Christ begins his sermon with blessings, for he came into the world to bless us (Acts 3:26), as the great High Priest of our profession; as the blessed Melchizedec; as He in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, Gen. 12:3. He came not only to purchase blessings for us, but to pour out and pronounce blessings on us; and here he does it as one having authority, as one that can command the blessing, even life for evermore, and that is the blessing here again and again promised to the good; his pronouncing them happy makes them so; for those whom he blesses, are blessed indeed. The Old Testament ended with a curse (Mal. 4:6), the gospel begins with a blessing; for hereunto are we called, that we should inherit the blessing. Each of the blessings Christ here pronounces has a double intention: 1. To show who they are that are to be accounted truly happy, and what their characters are. 2. What that is wherein true happiness consists, in the promises made to persons of certain characters, the performance of which will make them happy. Now,
1. This is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world. Blessedness is the thing which men pretend to pursue; Who will make us to see good? Ps. 4:6. But most mistake the end, and form a wrong notion of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way; they choose their own delusions, and court a shadow. The general opinion is, Blessed are they that are rich, and great, and honourable in the world; they spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; they eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand, and have every sheaf bowing to their sheaf; happy the people that is in such a case; and their designs, aims, and purposes are accordingly; they bless the covetous (Ps. 10:3); they will be rich. Now our Lord Jesus comes to correct this fundamental error, to advance a new hypothesis, and to give us quite another notion of blessedness and blessed people, which, however paradoxical it may appear to those who are prejudiced, yet is in itself, and appears to be to all who are savingly enlightened, a rule and doctrine of eternal truth and certainty, by which we must shortly be judged. If this, therefore, be the beginning of Christ’s doctrine, the beginning of a Christian’s practice must be to take his measures of happiness from those maxims, and to direct his pursuits accordingly.
2. It is designed to remove the discouragements of the weak and poor who receive the gospel, by assuring them that his gospel did not make those only happy that were eminent in gifts, graces, comforts, and usefulness; but that even the least in the kingdom of heaven, whose heart was upright with God, was happy in the honours and privileges of that kingdom.
3. It is designed to invite souls to Christ, and to make way for his law into their hearts. Christ’s pronouncing these blessings, not at the end of his sermon, to dismiss the people, but at the beginning of it, to prepare them for what he had further to say to them, may remind us of mount Gerizim and mount Ebal, on which the blessings and cursings of the law were read, Deut. 27:12 There the curses are expressed, and the blessings only implied; here the blessings are expressed, and the curses implied: in both, life and death are set before us; but the law appeared more as a ministration of death, to deter us from sin; the gospel as a dispensation of life, to allure us to Christ, in whom alone all good is to be had. And those who had seen the gracious cures wrought by his hand (Matt. 4:23, 24), and now heard the gracious words proceeding out of his mouth, would say that he was all of a piece, made up of love and sweetness.
4. It is designed to settle and sum up the articles of agreement between God and man. The scope of the divine revelation is to let us know what God expects from us, and what we may then expect from him; and no where is this more fully set forth in a few words than here, nor with a more exact reference to each other; and this is that gospel which we are required to believe; for what is faith but a conformity to these characters, and a dependence upon these promises? The way to happiness is here opened, and made a highway (Isa. 35:8); and this coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ, it is intimated that from him, and by him, we are to receive both the seed and the fruit, both the grace required, and the glory promised. Nothing passes between God and fallen man, but through his hand. Some of the wiser heathen had notions of blessedness different from the rest of mankind, and looking toward this of our Saviour. Seneca, undertaking to describe a blessed man, makes it out, that it is only an honest, good man that is to be so called: Deut. vita beata. cap. 4. Cui nullum bonum malumque sit, nisi bonus malusque animus—Quem nec extollant fortuita, nec frangant—Cui vera voluptas erit voluptatum comtemplio—Cui unum bonum honestas, unum malum turpitudo.—In whose estimation nothing is good or evil, but a good or evil heart—Whom no occurrences elate or deject—Whose true pleasure consists in a contempt of pleasure—To whom the only good is virtue, and the only evil vice.
Our Saviour here gives us eight characters of blessed people; which represent to us the principal graces of a Christian. On each of them a present blessing is pronounced; Blessed are they; and to each a future blessing is promised, which is variously expressed, so as to suit the nature of the grace or duty recommended.
Do we ask then who are happy? It is answered,
I. The poor in spirit are happy, Matt. 5:3. There is a poor-spiritedness that is so far from making men blessed that it is a sin and a snare—cowardice and base fear, and a willing subjection to the lusts of men. But this poverty of spirit is a gracious disposition of soul, by which we are emptied of self, in order to our being filled with Jesus Christ. To be poor in spirit is, 1. To be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth, if God orders that to be our lot; to bring our mind to our condition, when it is a low condition. Many are poor in the world, but high in spirit, poor and proud, murmuring and complaining, and blaming their lot, but we must accommodate ourselves to our poverty, must know how to be abased, Phil. 4:12. Acknowledging the wisdom of God in appointing us to poverty, we must be easy in it, patiently bear the inconveniences of it, be thankful for what we have, and make the best of that which is. It is to sit loose to all worldly wealth, and not set our hearts upon it, but cheerfully to bear losses and disappointments which may befal us in the most prosperous state. It is not, in pride or pretence, to make ourselves poor, by throwing away what God has given us, especially as those in the church of Rome, who vow poverty, and yet engross the wealth of the nations; but if we be rich in the world we must be poor in spirit, that is, we must condescend to the poor and sympathize with them, as being touched with the feeling of their infirmities; we must expect and prepare for poverty; must not inordinately fear or shun it, but must bid it welcome, especially when it comes upon us for keeping a good conscience, Heb. 10:34. Job was poor in spirit, when he blessed God in taking away, as well as giving. 2. It is to be humble and lowly in our own eyes. To be poor in spirit, is to think meanly of ourselves, of what we are, and have, and do; the poor are often taken in the Old Testament for the humble and self-denying, as opposed to those that are at ease, and the proud; it is to be as little children in our opinion of ourselves, weak, foolish, and insignificant, Matt. 18:4; 19:14. Laodicea was poor in spirituals, wretchedly and miserably poor, and yet rich in spirit, so well increased with goods, as to have need of nothing, Rev. 3:17. On the other hand, Paul was rich in spirituals, excelling most in gifts and graces, and yet poor in spirit, the least of the apostles, less than the least of all saints, and nothing in his own account. It is to look with a holy contempt upon ourselves, to value others and undervalue ourselves in comparison of them. It is to be willing to make ourselves cheap, and mean, and little, to do good; to become all things to all men. It is to acknowledge that God is great, and we are mean; that he is holy and we are sinful; that he is all and we are nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing; and to humble ourselves before him, and under his mighty hand. 3. It is to come off from all confidence in our own righteousness and strength, that we may depend only upon the merit of Christ for our justification, and the spirit and grace of Christ for our sanctification. That broken and contrite spirit with which the publican cried for mercy to a poor sinner, is that poverty of spirit. We must call ourselves poor, because always in want of God’s grace, always begging at God’s door, always hanging on in his house.
Now, (1.) This poverty in spirit is put first among the Christian graces. The philosophers did not reckon humility among their moral virtues, but Christ puts it first. Self-denial is the first lesson to be learned in his school, and poverty of spirit entitled to the first beatitude. The foundation of all other graces is laid in humility. Those who would build high must begin low; and it is an excellent preparative for the entrance of gospel-grace into the soul; it fits the soil to receive the seed. Those who are weary and heavy laden, are the poor in spirit, and they shall find rest with Christ.
(2.) They are blessed. Now they are so, in this world. God looks graciously upon them. They are his little ones, and have their angels. To them he gives more grace; they live the most comfortable lives, and are easy to themselves and all about them, and nothing comes amiss to them; while high spirits are always uneasy.
(3.) Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of grace is composed of such; they only are fit to be members of Christ’s church, which is called the congregation of the poor (Ps. 74:19); the kingdom of glory is prepared for them. Those who thus humble themselves, and comply with God when he humbles them, shall be thus exalted. The great, high spirits go away with the glory of the kingdoms of the earth; but the humble, mild, and yielding souls obtain the glory of the kingdom of heaven. We are ready to think concerning those who are rich, and do good with their riches, that, no doubt, theirs is the kingdom of heaven; for they can thus lay up in store a good security for the time to come; but what shall the poor do, who have not wherewithal to do good? Why, the same happiness is promised to those who are contentedly poor, as to those who are usefully rich. If I am not able to spend cheerfully for his sake, if I can but want cheerfully for his sake, even that shall be recompensed. And do not we serve a good master then?
II. They that mourn are happy (Matt. 5:4); Blessed are they that mourn. This is another strange blessing, and fitly follows the former. The poor are accustomed to mourn, the graciously poor mourn graciously. We are apt to think, Blessed are the merry; but Christ, who was himself a great mourner, says, Blessed are the mourners. There is a sinful mourning, which is an enemy to blessedness—the sorrow of the world; despairing melancholy upon a spiritual account, and disconsolate grief upon a temporal account. There is a natural mourning, which may prove a friend to blessedness, by the grace of God working with it, and sanctifying the afflictions to us, for which we mourn. But there is a gracious mourning, which qualifies for blessedness, an habitual seriousness, the mind mortified to mirth, and an actual sorrow. 1. A penitential mourning for our own sins; this is godly sorrow, a sorrow according to God; sorrow for sin, with an eye to Christ, Zech. 12:10. Those are God’s mourners, who live a life of repentance, who lament the corruption of their nature, and their many actual transgressions, and God’s withdrawings from them; and who, out of regard to God’s honour, mourn also for the sins of others, and sigh and cry for their abominations, Ezek. 9:4. 2. A sympathizing mourning for the afflictions of others; the mourning of those who weep with them that weep, are sorrowful for the solemn assemblies, for the desolations of Zion (Zeph. 3:18; Ps. 137:1), especially who look with compassion on perishing souls, and weep over them, as Christ over Jerusalem.
Now these gracious mourners, (1.) Are blessed. As in vain and sinful laughter the heart is sorrowful, so in gracious mourning the heart has a serious joy, a secret satisfaction, which a stranger does not intermeddle with. They are blessed, for they are like the Lord Jesus, who was a man of sorrows, and of whom we never read that he laughed, but often that he wept. The are armed against the many temptations that attend vain mirth, and are prepared for the comforts of a sealed pardon and a settled peace. (2.) They shall be comforted. Though perhaps they are not immediately comforted, yet plentiful provision is made for their comfort; light is sown for them; and in heaven, it is certain, they shall be comforted, as Lazarus, Luke 16:25. Note, The happiness of heaven consists in being perfectly and eternally comforted, and in the wiping away of all tears from their eyes. It is the joy of our Lord; a fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore; which will be doubly sweet to those who have been prepared for them by this godly sorrow. Heaven will be a heaven indeed to those who go mourning thither; it will be a harvest of joy, the return of a seed-time of tears (Ps. 126:5, 6); a mountain of joy, to which our way lies through a vale of tears. See Isa. 66:10.
III. The meek are happy (Matt. 5:5); Blessed are the meek. The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.
These meek ones are here represented as happy, even in this world. 1. They are blessed, for they are like the blessed Jesus, in that wherein particularly they are to learn of him, Matt. 11:29. They are like the blessed God himself, who is Lord of his anger, and in whom fury is not. They are blessed, for they have the most comfortable, undisturbed enjoyment of themselves, their friends, their God; they are fit for any relation, and condition, any company; fit to live, and fit to die. 2. They shall inherit the earth; it is quoted from Ps. 37:11; and it is almost the only express temporal promise in all the New Testament. Not that they shall always have much of the earth, much less that they shall be put off with that only; but this branch of godliness has, in a special manner, the promise of life that now is. Meekness, however ridiculed and run down, has a real tendency to promote our health, wealth, comfort, and safety, even in this world. The meek and quiet are observed to live the most easy lives, compared with the froward and turbulent. Or, They shall inherit the land (so it may be read), the land of Canaan, a type of heaven. So that all the blessedness of heaven above, and all the blessings of earth beneath, are the portion of the meek.
IV. They that hunger and thirst after righteousness are happy, Matt. 5:6. Some understand this as a further instance of our outward poverty, and a low condition in this world, which not only exposes men to injury and wrong, but makes it in vain for them to seek to have justice done to them; they hunger and thirst after it, but such is the power on the side of their oppressors, that they cannot have it; they desire only that which is just and equal, but it is denied them by those that neither fear God nor regard men. This is a melancholy case! Yet, blessed are they, if they suffer these hardships for and with a good conscience; let them hope in God, who will see justice done, right take place, and will deliver the poor from their oppressors, Ps. 103:6. Those who contentedly bear oppression, and quietly refer themselves to God to plead their cause, shall in due time be satisfied, abundantly satisfied, in the wisdom and kindness which shall be manifested in his appearances for them. But it is certainly to be understood spiritually, of such a desire as, being terminated on such an object, is gracious, and the work of God’s grace in the soul, and qualifies for the gifts of the divine favour. 1. Righteousness is here put for all spiritual blessings. See Ps. 24:5; Matt. 6:33. They are purchased for us by the righteousness of Christ; conveyed and secured by the imputation of that righteousness to us; and confirmed by the faithfulness of God. To have Christ made of God to us righteousness, and to be made the righteousness of God in him; to have the whole man renewed in righteousness, so as to become a new man, and to bear the image of God; to have an interest in Christ and the promises—this is righteousness. 2. These we must hunger and thirst after. We must truly and really desire them, as one who is hungry and thirsty desires meat and drink, who cannot be satisfied with any thing but meat and drink, and will be satisfied with them, though other things be wanting. Our desires of spiritual blessings must be earnest and importunate; “Give me these, or else I die; every thing else is dross and chaff, unsatisfying; give me these, and I have enough, though I had nothing else.” Hunger and thirst are appetites that return frequently, and call for fresh satisfactions; so these holy desires rest not in any thing attained, but are carried out toward renewed pardons, and daily fresh supplies of grace. The quickened soul calls for constant meals of righteousness, grace to do the work of every day in its day, as duly as the living body calls for food. Those who hunger and thirst will labour for supplies; so we must not only desire spiritual blessings, but take pains for them in the use of the appointed means. Dr. Hammond, in his practical Catechism, distinguishes between hunger and thirst. Hunger is a desire of food to sustain, such as sanctifying righteousness. Thirst is the desire of drink to refresh, such as justifying righteousness, and the sense of our pardon.
Those who hunger and thirst after spiritual blessings, are blessed in those desires, and shall be filled with those blessings. (1.) They are blessed in those desires. Though all desires of grace are not grace (feigned, faint desires are not), yet such a desire as this is; it is an evidence of something good, and an earnest of something better. It is a desire of God’s own raising, and he will not forsake the work of his own hands. Something or other the soul will be hungering and thirsting after; therefore they are blessed who fasten upon the right object, which is satisfying, and not deceiving; and do not pant after the dust of the earth, Amos 2:7; Isa. 55:2. (2.) They shall be filled with those blessings. God will give them what they desire to complete their satisfaction. It is God only who can fill a soul, whose grace and favour are adequate to its just desires; and he will fill those with grace for grace, who, in a sense of their own emptiness, have recourse to his fulness. He fills the hungry (Luke 1:53), satiates them, Jer. 31:25. The happiness of heaven will certainly fill the soul; their righteousness shall be complete, the favour of God and his image, both in their full perfection.
V. The merciful are happy, Matt. 5:7. This, like the rest, is a paradox; for the merciful are not taken to be the wisest, nor are likely to be the richest; yet Christ pronounces them blessed. Those are the merciful, who are piously and charitably inclined to pity, help, and succour persons in misery. A man may be truly merciful, who has not wherewithal to be bountiful or liberal; and then God accepts the willing mind. We must not only bear our own afflictions patiently, but we must, by Christian sympathy, partake of the afflictions of our brethren; pity must be shown (Job 6:14), and bowels of mercy put on (Col. 3:12); and, being put on, they must put forth themselves in contributing all we can for the assistance of those who are any way in misery. We must have compassion on the souls of others, and help them; pity the ignorant, and instruct them; the careless, and warn them; those who are in a state of sin, and snatch them as brands out of the burning. We must have compassion on those who are melancholy and in sorrow, and comfort them (Job 16:5); on those whom we have advantage against, and not be rigorous and severe with them; on those who are in want, and supply them; which if we refuse to do, whatever we pretend, we shut up the bowels of our compassion, Jas. 2:15, 16; 1 John 3:17. Draw out they soul by dealing thy bread to the hungry, Isa. 58:7, 10. Nay, a good man is merciful to his beast.
Now as to the merciful. 1. They are blessed; so it was said in the Old Testament; Blessed is he that considers the poor, Ps. 41:1. Herein they resemble God, whose goodness is his glory; in being merciful as he is merciful, we are, in our measure, perfect as he is perfect. It is an evidence of love to God; it will be a satisfaction to ourselves, to be any way instrumental for the benefit of others. One of the purest and most refined delights in this world, is that of doing good. In this word, Blessed are the merciful, is included that saying of Christ, which otherwise we find not in the gospels, It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35. 2. They shall obtain mercy; mercy with men, when they need it; he that watereth, shall be watered also himself (we know not how soon we may stand in need of kindness, and therefore should be kind); but especially mercy with God, for with the merciful he will show himself merciful, Ps. 18:25. The most merciful and charitable cannot pretend to merit, but must fly to mercy. The merciful shall find with God sparing mercy (Matt. 6:14), supplying mercy (Prov. 19:17), sustaining mercy (Ps. 41:2), mercy in that day (2 Tim. 1:18); may, they shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them (Matt. 25:34, 35); whereas they shall have judgment without mercy (which can be nothing short of hell-fire) who have shown no mercy.
VI. The pure in heart are happy (Matt. 5:8); Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God. This is the most comprehensive of all the beatitudes; here holiness and happiness are fully described and put together.
1. Here is the most comprehensive character of the blessed: they are pure in heart. Note, True religion consists in heart-purity. Those who are inwardly pure, show themselves to be under the power of pure and undefiled religion. True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of heart; the washing of that from wickedness, Jer. 4:14. We must lift up to God, not only clean hands, but a pure heart, Ps. 24:4, 5; 1 Tim. 1:5. The heart must be pure, in opposition to mixture—an honest heart that aims well; and pure, in opposition to pollution and defilement; as wine unmixed, as water unmuddied. The heart must be kept pure from fleshly lusts, all unchaste thoughts and desires; and from worldly lusts; covetousness is called filthy lucre; from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, all that which come out of the heart, and defiles the man. The heart must be purified by faith, and entire for God; must be presented and preserved a chaste virgin to Christ. Create in me such a clean heart, O God!
2. Here is the most comprehensive comfort of the blessed; They shall see God. Note, (1.) It is the perfection of the soul’s happiness to see God; seeing him, as we may by faith in our present state, is a heaven upon earth; and seeing him as we shall in the future state, in the heaven of heaven. To see him as he is, face to face, and no longer through a glass darkly; to see him as ours, and to see him and enjoy him; to see him and be like him, and be satisfied with that likeness (Ps. 17:15); and to see him for ever, and never lose the sight of him; this is heaven’s happiness. (2.) The happiness of seeing God is promised to those, and those only, who are pure in heart. None but the pure are capable of seeing God, nor would it be a felicity to the impure. What pleasure could an unsanctified soul take in the vision of a holy God? As he cannot endure to look upon their iniquity, so they cannot endure to look upon his purity; nor shall any unclean thing enter into the new Jerusalem; but all that are pure in heart, all that are truly sanctified, have desires wrought in them, which nothing but the sight of God will sanctify; and divine grace will not leave those desires unsatisfied.
VII. The peace-makers are happy, Matt. 5:9. The wisdom that is from above is first pure, and then peaceable; the blessed ones are pure toward God, and peaceable toward men; for with reference to both, conscience must be kept void of offence. The peace-makers are those who have, 1. A peaceable disposition: as, to make a lie, is to be given and addicted to lying, so, to make peace, is to have a strong and hearty affection to peace. I am for peace, Ps. 120:7. It is to love, and desire, and delight in peace; to be put in it as in our element, and to study to be quiet. 2. A peaceable conversation; industriously, as far as we can, to preserve the peace that it be not broken, and to recover it when it is broken; to hearken to proposals of peace ourselves, and to be ready to make them to others; where distance is among brethren and neighbours, to do all we can to accommodate it, and to be repairers of the breaches. The making of peace is sometimes a thankless office, and it is the lot of him who parts a fray, to have blows on both sides; yet it is a good office, and we must be forward to it. Some think that this is intended especially as a lesson for ministers, who should do all they can to reconcile those who are at variance, and to promote Christian love among those under their charge.
Now, (1.) Such persons are blessed; for they have the satisfaction of enjoying themselves, by keeping the peace, and of being truly serviceable to others, by disposing them to peace. They are working together with Christ, who came into the world to slay all enmities, and to proclaim peace on earth. (2.) They shall be called the children of God; it will be an evidence to themselves that they are so; God will own them as such, and herein they will resemble him. He is the God of peace; the Son of God is the Prince of peace; the Spirit of adoption is a Spirit of peace. Since God has declared himself reconcilable to us all, he will not own those for his children who are implacable in their enmity to one another; for if the peacemakers are blessed, woe to the peace-breakers! Now by this it appears, that Christ never intended to have his religion propagated by fire and sword, or penal laws, or to acknowledge bigotry, or intemperate zeal, as the mark of his disciples. The children of this world love to fish in troubled waters, but the children of God are the peace-makers, the quiet in the land.
VIII. Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, are happy. This is the greatest paradox of all, and peculiar to Christianity; and therefore it is put last, and more largely insisted upon than any of the rest, Matt. 5:10-12. This beatitude, like Pharaoh’s dream, is doubled, because hardly credited, and yet the thing is certain; and in the latter part there is change of the person, “Blessed are ye—ye my disciples, and immediate followers. This is that which you, who excel in virtue, are more immediately concerned in; for you must reckon upon hardships and troubles more than other men.” Observe here,
1. The case of suffering saints described; and it is a hard case, and a very piteous one.
(1.) They are persecuted, hunted, pursued, run down, as noxious beasts are, that are sought for to be destroyed; as if a Christian did caput gerere lupinum—bear a wolf’s head, as an outlaw is said to do—any one that finds him may slay him; they are abandoned as the offscouring of all things; fined, imprisoned, banished, stripped of their estates, excluded from all places of profit and trust, scourged, racked, tortured, always delivered to death, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. This has been the effect of the enmity of the serpent’s seed against the holy seed, ever since the time of righteous Abel. It was so in Old-Testament times, as we find, Heb. 11:35 Christ has told us that it would much more be so with the Christian church, and we are not to think it strange, 1 John 3:13. He has left us an example.
(2.) The are reviled, and have all manner of evil said against them falsely. Nicknames, and names of reproach, are fastened upon them, upon particular persons, and upon the generation of the righteous in the gross, to render them odious; sometimes to make them formidable, that they may be powerfully assailed; things are laid to their charge that they knew not, Ps. 35:11; Jer. 20:18; Acts 17:6. Those who have had no power in their hands to do them any other mischief, could yet do this; and those who have had power to persecute, had found it necessary to do this too, to justify themselves in their barbarous usage of them; they could not have baited them, if they had not dressed them in bear-skins; nor have given them the worst of treatment, if they had not first represented them as the worst of men. They will revile you, and persecute you. Note, Reviling the saints is persecuting them, and will be found so shortly, when hard speeches must be accounted for (Jude 1:15), and cruel mockings, Heb. 11:36. They will say all manner of evil of you falsely; sometimes before the seat of judgment, as witnesses; sometimes in the seat of the scornful, with hypocritical mockers at feasts; they are the song of the drunkards; sometimes to face their faces, as Shimei cursed David; sometimes behind their backs, as the enemies of Jeremiah did. Note, There is no evil so black and horrid, which, at one time or other, has not been said, falsely, of Christ’s disciples and followers.
(3.) All this is for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10); for my sake, Matt. 5:11. If for righteousness’ sake, then for Christ’s sake, for he is nearly interested in the work of righteousness. Enemies to righteousness are enemies to Christ. This precludes those from the blessedness who suffer justly, and are evil spoken of truly for their real crimes; let such be ashamed and confounded, it is part of their punishment; it is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr. Those suffer for righteousness’ sake, who suffer because they will not sin against their consciences, and who suffer for doing that which is good. Whatever pretence persecutors have, it is the power of godliness that they have an enmity to; it is really Christ and his righteousness that are maligned, hated, and persecuted; For thy sake I have borne reproach, Ps. 69:9; Rom. 8:36.
2. The comforts of suffering saints laid down.
(1.) They are blessed; for they now, in their life-time, receive their evil things (Luke 16:25), and receive them upon a good account. They are blessed; for it is an honour to them (Acts 5:41); it is an opportunity of glorifying Christ, of doing good, and of experiencing special comforts and visits of grace and tokens of his presence, 2 Cor. 1:5; Dan. 3:25; Rom. 8:29.
(2.) They shall be recompensed; Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They have at present a sure title to it, and sweet foretastes of it; and shall ere long be in possession of it. Though there be nothing in those sufferings than can, in strictness, merit of God (for the sins of the best deserve the worst), yet this is here promised as a reward (Matt. 5:12); Great is your reward in heaven: so great, as far to transcend the service. It is in heaven, future, and out of sight; but well secured, out of the reach of chance, fraud, and violence. Note, God will provide that those who lose for him, though it be life itself, shall not lose by him in the end. Heaven, at last, will be an abundant recompence for all the difficulties we meet with in our way. This is that which has borne up the suffering saints in all ages—this joy set before them.
(3.) “So persecuted they the prophets that were before you, Matt. 5:12. They were before you in excellency, above what you are yet arrived at; they were before you in time, that they might be examples to you of suffering affliction and of patience, Jas. 5:10. They were in like manner persecuted and abused; and can you expect to go to heaven in a way by yourself? Was not Isaiah mocked for his line upon line? Elisha for his bald head? Were not all the prophets thus treated? Therefore marvel not at it as a strange thing, murmur not at it as a hard thing; it is a comfort to see the way of suffering a beaten road, and an honour to follow such leaders. That grace which was sufficient for them, to carry them through their sufferings, shall not be deficient to you. Those who are your enemies are the seed and successors of them who of old mocked the messengers of the Lord,” 2 Chron. 36:16; Matt. 23:31; Acts 7:52.