From Glory to Glory
This is the second section of special studies in the sermon on the mount by Robert McClurkin. Our brother places emphasis upon its application to Christian behaviour. This surely is a timely consideration that ought to result in close introspection. —Ed.
Christian Character and Manner of Life
The manner of the Christian’s life is described in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew in a fourfold way: the imparta-tion of the life of Christ, the moulding of character (Vv. 1-12); the influence of this life among men, the motivating power of character (Vv. 13-16); the interpretation of the law by that life, the manifestation of character (Vv. 17-37); the inspiration of that life, the measure of character (Vv. 38-48).
The disciple sits at the feet of the Master (V. 1) and imbibes His spirit until the image of the Lord Jesus is formed within him. The seven virtues mentioned in the verses which immediately follow, find their perfection in the lovely manhood of Jesus.
Upon the one in whom the image of the Master is formed, rest nine great beatitudes. While the word “blessed” bears the thought of happiness, its meaning is much deeper. Happiness in this world is superficial. It endures while the things that produce it last, but the blessedness of the saints is inward and abiding. It is not affected by circumstances. The word “blessed” describes the repose of a soul in God.
This blessedness is the result of three things: freedom from the domination of the flesh (Vv. 3-7), a deep settled communion with God (Vv. 8-9), and a zeal for righteousness because of a burden for the glory of God and the welfare of men (Vv. 10-12). Here again, as in the division of the three chapters already mentioned, we have what touches character, communion, and testimony.
It will be noticed that the first four of these are negative while the last three are positive. “As righteousness is the key-note of the first four, so grace is that which lies at the root of the latter three” (Wm. Kelly).
Let us now look at these seven virtues as they give to us the double picture of righteousness and grace, a righteousness that far exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, a grace that was lacking completely in the religion of the day.
The poor in spirit (V. 3): This is a spirit that feels the barrenness of a scene in which God is rejected, a spirit that is broken and contrite and willing to submit to the rule of God. Poverty of spirit stands out in contrast to the religion of the Pharisees which was marked by pride and self-sufficiency. Our Lord begins with this condition of heart because “lowliness is the beginning of holiness.” It is an immutable law of the Kingdom of Heaven that “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). Greatness in the Kingdom is measured by poverty of spirit (Matt. 18:4) because true nobility is found in being like Him Who was meek and lowly in heart. To such the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Theirs is the spirit of that Kingdom. Its resources are at their disposal. They are citizens now and possess in hope the Kingdom of Glory to come.
The mourners (V. 4): “Mourning here is love’s judgment of the ruin around it” (F. W. Grant). It is descriptive of the one who partakes of the spirit of our Lord Jesus Who was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” It is godly sorrow over a scene where sin holds dominion instead of our blessed Saviour. Of these mourners we read, “They shall be comforted.” Comfort in this passage is more than consolation; it means strength given by the upholding hand of God which supports us in a scene where there is so much grief. The saints of old were mourners yet they walked in the comfort of the Holy Scriptures (Acts 9:31). The Church awaits the day when the rights of Christ will be universally acknowledged, and God shall wipe away all tears from her eyes.
The meek (V. 5): “Meekness is strength in subjection”, the fruit of a deeper knowledge of God’s ways. If mourning is sorrow because of opposition to God, meekness is calmness of spirit in the knowledge of God’s purposes. The child of God being assured that He does all things well patiently abides in the will of God. He knows that one day the supremacy of Christ will be acknowledged in all the earth and that God shall wipe away every tear. As is the experience of our Lord in chapter 11, so is the experience of the believer here, meekness is expressed by mourning over the ravishes of sin. It was after He had mourned over the Pharisees’ mockery and indifference and the utter rejection of His claims by the cities in which most of His mighty works were done that, in submissive calmness, He bowed to His Father’s will, and taught His own to learn of Him, the meek and lowly in heart. His meekness is demonstrated in His calm happy attitude in the presence of His Father amid seeming defeat. He knew the will of God was best and would triumph at last. The yoke referred to in verse 30 is not the yoke of service but of spiritual education. It is the picture of the student completely abandoned to the teacher whose teaching moulds the mind and character of the pupil.
Meekness will result in greater capacity for the Word of God in the soul (Jas. 1:21), and will lead to greater usefulness in the work of the Lord (Gal. 6:1). This blessed virtue also has its spiritual compensations. It will lead to divine contentment, for the meek shall be satisfied in a God-planned and Spirit-taught life (Psa. 25:9), and in a testimony that will beautify the salvation of God in the eyes of the world (Psa. 149:4).
The hungry and thirsty (V. 6): This condition of soul manifests a divine discontentment with everything that is not after God’s order. The failure of human systems is felt in the soul, and the believer groans, in harmony with all creation, for the great deliverance to be wrought for the world under the rule of the Son of Man.
The merciful (V. 7): The last three virtues signified in this portion are positive and give us the activity of the new life in the sphere of suffering, devotion, and Christian brotherhood.
In the sphere of suffering our Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful.” The merciful are those in whom the compassions of Christ are formed. They are thus affected by the sufferings of others, and, like our Lord Jesus, are disposed to go to the aid of those in need. The very character of God is reflected in our showing mercy to others. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. His attitude toward all our devotions is seen in the statement, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” Mercy ever returns to the one who shows it. On the other hand, “He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (Jas. 2:13).
The pure in heart (V. 8): In the sphere of devotion, the vision of the face of God is reserved exclusively for the pure in heart, the heart that has been purified by faith. Since we know that the eyes of faith belong to the heart, the inner being of man, this vision will be blurred by sin. The pure in heart are those whose minds, motives, and principles are pure. The outwardly correct may be inwardly corrupt. The unclean heart is described by the Lord Jesus as the source of every foul thing that defiles the life and destroys the character (Matt. 15:19). David felt the loathsomeness of his evil nature after yielding to unclean thoughts when he cried, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10). The truth of God can be carried only in a clean conscience (1 Tim. 3:9). Three times in the New Testament the pure heart is mentioned: first, as an essence of godliness. “The end of the commandment is charity (love) out of a pure heart” (1 Tim. 1:5). From the pure river of faith, all virtue flows (Rom. 14:23), and into the pure river of love, all virtue moves. Second, as an essential to communion with God “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). David expressed the same sentiments in Psalm 24 when he said, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart” (Vv. 3-4). Third, as an expression of brotherly relationship for we read, “Love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22).
Purity of heart clears the spiritual vision of the saints. We read, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” God reveals Himself to all such. Visions of His character, His holiness, His grace, and His love unfold before the eyes of their souls. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3; 18). The unveiled face means a condition of heart in which there is nothing between it and God. The joys of heaven are summed up in these words, “They shall see His face.” Even now by faith this is the supreme joy of the Christian life. In Romans chapter 5, where we have the ascending scale of Christian experience, we begin with the joy of salvation (Vv. 1-2). This is followed in verse three by the joy of victory over the forces of evil that are against us. The height of all experience is reached in verse 11 where “we joy in God.” To see God in our circumstances, in our trials, and in every detail of our lives, and to see Him as the supreme object of our hearts is to move in the path of victory and in the current of His holy will.
The peacemakers (V. 9): In the sphere of Christian brotherhood, our Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God” (V. 9). Six times in the New Testament God is called “The God of Peace.” An examination of these passages reveals that the Spirit of God uses this title in view of strife among brethren (Rom. 15:13; 16:20. 2 Cor. 13:11. Phil. 4:9. 1 Thess. 5:23. Heb. 13:20). Christ is the Prince of Peace and the Prince of Peacemakers. He made peace at tremendous sacrifice, the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20). In doing so He reconciled man to God and man to man (redeemed man) in one Body (Eph. 2:12-22). Peacemaking demands sacrifice. They who engage in this work must pay the price in sacrificial living. It will mean a sacrifice of time, of energy, of pride, and of feelings. It will demand wisdom and tact with the glory of God and the welfare of the saints alone as the motive. Every assembly of saints possesses an invaluable treasure in godly men and women who by their wisdom and godly influence can bring opposing parties together. Such are called the sons of God because they have taken on this aspect of God’s character and practically manifest it. James follows the order of The Beatitudes when describing the wisdom that is from above. It is first pure then peaceable, pure before God and peaceable toward others. The writer to the Hebrews (chap. 12) links both virtues and declares that seeing God depends upon the pursuit of peace and holiness. This is not peace at the expense of truth, but peace as an attitude that is inwrought by the indwelling Spirit. They who are pure in heart will be peaceable and peace-loving among the saints. Abraham yielded sacrificially to Lot when strife arose between their herdmen, “Let there be no strife between me and thee … for we be brethren,” said Abraham to his nephew. Joseph the peacemaker, had his brethren’s welfare at heart when he said, “See that ye fall not out by the way.” David cried, “I am for peace,” and then described the unity of brethren as that good and pleasant thing, so precious and sacred as to compare with the annointing oil, and so diffusive as to compare with the dew on Hermon, a sweet savour to God in the sanctuary and a blessing to others in the fields of service (Psa. 133). “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (Jas. 3:18)
In verses 10-12, we have a twofold persecution; first, for the sake of righteousness and then for the sake of the Lord Jesus. The first of these is linked with the first four virtues that we have noticed, (Vv. 3-6) in which righteousness is emphasized; the second is linked with the last three virtues in verse seven to nine, in which grace is emphasized. The first suggests suffering for the sake of character; the second, suffering for principle. The first is Christ formed in the character, the second is the life of Jesus active in the believer, pressing the claims of Christ upon men. The rejection of such claims is accompanied by the persecution of the vessels whom He uses. Peter speaks of this twofold persecution with its corresponding blessings (1 Pet. 3:14; 4:14). Happy is the one who suffers for righteousness’ sake, he has the priceless possession of a good conscience, and upon the one who is reproached for the name of Christ rests the Spirit of glory and of God.
“Happy reproach to bear,
Shame, for His sake, to share,
Since we the crown shall wear
When He shall come.”