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heaven; seeing also the wonderful miracles which the latter wrought, they began to conclude that he was sent to establish this kingdom; they flocked to him in great numbers, hoping that he would soon declare himself publicly to be the Messiah, place himself at the head of an army, and lead them on to that power and
government. These expectations had already awakened in their breasts ambition, avarice, a desire of revenge and of sensual indulgences, with all those other evil passions which such prospects were naturally calculated to inspire. Christ, being well aware of the temper of the multitude, resolves to instruct them more fully than lie had hitherto done in the nature of that kingdom which he was come to establish, and to correct those false notions which, he knew, they entertained of it, and which had raised in them so many evil passions: with this view, he describes the temper which he expected in his disciples; and, in order that he might gain more attention from his auditors, he begins with the doctrines of the kingdom, in short sentences, which would have the appearance of a sort of paradoxes to them: for he declares those happy, whom men in general esteem miserable. It is not easy perhaps to ascertain the exact meaning of each sentence: but what I have now mentioned, respecting the expectations of the disciples, will furnish the best key to the whole.
2. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3. Blessed, “ happy,” for so the Greek word signifies, and thus it is translated in other parts of the New Testament, happy are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Under the reign of the Messiah you expect wealth, dignity and honour, and esteem those happy who attain them. This is not the temper which will qualify you to be my disciples: but I call those happy whose hearts are disengaged from the world, whatever their condition may be; who, if they are poor, are contented; and if rich, are not too much attached to their wealth, and have thus at all times the spirit which poverty is calculated to teach men. Such persons are prepared to receive my gospel, and to enjoy the blessings which it affords; the knowledge of the truth; the forgiveness of sins; the gifts of the spirit: but those who are filled with the love and admiration of riches are utterly unfit for becoming the subjects of my kingdom. It is not of humility that our Saviour is here speaking, but of a mind free from attachment to the world.
4. Happy are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
You expect mirth and pleasure; you admire the gay and the jovial; but I esteem those happy who mourn on account of their past sins or the evils which they suffer in my cause; for they shall afterwards enjoy more satisfactory delight than any of the pleasures which sense could afford. If this passage be understood of present sufferings, on account of religion, it may be illustrated by the words of Christ to his disciples, in speaking of his departure from them: John xvi. 20. 22. “Verily I say unto you, ye shall weep and lament; but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful; but your sorrow shall be turned into joy, and ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you."
5. Happy are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
You expect that my kingdom is to be introduced by martial courage and military exploits, and are ready to esteem those happy, who are able to procure to themselves wealth and power in it, although it should be by violence: but I esteem those happy who are of a very different character; who discover a spirit of moderation, equity, patience and benevolence. If these virtues should fail to procure for them large possessions in this life, they will do for them something better, by securing to them an inheritance in heaven, the land of promise. The latter part of this verse, “the meek shall inherit the earth," is taken from Ps. xxxvii. 11. and used by Christ, in a spiritual sense, for all the joys of eternity*
Of the first Christians it is said, Heb. x. 34. 36. that “they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that in heaven they had a better and more enduring substance.” . 6. Happy are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.
Hunger and thirst, by a common figure of speech, are employed to express any ardent desire. Righteousness is the way of righteousness, or the doctrine of that obedience which God requires from us, which leads to universal righteousness. Thus John is said to come in the way of righteousness, Matt. xxi. 32. “ They shall be filled.” All the blessings of God are represented under the image of meat and drink, Isa. Ixy. 13. “Behold my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry;---shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty.” The Hebrews called their law the food of the soul; and Christ calls the gospel sometimes by the name of bread, at other times by the name of water. Those therefore who hunger and thirst after righteousness, are those who have an ardent desire of the salutary spiritual food which the Messiah was to bring, and who perceived the extreme need of it; as Zacharias and Simeon, and other holy men who waited for the consolation of Israel. The passage therefore may be thus paraphrased. “ Happy are they who, instead of thirsting for the possessions of others, or for the things of this world, thirst after the knowledge of divine truth and the means of virtue; for their desires will now be satisfied.”
* Dr. Priestley understands the Psalm and this quotation by Jesus literally, and supposes that they both refer to living on the earth after the resurrection. See his Inquiry into the knowledge of the Hebrews concerning a future state, pp. 32, 33,
7. Happy are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.
It is not my intention to train you up to deeds of cruelty and slaughter: on the contrary, I esteem men happy, who forgive those who have offended them, and shew mercy to the distressed; regarding the afflictions of others as their own; for they shall hereby obtain from God that forgiveness of their own offences, of which all stand so much in need. What is here delivered in the form of a beatitude, is delivered afterwards in the form of an exhortation, Matt. v. 45. “ If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly father forgive your trespasses.”
8. Happy are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
Think not of those sensual gratifications in which victorious armies too frequently indulge themselves; for I reckon those happy who not only abstain from the outward gratification of their lusts, but likewise restrain every improper inward desire. Those who are thus pure in heart, as well as in life, shall be rewarded with seeing God in heaven, who is the most pure of all beings.
9. Happy are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of
By peace makers we are to understand not merely those who make up differences which have arisen between men, but those who are studious of peace.---Those who are so, are most like God, and therefore are loved by him as children by a parent; for God is frequently called the God of peace. To be called the children of God is the same thing as being so, 1 John, iii. 1. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called,” that is be, “the sons of God.” The meaning of this whole verse then is this : “I come not, as you may foolishly.
iii. 1. “Behold is the same thing as to be called the
rize you to propagate my religion by the sword; but I declare unto you that happy are they who avoid contention, and endeavour to extinguish it, wherever it is begun. They profess the temper and promote the designs of God, who is the God of peace.
10. Happy are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
By kingdom of heaven is sometimes signified the heavenly doctrine; sometimes the heavenly glory.---When Christ announces the approach of the kingdom of heaven, we are to understand it in the first sense; but here it signifies the glory of heaven; for the next verse seems to be an explanation of this. “So far am I from leading you to victory and conquest, that those who make a profession of my religion and obey its commands, must expect violent persecution. They may esteem themselves happy, however, in enduring it; for they shall hereby be fitted for the heavenly felicity.”.
11. Happy are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake.
12. Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets, rather, “ teachers,” which were before you.
You must expect therefore persecution and every kind of calumny from the world, in consequence of professing my religion; so that there shall be nothing so evil that men will scruple to say it of you; but you have no reason to be discouraged by these things,