The Sermon On The Mount
by Arthur W. Pink
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). There has been considerable difference of opinion as to exactly what meekness consists of. When we wrote upon this verse some twelve years ago, we defined it as humility, but it now appears to us that that is inadequate, for there is no single term which is capable of fully expressing all that is included in this virtue. A study of its usage in Scripture reveals, first, that it is linked with and cannot be separated from lowliness: "Learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29); "Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; with all lowliness and meekness" (Eph. 4:1, 2). Second, it is associated with and cannot be divorced from gentleness: "I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1); "To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men" (Titus 3:2). Third, "receive with meekness the engrafted word" is opposed to "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (Jam. 1:20, 21). Fourth, the Divine promise is "the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way" (Ps. 25:9), intimating that this grace consists of a pliant heart and will.
Additional help in determining for us the meaning and scope of the word "meek" is to be obtained from duly noting our present verse in the light of the two preceding ones. It is to be kept steadily in mind that in those Beatitudes our Lord is describing the orderly development of God's work of grace as it is experientially realized in the soul. First, there is a poverty of spirit: a sense of our insufficiency and nothingness, a realization of our unworthiness and unprofitableness. Next, there is a mourning over our lost condition, sorrowing for the awfulness of our sins against God. And now we have meekness as a by-product of self-emptying and self-humiliation; or, in other words, there is a broken will and a receptive heart before God. Meekness is not only the antithesis of pride, but of stubbornness, fierceness, vengefulness. It is the taming of the lion, the making of the wolf to lie down as a kid.
Thomas Scott rightly points out that "There is a natural meekness of spirit, springing from love of ease, defect in sensibility and firmness, and the predominancy of other passions, which should be carefully distinguished from evangelical meekness. It is timid and pliant, easily deterred from good, and persuaded to evil; it leads to criminality in one extreme, as impetuosity of spirit does in another; it is often found in ungodly men; and it sometimes forms the grand defect in the character of pious persons, as in the case of Eli, and of Jehoshaphat. Divine grace operates in rendering such men of an opposite temper more yielding and quiet. The meekness to which the blessing is annexed is not constitutional, but gracious: and men of the most vehement, impetuous, irascible, and implacable dispositions, by looking to Jesus through the grace of God, learn to curb their tempers, to cease from resentment, to avoid giving offence by injurious words and actions, to make concessions and forgive injuries."
Meekness is the opposite of self-will toward God, and of ill-will toward men. "The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men" (Matthew Henry). As pointed out above, this is not constitutional, but gracious-a precious fruit of the Spirit's working. Godly sorrow softens the heart, so that it is made receptive to the entrance of the Word. Meekness consists in the spirit being made pliant, tractable, submissive, teachable. Speaking prophetically through Isaiah the Saviour said, "The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek" (Isa. 16:1), for they have bowed to the authority of the Law. And again it is written, "For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation" (Ps. 149:4).
A word or two on the fruits of meekness. First, Godwards. Where this grace is in the ascendant, the enmity of the carnal mind is subdued, and its possessor bears God's chastenings with quietness and patience. Illustrations thereof are seen in the cases of Aaron (Lev. 10:3), Eli (1 Sam.3:18), and David (Ps. 39:9). Supremely it was exemplified by Christ, who declared, "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6), which had reference not only to His being humbled into the dust, but also to the fact that there was nothing in Him which resisted the judgments of God: "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). He was "led [not dragged] as a lamb to the slaughter": when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He was buffeted, He threatened not. He was the very King of meekness.
Second, manwards. Inasmuch as meekness is that spirit which has been schooled to mildness by discipline and suffering, and brought into sweet resignation to the will of God, it causes the believer to bear patiently those insults and injuries which he receives at the hands of his fellows, and makes him ready to accept instruction or admonition from the least of the saints, moving him to think more highly of others than of himself. Meekness enables the Christian to endure provocations without being inflamed by them: he remains cool when others get heated. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). This means, not with a lordly and domineering attitude, not with a harsh and censorious temper, not with a love of finding fault and desire for inflicting the discipline of the church, but with gentleness, humility and patience.
But meekness must not be confounded with weakness. True meekness is ever manifested by yieldedness to God's will, yet it will not yield a principle of righteousness or compromise with evil. God-given meekness can also stand up for God-given rights: when God's glory is impeached, we must have a zeal which is as hot as fire. Moses was "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3), yet when he saw the Israelites dancing before the golden calf, in zeal for Jehovah's honour, he broke the two tables of stone, and put to the sword those who had transgressed. Note how firmly and boldly the apostles stood their ground in Acts 16:35-37. Above all, remember how Christ Himself, in concern for His Father's glory, made a whip of cords and drove the desecrators out of the temple. Meekness restrains from private revenge, but it in nowise conflicts with the requirements of fidelity to God, His cause, and His people.
"For they shall inherit the earth" or "land," for both the Hebrew and Greek words possess this double meaning. This promise is taken from Psalm 37:11, and may be understood in a threefold way. First, spiritually, as the second half of that verse intimates: "The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." The spirit of meekness is what enables its possessor to get so much enjoyment out of his earthly portion, be it small or large. Delivered from a greedy and grasping disposition he is satisfied with such things as he has: "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked" (Ps. 37:16). Contentment of mind is one of the fruits of meekness. The haughty and covetous do not "inherit the earth," though they may own many acres of it. The humble Christian is far happier in a cottage than the wicked in a palace: "Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith" (Prov. 15:16).
Second, literally. The meek inherit the earth in regard of right, being the members of Christ, who is Lord of all. Hence, writing to the saints, Paul said, "For all things are yours; whether. . . the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours" (1 Cor. 3:21, 22). Right or title to the earth is twofold: civil and spiritual. The former is that which holds good-according to their laws and customs-before men, and in regard thereof they are called lords of such lands they have a right unto in the courts. The latter is that which is approved before God. Adam had this spiritual right to the earth before he fell, but by his sin he forfeited it both for himself and his posterity. But Christ has regained it for all the elect, hence the apostle said, "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:10). Third, mystically. Psalm 37:11, is an Old Testament promise with a New Testament meaning: the land of Canaan was a figure of heaven, of which meekness proves the possessor to be an heir, and for which it is an essential qualification. From what has been before us let us learn, first, the value of this spiritual grace and the need of praying for an increase of the same: "Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment: seek righteousness, seek meekness" (Zeph. 2:3). As a further inducement to this end, mark these precious promises: "The meek shall eat and be satisfied" (Ps. 21:26), "The Lord lifteth up the meek" (Ps. 147:6), "The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord" (Isa. 29:19). Second, see the folly of those who are so diligent in seeking earthly possessions without any regard to Christ. Since all right to the earth was lost by Adam and is only recovered by the Redeemer, until they have part in Him none can, with the comfort of a good conscience, either purchase or possess any mundane inheritance. Third, let the fact that the meek. through Christ, inherit the earth serve for a bridle against all inordinate care for the world: since we are members of Christ the supply of every need is certain, and an infinitely better portion is ours than the perishing things of time and sense.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). In the first three Beatitudes we are called upon to witness the heart exercises of those who have been awakened by the Spirit of God. First, there is a sense of need, a realization of their nothingness and emptiness. Second, there is a judging of self, a consciousness of their guilt and sorrowing over their lost condition. Third, there is an end of seeking to justify themselves before God, an abandonment of all pretences to personal merit, a taking of their place in the dust before God. And here, in the fourth, the eye of the soul is turned away from self to Another: there is a longing after that which they know they have not got and which they are conscious they urgently need. There has been much needless quibbling as to the precise import of the word "righteousness" in this verse, and it seems to us that most of the commentators have failed to grasp its fullness.
In many Old Testament passages "righteousness" is synonymous with "salvation," as will appear from the following. "Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it" (Isa. 45:8); "Hearken unto Me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion" (Isa. 46:12, 13); "My righteousness is near. My salvation is set forth, and Mine arms shall judge the people: the isles shall wait upon Me, and on Mine arms shall they trust" (Isa. 51:5): "Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed" (Isa. 56:1); "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10). Yet after all, this does not bring us much nearer in that "salvation" is one of the most comprehensive terms to be found in the Scriptures. Let us, then, seek to define its meaning a little more closely.
Taking it in its widest latitude, to "hunger and thirst after righteousness" means to yearn after God's favour, image, and felicity. "Righteousness" is a term denoting all spiritual blessings: "seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). More specifically, "righteousness" in our text has reference, first, to the righteousness of faith whereby a sinner is justified freely by Divine grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. As the result of his Surety's obedience being imputed to him, the believer stands legally righteous before God. As sinners who have constantly broken the Law in thought, word, and deed, we are utterly destitute of righteousness. "There is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10). But God has provided a perfect righteousness in Christ for all who believe: it is the best "robe" put upon each returning prodigal. The merits of Christ's perfect keeping of the Law is reckoned to the account of every sinner who shelters in Him.
Second, this "righteousness," for which the awakened sinner longs, is to be understood of inward and sanctifying righteousness, for as we so often point out, justification and sanctification are never to be severed. The one in whom the Spirit graciously works desires not only an imputed righteousness, but an imparted one too; he not only longs for a restoration to God's favour, but to have God's image renewed in him. For this twofold "righteousness" the convicted "hunger and thirst," expressive of vehement desire, of which the soul is acutely conscious, for as in bodily hunger and thirst there are sharp pangs and an intense longing for their appeasement, so it is with the soul. First, the Spirit brings before the conscience the holy and inexorable requirements of God. Next, He convicts the soul of its destitution and guilt, so that he realizes his abject poverty and lost condition, seeing there is no hope in and from himself. And then He creates a deep hunger and thirst which causes him to lock unto and seek relief from Christ, "The Lord our righteousness."
Like the previous ones, this fourth Beatitude describes a dual experience: an initial and a continuous, that which begins in the unconverted, but is perpetuated in the saved sinner. There is a repeated exercise of this grace, felt at varying intervals. The one who longed to be saved by Christ now yearns to be made like Him. Looked at in its widest aspect, this hungering and thirsting refers to that panting of the renewed heart after God (Ps. 42:1), that yearning for a closer walk with Him, that longing for more perfect conformity to the image of His Son. It tells of those aspirations of the new nature for Divine blessings which alone can strengthen, sustain and satisfy it. Our text presents such a paradox that it is evident that no carnal mind ever invented it. Can one who has been brought into vital union with Him who is the Bread of Life and in whom all fullness dwells be found still hungering and thirsting? Yes, such is the experience of the renewed heart. Mark carefully the tense of the verb: it is not "Blessed are they which have," but "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst." This has ever been the experience of God's saints (Ps. 82:4; Phil. 3:8, 14).
"They shall be filled." Like the first part of our text, this also has a double fulfillment: an initial, and a continuous. When God creates a hunger and thirst in the soul, it is that He may satisfy it. When the poor sinner is made to feel his need of Christ, it is that he may be drawn to and led to embrace Him. Like the prodigal who came to the Father as a penitent, the believing sinner now feeds on the One figured by the "fatted calf." He is made to exclaim, "Surely in the Lord have I righteousness." "They shall be filled" with the peace of God which passeth all understanding. "Filled" with that Divine blessing to which no sorrow is added. "Filled" with praise and thanksgiving unto Him who has wrought all our works in us. "Filled" with that which this poor world can neither give nor take away. "Filled" by the goodness and mercy of God, till their cup runneth over. And yet, all that is enjoyed now is but a little foretaste of what God has prepared for them that love Him: in the day to come we shall be "filled" with Divine holiness, for we shall be made "like Him" (1 John 3:2). Then shall we be done with sin for ever: then shall we "hunger no more, neither thirst any more" (Rev. 7:16).
As this fourth Beatitude has been such a storehouse of comfort to many a tried and troubled believer, let us point out the use which may be made of it by Satan-harassed believers. First, by those whose faith is little and weak. There are not a few in God's family who sincerely long to please Him in all things and to live in no sin against their conscience, and yet they find in themselves so much distrust and despair of God's mercy that they are conscious of much more doubting than faith, so that they are brought seriously to question their election and state before God. Here, then, is Divine consolation for them: if they genuinely hunger and thirst after righteousness, Christ Himself pronounces them blessed. Those who are displeased with their unbelief, who truly desire to be purged from distrust, who long and pray for increased faith and assurance-evidencing their sincerity by diligently using all proper means- are the subjects of God's approbation.
Second, by those whose sanctification is so imperfect. Many there be who are most anxious to please God and make conscience of all known sins, yet find in themselves so much darkness of mind, activity of rebellious corruption, forwardness in their affections. perverseness in their wills, yea, a constant proneness to all manner of sins; and, on the contrary, they can perceive so little of the fruits of sanctification, so little evidence of spiritual life, so few signs of Divine grace at work within, that they often seriously doubt if they have received any grace at all. This is a fearfully heavy burden, and greatly casts down the soul. But here is Divine consolation. Christ pronounces "blessed" not those who are full of righteousness, but those who "hunger and thirst" after it. Those who mourn over their depravity, who grieve over the plague of their hearts, who yearn for conformity to Christ-using the means constantly-are accepted of God in Christ.
Third, by the more extreme case of one who has grievously departed from God and long been a backslider, and now, conscious of his wickedness, is in despair. Satan will tell him that his case is hopeless, that he is an apostate, that hell is prepared for him and he must surely be damned; and the poor soul is ready to believe that such must really be the case. He is destitute of peace, all his evidences are eclipsed, he cannot perceive a ray of hope. Nevertheless, here is Divine comfort. If he truly mourns over his departure from God, hates himself for his backsliding, sorrows over his sins, truly desires to repent of them and longs to be reconciled to God and restored to communion with Him, then he too is among the blessed: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."