In Matthew 5:3-12, we find those wonderful words of our Lord Jesus Christ often called the beatitudes or blessings. The beatitudes form the introduction to Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount which He preached next to the Sea of Galilee.
The Beatitudes comprise nine systematic statements addressed to all God's children down through the centuries between His first and second comings. The order in which they come is not a chance arrangement. Remember they are in the inspired Word of God. Some see a parallelism here with the development of the Christian church through the various periods of its existence.
The original Christians in Jerusalem were a small and hated company. They lived together at the very first and had all things in common, as we read in Acts 2:44-46:
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” They were poor in this world's goods, but rich in faith.
Remember, all these beatitudes belong to all Christians in all ages, but it seems that the first one was especially comforting during this early era of the church:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
The word “blessed” really means happy. Happy are those who realize their need of redemption. The gospel is to be preached to the poor—that is, those who realize their spiritual need—not to the spiritually proud.
“The proud heart strives to earn salvation; but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ” (The Desire of Ages, p. 300). The precious gift of God is for only those who realize their own poverty.
But, when it comes to the spiritual realm, nothing is withheld from the soul that feels its need. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
The church entered a period of persecution. Many sealed their faith with their blood. To them, and to all who have suffered and lost dear ones, comes the next beatitude:
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted:” (Matthew 5:4).
It is in sorrow that God's promises mean so much to us. It is then that we are comforted. Passing through a garden or field of clover at night, most of us have noticed how fragrant the air is. The very atmosphere seems to be laden with perfume. Scientists now tell us that certain varieties of roses are from 30 to 40 percent more fragrant at night.
And this is true of many other flowers. It is the same with human lives also. It takes the night of sorrow to call forth their sweetest fragrance—patience, sympathy, love, forgiveness. Many who go to some sick chamber to visit a friend and give him a word of encouragement, testify that they have brought away infinitely more than they were able to give.
We must remember also that it is those who mourn over their own sins, those who are truly penitent, who find the comfort of forgiveness. Someone has said, “The tears of the penitent are only the raindrops that precede the sunshine of holiness” (The Desire of Ages, p. 300).
“Only acknowledge thine iniquity. That thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God,...”
“...and I will not cause Mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:13-12).
“Unto them that mourn in Zion [God has appointed], to give...beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).
Some people worry themselves out of the hand of Christ. We are not to do that. We are to humble our souls before God. When things are the darkest, we are to remember that there is a blessing to those who mourn. We shall find the divine comfort. God's promise is:
“I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13, also see Isaiah 57:18).
The next period of church history was one in which the church was exalted to a high position. Constantine, the emperor, made Christianity the official religion of the great world-wide Roman Empire. This was a strange blending of human power with the followers of the meek and lowly Christ. During this time when it was popular to become a Christian, those who did not follow in the way of popularity and prestige found things very difficult. Unto them came the message:
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
They do not inherit the earth now. They did not inherit it then—that is, they did not enter into their heritage, but they shall inherit it. The earth made new will be their home forever. “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The meek have been said to be those who give soft answers to rough questions. But one who is meek is not necessarily soft, indifferent, or weak. Moses is said to have been the meekest man of his time, but he was a man of great energy and accomplishment and daring for Goa. The Lord Jesus Christ is said to have been meek, but we know what He could suffer and do.
Through the long ages of darkness and waiting, many of God’s children held the lamp of truth on high. On the lonely islands off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, in the deep valleys of the Alps, and in other places, the church in the desert, the church in the wilderness, the church in obscurity, kept the lamp of truth burning. Then there broke upon the world the greater light of the Reformation. To those suffering ones, and to all God's children in all ages who have trusted, not in themselves, but in God alone, comes this blessing:
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Not through rites and ceremonies, not through good works, may any of us earn salvation. But “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Our righteousness is all of God, by faith. It is the righteousness of Christ applied to us when we believe. How to be right with God, how to be righteous in His sight, is the great problem of the heart of man.
For centuries the question has been, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Some think by attainment; God says by atonement. Some declare by character; God says by the cross. Some maintain by courage; God says by Christ. Some assert by trying; God says by trusting.
Christ's answer is crystal clear: “Ye must be born again” (John 3:1). Man has now conquered almost every dangerous thing in nature except human nature. We must have a new life. Our righteousness must come from God.
For a long time after the Reformation, there were terrible religious wars, much cruelty, and intolerance. Appropriate then—and now, and at all times—are these next words of Christ:
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:1).
A mother sought the great Napoleon for the pardon of her son. The Emperor said that it was his second offense. Justice demanded his death.
“I don't ask for justice. I plead for mercy,” cried the mother.
“But he does not deserve mercy.”
“Your Majesty, it would not be mercy if he deserved it. Mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” said the Emperor, “I will have mercy.”
And the young man's life was saved.
But the mercy of man cannot compare with the wonderful mercy of God. “For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
No matter how evil our lives are, or may have been, God's mercy opens a door to us—the door of eternal salvation. Do we not read in the words of the holy apostle Paul? “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5).
There it is—His mercy. The seventh verse tells us that this door is opened because we are “justified by His grace” and “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” All believers know that this blessing is certainly true and real.
“The Lord's mercies...are new every morning: great is [His] faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
In the evil days of the eighteenth century, when men revolted against God, there was a great revolution in human thought. Still, through it all, there was always a remnant of true, pure Christianity. To those in every age, and to us today, the beatitude comes:
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
An impure heart defiles the soul. Wrong thinking dims the spiritual vision so men cannot behold God; they cannot see Him by the eye of faith. They cannot see His works. This self-seeking spirit judges God to be like itself. Only the unselfish heart, the trustful heart, shall see God as “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Is there anything needed more today than a world-wide message of purity?
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century we have been living in an age of almost constant warfare-not only in the world in general, but in spiritual things. At such a time as this, comes the next beatitude:
“Blessed are the peacemakers [declares our Lord]: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, we have had one great peace conference after another. Many quarrels have been settled by arbitration; others have led into war. We have had two world wars. But we shall never have world peace until peace finds its place, first of all, in the hearts of men. The peace of Christ is born of truth. It is harmony with God. Sinners are at enmity with the Creator; and, as a result, they are at enmity with one another.
“Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
The only power that can bring true peace is the grace of Christ in the soul. When that grace is in the heart, it will drive out the evil passions that cause strife and dissension. It is only then that life's “desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1).
“Do you think it would be wrong for me to learn the noble art of self-defense?” a religiously inclined young man inquired of his pastor.
“Certainly not. I learned it in youth myself, and I have found it of great value during my life.”
“Indeed, sir? Did you learn the old English system or the Sullivan system?”
“I learned neither,” said the minister. “I learned the Solomon system.”
“The Solomon system?”
“Yes. You will find it in the first verse of the fifteenth chapter of Proverbs: ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath.’ It's the best system of self-defense of which I know.”
Would it not be well for more of us in these days to know this way of self-defense and claim the blessing of the peacemakers?
Now we come to the last of the beatitudes, especially appropriate for the very last days of this age, when we may expect a revival of intolerance in the world. In fact, it is already revived.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
To all who refuse God's infinite love, Christianity will be a disturbing element. “The light of Christ sweeps away the darkness that covers their sins...While those who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit begin war with themselves, those who cling to sin war against the truth and its representatives” (The Desire of Ages, p. 306).
So there is bound to be strife as long as truth is in the world, and more bitter strife as we near the end, the day of the final triumph of truth. But remember that through it all is blessing, blessing, blessing—the happiness of God.
Are you blessed? Are you happy? If not, why not? Come over onto God’s side and these nine blessings will be yours. You will be happy through everything; happy all the long day through. And with that “blessed hope” in our hearts (Titus 2:13) we may finish our day of labor here and await the dawn of God's blest eternity.