Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, 3
By John Wesley
(text from the 1872 edition - Thomas Jackson, editor)
(Page 1 of 2)
"Blessed are the pure in heart: For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: For they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: For great is your reward in heaven: For so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you." Matthew 5:8-12
I. The pure in heart are purified through faith in the blood of Jesus from every unholy affection.
II. Peace-makers are those lovers of God and man who detest all strife and debate.
III. Who are they who are persecuted? Who persectues them and why?
IV. The genuine religion of Jesus Christ.
1. How excellent things are spoken of the love of our neighbour! It is "the fulfilling of the law," "the end of the commandment." Without this, all we have, all we do, all we suffer, is of no value in the sight of God. But it is that love of our neighbour which springs from the love of God: Otherwise itself is nothing worth. It behoves us, therefore, to examine well upon what foundation our love of our neighbour stands; whether it is really built upon the love of God; whether we do "love him because he first loved us;" whether we are pure in heart: For this is the foundation which shall never be moved. "Blessed are the pure in heart: For they shall see God."
2. "The pure in heart" are they whose hearts God hath "purified even as he is pure;" who are purified, through faith in the blood of Jesus, from every unholy affection; who, being "cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfect holiness in the" loving "fear of God." They are, through the power of his grace, purified from pride, by the deepest poverty of spirit; from anger, from every unkind or turbulent passion, by meekness and gentleness; from every desire but to please and enjoy God, to know and love him more and more, by that hunger and thirst after righteousness which now engrosses their whole soul: So that now they love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and mind, and strength.
3. But how little has this purity of heart been regarded by the false teachers of all ages! They have taught men barely to abstain from such outward impurities as God hath forbidden by name; but they did not strike at the heart; and by not guarding against, they in effect countenanced, inward corruptions.
A remarkable instance of this, our Lord has given us in the following words: "Ye have heard, that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery;" (Matt. 5:27) and, in explaining this, those blind leaders of the blind only insist on men's abstaining from the outward act. "But I say unto you, whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart;" (Matt. 5:28) for God requireth truth in the inward parts: He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins; and if thou incline unto iniquity with thy heart, the Lord will not hear thee.
4. And God admits no excuse for retaining anything which is an occasion of impurity. Therefore, "if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell:" (Matt. 5:29) If persons as dear to thee as thy right eye be an occasion of thy thus offending God, a means of exciting unholy desire in thy soul, delay not, forcibly separate from them. "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell:" (Matt. 5:30) If any who seem as necessary to thee as thy right hand be an occasion of sin, of impure desire; even though it were never to go beyond the heart, never to break out in word or action; constrain thyself to an entire and final parting: cut them off at a stroke: Give them up to God. Any loss, whether of pleasure, or substance, or friends, is preferable to the loss of thy soul.
Two steps only it may not be improper to take before such an absolute and final separation. First, try whether the unclean spirit may not be driven out by fasting and prayer, and by carefully abstaining from every action, and word, and look, which thou hast found to be an occasion of evil. Secondly, if thou art not by this means delivered, ask counsel of him that watcheth over thy soul, or, at least, of some who have experience in the ways of God, touching the time and manner of that separation; but confer not with flesh and blood, lest thou be "given up to a strong delusion to believe a lie."
5. Nor may marriage itself, holy and honourable as it is, be used as a pretence for giving a loose to our desires. Indeed, "it hath been said, Whosoever will put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:" And then all was well; though he alleged no cause, but that he did not like her, or liked another better. "But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the case of fornication, (that is, adultery; the word porneia signifying unchastity in general, either in the married or unmarried state,) "causeth her to commit adultery," if she marry again: "And whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery." (Matt 5:31, 32)
All polygamy is clearly forbidden in these words, wherein our Lord expressly declares, that for any woman who has a husband alive, to marry again is adultery. By parity of reason, it is adultery for any man to marry again, so long as he has a wife alive, yea, although they were divorced; unless that divorce had been for the cause of adultery: In that only case there is no scripture which forbids to marry again.
6. Such is the purity of heart which God requires, and works in those who believe on the Son of his love. And "blessed are" they who are thus "pure in heart; for they shall see God." He will "manifest himself unto them," not only "as he doth not unto the world," but as he doth not always to his own children. He will bless them with the clearest communications of his Spirit, the most intimate "fellowship with the Father and with the Son." He will cause his presence to go continually before them, and the light of his countenance to shine upon them. It is the ceaseless prayer of their heart, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory;" and they have the petition they ask of him. They now see Him by faith, (the veil of the flesh being made as it were transparent,) even in these his lowest works, in all that surrounds them, in all that God has created and made. They see Him in the height above, and in the depth beneath; they see Him filling all in all. The pure in heart see all things full of God. They see Him in the firmament of heaven; in the moon, walking in brightness; in the sun, when he rejoiceth as a giant to run his course. They see Him "making the clouds his chariots, and walking upon the wings of the wind." They see Him "preparing rain for the earth, and blessing the increase of it; giving grass for the cattle, and green herb for the use of man." They see the Creator of all, wisely governing all, and "upholding all things by the word of his power." "O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world!"
7. In all his providences relating to themselves, to their souls or bodies, the pure in heart do more particularly see God. They see his hand ever over them for good; giving them all things in weight and measure, numbering the hairs of their head, making a hedge round about them and all that they have, and disposing all the circumstances of their life according to the depth both of his wisdom and mercy.
8. But in a more especial manner they see God in his ordinances. Whether they appear in the great congregation, to "pay him the honour due unto his name," "and worship him in the beauty of holiness;" or "enter into their closets," and there pour out their souls before their "Father which is in secret;" whether they search the oracles of God, or hear the ambassadors of Christ proclaiming glad tidings of salvation; or, by eating of that bread, and drinking of that cup, "show forth his death till he come" in the clouds of heaven; -- in all these his appointed ways, they find such a near approach as cannot be expressed. They see him, as it were, face to face, and "talk with him, as a man talking with his friend;" -- a fit preparation for those mansions above, wherein they shall see him as he is.
9. But how far were they from seeing God, who, having heard "that it had been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths," (Matt. 5:33) interpreted it thus, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, when thou swearest by the Lord Jehovah. Thou "shalt perform unto the Lord" these thine oaths;" but as to other oaths, he regardeth them not.
So the Pharisees taught. They not only allowed all manner of swearing in common conversation; but accounted even forswearing a little thing, so they had not sworn by the peculiar name of God.
But our Lord here absolutely forbids all common swearing, as well as all false swearing; and shows the heinousness of both, by the same awful consideration, that every creature is God's, and he is everywhere present, in all, and over all. "I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;" (Matt. 5:34) and, therefore, this is the same as to swear by Him who sitteth upon the circle of the heavens: "Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool;" (Matt. 5:35) and he is as intimately present in earth as heaven: "Neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King;" and God is well known in her palaces. "Neither shalt thou swear by thy head; because thou canst not make one hair white or black;" (Matt. 5:36) because even this, it is plain, is not thine, but God's, the sole disposer of all in heaven and earth. "But let your communication," (Matt. 5:37) your conversation, your discourse with each other "be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay;" a bare, serious affirming or denying; "for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil:" ek tou ponhrou estin, is of the evil one; proceedeth from the devil, and is a mark of his children.
10. That our Lord does not here forbid the "swearing in judgment and truth," when we are required so to do by a Magistrate, may appear, (1.) From the occasion of this part of his discourse, -- the abuse he was here reproving, -- which was false swearing and common swearing; the swearing before a Magistrate being quite out of the question. -- (2.) From the very words wherein he forms the general conclusion: "Let your communication," or discourse, "be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay." -- (3.) From his own example; for he answered himself upon oath, when required by a Magistrate. When the High Priest said unto him, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God;" Jesus immediately answered in the affirmative, "Thou hast said;" (that is, the truth;) "nevertheless," (or rather, moreover,) "I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Matt.26:63, 64) -- (4.) From the example of God, even the Father, who, "willing the more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath." (Heb. 6:17) -- (5.) From the example of St. Paul, who we think had the Spirit of God, and well understood the mind of his Master. "God is my witness," saith he, to the Romans, "that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers:" (Rom. 1:9) To the Corinthians, "I call God to record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth:" (2 Cor. 1:23) And to the Philippians, "God is my record, how greatly I long after you in the bowels of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:8) Hence it undeniably appears that, if the Apostle knew the meaning of his Lord's words, they do not forbid swearing on weighty occasions, even to one another: How much less before a Magistrate! -- And, Lastly, from that assertion of the great Apostle, concerning solemn swearing in general: (Which it is impossible he could have mentioned without any touch of blame, if his Lord had totally forbidden it:) "Men verily swear by the greater;" by one greater than themselves; "and an oath for confirmation is to them the end of all strife." (Heb. 6:16)
11. But the great lesson which our blessed Lord inculcates here, and which he illustrates by this example, is, that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical atheism; but, with a true magnificence of thought, survey heaven and earth, and all that is therein, as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is, in a true sense, the soul of universe.
1. Thus far our Lord has been more directly employed in teaching the religion of the heart. He has shown what Christians are to be. He proceeds to show, what they are to do also; -- how inward holiness is to exert itself in our outward conversation. "Blessed," saith he, "are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God."
2. "The peace-makers:" The word in the original is oi eirhnopoioi. It is well known that eirhnh, in the sacred writings, implies all manner of good; every blessing that relates either to the soul or the body, to time or eternity. Accordingly, when St. Paul, in the titles of his epistles, wishes grace and peace to the Romans or the Corinthians, it is as if he had said, "As a fruit of the free, undeserved love and favour of God, may you enjoy all blessings, spiritual and temporal; all the good things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
3. Hence we may easily learn, in how wide a sense the term peace-makers is to be understood. In its literal meaning it implies those lovers of God and man who utterly detest and abhor all strife and debate, all variance and contention; and accordingly labour with all their might, either to prevent this fire of hell from being kindled, or, when it is kindled, from breaking out, or, when it is broke out, from spreading any farther. They endeavour to calm the stormy spirits of men, to quiet their turbulent passions, to soften the minds of contending parties, and, if possible, reconcile them to each other. They use all innocent arts, and employ all their strength, all the talents which God has given them, as well to preserve peace where it is, as to restore it where it is not. It is the joy of their heart to promote, to confirm, to increase, mutual good-will among men, but more especially among the children of God, however distinguished by things of smaller importance; that as they have all "one Lord, one faith," as they are all "called in one hope of their calling," so they may all "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
4. But in the full extent of the word, a peace-maker is one that, as he hath opportunity, "doth good unto all men;" one that, being filled with the love of God and of all mankind, cannot confine the expressions of it to his own family, or friends, or acquaintance, or party, or to those of his own opinions; -- no, nor those who are partakers of like precious faith; but steps over all these narrow bounds, that he may do good to every man, that he may, some way or other, manifest his love to neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. He doth good to them all, as he hath opportunity, that is, on every possible occasion; "redeeming the time," in order thereto; "buying up every opportunity, improving every hour, losing no moment wherein he may profit another. He does good, not of one particular kind, but good in general, in every possible way; employing herein all his talents of every kind, all his powers and faculties of body and soul, all his fortune, his interest, his reputation; desiring only, that when his Lord cometh He may say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
5. He doth good, to the uttermost of his power, even to the bodies of all men. He rejoices to "deal his bread to the hungry," and to "cover the naked with a garment." Is any a stranger? He takes him in, and relieves him according to his necessities. Are any sick or in prison? He visits them, and administers such help as they stand most in need of. And all this he does, not as unto man; but remembering him that hath said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
6. How much more does he rejoice, if he can do any good to the soul of any man! This power, indeed, belongeth unto God. It is He only that changes the heart, without which every other change is lighter than vanity. Nevertheless, it pleases Him who worketh all in all, to help man chiefly by man; to convey his own power, and blessing, and love, through one man to another. Therefore, although it be certain that "the help which is done upon earth, God doth it himself;" yet has no man need, on this account to stand idle in his vineyard. The peace-maker cannot: He is ever labouring therein, and, as an instrument in God's hand, preparing the ground for his Master's use, or sowing the seed of the kingdom, or watering what is already sown, if haply God may give the increase. According to the measure of grace which he has received, he uses all diligence, either to reprove the gross sinner, to reclaim those who run on headlong in the broad way of destruction; or "to give light to them that sit in darkness," and are ready to "perish for lack of knowledge;" or to "support the weak, to lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees;" or to bring back and heal that which was lame and turned out of the way. Nor is he less zealous to confirm those who are already striving to enter in at the strait gate; to strengthen those that stand, that they may "run with patience the race which is set before them;" to build up in their most holy faith those that know in whom they have believed; to exhort them to stir up the gift of God which is in them, that daily growing in grace, "an entrance may be ministered unto them abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
7. "Blessed" are they who are thus continually employed in the work of faith and the labour of love; "for they shall be called," that is, shall be, (a common Hebraism,) "the children "of God." God shall continue unto them the Spirit of adoption, yea, shall pour it more abundantly into their hearts. He shall bless them with all the blessings of his children. He shall acknowledge them as sons before angels and men; "and, if sons, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ."
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