The Beatitudes

“And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him. 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 who mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who 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 you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Heaven: for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you.”

Matthew 5:1-12

ONE enjoys a sermon all the better for knowing something of the preacher. It is natural that, like John in Patmos,we should turn to see the voice which spoke with us. Turn here, then, and learn that the Christ of God is the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount! He who delivered the Beatitudes was not only the Prince of Preachers, but He was, beyond all others, qualified to discourse upon the subject which He had chosen. Jesus the Savior was best able to answer the question, “Who are the saved?” Being Himself the ever-blessed Son of God, and the channel of blessings, He was best able to inform us who are, indeed, the blessed of the Father. As Judge, it will be His office to divide the blessed from the accursed at the last and, therefore, it is most meet that in Gospel majesty He should declare the principle of that judgment, that all men may be forewarned.

Do not fall into the mistake of supposing that the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount set forth how we are to be saved, or you may cause your soul to stumble. You will find the fullest light upon that matter in other parts of our Lord’s teaching, but here He discourses upon the question, “ Who are the saved?” or, “What are the marks and evidencesof a work of Grace in the soul?” Who should know the saved as well as the Savior does? The shepherd best discerns his own sheep, and the Lord, Himself alone knows Infallibly them who are His. We may regard the marks of the blessed ones here given as being the sure witness of Truth, for they are given by Him who cannot err, who cannot be deceived and who, as their Redeemer, knows His own. The Beatitudes derive much of their weight from the wisdom and glory of Him who pronounced them and, therefore, at the outset your attention is called thereto. Lange says that “man is the mouth of creation, and Jesus is the mouth of humanity.” But we prefer, in this place, to think of Jesus as the mouth of Deity and to receive His every Word as girt with Infinite Power!

The occasion of this sermon is noteworthy. It was delivered when our Lord is described as “seeing the multitudes.” He waited until the congregation around Him had reached its largest size and was most impressed with His miracles–and then He took the tide at its flood, as every wise man should. The sight of a vast concourse of people ought always to move us to pity, for it represents a mass of ignorance, sorrow, sin and necessity far too great for us to estimate. The Savior looked upon the people with Omniscient eyes which saw all their sad condition. He saw the multitudes in an emphatic sense and His soul was stirred within Him at the sight. His was not the transient tear of Xerxes when he thought on the death of his armed myriads, but it was practical sympathy with the hosts of mankind! No one cared for them–they were like sheep without a shepherd, or like shocks of wheat ready to shale out for lack of harvesters to gather them in. Jesus therefore hastened to the rescue. He notices, no doubt, with pleasure, the eagerness of the crowd to hear–and this drew Him on to speak. A writer quoted in the “Catena, Aurea” has well said, “Every man in his own trade or profession rejoices when he sees an opportunity of exercising it. The carpenter, if he sees a goodly tree, desires to have it felled, that he may employ his skill on it. And even so the preacher, when he sees a great congregation, his heart rejoices and he is glad of the occasion to teach.” If men become negligent of hearing and our audience dwindles down to a handful, it will be a great distress to us if we have to remember that when the many were anxious to hear, we were not diligent to preach to them. He who will not reap when the fields are white unto the harvest, will have only himself to blame if in other seasons he is unable to fill his arms with sheaves! Opportunities should be promptly used whenever the Lord puts them in our way. It is good fishing where there are plenty of fish and when the birds flock around the fowler it is time for him to spread his nets!

The place from which these blessings were delivered is next worthy of notice. “Seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain.” Whether or not the chosen mountain was that which is now known as the Horns of Hattim, is not a point which it falls in our way to contest–that He ascended an elevation is enough for our purpose. Of course this would be mainly because of the accommodation which the open hillside would afford to the people. And the readiness with which, upon some jutting crag, the Preacher might sit down and be both heard and seen. But we believe the chosen place of meeting had also its instruction. Exalted Doctrine might well be symbolized by an ascent to the mount–at any rate, let every minister feel that he should ascend in spirit when he is about to descant upon the lofty themes of the Gospel! A Doctrine which could not be hidden and which would produce a Church comparable to a city set on a hill, fitly began to be proclaimed from a conspicuous place! A crypt or cavern would have been out of all character for a message which is to be published upon the housetops and preached to every creature under Heaven!

Besides, mountains have always been associated with distinct eras in the history of the people of God. Mount Sinai is sacred to the Law of God and Mount Zion symbolical of the Church. Calvary was also, in due time, to be connected with redemption and the Mount of Olives with the ascension of our risen Lord. It was meet, therefore, that the opening of the Redeemer’s ministry should be connected with a mountain such as “the hill of the Beatitudes.” It was from a mountain that God proclaimed the Law. It is on a mountain that Jesus expounds it! Thank God it was not a mountain around which bounds had to be placed–it was not the mountain which burned with fire from which Israel retired in fear! It was, doubtless, a mountain all carpeted with grass and dainty with fair flowers–upon whose side the olive and fig flourished in abundance except where the rocks pushed upward through the sod and eagerly invited their Lord to honor them by making them His pulpit and throne! May I not add that Jesus was in deep sympathy with Nature and, therefore, delighted in an audience chamber whose floor was grass and whose roof was the blue sky? The open space was in keeping with His large heart! The breezes were akin to His free spirit and the world around was full of symbols and parables in accord with the Truths of God He taught. Better than long-drawn aisle, or tier on tier of crowded gallery, was that grassed hillside meeting place! Would God we more often heard sermons amid soul-inspiring scenery! Surely preacher and hearer would be equally benefited by the change from the house made with hands to the God-made temple of Nature!

There was instruction in the posture ,“ He commenced to speak. We do notthink that either weariness or the length of the discourse suggested His sitting down. He frequently stood when He preached at considerable length. We incline to the belief that when He became a pleader with the sons of men, He stood with uplifted hands, eloquent from head to foot–entreating, beseeching and exhorting with every member of His body, as well as every faculty of His mind. But now that He was, as it were, a Judge awarding the blessings of the Kingdom, or a King on His throne separating His true subjects from aliens and foreigners, He sat down. As an authoritative Teacher, He officially occupied the Chair of Doctrine and spoke ex cathedral, as men say, as a Solomon acting as the master of assemblies or a Daniel come to judgment! He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire. His posture is not accounted for by the fact that it was the Oriental custom for the teacher to sit and the pupil to stand, for our Lord was something more that a didactic teacher–He was a Preacher, a Prophet, a Pleader–and, consequently, He adopted other attitudes when fulfilling those offices. But on this occasion He sat in His place as Rabbi of the Church, the authoritative Legislator of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Monarch in the midst of His people. Come here, then, and listen to the King in Jeshurun, the Divine Lawgiver, delivering not the Ten Commands, but the seven, or, if you will, the nine Beatitudes of His blessed kingdom!

It is then added, to indicate the style .“ And certain cavilers of shallowwit have asked, "How could He teach without opening His mouth?” To which the reply is that He very frequently taught, and taught much without saying a word since His whole life was teaching and His miracles and deeds of love were the lessons of a master instructor. It is not superfluous to say that “He opened His mouth, and taught them,” for He had taught them often when His mouth was closed. Besides that, teachers are to be frequently met with who seldom open their mouths–they hiss the everlasting Gospel through their teeth, or mumble it within their mouths as if they had never been commanded to–“cry aloud, and spare not.” Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest. He enunciated clearly and spoke loudly. He lifted up His voice like a trumpet and published salvation far and wide–like a Man who had something to say which He desired His audience to hear and feel! Oh, that the very manner and voice of those who preach the Gospel were such as to bespeak their zeal for God and their love for souls! So should it be, but it is not so in all cases. When a man grows terribly in earnest while speaking, his mouth appears to be enlarged in sympathy with his hearers–this characteristic has been observed in vehement political orators–and the messengers of God should blush if no such characteristic can be laid at their door!

“He opened His mouth, and taught them”–have we not here a further hint that as He had from the earliest days opened the mouths of His holy Prophets, so now He opens His own mouth to inaugurate a yet fuller Revelation of God? If Moses spoke, who made Moses' mouth? If David sang, who opened David’s lips that he might show forth the praises of God? Who opened the mouths of the Prophets? Was it not the Lord, by His Spirit? Is it not, therefore, well said that now He opened His own mouth and spoke directly as the Incarnate God to the children of men? Now, by His own inherent power and Inspiration, He began to speak, not through the mouth of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, but by His own mouth! Now was a spring of Wisdom to be unsealed from which all generations should drink rejoicing! Now would the most majestic and yet most simple of all discourses be heard by mankind! The opening of the fountain which flowed from the desert rock was not one half as full of joy to men! Let our prayer be, “Lord, as You have opened Your mouth, open our hearts,” for when the Redeemer’s mouth is open with blessings–and our hearts are open with desires–a glorious filling with all the fullness of God will be the result! And then our mouths shall also be opened to show forth our Redeemer’s praise!

Let us now consider the Beatitudes, themselves, trusting that by the help of God’s Spirit, we may perceive their wealth of holy meaning. No words in the compass of Sacred Writ are more precious or more freighted with solemn meaning.

The first word of our Lord’s great standard sermon is, “Blessed.” You have not failed to notice that the last word of the Old Testament is, “ curse,” and it is suggestive that the opening sermon of our Lord’s ministry commences with theword, “Blessed.” Nor did He begin in that manner and then immediately change His strain, for nine times did that charming word fall from His lips in rapid succession. It has been well said that Christ’s teaching might be summed up in two words, “Believe,” and, “Blessed.” Mark tells us that He preached, saying, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” And Matthew in this passage informs us that He came saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” All His teaching was meant to bless the sons of men, for “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”–

“His hand no thunder bears,
No terror clothes His brow!
No bolts to drive our guilty souls
To fiercer flames below.”

His lips, like a honeycomb, drop sweetness. Promises and blessings are flowing out of His mouth. “Grace is poured into Your lips,” said the Psalmist, and consequently Grace poured from His lips! He was blessed forever and He continued todistribute blessings throughout the whole of His life, till, “as He blessed them, He was taken up into Heaven.” The Law had two mountains, Ebal and Gerizim–one for blessing and another for cursing–but the Lord Jesus blesses evermore–and curses not.

The Beatitudes before us, which relate to character, are seven. The eighth is a benediction upon the persons described in the seven Beatitudes when their excellence has provoked the hostility of the wicked and, therefore, it may be regarded as a confirming and summing up of the seven blessings which precede it. Setting that aside, then, as a summary, we regard the Beatitudes as seven and will speak of them as such. The whole seven describe a perfect character and make up aperfect benediction. Each blessing is separately precious, yes, more precious than much fine gold. But we do well to regard them as a whole, for as a whole they were spoken, and from that point of view they are a wonderfully perfect chain of seven priceless links put together with such consummate art as only our heavenly Bezaleel, the Lord Jesus, ever possessed! No such instruction in the art of blessedness can be found anywhere else. The learned have collected 288 different opinions of the ancients with regard to happiness–and there is not one which hits the mark! But our Lord has, in a few telling sentences, told us all about it without using a solitary redundant word, or allowing the slightest omission! The seven golden sentences are perfect as a whole and each one occupies its appropriate place. Together they are a ladder of light–and each one is a step of purest sunshine!

Observe carefully and you will see that each one rises above those which precede it. The first Beatitude is by no meansso elevated as the third, nor the third as the seventh. There is a great advance from the poor in spirit to the pure in heart and the peacemaker. I have said that they rise, but it would be quite as correct to say that they descend, for from the human point of view they do so–to mourn is a step below and yet above being poor in spirit. And the peacemaker, while the highest form of Christian, will find himself often called upon to take the lowest place for peace’s sake. “The seven Beatitudes mark deepening humiliation .” In proportion as men rise in the reception of the Divine Blessing, they sink in their own esteem–and count it their honor to do the humblest works.

Not only do the Beatitudes rise, one above another, but they spring out of each other as if each one depended uponall that went before. Each growth feeds a higher growth and the seventh is the product of all the other six! The two blessings which we shall have first to consider have this relation. “Blessed are they that mourn” grows out of, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Why do they mourn? They mourn because they are “poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the meek” is a benediction which no man reaches till he has felt his spiritual poverty, and mourned over it. “Blessed are the merciful” follows upon the blessing of the meek because men do not acquire the forgiving, sympathetic, merciful spirit until they have been made meek by the experience of the first two benedictions. This same rising and outgrowth may be seen in the whole seven. The stones are laid, one upon the other, in fair colors and polished after the similitude of a palace–they are the natural sequel and completion of each other–even as were the seven days of the world’s first week.

Mark, also, in this ladder of light, that though each step is above the other and each step springs out of the other, yet each one is perfect in itself and contains within itself a priceless and complete blessing. The very lowest of the blessed, namely, the poor in spirit, have their peculiar benediction and, indeed, it is one of such an order that it is used in the summing up of all the rest! “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” is both the first and the eighth benediction. The highest characters, namely, the peacemakers, who are called the children of God, are not said to be more than blessed–they doubtless enjoy more of the blessedness, but they do not, in the Covenant provision, possess more.

Note, also, with delight, that

the blessing is, in every case, in the present tense–a happiness to be enjoyed and de

lighted in now! It is not “Blessed

shall .“ There is not one step in the whole Divine experience of the

Believer–not one link in the wonderful chain of Divine Grace–in which there is a withdrawal of the Divine smile or an absence of real happiness! Blessed is the first moment of the Christian life on earth–and blessed is the last! Blessed is the spark which trembles in the flax and blessed is the flame which ascends to Heaven in a holy ecstasy! Blessed is the bruised reed and blessed is that tree of the Lord which is full of sap, the cedar of Lebanon, which the Lord has planted! Blessed is the babe in Grace and blessed is the perfect man in Christ Jesus! As the Lord’s mercy endures forever, even so shall our blessedness!

We must not fail to notice that in the seven Beatitudes, the blessing of each one is appropriate to the character.“Blessed are the poor in spirit” is appropriately connected with enrichment in the possession of a Kingdom more glorious than all the thrones of earth! It is also most appropriate that those who mourn should be comforted. That the meek, who renounce all self-aggrandizement, should enjoy most of life and so should inherit the earth. It is Divinely fit that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness should be filled–and that those who show mercy to others should obtain it themselves! Who but the pure in heart should see the Infinitely pure and holy God? And who but the peacemakers should be called the children of the God of Peace?

Yet the careful eye perceives that each benediction. Jeremy Taylorsays, “They are so many paradoxes and impossibilities reduced to reason.” This is clearly seen in the first Beatitude, for the poor in spirit are said to possess a Kingdom. And it is equally vivid in the collection as a whole, for it treats of happiness–and yet poverty leads the van and persecution brings up the rear! Poverty is the opposite of riches and yet how rich are those who possess a Kingdom! And persecution is supposed to destroy enjoyment and yet it is here made a subject of rejoicing! See the sacred art of Him who spoke as never man spoke! He can, at the same time, make His words both simple and paradoxical–and thereby win our attention and instruct our intellects. Such a Preacher deserves the most thoughtful of hearers.

The whole of the seven Beatitudes composing this celestial ascent to the House of the Lord conducts Believers to an elevated table-land upon which they dwell alone and are not reckoned among the people. Their holy separation from the world brings upon them persecution for righteousness' sake, but in this they do not lose their happiness, but rather have it increased to them and confirmed by the double repetition of the benediction! The hatred of man does not deprive the saint of the love of God–even revilers contribute to his blessedness! Who among us will be ashamed of the Cross which must attend such a crown of loving kindness and tender mercies? Whatever the curses of man may involve, they are so small a drawback to the consciousness of being blessed in a sevenfold manner by the Lord, that they are not worthy to be compared with the Grace which is already revealed in us!

Here we pause for now and shall, by God’s help, consider one of the Beatitudes in our next homily.