The Sermon On The Mount
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (v. 9). "The Jews, in general, regarded the Gentile nations with bitter contempt and hatred, and they expected that, under the Messiah, there should be an uninterrupted series of warlike attacks made on these nations, till they were completely destroyed or subjugated to the chosen people of God (an idea based, no doubt, on what they read in the book of Joshua concerning the experiences of their forefathers-A. W. P.). In their estimation, those emphatically deserved the appellation of 'happy' who should be employed under Messiah the Prince to avenge on the heathen nations all the wrongs these had done to Israel. How different is the spirit of the new economy! How beautifully does it accord with the angelic anthem which celebrated the nativity of its Founder: 'glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!'" (J. Brown).
This seventh Beatitude has to do more with conduct than with character, though, of necessity, there must first be a peaceable spirit before there will be active efforts put forth to make peace. Let it be remembered that in this first section of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus is defining the character of those who should be subjects and citizens in His kingdom. First, He described them according to the initial experiences of those in whom a Divine work is wrought. The first four may be grouped together as setting forth the negative graces of their hearts. They are not self-sufficient, but consciously poor in spirit; they are not self-satisfied, but mourning because of their spiritual state; they are not self-willed, but meek; they are not self-righteous, but hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of Another. In the next three, the Lord names their positive graces: having tasted of the mercy of God, they are merciful in their dealings with others; having received a spiritual nature, they now hate impurity and love holiness; having entered into the peace which Christ made by the blood of His Cross, they now wish to live in amity with all.
Blessed are the peacemakers." This takes note of the horrible contention and enmity which sin has brought into the world, for where there is no strife there is no need for peacemakers. The world is "living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3): though attempts are often made to conceal this by the cloak of hypocrisy yet it soon peeps forth again in its hideous nakedness, as the history of the nations attests. And let not writer and reader forget the solemn fact that such was once our own sad case, as the opening words of Titus 3:3, declare-"for we ourselves also were." But on the other hand, our text also brings into view the triumph of God over the Devil: grace has brought in that which even now in measure, and in the future completely, displaces the vile works of the flesh.
To be a lover of and worker after peace is one of the distinguishing marks of those who are followers of the Prince of peace. That miracle of grace which has made them at peace with God causes them to regard their fellows with sincere benevolence, desiring to promote their best interests, both here and hereafter. It is their care, so much as in them lies, to live peaceably with all men, and therefore do they abstain from deliberate injury of others. In each relationship they occupy-domestic, social, ecclesiastical-it is their desire and endeavour to prevent and allay strife. They are lovers of concord, promoters of unity, healers of breaches. They delight to pour oil on troubled waters, to reconcile those who are estranged, to right wrongs, to strengthen the kindly ties of friendship. As the sons of peace they bring into the fetid atmosphere of this world a breath from the pure and placid air of heaven. How much the world is indebted to their presence, only the Day to come will show.
Let it be pointed out that this lovely Christlike disposition is a vastly different thing from that easy-going indolence which is so often naught but cowardice or selfishness. It is not a peace at any price which the Christian loves and aims to promote. No, indeed, that is a false peace, unworthy to be called peace at all. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (Jam. 3:17): note well the words "first pure-peace is not to be sought at the expense of righteousness. Hence it is important that we lose not the thread of connection between our present Beatitude and the one which precedes it: as the "pure in heart" modifies the "mercy" of verse 7, so also it qualifies the "peace" of verse 9-it is such mercy and peace as God Himself approves of. The same qualification is seen again in "follow peace with all men and holiness" (Heb. 12:14). We are to avoid all needless occasions of contention, yet not to the point of sacrificing the Truth, compromising principle, or forsaking duty-Christ Himself did not so: Matthew 10:34.
"If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom. 12:18). The very terms of this exhortation denote that so far from compliance therewith being a simple task, it is one which calls for constant vigilance, self-discipline, and earnest prayer. Such is the state of human nature, that offences must needs come, nevertheless it is part of Christian duty to see to it that we so conduct ourselves as to give no just cause of complaint against us. It is for our own peace we do so, for it is impossible to be happy in broils and enmities. Some believers are of a naturally contentious disposition, and doubly do they need to beg God to hold His restraining and calming hand upon them. When disturbance and turmoil is aroused, we should diligently examine ourselves before the Lord as to whether the cause for it lie in us, and if so, confess the sin to Him and seek to reconcile those offended. If we be innocent, we must meekly submit to it as an affliction.
If it be true that "Blessed are the peacemakers," it necessarily follows that cursed are the peacebreakers. Then let us be diligently on our guard against bigotry, intemperate zeal, and a quarrelsome spirit: the things of God are too sacred for wrangling. Highly important is it that we give earnest heed to the exhortation of "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). Let it be carefully noted that the preceding verse specifies the chief aids to this. In order to the development of a peaceful disposition we must first cultivate the grace of "lowliness," which is the opposite of pride, for "only by pride cometh contention" (Prov. 13:10). Second, there must be the cultivation of "meekness," which is the opposite of self-assertiveness, the determination to press my will at all costs: remember "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Third, the grace of "long sufferance," which is the opposite of impatience. Finally, "forbearing one another in love," for the queen of the graces "endureth all things."
See here the blessedness of that work to which the ministers of God are called: not merely to effect peace between man and man, but to reconcile men to God. What a contrast is this from the task allotted to Joshua and his officers under the Mosaic economy, of taking up the sword to slay the enemies of the Lord! In this dispensation the servants of Christ are commissioned to seek the reconciliation of those who are at enmity with God. The heralds of the Cross are the ambassadors of peace, bidding sinners throw down the weapons of their warfare and enter into amnesty with God. They know there is no peace for the wicked, and therefore do they exhort them to acquaint themselves with God and be at peace (Job 22:21). Of them it is written, " How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:15).
There is still another way in which it is the holy privilege of believers to be peacemakers, and that is by their prayers averting the wrath of God from a guilty nation. In the day when the Lord's anger is kindled against a sin-laden people and the dark clouds of providence threaten an impending storm of judgment, it is both the duty and the privilege of God's remembrancers to stand in the breach and by their earnest supplication stay His hand, so making peace. Moses did so (Ex. 32:10); so too Aaron (Num. 16:47, 48), and David (2 Sam. 24:14). When a fearful plague visits our country, or another nation threatens it with war, we are to behold God raising His rod, and entreat Him to be merciful: see Jeremiah 12:11; Ezekiel 22:30, 31. This is indeed a blessed work of peace: to stay the Lord from the work of destruction, as Abraham's intercession had done for Sodom if there were but ten righteous persons in it. Once more we say, only the Day to come will show how the wicked gained by the presence of the righteous remnant in their midst.
A word now upon the reward: "for they shall be called the children of God," which is a decisive proof that these Beatitudes contemplate not the moral virtues of the natural man, but rather the spiritual graces of the regenerate, To be made a child of God is to be renewed in His image and likeness; to be called so is to be esteemed and regarded as such. The Lord Himself is "the God of peace" (Heb. 13:20), and where this holy disposition is manifested by His people He owns them as His children-compare Hebrews 2:11, and 11:16, for this force of the word "called." Furthermore, holy peacemakers are recognized as children of God by their spiritual brethren. Have you received this grace of the Spirit, so that you sincerely desire and endeavour to live at peace with all men? Then that is an evidence you are a child of God, a pledge of your adoption. Labour to maintain it. Ultimately, God will make it manifest to all the universe that we are His children (Rom. 8:19).
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness" sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (v. 10). The Christian life is one that is full of strange paradoxes which are quite insoluble to human reason, but which are easily understood by the spiritual mind. God's saints rejoice with joy unspeakable, yet do they mourn with a lamentation to which the worldling is an utter stranger. The believer in Christ has been brought into contact with a source of vital satisfaction which is capable of meeting every longing, yet does he pant with a yearning like unto that of the thirsty hart. He sings and makes melody in his heart to the Lord, yet does he groan deeply and daily. His experience is often painful and perplexing, yet would he not part with it for all the gold in the world. These puzzling paradoxes are among the evidences which he possesses that he is indeed blessed of God. But who by mere reasoning would ever conclude that the persecuted and reviled are "blessed"! Genuine felicity, then, is not only compatible with hut is actually accompanied by manifold miseries in this life.
"It is a strong proof of human depravity that men's curses and Christ's blessings should meet on the same persons. Who would have thought that a man could be persecuted and reviled, and have all manner of evil said of him for righteousness' sake? And do wicked men really hate justice and love those who defraud and wrong their neighbors? No; they do not dislike righteousness as it respects themselves: it is only that species of it which respects God and religion that excites their hatred. If Christians were content with doing justly and loving mercy, and would cease walking humbly with God, they might go through the world, not only in peace, but with applause; but he that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Such a life reproves the ungodliness of men and provokes their resentment" (Andrew Fuller). It is the enmity of the Serpent-active ever since the days of Abel (1 John 3:12)-against the holy seed.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake." The connection between this and all that has been before us must not be overlooked. It is not every sufferer, nor even every sufferer for religion, who is entitled to appropriate such consolation. This antagonism is not in return for wrong-doing or in response to what has given just cause for offence. They who are morose, haughty, selfish, or evil-speaking, have no right to seek comfort from this Beatitude when people retaliate against them. No, it is where Christliness of character and conduct is assailed, where practical godliness condemns the worldly ways of empty professors and fires their enmity, where humble yet vital piety cannot be tolerated by those who are devoid of the same. The wicked hate God's holy image and those who bear it, His holy Truth and those who walk in it. This pronouncement of Christ's signifies, Blessed are the spiritual which the carnal detest; blessed are the gentle sheep, whom the dogs snap at.
How many a Christian employee who has refused to violate his conscience has suffered at the hands of an ungodly master or mistress! Yet such persecution, painful though it may be, is really a blessing in disguise. First, by means of the opposition which they encounter, the Lord's people become the better acquainted with their own infirmities and needs, for thereby they are made conscious that they cannot stand for a single hour unless Divine grace upholds them. Second, by persecution they are often kept from certain sins into which they would most likely fall were the wicked at peace with them: the rough usage they receive at the hands of world lings makes impossible that friendship with them which the flesh craves. Third, such persecution affords the believer opportunity to glorify God by his constancy, courage, and fidelity to the Truth.
This searching word "for righteousness' sake" calls upon us to honestly examine ourselves before God when we are being opposed: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters" (1 Pet. 4:15). The same qualification is made in the verse which immediately follows the last quoted: "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf": this is a most necessary caution, that the believer see to it that he is buffeted for right doing and not on account of his own misconduct or foolish behavior. It is to be observed that persecution is often so speciously disguised that those guilty thereof are not conscious of the same, yea, so deceitful is the human heart, they imagine they are doing God a service (John 16:2). But "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is [not "shall be"] the kingdom of heaven "; its privileges and blessings (Rom. 14:17) are theirs even now: though hated by men, they are "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6).
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake" (Matthew 5:11). In verse 10 the Lord enunciates the general principle; here He makes special application of it to His servants. Note carefully the change from "them" throughout verses 5-10 to "ye" and "your" in verses 11 and 12: opposition is the general lot of God's people, but it is the special portion of His ministers. If faithful to their calling, they must expect to be fiercely assailed. Such has ever been the experience of the Lord's servants. Moses was reviled again and again (Ex. 5:11; 14:11; 16:2; 17:2; etc.). Samuel was rejected (1 Sam. 8:5). Elijah was despised (1 Kings 18:17) and persecuted (1 Kings 19:2). Micaiah was hated (2 Chron. 18:17). Nehemiah was oppressed and defamed (Neh. 4). The Saviour Himself, the faithful witness of God, was put to death by the people to whom He ministered. Stephen was stoned, Peter and John cast into prison, James beheaded, while the entire course of Paul was one long series of bitter and relentless persecutions.
"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" (vv. 11 and 12). In these words the Lord Jesus faithfully warns His servants what they may fully expect to encounter, and then defines how they are to respond thereto, how they are to conduct themselves under the fire of their enemies. That blessedness which worldly leaders value and crave is to be flattered and feted, humored and honored; but the felicity and glory of the officers of Christ are to be made conformable to the Captain of their salvation, who was "despised and rejected of men." Yet instead of being downcast over and murmuring at the hostility they meet with, ministers of the Gospel are to be thankful to God for the high honour He confers upon them in making them partakers of the sufferings of His Son. Because that is so difficult for flesh and blood to do, the Lord here advances two reasons as encouragements.
It is true that persecution of both ministers and saints is today in a much milder form than it assumed in other ages; nevertheless, it is just as real. Through the goodness of God we have long been protected from legal persecution, but the enmity of the Serpent finds other ways and means for expressing itself. The words of Christ in John 15 have never been repealed: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also" (vv. 19 and 20). Let it be carefully noted that it was the professing and not the profane "world" that Christ was alluding to: it was from religious leaders, those making the greatest spiritual pretensions, that the Redeemer Himself received the worst treatment. And so it is now: members and officers of the "churches" stoop to methods and use means of opposition which those outside would scorn to employ.
Let us carefully note the qualification made by Christ in the verses we are now considering. This benediction of His is pronounced only on them who have all manner of evil spoken against them falsely: they have themselves given no just occasion for the same. No, far from it, it is not for any lawful ground of accusation in themselves, but for "My sake"-for their loyalty and fidelity to Christ, for their obedience to His commission, for their refusal to compromise His holy Truth. To be "reviled" is to suffer personal abuse: said Paul, "We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor. 4:13). "Persecution" may involve acts of ill-treatment or ostracism. To have "all manner of evil said against" us is to suffer defamation of character: 1 Thessalonians 2:2, clearly implies that even the moral reputation of the apostle was attacked. All these are efforts of the Devil to destroy the usefulness of God's ministers.
The Lord Jesus here pronounced blessed or happy those who, through devotion to Him, would be called upon to suffer. They are "blessed" because such are given the unspeakable privilege of having fellowship with the sufferings of the Saviour. They are "blessed" because such tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and such a hope that will not make ashamed. They are "blessed" because they shall be fully recompensed in the Day to come. Here is rich comfort indeed. Let not the soldier of the Cross be dismayed because the fiery darts of the wicked one are hurled against him. Remember that "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
"Rejoice and be exceeding glad": this too is spoken specially to ministers. Those afflictions which faithfulness to Christ brings upon them are to be endured not only with patience and resignation, but thanksgiving and gladness, and that for a threefold reason. First, that they come upon them for Christ's sake: if He suffered so much for them, should they not rejoice to suffer a little for Him? Second, they shall be richly recompensed hereafter: "great is your reward in heaven"-not as of merit, but purely of grace, for there is no proportion between them. Third, they bring them into fellowship with a noble company of martyrs: "for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" -they too were ill-treated by members of the outward Church: what an honour to share, in our measure, the lot of those holy men! Verily there is cause to rejoice, no matter how fierce the conflict may be. Oh, to emulate the apostles in Acts 5:41, and 16:25. May Divine grace enable all the oppressed servants and saints of God to draw from these precious words of Christ the comfort and strength they need.