THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
(taken from THE DAILY STUDY
"the Gospel of MATTHEW", Volume 1, Revised Edition
by William Barkley, p83 to p118)
As we have already seen, Matthew
has a careful pattern in his gospel.
. . . In his story of the baptism of Jesus
he shows us Jesus realising that the hour has struck, that the
call to action has come, and that Jesus must go forth on his
crusade. In his story of the Temptations he shows us Jesus deliberately
choosing the method he will use to carry out his task, and deliberately
rejecting methods which he knew to be against the will of God.
If a man sets his hand to a great task, he needs his helpers,
his assistants, his staff. So Matthew goes on to show us Jesus
selecting the men who will be his fellow-workers.
. . . But if helpers and assistants are to
do their work intelligently and effectively, they must first
have instruction. And now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew
shows us Jesus instructing his disciples in the message which
was his and which they were to take to men. In Luke's account
of the Sermon on the Mount this becomes even clearer. In Luke
the Sermon on the Mount follows immediately after what we might
call the official choosing of the Twelve (Luke 6: 13 ff).
. . . For that reason one great scholar called
the Sermon on the Mount " The Ordination Address to the
Twelve." Just as a young minister has his task set out before
him, when he is called to his first charge, so the Twelve received
from Jesus their ordination address before they, went out to
their task. It is for that reason that other scholars have given
other titles to the Sermon on the Mount. It has been called "
The Compendium of Christ's Doctrine," " The Magna Charta
of the Kingdom," " The Manifesto of the King."
All are agreed that in the Sermon on the Mount we have the essence
of the teaching of Jesus to the inner circle of his chosen men.
THE SUMMARY OF THE FAITH
. . . In actual fact this is even truer than
at first sight appears. We speak of the Sermon on the Mount as
if it was one single sermon preached on one single occasion.
But it is far more than that. There are good and compelling reasons
for thinking that the Sermon on the Mount is far more than one
sermon, that it is, in fact, a kind of epitome of all the sermons
that Jesus ever preached.
. . . (i) Anyone who heard it in its present
form would be exhausted long before the end. There is far too
much in it for one hearing. It is one thing to sit and read
it, and to pause and linger as we read; it would be entirely
another thing to listen to it for the first time in spoken
words. We can read at our own pace and with a certain familiarity
with the words; but to hear it in its present form for the first
time would be to be dazzled with excess of light long before
it was finished.
. . . (ii) There are certain sections of the
Sermon on the Mount which emerge, as it were, without warning;
they have no connection with what goes before and no connection
with what comes after. For instance, Matthew 5: 31, 32
and Matthew 7: 7-11 are quite detached from their context.
There is a certain disconnection in the Sermon on the Mount.
. . . (iii) The most important point is this.
Both Matthew and Luke give us a version of the Sermon on the
Mount. In Matthew's version there are 107 verses. Of these 107
verses 29 are found all together in Luke 6: 20-49; 47 have no
parallel in Luke's version; and 34 are found scattered all over
Luke's gospel in different contexts.
. . . For instance, the simile of the salt
is in Matthew 5: 13 and in Luke 14: 34, 35; the
simile of the lamp is in Matthew 5: 15 and in Luke
8: 16; the saying that not one jot or tittle of the law shall
pass away is in Matthew 5: 18 and in Luke 16: 17.
That is to say, passages which are consecutive in Matthew's gospel
appear in widely separated chapters in Luke's gospel.
. . . To take another example, the saying about
the mote in our brother's eye and the beam in our own is in Matthew
7: 1-5 and in Luke 6: 37-42; the passage in which Jesus
bids men to ask and seek and find is in Matthew 7: 7-12
and in Luke 11: 9-13.
. . . If we tabulate these things, the matter
will become clear:
Matthew 5: 13 = Luke 14: 34, 35
Matthew 5: 15 = Luke 8: 16
Matthew 5: 18 = Luke 16: 17
Matthew 7: 1-5 = Luke 6: 37-42
Matthew 7: 7-12 = Luke 11: 9-13
. . . Now, as we have seen, Matthew
is essentially the teaching gospel; it is Matthew's characteristic
that he collects the teaching of Jesus under certain great headings;
and it is surely far more likely that Matthew collected Jesus'
teaching into one whole pattern, than that Luke took the pattern
and broke it up and scattered the pieces all over his gospel.
The Sermon on the Mount is not one single sermon which Jesus
preached on one definite situation; it is the summary of his
consistent teaching to his disciples. It has been suggested that,
after Jesus definitely chose the Twelve, he may have taken them
away into a quiet place for a week or even a longer period of
time, and that, during that space, he taught them all the time,
and the Sermon on the Mount is the distillation of that teaching.
. . . In point of fact Matthew's introductory
sentence goes a long way to make that clear.
" Seeing the crowds, Jesus
went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came
to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them."
In that brief verse there are
three clues to the real significance of the Sermon on the Mount.
. . . (i) Jesus began to teach when he had
sat down. When a Jewish Rabbi was teaching officially he
sat to teach. We still speak of a professor's chair; the
Pope still speaks ex cathedra, from his seat. Often a
Rabbi gave instruction when he was standing or strolling about;
but his really official teaching was done when he had taken his
seat. So, then, the very intimation that Jesus sat down to teach
his disciples is the indication that this teaching is central
. . . (ii) Matthew goes on to say that when
he had opened his mouth, he taught them. This phrase he
opened his mouth is not simply a decoratively roundabout
way of saying he said. In Greek the phrase has a double
significance. (a) In Greek it is used of a solemn, grave
and dignified utterance. lt is used, for instance, of the saying
of an oracle. It is the natural preface for a most weighty saying.
(b) It is used of a person's utterance when he is really
opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind. It is used
of intimate teaching with no barriers between. Again the very
use of this phrase indicates that the material in the Sermon
on the Mount is no chance piece of teaching. It is the grave
and solemn utterance of the central things; it is the opening
of Jesus' heart and mind to the men who were to be his right-hand
men in his task.
. . . (iii) The Authorised Version has it that
when Jesus had sat down, he opened his mouth and taught them
saying. In Greek there are two past tenses of the verb. There
is the aorist tense, and the aorist tense expresses
one particular action, done and completed in past time. In the
sentence, " He shut the gate," shut would be
an aorist in Greek because it describes one completed action
in past time. There is the imperfect tense, and the imperfect
tense describes repeated, continuous, or habitual action in past
time. In the sentence, " It was his custom to go to Church
every Sunday," in Greek it was his custom to go would
be expressed by a single verb in the imperfect tense, because
it describes continuous and often-repeated action in the past.
. . . Now the point is that in the Greek of
this sentence, which we are studying, the verb taught
is not an aorist, but an imperfect and therefore
it describes repeated and habitual action, and the translation
should be: "This is what he used to teach them." Matthew
has said as plainly as Greek will say it that the Sermon on the
Mount is not one sermon of Jesus, given at one particular time
and on one particular occasion; it is the essence of all that
Jesus continuously and habitually taught his disciples.
. . .
The Sermon on the Mount is
greater even than we think. Matthew in his introduction wishes
us to see that it is the official teaching of Jesus; that
it is the opening of Jesus' whole mind to his disciples; that
it is the summary of the teaching which Jesus habitually gave
to his inner circle. The Sermon on the Mount is nothing less
than the concentrated memory of many hours of heart to heart
communion between the disciples and their Master.
. . . As we study the Sermon on the Mount,
we are going to set at the head of each of the beatitudes the
translation of the Revised Standard Version; and then at the
end of our study of each beatitude we shall see what the words
mean in modem English.
THE SUPREME BLESSEDNESS
Matthew 5: 3
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
BEFORE we study each of the beatitudes
in detail there are two general facts which we must note.
. . . (i) It can be seen that every one of
the beatitudes has precisely the same form. As they are commonly
printed in our Bibles, each one of them in the Authorized Version
has the word are printed in italic, or sloping,
type. When a word appears in italics in the Authorized Version
it means that in the Greek, or in the Hebrew, there is no equivalent
word, and that that word has had to be added to being out the
meaning of the sentence.
. . . This is to say that in the beatitudes
there is no verb, there is no are. Why should that be?
Jesus did not speak the beatitudes in Greek; he spoke them in
Aramaic, which was the kind of Hebrew people spoke in his day.
Aramaic and Hebrew have a very common kind of expression, which
is in fact an exclamation and which means, " O the blessedness
of . . ." That expression (asheré in the Hebrew)
is very common in the Old Testament. For instance, the first
Psalm begins in the Hebrew: " O the blessedness of the man
that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly " (Psalm
1: 1), that is the form in which Jesus first spoke the beatitudes.
The beatitudes are not simple statements; they are exclamations:
" O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!"
. . . That is most important, for it means
that the beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be; they
are not glowing, but nebulous prophecies of some future bliss;
they are congratulations on what is. The blessedness which belongs
to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some
future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here
and now. It is not something into which the Christian will
enter; it is something into which he has entered.
. . . True, it will find its fullness and its
consummation in the presence of God; but for all that it is a
present reality to be enjoyed here and now. The beatitudes in
effect say, " O the bliss of being a Christian! O the joy
of following Christ! O the sheer happiness of knowing Jesus Christ
as Master, Saviour and Lord! " The very form of the beatitudes
is the statement of the joyous thrill and the radiant gladness
of the Christian life. In face of the beatitudes a gloom-encompassed
Christianity is unthinkable.
. . . (ii) The word blessed which is
used in each of the beatitudes is a very special word. It is
the Greek word makarios. Makarios is the word which specially
describes the gods. In Christianity there is a godlike joy.
. . . The meaning of makarios can best
be seen from one particular usage of it. The Greeks always called
Cyprus hé makaria (the feminine form of the adjective),
which means The Happy Isle, and they did so because they believed
that Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island
that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find
the perfectly happy life. It had such a climate, such flowers
and fruits and trees, such minerals, such natural resources that
it contained within itself all the materials for perfect happiness.
. . . Makarios
then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that
joy which is serene and untouchable, and self contained, that
joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the
chances of life. The English word happiness gives its
own case away. It contains the root hap which means chance.
Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances
and the chances of life, something which life may give and which
life may also destroy. The Christian blessedness is completely
untouchable and unassailable. " No one," said Jesus,
" will take your joy from you " (John 16: 22).
The beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us through our pain,
that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless
to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing
in life or death can take away.
. . . The world can win its joys, and the world
can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse
in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition,
even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the
world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable
joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the
presence of Jesus Christ.
The greatness of the beatitudes is that they are not wistful
glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises
of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for
a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.
THE BLISS OF THE DESTITUTE
Matthew 5: 3 (continued)
IT seems a surprising way to
begin talking about happiness by saying, " Blessed are the
poor in spirit." There are two ways in which we can come
at the meaning of this word poor.
. . . As we have them the beatitudes are in
Greek, and the word that is used for poor is the word
ptóchos. In Greek there are two words for poor.
There is the word penés. Penés describes
a man who has to work for his living; it is defined by the Greeks
as describing the man who is autodiakonos, that is, the
man who serves his own needs with his own hands. Penés
describes the working man, the man who has nothing superfluous,
the man who is not rich, but who is not destitute either. But,
as we have seen, it is not penés that is used in
this beatitude, it is ptóchos, which describes
absolute and abject poverty. It is connected with the
root ptóssein, which means to crouch or
to cower; and it describes the poverty which is beaten
to its knees. As it has been said, penés describes
the man who has nothing superfluous; ptóchos describes
the man who has nothing at all. So this beatitude becomes even
more surprising. Blessed is the man who is abjectly and completely
poverty-stricken. Blessed is the man who is absolutely destitute.
As we have also seen the beatitudes were not originally spoken
in Greek, but in Aramaic. Now the Jews had a special way of using
the word Poor. In Hebrew the word is 'ani or ebión.
These words in Hebrew underwent a four-stage development of meaning.
(i) They began by meaning simply poor. (ii) They went
on to mean, because poor, therefore having no influence or
power, or help, or prestige. (iii) They went on to mean,
because having no influence, therefore down-trodden and oppressed
by men. (iv) Finally, they came to describe the man who,
because he has no earthly resources whatever, puts his whole
trust in God.
. . .
So in Hebrew the word poor
was used to describe the humble and the helpless man who put
his whole trust in God. It is thus that the Psalmist uses the
word, when he writes, " This poor man cried, and
the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles "
(Psalm 34: 6). It is in fact true that in the Psalms the
poor man, in this sense of the term, is the good man who is dear
to God. " The hope of the poor shall not perish for ever"
(Psalm 9: 18). God delivers the poor (Psalm 35:
10). " In thy goodness, O God, thou didst provide for the
needy " (Psalm 68: 10). "He shall defend the
cause of the poor of the people " (Psalm 72: 4).
" He raises up the needy out of affliction, and makes their
families like flocks " (Psalm 107: 41). " 1
will satisfy her poor with bread " (Psalm 132: 15).
In all these cases the poor man is the humble, helpless
man who has put his trust in God.
. . . Let us now take the two sides, the Greek
and the Aramaic, and put them together. Ptóchos
describes the man who is absolutely destitute, the man who has
nothing at all; 'ani and ebión describe
the poor, and humble, and helpless man who has put his whole
trust in God. Therefore, " Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed is the man who has
realised his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole
trust in God.
. . . If a man has realised his own utter helplessness,
and has put his whole trust in God, there will enter into his
life two things which are opposite sides of the same thing. He
will become completely detached from things, for he will
know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or
security; and he will become completely attached to God,
for he will know that God alone can bring him help, and hope,
and strength. The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has
realised that things mean nothing, and that God means everything.
. . . We must be careful not to think that
this beatitude calls actual material poverty a good thing. Poverty
is not a good thing. Jesus would never have called blessed a
state where people live in slums and nave not enough to eat,
and where health rots because conditions are all against it.
That kind of poverty it is the aim of the Christian gospel to
remove. The poverty which is blessed is the poverty of spirit,
when a man realises his own utter lack of resources to meet life,
and finds his help and strength in God.
. . . Jesus says that to such a poverty belongs
the Kingdom of Heaven. Why should that be so? If we take the
two petitions of the Lord's Prayer and set them together:
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,
we get the definition: the Kingdom
of God is a society where God's will is as perfectly done in
earth as it is in heaven. That means that only he who does God's
will is a citizen of the Kingdom; and we can only do God's will
when we realise our own utter helplessness, our own utter ignorante,
our own utter inability to cope with life, and when we put our
whole trust in God. Obedience is always founded on trust. The
Kingdom of God is the possession of the poor in spirit, because
the poor in spirit have realised their own utter helplessness
without God, and nave learned to trust and obey.
. . . So then, the first beatitude means:
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO
HAS REALISED HIS OWN UTTER HELPLESSNESS, AND WHO HAS PUT HIS
WHOLE TRUST IN GOD, FOR THUS ALONE HE CAN RENDER TO GOD THAT
PERFECT OBEDIENCE WHICH WILL MAKE HIM A CITIZEN OF THE KINGDOM
THE BLISS OF THE BROKEN HEART
Matthew 5: 4
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
IT is first of all to be noted
about this beatitude that the Greek word for to mourn,
used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language.
It is the word which is used for mourning for the dead, for the
passionate lament for one who was loved. In the Septuagint, the
Greek version of the Old Testament, it is the word which is used
of Jacob's grief when he believed that Joseph, his son, was dead
(Genesis 37: 34). It is defined as the kind of grief which
takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hid. It is not only
the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow
which brings the unrestrainable tears to the eyes. Here then
indeed is an amazing kind of bliss:
Blessed is the man who mourns
like one mourning for the dead.
There are three ways in which
this beatitude can be taken.
I walked a mile with
. . . (i) It can be taken quite literally:
Blessed is the man who has endured the bitterest sorrow that
life can bring. The Arabs have a proverb: " All sunshine
makes a desert." The land on which the sun always shines
will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow. There
are certain things which only the rains will produce; and certain
experiences which only sorrow can beget.
. . . Sorrow can do two things for us. It can
show us, as nothing else can, the essential kindness of our fellow-men;
and it can show us as nothing else can the comfort and the compassion
of God. Many and many a man in the hour of his sorrow has discovered
his fellow-men and his God as he never did before. When things
go well it is possible to live for years on the surface of things;
but when sorrow comes a man is driven to the deep things of life,
and, if he accepts it aright, a new strength and beauty enter
into his soul.
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with
And ne'er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me! "
(ii) Some people have taken this
beatitude to mean:
Blessed are those who are desperately
sorry for the sorrow and the suffering of this world.
. . . When we were thinking of the first beatitude
we saw that it is always right to be detached from things,
but it is never right to be detached from people. This world
would have been a very much poorer place, if there had not been
those who cared intensely about the sorrows and the sufferings
. . . Lord Shaftesbury probably did more for
ordinary working men and women and for little children than any
social reformer ever did. It all began very simply. When he was
a boy at Harrow, he was going along the street one day, and he
met a pauper's funeral. The coffin was a shoddy, ill-made box.
It was on a hand-barrow. The barrow was being pushed by a quartette
of men who were drunk; and as they pushed the barrow along, they
were singing ribald songs, and joking and jesting among themselves.
As they pushed the barrow up the hill the box, which was the
coffin, fell off the barrow and burst open. Some people would
have thought the whole business a good joke; some would have
turned away in fastidious disgust; some would have shrugged their
shoulders and would have felt that it had nothing to do with
them, although it might be a pity that such things should happen.
The young Shaftesbury saw it and said to himself, " When
I grow up, I'm going to give my life to see that things like
that don't happen." So he dedicated his life to caring for
. . . Christianity is caring. This beatitude
does mean: Blessed is the man who cares intensely for the sufferings,
and for the sorrows, and for the needs of others.
. . . (iii) No doubt both these thoughts are
in this beatitude, but its main thought undoubtedly is: Blessed
is the man who is desperately sorry for his own sin and his own
. . . As we have seen, the very first word
of the message of Jesus was, "Repent!" No man can repent
unless he is sorry for his sins. The thing which really changes
men is when they suddenly come up against something which opens
their eyes to what sin is and to what sin does. A boy or a girl
may go his or her own way, and may never think of effects and
consequences; and then some day something happens and that boy
or girl sees the stricken look in a father's or a mother's eyes;
and suddenly sin is seen for what it is.
. . . That is what the Cross does for us. As
we look at the Cross, we are bound to say, " That is what
sin can do. Sin can take the loveliest life in all the world
and smash it on a Cross." One of the great functions of
the Cross is to open the eyes of men and women to the horror
of sin. And when a man sees sin in all its horror he cannot do
anything else but experience intense sorrow for his sin.
. . . Christianity begins with a sense of sin.
Blessed is the man who is intensely sorry for his sin, the man
who is heart-broken for what his sin has done to God and to Jesus
Christ, the man who sees the Cross and who is appalled by the
havoc wrought by sin.
. . . It is the man who has that experience
who will indeed be comforted; for that experience is what we
call penitence, and the broken and the contrite heart God will
never despise (Psalm 51: 17). The way to the joy of forgiveness
is through the desperate sorrow of the broken heart.
The real meaning of the second beatitude is:
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHOSE
HEART IS BROKEN FOR THE WORLD'S SUFFERING AND FOR HIS OWN SIN,
FOR OUT OF HIS SORROW HE WILL FIND THE JOY OF GOD!
THE BLISS OF THE GOD-CONTROLLED
Matthew 5: 5
Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth.
In our modern English idiom the
word meek is hardly one of the honourable words of life.
Nowadays it carries with it an idea of spinelessness, and subservience,
and mean-spiritedness. It paints the picture of a submissive
and ineffective creature. But it so happens that the word meekin
Greek prauswas one of the great Greek ethical words.
. . . Aristotle has a great deal to say about
the quality of meekness (praotés). It was
Aristotle's fixed method to define every virtue as the mean between
two extremes. On the one hand there was the extreme of excess;
on the other hand there was the extreme of defect; and in between
there was the virtue itself, the happy medium. To take an example,
on the one extreme there is the spendthrift; on the other extreme
there is the miser; and in between there is the generous man.
. . . Aristotle defines meekness, praotés,
as the mean between orgilotés, which means excessive
anger, and aorgésia, which means excessive
angerlessness. Praotés, meekness, as Aristotle
saw it, is the happy medium between too much and too little anger.
And so the first possible translation of this beatitude is:
Blessed is the man who is always
angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.
. . . If we ask what the right time and the
wrong time are, we may say as a general rule for life that it
is never right to be angry for any insult or injury done to ourselves;
that is something that no Christian must ever resent; but that
it is often right to be angry at injuries done to other people.
Selfish anger is always a sin; selfless anger can be one of the
great moral dynamics of the world.
. . . But the word praus has a second
standard Greek usage. It is the regular word for an animal which
has been domesticated, which has been trained to obey the word
of command, which has learned to answer to the reins. It is the
word for an animal which has learned to accept control. So the
second possible translation of this beatitude is:
Blessed is the man who has every
instinct, every impulse, every passion under control. Blessed
is the man who is entirely self-controlled.
. . . The moment we have stated that, we see
that it needs a change. It is not so much the blessing of the
man who is self-controlled, for such complete self-control
is beyond human capacity; rather, it is the blessing of the man
who is completely God-controlled, for only in his service
do we find our perfect freedom, and in doing his will our peace.
. . . But there is still a third possible side
from which we may approach this beatitude. The Greeks always
contrasted the quality which they called praotés,
and which the Authorized Version translates meekness,
with the quality which they called hupsélokardia,
which means lofty-heartedness. In praotés
there is the true humility which banishes all pride.
. . . Without humility a man cannot learn,
for the first step to learning is the realisation of our own
ignorance. Quintilian, the great Roman teacher of oratory, said
of certain of his scholars, "They would no doubt be excellent
students, if they were not already convinced of their own knowledge."
No one can teach the man who knows it all already. Without humility
there can be no such thing as love, for the very beginning of
love is a sense of unworthiness. Without humility there can be
no true religion, for all true religion begins with a realisation
of our own weakness and of our need for God. Man reaches only
true manhood when he is always conscious that he is the creature
and that God is the Creator, and that without God he can do nothing.
. . . Praotés describes humility, the acceptance of the necessity
to learn and of the necessity to be forgiven. It describes man's
only proper attitude to God. So then, the third possible translation
of this beatitude is:
Blessed is the man who has the
humility to know his own ignorante, his own weakness, and his
. . . It is this meekness, Jesus says, which
will inherit the earth. It is the fact of history that it has
always been the men with this gift of self-control, the men with
their passions, and instincts, and impulses under discipline,
who have been great. Numbers says of Moses, the greatest
leader and the greatest law-giver the world has ever seen: "Now
the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the
face of the earth" (Numbers 12: 3). Moses was no
milk and water character; he was no spineless creature; he could
be blazingly angry; but he was a man whose anger was on the leash,
only to be released when the time was right. The writer of Proverbs
has it: "He that rules his spirit is better than he who
takes a city" (Proverbs 16: 32).
. . . It was the lack of that very quality
which ruined Alexander the Great, who, in a fit of uncontrolled
temper in the middle of a drunken debauch, hurled a spear at
his best friend and killed him. No man can lead others until
he has mastered himself; no man can serve others until he has
subjected himself; no man can be in control of others until he
has learned to control himself. But the man who gives himself
into the complete control of God will gain this meekness which
will indeed enable him to inherit the earth.
. . . It is clear that this word praus
means far more than the English word meek now means; it
is, in fact, clear that there is no one English word which will
translate it, although perhaps the word gentle comes nearest
to it. The full translation of this third beatitude must read:
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO
IS ALWAYS ANGRY AT THE RIGHT TIME AND NEVER ANGRY AT THE WRONG
TIME, WHO HAS EVERY INSTINCT, AND IMPULSE, AND PASSION UNDER
CONTROL BECAUSE HE HIMSELF IS GOD-CONTROLLED, WHO HAS THE HUMILITY
TO REALISE HIS OWN IGNORANCE AND HIS OWN WEAKNESS, FOR SUCH A
MAN IS A KING AMONG MEN!
THE BLISS OF THE STARVING
Matthew 5: 6
Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Words do not exist in isolation;
they exist against a background of experience and of thought;
and the meaning of any word is conditioned by the background
of the person who speaks it. That is particularly true of this
beatitude. It would convey to those who heard it for the first
time an impression quite different from the impression which
it conveys to us.
. . . The fact is that very few of us in modern
conditions of life know what it is to be really hungry or really
thirsty. In the ancient world it was very different. A working
man's wage was the equivalent of three pence a day, and, even
making every allowance for the difference in the purchasing power
of money, no man ever got fat on that wage. A working man in
Palestine ate meat only once a week, and in Palestine the working
man and the day labourer were never far from the border-line
of real hunger and actual starvation.
. . . It was still more so in the case of thirst.
It was not possible for the vast majority of people to turn a
tap and find the clear, cold water pouring into their house.
A man might be on a journey, and in the midst of it the hot wind
which brought the sand-storm might begin to blow. There was nothing
for him to do but to wrap his head in his burnous and turn his
back to the wind, and wait, while the swirling sand filled his
nostrils and his throat until he was likely to suffocate, and
until he was parched with an imperious thirst. In the conditions
of modern western life there is no parallel at all to that.
. . . So, then, the hunger which this beatitude
describes is no genteel hunger which would be satisfied with
a mid-morning snack; the thirst of which it speaks is no thirst
which could be slaked with a cup of coffee or an iced drink.
It is the hunger of the man who is starving for food, and the
thirst of the man who will die unless he drinks.
. . . Since that is so this beatitude is in
reality a question and a challenge. In effect it demands, "How
much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving
man wants food, and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?"
How intense is our desire for goodness?
. . . Most people have an instinctive desire
for goodness, but that desire is wistful and nebulous rather
than sharp and intense; and when the moment of decision comes
they are not prepared to make the effort and the sacrifice which
real goodness demands. Most people suffer from what Robert Louis
Stevenson called " the malady of not wanting." It would
obviously make the biggest difference in the world if we desired
goodness more than anything else.
. . . When we approach this beatitude from
that side it is the most demanding, and indeed the most frightening,
of them all. But not only is it the most demanding beatitude;
in its own way it is also the most comforting. At the back of
it there is the meaning that the man who is blessed is not necessarily
the man who achieves this goodness, but the man who longs for
it with his whole heart. If blessedness came only to him who
achieved, then none would be blessed. But blessedness comes to
the man who, in spite of failures and failings, still clutches
to him the passionate love of the highest.
. . . H. G. Wells somewhere said, "A man
may be a bad musician and yet be passionately in love with music."
Robert Louis Stevenson spoke of even those who have sunk to the
lowest depths "clutching the remnants of virtue to them
in the brothel and on the scaffold." Sir Norman Birkett,
the famous lawyer and judge, once, speaking of the criminals
with whom he had come in contact in his work, spoke of the inextinguishable
something in every man. Goodness, "the implacable hunger,"
is always at their heels. The worst of men is "condemned
to some kind of nobility."
. . . The true wonder of man is not that he
is a sinner, but that even in his sin he is haunted by goodness,
that even in the mud he can never wholly forget the stars. David
had always wished to build the Temple of God; he never achieved
that ambition; it was denied and forbidden him; but God said
to him, "You did well that it was in your heart" (l
Kings 8: 18). In his mercy God judges us, not only by
our achievements, but also by our dreams. Even if a man never
attains goodness, if to the end of the day he is still hungering
and thirsting for it, he is not shut out from blessedness.
. . . There is one further point in this beatitude,
a point which only emerges in the Greek. It is a rule of Greek
grammar that verbs of hungering and thirsting are followed by
the genitive case. The genitive case is the case which, in English,
is expressed by the word of; of the man is the genitive
case. The genitive which follows verbs of hungering and thirsting
in Greek is called the partitive genitive, that is the genitive
of the part. The idea is this. The Greek said, "I hunger
for of bread." It was some bread he desired, a part of the
bread, not the whole loaf. The Greek said, "I thirst for
of water." It was some water he desired, a drink of water,
not all the water in the tank.
. . . But in this beatitude, most unusually,
righteousness is in the direct accusative, and not in
the normal genitive. Now, when verbs of hungering and thirsting
in Greek take the accusative instead of the genitive, the meaning
is that the hunger and the thirst is for the whole thing.
To say I hunger for bread in the accusative means, I want the
whole loaf. To say I thirst for water in the accusative means,
I want the whole pitcher. There the correct translation is:
Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness.
. . . That is in fact what people seldom do.
They are content with a part of righteousness. A man, for instance,
may be a good man in the sense that, however hard one tried,
one would not pin a moral fault on to him. His honesty, his morality,
his respectability are beyond question, but it may be that no
one would go to that man and weep out a sorry story on his breast;
he would freeze, if one tried to do so. There can be a goodness
which is accompanied with a hardness, a censoriousness, a lack
of sympathy. Such a goodness is a partial goodness.
. . . On the other hand a man may have all
kinds of faults; he may drink, and swear, and gamble, and lose
his temper; and yet, if any one is in trouble, he would give
him the last penny out of his pocket and the very coat off his
back. Again that is a partial goodness.
. . . This beatitude says, it is not enough
to be satisfied with a partial goodness. Blessed is the man who
hungers and thirsts for the goodness which is total. Neither
an icy faultlessness nor a faulty warm-heartedness is enough.
So, then, the translation of the fourth beatitude could run:
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO
LONGS FOR TOTAL RIGHTEOUSNESS AS A STARVING MAN LONGS FOR FOOD,
AND A MAN PERISHING OF THIRST LONGS FOR WATER, FOR THAT MAN WILL
BE TRULY SATISFIED!
THE BLISS OF PERFECT SYMPATHY
Matthew 5: 7
Blessed are the merciful, for
they shall obtain mercy.
EVEN as it stands this is surely
a great saying; and it is the statement of a principle which
runs all through the New Testament. The New Testament is insistent
that to be forgiven we must be forgiving. As James had it: "
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy "
(James 2: 13). Jesus finishes the story of the unforgiving
debtor with the warning: " So also my heavenly Father will
do to everyone of you; if you do not forgive your brother from
your heart " (Matthew 18: 35). The Lord's Prayer
is followed by the two verses which explain and underline the
petition, " Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven
our debtors ". " For if you forgive men their trespasses,
your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not
forgive men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses " (Matthew
6: 12, 14, 15). It is the consistent teaching of the New
Testament that indeed only the merciful shall receive mercy.
. . . But there is even more to this beatitude
than that. The Greek word for merciful is eleémón.
But, as we have repeatedly seen, the Greek of the New Testament
as we possess it goes back to an original Hebrew and Aramaic.
The Hebrew word for mercy is chesedh; and it is an untranslatable
word. It does not mean only to sympathise with a person in the
popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry
for someone in trouble. Chesedh, mercy, means the ability
to get right inside the other person's skin until we can see
things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things
with his feelings.
. . . Clearly this is much more than an emotional
wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort
of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not
given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate
identification with the other person, until we see things as
he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy
in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived
from two Greek words, syn which means together
with, and paschein which means to experience or
to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things
together with the other person, literally going through what
he is going through.
. . . This is precisely what many people do
not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own
feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of
anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were,
from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get
inside the other person's mind and heart, until they see and
feel things as he sees and feels them.
. . . If we did make this deliberate attempt,
and if we did achieve this identification with the other person,
it would obviously make a very great difference.
. . . (i) It would save us from being kind
in the wrong way. There is one outstanding example of insensitive
and mistaken kindness in the New Testament. lt is in the story
of Jesus' visit to the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany (Luke
10: 38-42). When Jesus paid that visit, the Cross was only a
few days ahead. All that he wanted was an opportunity for so
short a time to rest and to relax, and to lay down the terrible
tension of living.
. . . Martha loved Jesus; he was her most honoured
guest; and because she loved him she would provide the best meal
the house could supply. She bustled and scurried here and there
with the clatter of dishes and the clash of pans; and every moment
was torture to the tense nerves of Jesus. All he wanted was quiet.
. . . Martha meant to be kind, but she could
hardly have been more cruel. But Mary understood that Jesus wished
only for peace. So often when we wish to be kind the kindness
has to be given in our way, and the other person has to put up
with it whether he likes it or not. Our kindness would be doubly
kind, and would be saved from much quite unintentional unkindness,
if we would only make the effort to get inside the other person.
. . . (ii) It would make forgiveness, and it
would make tolerance ever so much easier. There is one principle
in life which we often forgetthere is always a reason why
a person thinks and acts as he does, and if we knew that reason,
it would be so much easier to understood and to sympathise and
to forgive. If a person thinks, as we see it, mistakenly, he
may have come through experiences, he may have a heritage which
has made him think as he does. If a person is irritable and discourteous,
he may be worried or he may be in pain. If a person treats us
badly, it may be because there is some idea in his mind which
is quite mistaken.
. . . Truly, as the French proverb has it,
" To know all is to forgive all." but we will never
know all until we make the deliberate attempt to get inside the
other person's mind and heart.
. . . (iii) In the last analysis, is not that
what God did in Jesus Christ? In Jesus Christ. in the most literal
sense, God got inside the skin of men. He came as a man; he came
seeing things with men's eyes. feeling things with men's feelings,
thinking things with men's minds. God knows what life is like,
because God came right inside life.
. . . Queen Victoria was a close friend of
Principal and Mrs. Tulloch of St. Andrews. Prince Albert died
and Victoria was left alone. Just at the same time Principal
Tulloch died and Mrs. Tulloch was left alone. All unannounced
Queen Victoria came to call on Mrs. Tulloch when she was resting
on a couch in her room. When the Queen was announced Mrs. Tulloch
struggled to rise quickly from the couch and to curtsey. The
Queen stepped forward: " My dear," she said, "
don't rise. I am not coming to you today as the queen to a subject,
but as one woman who has lost her husband to another."
. . . That is just what God did; he came to
men, not as the remote, detached, isolated, majestic God; but
as a man. The supreme instance of mercy, chesedh, is the
coming of God in Jesus Christ.
. . . It is only those who show this mercy
who will receive it. This is true on the human side, for it is
the great truth of life that in other people we see the reflection
of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they
will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see that we
care, their hearts will respond in caring. It is supremely true
on the divine side, for he who shows this mercy has become nothing
less than like God.
. . . So the translation of the fifth beatitude
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHO
GETS RIGHT INSIDE OTHER PEOPLE, UNTIL HE CAN SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
THINK WITH THEIR THOUGHTS, FEEL WITH THEIR FEELINGS, FOR HE WHO
DOES THAT WILL FIND OTHERS DO THE SAME FOR HIM, AND WILL KNOW
THAT THAT IS WHAT GOD IN JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE!
THE BLISS OF THE CLEAN HEART
Matthew 5: 8
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
HERE is the beatitude which demands
that every man who reads it should stop, and think, and examine
. . . The Greek word for pure is katharos,
and it has a variety of usages, all of which have something to
add to the meaning of this beatitude for the Christian life.
. . . (i) Originally it simply meant clean,
and would, for instance, be used of soiled clothes which have
been washed clean.
. . . (ii) It is regularly used for corn which
has been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all chaff. In the
same way it is used of an army which has been purged of all discontented,
cowardly, unwilling and inefficient soldiers, and which is a
forte composed solely of first-class fighting men.
. . . (iii) It very commonly appears in company
with another Greek adjectiveakératos.
Akératos can be used of milk or wine which is unadulterated
with water, or of metal which has in it no tinge of alloy.
. . . So, then, the basic meaning of katharos
is unmixed, unadulterated, unalloyed. That is why this
beatitude is so demanding a beatitude. It would be translated:
Blessed is the man whose motives
are always entirely unmixed, for that man shall see God.
. . . It is very seldom indeed that we do even
our finest actions from absolutely unmixed motives. If we give
generously and liberally to some good cause, it may well be that
there lingers in the depths of our hearts some contentment in
basking in the sunshine of our own self-approval, some pleasure
in the praise and thanks and credit which we will receive. If
we do some fine thing, .which demands some sacrifice from us,
it may well be that we are not altogether free from the feeling
that men will see something heroic in us and that we may regard
ourselves as martyrs. Even a preacher at his most sincere is
not altogether free from the danger of self-satisfaction in having
preached a good sermon. Was it not John Bunyan who was once told
by someone that he had preached well that day, and who answered
sadly, " The devil already told me that as I was coming
down the pulpit steps "?
. . . This beatitude demands from us the most
exacting self examination. Is our work done from motives of service
or from motives of pay? Is our service given from selfless motives
or from motives of self-display? Is the work we do in Church
done for Christ or for our own prestige? Is our Church-going
an attempt to meet God or a fulfilling of an habitual and conventional
respectability? Are even our prayer and our Bible reading engaged
upon with the sincere desire to company with God or because it
gives us a pleasant feeling of superiority to do these things?
Is our religion a thing in which we are conscious of nothing
so much as the need of God within our hearts, or a thing in which
we have comfortable thoughts of our own piety? To examine one's
own motives is a daunting and a shaming thing, for there are
few things in this world that even the best of us do with completely
. . . Jesus went on to say that only the pure
in heart will see God. It is one of the simple facts of life
that we see only what we are able to see; and that is true not
only in the physical sense; it is also true in every other possible
. . . If the ordinary person goes out on a
night of stars, he sees only a host of pinpoints of light in
the sky; he sees what he is fit to see. But in that same sky
the astronomer will call the stars and the planets by their names,
and will move amongst them as his friends; and from that same
sky the navigator would find the means to bring his ship across
the trackless seas to the desired haven.
. . . The ordinary person can walk along a
country road, and see by the hedgerows nothing but a tangle of
weeds and wild flowers and grasses. The trained botanist would
see this and that, and call it by name and know its use; and
he might even see something of infinite value and rarity because
he had eyes to see.
. . . Put two men into a room filled with ancient
pictures. A man with no knowledge and no skill would not tell
an old master from a worthless daub, whereas a trained art critic
might well discern a picture worth thousands of pounds in a collection
which someone else might dismiss as junk.
. . . There are people with filthy minds who
can see in any situation material for a prurient snigger and
a soiled jest. In every sphere of life we see what we are able
. . . So, says Jesus, it is only the pure in
heart who shall see God.
It is a warning thing to remember that, as by God's grace we
keep our hearts clean, or as by human lust we soil them, we are
either fitting or unfitting ourselves some day to see God.
. . . So, then, this sixth beatitude might
O THE BLISS OF THE MAN WHOSE
MOTIVES ARE ABSOLUTELY PURE, FOR THAT MAN WILL SOME DAY BE ABLE
TO SEE GOD!
THE BLISS OF BRINGING MEN
Matthew 5: 9
Blessed are the peace-makers,
for they shall be called sons of God.
WE must begin our study of this
beatitude by investigating certain matters of meaning in it.
. . . (i) First, there is the word peace.
In Greek the word is eiréné, and in Hebrew
it is shalóm. In Hebrew peace is never only
a negative state; it never means only the absence of trouble;
in Hebrew peace always means everything which makes
for a man's highest good. In the east when one man says to
another, Salaamwhich is the same wordhe does
not mean that he wishes for the other man only the absence of
evil things; he wishes for him the presence of all good things.
In the Bible peace means not only freedom from all trouble; it
means enjoyment of all good.
. . . (ii) Second, it must carefully be noted
what the beatitude is saying. The blessing is on the peace-makers,
not necessarily on the peace-lovers. It very often happens
that if a man loves peace in the wrong way, he succeeds in making
trouble and not peace. We may, for instance, allow a threatening
and dangerous situation to develop, and our defence is that for
peace's sake we do not want to take any action. There is many
a person who thinks that he is loving peace, when in fact he
is piling up trouble for the future, because he refuses to face
the situation and to take the action which the situation demands.
peace which the Bible calls blessed does not come from the evasion
of issues; it comes from facing them, dealing with them, and
conquering them. What this beatitude demands is not the passive
acceptance of things because we are afraid of the trouble of
doing anything about them, but the active facing of things, and
the making of peace, even when the way to peace is through
. . . (iii) The Authorised Version says that
the peace-makers shall be called the children of God;
the Greek more literally is that the peace-makers will be called
the sons (huioí ) of God. This is a typical
Hebrew way of expression. Hebrew is not rich in adjectives, and
often when Hebrew wishes to describe something, it uses, not
an adjective, but the phrase son of... plus an abstract
noun. Hence a man may be called a son of peace instead
of a peaceful man. Barnabas is called a son of consolation
instead of a consoling and comforting man. This beatitude
says: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called
the sons of God; what it means is: Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be doing a God-like work. The man who makes peace
is engaged on the very work which the God of peace is doing (Romans
15: 33; 2 Corinthians 13: 11; 1 Thessalonians 5:
23; Hebrews 13: 20).
. . . The meaning of this beatitude has been
sought along three main lines.
. . . (i) It has been suggested that, since
shalóm means everything which makes for a man's
highest good, this beatitude means: Blessed are those who make
this world a better place for all men to live in. Abraham Lincoln
once said: " Die when I may, I would like it to be said
of me, that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where
I thought a flower would grow." This then would be the beatitude
of those who have lifted the world a little further on.
. . . (ii) Most of the early scholars of the
Church took this beatitude in a purely spiritual sense, and held
that it meant: Blessed is the man who makes peace in his own
heart and in his own soul. In every one of us there is an inner
conflict between good and evil; we are always tugged in two directions
at once; every man is at feast to some extent a walking civil
war. Happy indeed is the man who has won through to inner peace,
in which the inner warfare is over, and his whole heart is given
. . . (iii) But there is another meaning for
this word peace. It is a meaning on which the Jewish Rabbis loved
to dwell, and it is almost certainly the meaning which Jesus
had in his mind. The Jewish Rabbis held that the highest task
which a man can perform is to establish right relationships
between man and man. That is what Jesus means.
. . . There are people who are always storm-centres
of trouble and bitterness and strife. Wherever they are they
are either involved in quarrels themselves or the cause of quarrels
between others. They are trouble-makers. There are people like
that in almost every society and every Church, and such people
are doing the devil's own work. On the other handthank
Godthere are people in whose presence bitterness cannot
live, people who bridge the gulfs, and heal the breaches, and
sweeten the bitternesses. Such people are doing a godlike work,
for it is the great purpose of God to bring peace between men
and himself, and between man and man. The man who divides men
is doing the devil's work; the man who unites men is doing God's
. . . So, then, this beatitude might read:
O THE BLISS OF THOSE WHO PRODUCE
RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MAN AND MAN, FOR THEY ARE DOING A
THE BLISS OF THE SUFFERER
Matthew 5: 10--12
"Blessed are those who are
persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and
utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven,
for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."
ONE of the outstanding qualities
of Jesus was his sheer honesty. He never left men in any doubt
what would happen to them if they chose to follow him. He was
clear that he had come " not to make life easy, but to make
. . . It is hard for us to realise what the
first Christians had to suffer. Every department of their life
. . . (i) Their Christianity might well disrupt
their work. Suppose a man was a stone-mason. That seems a harmless
enough occupation. But suppose his firm received a contract to
build a temple to one of the heathen gods, what was that man
to do? Suppose a man was a tailor, and suppose his firm was asked
to produce robes for the heathen priests, what was that man to
do? In a situation such as that in which the early Christians
found themselves there was hardly any job in which a man might
not find a conflict between his business interests and his loyalty
to Jesus Christ.
. . . The Church was in no doubt where a man's
duty lay. More than a hundred years after this a man came to
Tertullian with this very problem. He told of his business difficulties.
He ended by saying, " What can I do? I must live!"
" Must you? " said Tertullian. If it came to a choice
between a loyalty and a living, the real Christian never hesitated
to choose loyalty.
. . . (ii) Their Christianity would certainly
disrupt their social life. In the ancient world most feasts were
held in the temple of some god. In very few sacrifices was the
whole animal burned upon the altar. It might be that only a few
hairs from the forehead of the beast were burned as a symbolic
sacrifice. Part of the meat went to the priests as their perquisite;
and part of the meat was returned to the worshipper. With his
share he made a feast for his friends and his relations. One
of the gods most commonly worshipped was Serapis. And when the
invitations to the feast went out, they would read:
"I invite you to dine with
me at the table of our Lord Serapis."
. . . Could a Christian share in a feast held
in the temple of a heathen god? Even an ordinary meal in an ordinary
house began with a libation, a cup of wine, poured out in honour
of the gods. It was like grace before meat. Could a Christian
become a sharer in a heathen act of worship like that? Again
the Christian answer was clear. The Christian must cut himself
off from his fellows rather than by his presence give approval
to such a thing. A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order
to be a Christian.
. . . (iii) Worst of all, their Christianity
was liable to disrupt their home life. It happened again and
again that one member of a family became a Christian while the
others did not. A wife might become a Christian while her husband
did not. A son or a daughter might become a Christian while the
rest of the family did not. Immediately there was a split in
the family. Often the door was shut for ever in the face of the
one who had accepted Christ.
. . . Christianity often came to send, not
peace, but a sword which divided families in two. It was literally
true that a man might have to love Christ more than he loved
father or mother, wife, or brother or sister. Christianity often
involved in those days a choice between a man's nearest and dearest
and Jesus Christ.
. . . Still further, the penalties which a
Christian had to suffer were terrible beyond description. All
the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions
or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped
the Christians in pitch and set them alight, and used them as
living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins
of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them
to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with
pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass
plates were affixed to the tenderest parts of their bodies; eyes
were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted
before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold
water was poured over them to lengthen the agony. These things
are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man
had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.
. . . We may well ask why the Romans persecuted
the Christians. It seems an extraordinary thing that anyone living
a Christian life should seem a fit victim for persecution and
death. There were two reasons.
. . . (i) There were certain slanders which
were spread abroad about the Christians, slanders for which the
Jews were in no small measure responsible. (a) The Christians
were accused of cannibalism. The words of the Last Supper-"
This is my body." " This cup is the New Testament in
my blood "-were taken and twisted into a story that the
Christians sacrificed a child and ate the flesh. (b) The Christians
were accused of immoral practices, and their meetings were said
to be orgies of lust. The Christian weekly meeting was called
the Agapé, the Love Feast; and the name was grossly misinterpreted.
Christians greeted each other with the kiss of peace; and the
kiss of peace became a ground on which to build the slanderous
accusations. (c) The Christians were accused of being incendiaries.
It is true that they spoke of the coming end of the world, and
they clothed their message in the apocalyptic pictures of the
end of the world in flames. Their slanderers took these words
and twisted them into threats of political and revolutionary
incendiarism. (d) The Christians were accused of tampering with
family relationships. Christianity did in fact split families
as we have seen; and so Christianity was represented as something
which divided man and wife, and disrupted the home. There were
slanders enough waiting to be invented by malicious-minded men.
. . . (ii) But the great ground of persecution
was in fact political. Let us think of the situation. The Roman
Empire included almost the whole known world, from Britain to
the Euphrates, and from Germany to North Africa. How could that
vast amalgam of peoples be somehow welded into one? Where could
a unifying principle be found? At first it was found in the worship
of the goddess Roma, the spirit of Rome. This was a worship which
the provincial peoples were happy to give, for Rome had brought
them peace and good government, and civil order and justice.
The roads were cleared of brigands and the seas of pirates: the
despots and tyrants had been banished by impartial Roman justice.
The provincial was very willing to sacrifice to the spirit of
the Empire which had done so much for him.
. . . But this worship of Roma took a further
step. There was one man who personified the Empire, one man in
whom Roma might be felt to be incarnated, and that was the Emperor;
and so the Emperor came to be regarded as a god, and divine honours
came to be paid to him, and temples were raised to his divinity.
The Roman government did not begin this worship; at first, in
fact, it did all it could to discourage it. Claudius, the Emperor,
said that he deprecated divine honours being paid to any human
being. But as the years went on the Roman government saw in this
Emperor-worship the one thing which could unify the vast Empire
of Rome; here was the one centre on which they all could come
together. So, in the end, the worship of the Emperor became,
not voluntary, but compulsory. Once a year a man had to go and
burn a pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar and say, "
Caesar is Lord." And that is precisely what the Christians
refused to do. For them Jesus Christ was the Lord, and to no
man would they give that title which belonged to Christ.
. . . It can be seen at once that Caesar-worship
was far more a test of political loyalty than anything else.
In actual fact when a man had burned his pinch of incense he
received a certificate, a libellus, to say that he had
done so, and then he could go and worship any god he liked, so
long as his worship did not interfere with public order and decency.
The Christians refused to conform. Confronted with the choice,
" Caesar or Christ? " they uncompromisingly chose Christ.
They utterly refused to compromise. The result was that, however
good a man, however fine a citizen a Christian was, he was automatically
an outlaw. In the vast Empire Rome could not afford pockets of
disloyalty, and that is exactly what every Christian congregation
appeared to the Roman authorities to be. A poet has spoken of
" The panting, huddled flock
whose crime was Christ."
The only crime of the Christian
was that he set Christ above Caesar; and for that supreme loyalty
the Christians died in their thousands, and faced torture for
the sake of the lonely supremacy of Jesus Christ.
THE BLISS OF THE BLOOD-STAINED
Matthew 5: 14-12 (continued)
When we see how persecution arose,
we are in a position to see the real glory of the martyr's way.
It may seem an extraordinary thing to talk about the bliss of
the persecuted; but for him who had eyes to see beyond the immediate
present, and a mind to understand the greatness of the issues
involved, there must have been a glory in that blood-stained
. . . (i) To have to suffer persecution was
an opportunity to show one's loyalty to Jesus Christ. One of
the most famous of all the martyrs was Polycarp, the aged bishop
of Smyrna. The mob dragged him to the tribunal of the Roman magistrate.
He was given the inevitable choice-sacrifice to the godhead of
Caesar or die. " Eighty and six years," came the immortal
reply, " have I served Christ. and he has done me no wrong.
How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? " So they brought
him to the stake, and he prayed his last prayer: " O Lord
God Almighty, the Father of thy well-beloved and ever-blessed
son, by whom we have received the knowledge of thee ... I thank
thee that thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day
and of this hour." Here was the supreme opportunity to demonstrate
his loyalty to Jesus Christ.
. . . In the First World War Rupert Brooke,
the poet, was one of those who died too young. Before he went
out to the battle he wrote:
" Now God be thanked who
has matched us with his hour."
There are so many of us who have
never in our lives made anything like a real sacrifice for Jesus
Christ. The moment when Christianity seems likely to cost us
something is the moment when it is open to us to demonstrate
our loyalty to Jesus Christ in a way that all the world can see.
. . . (ii) To have to suffer persecution is,
as Jesus himself said, the way to walk the same road as the prophets,
and the saints, and the martyrs have walked. To suffer for the
right is to gain a share in a great succession. The man who has
to suffer something for his faith can throw back his head and
" Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod."
. . . (iii) To have to suffer persecution is
to share in the great occasion. There is always something thrilling
in even being present on the great occasion, in being there when
something memorable and crucial is happening. There is an even
greater thrill in having a share, however small, in the actual
action. That is the feeling about which Shakespeare wrote so
unforgettably in Henry the Fifth in the words he put into
Henry's mouth before the battle of Agincourt:
"He that shall live this
day and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his friends,
And say, ` Tomorrow is Saint Crispian':
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, ` These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
. . . . . . . . . . . .
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
. . . When a man is called on to suffer something
for his Christianity that is always a crucial moment; it is the
great occasion; it is the clash between the world and Christ;
it is a moment in the drama of eternity. To have a share in such
a moment is not a penalty but a glory. " Rejoice at such
a moment," says Jesus, " and be glad." The word
for be glad is from the verb agalliasthai which
has been derived from two Greek words which mean to leap exceedingly.
It is the joy which leaps for joy. As it has been put, it is
the joy of the climber who has reached the summit, and who leaps
for joy that the mountain path is conquered.
. . . (iv) To suffer persecution is to make
things easier for those who are to follow. Today we enjoy the
blessing of liberty because men in the past were willing to buy
it for us at the cost of blood, and sweat, and tears. They made
it easier for us, and by a steadfast and immovable witness for
Christ we may make it easier for others who are still to come.
In the great Boulder Dam scheme in America men lost their lives
in that project which was to turn a dust-bowl into fertile land.
When the scheme was completed, the names of those who had died
were put on a tablet and the tablet was put into the great wall
of the dam, and on it there was the inscription: "These
died that the desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose."
. . . The man who fights his battle for Christ
will always make things easier for those who follow after. For
them there will be one less struggle to be encountered on the
. . . (v) Still further, no man ever suffers
persecution alone; if a man is called upon to bear material loss,
the failure of friends, slander, loneliness, even the death of
love, for his principles, he will not be left alone. Christ will
be nearer to him than at any other time.
. . . The old story in Daniel tells
how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the furnace
heated seven times hot because of their refusal to move from
their loyalty to God. The courtiers watched. " Did we not
cast three men, bound, into the fire? " they asked. The
reply was that it was indeed so. Then came the astonished answer,
" But I see four men, loose, walking in the midst of the
fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth
is like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3: 19-25).
. . . As Browning had it in Christmas Eve and
"I was born sickly, poor
A slave; no misery could screen
The holders of the pearl of price
From Caesar's envy; therefore twice
I fought with beasts, and three times saw
My children suffer by his law;
At last my own release was earned;
I was some time in being burned,
But at the close a Hand came through
The fire above my head, and drew
My soul to Christ, whom now I see.
Sergius, a brother, writes for me
This testimony on the wall
For me, I have forgot it all."
When a man has to suffer something
for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship
. . . There remains only one question to ask-why
is this persecution so inevitable? It is inevitable because the
Church, when it really is the Church, is bound to be the conscience
of the nation and the conscience of society. Where there is good
the Church must praise; where there is evil the Church must condemn-and
inevitably men will try to silence the troublesome voice of conscience.
It is not the duty of the individual Christian habitually to
find fault to criticise, to condemn, but it may well be that
his every action is a silent condemnation of the unchristian
lives of others, and he will not escape their hatred.
. . . It is not likely that death awaits us
because of our loyalty to the Christian faith. But insult awaits
the man who insists on Christian honour. Mockery awaits the man
who practises Christian love and Christian forgiveness. Actual
persecution may well await the Christian in industry who insists
on doing an honest day's work. Christ still needs his witnesses;
he needs those who are prepared, not so much to die for him,
as to live for him. The Christian struggle and the Christian
glory still exist.
the Gospel of MATTHEW, Vol. 1
The Daily Bible Series
Westminster John Knox Press