Brethren Archive

The Beatitudes.

by John Northcote Deck

THERE are certain blessings which are the Christian’s birthright. 
To experience them is to see God with clearer vision.
Matthew, in announcing in detail that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4:17), sets the scene in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where there had been a very great incursion of Greeks and other Gentiles, intermingling with the Jews—so much so that Galilean Jews were despised and called “ignorant countrymen.”  Here, in the calm and charm of the countryside overlooking the blue lake, and away from the antagonism and disputation of the scribes and Pharisees, Christ was able to set forth in unhurried detail, the laws and blessings of the kingdom.
The official offering of the kingdom must surely have been made first to the priests and national rulers in Jerusalem.  And, in a very real sense, this seems to have taken place when, as Matthew 3:5 records, John announced at Jordan: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” and “there went out to him, Jerusalem and all Judaea . . . and were baptized of him in Jordan.”
There is an important gap in Matthew’s Gospel between 4:11, which ends the temptation, and verse 12: ‘When Jesus heard how that John was cast into prison, He departed unto Galilee."  John's Gospel fills in this interval of about a year, with his account of Christ's early Judaean ministry.  He tells us that, after the initial miracle at Cana, "Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (2: 13).  There He cleansed the Temple and at once the antagonism of the rulers was aroused: "What sign showest Thou?" (2:15).  While He was in Judaea, Christ joined John at Jordan were He also baptized (through His disciples).  Therefore, He was associated with John in the proclamation: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Earlier, John had perceived the insincerity of the Pharisees and Sadducees, saying: "O generation of vipers, bring forth fruits meet for repentance."  Their response to Christ was equally insincere, for He solemnly stated of them: "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life."
Already our Lord had had the important interview in Jerusalem with Nicodemus, called "the teacher of Israel" (R.V.).  But though the Lord Jesus had given the nation about a year to repent, Nicodemus's attitude of interest had not been followed by the other rulers.  By this time, the religious revival, begun under John, had so died down that, incited by his wife, Herod felt it safe to put the once popular prophet into prison.  This marked the end of the early Judaean ministry of Christ and, as Matthew 4:12 tells us: "When Jesus had heard John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee" from Judaea.
From then on, most of our Lord's time was spent in the north.  He would not bring things to an open rupture with the priests in Jerusalem, though even this early "the Jews sought the more to kill Him" (John 5:18).  "His hour was not yet come," when the Jews would cause His arrest and death.  Returning then to Nazareth and being rejected there (Lk. 4:16), He took up residence in Capernaum, which became known as "His own city" (Matt. 9:1).  Earlier, in Matthew 4:16, we have a delightful introduction to the beatitudes which follow: "The people which sat in darkness, saw a great light;" for this was indeed the sunrise of the Sun of Righteousness.
Now, although we do not read of the official call of the disciples until Matthew 10, it appears that Matthew deliberately advanced the declaration of the kingdom to this early section of his record so that the Jewish readers of his Gospel, might be informed immediately of what was offered them by their Messiah.  This declaration of the kingdom is usually termed "the Sermon on the Mount."  But the whole discourse might more fittingly be called "the Manifesto of the Kingdom."
The statements that follow are not addressed to the sinner.  This is not a Gospel to the unconverted.  These are not even the qualifications through which to enter the kingdom.  They are, rather, the declared and desired qualities to be developed by those already in the kingdom.  And though the kingdom of heaven is yet to be established on earth at the return of Christ, and we believers belong to the Church and not the kingdom, yet we are still subjects of the same King.  To be His loyal, pleasing subjects, we need more and more to exhibit the qualities of heart and mind, called "The Beatitudes."  They are indeed the King's own attributes and should be increasingly evident in members of his body with the passing of time.
As we examine the seven great promises, the greatest galaxy of blessings in the Bible, we find implied in them no word whatever of service.  The simplest and, perhaps, best definition of what they imply can be found in the title commonly applied to them, inverted and divided.  From the Latin word, beatus, meaning blessed, they are termed "the be-attitudes."  For they are all literally “attitudes of being."  No hint of doing enters the picture at all.  God puts first things first and, if the "being" is right and according to His standards, the "doing" will be effective and successful.
This great manifesto opens with the single word, "Blessed."  It comes from the Greek word, makarios, translated "blessed" forty-three times, and six times, "happy."  "Happy" would appear a better and more accurate word here.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit" seems to imply that such people receive a future blessing from God, whereas "Happy are the poor in spirit" suggests that such are already enjoying this condition.  They are "happy" on the simple condition of being "poor in spirit," for real happiness is from within.
It is true that the word "blessed" is written nine times in the first eleven verses in the chapter.  Yet actually, the first seven statements indicate attributes of character.  The last two "blesseds" (vss. 10, 11) describe the persecution or reviling which may result from the world through possessing the attributes described in verses 3 to 9.  And seven being the number of perfection and completeness, we have here then a symposium of the ideal qualities of character which the King desires to develop in all His subjects, for they describe the character of Christ Himself.  And God's objective is that we should more and more become "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8: 29).
This declaration on “a mountain” is indeed the “Sinai” of the New Testament.  We seem to have here the Old Testament kingdom in a new form, in which blessings are stressed rather than curses, and rewards are prominent and not penalties.  And what a contrast we find in this setting forth of the “kingdom of heaven,” compared with man’s idea of a kingdom, which would emphasize pomp and power, wealth and military might!  But the Saviour overlooks all these and stresses moral and spiritual values, for this is a kingdom of heaven that is someday to be set up on earth.
Now, these seven, basic “blesseds,” fall naturally into two divisions.  Thus, to be “poor in spirit” in self-abasement will lead naturally to a sincere mourning and sorrow for sin, and thus to a “meek” acceptance of the will of God for our lives.  This will result in an increasing “hunger after righteousness.”  These four successive attitudes of mind, when maintained, will result in the development of three cardinal Christian virtues: mercy, purity, and peace.
1.  “Poor in spirit” does not sound like a very happy condition; for “poor” implies lack and poverty.  But the expression, “poor in spirit” does not denote lacking in spirit, but rather, lacking in the wrong spirit.  “Humble in spirit” would better express the condition required, which results in “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  For this is a frame of mind which is distinctive of Christianity, in contrast with the “pride” which originated sin in heaven and Eden.
2.  Having a poor opinion of ourselves (“no confidence in the flesh”) will result in blessing for those that “mourn.”  Although this may apply partly to the mourning of bereavement with the resulting gracious “comfort of the Holy Ghost,” the basic application seems rather a mourning over sin and shortcoming, the godly sorrow that “worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7: 10).
3,  Such self-examination and sorrow over sin will insure an attitude of “meekness.”  This is not “weakness,” for Moses and the “greater than Moses,” the Man Christ Jesus, are both described as “meek.”  But it does imply a glad acceptance of the revealed will of God, outside of which there can be no progress in the Christian life.  The will of God accepted and welcomed must inevitably be followed by spiritual hunger and thirst.
4.  A “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” with deepening spiritual aspirations as the world’s values lose their attraction, develops in the soul, increasing desires after God.
5.  These four attitudes toward God, when maintained, will inevitably result in the believer having more and more “the mind of Christ;” and this will result in “mercifulness” toward others.  Seven times the Saviour is stated to have had compassion on men and women.
6.  Then, to be “pure in heart” is a new conception for the world.  It found no place in the teaching of philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates.  It is essentially an attribute of God and those who have been made, in Christ, “partakers of the divine nature.”
7.  Finally, we read of “peacemakers.”  Well, Christ is the “Prince of Peace” and will insure peace in the world someday.  He would have us each, as far as in us lies, to be “peacemakers” in the sphere around us.
If these seven virtues be evident in us, God’s children, we may at times be persecuted and reviled in the world, yet “great is our reward in heaven.”  And here and now we may inhabit the heavenlies and be comforted with victory, inherit the land of promise and be filled with the Spirit.  We shall obtain mercy from a loving Father and see God with clearer sight as becomes the children of God.  So, we can well “rejoice and be exceeding glad!”  For these blessings are our birthright.
“Our Hope” 1956

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