Here begins a practical discourse of Christ, which is continued to the end of the chapter, most of which is found in the sermon upon the mount, Matt. 5:1-7:29. Some think that this was preached at some other time and place, and there are other instances of Christ’s preaching the same things, or to the same purport, at different times; but it is probable that this is only the evangelist’s abridgment of that sermon, and perhaps that in Matthew too is but an abridgment; the beginning and the conclusion are much the same; and the story of the cure of the centurion’s servant follows presently upon it, both there and here, but it is not material. In these verses, we have,
I. Blessings pronounced upon suffering saints, as happy people, though the world pities them (Luke 6:20): He lifted up his eyes upon his disciples, not only the twelve, but the whole company of them (Luke 6:17), and directed his discourse to them; for, when he had healed the sick in the plain, he went up again to the mountain, to preach. There he sat, as one having authority; thither they come to him (Matt. 5:1), and to them he directed his discourse, to them he applied it, and taught them to apply it to themselves. When he had laid it down for a truth, Blessed are the poor in spirit, he added, Blessed are ye poor. All believers, that take the precepts of the gospel to themselves, and live by them may take the promises of the gospel to themselves and live upon them. And the application, as it is here, seems especially designed to encourage the disciples, with reference to the hardships and difficulties they were likely to meet with, in following Christ.
1. “You are poor, you have left all to follow me, are content to live upon alms with me, are never to expect any worldly preferment in my service. You must work hard, and fare hard, as poor people do; but you are blessed in your poverty, it shall be no prejudice at all to your happiness; nay, you are blessed for it, all your losses shall be abundantly made up to you, for yours is the kingdom of God, all the comforts and graces of his kingdom here and all the glories and joys of his kingdom hereafter; yours it shall be, nay, yours it is.” Christ’s poor are rich in faith, Jas. 2:5.
2. “You hunger now (Luke 6:21), you are not fed to the full as others are, you often rise hungry, your commons are so short; or you are so intent upon your work that you have not time to eat bread, you are glad of a few ears of corn for a meal’s meat; thus you hunger now in this world, but in the other world you shall be filled, shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more.”
3. “You weep now, are often in tears, tears of repentance, tears of sympathy; you are of them that mourn in Zion. But blessed are you; your present sorrows are no prejudices to your future joy, but preparatories for it: You shall laugh. You have triumphs in reserve; you are but sowing in tears, and shall shortly reap in joy,” Ps. 126:5, 6. They that now sorrow after a godly sort are treasuring up comforts for themselves, or, rather, God is treasuring up comforts for them; and the day is coming when their mouth shall be filled with laughing and their lips with rejoicing, Job 8:21.
4. “You now undergo the world’s ill will. You must expect all the base treatment that a spiteful world can give you for Christ’s sake, because you serve him and his interests; you must expect that wicked men will hate you, because your doctrine and life convict and condemn them; and those that have church-power in their hands will separate you, will force you to separate yourselves, and then excommunicate you for so doing, and lay you under the most ignominious censures. They will pronounce anathemas against you, as scandalous and incorrigible offenders. They will do this with all possible gravity and solemnity, and pomp and pageantry of appeals to Heaven, to make the world believe, and almost you yourselves too, that it is ratified in heaven. Thus will they endeavour to make you odious to others and a terror to yourselves.” This is supposed to be the proper notion of aphorisosin hymas—they shall cast you out of their synagogues. “And they that have not this power will not fail to show their malice, to the utmost of their power; for they will reproach you, will charge you with the blackest crimes, which you are perfectly innocent of, will fasten upon you the blackest characters, which you do not deserve; they will cast out your name as evil, your name as Christians, as apostles; they will do all they can to render these names odious.” This is the application of the eighth beatitude, Matt. 5:10-12.
“Such usage as this seems hard; but blessed are you when you are so used. It is so far from depriving you of your happiness that it will greatly add to it. It is an honour to you, as it is to a brave hero to be employed in the wars, in the service of his prince; and therefore rejoice you in that day, and leap for joy, Luke 6:23. Do not only bear it, but triumph in it. For,” (1.) “You are hereby highly dignified in the kingdom of grace, for you are treated as the prophets were before you, and therefore not only need not be ashamed of it, but may justly rejoice in it, for it will be an evidence for you that you walk in the same spirit, and in the same steps, are engaged in the same cause, and employed in the same service, with them.” (2.) “You will for this be abundantly recompensed in the kingdom of glory; not only your services for Christ, but your sufferings will come into the account: Your reward is great in heaven. Venture upon your sufferings, in a full belief that the glory of heaven will abundantly countervail all these hardships; so that, though you may be losers for Christ, you shall not be losers by him in the end.”
II. Woes denounced against prospering sinners as miserable people, though the world envies them. These we had not in Matthew. It should seem, the best exposition of these woes, compared with the foregoing blessings, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus had the blessedness of those that are poor, and hunger, and weep, now, for in Abraham’s bosom all the promises made to them who did so were made good to him; but the rich man had the woes that follow here, as he had the character of those on whom these woes are entailed.
1. Here is a woe to them that are rich, that is, that trust in riches, that have abundance of this world’s wealth, and, instead of serving God with it, serve their lusts with it; woe to them, for they have received their consolation, that which they placed their happiness in, and were willing to take up with for a portion, Luke 6:24. They in their life-time received their good things, which, in their account, were the best things, and all the good things they are ever likely to receive from God. “You that are rich are in temptation to set your hearts upon a smiling world, and to say, Soul, take thine ease in the embraces of it, This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell; and then woe unto you.” (1.) It is the folly of carnal worldlings that they make the things of this world their consolation, which were intended only for their convenience. They please themselves with them, pride themselves in them, and make them their heaven upon earth; and to them the consolations of God are small, and of no account. (2.) It is their misery that they are put off with them as their consolation. Let them know it, to their terror, when they are parted from these things, there is an end of all their comfort, a final end of it, and nothing remains to them but everlasting misery and torment.
2. Here is a woe to them that are full (Luke 6:25), that are fed to the full, and have more than heart could wish (Ps. 73:7), that have their bellies filled with the hid treasures of this world (Ps. 17:14), that, when they have abundance of these, are full, and think they have enough, they need no more, they desire no more, Rev. 3:17. Now ye are full, now ye are rich, 1 Cor. 4:8. They are full of themselves, without God and Christ. Woe to such, for they shall hunger, they shall shortly be stripped and emptied of all the things they are so proud of; and, when they shall have left behind them in the world all those things which are their fulness, they shall carry away with them such appetites and desires as the world they remove to will afford them no gratifications of; for all the delights of sense, which they are now so full of, will in hell be denied, and in heaven superseded.
3. Here is a woe to them that laugh now, that have always a disposition to be merry, and always something to make merry with; that know no other joy than that which is carnal and sensual, and know no other use of this world’s good than purely to indulge that carnal sensual joy that banishes sorrow, even godly sorrow, from their minds, and are always entertaining themselves with the laughter of the fool. Woe unto such, for it is but now, for a little time, that they laugh; they shall mourn and weep shortly, shall mourn and weep eternally, in a world where there is nothing but weeping and wailing, endless, easeless, and remediless sorrow.
4. Here is a woe to them whom all men speak well of, that is, who make it their great and only care to gain the praise and applause of men, who value themselves upon that more than upon the favour of God and his acceptance (Luke 6:26): “Woe unto you; that is, it would be a bad sign that you were not faithful to your trust, and to the souls of men, if you preached so as that nobody would be disgusted; for your business is to tell people of their faults, and, if you do that as you ought, you will get that ill will which never speaks well. The false prophets indeed, that flattered your father in their wicked ways, that prophesied smooth things to them, were caressed and spoken well of; and, if you be in like manner cried up, you will be justly suspected to deal deceitfully as they did.” We should desire to have the approbation of those that are wise and good, and not be indifferent to what people say of us; but, as we should despise the reproaches, so we should also despise the praises, of the fools in Israel.