancient and besetting sins, and make the heart utterly holy.
II. Purity of heart gives the vision of God. In proceeding to illustrate this, let us observe emphatically that the phrase "see God" does not refer to any manifestation of His glory visible to the eye of sense. It is to the far deeper sight of the soul that Christ refers: to feel in the spirit His presence—to exult in the fellowship of the Infinite, Perfect, and Eternal One—that is to see God. (1) None but the pure in heart can see Him. The proof of this lies in the fact that the vision of the soul rises from its affections; the heart can see that only which it loves. (2) To the pure in heart the full glory of the Divine nature reveals itself.
III. That vision is its own exceeding blessedness. (1) It is blessed because to see God satisfies the longings of the heart. The restlessness vanishes. The distractions of change cease. Man's soul is at home with God. Therefore, "Blessed are the pure in heart." (2) It is blessed because it clothes life in glory. (3) It is blessed because it is the dawning of immortal hope.
E. L. Hull, Sermons, 1st series, p. 180.
Matthew 5:8(with Titus 1:15)
The two texts are two motives. With one voice they enforce purity, but each by its own argument and with its own persuasion. The one looks rather at the future, the other at the present; the one tells us how purity shall enable us to move healthily and wholesomely among our fellows, the other how it shall fit and qualify us for that beatific vision which is, being interpreted, the inheritance of the saints in light.
I. St. Paul is addressing a loved convert, charged with the temporary oversight of the young Church of Crete. "To the pure," he says, "all things are pure; but to the defiled nothing is pure." If the heart be defiled, the result must be the contamination of the living and moving and acting man. Sin secretly cherished becomes not more a disease than a pestilence. To the impure nothing is pure; he carries defilement with him. St. Paul speaks of the intellect and the conscience as sharing the purity or else the impurity of the heart. The impure heart makes the conscience itself impure. By degrees it not only loses its sensitiveness to right and wrong; worse far than all this, it comes even to confuse, to distort, and to invert its own vision, and to be no longer a trustworthy index, when the man for once would consult it on some question of practical duty.
II. The motive was a strong one which said, "To the pure all things are pure." Be pure in heart, and you shall find or else make purity everywhere. Be pure in heart, and intellect shall be pure, and conscience; no film shall cloud the mental vision, no stain shall sully the mirror of duty. But "blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." This lifts the matter into a higher region still, and tells how, not mind alone, not conscience alone, but the very spirit and soul of the man, hangs upon purity of heart for its welfare and for its life. If there be in any of us the desire hereafter or here to see God, to see Him in His beauty, and to see Him in His goodness, and to see Him in His truth—if we feel that not to see Him is misery, that never to see Him would indeed be the "second death"—we must become pure in heart.
C. J. Vaughan, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, November 4th, 1880; see also Temple Sermons, p. 390, and Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 52.
I. Purity of heart is the absence of anything that troubles, that darkens—passion, greed, selfish ambition. Purity of heart! not merely freedom from ceremonial defilement: that was only the husk intended to protect the ripening fruit, the precious idea, within. When the seed is ripe the husk parts and breaks away. Purity of heart! not merely purity of act; cleanness, soundness of affections as well as will, the spirit to which evil gives no pleasure, rather inspires loathing and contempt.
II. And now the blessing: "For they shall see God." Of what time is this said? Of the sight of Him in the world beyond the grave, the Beatific Vision? We must not exclude this meaning, if for no other reason, because it is a meaning which the beloved Apostle saw in the words. Yet we shall be going against the spirit of all the Beatitudes if we make that the only meaning. The blessings promised throughout are not merely future blessings, but present: "Blessed are..." They are the graces, beauties, dignities, of the kingdom of heaven; and the kingdom of heaven is not future only, but present, set up, even as our Lord spoke, among men. The Beatific Vision itself is to begin on earth. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God," not only by-and-by, but even now.
III. We see in our Lord's words an image of the manner in which the highest spiritual truth is attained by man, and of the hindrances which prevent his attaining it. The image naturally suggested by His words, taken together, is of a man looking down into water and seeing the moon and the stars, the glories of heaven, mirrored in it. If the sight is to be firmly and clearly seen, the surface must be clean and still like some deep, calm mountain lake, not clouded with scum and weeds, nor blackened by gusts or cross-currents, not fretted like the shallow rapid stream over the inequalities of its pebbly bed. God reveals Himself—so the thought seems to run in the heart—if the heart be clean and still. The man whose heart is distracted with the cares and ambitions of the world, blackened with gusts of evil passion, cannot see God; the faculty is paralyzed, gone. He may try to look, may catch a broken sight for a moment, but he cannot look steadily, or there has gathered a film over the surface and he can see nothing.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 59.
"Call no man happy till he dies" is what the old Greek sage said, and it was supposed to be a very sage saying indeed. The happiness which is implied in that poor comfort is of a very negative kind. It simply means that you will be happy because you will have done with things. It hopes for the calm of a corpse, for the rest of the grave—knows nothing of any open gates beyond. The greatest philosopher, the grandest sage of all, says, "Happy are the pure in heart." If you can only get purity, then you can reap your harvests in mid-winter, you can bask in sunlight when the sky is dark, and your fireside shall glow in grateful content when there is no fire behind the bars.
I. Happiness and the heart are put together. This happiness is real, because its home is in the heart. That is its seat of power.
II. Even Jesus cannot give you happiness while self and Satan rule. He cannot pair happiness with iniquity. If you are to be happy, sin must die. Christ came to kill it; hence that grandest of texts, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." If you will open your heart to admit Jesus, that He may come on His sin-killing errand, then as surely as He crosses the threshold, so surely shall you see two twin angels coming just behind Him with brows laden with glory; and the name of the one is Happiness, and the name of the other is Purity.
III. The pure in heart shall see God. The sight and knowledge of God are the cause and current of the Christian's joy. The pure in heart shall stand in the face of the King, in the presence of the eyes of Royalty; and the gifts which they receive shall be according to His infinite love, and according to His infinite power.
IV. They shall see God (1) in nature's mirror. Creation's visions and voices in every colour and in every key-note will prompt the pure in heart with remembrance of the Father that made them all. (2) In His providence. (3) In the mysteries they cannot understand.
J. Jackson Wray, Penny Pulpit (New Series), No. 1,114.
References: Matthew 5:8.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 350; W. Dorling, Ibid., vol. vi., p. 168; J. Lloyd, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 238; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 1st series, p. 92; Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 143; J. Oswald Dykes, Manifesto of the King, p. 119; G. Salmon, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 129; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 88.
Matthew 5:9The Church as a Peacemaker.
I. Christ the Peacemaker, Christ the Peacegiver, Christ who is to be yet the King of universal peace, is the Christ we worship and serve; and this threefold peace—the peace that Christ has wrought for us in reconciling us to God, the peace that Christ works in our hearts as we believe in Him, the perfect peace He will yet bring to a restored world and a rejoicing Church—makes the faith and the hope and the joy of the Church now. We not only believe in and enjoy and look for this peace, but we are or ought to be engaged in making it now on earth. That is the description He Himself gives of His Church. The text is the one beatitude of all the seven which pictures for us the Church of Christ in action; and the one distinctive work, the great thing Christ has given in charge to His Church to do on earth, is to make peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
II. While Christ bids His Church be a peacemaker in the world, He marks her out also to be the Church militant here on earth. Now this double character, this character of warlike-ness and peacefulness, is not only stamped upon the Church by Christ Himself in her history, but we see it in His own life. Never was there such a peacemaker; and never, on the other hand, was there such a warrior; never was there one who spoke so sternly as a prophet, so sharply and resolutely as a judge, so keenly, so searchingly and provocatively as a reformer, as Christ our Lord, Christ the Warrior, whose warfare is as a consuming fire; Christ the Peacemaker, whose words are all tenderness and love.
III. The mission and purpose of Christ in this world was the destruction of all evil. All evil, whether it be evil of error or whether it be the evil of sin in practice, opposes itself to the mission and purpose of Christ and His Church, and must be removed if that mission is to succeed. Christianity is necessarily an intolerant religion, and as such it provokes strife, and as such we must not fear to provoke it. And yet we, in our warfare for truth, have need to remember that we are also peacemakers. If we honestly desire truth and hate error, then we must honestly recognise truth wherever we meet it. We must take heed lest with our statement of the truth we provoke and intensify, by any fault in our statement, by any error in our conception of it, the very error that we are warring against. The Church in her dealing with error is to be ever militant as her Master was, ever to be peace-loving, peace-bringing, peace-seeking, even as He was too, and for His sake.
Bishop Magee, The Family Churchman, March 2nd, 1887.
I. The world is full of peacebreakers.
II. The world's heart is the same in every age.
III. The world listened to a Peacemaker.
IV. The world is at variance with the Divine philosophy.
V. The world has no pedigree so illustrious as that of the Peacemaker.
W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 232.
References: Matthew 5:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 422; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 77; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 366; Bishop Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 153; J. Oswald Dykes, Manifesto of the King, p. 139; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 27. Matthew 5:10-12.—E. De Pressensé, The Mystery of Suffering, p. 74; J. Oswald Dykes, Manifesto of the King, p. 161.
Matthew 5:11The words of the text contain a distinct and cogent motive for religious life and service. We are to be religious men and to do religious things "for Christ's sake."
I. The urgency of such a motive involves a very distinct doctrine concerning Christ. It has important and suggestive bearings upon His distinctive character. (1) Is it not, to say the least, a remarkable, nay a unique principle, of religious obligation? The claim is so daring, it is preferred so frequently and in such a lofty style of conscious right, He who prefers it is so intelligent and calm, so holy and so humble, that there is but one satisfactory explanation of it. There did pertain to our Lord a distinctive and Divine character, which made it congruous for the lowliest and calmest of men to claim the highest of prerogatives. (2) But clearly the urgency does not rest upon Divine prerogative merely or mainly. A deep human element enters into this claim of our Lord. He appeals to the great mystery and love of His incarnation. He solicits our religious affections by all the claims that a human embodiment of the Divine gives Him upon our human affections; thus gathering into His urgency every conceivable element of pathos and power—Divine and human—of heaven and of earth.
II. Look at the pertinence and power of this new and peculiar motive of the religious life, and at some of the practical applications of it. It applies a new motive power which makes the truth that it teaches resistless: the sentiment of personal love for Him whose teaching we receive, the strong masterful passion that is the constraint of all true service, a power of constraint that the most selfish and sinful and indolent cannot resist. Christ urges this motive as a reason (1) for the consecration of the religious life; (2) for sacrifice and endurance; (3) for martyrdom itself.
Note (1) what a power of assurance there is in the personal and tender relationships thus established between the Master and His disciples. (2) What power of constraint such a motive exerts upon our practical religious life. (3) What a power of judgment there is in such an urgency.
H. Allon, The Vision of God, p. 339.
I. What is the nature of Jesus's claims and demands? The words before us are few, but the obligations involved are exceeding broad. Those who are expected to respond to these words are supposed to believe on Jesus, to trust Him, and to love Him, and the claim made is for the recognition of His own worthiness, and of our personal obligations. (1) Jesus claims work for His sake. Real work is no light matter. It is, in fact, the conquest of certain difficulties. There can be no work where there are no difficulties to be overcome. Jesus Christ claims work, the kind of work by which bread is earned and money gained, wrought for His sake. (2) We owe to Jesus Christ the patient endurance of suffering for His sake. Thorough and continuous work must, sooner or later, more or less, involve suffering. The prospect of suffering should not, however, prevent our undertaking work, nor should the endurance of it lead to our abandonment of work. The sorrows that are often incident to a sober, righteous, and godly life should not drive us from the path of righteousness. (3) Jesus claims cheerful and generous gifts for His sake. The gifts which He asks are according to that which we have, according to our ability and opportunity, time, power, influence, property, and ourselves as life-sacrifices. (4) Jesus Christ claims attachment to life, with a readiness to die for His sake. (5) Jesus claims the devotion of ourselves to Him. This is not necessarily included in the claims already named. The servant gives work, and in some cases suffering; the benefactor bestows gifts and services, but the wife has yielded herself to her husband. The true Christian is a servant of Christ, but something more; a disciple, but something more; the saved by Christ, but something more: Christ betroths His redeemed to Him for ever, and He claims the consecration of themselves.
II. Look at some of the means by which we may stir up ourselves to recognize the claims of Christ more cordially and perfectly. (1) Distinct ideas of the person of Christ are essential to our being moved by considerations which originate in Himself. (2) As another means of aiding our devotion to Jesus Christ we may name frequent meditation on the service He has rendered.
S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass, p. 295.
We have here—
I. A Person. Religions can accomplish more than philosophers, because philosophers concern themselves with ideas and abstractions, and religions concern themselves with persons. It is true that religions may have their philosophies, too, as there is no religion without its creed; but it is equally true that a person is a greater power than a creed, and men will die for a person when they will not die for a creed or an abstract principle. Retain the essential and reject the personal, you cannot. The essential is the personal, and the personal is the essential. Christianity, so far as it embodies spiritual force and motive, so far as it meets man in his sin, weakness, sorrow, and despair, is Christ—nothing less than Christ. Christianity has a personal voice—the voice of one person to another, the voice of Christ to man, and its voice is, "For My sake."
II. A unique Person. Upon what are the claims of the Saviour founded? The answer is twofold: (1) on what Christ is in His essential nature; (2) on what He has done for the benefit of man. The first ground is that of dignity, and the second is that of redemption, love, and service.
III. A unique Person who claims to be Lord of our life. And what, then, are we to do for the sake of Christ? (1) We are to labour for His sake; (2) we are to suffer for His sake. This is the one principle which will give unity to a life which, in the case of all of us, tends evermore to distraction, incoherency, fragmentariness, and therefore weakness. It will prove not merely an impulse, but one of undying might. Other motives may be powerful, but they are fitful too, and are like a summer brook, which today rushes and brawls, but tomorrow discovers nothing but a dry pebbly bed. "For Christ's sake"—its analogies are the great central unchanging forces of Nature; like the sun, which has no variableness, neither shadow of turning. And while it is the highest motive, it is also the clearest light for our guidance as to what is right and what is wrong.
E. Mellor, The Hem of Christ's Garment, p. 87.
References: Matthew 5:11.—W. J. Knox-Little, Characteristics of the Christian Life, p. 162; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines of Sermons on the New Testament, p. 5. Matthew 5:11-12, Matthew 5:16.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 536.
I. The high task of Christ's disciples as here set forth. "Ye are the salt of the earth." The metaphor wants very little explanation. It involves two things: a grave judgment as to the actual state of society, and a lofty claim as to what Christ's followers are able to do to it. Society is corrupt, and tending to corruption. You do not salt a living thing; you salt a dead one, that it may not be a rotting one. (1) Salt does its work by being brought into close contact with the thing which it is to work upon. And so we are not to seek to withdraw ourselves from contact with the evil. The only way by which the salt can purify is by being rubbed into the corrupted thing. (2) Salt does its work silently, inconspicuously, gradually. We shall never be the light of the world, except on condition of being the salt of the earth. You have to do the humble, inconspicuous, silent work of checking corruption by a pure example before you can aspire to do the other work of raying out light into the darkness, and so drawing men to Christ Himself.
II. The grave possibility of the salt losing its savour. There is manifest on every side, first of all the obliteration of the distinction between the salt and the mass into which it is inserted; or, to put it into other words, Christian men and women swallow down bodily and practise thoroughly the maxims of the world as to life, and what is pleasant, and what is desirable, and as to the application of morality to business. There can be no doubt that the obliteration of the distinction between us and the world, and the decay of the fervour of devotion which leads to it, are both to be traced to a yet deeper cause, and that is the loss or diminution of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. Is there a possibility of resalting the saltless salt, of restoring the lost savour? There is no obstacle in the way of a penitent returning to the Fountain of all power and purity, nor of the full restoration of the lost savour, if a man will only bring about a full reunion of himself with the Source of the savour.
IV. One last word warns us what is the certain end of the saltless salt. God has no use for it; man has no use for it. If it has failed in doing the only thing it was created for, it has failed altogether.
A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 1st series, p. 179.
The words before us suggest—
I. A dignity. "Ye are the salt of the earth." I need hardly remind you of the worth and honour of salt in the estimation of antiquity. Salt was the indispensable accompaniment of every sacrifice, because of its power to stay the progress of corruption, to keep that on which it was sprinkled, or with which it was mingled, pure and wholesome and sweet; and it was this property of salt, no doubt, that Christ had in His eye, transferring it to spiritual things, when He said to His disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth." They were salt, because they had been themselves salted with grace, salted with the purifying fire of the Holy Ghost, and so capable of imparting a savour of incorruption to others.
II. A danger; and what is this? That the salt of the earth should lose its own savour, and so become incapable of imparting a savour to others. We know in the natural world how easily a little damp, a little moisture in the atmosphere, will affect the quality of salt; will deprive it of much, if not all, its sharp and biting and seasoning powers; will leave it flat and blunt and strengthless; useless, or nearly useless, for the one purpose to which it is designed. No less a danger besets us. The world in which we live is no favourable atmosphere for us, set as we are to be the salt of the earth. Many things are against us here; many things at work to cause us to abate our edge, to come down from our heights, to lose our saltness. What need, therefore, earnestly to watch against this so urgent a danger!
III. A doom. "It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." Observe that "trodden under foot of men," which follows the being cast out or rejected of God; for therein lies the stress of the doom, the immeasurable humiliation of it. A Church, from which the savour and strength of Divine grace has departed, perishes not by the immediate hand of God—that were too noble a destiny—but of men, often the very men whom it sought to conciliate by becoming itself as the world.
R. C. Trench, Sermons Preached in Ireland, p. 106.
I. This sentence takes for granted the well-known doctrine of the general corruption and decay of the world around us. We little know how much we are indebted to the Christianity or, as we call it sometimes, the civilization of the world around us—how many men are sober and chaste simply because religion has so seasoned the society round them that they would lose their position if they were not so.
II. "If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" It is possible, then, to have a thing which has lost its essence. A traveller to the Euphrates tells us that when he came to the Valley of Salt he broke off a piece that had been exposed to the rain, sun, and air, and he found that, although it had all the sparkle of the crystal, and all the other qualities of salt, it had lost its savour. And is not this so with many professing Christians? Do they not possess all the outward qualities of the Christian character, being pure in morals outwardly, respectable, decorous in general conduct? But they have allowed themselves to be so exposed, unprotected, to the temptations of the spirit of worldliness around them that all savour is gone—all power of giving Christian purpose to the society in which they live. They are like crystals in the Valley of Salt.
III. If you have a secret consciousness that you have lost your savour, let me point out how you may become salt again Go to Him from whom comes out virtue. Go to Him by daily prayer, by daily effort, by daily meditation, by daily repentance, by daily obedience to His voice, as far as you have heard it.
IV. If your desire is to salt the world, you must begin with yourself. You cannot salt other things if you have lost your saltness. If you want to do good, you must be good. Be unobtrusive; do not thrust your advice on any one; and often, when least you expect it, a heart will be opened to you, and God will permit you to save a brother from suffering or from sin or shame.
C. E. R. Robinson, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 622.
I. This declaration involves the idea that there is in humanity the liability to corruption.
II. Christ's method for the preservation of society is a personal one. The seasoning influence must come through men.
III. To this seasoning influence godliness is a vital necessity. Godliness is the true and only inspiration to goodness.
W. Garrett Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 180.
Matthew 5:13-16Influence of Christian Character.
I. Christians—such Christians as those to whom the Beatitudes of the previous verses belong—are called to be, and will be, the "salt of the earth," and they are exhorted not to let "the salt" lose its savour. Two things seem to be involved in these words: (1) Salt gives relish to what would otherwise be tasteless or unpleasant; and Christ's people are, if we may so speak, the relishing element in the world, which prevents it from being loathsome altogether to the Lord; (2) salt is a preserving agent, arresting the natural tendency to corruption. Christ's people are called to this duty; they are to be the salt of the earth; let them take heed to fulfil their high calling. People we hear often sorrowfully complaining that the world is waxing worse and worse. Let those who complain of it bethink them whether they are playing their part as salt to check this corruption.
II. The second aspect under which the Christian influence is presented here is, Believers are to be the light of the world. This figure carries the matter into a somewhat higher region. Salt makes the world endurable, bad as it is. Salt also prevents it from becoming still worse. But light quickens life; light shows the way of God, and leads into it; light at once develops and exhibits all the beauty of earth; light helps us to fellowship one with another; light awakens the voice of adoration and praise. (1) The Christian must be a light-bearer. He who brings the lamp is not himself a light, yet he brings light; and every man of God has it laid on him to do something in this way. (2) It is implied here that Christians are to be light-givers as well as light-bearers. To be a proper light-bearer, one must also be a true light-giver. For one soul saved by Christian precept, you shall find twenty saved by Christian example. The greatest sermon one can preach is the silent sermon of a true and pious life.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 37.
References: Matthew 5:13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 28; J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 263; G. W. McCree, Ibid., p. 365; A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 54. Matthew 5:13-15.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 202. Matthew 5:13-16.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 18; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 158; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 181.
Matthew 5:14I. Contemplate the Christian man as light in himself. Notice some of the instances in Scripture in which light is spoken of in reference to the people of God. (1) The Psalmist says, "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Here light is viewed as something distinct from the righteous, as something which he may possess and which he may enjoy, just as the husbandman enjoys the fruits of the earth of which he has cast in the seeds. (2) The Apostle, in addressing Christians, says, "Ye are the children of the light." Here we are conducted to a still higher view of the believer's privileged condition and estate. There is not only light sown for him that he may reap and enjoy, he is himself a child or son of light—a Hebraistic mode of strongly expressing the luminosity that completely suffuses, as it were, the Christian man. (3) But to a still higher reach we are conducted by the Apostle when he says to believers, "Ye are light in the Lord." Here they are identified with the light itself; and just as God is said to be a light, so are His people in their measure and in their degree said to be a light.
II. "Ye are the light of the world." Our Saviour seems to say to His people, "Not only have ye light for yourselves, not only has God in His grace given you light and made you to be light; but you are to be the light by which others are to be spiritually illuminated and guided for their souls' salvation." We do not need to make efforts to make the light shine, it shines of its own accord. Christianity is essentially diffusive. Its light cannot be confined. Its law is the law of beneficence. It has freely received, and it freely gives. The light with which the true Christian has to shine is (1) the light of Divine knowledge, (2) the light of moral purity. If Christian people would be true benefactors of the world, they must let their light shine, that men seeing their good works may glorify their Father who is in heaven.
L. Alexander, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 524.
I. We read of a time when this earth, so full of fair shapes and wonderful provisions, was without form and void. The Lord that giveth life was pleased to summon out of this confusion the arrangements and the capacities of a world. But before all this His work one word was uttered—one element called into being—which was necessary for every function of created nature. God said, "Let there be light, and there was light;" and from that first day to this the natural light of this world has never failed. There must be light in nature, or the plant will dwindle, the animal will pine, the world will become joyless and waste; there must be light, too, in the world of spirits, or discord and confusion will reign where harmony and order ought to be. And man's spirit had light, even the only light which can light it to its well-being—the light of the consciousness of God.
II. Let this conformity with God's appointment be established in nature, and as long as nature lasts God will be glorified. But in the higher world of spirits there is another necessary condition which nature has not. Wherever there is spirit there must be responsibility, and there cannot be responsibility without free will. Nature, in her lower and more rigidly prescribed arrangements, cannot extinguish the light of her world; but man's spirit may extinguish the light of his. And man's spirit did extinguish that light, and the spiritual world became anarchy and confusion.
III. If nature decays, she possesses no power of self-renewal. Her extinct tribes she may not recall; her faded flowers she cannot recover. Not thus did God create His more wonderful spiritual world. That the spirit should, by His aid, struggle upwards through darkness into the recovery of light, was His own purpose respecting us. In God's good time the Light which was to lighten every man came into the world. Now, the whole passage of man's life, from the cradle to the grave, is full of light. According to our place in life, so God expects from us that we should shine out in the darkness of the world which yet knows not Him.
H. Alford, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 406.
Matthew 5:14There is little difficulty in fixing the dominant idea contained in the metaphor. The city upon a hill is the landmark for all the country round. It is at once the crown of the district and the central point round which the life of the neighbourhood turns. It is visible afar off; it overtops the lower country, so that the people cannot, if they wish, shut their eyes and refuse to see it. The one idea is that of publicity. What does this teach us as to the Church of Christ? There are two sides of religion—neither in the least degree opposed to the other, though entirely distinct. In one point of view it is a secret principle, working noiselessly in the soul of a man, subduing gradually his evil propensities, weakening and destroying his corrupt appetites. There is another side of the Christian religion—namely, that of witnessing for God in the midst of perverse generations. This is the way in which it fulfils the language of the text. This witness is maintained in two ways: (1) by creeds; (2) by the maintenance of forms of outward worship.
II. From what has been said we may enter into the full meaning of that article in the Creed, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church." In what sense is the Church a proper object of belief or faith? Belief has nothing to do with that which is obvious to sight. We do not believe in that which we see. Do you ask what I mean by the words "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church"? The answer is, "I believe that Jesus Christ founded, eighteen centuries ago, a Christian kingdom—a city, a community, having certain fixed laws of order and rules of living, a principle of continuity by a ministerial succession—for the purpose of maintaining certain truths and dispensing certain heavenly gifts; that Christ pledged to it His own perpetual presence and superintending providence." This, you perceive at once, is a thing to be received by faith. Get rid of the Divine origin of the Church, make it the creation of. man's policy, or the outgrowth of circumstances, and the mention of it has no business in the Creed. I must refer its beginning to a power not of this earth before it can present itself as an object of my faith.
Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the New Testament, p. 1.
Profession without Ostentation.
I. Much might be said on that mode of witnessing Christ which consists in conforming to His Church. He who simply did what the Church bids him do (if he did no more) would witness a good confession in the world, and one which cannot be hid, and at the same time with very little, if any, personal display.
II. Consider how great a profession, and yet a profession how unconscious and modest, arises from the mere ordinary manner in which any strict Christian lives. Your life displays Christ without your intending it. Your words and deeds will show where your treasure is, and your heart.
III. Still it is quite true that there are circumstances under which a Christian is bound openly to express his opinion on religious subjects and matters; and this is the real difficulty—how to do so without display. (1) We must never countenance sin and error. Now the more obvious and modest way of discountenancing evil is by silence, and by separating from it: for example, we are bound to keep aloof from deliberate and open sinners. Such conduct on our part requires no great display, for it is but conforming to the rules of the Church. (2) A more difficult duty is that of passing judgment (as a Christian is often bound to do) on events of the day and public men. This may be done without injury to our Christian gentleness and humbleness, though it is difficult to do it. We need not be angry nor use contentious words, and yet may firmly give our opinion and be zealous towards God in all active good service, and scrupulously and pointedly keep aloof from the bad men whose arts we fear. (3) Another and still more difficult duty is that of personally rebuking those we meet with in the intercourse of life who sin in word or deed, and testifying before them in Christ's name. It is difficult at once to be unassuming and zealous in such cases. Supposing it be clearly our duty to manifest our religious profession in this pointed way before another, in order to do so modestly we must do it kindly and cheerfully, as gently as we can; not making matters worse than they are, or showing our whole Christian stature when we need but put out a hand or give a glance.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 152.
Matthew 5:14-16I. "Ye are the light of the world." The words are, so to speak, a reflection of a higher and more perfect truth which was to be spoken hereafter by our Lord Himself. "I am," He said, "the Light of the world." There are two different words that in the New Testament are used for light. The one signifies light in itself, shining by its own inherent rays. In this sense the word properly belongs to God. The phrase "Ye are the light of the world" applies to Christians only, because they reflect His light as the moon or the planets shine by the light of the sun, or, to use a more Scriptural metaphor, because Christ is in them, and His light shines through their humanity. Then there is another word applied by our Lord to St. John the Baptist—he was "a burning and a shining light;" and this is a word which signifies artificial light—a light that has to be kindled, a light which is to be applied, and which, before it goes out, has to transmit its flame to others. Now this is the word which properly belongs to us: individuals, nations, and Churches, we are but secondary lights kindled from one source.
II. We do not realize the whole meaning of the words, "Christian knowledge." What is that knowledge which is a necessity and a light to man as man? It is (1) a knowledge of things, (2) a knowledge of man, (3) a knowledge of God. The faith of Christ tinges it with a diviner life, not only in one province, but in all.
III. How is this Christian knowledge to be spread? How is it to be diffused over the whole world? I answer from history, not from theory, that it must be spread from man to man. In order to kindle the light of the Gospel, God became man, and in order to spread it He not only merely gave the word, but He founded a Church. "Ye are the light of the world." From one little centre at Jerusalem that light spread to Jew, to Greek, and to Roman; and every point of light which was formed became a new centre from which the kindling rays spread to others, until, even in this sense, the words of the Son of man flashed like lightning from one end of the earth to the other.
Bishop Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 49.
I. Note, first, the great conception of a Christian man's office which is set forth in that metaphor, "Ye are the light of the world." Christian men individually, and the Christian Church as a whole, shine by derived light. There is but One that is light in Himself. We shall be light if we are in the Lord. It is by union with Jesus Christ that we partake of His illumination.
II. If we are light we shall shine. The nature and property of light is to radiate. It cannot choose but shine; and in like manner the little village perched upon a hill there, glittering and twinkling in the sunlight, cannot choose but be seen. Take the thoughts—(1) All earnest Christian conviction will demand expression; (2) all deep experience of the purifying power of Christ upon character will show itself in conduct.
III. This obligation of giving light is still further enforced by the thought that that was Christ's very purpose in all that He has done with us and for us. The homely figure here implies that He has not lighted the lamp to put it under the bushel, but that His purpose in lighting it was that it might give light. God has made us partakers of His grace, and has given it to us to be light in the Lord, for this, among other purposes, that we should impart that light to others.
IV. If you are light, shine. The lighthouse-keeper takes no pains that the ships tossing away out at sea may behold the beam that shines from his lamp, but all that he does is to feed it and tend it. And that is all you and I have to do—tend the light, and not, like cowards, cover it up. Modestly, but yet bravely, carry out your Christianity, and men will see it. Do not be as a dark lantern, burning with the slides down—illuminating nothing and nobody. Live your Christianity, and it will be beheld. And remember, candles are not lit to be looked at. Candles are lit that something else may be seen by them. Men may see God through your words, through your conduct, that never would have beheld Him otherwise, because His beams are too bright for their dim eyes.
A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 1st series, p. 191.
References: Matthew 5:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1109; A. F. Barfield, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 96; H. P. Liddon, Three Hundred Outlines of Sermons on the New Testament, p. 5; J. C. Hare, The Mission of the Comforter, vol. i., p. 181. Matthew 5:14-16.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 106; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 241. Matthew 5:15.—S. Cox, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 187. Matthew 5:15, Matthew 5:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1594.
Matthew 5:16True religion a Manifestation.
I. It is the design of God that His true servants should show the world around them what they are, and should not only possess faith, love, and the other fruits of the Spirit within their own hearts, but should manifest their religious character to the world, and let it be seen that they are of such and such a temper and will, that they have such and such affections and aims and hopes. It was never intended by God that religion and goodness should be a secret locked up in the heart itself, which none should know but the individual himself, and that it should pass from birth to the grave an unseen treasure. It was intended that goodness should be seen, and that the sight of it should inspirit others. It was intended that the minds of others should be raised, and their affections warmed by the sight of it, that thus every good man should spread a circle of light round him.
II. We are intended by God to be witnesses for Him in the world, to bear witness to the truth of religion, to the power and excellence of the Gospel; and on this account it is necessary that our light and good works should shine before men. The greatest testimony which can be given on behalf of Divine truth is the testimony of our own lives. We are bound, then, to give this testimony, and to give it with the purpose that others should see it.
III. This large and animated Gospel view is opposed to a very favourite corrupt notion of the human heart—viz., that a man may be a true Christian and yet a secret Christian; that he may be a Christian by a mere inward feeling and sentiment which he has cherished through life, without any active manifestation of the principle in his course and standard of life; in a word, that a man may be a true Christian, and yet not a witness to Christianity. This is impossible. The Gospel declares that goodness must be visible, must show itself, must be an object for the minds of those around it to rest on, otherwise that there is no real goodness.
J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 212.
The world is in darkness in reference to the highest and most momentous of human interests. Its votaries, indeed, are enlightened enough in all matters pertaining to business or pleasure. But in spiritual things men are in darkness. They do not know God, and though they feel within them the gnawings of a guilty conscience, they know not how that agony may be removed, or how their sins may be forgiven. The Lord Jesus came to dissipate this darkness by revealing God to us, and showing us not only how we may obtain forgiveness, but also how we may attain to His image and become partakers of His nature. Christ is the hidden source of the world's enlightenment; but Christians, united to Him by faith, draw off from Him that influence by which they are enabled, each in his own place and in his own measure, to dispel some portion of the darkness by which they are surrounded.
I. Note, first, the positive injunction that Christians are to do everything in their power to secure that their light shall shine as brightly as possible. This is to be done (1) by the position we take up. A lamp on the floor will not send its rays so widely out as if it were suspended from the ceiling. So the Christian should connect himself with the Church, and should, not only for the sake of his Master, but also for that of the outlying world, accept any place in the company of the faithful to which he may be called. (2) By the character which we form. The influence that a man exerts depends on his character, even as the fragrance of a flower depends on its nature, or the fruit of a tree on its kind. (3) This injunction is to be obeyed by the exertions which we make for the conversion of our fellowmen.
II. Look at the negative side of the injunction, which requires that we remove everything which tends either to hide or to obscure our light, or which so affects it as to make it suggestive of ourselves rather than of God. That means (1) that we should get rid of the undue reserve by which multitudes are characterized, and which keeps their real character from being as powerful an influence for good as otherwise it might have been. (2) This injunction implies that we should avoid all self-display. The purpose of letting our light shine is that God, not ourselves, may be glorified.
W. M. Taylor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 254.
References: Matthew 5:16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 31; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines of Sermons on the New Testament, p. 6; E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 266; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 244; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 578, and vol. xxx., p. 120; B. F. Westcott, Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 258; J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 382; H. N. Grimley, The Temple of Humanity and Other Sermons, p. 145.
Matthew 5:17I. A fulfiller and a destroyer. Let us first clearly understand the difference. (1) Look at it in nature. What is the truly majestic power of the earth? Surely not destruction. There are such forces, but the thought about the world which made those forces seem the venerable and admirable forces, the forces to which men's worship and admiration ought to be given, would be horrible. It is the forces of fulfilment, the forces which are always crowding every process forward to its full activity, crowding every being and structure out to its completest realization of itself—the forces of construction and growth: these are the real vital forces of the world. (2) Go farther on, and think of what man does to his fellowmen. Your child, your scholar, your servant: you may fulfil him or you may destroy him. There are some men who call out the best of their brethren everywhere. There are men in history whose whole work has been of this sort. There are other men whose whole mission is to destroy. The things which they destroy are bad and ought to be destroyed, but none the less the issue of the work of such men is for disheartening and not for encouragement. (3) Fulfilment of itself involves destruction. The fulfilment of the good involves the destruction of the bad.
II. Note how the method of fulfilment, as distinct from the method of destruction, is, and always has been, distinctively the method of the Christian faith. Christianity from the beginning adopted the method of fulfilment for its own propagation. Christ comes to give us Divine enthusiasms, celestial love. But it is not as strange unnatural things that He would give them. It is as the legitimate possessions of our human nature, as the possessions which, unconscious, undeveloped, are ours already. The kingliness of nature which the human side of the Incarnation declared to be man's possible life, the Divine side of the Incarnation makes to be the actual life of every man who really enters into its power.
Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 210.
References: Matthew 5:17.—J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 111; C. Morris, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iii., p. 688; R. Lee, Sermons, p. 388; J. M. Wilson, Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 356; S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 31; G. S. Barrett, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 8; S. Macnaughten, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 221; H. Wonnacott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 94. Matthew 5:17-19.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 166; J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 52; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 280. Matthew 5:17-20.—W. Gresley, Parochial Sermons, p. 147; J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 3; Ibid., The Manifesto of the King, p. 203. Matthew 5:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1660.
Matthew 5:19I. There are two instincts implanted by God in the soul as seeds out of which our spiritual life is to grow; one of these is the instinct of duty, the other is the instinct of love. Throughout the New Testament we are taught that of these two the instinct of love is the greater. The instinct of duty, when it conies to its full strength, thinks first of that great law which governs all the universe, the law of holiness and justice. The instinct of love ever turns its eyes not so much on the law as on the Lawgiver, not on holiness but on God. We constantly make all sorts of allowances for those who show underneath their faults a heart susceptible of real love, the love of God and of Christ. For we know that there are a life and a genial heat in the instinct of love which can work miracles on the soul, and change the man into a new creature.
II. All this is plain enough. But the text, so far from saying that the commandments are of no consequence in comparison with the spirit which rules our life—so far from telling us that if we give our hearts to God all faults and neglects of duty are trifles hardly to be thought of—declares that neglect of even the least commandment lowers a man's rank in the kingdom of heaven. Whatever may be the value of love, duty has still its place, and must not be lightly thrust aside. The fact is, that if duty be not so holy a power as love, yet as long as we remain here we need the strength of duty as much as we do the fire of love. If we compare our characters to our bodies, duty corresponds to the bones, love to the veins, and nerves, and vital organs. Without duty our character becomes weak, loose, inconsistent, and soon degenerates or even perishes for want of orderliness and self-control. Without love our character is a dead skeleton—with all the framework of a living creature, but without the life.
III. Love is higher than duty, just as it is more excellent to worship God than to hold fast by a rule, however excellent that rule may be. But the reason is that love in reality contains duty in itself. Love is duty and something more. If the instinct of love is ever to reach its true perfection, it must absorb the instinct of duty into itself, and make the sense of duty stronger and deeper and keener, and the obedience more careful and more inflexible.
Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 35.
The Perilous Harmfulness of Little Sins.
I. Consider the minor violations of the moral law, as they are considered in relation to the Lawgiver Himself. It seems no paradox to say that little sins are peculiarly offending in the sight of God because they are little; in other words, because we run the risk of offending Him for what, upon our own showing, we care very little about, or which we only expect to yield us a very small and insignificant return. Your little sin sets God at defiance as much as a great one, ignores His authority as much, contradicts His will as much as any violation of the prohibition to murder or to blaspheme; in fact, says, in regard to this one commandment, "God shall not reign over me." We reason so in other things. It would aggravate the venality of a judge that the bribe was so very paltry for which he sullied the purity of his ermine; and we feel that we could more easily have excused the profaneness of Esau, if it had not been that for one morsel of meat he was willing to sell his birthright.
II. Notice next the awful danger of little sins in regard to ourselves; the pernicious effect they must have upon religious character, and the certainty that the least of them, if not renounced, will be large enough to bar us out from the kingdom of heaven. Thus, one effect of the practice we are condemning is, that it maintains and keeps up a habit of sinning, making us so awfully familiar with moral disobedience that all our moral perceptions become blinded, and we forget what an infinite evil sin is. Little ones are sure to draw greater ones after them. With little sins Satan has not much to do, but as the habit of yielding to them gets forward, and a bias towards evil is found to be taking deeper root, he finds something to work upon, and then his advances are cautious, stealthy, alluring us on to greater encroachments upon the law of God by little and little, carefully concealing from us at the beginning what he proposes our end shall be. The yoke of sin must fit itself to the shoulder gradually; conscience must accustom itself to use a sliding and shifting scale of evil; the beginning of sin is "as when one letteth out water."
D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3,107.
Reference: Matthew 5:19.—Bishop Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 145.
Matthew 5:20It is of the greatest possible importance that we understand, as accurately as we can, what is the nature of that righteousness which God accepts from us. For heaven is only for the righteous; all the promises arc to the righteous; it is the righteous man's prayer that availeth much. Our Lord's description of the righteousness which is required of us is this: it is an "exceeding righteousness;" it is a righteousness in excess of the righteousness of the most scrupulous moralist.
I. A Christian's righteousness exceeds a natural or a Jewish righteousness in this, that it is positive and not negative. It inculcates a certain state of mind, and a particular line of conduct arising out of it. A negative command circumscribes, and therefore always gives a sense of bondage; a positive command has no limit, and is therefore perfect liberty.
II. All other righteousness does the orders of God; this does His will. It is pleasant to do what we are told by one we love; but it is far pleasanter to do what we are not told. And here lies the greater part of a believer's obedience: it is in doing what he knows will please, though it was never laid down.
III. The motive is different Another man does good, either because he is afraid to do wrong, or because he hopes, by doing good, to obtain a recompense. The Christian has both these feelings, but neither is his actuating motive. His spring is love: he is loved, and he loves back again. It is the love in it which makes the service; and by love the righteousness "exceeds."
IV. And hence two more things result. As the moving power is within, so the righteousness is first an inward righteousness. There is an inner life before the outer one. The outer life is only the reflection of what has been first within—therefore the Christian's righteousness is primarily in his thoughts and affections.
V. And no wonder that such an inner righteousness, when it is brought out, goes very deep and soars very high. It does not calculate how little it may do, but how much it can do, for God; it does not stop at one mile, but is glad to go twain.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 40.
I. Christ's denunciation of the Pharisees is a part of the language of the Gospels which strikes us as very remarkable. The language is part of the judicial language of the first advent. Christ's first advent was not indeed a judgment of the world in a final sense; but it was a judgment in this sense, that it laid the foundations of the final judgment. It was essential for this purpose that a great revelation should be made of human character, a great disclosure of its disguises and pretences; unmasking the evil in it, and extricating and bringing to light the good. But how was this decision to be made? In no other way than by declaring what was the very structure of morality—that particular virtues are nothing without the general ones. The Gospel was an active religion, and Pharisaism was an active religion too; particular virtues were common to both; but the Gospel was an active religion founded upon love, and Pharisaism was an active religion founded upon egotism. Upon this one fundamental point mankind divided into two parts; the great block split asunder, and our Lord judicially declared and announced this division—the division of mankind upon this law and by this criterion.
II. The condemnation of Pharisaism is prophetic; it was a lesson provided for the world's progress. A civilized world wanted it, because it is the very nature of civilization to amplify the body of public virtues without guarding in the least the motive to them. A Christian world wanted it, because it is the law of goodness to produce hypocrisy; it creates it as naturally as the substance creates the shadow; as the standard of goodness rises the standard of profession must rise too.
J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 25.
The scribes and Pharisees represent to us the formalists of all ages, and that in two divisions—the scribes, those who are formalists in their treatment of God's Word; the Pharisees, the formalists in religious life.
I. Note, first, the former class. God gave us His Word to be a light to our feet—to guide, and cheer, and strengthen us in our way. Therefore let all possess the Scriptures; let all study the Scriptures. The more of this knowledge the better. For we are, far too many of us, as the scribes were, with reference to our Bibles. We are stiffened in certain undiscriminating, unintelligent notions, with regard to their sacred contents. We want now, not a Bible apologized for, but a Bible understood; not Gospels harmonized, but Gospels appreciated and loved and yearned over, and lived; the longer the world lasts, the longer the Church lasts, the more thorns grow over the narrow path, the stiffer turns the latch of the strait gate. We want more firmness of hand to grasp the one, more steadiness of step to tread the other; more courage to look on the wounds of our pilgrimage undismayed, and better medicines to heal them. Verily, if the Scriptures are to lead us to life, if they are to testify to Christ, if they are to carry on the work of the Spirit, then our wisdom in them, our upright dealing with them, our profiting by them, must exceed the righteousness of the scribes among us, or we can in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.
II. Consider the second division of that class whom we are to exceed in righteousness: the formalist in conduct. There has ever been a tyranny of conventionalities in religious practice, and amidst the many blessings of an age of more outward attention to the duties of religion, there is one disadvantage, that this tyranny becomes more widely spread and more rigidly exercised. The whole history of the Church may be described as an alternation of awakenings to the Divine life and relapses into formalism. Our righteousness—our obedience to God, our devotion to Christ by faith (for that is our only righteousness)—must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, of all those who, having the form of godliness, are practically denying the power thereof.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 50.
References: Matthew 5:20.—J. Edmunds, Sermons in a Village Church, p. 209; J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 130; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 51; vol. ix., p. 27; Spurgeon, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 169; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 174; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 16; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 20. Matthew 5:20-26.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 343; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 9.
Matthew 5:21-26The Law kept by Love.
I. In dealing with this principle our Lord adduces certain examples by way of illustration, and asserts for Himself a high right and authority to declare to the people the very will of God in this matter. He reminds them of certain things which had been said by "them of old time." Of these sayings some are selected from the Ten Commandments, some from other parts of the Mosaic law, and some apparently from the glosses of the scribes and Pharisees. But no matter with what authority they had been spoken, Jesus claims it as His prerogative to enlarge, or to alter, them by His own authority.
II. The first of the Divine commandments which He handles here, with the view of showing its real spiritual character, is that which concerns the preservation of human life. It had been said by them of old time, and, in fact, by God, "Thou shalt not kill." Christ taught that, in the sight of God, the causeless anger, the cruel scorn, the malignant speech were all infractions of this law, and would all receive one day their merited and fitting punishment. There might be gradations in the amount of guilt, and all these would doubtless be taken into account, and the penalty rightly adjusted to the crime. But this, at any rate, is certain, the law "Thou shalt not kill" might be broken not merely by the violent invasion of life, but also by the wicked tongue and the cruel thought; and for all these alike God will bring us into judgment.
III. In its true spirit this law can be kept only when we love each other as Christ hath loved us. And if we yield ourselves either to wrathful and bitter thoughts, or to contemptuous and malicious words, our offerings, and prayers, and devotions, and all other our most pious services, in which we seem to delight, shall not be accepted at the throne of grace, shall not obtain the blessing from the God of our salvation, and shall not bring to us the joy which they are meant to bring.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 82.
References: Matthew 5:21.—H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 154. Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:22.—Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 301. Matthew 5:21-26.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 23; Ibid., The Manifesto of the King, p. 223. Matthew 5:21-32.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 183. Matthew 5:23.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. ii., p. 70. Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 89.
Matthew 5:25-26The literal and the figurative application of this precept are each of them so important that it would be difficult to assign to either a claim upon us more momentous than the other. The moral duty of an equitable adjustment with one who has anything against us, and the spiritual duty of making timely peace with God in respect of anything of which conscience condemns us, are of equal obligation.
I. In giving the principal prominency in this passage to the spiritual meaning we must be careful not to impugn the more secular and homely obligation legible upon the very surface of the words. Nay, we are bound distinctly to declare that they convey to us not only the recommendation, but the peremptory command of Christ, that we be swift in settling disagreements of whatever kind; true and just in all our commercial dealings; and in social differences and estrangements of another kind seeking the blessedness of peacemakers.
II. Our Saviour employs in the text a transaction of secular familiar life, as a parabolic and impressive method of propounding a most solemn spiritual admonition. He presents to the mind's eye two men, between whom there is a difference. It is obvious that the person addressed is supposed to be in the wrong, and that he knows himself to be in the wrong, and that his adversary has justice on his side. The adversary, the plaintiff, must win the day; unless some timely compromise and adjustment with him can be brought about, the judge must deliver the defaulter over to the officials of the law. How, then, to make agreement with the adversary? By prompt repentance of all that has been amiss. By that kind of repentance which recoils from sin, not only because it is dangerous, but because it is committed against the promptings of conscience, against a heavenly Father. To such a lively repentance as this must be added faith in Christ,—not forgetting that faith in Christ means acceptance of Christ's whole Gospel, not of part of it; not its atoning promises only, but its vigorous calls for exertion; not its future crown only, but if needs be its present cross.
W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 58.
References: Matthew 5:25, Matthew 5:26.—C. Kingsley, All Saints' Day and Other Sermons, p. 247. Matthew 5:26.—G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, 2nd series, p. 118. Matthew 5:27-32.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 45; The Manifesto of the King, p. 245. Matthew 5:28.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 103.
Matthew 5:29-30This is one of the texts which the mass of mankind, if they would confess it, feel rather as a blow when they read it. They feel it as a text which it would be disagreeable to them to think much of. They feel disposed to pass it over with the general hope that they will never act contrary to it, avoiding any direct consideration of what it claims from them. The reason is evident.
I. The text suggests the general idea of having to make definite, distinct, and sometimes even sudden and sharp sacrifices for the sake of religion. We like an easy and comfortable prospect before us, as well as a comfortable present; and this prospect, though not actually taken from us, is somewhat modified by this thought, and we feel the solidity and permanency of our world here to be somewhat shaken.
II. But this is not, after all, the main account of the peculiar significance and formidableness of the text; for this reason is mainly connected with the future, and is concerned with possibilities, whereas it is not necessary to go to the future or to possibilities to discover the peculiar application of the text and the reason of its force. From the wording we see at once that its main bearing is upon the present. "If thy right eye or hand offend thee," it says; that is to say, if they offend thee now, the time is present, the thing to occasion the act, and calling for the treatment, exists now.
III. The text stands in most direct and uncompromising opposition to what is just the most cherished attitude of the human mind toward sin. It tells us not to suppose that we can encourage ourselves in approximations to any special indulgence to which we are drawn, and have none of the sin of it. All such approaches to and tampering with sin are sin, and they enervate and corrupt the mind, destroy its simplicity and singleness, and withdraw it from God.
IV. With respect to the way in which the text must be supposed to operate in ordinary life, (1) the text implies that men have some knowledge of themselves, and observe their own weaknesses and the bad tendencies of their minds. (2) We are to cut off ourselves as strongly and decidedly as possible from all avenues and approaches to our particular sins. We are to keep ourselves carefully out of the way of temptation. The text is in harmony with the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 1.
Matthew 5:33-37I. Our Lord does not here forbid a solemn oath, such as may be required, for example, in a court of justice. The law clearly allowed such an oath for confirmation. When the high priest adjured Jesus by the living God, Jesus found no fault with it. And therefore it seems to me the act, not of an enlightened, but of an over-scrupulous conscience to refuse an oath in such circumstances. Christ does not allude to solemn adjurations, but only to the flippant expletives which were and are so eagerly used, in such a way as to impair the perfect simplicity and veracity of men's souls.
II. Our Lord here obviously forbids all profane swearing. For other sins, it has been said, one may have something to show. But in the case of a profane swearer a man sells his soul absolutely for nought. It is the veriest wilful and wanton outrage of God's law, without advantage to the sinner himself, and most revolting to every well-constituted mind. It is an utterly profitless vice, a degrading of God's good gift of speech, without reason and without excuse. Therefore, "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
III. I apprehend that our Lord's special object here is to insist on His people practising the habit of absolute truthfulness, which will not need any oath to confirm it, and which is apt to be greatly weakened by the use of such language. The needless taking of oaths tends to lessen a man's sense of truth, and enfeeble his regard for it. Men who swear much by heaven or by earth do not regard such oaths as very binding; and once they have accustomed themselves to untruth in this way, bigger and rounder adjurations will be needed, and will be found equally useless, until the whole soul becomes corrupted with that worst of all rottenness—an utterly lying spirit.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 116.
References: Matthew 5:33-37.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 65; Ibid., The Manifesto of the King, p. 265. Matthew 5:33-48.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 193. Matthew 5:34.—J. N. Norton, The King's Ferry Boat, p. 146; R. Newton, Bible Warnings, p. 334.
Matthew 5:37I. A very few examples will show us that, as in the case of submission to injury, so in that of abstinence from swearing, our Lord laid down a principle and not a positive precept, and had regard rather to a frame of mind than to definite actions. He Himself, when the high priest adjured Him by the living God to answer his questions, which was a form of putting him on his oath, did not refuse to reply. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews that God, "willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath," etc.
II. The two great evils into which we are liable to fall when our communication is more than yea and nay, are (1) untruthfulness, and (2) irreverence. Thus we may account for the strength of language in which St. James reiterates the injunction: "Above all things, my brethren, swear not;... but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." No one can imagine him to mean that swearing is the greatest offence that we can commit; but if the foundation of the Christian society is mutual trust and confidence, then whatever tends to weaken that confidence or to lower our estimate of truth is above all things to be shunned. Let us remember that the two virtues of truthfulness and reverence are closely connected with each other, and are the beginning and foundation of all Christian faith and holiness. For "every one who is of the truth heareth God's voice;" Christ came into the world to bear witness of the truth. Any Christian profession which does not spring from the love of truth and the fear of God is unworthy of the name it bears; and therefore in reflecting either on our outward life or on our inmost feelings and convictions these are the two principles to which we must ever recur, and which we must pray God to confirm and strengthen in our hearts.
Bishop Cotton, Marlborough Sermons, p. 234.
Reference: Matthew 5:37.—Arthur Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 24.
Matthew 5:38-42I. The principle of the Mosaic law—and it is a principle of no little importance in its own place—is that there should be as far as possible a just proportion between the offence and the punishment; that the penalty to be inflicted should neither be too light nor too severe, but that the one should be a fair equivalent for the other. While granting to the full the exceeding wisdom of the Mosaic law on this head, I must add that even in its judicial aspect it by no means comes up to the requirements of the Gospel. There is nothing indeed more beautiful than justice and more Divine. But Christian men, Christian society, Christian legislators, have other duties even to the criminal population besides punishing their offences. It may be necessary, it is necessary, to inflict punishment on the wrongdoer; but it is equally necessary to put away all wrath and revenge, and go to him in the spirit of brotherly love, and heap also coals of fire on his head, to turn him, if possible, to better thoughts and better ways.
II. For the right understanding of what our Lord says here it must be remembered that, while this law properly belonged to the judicial procedure of Israel, it was often applied by the people as a rule of private conduct. Our Lord is here dealing in general with the principle of private revenge, which He is anxious to destroy, because it is most fatal at once to the spiritual and social life of men. But, as usual, He goes for this purpose down into principles of moral duty, which lie far deeper than the precise question on hand; because His object is not merely to prevent a certain evil from being done, but to implant another spirit altogether in our hearts. Therefore He tells them that they are not only not to avenge themselves, but that they are not even to resist evil, but rather to overcome evil with good. Evil is never overcome with evil, but only with good. Your fire will not put out your neighbour's; rather they will combine and make a double conflagration, his wrong and your wrath together vexing the world.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 131.
References: Matthew 5:38-42.—J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 87; Ibid., The Manifesto of the King, p. 287. Matthew 5:39.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,552. Matthew 5:39-41.—W. Gresley, Practical Sermons, p. 257. Matthew 5:39-42.—E. J. Hardy, Faint, yet Pursuing, p. 258.
Matthew 5:43-48I. Our Lord does not say here that all men are to be equally dear to us, or equally esteemed by us. He does not substitute a vague principle of universal philanthropy in the room of those special affections which arise either out of kindred or kindness; neither does He teach us to show equal honour to the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. What He means is to assert in all its fulness the law of God, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," and to deny in all its application the corollary of the scribes, "Thou shalt hate thine enemy." He forbids hate altogether, and will not allow it any rightful place in our hearts.
II. The wonderfully simple and effective parable of the Good Samaritan clears up in a moment the whole matter before us; for it teaches us that the offices of neighbourly love are nowise dependent either on the character of him who claims them, or on his treatment of us. It is in a sense natural to hate our enemies; but it is only natural because our better nature has been miserably changed and corrupted. It is the instinct not of true, but of fallen humanity to burn with wrath and return evil for evil.
III. Observe the reasons Christ gives for this law. It is that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, and that ye may be perfect, as your Father is perfect. This is the spirit of Christian perfection, for love is the fulfilling of the law. This is the spirit of the Lord, for God Himself is love. Though there is a peculiar love which clasps in a fond embrace the chosen, redeemed, and believing ones, there is also in God's heart a most pitiful, yearning, compassionate love which does good to all, striving to make them good. People sometimes persuade themselves that, while they should love their own enemies, they ought to hate those who are enemies of God, and no sooner does this idea get a footing in their thoughts than it spreads and extends its domain, and under covert of a pious duty all malice, hate, and uncharitableness riot in their deceitful hearts. But the Lord's word is most absolute and without qualification. Love is due to all, good and evil, just and unjust; for our duty does not depend on theirs, neither is our spirit to be regulated by theirs.
W. C. Smith, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 146.
References: Matthew 5:43.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 72. Matthew 5:43-45.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxi., p. 53. Matthew 5:43-48.—Ibid., vol. xx., p. 188; G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 217; J. Oswald Dykes, The Laws of the Kingdom, p. 111; Ibid., The Manifesto of the King, p. 311. Matthew 5:44.—C. Taylor, Expositor, 3rd series, vol. vi., p. 364. Matthew 5:45.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1414; S. Cox, Expositions, vol. ii., p. 58; R. W. Dale, The Evangelical Revival, p. 193. Matthew 5:46.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 356. Matthew 5:46, Matthew 5:47.—R. W. Dale, Evangelical Revival, p. 60. Matthew 5:47.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1029.
Matthew 5:48If we are to obey the injunction of the text it is necessary that we have faith in the fact.
I. It is implied in our text, it is taught throughout the New Testament, and it is confirmed by experience, that there is nothing so morally helpful as faith in God. We shall not be surprised at the practical value and the moral effects of faith, if we consider for a moment all that it implies. It implies, first of all, a conviction that the forces of nature are being made to work together for good, under the guidance and control of an intelligent and beneficent will. If so, it is worth our while to strive after perfection. On the Christian view the universe is rationally organized and morally governed, and therefore attempting to act morally and rationally is attempting to bring oneself into harmony with one's surroundings. Whereas, on the atheistic view, since there is no rationality or goodness outside of us, endeavouring to be wise or good is, in reality, going contrary to nature, acting in opposition to the laws of the universe.
II. Faith implies much more than conviction. Belief is not faith. Suppose a man believes in the righteousness and binding force of the Ten Commandments and breaks them all, his belief, so far from making him a good man, is the strongest proof of his unutterable degradation. The faith which St. James says cannot save is the faith of mere belief. The faith which St. Paul says can save is the faith that worketh by love. The proper synonym for faith is trust, and trust is an affection of the heart, not a faculty of the head. It is the acting out of belief. To have faith in God is to have had one's heart beating in sympathetic unison with God's heart; to have been inspired with the Divine enthusiasm for righteousness; to have felt one with God in nature, in sympathy, in aim.
III. Once more, faith implies joy in the present life and hope for the future; and these are states of mind peculiarly conducive to right-doing. The man of faith may be happy amid external disasters,—ay, too happy to do wrong.
A. W. Momerie, The Origin of Evil, p. 73.
I. The Sermon on the Mount is often regarded as merely a code of morality, which may be isolated with advantage from the metaphysics of the Christian creed. But if we regard the Sermon on the Mount as merely a moral code we are at once struck by its intense, its impracticable, idealism. "Blessed are the poor in spirit;" "Judge not;" "Be ye perfect,"—these and the like commandments, however much they may have been anticipated in India, or practised by Essene recluses, or thought out independently by Stoics here and there, are in too defiant contradiction of the apparent laws of social progress ever to have commanded the assent of the most practical portion of our race, except in the conscious assurance of a superhuman law under the human paradox, a Divine power under the human life. And it is to this assurance that the whole of the Sermon on the Mount appeals. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." It puts before us an absolutely perfect Being as the ultimate standard for our conduct, consecrating all our ideal aspirations, by assuring us that they are not the mere mental fringes of our experience as it fades into unknown space, but justifiable appropriations by anticipation of a reality now outside us, but in time destined to be ours.
II. Christianity not only provides us with an absolute end for conduct, which, as being real, makes our moral ideals speculatively justifiable, but it provides us with an adequate knowledge of that end in the teaching and character and life and death of Jesus Christ—that is, with a standard for conduct which, as having been realized in human history, makes our moral ideals practically possible. If the Sermon on the Mount had been and remained a code of ethics, written upon tables of stone, it might have been liable to the charges of inadequacy and exaggeration which have so often been brought against it. But in the face of the life of Jesus Christ it is wilful perversity to call the Sermon on the Mount exaggerated. In the face of the fruits of His death it is impossible to call it inadequate, or to deny that the gradual amelioration of our servile, our domestic, our social, our political, our intellectual, our moral life was all contained by implication in the precept, "Be ye perfect," and has been wrought out under the influence of the Christian faith in obedience to the Christian sanction.
J. R. Illingworth, Oxford Review and Journal, April 26th, 1883.
I. To whom are the words spoken? They are not meant for all. The words are for His disciples, and for them only.
II. Here is Christ's idea of His holy religion. This is what it is to do for us—it is to make us like God.
III. Holiness is the healthy development of the Divine nature that is within us. It means that in all this round of life we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
M. G. Pearse, Thoughts on Holiness, p. 3, also p. 23.
I. Look at the raw material out of which Christ makes His saints. (1) Blessed are the poor in spirit. Begging of Jesus, taking from Jesus, depending on Jesus,—that is the A B C of holiness. (2) Blessed are the meek. This is constantly associated with a willingness to learn. A quiet teachableness is the next mark of the disciple. (3) Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness. God's yearning to give met by my great longing to receive.
II. See where the disciple is found. "His disciples came unto Him." We separate the word from Him, and so we lose it. Let this truth sink down into the soul's depths; holiness is all in Jesus, and we can find it nowhere else.
III. The next great step in holiness. On our part it is the great step. He who takes this will at once find himself on the high level. Read carefully Matthew 5:13, Matthew 5:14. "Ye are the salt of the earth;... ye are the light of the world." "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." We are to surrender ourselves to Christ, that this great purpose of His coming shall claim and possess the whole life. We are to live like God, to bless others. "Ye are My disciples," saith the Master,—but not for your own sakes, not that you may be safe and comfortable; but that I, through you, may glorify the Father in blessing and saving others.
M. G. Pearse, Thoughts on Holiness, p. 39.
References: Matthew 5:48.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 434; C. Girdlestone, Twenty Parochial Sermons, 2nd series, p. 309; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 116; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 143; G. Butler, Sermons in Cheltenham College, p. 215; W. Garrett Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 300. Matt 5, Matt 7—Expositor, 1st series, vol. 1., p. 196; S. Cox, Expository Essays and Discourses, p. 1; J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. i., p. 72.
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.