St. Luke ' s report of the discourse of our Lord commonly termed the sermon on the mount. We consider that the discourse contained in the following thirty verses (20-49) is identical with that longer "sermon on the mount" reported by St. Matthew (5.). Certain differences are alleged to exist in the framework of the two discourses.
In St. Matthew the Lord is stated to have spoken it on the mountain; in St. Luke, in the plain. This apparent discrepancy has been already discussed (see above, on verse 17). The "plain" of St. Luke was, no doubt, simply a level spot on the hillside, on the fiat space between the two peaks of the hill.
The more important differences in the Master's utterances—of which, perhaps, one of the weightiest is the addition of St. Matthew to that first beatitude which explains what poor were blessed—the" poor in spirit "—probably arose from some questions put to the Master as he was teaching. In his reply he probably amplified or paraphrased the first utterance, which gave rise to the question; hence the occasional discrepancies in the two accounts. It is, too, most likely that many of the weightier utterances of the great sermon were several times reproduced in a longer or shorter form in the course of his teaching. Such repetitions would be likely to produce the differences we find in the two reports of the great sermon.
The plan or scheme of the two Gospels was not the same. St. Luke, doubtless, had before him, when he compiled his work, copious notes or memoranda of the famous discourse. He evidently selected such small portions of it as fell in with his design. The two discourses reported by SS . Matthew and Luke have besides many striking resemblances—both beginning with the beatitudes, both concluding with the same simile or parable of the two buildings, both immediately succeeded by the same miracle, the healing of the centurion's servant. It is scarcely possible—when these points are taken into consideration—to suppose that the reports are of two distinct discourses. The theory held by some scholars, that the great sermon was delivered twice on the same day, on the hillside to a smaller and more selected auditory, then on the plain below to the multitude in a shorter form, is in the highest degree improbable.
No portion of the public teaching of the Lord seems to have made so deep an impression as the mount-sermon. St. James, the so-called brother of Jesus, the first president of the Jerusalem Church, repeatedly quotes it in his Epistle. It was evidently the groundwork of his teaching in the first days. Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp, the nameless author of the recently found 'Teaching of the Apostles,' whose writings represent to us most of the Christian literature which we possess of the first century after the death of St. Paul, quote it often. It may be taken, indeed, as the pattern discourse which mirrors better and mere fully than any other portion of the Gospels the Lord's teaching concerning the life he would have his followers lead.
It is not easy to give a precis of such a report as that of St. Luke, necessarily brief, and yet containing, we feel, many of the words, and even sentences, in the very form in which the Lord spoke them. What we possess here is, perhaps, little more itself than a summary of the great original discourse to which the disciples and the people listened. Godet has attempted, and not unsuccessfully, to give a resume of the contents of St. Luke's memoir here. Still, it must be felt that any such work must necessarily be unsatisfactory.
There appear to be three main divisions in the sermon:
The foundation of the kingdom.
The work set before us in this portion is great and solemn. It is the beginning of a new epoch of the earthly ministry. Hitherto Christ had been the Rabbi, the Prophet, the Healer. Now he is to "gird his sword on his thigh," to take to himself the power of the King. And for this work observe the preparation mentioned by the evangelist ( Luke 6:12 , Luke 6:13 ), "All night in prayer to God." The hush breathed over nature; the silence unbroken except by the cry of the wild beast seeking, in its own way, its meat from God; the glories of the firmament above, united with the sabbath-quiet of the earth around,—these were the features which invited, not slumber to the eyelids, but prayer, meditation, conference with the Father in heaven. We cannot avoid the conclusion that the retreat and the "all-night prayer" were specially in view of the action of the morrow. Oh, what a rebuke on our listless, quickly dismissed intercessions! How impressive the reminder that, for the appointment of men to minister in the house of the Lord, to render any spiritual service, the right beginning is effectual fervent prayer! Would there not be more fruits of work, more blessing for workmen, if there were more diligent following of Christ's example? Compare this passage with Acts 13:3 . Note the two points in the foundation-laying of the kingdom of heaven—the personal agency , and the Law.
I. " HE CALLED THE DISCIPLES "—the larger company, including those who had attached themselves to his Person, many, no doubt, of the healed, of those who had been delivered from demons and brought to their right mind; and "of them he chose twelve." Let us assume that the number is part of the ordering (see Luke 22:29 , Luke 22:30 ). And recollect also the significance attached to twelve—as the complete number of the Church—in the Book Of Revelation. Do not exaggerate, but do not underrate, the significance of the numbers found in Scripture. The naturalist who would learn the differences, truths, and natures of things must take into account the curious parallels, the typical forms, the numbers which he discovers running through genera and species. It is the perception of these minute evidences of method, of purpose in details, which is part of the scientific man's paradise. And it is the same kind of perception, the "searching rapturous glance "into the hidden truth of Scripture, which carries the devout mind through the mere outer boundaries of the garden into the enjoyment of its delicacies and delights. Observe the statement as to the twelve.
1 . The Lord chose them. 'He called," it is said in St. Mark, "whom he would." This is the foundation of the apostolate for each and all. The choice is in his own hands, determined, not by any plan or rule of mere prudential wisdom, but because of that which, the night before, he had seen and heard of his Father. And to this same royalty all selection for spiritual office is evermore the witness. The action of the Church, through its officers, is only a supplementary or declarative action. The originating and efficient action is what we style the call of the Holy Ghost—an inward aptitude or anointing of Divine love and grace in the character so manifest that we can read the sentence, "Called because the Lord has willed."
2 . The Lord ordained. This is expressly stated by St. Mark. It is included in St. Luke's "he named." Probably there was an outward act or symbol—that laying on of hands, which carried out well-known Hebrew associations, and, for designation to office, has been appropriated by the Christian Church from the earliest period of its history. Be this as it may, the ordination was also a disjunction; it was the final severance from the former calling; they were henceforth to give themselves wholly to the Word of God, the Master's meat their meat, the Master himself their all in all. Immediately before he suffered, Christ reminded the eleven of that transaction on the mountain-side, "I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit." And, again, on the Resurrection morning, the fuller truth of the ordination symbol was realized when he said, "As the Father sent me, so have I sent you," and having so said, he breathed on them, and added, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost."
3 . What were the functions of the twelve ? Following the guidance of St. Mark, we reply: First, to be with Christ, his associates, sharing his temptations, eye-witnesses of his glory and majesty, depositaries of his words and of his inmost confidences. Second, to preach, to go forth declaring him and his gospel and his kingdom. Third, to exercise among men his own power of healing sickness and casting out devils. Keep hold of this sequence—this first, second, third. The first requirement is always life with Christ, communion with the personal Saviour: there is no real preaching, no real power, without that. A man must be taught before he can teach. And where and by whom shall he be taught? The university is well. Never more to be desired than now is a body of Christian instructors learned as well as godly. Experience of men is well: thence comes tact, the skill by which souls are attracted and won for higher things. But there is a graduation better still—one which is necessary to spiritual force—graduation in the school of Christ; the learning of Christ. And this can be realized only through day-by-day fellowship with him, beholding his beauty, and inquiring in his temple. Then the second demand is, preach him, speak out what he speaks in. And so also there is the third function, to work for him, to be in this world presences of healing and blessing, in Jesus' name "casting out devils, speaking with new tongues, taking up serpents, laying hands on the sick that they may recover." Thus were the twelve named apostles—the sent of the Lord. And, having been named, they were made ready by Christ himself for the day when they should do greater works than any which they had witnessed, because he had gone to the Father, and shed forth the promise of the Holy Ghost. A strange kingdom, indeed! The King, that lowly Man seated on one of the horns of Mount Hattin, and his princes and companions these poor, uncouth-looking, unlearned men! Never, it might be thought, was such a burlesque of royalty seen. But that was, that is, the monarchy whose sceptre shall stretch from pole to pole, that at the name of Jesus every knee may bow.
II. HE CAME DOWN WITH THE TWELVE , it is added, and stood on the plain—the King and the kingdom meeting the parliament of man. Yes, the King meek and lowly, but "the mighty God, the Lord, is about to speak, and call the earth from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof." He would not speak until he had constituted his Church. For the Man is before the Law, the Voice before the Scripture, the order before the ordering. This has been done, and he comes down to the great world with its fevers and diseases and spirits of uncleanness surging before him, and seeking to touch him from whom, as a great stream of healing, the power goes forth. The law, the manifesto of the kingdom, is published. What this law is admits of being more fully expounded in connection with the Gospel of St. Matthew. The differences between the reports in the two Gospels deserve to be studied. It is sufficient here to indicate the sum and substance of the legislation of Christ the King on the holy hill of Zion. Clearly the old Law, that delivered from Sinai, is fully in the mind of Jesus. It is quoted again and again. But how striking the contrast between that past and this present! That past, when
"Around the trembling mountain-base
The prostrate people lay;
A day of wrath and not of grace;
A dim and dreadful day;"
this present, the soft grassy slope, the bright sky overhead, the rejoicing world around, the many sitting before him who had received the healing virtue; himself, in tones full of the music of love, declaring the truth for which the soul of man is made as the eye is made for the light. Not that the past is ruthlessly swept away. All is preserved—preserved because fulfilled. But his law-giving is a new law-making, because it penetrates to the innermost region of the life; it searches the spirit as with the candle of the Lord; its dealing is not so much with the mere outer conduct as with the inner motive power. The man is right when the heart is right—this is the cardinal principle. And the sermon passes onward, from the beatitudes with which it begins, through the exposition of true soul-rectitude, to the sublime conclusion which may God help all to ponder. "Every one that cometh unto me, and heareth my words, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like … But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like," etc. From the great ruin foretold may the good Lord deliver us!
Being and doing.
The great Teacher here puts into figurative language the truth which was afterwards so tersely and forcibly expressed by his most appreciative disciple, "He that doeth righteousness is righteous." We have here—
I. THE FOUNDATION - TRUTH on which our Lord's word is built, viz. that life is the outcome of character; that as men are so they will live. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good," etc. Granted that a man is sound at heart, it is certain that he will spend a good life, that he will shrink from the evil and pursue and practise the holy thing. Granted that a man is radically corrupt, it is certain that his life will be unworthy and sinful. Character must come forth into conduct; behaviour is the manifestation of the secret spring which is within the soul. "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit," etc.
II. THE APPARENT EXCEPTIONS , which are only apparent, and not real. If this be true, we want to know how it is, on the one hand,
1 . It must be remembered that much of that which seems goodness of life, and which seems as if it must have come from a true heart, is not real goodness—it is only pretence. Hypocrisy, the affectation of piety and virtue, is not a good fruit, though it may look very much like it; it is no more "good fruit" in the garden of the Lord than poisonous berries are good fruit on the trees or shrubs of our visible garden.
2 . And it must also be taken into account that much of that which seems like departure from moral excellence, and which seems as if it cannot have proceeded from the good heart, is not really "evil;" it is either mannerism that is only skin-deep, to be regretted indeed, but not to be confounded with essential moral evil; or it is undeveloped, struggling righteousness, the crude and imperfect attempt of a soul that is moving upwards from below; there is many a slip and many a false step, but then there is much honourable effort and much spiritual earnestness recognized and owned by the patient Father of spirits.
III. THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSION for which we must be prepared. "Every tree is known by his own fruit." "By their fruits ye shall know them." Men must form their judgment about us; and they must judge us by the lives they witness. If, therefore, we do not manifest a Christian temper and a loving spirit, if righteous principles are not visible in our daily dealings, if we do not give evidence of caring more for truth and for God and for the establishment of his holy kingdom on the earth than we care for our own temporal prosperity or present enjoyment,—we must not complain if men count us among the ungodly. Our godliness, our spirituality, our rectitude, ought to shine forth clearly and unmistakably from our daily life.
IV. THE PRACTICAL TRUTH which we must apply to ourselves—that, if we would live a life of uprightness in the sight of God, we must be right at heart in his esteem. It must be out of the fulness of our soul that we do right actions; it must be out of "the abundance of the heart that our mouth must speak" his praise and his truth; or our proprieties of behaviour and our suitableness of language will weigh nothing whatever in his balances. The first thing for every man to do is to become right in his own heart with God; to return in spirit unto him; to go to him in humility and in faith; to find mercy of him in Jesus Christ, and, having thus entered into sonship, to live the life of filial obedience to his Word; then and thus will the good tree bring forth good fruit.—C.
The Legislator on the mount.
We have seen how, after a whole night spent in prayer, our Lord proceeded to the important work of selecting his apostles. In this way he organized his kingdom. And now, having healed all who needed healing, and had been brought or had come to him, he has the ground cleared for legislative work. From this mountain-top in Galilee he publishes the laws of the kingdom, and thus gives to the world such a high-toned morality as has not been surpassed or superseded by any ethical speculations since. It may be safely said that all the Christless ethics which have been offered to the world in lieu of the Christian, contain nothing valuable which Christ's system has not in better form, and that they err by defect in many places. Christ is still, in the department of ethics, "the Light of the world." £ The audience to whom the sermon on the mount was delivered was almost entirely Jewish, and they doubtless entertained the usual ideas about the kingdom of Messiah. This kingdom was, they hoped, to be one where they would enjoy immunity from trouble, and be in flourishing worldly circumstances. Theirs was a worldly dream. They wanted a golden age of wealth and worldly power. It was needful for our Lord, consequently, to correct these superficial notions, and to create a kingdom which could flourish in spite of the world's opposition and of all possible disadvantages. Accordingly, we find the Divine Legislator first quietly describing the members of his kingdom and distinguishing them from the worldly minded outside; secondly, laying down the policy his people should pursue; thirdly, pointing out the secret of true leadership among men; and lastly, the stability of the obedient. To these points let us devote ourselves for a little in their order.
I. CHRIST DIFFERENTIATES HIS SUBJECTS FROM THE WORLDLY MINDED OUTSIDE . ( Luke 6:20-26 .) For the simple statement of the Beatitudes, and of the woes that constitute their contrast, really draws the line between his kingdom and the world. Matthew, in his fuller version of this sermon on the mount, gives eight Beatitudes and no woes; Luke balances the four Beatitudes by four contrasted woes. The teaching in both versions is, however, practically identical. And when we look into our Lord's declarations, we find, in the first place, that, in his kingdom, the poor, the hungry, the tearful, and the persecuted are enabled to realize blessedness. This is the paradox of Christian experience, that, in spite of poverty, and of hunger, and of sorrow, and of opposition, Christ enables his people to maintain a blessed spirit. The poor are "rich in faith;" the hungry, especially those whose appetite is keen for righteousness (el. Matthew 5:6 ), are certain to be filled; the tearful have the assurance that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, if not on earth, at all events in heaven (cf. Revelation 7:17 ); and the persecuted for Christ's sake are enabled to rejoice in view of that great reward in heaven which awaits all Christ's faithful martyrs. This blessedness is maintained in all these cases in spite of everything which militates against it. On the other hand, our Lord shows the rich, and the satiated, and the laughter-indulging, and the popularity-hunting people that, having received their consolation in this life, there is nothing in the next life for them but disappointment, lamentation, and woe. This may easily be verified. Those who "trust in uncertain riches"—and it is to these our Lord refers, as parallel passages show—must be woefully disappointed when they have to cross the Stygian river without their gold. All that they trusted in shall then have failed them for evermore. Those, again, who are satiated with this world's pleasures, and who have contracted no higher appetite, will be terribly empty when this world and all its pleasures shall have passed away like a dream. Those, again, who lived for laughter—the sportsmen of the world—shall find no provision made in another life for such profitless people, and shall mourn and weep over the lost opportunities of life. And, lastly, the popularity-hunters, who made the good opinion of the populace their great ambition, and were satisfied when all men spoke well of them, will find, like the popular false prophets of the past, that the other life is constructed upon such lines as will assign to each his due, and to popularity-hunting the doom of those who love applause rather than principle. Upon the worldly minded and successful, so far as this life is concerned, there is cast, by the great Lawgiver, the shadow of doom. For such people there is no reserve fund in a future life; they have eaten up both capital and interest.
II. CHRIST LAYS DOWN THE POLICY HIS PEOPLE SHOULD PURSUE , (Verses 27-38.) Now, one of the cardinal principles of worldly policy is to "give nothing for nothing." The world insists on a quid pro quo. Hence the worldly minded will always ask the question about the course a person pursues, "What does he expect to gain by it?" To act without hope of recompense is what the world cannot understand. And in strict conformity with this, the world is prompted to "give as much as it gets" in the way of injury. Curse for curse, hatred for hatred, a blow for a blow, a counterplot for a plot. This is the gamut of the world's revenge. The great Legislator, on the other hand, sets his face against all this worldly policy. He ridicules doing good for the sake of getting good. Such speculative philanthropy is pure worldliness. He must have a better system within his kingdom. He can dispense with revenge and the quid. pro quo , and work his kingdom upon purely philanthropic lines. God the Father is the great Philanthropist, and men, by entertaining love for its own sake, may become "children of the Highest" and the elements of a new kingdom. Hence our Lord directs his people to love their enemies, to do good to those that hate them, to bless those that curse them, to pray for their persecutors, to give a kiss for a blow, to suffer violence a second time rather than practise it revengefully; to give to the utmost of their power to all who ask. In short, they are to love and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again; they are to be merciful, like their Father in heaven; they are to be free from censoriousness, and forgiving; and they may rest assured that in another life they shall get a great reward. What Christ proposes, therefore, is a policy of patient phitanthropy—a policy of consideration, doing always to others what we would like to receive were we in their circumstances. And it is this new policy of love which is sure to overcome the world.
III. CHRIST SHOWS THE SECRET OF TRUE LEADERSHIP AMONG MEN . (Verses 39-45.) But if love is to regulate all our conduct, may not others suffer through the proverbial "blindness" of love? There is little danger from the blindness of real love, only from the blindness induced by selfishness. Our danger, as the Lord here shows, is always from exaggerated self-love; we are blind to our own faults; we see motes in a brother's eye, and forget the beam in our own. Hence he recommends here severe self-criticism, such self-criticism as will prevent all hypocrisy, and secure that our eyes be truly purged. When this is the ease, then we can see the little faults in others, and deal with them after we have dealt honestly with the great ones of our own. And so heart-purity is the great secret of successful leadership among men. If our hearts are set right with God, if we are washed and cleansed from secret faults, if we are purged from an evil conscience and dead works,—then are we in a fit state to deal tenderly with erring brothers and lead them to a better way. And so our Saviour shows, by this part of his legislation, that only the purified in heart can become successful leaders of their fellows. It is he who knows his own heart's plagues that can tenderly and skilfully deal with the plagues of others, and put them, by God's blessing, on a better way.
IV. CHRIST FINALLY BRINGS OUT THE STABILITY OF THE OBEDIENT . Now, it is important to recognize the position taken up here by the great Lawgiver. He claims absolute sovereignty. His word is to be law. Once we know his will, we have only got to do it. But the claim is not unreasonable, nor is it excessive. He understands the strain and stress of human temptations thoroughly. He not only understand these speculatively, but experimentally; for he "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" ( Hebrews 4:15 ). He can consequently give to us the best advice, advice infallible. If we would stand like a rock amid the temptations of life, then we have got simply and cordially to obey Christ. He is the Rock of ages; nothing can shake him; and nothing can disturb those who have learned to trust him. But those who hear his advice and do it not, shall be swept away by the torrent of temptation and involved in a ruin that is great. Obedience is the secret, therefore, of stability. May it be our experience continually!—R.M.E.