Part Fifth. From Second Passover Until Third.(Time: One Year.)
XLII. The Sermon on the Mount.
(a Mountain Plateau Not Far from Capernaum.)
Beatitudes: Promises to Messiah's Subjects.
^a 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [The sayings in this subdivision are called beatitudes from the word "beati (meaning blessed), with which they begin in the Vulgate, or Latin Bible. According to Matthew, these beatitudes are nine in number and seven in character, for the last two, which concern persecution, do not relate to traits of character, but to certain external circumstances which lead to blessings. Luke gives us beatitudes not recorded in Matthew. Most of the beatitudes are paradoxical, being the very reverse of the world's view, but Christians who have put them to the test have learned to realize their unquestionable truth. The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritual destitution and comprehend their nothingness before God. The kingdom of heaven is theirs, because they seek it, and therefore find and abide in it. To this virtue is opposed the pride of the Pharisee, which caused him to thank God that he was not as other men, and to despise and reject the kingdom of heaven. There must be emptiness before there can be fullness, and so poverty of spirit precedes riches and grace in the kingdom of God.] 4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. [Isaiah 42:2, 3; Luke 2:25; Romans 8:18; John 16:20, 21. The blessing is not upon all that mourn (II. Cor. vii.10); but upon those who mourn in reference to sin. They shall be comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God's pardon. But all mourning is traced directly or indirectly to sin. We may take it, therefore, that in its widest sense the beatitude covers all those who are led by mourning to a discerning of sin, and who so deplore its effects and consequences in the world as to yearn for and seek the deliverance which is in Christ. Those to whom Christ spoke the beatitude bore a double sorrow. Not only did their own sins afflict their consciences, but the hatred and opposition of other sinners added many additional sighs and tears. Joy springs from such sorrow so naturally that it is likened to harvest gathered from the seed (Psalm 126:6). But sorrows, even apart from a sense of sin, often prove blessings to us by drawing us near unto God.] 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. [His hearers were full of hopes that, as Messiah, he would glut their martial spirit, and lead them to world-wide conquest. But the earth was not to be subjugated to him by force. Those who were meek and forbearing should receive what the arrogant and selfish grasp after and can not get. "Man the animal has hitherto possessed the globe. Man the divine is yet to take it. The struggle is going on. But in every cycle more and more does the world feel the superior authority of truth, purity, justice, kindness, love, and faith. They shall yet possess the earth" (Beecher). The meek shall inherit it in two ways: 1. They shall enjoy it more fully while in it.2. They shall finally, as part of the triumphant church, possess and enjoy it. Doubtless there is also here a reference to complete possession to be fulfilled in the new earth—Daniel 7:27; Revelation 3:21; v.10.] 6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. [Our Lord here declares that those who feel a most intense desire for righteousness shall obtain it. Under no other religion had such a promise ever been given. Under Christianity the promise is clear and definite. Compare Romans 8:3, 4; Hebrews 7:11, 19, 25. This promise is realized in part by the attainment of a higher degree of righteous living, and in part by the perfect forgiveness of our sins. But the joy of this individual righteousness, blessed as it is, shall be surpassed by that of the universal righteousness of the new creation—II. Pet. iii.13.] 7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. [As meekness is rather a passive virtue, so mercy is an active one. The meek bear, and the merciful forbear, and for so doing they shall obtain mercy both from God and man. This beatitude, like the rest, has a subordinate, temporal application; for God rules the world in spite of its sin. This beatitude has primary reference to the forgiveness of offences. The forgiving are forgiven—Matthew 6:14, 15.] 8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. [The pure in heart are those who are free from evil desires and purposes. They have that similarity of life to the divine life which excludes all uncleanness, and which enables them to comprehend, after a sympathetic fashion, the motives and actions of God. Such see God by faith now, that is, by the spiritual vision of a regenerate heart (Ephesians 1:17, 18), and shall see him face to face hereafter (I. Cor. xiii.12; I. John iii.2, 3). The Jews to whom Christ spoke, having their hearts defiled with carnal hopes and self-righteous pride, failed to see God, as he was then revealing himself in the person of his Son, thus forming a sad contrast to the gracious promise of the beatitude. "They only can understand God who have in themselves some moral resemblance to him; and they will enter most largely into the knowledge of him who are most in sympathy with the divine life"—Beecher.] 9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God. [The term includes all who make peace between men, whether as individuals or as communities. It includes even those who worthily endeavor to make peace, though they fail of success. They shall be called God's children, because he is the God of peace (Romans 15:33; xvi.20; II. Cor. xiii.11); whose supreme purpose is to secure peace (Luke 2:14); and who gave his Son to be born into this world as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Here again Jesus varies from human ideas. In worldly kingdoms the makers of war stand highest, but in his kingdom peacemakers outrank them, for the King himself is a great Peacemaker—Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 2:14.] 10 Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Those who suffer because of their loyalty to the kingdom of heaven are blessed by being bound more closely to that kingdom for which they suffer.] ^c Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. [These three beatitudes given by Luke, like the two closing beatitudes of Matthew are pronounced not upon character, but upon those in certain trying conditions. They are addressed to the disciples (Luke 6:17), and are meant to strengthen and encourage them to continue in the life of sacrifice when discipleship demanded. For light upon the meaning of these beatitudes, see such passages as these: Matthew 10:37-39; xvi.24-26; Mark 10:28-30 Matthew 10:22-25. The service to which Jesus called meant poverty, hunger, and tears, but it led to rich reward—I. Cor. xi.23-33; xii.1-5.] 22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, ^a and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my ^c the Son of man's sake. [The Master here presents the various forms of suffering which would come upon the disciples by reason of their loyalty to him. We shall find several like statements as we proceed with the gospel story. They would first be conscious of the coldness of their brethren before the secret hate became outspoken and active. Later they should find themselves excommunicated from the synagogue (John 16:2). This act in turn would be followed by bitter reproaches and blasphemy of the sacred name by which they were called—the name Christian (James 2:7; I. Pet. iv.4). "'Malefic' or 'execrable superstition' was the favorite description of Christianity among Pagans (Tac., Ann. xv.44; Suet. Nero, xvi.), and Christians were charged with incendiarism, cannibalism and every infamy" (Farrar). All this would finally culminate in bloody-handed persecution, and procure the death of Christ's followers by forms of law; all manner of false and evil accusations would be brought against them.] 23 Rejoice ye in that day, ^b and be exceeding glad: ^c and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets. ^a for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. [In commanding rejoicing under such circumstances Jesus seemed to make a heavy demand upon his disciples, but it is a demand which very many have responded to (Acts 5:41; xvi.25). Anticipations of the glorious future are a great tonic. For instances of persecution of the prophets, see I. Kings xix.10; II. Chron. xvi.10; I. Kings xxii.27; II. Chron. xxiv.20, 21; Jeremiah 26:23 and xxxii. and xxxvii; Hebrews 11:36-38.] ^c 24 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. [Luke 16:25.] 25 Woe unto you that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. [These three woes are respectively the converse of the three beatitudes recorded by Luke. This converse is to be expected, for as long as sin lasts woes stand over against beatitudes as Ebal against Gerizim. But the woe here expressed by the Saviour is more of a cry of compassion than a denunciation, and may be translated, "Alas for you!" The first woe applies to those who love and trust in riches (Mark 10:24). Jesus does not clearly define the line beyond which the possession of riches becomes a danger, lest any, fancying himself to be on the safe side of the line, should lull himself to repose and be taken off his guard. Riches are always dangerous, and we must be ever watchful against their seduction. The second woe is kindred to the first. Righteousness is the soul's true food. Those who feast upon it shall be satisfied, but those who satiate themselves with this world shall waken some day to a sense of emptiness, since they have filled themselves with vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; James 5:1-6). The third woe is not pronounced upon those who make merriment an occasional relief (Proverbs 17:22; xv.13, 15); but upon those who, through lack of earnestness, make it a constant aim. Half the world has no higher object in life than to be amused (Proverbs 13:14; Ecclesiastes 7:6). Those who sow folly shall reap a harvest of tears. The truth of this saying was abundantly fulfilled in the Jewish wars, which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem about forty years later.] 26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. [This is the converse to the beatitudes pronounced upon those who are reviled, etc. A righteous life rebukes an evil one, and the general tendency of evil is to deride that which rebukes it. This tendency caused the wicked of Christ's times to say that he had a demon, and that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub. If our lives draw to themselves no reproach, they can not be right in the sight of God. A good name is more to be desired than great riches; but we must not sacrifice our fidelity to Christ in order to attain it. If we adhere strictly to the virtues which Christ enjoined, we shall find that the world has an evil name for every one of them. Earnest contention for his truth is called bigotry; loyalty to his ordinances is dubbed narrowness; strict conformity to the laws of purity is named puritanism; liberality is looked upon as an effort to court praise; piety is scorned as hypocrisy, and faith is regarded as fanaticism.]