The words of the Lord are the seed sown by the sower. Into our hearts they must fall that they may grow. Meditation and prayer must water them, and obedience keep them in the sunlight. Thus will they bear fruit for the Lord's gathering.
Those of his disciples, that is, obedient hearers, who had any experience in trying to live, would, in part, at once understand them; but as they obeyed and pondered, the meaning of them would keep growing. This we see in the writings of the apostles. It will be so with us also, who need to understand everything he said neither more nor less than they to whom first he spoke; while our obligation to understand is far greater than theirs at the time, inasmuch as we have had nearly two thousand years' experience of the continued coming of the kingdom he then preached: it is not yet come; it has been all the time, and is now, drawing slowly nearer.
The sermon on the mount, as it is commonly called, seems the Lord's first free utterance, in the presence of any large assembly, of the good news of the kingdom. He had been teaching his disciples and messengers; and had already brought the glad tidings that his father was their father, to many besides -- to Nathanael for one, to Nicodemus, to the woman of Samaria, to every one he had cured, every one whose cry for help he had heard: his epiphany was a gradual thing, beginning, where it continues, with the individual. It is impossible even to guess at what number may have heard him on this occasion: he seems to have gone up the mount because of the crowd -- to secure a somewhat opener position whence he could better speak; and thither followed him those who desired to be taught of him, accompanied doubtless by not a few in whom curiosity was the chief motive. Disciple or gazer, he addressed the individuality of every one that had ears to hear. Peter and Andrew, James and John, are all we know as his recognized disciples, followers, and companions, at the time; but, while his words were addressed to such as had come to him desiring to learn of him, the things he uttered were eternal truths, life in which was essential for every one of his father's children, therefore they were for all: he who heard to obey, was his disciple.
How different, at the first sound of it, must the good news have been from the news anxiously expected by those who waited for the Messiah! Even the Baptist in prison lay listening after something of quite another sort. The Lord had to send him a message, by eye-witnesses of his doings, to remind him that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, or his ways as our ways -- that the design of God is other and better than the expectation of men. His summary of the gifts he was giving to men, culminated with the preaching of the good news to the poor. If John had known these his doings before, he had not recognized them as belonging to the Lord's special mission: the Lord tells him it is not enough to have accepted him as the Messiah; he must recognize his doings as the work he had come into the world to do, and as in their nature so divine as to be the very business of the Son of God in whom the Father was well pleased.
Wherein then consisted the goodness of the news which he opened his mouth to give them? What was in the news to make the poor glad? Why was his arrival with such words in his heart and mouth, the coming of the kingdom?
All good news from heaven, is of truth -- essential truth, involving duty, and giving and promising help to the performance of it. There can be no good news for us men, except of uplifting love, and no one can be lifted up who will not rise. If God himself sought to raise his little ones without their consenting effort, they would drop from his foiled endeavour. He will carry us in his arms till we are able to walk; he will carry us in his arms when we are weary with walking; he will not carry us if we will not walk.
Very different are the good news Jesus brings us from certain prevalent representations of the gospel, founded on the pagan notion that suffering is an offset for sin, and culminating in the vile assertion that the suffering of an innocent man, just because he is innocent, yea perfect, is a satisfaction to the holy Father for the evil deeds of his children. As a theory concerning the atonement nothing could be worse, either intellectually, morally, or spiritually; announced as the gospel itself, as the good news of the kingdom of heaven, the idea is monstrous as any Chinese dragon. Such a so-called gospel is no gospel, however accepted as God sent by good men of a certain development. It is evil news, dwarfing, enslaving, maddening -- news to the child-heart of the dreariest damnation. Doubtless some elements of the gospel are mixed up with it on most occasions of its announcement; none the more is it the message received from him. It can be good news only to such as are prudently willing to be delivered from a God they fear, but unable to accept the gospel of a perfect God, in whom to trust perfectly.
The good news of Jesus was just the news of the thoughts and ways of the Father in the midst of his family. He told them that the way men thought for themselves and their children was not the way God thought for himself and his children; that the kingdom of heaven was founded, and must at length show itself founded on very different principles from those of the kingdoms and families of the world, meaning by the world that part of the Father's family which will not be ordered by him, will not even try to obey him. The world's man, its great, its successful, its honorable man, is he who may have and do what he pleases, whose strength lies in money and the praise of men; the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the man who is humblest and serves his fellows the most. Multitudes of men, in no degree notable as ambitious or proud, hold the ambitious, the proud man in honour, and, for all deliverance, hope after some shadow of his prosperity. How many even of those who look for the world to come, seek to the powers of this world for deliverance from its evils, as if God were the God of the world to come only! The oppressed of the Lord's time looked for a Messiah to set their nation free, and make it rich and strong; the oppressed of our time believe in money, knowledge, and the will of a people which needs but power to be in its turn the oppressor. The first words of the Lord on this occasion were: -- 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,'
It is not the proud, it is not the greedy of distinction, it is not those who gather and hoard, not those who lay down the law to their neighbours, not those that condescend, any more than those that shrug the shoulder and shoot out the lip, that have any share in the kingdom of the Father. That kingdom has no relation with or resemblance to the kingdoms of this world, deals with no one thing that distinguishes their rulers, except to repudiate it. The Son of God will favour no smallest ambition, be it in the heart of him who leans on his bosom. The kingdom of God, the refuge of the oppressed, the golden age of the new world, the real Utopia, the newest yet oldest Atlantis, the home of the children, will not open its gates to the most miserable who would rise above his equal in misery, who looks down on any one more miserable than himself. It is the home of perfect brotherhood. The poor, the beggars in spirit, the humble men of heart, the unambitious, the unselfish; those who never despise men, and never seek their praises; the lowly, who see nothing to admire in themselves, therefore cannot seek to be admired of others; the men who give themselves away -- these are the freemen of the kingdom, these are the citizens of the new Jerusalem. The men who are aware of their own essential poverty; not the men who are poor in friends, poor in influence, poor in acquirements, poor in money, but those who are poor in spirit, who feel themselves poor creatures; who know nothing to be pleased with themselves for, and desire nothing to make them think well of themselves; who know that they need much to make their life worth living, to make their existence a good thing, to make them fit to live; these humble ones are the poor whom the Lord calls blessed. When a man says, I am low and worthless, then the gate of the kingdom begins to open to him, for there enter the true, and this man has begun to know the truth concerning himself. Whatever such a man has attained to, he straightway forgets; it is part of him and behind him; his business is with what he has not, with the things that lie above and before him. The man who is proud of anything he thinks he has reached, has not reached it. He is but proud of himself, and imagining a cause for his pride. If he had reached, he would already have begun to forget. He who delights in contemplating whereto he has attained, is not merely sliding back; he is already in the dirt of self-satisfaction. The gate of the kingdom is closed, and he outside. The child who, clinging to his Father, dares not think he has in any sense attained while as yet he is not as his Father -- his Father's heart, his Father's heaven is his natural home. To find himself thinking of himself as above his fellows, would be to that child a shuddering terror; his universe would contract around him, his ideal wither on its throne. The least motion of self-satisfaction, the first thought of placing himself in the forefront of estimation, would be to him a flash from the nether abyss. God is his life and his lord. That his father should be content with him must be all his care. Among his relations with his neighbour, infinitely precious, comparison with his neighbour has no place. Which is the greater is of no account. He would not choose to be less than his neighbour; he would choose his neighbour to be greater than he. He looks up to every man. Otherwise gifted than he, his neighbour is more than he. All come from the one mighty father: shall he judge the live thoughts of God, which is greater and which is less? In thus denying, thus turning his back on himself, he has no thought of saintliness, no thought but of his father and his brethren. To such a child heaven's best secrets are open. He clambers about the throne of the Father unrebuked; his back is ready for the smallest heavenly playmate; his arms are an open refuge for any blackest little lost kid of the Father's flock; he will toil with it up the heavenly stair, up the very steps of the great white throne, to lay it on the Father's knees. For the glory of that Father is not in knowing himself God, but in giving himself away -- in creating and redeeming and glorifying his children.
The man who does not house self, has room to be his real self -- God's eternal idea of him. He lives eternally; in virtue of the creative power present in him with momently, unimpeded creation, he is. How should there be in him one thought of ruling or commanding or surpassing! He can imagine no bliss, no good in being greater than some one else. He is unable to wish himself other than he is, except more what God made him for, which is indeed the highest willing of the will of God. His brother's wellbeing is essential to his bliss. The thought of standing higher in the favour of God than his brother, would make him miserable. He would lift every brother to the embrace of the Father. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are of the same spirit as God, and of nature the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,' expresses the same principle: the same law holds in the earth as in the kingdom of heaven. How should it be otherwise? Has the creator of the ends of the earth ceased to rule it after his fashion, because his rebellious children have so long, to their own hurt, vainly endeavoured to rule it after theirs? The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor; the meek shall inherit the earth. The earth as God sees it, as those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs also see it, is good, all good, very good, fit for the meek to inherit; and one day they shall inherit it -- not indeed as men of the world count inheritance, but as the maker and owner of the world has from the first counted it. So different are the two ways of inheriting, that one of the meek may be heartily enjoying his possession, while one of the proud is selfishly walling him out from the spot in it he loves best.
The meek are those that do not assert themselves, do not defend themselves, never dream of avenging themselves, or of returning aught but good for evil. They do not imagine it their business to take care of themselves. The meek man may indeed take much thought, but it will not be for himself. He never builds an exclusive wall, shuts any honest neighbour out. He will not always serve the wish, but always the good of his neighbour. His service must be true service. Self shall be no umpire in affair of his. Man's consciousness of himself is but a shadow: the meek man's self always vanishes in the light of a real presence. His nature lies open to the Father of men, and to every good impulse is as it were empty. No bristling importance, no vain attendance of fancied rights and wrongs, guards his door, or crowds the passages of his house; they are for the angels to come and go. Abandoned thus to the truth, as the sparks from the gleaming river dip into the flowers of Dante's unperfected vision, so the many souls of the visible world, lights from the father of lights, enter his heart freely; and by them he inherits the earth he was created to inherit -- possesses it as his father made him capable of possessing, and the earth of being possessed. Because the man is meek, his eye is single; he sees things as God sees them, as he would have his child see them: to confront creation with pure eyes is to possess it.
How little is the man able to make his own, who would ravish all! The man who, by the exclusion of others from the space he calls his, would grasp any portion of the earth as his own, befools himself in the attempt. The very bread he has swallowed cannot so in any real sense be his. There does not exist such a power of possessing as he would arrogate. There is not such a sense of having as that of which he has conceived the shadow in his degenerate and lapsing imagination. The real owner of his demesne is that pedlar passing his gate, into a divine soul receiving the sweetnesses which not all the greed of the so-counted possessor can keep within his walls: they overflow the cup-lip of the coping, to give themselves to the footfarer. The motions aerial, the sounds, the odours of those imprisoned spaces, are the earnest of a possession for which is ever growing his power of possessing. In no wise will such inheritance interfere with the claim of the man who calls them his. Each possessor has them his, as much as each in his own way is capable of possessing them. For possession is determined by the kind and the scope of the power of possessing; and the earth has a fourth dimension of which the mere owner of its soil knows nothing.
The child of the maker is naturally the inheritor. But if the child try to possess as a house the thing his father made an organ, will he succeed in so possessing it? Or if he do nestle in a corner of its case, will he oust thereby the Lord of its multiplex harmony, sitting regnant on the seat of sway, and drawing with 'volant touch' from the house of the child the liege homage of its rendered wealth? To the poverty of such a child are all those left, who think to have and to hold after the corrupt fancies of a greedy self.
We cannot see the world as God means it, save in proportion as our souls are meek. In meekness only are we its inheritors. Meekness alone makes the spiritual retina pure to receive God's things as they are, mingling with them neither imperfection nor impurity of its own. A thing so beheld that it conveys to me the divine thought issuing in its form, is mine; by nothing but its mediation between God and my life, can anything be mine. The man so dull as to insist that a thing is his because he has bought it and paid for it, had better bethink himself that not all the combined forces of law, justice, and goodwill, can keep it his; while even death cannot take the world from the man who possesses it as alone the maker of him and it cares that he should possess it. This man leaves it, but carries it with him; that man carries with him only its loss. He passes, unable to close hand or mouth upon any portion of it. Its ownness to him was but the changes he could make in it, and the nearness into which he could bring it to the body he lived in. That body the earth in its turn possesses now, and it lies very still, changing nothing, but being changed. Is this the fine of the great buyer of land, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? In the soul of the meek, the earth remains an endless possession -- his because he who made it is his -- his as nothing but his maker could ever be the creature's. He has the earth by his divine relation to him who sent it forth from him as a tree sends out its leaves. To inherit the earth is to grow ever more alive to the presence, in it and in all its parts, of him who is the life of men. How far one may advance in such inheritance while yet in the body, will simply depend on the meekness he attains while yet in the body; but it may be, as Frederick Denison Maurice, the servant of God, thought while yet he was with us, that the new heavens and the new earth are the same in which we now live, righteously inhabited by the meek, with their deeper-opened eyes. What if the meek of the dead be thus possessing it even now! But I do not care to speculate. It is enough that the man who refuses to assert himself, seeking no recognition by men, leaving the care of his life to the Father, and occupying himself with the will of the Father, shall find himself, by and by, at home in the Father's house, with all the Father's property his.
Which is more the possessor of the world -- he who has a thousand houses, or he who, without one house to call his own, has ten in which his knock at the door would rouse instant jubilation? Which is the richer -- the man who, his large money spent, would have no refuge; or he for whose necessity a hundred would sacrifice comfort? Which of the two possessed the earth -- king Agrippa or tent-maker Paul?
Which is the real possessor of a book -- the man who has its original and every following edition, and shows, to many an admiring and envying visitor, now this, now that, in binding characteristic, with possessor-pride; yea, from secret shrine is able to draw forth and display the author's manuscript, with the very shapes in which his thoughts came forth to the light of day, -- or the man who cherishes one little, hollow-backed, coverless, untitled, bethumbed copy, which he takes with him in his solitary walks and broods over in his silent chamber, always finding in it some beauty or excellence or aid he had not found before -- which is to him in truth as a live companion?
For what makes the thing a book? Is it not that it has a soul -- the mind in it of him who wrote the book? Therefore only can the book be possessed, for life alone can be the possession of life. The dead possess their dead only to bury them.
Does not he then, who loves and understands his book, possess it with such possession as is impossible to the other? Just so may the world itself be possessed -- either as a volume unread, or as the wine of a soul, 'the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.' It may be possessed as a book filled with words from the mouth of God, or but as the golden-clasped covers of that book; as an embodiment or incarnation of God himself; or but as a house built to sell. The Lord loved the world and the things of the world, not as the men of the world love them, but finding his father in everything that came from his father's heart.
The same spirit, then, is required for possessing the kingdom of heaven, and for inheriting the earth. How should it not be so, when the one Power is the informing life of both? If we are the Lord's, we possess the kingdom of heaven, and so inherit the earth. How many who call themselves by his name, would have it otherwise: they would possess the earth and inherit the kingdom! Such fill churches and chapels on Sundays: anywhere suits for the worship of Mammon.
Yet verily, earth as well as heaven may be largely possessed even now.
Two men are walking abroad together; to the one, the world yields thought after thought of delight; he sees heaven and earth embrace one another; he feels an indescribable presence over and in them; his joy will afterward, in the solitude of his chamber, break forth in song; -- to the other, oppressed with the thought of his poverty, or ruminating how to make much into more, the glory of the Lord is but a warm summer day; it enters in at no window of his soul; it offers him no gift; for, in the very temple of God, he looks for no God in it. Nor must there needs be two men to think and feel thus differently. In what diverse fashion will any one subject to ever-changing mood see the same world of the same glad creator! Alas for men, if it changed as we change, if it grew meaningless when we grow faithless! Thought for a morrow that may never come, dread of the dividing death which works for endless companionship, anger with one we love, will cloud the radiant morning, and make the day dark with night. At evening, having bethought ourselves, and returned to him that feeds the ravens, and watches the dying sparrow, and says to his children 'Love one another,' the sunset splendour is glad over us, the western sky is refulgent as the court of the Father when the glad news is spread abroad that a sinner has repented. We have mourned in the twilight of our little faith, but, having sent away our sin, the glory of God's heaven over his darkening earth has comforted us.