Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, 1
By John Wesley
(text from the 1872 edition - Thomas Jackson, editor)
(Page 1 of 2)
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: And when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: For they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:1-4
1. Our Lord had now "gone about all Galilee," (Matt. 4:23) beginning at the time "when John was cast into prison," (Matt. 4:12) not only "teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom," but likewise "healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people." It was a natural consequence of this, that "there followed him great multitudes from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from the region beyond Jordan." (Matt. 4:25) "And seeing the multitudes," whom no synagogue could contain, even had there been any at hand, "he went up into a mountain," where there was room for all that came unto him, from every quarter. "And when he was set," as the manner of the Jews was, "his disciples came unto him. And he opened his mouth," (an expression denoting the beginning of a solemn discourse.) "and taught them, saying." --
2. Let us observe, who it is that is here speaking, that we may take heed how we hear. It is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator of all; who, as such, has a right to dispose of all his creatures; the Lord our Governor, whose kingdom is from everlasting, and ruleth over all; the great Lawgiver, who can well enforce all his laws, being "able to save and to destroy," yea, to punish with "everlasting destruction from his presence and from the glory of his power." It is the eternal Wisdom of the Father, who knoweth whereof we are made, and understands our inmost frame: who knows how we stand related to God, to one another, to every creature which God hath made, and, consequently, how to adapt every law he prescribes, to all the circumstances wherein he hath placed us. It is He who is "loving unto every man, whose mercy is over all his works;" the God of love, who, having emptied himself of his eternal glory, is come forth from his Father to declare his will to the children of men, and then goeth again to the Father; who is sent of God "to open the eyes of the blind, and to give light to them that sit in darkness." It is the great Prophet of the Lord, concerning whom God had solemnly declared long ago, "Whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him;" (Deut. 18:19) or, as the Apostle expresses it, "Every soul which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:23)
3. And what is it which He is teaching? The Son of God, who came from heaven, is here showing us the way to heaven; to the place which he hath prepared for us; the glory he had before the world began. He is teaching us the true way to life everlasting; the royal way which leads to the kingdom; and the only true way, -- for there is none besides; all other paths lead to destruction. From the character of the Speaker, we are well assured that he hath declared the full and perfect will of God. He hath uttered not one tittle too much, -- nothing more than he had received of the Father; nor too little, -- he hath not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God; much less hath he uttered anything wrong, anything contrary to the will of him that sent him. All his words are true and right concerning all things, and shall stand fast for ever and ever.
And we may easily remark, that in explaining and confirming these faithful and true sayings, he takes care to refute not only the mistakes of the Scribes and Pharisees, which then were the false comments whereby the Jewish Teachers of that age had perverted the word of God, but all the practical mistakes that are inconsistent with salvation, which should ever arise in the Christian Church; all the comments whereby the Christian Teachers (so called) of any age or nation should pervert the word of God, and teach unwary souls to seek death in the error of their life.
4. And hence we are naturally led to observe, whom it is that he is here teaching. Not the Apostles alone; if so, he had no need to have gone up into the mountain. A room in the house of Matthew, or any of his disciples, would have contained the Twelve. Nor does it in anywise appear that the disciples who came unto him were the Twelve only. Oi maqhtai autou, without any force put upon the expression, may be understood of all who desired to learn of him. But to put this out of all question, to make it undeniably plain that where it is said, "He opened his mouth and taught them," the word them includes all the multitudes who went up with him into the mountain, we need only observe the concluding verses of the seventh chapter: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the multitudes (oi ocloi) were astonished at his doctrine," or teaching; "for he taught them," the multitudes, "as one having authority, and not as the Scribes." (Matt. 7:28-29)
Nor was it only those multitudes who were with him on the mount, to whom he now taught the way of salvation; but all the children of men; the whole race of mankind; the children that were yet unborn; all the generations to come, even to the end of the world, who should ever hear the words of this life.
5. And this all men allow, with regard to some parts of the ensuing discourse. No man, for instance, denies that what is said of poverty of spirit relates to all mankind. But many have supposed, that other parts concerned only the Apostles, or the first Christians, or the Ministers of Christ; and were never designed for the generality of men, who, consequently, have nothing at all to do with them.
But may we not justly inquire, who told them this, that some parts of this discourse concerned only the Apostles, or the Christians of the apostolic age, or the Ministers of Christ? Bare assertions are not a sufficient proof to establish a point of so great importance. Has then our Lord himself taught us, that some parts of his discourse do not concern all mankind? Without doubt, had it been so, he would have told us; he could not have omitted so necessary an information. But has he told us so? Where? In the discourse itself? No: Here is not the least intimation of it. Has he said so elsewhere? In any other of his discourses? Not one word so much as glancing this way, can we find in anything he ever spoke, either to the multitudes, or to his disciples. Has any one of the Apostles, or other inspired writers, left such an instruction upon record? No such thing. No assertion of this kind is to be found in all the oracles of God. Who then are the men who are so much wiser than God? -- wise so far above that is written?
6. Perhaps they will say, that the reason of the thing requires such a restriction to be made. If it does, it must be on one of these two accounts; because, without such a restriction, the discourse would either be apparently absurd, or would contradict some other scripture. But this is not the case. It will plainly appear, when we come to examine the several particulars, that there is no absurdity at all in applying all which our Lord hath here delivered to all mankind. Neither will it infer any contradiction to anything else he has delivered, nor to any other scripture whatever. Nay, it will farther appear, that either all the parts of this discourse are to be applied to men in general, or no part; seeing they are all connected together, all joined as the stones in an arch, of which you cannot take one away, without destroying the whole fabric.
7. We may, Lastly, observe, how our Lord teaches here. And surely, as at all times, so particularly at this, he speaks "as never man spake." Not as the holy men of old; although they also spoke "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Not as Peter, or James, or John, or Paul: They were indeed wise master-builders in his Church; but still in this, in the degrees of heavenly wisdom, the servant is not as his Lord. No, nor even as himself at any other time, or on any other occasion. It does not appear, that it was ever his design, at any other time or place, to lay down at once the whole plan of his religion; to give us a full prospect of Christianity; to describe at large the nature of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Particular branches of this he has indeed described, on a thousand different occasions; but never, besides here, did he give, of set purpose, a general view of the whole. Nay, we have nothing else of this kind in all the Bible; unless one should except that short sketch of holiness delivered by God in those Ten Words or Commandments to Moses, on mount Sinai. But even here how wide a difference is there between one and the other! "Even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth." (2 Cor. 3:10)
8. Above all, with what amazing love does the Son of God here reveal his Father's will to man! He does not bring us again "to the mount that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest." He does not speak as when he "thundered out of heaven;" when the Highest "gave his thunder, hail-stones, and coals of fire." He now addresses us with his still, small voice, -- "Blessed," or happy, "are the poor in spirit." Happy are the mourners; the meek; those that hunger after righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart: Happy in the end, and in the way; happy in this life, and in life everlasting! As if he had said, "Who is he that lusteth to live, and would fain see good days? Behold, I show you the thing which your soul longeth for! See the way you have so long sought in vain; the way of pleasantness; the path to calm, joyous peace, to heaven below and heaven above!"
9. At the same time, with what authority does he teach! Well might they say, "Not as the Scribes." Observe the manner, (but it cannot be expressed in words,) the air, with which he speaks! Not as Moses, the servant of God; not as Abraham, his friend; not as any of the Prophets; nor as any of the sons of men. It is something more than human; more than can agree to any created being. It speaks the Creator of all! A God, a God appears! Yea, o vn, the Being of beings, JEHOVAH, the self-existent, the Supreme, the God who is over all, blessed for ever!
10. This divine discourse, delivered in the most excellent method, every subsequent part illustrating those that precede, is commonly, and not improperly, divided into three principal branches: The First, contained in the fifth, -- the Second, in the sixth, -- and the Third, in the seventh chapter.
I. In the First, the sum of all true religion is laid down in eight particulars, which are explained, and guarded against the false glosses of man, in the following parts of the fifth chapter.
II. In the Second are rules for that right intention which we are to preserve in all our outward actions, unmixed with worldly desires, or anxious cares for even the necessaries of life.
In the Third are cautions against the main hinderances of religion, closed with an application of the whole.
1. Our Lord, First, lays down the sum of all true religion in eight particulars, which he explains, and guards against the false glosses of men, to the end of the fifth chapter.
Some have supposed that he designed, in these, to point out the several stages of the Christian course; the steps which a Christian successively takes in his journey to the promised land; -- others, that all the particulars here set down belong at all times to every Christian. And why may we not allow both the one and the other? What inconsistency is there between them? It is undoubtedly true, that both poverty of spirit, and every other temper which is here mentioned, are at all times found, in a greater or less degree, in every real Christian. And it is equally true, that real Christianity always begins in poverty of spirit, and goes on in the order here set down, till the "man of God is made perfect." We begin at the lowest of these gifts of God, yet so as not to relinquish this, when we are called of God to come up higher: But "whereunto we have already attained, we hold fast," while we press on to what is yet before, to the highest blessings of God in Christ Jesus.
2. The foundation of all is poverty of spirit: Here, therefore, our Lord begins: "Blessed," saith he, "are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
It may not improbably be supposed, that our Lord looked on those who were round about him, and, observing that not many rich were there, but rather the poor of the world, took occasion from thence to make a transition from temporal to spiritual things. "Blessed," saith he, (or happy, -- so the word should be rendered, both in this and the following verses,) "are the poor in spirit." He does not say, they that are poor, as to outward circumstances, -- it being not impossible, that some of these may be as far from happiness as a monarch upon his throne; but "the poor in spirit," -- they who, whatever their outward circumstances are, have that disposition of heart which is the first step to all real, substantial happiness, either in this world, or that which is to come.
3. Some have judged, that by the poor in spirit here, are meant those who love poverty; those who are free from covetousness, from the love of money; who fear, rather than desire, riches. Perhaps they have been induced so to judge, by wholly confining their thoughts to the very term; or by considering that weighty observation of St. Paul, that "the love of money is the root of all evil." And hence many have wholly divested themselves, not only of riches, but of all worldly goods. Hence also the vows of voluntary poverty seem to have arisen in the Romish Church; it being supposed, that so eminent a degree of this fundamental grace must be a large step toward the "kingdom of heaven."
But these do not seem to have observed, First, that the expression of St. Paul must be understood with some restriction; otherwise it is not true; for the love of money is not the root, the sole root, of all evil. There are a thousand other roots of evil in the world, as sad experience daily shows. His meaning can only be, it is the root of very many evils; perhaps of more than any single vice besides. -- Secondly, that this sense of the expression, "poor in spirit," will by no means suit our Lord's present design, which is to lay a general foundation whereon the whole fabric of Christianity may be built; a design which would be in no wise answered by guarding against one particular vice: So that, if even this were supposed to be one part of his meaning, it could not possibly be the whole. -- Thirdly, that it cannot be supposed to be any part of his meaning, unless we charge him with manifest tautology: Seeing, if poverty of spirit were only freedom from covetousness, from the love of money, or the desire of riches, it would coincide with what he afterwards mentions, it would be only a branch of purity of heart.
4. Who then are "the poor in spirit?" Without question, the humble; they who know themselves; who are convinced of sin; those to whom God hath given that first repentance, which is previous to faith in Christ.
One of these can no longer say, "I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing;" as now knowing, that he is "wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked." He is convinced that he is spiritually poor indeed; having no spiritual good abiding in him. "In me," saith he, "dwelleth no good thing," but whatsoever is evil and abominable. He has a deep sense of the loathsome leprosy of sin, which be brought with him from his mother's womb, which overspreads his whole soul, and totally corrupts every power and faculty thereof. He sees more and more of the evil tempers which spring from that evil root; the pride and haughtiness of spirit, the constant bias to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; the vanity, the thirst after the esteem or honour that cometh from men, the hatred or envy, the jealousy or revenge, the anger, malice, or bitterness; the inbred enmity both against God and man, which appears in ten thousand shapes; the love of the world, the self-will, the foolish and hurtful desires, which cleave to his inmost soul. He is conscious how deeply he has offended by his tongue; if not by profane, immodest, untrue, or unkind words, yet by discourse which was not "good to the use of edifying," not "meet to minister grace to the hearers." which, consequently, was all corrupt in God's account, and grievous to his Holy Spirit. His evil works are now likewise ever in his sight: If he tells them, they are more than he is able to express. He may as well think to number the drops of rain, the sands of the sea, or the days of eternity.
5. His guilt is now also before his face: He knows the punishment he has deserved, were it only on account of his carnal mind, the entire, universal corruption of his nature; how much more, on account of all his evil desires and thoughts, of all his sinful words and actions! He cannot doubt for a moment, but the least of these deserves the damnation of hell, -- "the worm that dieth not, and the fire that never shall be quenched." Above all, the guilt of "not believing on the name of the only-begotten Son of God" lies heavy upon him. How, saith he, shall I escape, who "neglect so great salvation!" "He that believeth not is condemned already," and "the wrath of God abideth on him."
6. But what shall he give in exchange for his soul, which is forfeited to the just vengeance of God? "Wherewithal shall he come before the Lord?" How shall he pay him that he oweth? Were he from this moment to perform the most perfect obedience to every command of God, this would make no amends for a single sin, for any one act of past disobedience; seeing he owes God all the service he is able to perform, from this moment to all eternity: Could he pay this, it would make no manner of amends for what he ought to have done before. He sees himself therefore utterly helpless with regard to atoning for his past sins; utterly unable to make any amends to God, to pay any ransom for his own soul.
But if God would forgive him all that is past, on this one condition, that he should sin no more; that for the time to come he should entirely and constantly obey all his commands; he well knows that this would profit him nothing, being a condition he could never perform. He knows and feels that he is not able to obey even the outward commands of God; seeing these cannot be obeyed while his heart remains in its natural sinfulness and corruption; inasmuch as an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. But he cannot cleanse a sinful heart: With men this is impossible: So that he is utterly at a loss even how to begin walking in the path of God's commandments. He knows not how to get one step forward in the way. Encompassed with sin, and sorrow, and fear, and finding no way to escape, he can only cry out, "Lord, save, or I perish!"
7. Poverty of spirit then, as it implies the first step we take in running the race which is set before us, is a just sense of our inward and outward sins, and of our guilt and helplessness. This some have monstrously styled, "the virtue of humility;" thus teaching us to be proud of knowing we deserve damnation! But our Lord's expression is quite of another kind; conveying no idea to the hearer, but that of mere want, of naked sin, of helpless guilt and misery.
8. The great Apostle, where he endeavours to bring sinners to God, speaks in a manner just answerable to this. "The wrath of God," saith he, "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;" (Rom. 1:18, &c.) a charge which he immediately fixes on the heathen world, and thereby proves they are under the wrath of God. He next shows that the Jews were no better than they, and were therefore under the same condemnation; and all this, not in order to their attaining "the noble virtue of humility," but "that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God."
He proceeds to show, that they were helpless as well as guilty, which is the plain purport of all those expressions: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified:" -- "But now the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, without the law, is manifested:" -- "We conclude, that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law:" -- Expressions all tending to the same point, even to "hide pride from man;" to humble him to the dust, without teaching him to reflect upon his humility as a virtue; to inspire him with that full, piercing conviction of his utter sinfulness, guilt, and helplessness, which casts the sinner, stripped of all, lost and undone, on his strong Helper, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
9. One cannot but observe here, that Christianity begins just where heathen morality ends; poverty of spirit, conviction of sin, the renouncing ourselves, the not having our own righteousness, (the very first point in the religion of Jesus Christ,) leaving all pagan religion behind. This was ever hid from the wise men of this world; insomuch that the whole Roman language, even with all the improvements of the Augustan age, does not afford so much as a name for humility; (the word from whence we borrow this, as is well known, bearing in Latin a quite different meaning;) no, nor was one found in all the copious language of Greece, till it was made by the great Apostle.
10. O that we may feel what they were not able to express! Sinner, awake! Know thyself! Know and feel, that thou wert "shapen in wickedness," and that "in sin did thy mother conceive thee;" and that thou thyself hast been heaping up sin upon sin, ever since thou couldst discern good from evil! Sink under the mighty hand of God, as guilty of death eternal; and cast off, renounce, abhor, all imagination of ever being able to help thyself! Be it all thy hope to be washed in His blood, and renewed by his almighty Spirit, who himself "bare all our sins in his own body on the tree!" So shalt thou witness, "Happy are the poor in spirit: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
11. This is that kingdom of heaven, or of God, which is within us; even "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." And what is "righteousness," but the life of God in the soul; the mind which was in Christ Jesus; the image of God stamped upon the heart, now renewed after the likeness of Him that created it? What is it but the love of God, because he first loved us, and the love of all mankind for his sake?
And what is this "peace," the peace of God, but that calm serenity of soul, that sweet repose in the blood of Jesus, which leaves no doubt of our acceptance in him; which excludes all fear, but the loving filial fear of offending our Father which is in heaven?
This inward kingdom implies also "joy in the Holy Ghost;" who seals upon our hearts "the redemption which is in Jesus," the righteousness of Christ imputed to us "for the remission of the sins that are past;" who giveth us now "the earnest of our inheritance," of the crown which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give at that day. And well may this be termed, "the kingdom of heaven;" seeing it is heaven already opened in the soul; the first springing up of those rivers of pleasure which flow at God's right hand for evermore.
12. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Whosoever thou art, to whom God hath given to be "poor in spirit," to feel thyself lost, thou hast a right thereto, through the gracious promise of Him who cannot lie. It is purchased for thee by the blood of the Lamb. It is very nigh: Thou art on the brink of heaven! Another step, and thou enterest into the kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy! Art thou all sin? "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!' -- all unholy? See thy "Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous!" -- Art thou unable to atone for the least of thy sins? "He is the propitiation for" all thy "sins." Now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and all thy sins are blotted out! -- Art thou totally unclean in soul and body? Here is the "fountain for sin and uncleanness!" "Arise, and wash away thy sins!" Stagger no more at the promise through unbelief! Give glory to God! Dare to believe! Now cry out, from the ground of thy heart, --
Yes, I yield, I yield at last,
Listen to thy speaking blood;
Me with all my sins, I cast
On my atoning God.
13. Then thou learnest of him to be "lowly of heart." And this is the true, genuine, Christian humility, which flows from a sense of the love of God, reconciled to us in Christ Jesus. Poverty of spirit, in this meaning of the word, begins where a sense of guilt and of the wrath of God ends; and is a continual sense of our total dependence on him, for every good thought, or word, or work; of our utter inability to all good, unless he "water us every moment;" and an abhorrence of the praise of men, knowing that all praise is due unto God only. With this is joined a loving shame, a tender humiliation before God, even for the sins which we know he hath forgiven us, and for the sin which still remaineth in our hearts, although we know it is not imputed to our condemnation. Nevertheless, the conviction we feel of inbred sin is deeper and deeper every day. The more we grow in grace, the more do we see of the desperate wickedness of our heart. The more we advance in the knowledge and love of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, (as great a mystery as this may appear to those who know not the power of God unto salvation,) the more do we discern of our alienation from God, of the enmity that is in our carnal mind, and the necessity of our being entirely renewed in righteousness and true holiness.
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