Meditations on the Beatitudes: Introduction

Matthew 5:1‑16  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Matthew 5:1-161And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 2And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. 13Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:1‑16)
As all our natural thoughts of blessedness—like the earthly expectations of the Jews—are in perfect contrast with the Lord’s teaching on this subject, it may be well for our souls to examine carefully, as in His presence, the true principles of real happiness. Surely our hearts would desire perfect blessedness, which means perfect happiness—the happiness of heaven, not the uncertain happiness, or rather the transient excitement, of earth.
From observation, habit of thought, general impressions, we have all shared largely in the popular notions of what constitutes a life of happiness here: but now, with the instructions of the Great Teacher before us, we shall do well to take our place at His feet, and learn of Him the sure and safe way to a life of holiness and happiness here and of unmingled blessedness hereafter. Mankind in general would say,
“Blessed are the rich, who can surround themselves with every comfort; blessed are the joyful, the high-spirited, the independent, who know nothing of hungering and thirsting.” But the Lord, who was from heaven, and knew the character that suited the kingdom of heaven, says, “Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungering and thirsting ones.” This is completely reversing the universal judgment of men, and contradicting the cherished thought of every human heart.
But what an unspeakable mercy for all classes that happiness does not depend on our circumstances, nor on how much we possess of this world’s goods, but on the state of the mind; or, in one word, on character—a character conformed to Christ; for the beatitudes are essentially the character of the blessed Lord Himself. Who so poor in spirit, so meek and lowly in heart, as Jesus? Who so obedient and dependent as man? Who so filled with peace, and uninterrupted in communion with His Father in heaven? He has left us an example that we should walk in His steps.
But before speaking of the different features of that wonderful character—which ought to be our own—we must notice some of the events in the Lord’s public ministry which led to this full and formal proclamation of the kingdom, and the revelation of its fundamental principles. And here, Lord, in studying Thy character and teaching, Thy miracles, and ways in grace and love, guide us by Thy Holy Spirit, reveal Thy varied glories to our souls, and form our characters anew, that we may manifest while on earth the heavenly principles of Thy kingdom.
And let it be thine, for thyself, my soul, in meditating on these beatitudes—on the different features of the faithful one in Israel—to judge thyself in their light, that thou mayest be a true reflection of Him in this self-seeking world. This is clearly thy place and privilege during thy Lord’s absence. But thou wilt say, Are not the disciples who are here addressed the remnant in Israel? Most surely; the Sermon on the Mount was preached to His disciples, but in the hearing of all Israel, and sets forth the principles of the kingdom in connection with that people, and in moral contrast with the ideas they had formed respecting it. The character and conduct of those who are suitable to the kingdom, and the conditions of entering into it, are also proclaimed by the Prophet King. But, alas! through the unbelief of the people, and rejection of their King, the establishment of the earthly kingdom has been delayed; and the church, which is heavenly, has been brought in, and Christians are now the bearers of God’s testimony, and witnesses for Christ in the world. This is the Christian’s mission; a truly blessed, but solemnly responsible one.
“As My Father hath sent Me,” says the blessed Lord, “even so send I you.”
Here we are told by the Lord Himself that our mission in this world is on the same principle, and of the same character, as was His own. And to this end He reveals to His disciples—not to the apostles merely—the great truth, that in virtue of His finished work, they are brought into association with Himself, as they had never been before; for it is only now, for the first time, that He says,
“I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” And now, in the full assurance of their pardon and peace with God, and filled with the Holy Spirit, they were to go forth as the bearers of His message, and ever to be characterized by His Spirit.
We will now turn for a moment to the immediate circumstances which led Him to ascend the mountain, and address the multitudes.
More than beautiful on the mountains of Israel were the feet of Him who came as Jehovah’s messenger with such healing and blessing to His people. But wondrous, precious truth! He was Himself Jehovah. The Spirit of God delights to introduce Him to us in Matthew’s Gospel as Jehovah Jesus, as Emmanuel, God with us.
O! mystery of mysteries!—Emmanuel, God manifested in flesh. Not merely as King of glory seated upon a throne in heaven, but as a babe, born of a virgin, and cradled in a manger; yet the Son of David, the beloved of God. As Son of Man He suffered and died, but infinite value was given to His work by the glory of His person as Emmanuel, God with us. What a resting-place for a troubled soul! For thee, my reader—for all who believe in Him.
“Jesus! Thou King of glory,
I soon shall dwell with Thee,
And sing the wondrous story
Of all Thy love to me.
“Meanwhile my soul would enter
By faith before Thy throne,
And all my love would center
On Thee, and Thee alone.”
For purposes suited to our gospel, the whole of our Lord’s history, until the commencement of His ministry after the death of John the Baptist, is here passed over. He then comes before us, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, as a great light shining in the land of darkness and of death.
The whole country, even to the extent of the ancient territory of Israel, it is said, was excited and aroused by His mighty deeds. These were the faithful witnesses of His Messiahship. The tribes of Israel were thus summoned to the standard of their Messiah. Unbelief was left without excuse. He was not only the light of life shining on the darkness of death, but He was the mighty power of God in healing and blessing. The strong man He had bound, and He was now spoiling him of his goods. The need and misery of man, both as to his soul and body, were the great objects of His mission of mercy. He was there to forgive their iniquities, to heal their diseases, to redeem their lives from destruction, and to crown them with loving-kindness and tender mercies (Psa. 103). Thus we read,
“And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy: and He healed them. And there followed Him great multitudes of people, from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan” (Verses 24, 25).
The attention of the whole country being thus attracted, and vast multitudes following Him, eagerly desiring to hear His gracious words, He unfolds the character of the kingdom of heaven, and of the people who would enter into it, in what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount, which opens with the beatitudes.
(To be continued).