Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones
Blessed are the Meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Meek: ( Greek root concept: 4239. praus) Mild, Gentle, Soft, Tame, Tender hearted, Docile, Humble, Patient, Kind, Quite, Willing, Remissive, Submissive, (Mite: Mansueto, Gentile, Docile, Mild, Sottomesso, Remissive, ….. Jesus
not weakness, but power under control
Humble: Modest, Submissive to one superior, Lowly, Unpretentious,
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
IN our consideration of the Beatitudes as a whole, we have already found that there are certain general characteristics which apply to them all. As we come to study each Beatitude separately we find that this proves to be so in detail. Here once more, therefore, we must point out that this Beatitude, this particular description of the Christian, causes real surprise because it is so completely and entirely opposed to everything which the natural man thinks. ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ World conquest—possession of the whole universe—given to the meek, of all people! The world thinks in terms of strength and power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. That is the world’s idea of conquest and possession. The more you assert yourself and express yourself, the more you organize and manifest your powers and ability, the more likely you are to succeed and get on. But here comes this astounding statement, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth’—and they alone. Once more, then, we are reminded at the very beginning that the Christian is altogether different from the world. It is a difference in quality, an essential difference. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him. He is an enigma to the world. And if you and I are not, in this primary sense, problems and enigmas to the non-Christians around us, then this tells us a great deal about our profession of the Christian faith.
This statement must have come as a great shock to the Jews of our Lord’s own day; and there can be no doubt, as we agreed at the beginning, that Matthew was writing primarily for the Jews. He places the Beatitudes in the forefront of the Gospel for that reason. They had ideas of the kingdom which, you remember, were not only materialistic but military also, and to them the Messiah was one who was going to lead them to victory. So they were thinking in terms of conquest and fighting in a material sense, and immediately our Lord dismisses all that. It is as though He says, ‘No, no, that is not the way. I am not like that, and my kingdom is not like that.’—’Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ It is a great contrast to the Jews’ way of thinking.
But further, this Beatitude comes, alas, in the form of a very striking contrast to much thinking within the Christian Church at the present time. For is there not a rather pathetic tendency to think in terms of fighting the world, and sin, and the things that are opposed to Christ, by means of great organizations? Am I wrong when I suggest that the controlling and prevailing thought of the Christian Church throughout the world seems to be the very opposite of what is indicated in this text? ‘There’, they say, ‘is the powerful enemy set against us, and here is the divided Christian Church. We must all get together, we must have one huge organization to face that organized enemy. Then we shall make an impact, and then we shall conquer.’ But ‘Blessed are the meek’, not those who trust to their own organizing, not those who trust to their own powers and abilities and their own institutions. Rather it is the very reverse of that. And this is true, not only here, but in the whole message of the Bible. You get it in that perfect story of Gideon where God went on reducing the numbers, not adding to them. That is the spiritual method, and here it is once more emphasized in this amazing statement in the Sermon on the Mount.
As we approach this statement let us first of all try to look at it in its relationship to the other Beatitudes. Clearly it follows on from what has gone before. There is an obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Each one suggests the next and leads to the next. They are not spoken haphazardly. There is first of all that fundamental postulate about being ‘poor in spirit’. That is the primary fundamental spirit that leads in turn to a condition of mourning as we become aware of our sin; and that in turn leads to this spirit of meekness. But—and I want to emphasize this—we not only find this logical connection between them. I would point out, also, that these Beatitudes as they proceed become increasingly difficult. In other words, what we are now considering is more searching, more difficult, more humbling and even more humiliating than anything we have looked at hitherto in our consideration of this Sermon on the Mount. We can look at it like this. The first Beatitude asks us to realize our own weakness and our own inability. It confronts us with the fact that we have to face God, not only in the Ten Commandments and the moral law, but also in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the life of Christ Himself. Anybody who feels that he, by his own strength, can accomplish all that, has not started to be a Christian. No, it makes us feel we have nothing; we become ‘poor in spirit’, we are truly helpless. Anyone who thinks that he can live the Christian life himself is proclaiming that he is not a Christian. When we realize truly what we have to be, and what we have to do, we become inevitably ‘poor in spirit’. That in turn leads to that second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling of sin within us, and seeing the sin even in our best actions, thoughts and desires, we mourn and we cry out with the great apostle, ‘0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ But here, I say, is something which is still more searching—‘Blessed are the meek’.
Now why is this? Because here we are reaching a point at which we begin to be concerned about other people. Let me put it like this. I can see my own utter nothingness and helplessness face to face with the demands of the gospel and the law of God. I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us. I say of myself that I am a sinner, but instinctively I do not like anybody else to say I am a sinner. That is the principle that is introduced at this point. So far, I myself have been looking at myself. Now, other people are looking at me, and I am in a relationship to them, and they are doing certain things to me. How do I react to that? That is the matter which is dealt with at this point. I think you will agree that this is more humbling and more humiliating than everything that has gone before. It is to allow other people to put the searchlight upon me instead of my doing it myself.
Perhaps the best way of approaching this is to look at it in terms of certain examples. Who is this meek person? What is he like? Well, there are many illustrations one can give. I have merely selected some which I regard as the most important and striking. Take certain of the Old Testament characters, for instance. Look at the portrait of that great gentleman—in many ways, I think, the greatest gentleman in the Old Testament—Abraham, and as you look at him you see a great and wonderful portrait of meekness. It is the great characteristic of his life. You remember his behaviour with respect to Lot, and how he allows the younger man to assert himself and take the first choice and does it without a murmur and without a complaint—that is meekness. You see it again in Moses, who is actually described as the most meek man on the face of the earth. Examine his character and you see the same thing, this lowly conception of himself; this readiness not to assert himself but rather to humble and to abase himself—meekness. There were wonderful possibilities ahead of him, all the possibility of the court of Egypt and his position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But how truly he evaluated it all, saw it as it was, and humbled himself completely to God and His will.
The same is true of David, especially in his relations with Saul. David knew he was to be king. He had been informed, he had been anointed; and yet how he suffered Saul and Saul’s unjust and unkind treatment of him! Read the story of David again and you will see meekness exemplified in a most extraordinary manner. Again, take Jeremiah and the unpopular message that was given to him. He was called upon to speak the truth to the people—not the thing he wanted to do—while the other prophets were saying smooth and easy things. He was isolated. He was an individualist—non-cooperative they would call him today—because he did not say what everybody else was saying. He felt it all bitterly. But read his story. See how he suffered it all and allowed the unkind things to be said about him behind his back, and how he went on delivering his message. It is a wonderful example of meekness.
Come, however, to the New Testament, and here you will see it again and again. Look at the portrait of Stephen and you will see this text illustrated. Look at it in the case of Paul, that mighty man of God. Consider what he suffered at the hands of these different churches and at the hands of his own countrymen and various other people. As you read his letters you will see this quality of meekness coming out, and especially as he writes to the members of the church at Corinth who had been saying such unkind and disparaging things about him. It is again a wonderful example of meekness. But of course we must come to the supreme example, and stand and look at our Lord Himself ‘Come unto me,’ He said, ‘all ye that labour. . . and I will give you rest . . . .I am meek and lowly in heart.’ You see it in the whole of His life. You see it in His reaction to other people, you see it especially in the way He suffered persecution and scorn, sarcasm and derision. Rightly was it said of Him, ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.’ His attitude towards His enemies, but perhaps still more His utter submission to His Father, show His meekness. He said, ‘The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself’, and ‘the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works’. Look at Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Look at the portrait of Him which we find in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us that He did not regard His equality with God as a prerogative at which to clutch or something to hold on to at all costs. No, He decided to live as a Man, and He did. He humbled Himself, became as a servant and even went to the death on the cross. That is meekness; that is lowliness; that is true humility; that is the quality which He Himself is teaching at this point.
Well then, what is meekness? We have looked at the examples. What do we see in them? First, let us notice again that it is not a natural quality. It is not a matter of a natural disposition, because all Christians are meant to be like this. It is not only some Christians. Every Christian, whatever his natural temperament or psychology may be, is meant to be like this. Now we can prove that very easily. Take these various characters whom I have mentioned, apart from our Lord Himself; and I think you will find that in every case we have a man who was not like this by nature. Think of the powerful, extraordinary nature of a man like David, and yet observe his meekness. Jeremiah similarly lets us into the secret. He says he was almost like a boiling cauldron, and yet he was still meek. Look at a man like the apostle Paul, a master mind, an extraordinary personality, a strong character; yet consider his utter humility and meekness. No, it is not a matter of natural disposition; it is something that is produced by the Spirit of God.
Let me emphasize it by putting it like this. Meekness does not mean indolence. There are people who appear to be meek in a natural sense; but they are not meek at all, they are indolent. That is not the quality of which the Bible is speaking. Nor does it mean flabbiness—I use the term advisedly. There are people who are easy-going, and you tend to say how meek they are. But it is not meekness; it is flabbiness. Nor does it mean niceness. There are people who seem to be born naturally nice. That is not what the Lord means when He says, ‘Blessed are the meek.’ That is something purely biological, the kind of thing you get in animals. One dog is nicer than another, one cat is nicer than another. That is not meekness. So it does not mean to be naturally nice or easy to get on with. Nor does it mean weakness in personality or character. Still less does it mean a spirit of compromise or ‘peace at any price’. How often are these things mistaken. How often is the man regarded as meek who says, ‘Anything rather than have a disagreement. Let’s agree, let’s try to break down these distinctions and divisions; let’s smooth over these little things that divide; let’s all be nice and joyful and happy.’
No, no, it is not that. Meekness is compatible with great strength. Meekness is compatible with great authority and power. These people we have looked at have been great defenders of the truth. The meek man is one who may so believe in standing for the truth that he will die for it if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet meek men. God forbid that we should ever confuse this noble quality, one of the noblest of all the qualities, with something merely animal or physical or natural.
My last negative would be that meekness is not merely a matter of outward manner, but also, and still more, of inward spirit. A well-known hymn which inculcates the spirit of meekness tells us to ‘stay the angry blow’, and of course it is right. But if we are to be truly meek we must not only ‘stay the angry blow’, we must get into that state and condition in which we do not feel like doing it at all. We must control the lips and the mouth, and not say the things we feel like saying. You cannot spend time with a verse like this without its humbling you. It is true Christianity; it is the thing for which we are called and for which we are meant.
What, then, is meekness? I think we can sum it up in this way. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is therefore two things. It is my attitude towards myself; and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. You see how inevitably it follows being ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘mourning’. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner. These other things must come first. But when I have that true view of myself in terms of poverty of spirit, and mourning because of my sinfulness, I am led on to see that there must be an absence of pride. The meek man is not proud of himself, he does not in any sense glory in himself. He feels that there is nothing in himself of which he can boast. It also means that he does not assert himself. You see, it is a negation of the popular psychology of the day which says ‘assert yourself’, ‘express your personality’. The man who is meek does not want to do so; he is so ashamed of it. The meek man likewise does not demand anything for himself. He does not take all his rights as claims. He does not make demands for his position, his privileges, his possessions, his status in life. No, he is like the man depicted by Paul in Philippians 2. ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Christ did not assert that right to equality with God; He deliberately did not. And that is the point to which you and I have to come.
Then let me go further; the man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive. We all know about this, do we not? Is it not one of the greatest curses in life as a result of the fall—this sensitivity about self? We spend the whole of our lives watching ourselves. But when a man becomes meek he has finished with all that; he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending. So we are not on the defensive; all that is gone. The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, ‘You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you’. He never thinks: ‘How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance.’ Self-pity! What hours and years we waste in this! But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly. ‘He that is down need fear no fall.’ When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad. You need not worry about what men may say or do; you know you deserve it all and more. Once again, therefore, I would define meekness like this. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality.
It must then go on and express itself in our whole demeanour and in our behaviour with respect to others. It does so like this. A person who is of the type that I have been describing must of necessity be mild. Think again of the examples; think again of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mild, gentle, lowly—those are the terms. Quiet, of a quiet spirit—I have already quoted the terms—‘meek and lowly’. In a sense the most approachable Person this world has ever seen was the Lord Jesus Christ. But it also means that there will be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person pays for it. It also means, therefore, that we shall be patient and long-suffering, especially when we suffer unjustly. You remember how Peter puts that in the second chapter of his first Epistle, that we should ‘follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’. It means patience and long-suffering even when we are suffering unjustly. There is no credit, Peter argues in that chapter, if, when we are buffeted for our faults, we take it patiently; but if we do well and suffer for it and take it patiently, then that is the thing that is praiseworthy in the sight of God. That is meekness. But it also means that we are ready to listen and to learn; that we have such a poor idea of ourselves and our own capabilities that we are ready to listen to others. Above all we must be ready to be taught by the Spirit, and led by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Meekness always implies a teachable spirit. It is what we see again in the case of our Lord Himself. Though he was the Second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity, He became man, He deliberately humbled Himself to the extent that He was dependent entirely upon what God gave Him, what God taught Him and what God told Him to do. He humbled Himself to that, and that is what is meant by being meek. We must be ready to learn and listen and especially must we surrender ourselves to the Spirit.
Finally, I would put it like this. We are to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly. We learn to say with the apostle Paul that our policy must be this, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’. We need not repay, we just deliver ourselves into the hands of God. The Lord will revenge; He will repay. We have nothing to do. We leave ourselves and our cause, and our rights and everything with God, with a quietness in spirit and in mind and heart. Now all this, we shall see later, is something that is abundantly illustrated in the various detailed teachings of this Sermon on the Mount.
Now notice what happens to the man who is like this. ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.’ What does that mean? We can summarize it very briefly. The meek already inherit the earth in this life, in this way. A man who is truly meek is a man who is always satisfied, he is a man who is already content. Goldsmith expresses it well when he says: ‘Having nothing yet hath all.’ The apostle Paul has put it still better, for he says, ‘as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ Again, in writing to the Philippians, he says in effect, ‘Thank you for sending your present. I like it, not because I wanted anything, but I like the spirit that made you send it. Yet as for myself; I have all things and abound.’ He has already said to them, ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound’ and ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. Notice, too, the striking way in which he expresses the same thought in 1 Corinthians 3. After telling his readers that they need not be jealous or concerned about these things, he says, ‘All things are yours’, everything; ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.’ All things are yours if you are meek and truly Christian; you have already inherited the earth.
But obviously it has a future reference also. ‘Do ye not know’, says Paul again to these Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 6, ‘do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?’ You are going to judge the world, you are going to judge angels. You will then have inherited the earth. In Romans 8, he puts it this way. We are children, ‘and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.’ That is it; we are going to inherit the earth. ‘If we suffer’, he says to Timothy, ‘we shall also reign with him.’ In other words, ‘Do not be worried about your suffering, Timothy. You be meek and suffer and you shall reign with Him. You are going to inherit the earth with Him.’ But I think it is all to be found in those words of our Lord in Luke 14:11, ‘Whosoever exalteh himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’
There, then, is what is meant by being meek. Need I emphasize again that this is obviously something that is quite impossible to the natural man? We shall never make ourselves meek. The poor people who went off and made themselves monks were trying to make themselves meek. We shall never do it. It cannot be done. Nothing but the Holy Spirit can humble us, nothing but the Holy Spirit can make us poor in spirit and make us mourn because of our sinfulness and produce in us this true, right view of self and give us this very mind of Christ Himself. But this is a serious matter. Those of us who claim to be Christian claim of necessity that we have already received the Holy Spirit. Therefore we have no excuse for not being meek. The man who is outside has an excuse, for it is impossible to him. But if we truly claim that we have received the Holy Spirit, and this is the claim of every Christian, we have no excuse if we are not meek. It is not something that you do and I do. It is a character that is produced in us by the Spirit. It is the direct fruit of the Spirit. It is offered to us and it is possible for us all. What have we to do? We must face this Sermon on the Mount; we must meditate upon this statement about being meek; we must look at the examples; above all we must look at the Lord Himself. Then we must humble ourselves and confess with shame, not only the smallness of our stature, but our utter imperfection. Then we must finish with that self which is the cause of all our troubles, so that He who has bought us at such a price may come in and possess us wholly. (67-76)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
What is meant by being `poor in spirit’. It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God. That is to be `poor in spirit’. Let me put it as strongly as I can, and I do so on the basis of the teaching of the Bible. It means this, that if we are truly Christian we shall not rely upon our natural birth. We shall not rely upon the fact that we belong to certain families; we shall not boast that we belong to certain nations or nationalities. We shall not build upon our natural temperament. We shall not believe in and rely upon our natural position in life, or any powers that may have been given to us. We shall not rely upon money or any wealth we may have. The thing about which we shall boast will not be the education we have received, or the particular school or college to which we may have been. No, all that is what Paul came to regard as `dung’, and a hindrance to this greater thing because it tended to master and control him. We shall not rely upon any gifts like that of natural `personality’, or intelligence or general or special ability. We shall not rely upon our own morality and conduct and good behaviour. We shall not bank to the slightest extent on the life we have lived or are trying to live. No; we shall regard all that as Paul regarded it. That is `poverty of spirit’. There must be a complete deliverance from and absence of all that. I say again, it is to feel that we are nothing, and that we have nothing, and that we look to God in utter submission to Him and in utter dependence upon Him and His grace and mercy. It is, I say, to experience to some extent what Isaiah experienced when, having seen the vision, he said, `Woe is me ! … I am a man of unclean lips’-that is `poverty of spirit’. As we find ourselves in competition with other men in this world we say, `I am a match for them’. Well, that is all right in that realm, if you like. But when a man has some conception of God, he of necessity feels `as one dead’, as did the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, and we must feel like that in the presence of God. Any natural spirit that is in us goes out, because it is not only exposed in its smallness and weakness, but its sinfulness and foulness become apparent at the same time.
Let us then ask ourselves these questions. Am I like that, am I poor in spirit? How do I really feel about myself as I think of myself in terms of God, and in the presence of God?
Blessed are the Merciful for they shall obtain Mercy. Matthew 5:7
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
THIS particular statement, ‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy’, is a further stage forward in the description, given in these Beatitudes, of the Christian man. I say deliberately that it is a further stage forward because there is again a change in the type and kind of description. In a sense we have so far been looking at the Christian in terms of his need, of his consciousness of his need. But here there is a kind of turning-point. Now we are concerned more with his disposition, which results from everything that has gone before. That is true, of course, of the subsequent Beatitudes also. We have already seen some of the results which follow when a man has truly seen himself; and especially when he has seen himself in his relationship to God. Here, now, are some further consequences which must inevitably be manifested when one is truly Christian. So that again we can emphasize the fact that our Lord clearly chose these Beatitudes carefully. He did not speak haphazardly. There is a definite progression in the thought; there is a logical sequence. This particular Beatitude comes out of all the others, and especially is it to be noted that it is in a very sharp and well-defined logical connection with the immediately preceding one, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ I would emphasize once more that it is idle to take any statement of the Sermon on the Mount at random, and to try to understand it, without taking it in the context of the whole, and especially in the context of these descriptions which are here given of the character and the disposition of the Christian man.
‘Blessed are the merciful.’ What a searching statement that is!
What a test of each one of us, of our whole standing and of our profession of the Christian faith! Those are the happy people, says Christ, those are the people to be congratulated. That is what man should be like—merciful. This is perhaps a convenient point at which to emphasize once more the searching character of the whole of this statement which we call the Beatitudes. Our Lord is depicting and delineating the Christian man and the Christian character. He is obviously searching us and testing us, and it is good that we should realize that, if we take the Beatitudes as a whole, it is a kind of general test to which we are being subjected. How are we reacting to these searching tests and probings? They really tell us everything about our Christian profession. And if I dislike this kind of thing, if I am impatient with it, if I want instead to be talking about communism, if I dislike this personal analysis and probing and testing, it simply means that my position is entirely contrary to that of the New Testament man. But if I feel, on the other hand, that though these things do search and hurt me, nevertheless they are essential and good for me, if I feel it is good for me to be humbled, and that it is a good thing for me to be held face to face with this mirror, which not only shows me what I am, but what I am in the light of God’s pattern for the Christian man, then I have a right to be hopeful about my state and condition. A man who is truly Christian, as we have already seen, never objects to being humbled. The first thing that is here said about him is that he should be ‘poor in spirit’, and if he objects to being shown that there is nothing in him, then that is not true of him. So these Beatitudes taken as a whole do provide a very searching test.
They are searching also, I think, in another way, a fact which is borne out very strikingly in the particular Beatitude we are looking at now. They remind us of certain primary, central truths about the whole Christian position. The first is this. The Christian gospel places all its primary emphasis upon being, rather than doing. The gospel puts a greater weight upon our attitude than upon our actions. In the first instance its main stress is on what you and I essentially are rather than on what we do. Throughout the Sermon our Lord is concerned about disposition. Later, He is going to talk about actions; but before He does that He describes character and disposition. And that of course is, as I am trying to show, essentially the New Testament teaching. A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christian before we can act as Christians. Now that is a fundamental point. Being is more important than doing, attitude is more significant than action. Primarily it is our essential character that matters. Or let me put it like this. We are not called upon as Christians to be, or to try to be, Christian in various respects. To be Christian, I say, is to possess a certain character and therefore to be a certain type of person. So often that is misinterpreted and people think that what the New Testament exhorts us to do is to try to be Christian in this and that respect, and to try to live as a Christian here and there. Not at all: we are Christians and our actions are the outcome of that.
Going a step further, we can put it like this. We are not meant to control our Christianity; our Christianity is rather meant to control us. From the standpoint of the Beatitudes, as indeed from the standpoint of the whole of the New Testament, it is an entire fallacy to think in any other way, and to say, for example, ‘To be truly Christian I must take up and use Christian teaching and then apply it.’ That is not the way our Lord puts it. The position rather is that my Christianity controls me; I am to be dominated by the truth because I have been made a Christian by the operation of the Holy Spirit within. Again I quote that striking statement of the apostle Paul which surely puts it so perfectly—‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He is in control, not I; so that I must not think of myself as a natural man who is controlling his attitude and trying to be Christian in various ways. No; His Spirit controls me at the very centre of my life, controls the very spring of my being, the source of my every activity. You cannot read these Beatitudes without coming to that conclusion. The Christian faith is not something on the surface of a man’s life, it is not merely a kind of coating or veneer. No, it is something that has been happening in the very centre of his personality. That is why the New Testament talks about rebirth and being born again, about a new creation and about receiving a new nature. It is something that happens to a man in the very centre of his being; it controls all his thoughts, all his outlook, all his imagination, and, as a result, all his actions as well. All our activities, therefore, are the result of this new nature, this new disposition which we have received from God through the Holy Spirit.
That is why these Beatitudes are so searching. They tell us, in effect, that as we live our ordinary lives we are declaring all the time exactly what we are. That is what makes this matter so serious. By the way we react we manifest our spirit; and it is the spirit that proclaims the man in terms of Christianity. There are people, of course, who as a result of a strong human will can control their actions very largely. Yet in these other respects they are always proclaiming what they are. All of us are proclaiming whether we are ‘poor in spirit’, whether we ‘mourn’, whether we are ‘meek’, whether we ‘hunger and thirst’, whether we are ‘merciful’, or whether we are not. The whole of our life is an expression and a proclamation of what we really are. And as we confront a list like this, or as we look at this extraordinary portrait of the Christian drawn by our Lord, we are forced to look at ourselves and examine ourselves and ask ourselves these questions.
The particular question here is: Are we merciful? The Christian, according to our Lord, is not only what we have seen him to be already, but he is also merciful. Here is the blessed man, here is the man to be congratulated; one who is merciful. What does our Lord mean by this? First let me just mention one negative which is of importance. It does not mean that we should be ‘easy-going’, as we put it. There are so many people today who think that being merciful means to be easy-going, not to see things, or if we do see them, to pretend we have not. That, of course, is a particular danger in an age 1ike this which does not believe in law or discipline, and in a sense does not believe in justice or righteousness. The idea today is that man should be absolutely free minded, that he has the right to do just what he likes. The merciful person, many people think, is one who smiles at transgression and law breaking. He says, ‘What does it matter? Let’s carry on.’ He is a flabby kind of person, easygoing, easy to get on with, to whom it does not matter whether laws are broken or not, who is not concerned about keeping them.
Now that, obviously, is not what is meant by our Lord’s description of the Christian at this point, and for very good reasons. You may recall that when we considered these Beatitudes as a whole, we laid great stress upon the fact that none of them must ever be interpreted in terms of natural disposition, because if you start thinking of these Beatitudes in such terms you will find they are grossly unfair. Some are born like this, some are not; and the man who is born with this easy-going temperament has a great advantage over the man who is not. But that is a denial of the whole of biblical teaching. This is not a gospel for certain temperaments; nobody has an advantage over anybody else when they are face to face with God. ‘All have come short of the glory of God’, ‘every mouth has been stopped’ before God. That is the New Testament teaching, so that natural disposition must never be the basis of our interpretation of any one of the Beatitudes.
There is, however, a very much stronger reason than that for saying that what is meant by ‘merciful’ is not being easy-going. For when we interpret this term we must remember that it is an adjective that is applied specially and specifically to God Himself. So that whatever I may decide as to the meaning of ‘merciful’ is true also of God, and the moment you look at it like that you see that this easy-going attitude that doesn’t care about breaking the law is unthinkable when we are talking about God. God is merciful; but God is righteous, God is holy, God is just: and whatever our interpretation of merciful may be it must include all that. ‘Mercy and truth are met together’, and if I can think of mercy only at the expense of truth and law, it is not true mercy, it is a false understanding of the term.
What is mercy? I think perhaps the best way of approaching it is to compare it with grace. You notice in the introduction to the so-called Pastoral Epistles that the apostle brings in a new term. Most of his other Epistles start by saying ‘grace and peace’ from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; but in his Pastoral Epistles he says, ‘grace, mercy, and peace’, and there is thus an interesting distinction implied between grace and mercy. The best definition of the two that I have ever encountered is this: ‘Grace is especially associated with men in their sins; mercy is especially associated with men in their misery.’ In other words, while grace looks down upon sin as a whole, mercy looks especially upon the miserable consequences of sin. So that mercy really means a sense of pity plus a desire to relieve the suffering. That is the essential meaning of being merciful; it is pity plus the action. So the Christian has a feeling of pity. His concern about the misery of men and women leads to an anxiety to relieve it. There are many ways in which one could illustrate that. For example, to have a merciful spirit means the spirit that is displayed when you suddenly find yourself in the position of having in your power someone who has transgressed against you. Now the way to know whether you are merciful or not is to consider how you feel towards that person. Are you going to say, ‘Well now, I am going to exert my rights at this point; I am going to be legal. This person has transgressed against me; very well, here comes my opportunity’? That is the very antithesis of being merciful. This person is in your power; is there a vindictive spirit, or is there a spirit of pity and sorrow, a spirit, if you like, of kindness to your enemies in distress? Or, again, we can describe it as inward sympathy and outward acts in relation to the sorrows and sufferings of others. Perhaps an example is the best way of illustrating this. The great New Testament illustration of being merciful is the parable of the Good Samaritan. On his journey he sees this poor man who has been in the hands of robbers, stops, and goes across the road to where he is lying. The others have seen the man but have gone on. They may have felt compassion and pity yet they have not done anything about it. But here is a man who is merciful; he is sorry for the victim, goes across the road, dresses the wounds, takes the man with him and makes provision for him. That is being merciful. It does not mean only feeling pity; it means a great desire, and indeed an endeavour, to do something to relieve the situation.
But let us go from that to the supreme example of all. The perfect and central example of mercy and being merciful is the sending by God of His only begotten Son into this world, and the coming of the Son. Why? Because there is mercy with Him. He saw our pitiable estate, He saw the suffering, and, in spite of the law breaking, this was the thing that moved Him to action. So the Son came and dealt with our condition. Hence the whole necessity for the doctrine of the atonement. There is no contradiction between justice and mercy, or mercy and truth. They have met together. Indeed John the Baptist’s father put this very clearly when, having understood what was happening by the birth of his son, he thanked God that at last the mercy promised to the fathers had arrived, and then proceeded to thank God that the Messiah had come ‘through the tender mercy of our God’. That is the idea, and he realized it at the very beginning. It is all a matter of mercy. It is God, I say, looking down upon man in his pitiful condition as the result of sin, and having pity upon him. The grace that is there in regard to sin in general now becomes mercy in particular as God looks at the consequences of sin. And, of course, it is something that is to be observed constantly in the life and behaviour of our blessed Lord Himself.
That, then, is more or less a definition of what is meant by being merciful. The real problem, however, in this Beatitude is raised by the promise, ‘for they shall obtain mercy’; and perhaps there is no other Beatitude that has been misunderstood quite so frequently as this one. For there are people who would interpret it like this. They say, ‘If I am merciful towards others, God will be merciful towards me; if I forgive, I shall be forgiven. The condition of my being forgiven is that I forgive.’ Now the best way to approach this problem is to take it with two parallel statements. First there is that well-known statement in the Lord’s prayer which is an exact parallel to this, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us’, or, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. There are those who interpret this as meaning that if you forgive, you will be forgiven, if you do not, you will not be forgiven. Some people refuse to recite the Lord’s prayer for this reason.
Then there is a similar statement recorded in the parable of the debtors in Matthew 18. Here a cruel servant who was in debt was asked by his master for payment. The man did not have the money to pay so he besought his master to forgive him his debt. His master had mercy upon him and forgave him all that he owed. But, you remember, this man went outside and demanded payment from somebody under himself who owed him a comparatively trivial debt. That man in turn prayed and besought him and said, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all’. But he would not listen and cast him into prison until he could pay him the utmost farthing. But other servants, seeing this, reported it to their lord. On hearing their account he called for this cruel and unjust servant and said to him in effect, ‘Very well; in view of your action I am going to repeal what I said to you’; and he cast him into prison, saying he should remain there until he had paid the utmost farthing. Our Lord ends the parable by saying, ‘So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.’
Here again people at once begin to say, ‘Well; does not that clearly teach that I am forgiven by God only as I forgive others and to the extent that I forgive others?’ It is an amazing thing to me that anybody could ever arrive at such an interpretation, and that for two main reasons. First, if you and I were to be judged strictly on those terms, it is very certain that not one of us would be forgiven and not one of us would ever see heaven. If the passage is to be interpreted in that strictly legal manner forgiveness is impossible. It is amazing that people can think like that, not realizing they are condemning themselves as they do so.
The second reason is still more striking. If that is the interpretation of this Beatitude and the parallel passages, then we must cancel the whole doctrine of grace from the New Testament. We must never again say that we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves; we must never read those glorious passages which tell us that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’, even ‘when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God’, or ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’. They must all go; they are all nonsense; and they are all untrue.Scripture, you see, must be interpreted by Scripture; we must never interpret any Scripture in such a manner as to contradict other Scriptures. We must ‘rightly divide the word of truth’, and we must see that there is a conformity of doctrine to doctrine.
When we apply this to the statement before us, the explanation is perfectly simple. Our Lord is really saying that I am only truly forgiven when I am truly repentant. To be truly repentant means that I realize I deserve nothing but punishment, and that if I am forgiven it is to be attributed entirely to the love of God and to His mercy and grace, and to nothing else at all. But I go further; it means this. If I am truly repentant and realize my position before God, and realize that I am only forgiven in that way, then of necessity I shall forgive those who trespass against me.
Let me put it like this. I have taken the trouble to point out in each case how every one of these Beatitudes follows the previous one. This principle was never more important than it is here. This Beatitude follows all the others; therefore I put it in this form. I am poor in spirit; I realize that I have no righteousness; I realize that face to face with God and His righteousness I am utterly helpless; I can do nothing. Not only that. I mourn because of the sin that is within me; I have come to see, as the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit, the blackness of my own heart. I know what it is to cry out, ‘0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?’ and desire to be rid of this vileness that is within me. Not only that. I am meek, which means that now that I have experienced this true view of myself, nobody else can hurt me, nobody else can insult me, nobody can ever say anything too bad about me. I have seen myself, and my greatest enemy does not know the worst about me. I have seen myself as something truly hateful, and it is because of this that I have hungered and thirsted after righteousness. I have longed for it. I have seen that I cannot create or produce it, and that nobody else can. I have seen my desperate position in the sight of God. I have hungered and thirsted for that righteousness which will put me right with God, that will reconcile me to God, and give me a new nature and life. And I have seen it in Christ. I have been filled; I have received it all as a free gift.
Does it not follow inevitably that, if I have seen and experienced all that, my attitude towards everybody else must be completely and entirely changed? If all that is true of me, I no longer see men as I used to see them. I see them now with a Christian eye. I see them as the dupes and the victims and the slaves of sin and Satan and of the way of the world. I have come to see them not simply as men whom I dislike but as men to be pitied. I have come to see them as being governed by the god of this world, as being still where once I was, and would be yet but for the grace of God. So I am sorry for them. I do not merely see them and what they do. I see them as the slaves of hell and of Satan, and my whole attitude toward them is changed. And because of that, of course, I can be and must be merciful with respect to them. I differentiate between the sinner and his sin. I see everybody who is in a state of sin as one who is to be pitied.
But I would take you again to the supreme example. Look at Him there upon the cross, who never sinned, who never did any harm to anyone, who came and preached the truth, who came to seek and save that which was lost. There He is, nailed and suffering agonies on that cross, and yet what does He say as He looks upon the people who are responsible for it? ‘Father, forgive them.’ Why?‘For they know not what they do.’ It is not they, it is Satan; they are the victims; they are being governed and dominated by sin. ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ Now you and I are to become like that. Look at Stephen the martyr attaining to that. As they are stoning him, what does he say? He prays to his heavenly Father and cries, ‘Lay not this sin to their charge.’ ‘They do not know what they are doing, Lord’, says Stephen; ‘they are mad. They are mad because of sin; they do not understand me as Thy servant; they do not understand my Lord and Master; they are blinded by the god of this world; they do not know what they are doing. Lay not this sin to their charge. They are not responsible.’ He has pity upon them and is merciful with respect to them. And that, I say, is to be the condition of every one who is truly Christian. We are to feel a sense of sorrow for all who are helpless slaves of sin. That is to be our attitude towards people.
I wonder whether we have recognized this as the Christian position even when people were using us despitefully and maligning us. As we shall see later in this Sermon on the Mount, even when they are doing that, we are still to be merciful. Do you not know something about this in experience? Have you not felt sorry for people who show from the expression on their faces the bitterness and the anger they feel? They are to be pitied. Look at the things about which they get angry, showing that their whole central spirit is wrong; so unlike Christ, so unlike God who has forgiven them everything. We should feel a great sorrow for them, we should be praying to God for them and asking Him to have mercy upon them. I say that all this follows of necessity if we have truly experienced what it means to be forgiven. If I know that I am a debtor to mercy alone, if I know that I am a Christian solely because of that free grace of God, there should be no pride left in me, there should be nothing vindictive, there should be no insisting upon my rights. Rather, as I look out upon others, if there is anything in them that is unworthy, or that is a manifestation of sin, I should have this great sorrow for them in my heart.
All these things then follow inevitably and automatically. That is what our Lord is saying here. If you are merciful, you have mercy in this way. You already have it, but you will have it every time you sin, because when you realize what you have done you will come back to God and say, ‘Have mercy upon me, 0 God.’ But remember this. If, when you sin, you see it and in repentance go to God, and there on your knees immediately realize that you are not forgiving somebody else, you will have no confidence in your prayers; you will despise yourself. As David puts it, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ If you are not forgiving your brother, you can ask God for forgiveness, but you will have no confidence in your prayer, and your prayer will not be answered. That is what this Beatitude says. That is what our Lord said in the parable of the unjust steward. If that unrighteous, cruel servant would not forgive the servant who was under him, he was a man who had never understood forgiveness or his relationship to his master. Therefore he was not forgiven. For the one condition of forgiveness is repentance. Repentance means, among other things, that I realize that I have no claim upon God at all, and that it is only His grace and mercy that forgive. And it follows as the night the day that the man who truly realizes his position face to face with God, and his relationship to God, is the man who must of necessity be merciful with respect to others.
It is a solemn, serious and, in a sense, terrible thing to say that you cannot be truly forgiven unless there is a forgiving spirit in you. For the operation of the grace of God is such, that when it comes into our hearts with forgiveness it makes us merciful. We proclaim, therefore, whether we have received forgiveness or not by whether we forgive or not. If I am forgiven, I shall forgive. None of us has by nature a forgiving spirit. And if you now have such a spirit, you have it for one reason only. You have seen what God has done for you in spite of what you deserve, and you say, ‘I know that I am truly forgiven; therefore, I truly forgive.’ ‘Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’ Because they have already obtained mercy, therefore they are merciful. As we go on through the world we fall into sin. The moment we do so we need this mercy and we get it. And remember the end. In 2 Timothy 1:6—8 Paul inserts a note about Onesiphorus whom he recalls as one who had compassion on him and who visited him when he was a prisoner in Rome. Then he adds: ‘The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.’ Oh yes, we shall need it then; we shall need it at the end, at the day of judgment when every one of us stands before the judgment seat of Christ and has to give an account of the deeds done in the body. For certain, there will be things which are wrong and sinful, and we shall need mercy in that day. And, thank God, if the grace of Christ is in us, if the spirit of the Lord is in us, and we are merciful, we shall obtain mercy in that day. What makes me merciful is the grace of God. But the grace of God does make me merciful. So it comes to this. If I am not merciful there is only one explanation; I have never understood the grace and the mercy of God; I am outside Christ; I am yet in my sins, and I am unforgiven.
‘Let every man examine himself.’ I am not asking you what sort of life you are living. I am not asking whether you do this, that or the other. I am not asking whether you have some general interest in the kingdom of God and His house. I am simply asking this. Are you merciful? Are you sorry for every sinner even though that sinner offends you? Have you pity upon all who are the victims and the dupes of the world and the flesh and the devil? That is the test. ‘Blessed—happy—are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.’ (99-109)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
This one Beatitude deals with what I would describe as the two commonest objections to the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is very interesting to observe how people, when they have the gospel presented to them, generally have two main objections to it, and what is still more interesting is that the two objections are so often found in the same people. They tend to change their position from one to the other. First of all, when they hear this announcement, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’, when they are told that salvation is altogether of grace, that it is something that is given by God, which they cannot merit, which they can never deserve, and about which they can do nothing except receive it, they immediately begin to object and say, ‘But that is making the thing much too easy. You say that we receive this as a gift, that we receive forgiveness and life, and ourselves do nothing. But surely,’ they say, ‘salvation cannot be as easy as that.’ That is the first statement.
Then, when one points out to them that it must be like that because of the character of the righteousness about which the text speaks, they begin to object and to say that that is making it much too difficult, indeed so difficult as to make it impossible. When one tells them that one has to receive this salvation as a free gift, because what is required is that we should be fit to stand in the presence of God, who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all, when they hear that we should be like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that we should conform to these various Beatitudes, they say, ‘Now that is making it impossible for us’. They go astray, you see, about this whole question of righteousness. Righteousness to them means just being decent and moral up to a certain level. But we saw in our last chapter that that is a totally wrong definition of it. Righteousness ultimately means being like the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the standard. If we want to face God and spend eternity in His holy presence, we must be like Him. No-one can be in the presence of God who has any vestige of sin remaining in him; a righteousness is demanded that is absolutely perfect. That is what we have to attain unto. And, of course, the moment we realize that, then we see that it is something we ourselves cannot do, and realize that we must therefore receive it as helpless paupers, as those who have nothing in our hands at all, as those who take it entirely as a free gift.
Now this one statement deals with both those aspects. It deals with those people who object to the fact that this evangelical presentation of the gospel makes it too easy, those people who tend to say, as I once heard someone say who had just been listening to a sermon which emphasized human activity in this matter of salvation, ‘Thank God there is some thing for us to do after all’. It shows that that kind of person just admits that he or she has never understood the meaning of this righteousness, has never seen the real nature of sin within, and has never seen the standard with which God confronts us. Those who have really understood what righteousness means never object to the fact that the gospel ‘makes it too easy’; they realize that apart from it they would be left entirely without hope, utterly lost. ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling’—is the statement of everyone who has truly seen the position. Therefore, to object to the gospel because it ‘makes things too easy’, or to object to it because it makes things too difficult, is just virtually to confess that we are not Christians at all. The Christian is one who admits that the statements and the demands of the gospel are impossible, but thanks God that the gospel does the impossible for us and gives us salvation as a free gift. ‘Blessed are they’, therefore, ‘which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ They can do nothing, but as they hunger and thirst for it, they shall be filled by it. There, then, is the test of our doctrinal position. And it is a very thoroughgoing test. But let us ever remember that the two aspects of the test must always be applied together.
Let us now consider the practical test. This is one of those statements which reveal to us exactly where we are in this Christian life. The statement is categorical—they who hunger and thirst after righteousness ‘shall be filled’, and therefore they are happy, they are the people to be congratulated, they are the truly blessed. That means, as we saw in the last chapter, that we are filled immediately, in one sense, namely that we are no longer seeking forgiveness. We know we have had it. The Christian is a man who knows he has been forgiven; he knows he is covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and he says, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God’. Not, we are hoping to have it. We have it. The Christian has this immediate filling; he is completely satisfied concerning the matter of his standing in the presence of God; he knows that the righteousness of Christ is thus imputed to him and that his sins have been forgiven. He also knows that Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has come to dwell within him. His essential problem of sanctification is also solved. He knows that Christ has been made unto him of God ‘wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’. He knows that he is already complete in Christ so that he is no longer hopeless even about his sanctification. There is an immediate sense of satisfaction about that also; and he knows that the Holy Spirit is in him and that He will continue to work in him ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’. Therefore he looks forward, as we saw, to that ultimate, final state of perfection without spot or wrinkle or blemish or any such thing, when we shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him, when we shall indeed be perfect, when even this body which is ‘the body of our humiliation’ shall have been glorified and we shall be in a state of absolute perfection.
Very well then; if that is the meaning of filling, we must surely ask ourselves questions such as these: Are we filled? Have we got this satisfaction? Are we aware of this dealing of God with us? Is the fruit of the Spirit being manifested in our lives? Are we concerned about that? Are we experiencing love to God and to other people, joy and peace? Are we manifesting long-suffering, goodness, gentleness, meekness, faith and temperance? They that do hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. They are filled, and they are being filled. Are we, therefore, I ask, enjoying these things? Do we know that we have received the life of God? Are we enjoying the life of God in our souls? Are we aware of the Holy Spirit and all His mighty working within, forming Christ in us more and more? If we claim to be Christian, then we should be able to say yes to all these questions. Those who are truly Christian are filled in this sense. Are we thus filled? Are we enjoying our Christian life and experience? Do we know that our sins are forgiven? Are we rejoicing in that fact, or are we still trying to make ourselves Christian, trying somehow to make ourselves righteous? Is it all a vain effort? Are we enjoying peace with God? Do we rejoice in the Lord always? Those are the tests that we must apply. If we are not enjoying these things, the only explanation of that fact is that we are not truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness. For if we do hunger and thirst we shall be filled. There is no qualification at all, it is an absolute statement, it is an absolute promise—-’Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’
The question that now remains is obviously this: How can we tell whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness? That is the vital thing; that is all we have to be concerned about. I suggest the way to discover the answer is to study the Scriptures, as, for example, Hebrews 11, because there we have some great and glorious examples of people who did hunger and thirst after righteousness and were filled. Go through the whole of the Bible and you will discover the meaning of this, especially in the New Testament itself. Then you can supplement scriptural biography by reading about some of the great saints who have adorned the Church of Christ. There is ample literature concerning this matter. Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the lives of Luther, of Calvin, and of John Knox. Read the lives of some of the outstanding Puritans and the great Pascal. Read the lives of those mighty men of God of 200 years ago in the evangelical awakening, for example the first volume of John Wesley’s Journal, or the astounding biography of George Whitefield. Read the life of John Fletcher of Madeley. I have not time to mention them all: there are men who enjoyed this fullness, and whose holy lives were a manifestation of it. Now the question is, how did they arrive at that? If we want to know what hungering and thirsting means, we must study the Scriptures and then go on to see it more on our own level by reading the lives of such people, and if we do so, we come to the conclusion that there are certain tests which we can apply to ourselves to discover whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness or not.
The first test is this: Do we see through all our own false righteousness? That would be the first indication that a man is hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Until he has come to see that his own righteousness is nothing, is, as the Scripture puts it, but ‘filthy rags’, or, to use a stronger term, the particular term that the apostle Paul used and which some people think should not be used from a Christian pulpit, the term used in Philippians 3, where Paul speaks of all the wonderful things he had been doing and then tells us that he counts them all as ‘dung’—dung, refuse, putrefying refuse. That is the first test. We are not hungering and thirsting after righteousness as long as we are holding with any sense of self-satisfaction to anything that is in us, or to anything that we have ever done. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the man who knows what it is to say with Paul, ‘In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing’. If we still want to pat ourselves on the back, and feel a sense of satisfaction in the things we have done, it indicates perfectly clearly that we are still trusting and holding on to our own righteousness. If we are in any sense prone to defend ourselves, well, that means that we are just holding on still to some righteousness of our own. And as long as we do that we shall never be blessed. We see that to be hungering and thirsting in this sense is, as John Darby puts it, to be starving, to realize we are dying because we have nothing. That is the first step, seeing all false righteousness of our own as ‘filthy rags’ and as ‘refuse’.
But it also means that we have a deep awareness of our need of deliverance and our need of a Saviour; that we see how desperate we are, and realize that unless a Saviour and salvation are provided, we really are entirely without hope. We must recognize our utter helplessness, and see that, if someone does not come and take hold of us, or do something to us, we are altogether lost. Or let me put it like this. It means that we must have a desire within us to be like those saints to whom I have made reference. That is a very good way of testing ourselves. Do we long to be like Moses or Abraham or Daniel or any of those men who lived in the subsequent history of the Church to whom I have referred? I must add a warning, however, because it is possible for us to want to be like these people in the wrong way. We may desire to enjoy the blessings which they enjoyed without really desiring to be like them. Now, there is a classical example of this in the story of that false prophet, Balaam. You remember he said, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’ Balaam wanted to die like the righteous but, as a wise old Puritan pointed out, he did not want to live like the righteous. That, indeed, is true of many of us. We want the blessings of the righteous; we want to die like them. Of course we do not want to be unhappy on our deathbed. We want to enjoy the blessings of this glorious salvation. Yes; but if we want to die like the righteous we must also want to live like the righteous. These two things go together. ‘Let me die like the righteous.’ If I could but see the heavens open and yet go on living as I am, I should be happy! But it does not work like that. I must long to live like them if I want to die like them.
There, then, are some of the preliminary tests. But if I leave it like that we may come to the conclusion that we have nothing to do but to be entirely passive, and to wait quietly for something to happen. That, however, it seems to me, is to do much violence to these terms, ‘hungering and thirsting’. There is an active element in them. People who really want something always give some evidence of that fact. People who really desire something with the whole of their being do not sit down, passively waiting for it to come. And that applies to us in this matter. So I am going to apply some more detailed tests as to whether we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Here is one of them. The person who is truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness obviously avoids everything that is opposed to such a righteousness. I cannot obtain it myself; but I can refrain from doing things that are obviously opposed to it. I can never make myself like Jesus Christ, but I can stop walking in the gutters of life. That is a part of hungering and thirsting.
Let us sub-divide that. There are certain things in this life that are patently opposed to God and His righteousness. There is no question about that at all. We know they are bad; we know they are harmful; we know they are sinful. I say that to hunger and thirst after righteousness means avoiding such things just as we would avoid the very plague itself. If we know there is an infection in a house, we avoid that house. We segregate the patient who has a fever, because it is infectious, and obviously we avoid such persons. The same is equally true in the spiritual realm.
But it does not stop at that. I suggest that if we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness we shall not only avoid things that we know to be bad and harmful, we shall even avoid things that tend to dull or take the edge off our spiritual appetites. There are so many things like that, things that are quite harmless in themselves and which are perfectly legitimate. Yet if you find that you are spending much of your time with them, and that you desire the things of God less, you must avoid them. This question of appetite is a very delicate one. We all know how, in the physical sense, we can easily spoil our appetite; dull its edge, so to speak, by eating things between meals. Now it is like that in the spiritual realm. There are so many things that I cannot condemn in and of themselves. But if I find I spend too much of my time with them, and that somehow I want God and spiritual things less and less, then, if I am hungering and thirsting after righteousness, I shall avoid them. I think it is a common-sense argument.
Let me give another positive test. To hunger and thirst after righteousness means we shall remind ourselves of this righteousness actively. We shall so discipline our lives as to keep it constantly before us. This subject of discipline is of vital importance. I am suggesting that unless we day by day voluntarily and deliberately remind ourselves of this righteousness which we need, we are not very likely to be hungering and thirsting after it. The man, who truly hungers and thirsts after it, makes himself look at it every day. ‘But’, you say, ‘I am so tremendously busy. Look at my agenda. Where have I time?’ I say, if you are hungering and thirsting after righteousness you will find time. You will order your life, you will say, ‘First things must come first; there is a priority in these matters, and though I have to do this, that and the other, I cannot afford to neglect this because my soul is in bondage.’ ‘Where there is a will there is a way.’ It is amazing how we find time to do the things we want to do. If you and I are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a good deal of time every day will be spent in considering it.
But let us go further. The next test I would apply is this. The man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness always puts himself in the way of getting it. You cannot create it yourself; you cannot produce it. But at any rate you do know there are certain ways in which it seems to have come to these people about whom you have been reading, so you begin to imitate their example. You remember that blind man, Bartimus. He could not heal himself. He was blind; do what he would and what others would, he could not get back his sight. But he went and put himself in the way of getting it. He heard that Jesus of Nazareth was going that way, so he took up his stand on the high road. He got as near as he could. He could not give himself sight, but he put himself in the way of getting it. And the man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the man who never misses an opportunity of being in those certain places where people seem to find this righteousness. Take, for example, the house of God, where we meet to consider these things. I meet people who talk to me about their spiritual problems. They have these difficulties; they so want to be Christian, they say. But somehow or other something is lacking. Quite frequently I find that they do not often go to the house of God, or that they are very haphazard in their attendance. They do not know what it is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The man who really wants it says, ‘I cannot afford to lose any opportunity; wherever this is being talked about I want to be there.’ It is common sense. And then, of course, he seeks the society of people who have this righteousness. He says, ‘The oftener I am in the presence of godly and saintly men the better it is for me. I see that person has it; well, I want to talk to that person, I want to spend my time with such a person. I do not want to spend so much time with others who do me no good. But these people, who have this righteousness, I am going to keep close to them.’
Then, reading the Bible. Here is the great textbook on this matter. I ask a simple question again. I wonder whether we spend as much time with this Book as we do with the newspaper or with the novels or with the films and all other entertainments—wireless, television and all these things. I am not condemning these things as such. I want to make it completely clear that that is not my argument. My argument is that the man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness and has time for such things should have more time for this—that is all I am saying. Study and read this Book. Try to understand it; read books about it.
And then, pray. It is God alone who can give us this gift. Do we ask Him for it? How much time do we spend in His presence? I have referred to the biographies of these men of God. If you read them, and if you are like me, you will feel ashamed of yourself. You will find that these saints spent four or five hours daily in prayer, not just saying their prayers at night when they were almost too weary to do so. They gave the best time of their day to God; and people who hunger and thirst after righteousness know what it is to spend time in prayer and meditation reminding themselves of what they are in this life and world and what is awaiting them.
And then, as I have already said, there is the need for reading the biographies of the saints and all the literature you can lay your hands on about these things. This is how the man acts who really wants righteousness, as I have proved by the examples I have given. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to do all that and, having done it, to realize that it is not enough, that it will never produce it. The people who hunger and thirst after righteousness are frantic. They do all these things; they are seeking righteousness everywhere; and yet they know that their efforts are never going to lead to it. They are like Bartimrus or like the importunate widow of whom our Lord spoke. They come back to the same person until they get it. They are like Jacob struggling with the angel. They are like Luther, fasting, swearing, praying, not finding; but going on increasingly in his helplessness until God gave it to him. The same is true of all the saints of all ages and countries. It does not matter whom you look at. It seems to work out like this: it is only as you seek this righteousness with the whole of your being that you can truly discover it. You can never find it yourself. Yet the people who sit back and do nothing never seem to get it. That is God’s method. God, as it were, leads us on. We have done everything, and having done all we are still miserable sinners: and then we see that, as little children, we are to receive it as the free gift of God.
Very well; these are the ways in which we prove whether we are hungering and thirsting after this righteousness or not. Is it the greatest desire of our life? Is it the deepest longing of our being? Can I say quite honestly and truly that I desire above everything else in this world truly to know God and to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, to be rid of self in every shape and form, and to live only, always and entirely to His glory and to His honour?
Let me conclude this chapter with just a word in this practical sense. Why should this be the greatest desire of every one of us?
I answer the question in this way. All who lack this righteousness of God remain under the wrath of God and are facing perdition.
Anybody who dies in this world without being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ goes on to utter hopelessness and wretchedness. That is the teaching of the Bible, that is what the Bible says. ‘The wrath of God abideth on him.’ It is only this righteousness that can fit us to be right with God and to go to heaven and to be with Him and to spend eternity in His holy presence. Without this righteousness we are lost and damned and doomed. How amazing it is that this is not the supreme desire in the life of everybody! It is the only way to blessing in this life and to blessing in eternity. Let me put to you the argument of the utter hatefulness of sin, this thing that is so dishonouring to God, this thing that is dishonouring in itself, and dishonouring even to us. If only we saw the things of which we are guilty so continually in the sight of God, and in the sight of utter holiness, we should hate them even as God Himself does. That is a great reason for hungering and thirsting after righteousness—the hatefulness of sin.
But lastly I put it in a positive form. If only we knew something of the glory and the wonder of this new life of righteousness, we should desire nothing else. Therefore let us look at the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how life should be lived, that is what we should be like. If only we really saw it. Look at the lives of His followers. Wouldn’t you really like to live like those men, wouldn’t you like to die like them? Is there any other life that is in any way comparable to it—holy, clean, pure, with the fruit of the Spirit manifesting itself as ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’. What a life, what a character. That is a man worthy of the name of man; that is life as it should be. And if we see these things truly, we shall desire nothing less; we shall become like the apostle Paul and
we shall say, ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ Is that your desire? Very well, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock (and go on knocking), and it shall be opened unto you.’ ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’—with ‘all the fullness of God’. (88-98)