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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 5



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Verse 3


‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.’

Matthew 5:3

It must have been an hour never to have been forgotten when Jesus, on that Mount, which was ever afterwards to be named, after His words, ‘The Mount of Beatitudes,’ ‘opened His mouth,’ and began His public ministry, with that term—so expressive of love, and hopefulness, and joy,—‘Blessed!’ Let all teachers, ministers, parents, learn the lesson, and copy His example. Place happiness first.

I. Who are ‘the poor in spirit’?—Who are those who are singled out for the first place in this college of the saints? Not the ‘poor-spirited’ only, for a ‘poor-spirited’ Christian is a contradiction in terms! Who, then, are they of whom He speaks?

(a) One who repays injury by kindness. I see a man. There was not a time when that man could not have been provoked by an unkind word, or an angry look. But see that man now he has become acquainted with Christ. He repays injury by kindness, and gives love for hatred.

(b) One who is humble before God. Follow a Christian into his retirement! You will see the earnestness of his devotions. Yet that man is the one that would tell you that his great trouble is the miserable poverty of all he prays, and all he says, and all he is.

(c) One who is always asking. There is another man. What a beggar he is at the door of mercy. He is always knocking at the door. Because he has nothing but what he receives, therefore he is always asking. Not as one who deserves anything, but as one who has no other claim, and all because of his own deep feeling of emptiness, and desolateness, and the Master’s kind promise.

II. The Kingdom is theirs.—Observe the present tense. It does not say ‘Their’s will be the kingdom of heaven.’ But now, in this present world, in all their poverty, now, at this moment, little as they see it, ‘Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ There is a kingdom of heaven at this moment in their heart. What is the kingdom of heaven? ‘Joy and peace in believing.’

III. Poorest here, richest there.—If there are degrees of blessings in the upper world, the poorest here in heart will be the richest there in glory! Be ‘poor’ enough in your own eyes, and God has not a blessing to give which is not yours!

The Rev. James Vaughan.


‘People have often said, “Give us the Sermon on the Mount; that is enough for us.” Those persons would have been almost shocked by a hymn like “There is a Fountain filled with Blood,” or, “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched.” They imagine the Sermon is only a set of moral rules. But they make a very great mistake. The fact is, our Lord begins by explaining life. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,”—those who can say with Toplady, “Nothing in my hand I bring.” No, no, this is not “morality,” it is the Evangel of Jesus, and behind it is the “Cross-crowned Calvary.”’



What is this poverty of which our Lord speaks? Plainly it is not poverty in estate, but poverty in spirit.

I. An inward attitude.—The rich man may be poor in spirit, and the poor man may have, in a bad sense of the word, pride of spirit. The poverty is not an outward condition, but an inward attitude. The poor, in the Bible sense of the word, are those who in the midst of the world’s display and power and vaunting and ridicule, keep themselves apart, ‘whose eyes are ever looking unto the Lord,’ and who find in Him their all-sufficient strength and stay.

II. Independence of the world.—This poverty of spirit has two characteristics closely akin to one another. The first is independence of the world—detachment—not to press claims upon life with urgent anxiety, but to take what comes with a cheerful spirit. It is to refuse to surrender oneself to the world, but rather to possess one’s own soul. These are days of self-advertisement, of love of notoriety, of adulation, of cleverness, of morbid self-consciousness, of over-strain of nerves. What we need as the healing for this spirit of the time is to have this poverty of spirit of which our Lord speaks. If we are to be God’s free men, we must first be God’s poor men.

III. Dependence upon God.—Poverty of spirit is not only independence of the world, but dependence upon God. We cannot separate the one from the other. The decisive question of life is, what is our horizon? Is it God or self? Is it time or eternity? The poor-spirited man in Christ’s sense is the man who stakes all upon God, and because of the greatness of the venture which he makes, knows that only God Himself can crown it with success.

Bishop C. G. Lang.


‘That low man with a little thing to do,

Sees it and does it.

This high man with a great thing to pursue

Dies ere he knows it.

Short was the world here—should he need the next—

Let the world mind him.

He throws himself on God, and unperplexed

Seeking shall find Him.’

Verse 4


‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’

Matthew 5:4

Not all sorrow wins this blessedness. There is a sorrow which is hard, which cherishes resentment against God, which broods over itself and resolves to be hopeless; such sorrow brings no comfort. The sorrow of which our Lord speaks is that which, though it is bitter and hard to bear, is yet as the sorrow of the child, it is still trustful, still holding out a hand for the touch of sympathy, still putting forth a plea for succour and help. It is not on the surface of happiness, but in the depths of sorrow that man’s spirit finds the Divine Rock on which the joy and strength and encouragement of life are to be found. Consider, then, three of the sorrows which Jesus Christ declares to be blessed because they shall find strength and encouragement.

I. The sorrow caused by death.—Death in one sense withdraws those whom we love, but in another sense it reveals them; it removes from them all that was imperfect, accidental, and un-unworthy; it clears from them all the misunderstandings of this perplexing scene; it shows them to us in their true and best essential self; what God was making of them here and is making of them more perfectly elsewhere.

II. The sorrow caused by the world’s pain.—Blessed, indeed, are they who know something of it. We are meant to go out into the world of human poverty and suffering, and to take some part of it into the hospitality of our own heart. In this sympathy we realise that our human race is not a mere collection of isolated atoms; it is united in one heart and life, in that deep, compassionate Heart of Humanity. In that sympathy which goes forth from human heart to human heart, we touch the Christ and, in Christ, God.

III. The sorrow caused by sin.—Blessed, surely, they who know something of it. Pitiable they who know nothing of it. We talk much about religion, but we are convicted of superficiality unless there is a real sense of sin amongst us. No man knows anything of God who does not feel that his sins are an affront and an insult to the Divine holiness and patience. So long as men are content to speak easily and glibly about the ‘evolution of humanity’ from imperfection to perfection, they can dispense with the sense of sin; they have no need of the Atonement in their theology. But once a man comes to know the deepest truth about himself and realises his deepest need, his cry will be, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Then the Atonement becomes not a theory which he can discuss, but a Divine fact on which, with the gratitude of his whole soul, he rests.

—Bishop C. G. Lang.


‘I remember once turning over the pages of a remarkable collection of autographs and quotations gathered from almost every person of eminence in Europe in the latter part of the nineteenth century—kings, statesmen, poets, artists, men of science. Suddenly I found on one page, over the signature, “C. H. Spurgeon,” these rude and simple lines:

E’er since by faith I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love hath been my theme,

And shall be till I die.

From that book, full of the world’s wisdom, suddenly there rises strange and solitary the voice of a joy deeper and more eternal than the world can either give or understand. It is the voice of those who through sorrow for sin have come to their great encouragement.’

Verse 5


‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’

Matthew 5:5

What is the secret of meekness? Conquest of self.

I. Victory over self.—Think of the example of Moses. Ruler, Legislator, Poet, and best of all, Saint! Who can help admiring him? But his greatest victory was over himself. Exodus 2:11-12 tells us what sort of person he was by nature, and Numbers 13:3 what he became by grace. Forty years in Midian and forty years in the wilderness taught him many lessons, and he learned to control his temper and curb his tongue.

II. Where is meekness found?—At the Feet of the Redeemer, at Calvary’s Cross; there proud and stubborn and wayward souls learn to be meek and lowly; there we learn to forget injuries and forgive our enemies. ‘The meek will He teach His way’ (Psalms 25:9).

III. The meek have the best of life, notwithstanding what the world says. ‘They shall inherit the earth.’

The Rev. F. Harper.


(1) ‘The word “meek” hardly expresses the quality which is meant in the original. It is too passive a word; it does not sufficiently represent the actual character which is intended. In the French translation it is, “Bienheureux sont les débonnaires;” that is, “Happy are the gracious, graceful Christian characters, who by their courtesy win all hearts around them, and smooth all the rough places of the world.” Perhaps “Blessed are the gentle” would best express it.’

(2) ‘As a boy, Robert Hall was very passionate, but when he felt passion rising, he used to go away into a quiet place and say, “O Lamb of God, calm my mind.” Thus he conquered his temper, and became one of the gentlest of men ever known.’

(3) ‘There is the authority of a very great lawyer—in very large and lengthened practice—for saying that, even in a worldly sense, it is true that those who forgo all quarrels and all lawsuits, and accept wrong, are they who, in the long run, are the most prosperous, and come out the richest at the end.’

Verse 6


‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall he filled.’

Matthew 5:6

What does this mean for us?

I. For ourselves.—Remember that the blessing, the high place in the Kingdom, the real attainment of what they long for, is for those who hunger for goodness, in whose heart it is a real, passionate, unsatisfied craving. That does not mean that good is easy, that a few efforts, the breaking off of a few bad habits, the giving up of a few unlawful pleasures, will make us happy and contented. God does not reward moral effort thus. His surest reward, the surest sign of His loving approval, is when He shows us how much still is lacking—some new self, some new enterprise. How shall we nerve ourselves to the quest.

II. For others.—God has not set us each by himself to purify as best we may each his own heart, He has set us together. He has formed us into societies, one within another, binding us by a thousand links to our fellows, so that none can stand without helping others to stand, nor fall without dragging others down with them; linking even generation to generation, so that the effect of our acts seems to echo through all time. We shall not love goodness, hunger, and thirst for it in ourselves, unless we love it, long and crave and cry, and strive to see it also ruling in the world about us. If it were true but of a few of us that our souls were filled with that sacred hunger, how would the world in which we move soften and grow pure and bright around us!

Dean Wickham.


‘There is a representation in the Catacombs, on Christian tombs, and as the first sign of Christian life, of a stag drinking eagerly at the silver stream. This is the true likeness of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. When we toil towards the close of our earthly course, or in any especial period of it; when we feel stifled by the sultry and suffocating sense of the hardness and selfishness of the world about us; when our breath is, as it were, choked by the dust and trifles and forms and fashions of the world’s vast machinery, we may still join the cry, “I thirst for the refreshing sight of any pure, upright, generous spirit; I thirst for the day when I may drink freely of God’s boundless charity; I thirst for the day when I shall hear the sound of abundance of rain, and a higher heaven than that which now encloses us round.” Happy are they who, when they see generous deeds and hear of generous characters higher than their own, long to be like them.’

Verse 7


‘Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.’

Matthew 5:7

The mercifulness of the text is a principle and a grace. It comes from the happy sense of forgiveness. It is the mercifulness of one who not only seeks to obtain mercy, but who has obtained it already.

I. Mercifulness as a principle.—It involves—

(a) Commiseration for suffering men. Though this world is the abode of much suffering, because it is the theatre of much sin, God leaves the Christian here that he may be the channel of God’s beneficence and the perpetuation of his Master’s kindness.

(b) Compassion for the souls of men. This sort of mercy is a surer test of piety. Blessed are they whose pity, like the Divine compassion, seeks the lost.

II. Mercifulness in practice.—How shall we describe the merciful man? He is—

(a) Considerate of others—of their health and comfort. From want of forethought, or want of timely activity on their own part, people who are not cruel often perpetrate great cruelties.

(b) Considerate of his neighbour’s character. Perhaps there is no production of our world so rare and precious, and yet none which has so many enemies or is so generally attacked, as character.

(c) Merciful to his beast. A merciful disposition is an indication of what men are, and an earnest of what awaits them.

Bishop Hamilton.

Verse 8


‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.’

Matthew 5:8

The Beatitudes portray the ideal of the Christian life. They lay down the conditions of something more than happiness, something higher, more enduring—blessedness.

I. Purity of heart.—This is the simplest and most inward of all the Beatitudes, the very foundation of Christian sanctity. Definition of this purity includes three main lines of thought—

(a) The strict control and due regulation of the passions and desires. The heart in Holy Scripture includes the whole realm of moral and spiritual nature—our intellect, affections, wills, impulses, desires. Purity of heart implies a strict discipline of the passions.

(b) Purity of heart includes purity of intention. The value of any act, in God’s sight, depends not upon activity, energy, or talent, but is in exact proportion to the motive which prompts it.

(c) Advance in personal holiness, and gradual sanctification of the soul, by communication of Divine purity.

II. How shall this purity be attained?

(a) We must set before ourselves a lofty ideal. We must have but one ideal of purity, the highest; adopt but one attitude towards every form of impurity, uncompromising and stern.

(b) We must be wise concerning good and simple concerning evil. It is a hideous maxim, that the knowledge of evil does little harm! it wrecks households, degrades noble lives, crushes the peace of woman, ruins the honour of men, strews the path of thousands with withered leaves, mars the spiritual beauty of the soul, and brings many grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

(c) We must be watchful ovér our thoughts.—The heart is the fountain-head of evil; the thoughts defile (read St. Mark 7), not passing thoughts, but thoughts cherished and fondly hugged. ‘Try me, O God, and search my heart!’ Guard thy heart from empty, vain, unclean, envious, proud thoughts.

III. ‘They shall see God.’—The pure in heart see more than others now; they have a present reward; they see God in the beauties of nature more clearly; they hear His voice in His Word more plainly; they see the Divine purity reflected in their own hearts, and in the lives of His people. But they shall behold more loveliness; they shall see the King in His beauty.

Prebendary J. Storrs.


‘There is no true purity apart from the absolute enthronement of God in the affections. It is not the absence of unholy affections, it is the presence of a holy and unsurpassingly earnest love, that makes us really pure. The soul is so supremely an altar that it must worship something in its inmost shrine, and unless it worship God there it cannot be pure. His presence there, and it alone, can rob temptation of its charm, dispel all carnal longings, throw back the fierce onset of ancient and besetting sins, and make the heart utterly holy.’

Verse 9


‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.’

Matthew 5:9

The Lord Jesus is the ‘Prince of Peace,’ because wherever He comes He makes people love peace, seek peace, and keep the peace. If He comes into your soul and reigns there, He will be sure to do two things: (a) He will give you peace; (b) He will set you trying to make peace. He wants all His disciples to be ‘peacemakers.’ Then,

I. Be at peace.—Nobody can make peace until he has found peace—peace with God. All are at enmity with God so long as they force their will against His. Christ brings peace by constraining our wills and removing enmity.

II. Be peaceable.—Be peaceably disposed. With all our getting, let us get a ‘peaceable disposition.’ It is one of man’s very best possessions. ‘As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.’ Remember (a) the Christian grace of ‘bearing’; not returning ‘evil for evil’; and (b) the restraint of passion. Stop, and cool.

III. Be peacemakers.—Help others to peace. How can we make peace? Try in home, workshop, society. Be ready to give up for the sake of peace. Peacemakers are children of God, because they are like Him Who is our Peace.


(1) ‘We are professedly a Christian nation, and the preservation of peace and the promotion of a peaceable spirit are qualities which should preeminently distinguish those who desire humbly and sincerely to follow in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace. If there is one doctrine more than another which the Gospel of Christ has brought to light, it is that of the universal brotherhood of mankind irrespective of race. Henceforth there was to be no difference of race or nationality; there was to be one common brotherhood, owning one common Father. In these circumstances there can be no hesitation in saying that what is called the warlike spirit is wholly opposed to the spirit of the Gospel. The horrors of modern warfare are unspeakable, and who can wonder that the sceptic should point the finger of scorn at Christian nations which encourage it.’

(2) ‘John Bunyan’s last long ride, in which he caught a chill and died, was undertaken to try and reconcile a father and son.’

(3) ‘At the field of Waterloo there is a great bronzed lion with a wide opened mouth. It is a suggestion of all-devouring war. But the swallows, in the season, make their nests quite fearlessly in the open mouth. “Peace” is a beautiful and expressive word. It is the heavenliest that human lips ever frame.’

Verse 10


‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.’

Matthew 5:10

I. The saints have always been persecuted.

II. The world hates them because they are not of the world.

III. Their ‘names are in the Book of Life.’

IV. ‘Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’

—The Rev. F. Harper.

Verse 11-12


‘Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you: … great is your reward in heaven.’

Matthew 5:11-12

Revelation 7:2, portion for Epistle for All Saints’ Day, should be read in connection with this Beatitude.

Our Lord’s first offers, His first promises and calls, tell of persecution, slander, and reviling; not of ease, honour, and worldly favour. His first promises do not even enlarge on the future glory. All that He does is to pronounce them ‘Blessed.’ All that He does is simply to say that there will be a ‘great reward in heaven.’ But as to what that blessedness consists in, what that Reward shall be, of that He says not one word. That is told us later on.

I. Guardianship of angels.—The Revelation (Matthew 7:2) was written at perhaps the very darkest hour of the Church’s history, just when the Church had entered the dark cloud of heavy persecution, which was to last, with certain intermissions, for nearly two centuries and a half. The storm had broken. St. John himself had suffered under it. Christians had begun to find out in bitter earnest the truth of their Lord’s words, that the marks of sanctity included slander, false accusation, and the direst suffering. And then, when all this was come in earnest, then, but not till then, did Christ draw aside the curtain, and reveal, or unveil to His servant’s eyes, and through him to all His servants to the end of time, how things really stood. So far as human perception went, the Christians were of all men most miserable. They were falsely accused of the most hideous crimes. They were actually made to endure the most hideous torments, death the very least of them. Such was the outward appearance. But draw back the veil, and what do we see? For human enmity, angelic succour. For human torment, the protection of angels. Angels specially bidden to see that the faithful on earth should remain uninjured; while as to those who had gone hence, and whom we are so soon-to join, their state of joy and glory is set forth in all its brightness. On earth, angelic hands hold back the destroyer’s until the saints are safe.

II. Reward in heaven.—Think of the lot of the saints in the other world. Next to the Lamb they stand. Next to the Throne they are placed. Not merely admitted into the heavenly court and the company of angels, but drawn nearest to the Throne of God. Of that infinite blessedness the mind of man can as yet form little conception.

III. The saints on earth and saints in heaven.—We have spoken of the earthly security of God’s saints, and of the unseen glory of the redeemed who are at rest. The thought which links the two together is the unity of ourselves yet militant, with those who have entered into the land beyond the veil.

Verse 13


‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’

Matthew 5:13

Our present topic is the Christian in society. The words of the text were spoken to those whose social surroundings were far less favourable than ours. We may indeed be thankful that for us the world around us is not so vile a world as it was then.

I. The Christian’s mission.—The Christian has a definite mission for society. He is to become its salt, to preserve it from corruption. Whether men will hear or whether they will forbear is a question outside our account. Our responsibility ceases with the witness-bearing. But let us be persuaded of this, that the influence of a thoroughly consistent holy soul upon others around it cannot be measured.

II. Attitude to amusements.—As one who has pledged himself to a high and sacred cause, you will bring to the debatable ground of amusements a sensitive, and at the same time an enlightened conscience—a strong sense of the fitting, and a wholesome dread of causing avoidable offence to fellow-believers. You will feel that a brother’s or a sister’s moral and religious well-being, committed in a measure to you as their ‘keeper,’ is too precious a trust to be jeopardised for the sake of some paltry, transitory gratification. You will decline to take the low ground of the worldling revealed in the common question, ‘Where is the harm?’ It is just on this territory that the lines of demarcation run between the Church and the world, and the interests of religion can hardly be served by our making these lines as faint as possible.

III. In, but not of, the world.—It is possible that some here, dependent entirely on the wishes and the direction of others, have been caught in the vortex of what is generally accepted as fashionable life. It may not be easy for you to be in the world and yet not to be of it. But your heart and its issues are at least your own. Your real self lies at your own disposal. That is free. If in God’s Providence you are placed in a position of peculiar temptation, in circumstances exceptionally unfavourable for the growth of personal piety, be assured that you may claim special grace to keep you steadfast.

—Bishop Alfred Pearson.


(1) ‘Silence often checks evil as effectually as a spoken reproof. We know of one who, when at school, would rise and leave the room if a profane or impure word escaped the lips of any of his schoolfellows. As he was captain of his school eleven, this firmness did much. Another we well know whose personal influence at Oxford was so strong, that his presence in his college boat was sufficient to check all unhallowed speech.’

(2) ‘The Christian is neither a Stoic, nor a Cynic; yet he finds daily cause for watchfulness and restraint. A believer will not often be tempted to gross crimes. Our greatest snares are usually found in things lawful in themselves, but hurtful to us through their abuse, engrossing too much of our time, or of our hearts, or somehow indisposing us for communion with God.’

Verse 14


‘A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.’

Matthew 5:14

How strange and exaggerated such language must have sounded to that rude and rough company which first heard it. Some turned away. Yet it all came true. Those disciples who sat on the Mount did go forth, did mould and shape and change the whole face of the world. Consider text as a description of Christianity.

I. The dominant idea contained in the metaphor. The city upon the hill is thrust upon the notice of all. What does this teach us of the Church of Christ? Religion proclaims the name of God and the action of God whether men will bear or forbear. The witness is maintained in two ways—

(a) By creeds. It is the fashion to depreciate creeds, but it is questionable whether without them Christianity would not long have faded from the earth.

(b) By forms of outward worship. It is true that all worship is worthless which is not the offering of the heart, but truth embodied in outward institutions lives. The habit of private devotion itself has been kept alive by that public witness week by week. Get rid of Sunday, and the very idea of worship would fade out of the national mind.

Christ’s Church was thus to be a mountain in the midst of a plain; a city planted on a hill.

II. The full meaning of that article of the Creed, ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church,’ should be dear to us. Get rid of Divine origin of the Church, and the mention of it has no place in Creed. Its beginning must be ascribed to a Power not of this earth before it can present itself as an object of faith. ‘A city set on an hill.’ Yes, the city is there with its baptismal gate and its sacramental table. What is the hill? Faith answers, ‘That hill is the accumulation of Divine providences and eternal decrees.’ Ever existing in the Divine mind, it broke upon the world in goodly proportions when the Risen Lord commissioned His disciples, “Go ye.” The Church is the creation of Jesus Christ Himself.

Bishop Woodford.


‘A city set on a hill “cannot be hid.” It cannot. That is the worst of it. We, who belong to the holy city, would willingly escape from out of the light, if we could. We know our weakness. We feel our shame. Bitterly, bitterly, we weep over our unworthiness. We do not deceive ourselves. We know too well how helpless and hopeless we must look to those who judge Jesus Christ by us. We would not put ourselves forward. If only we could be hidden! But, alas! that is just the difficulty. The city that Christ built is set on a hill. And we are of it. Before the eyes of men we must pass as types of what Christianity means. We cannot escape. There is no veil that can be thrown over us. There is no merciful disguise by which we may slip through unobserved. No; we are named Christ’s. We bear His badges. We stand for Him. We count as His. We are in the light and cannot help ourselves.’

Verse 16


‘Ye are the light of the world.… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’

Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16

These words contain, in an image at once as simple and as beautiful as Nature could supply, a description of Christianity, and of the manner in which it diffuses itself.

I. God uses human agency.—For the conversion of the world to Himself God uses human agency. When the Almighty was preparing this material world, He said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light.’ But when the Son of God came into the world He selected human agents. ‘Ye are the light of the world.’ This was spoken to men very slightly armed either with intellectual or political power. Hence not only the wise and the great, but all of whatever capabilities who come within range of His light, have, by that very fact, had given them the power and laid upon them the responsibility of shining for God. We may not look with apathy upon the evil which is in the world, as if we were not our brothers’ keepers, and had nothing to do but attend to ourselves. The world is lying in darkness before our eyes, and its conversion depends upon us, and upon such as we are. If ever effected, it must be effected by God’s Spirit indeed, but through man’s agency.

II. Human agents must first receive light.—Our Saviour applies to His disciples an image which, in strictness of speech, only belongs to Himself. He is the light—they only light bearers. The light which they have is His; all which they have they have received. The Light of the World then is waiting to shine in upon and enlighten every mind that begins to be conscious of its darkness, and to desire to be taught of God. Jesus Christ, the light and life, and gladness and joy of the world, is waiting at the heart of every one for the undoing of the bars of prejudice and unbelief; nay, by His Spirit is inviting to, and assisting in, the undoing of these bars, that He may come in with streams of heavenly light.

III. The character and influence of the man who has received light, and so become light.

(a) Light is composed of several distinct rays, the red, the blue, and the yellow, but which, various in themselves, blend into the pure colourless light which is around us. A Christian is not a man who does a right action, or a class of right actions, but who in reliance on Christ acts as He did, and aims at regulating his whole moral nature and blending its discordant elements into one simple desire to please Him.

(b) Further, light cannot fail to be seen. This is its peculiar office. Real Christians, therefore, men and women, who indeed have the light of Christ within them, should be known and seen as lights shining in a dark place; they should be as clear as the stars in the heaven, or the lamps along the road on a dark night; for they are light, and all beside are darkness. And thus it was in earlier days: but in our days and in our land, the surrounding darkness is not so great, and the lights, I fear, not so brilliant. Yet the world is dark around us, and if we are Christ’s we must shine, be seen, and have influence.

(c) Light goes off from the source of light on all sides and in all directions. So from a Christian, light should go forth in all directions and at all times, naturally, not by impulsive emissions, but by regular irradiation.

(d) Light beautifies and gladdens all it falls on. And so wherever the light of Christ’s Gospel shines into the heart of man, and the Holy Spirit makes it to sink in and abide there; whatever that man may have been in character, and whatever he may be in position, it draws out and manifests such beauty of character and gladness of heart, that men cannot fail to see his good works, and glorify his Father which is in heaven.

—Canon Francis Morse.


‘It is related that the watchman of the Calais lighthouse was boasting of the brilliancy of his lantern, which can be seen many miles at sea, when a visitor said to him, “What if one of your lights should chance to go out?” “Never,” he replied. “Impossible!” with a sort of consternation at the bare idea. “Sir,” continued he, “yonder, where nothing can be seen by us, there are ships going to every port of the world; if to-night one of my burners were out, within a year would come a letter perhaps from India, perhaps from some place I never heard of, saying, ‘At such a night, at such an hour, your light burned dim; the watchman neglected his post, and vessels were in danger.’ Ah, sir, sometimes in the dark nights in stormy weather, I look out to sea, and feel as if the eye of the whole world were looking at my light. Go out—burn dim—no, never!” The eye of the whole world is indeed upon many of you. God give you grace “to keep your light so shining before men” that they may be guided by it through the manifold dangers of this world into the haven of eternal rest.’

Verse 20


‘For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’

Matthew 5:20

Though many of the Pharisees, and more especially the scribes and other chief men among them, were hypocrites, whited sepulchres, fair to look upon, but within full of all uncleanness; yet there were some who really endeavoured to keep the law of God. How was it that these also came short of the righteousness of God?

There seem to have been two points in which even the best of them were wanting.

I. They trusted in themselves.—They fulfilled the righteousness of the law, and with that they were quite satisfied. They fancied that if they obeyed the law as set forth in the books of Moses, as perfectly as possible, it was all God could require of them, and that heaven was their due reward. And is not this error, whether we consider it one of doctrine or of practice, one but too common amongst Christians also? Many a one, if he is asked about his hope of future salvation, will tell you that he is thankful to say that he has always lived honestly and dealt fairly.

II. They misunderstood the law they professed to obey so perfectly; they fancied it only referred to what they did, and not to what they thought or intended. It was against this error that our Lord especially directed the words of our text, as appears from all the rest of this fifth chapter of Matthew. Such is the law of righteousness which Christ has given us, in place of that of the scribes and Pharisees. Its great principle is this: that not only our actions, but all our most secret thoughts must be brought into subjection to the will of God. There are now many who think no more is necessary than to obey the letter of the law, and the letter only. These Jews were, many of them, as touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless; all of them professed to obey the whole law of God. You must not think less will be required of you because you are Christians, and know more. On the contrary, your righteousness must exceed theirs. To whom much is given, of them shall much be required.

Rt. Rev. Lord Alwyne Compton.



It behoves us to consider very carefully what was the characteristic spirit of these classes and examine our own hearts searchingly, lest we should be at all infected with it. Our righteousness, we are warned, must exceed theirs. What then was wrong with their righteousness?

I. It lacked inwardness.—Their righteousness was conformity to an external law, a hard rule which had to be obeyed, which made indeed an imperious demand on the conscience, but which did not touch the heart, or infuse into it any principle of goodness. The Pharisees simply sought to obey a rule as a rule, to do something that was commanded just because it was commanded. But when they had thus fulfilled the letter of the law, their heart still remained unpurified.

II. It was self-centred.—It made the scribes and Pharisees the proverbial examples of self-righteousness. Many of them led very good lives according to their lights. But having done this, they were perfectly satisfied with themselves. They did not recognise—or at least, they were not troubled by—their want of inward purity; they had no sense of sin. They did not acknowledge any shortcoming in the sight of God. There was no humility or self-distrust in their religion. They—poor, weak, frail, sinful men, as they were—stood up before their Creator and practically demanded that He should be satisfied with them.

III. It was stationary.—This self-righteousness was closely connected with another grave defect in the scribes and Pharisees. Theirs was a stationary righteousness. They conformed to their rules of conduct; and then that was all they wanted. They had no desire for any advance in holiness. But a stationary righteousness is spiritual death. There is really no such thing as standing still in spiritual matters. If we are not advancing, not growing in grace, we are almost certainly falling back.

IV. What is true righteousness?—There are two things which we must have for our soul’s health; on the one hand, a deep sense of sin, such as will never allow us to be satisfied with ourselves, and will constantly drive us forward in the pursuit of holiness; and on the other hand, a realisation of justification, of our being right with God, accepted with God, through a hopeful and joyous trust in Christ. If we have both these, we have, in as great a measure as God expects it of us, the righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

The Rev. N. E. Egerton Swann.

Verse 21-22


‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.’

Matthew 5:21-22

What is the difference between the judgment and the council? Why is it worse to say, Thou fool, than to say, Raca? What is the meaning of the words ‘in danger of’?

When it is said that a man is ‘in danger of’ the judgment, or of the council, or of the fire of Gehenna, it means that for something he has said or done they have a legal claim upon him; he is in their power; and unless something intervene to release him, the law must take its course. So here, in danger of hell means not such a state that hell may some day be your portion, but that the very fact of your giving way to anger and angry words puts you, so to speak, in the power of the kingdom of Satan.

The Pharisees thought much of acts; God looks at the thought of the heart. It is not enough to avoid committing murder. The cherished hate, the angry word, are in God’s sight twin brothers of the crime of murder. In this we shall find the explanation of the three forms in which anger shows itself, and the threefold punishment that attends it.

I. ‘Angry with his brother.’—‘Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of,’ i.e. shall be at the mercy of the judgment. The judgment here means the district court where criminal cases were tried. The local courts are decribed in Deuteronomy 16:18, and had the power to inflict capital punishment. To judge another falsely, as anger always does, is to subject oneself in God’s sight to a doom, as if the local court had already passed sentence of death.

II. ‘Raca.’—‘And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council.’ The council, of course, is the great Sanhedrim before which our Lord Himself was brought and sentenced to death. It was what we should call an Ecclesiastical Court, and its office was to try cases in which the charge was a charge, not of immorality or injustice, but of irreligion or heresy. Now the word Raca means ‘detestable one, accursed one,’ and seems to have had a special application to those found guilty by the Sanhedrim of heresy, blasphemy, or profanity. The Jews would have said Raca to our Lord when the high priest passed sentence, ‘He is guilty of death.’ Here exactly in accordance with the former case, and in accordance with the principle of Divine retribution, He who says Raca in anger to his brother is himself Raca in the sight of God; judged, as it were, and found guilty by the court whose functions he had usurped; branded before God as the ‘detestable’ and the ‘abominable,’ who is cut off from God’s people.

III. ‘Thou fool.’—Lastly, ‘Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire,’ and in the power of the wicked one. ‘Thou fool’ hardly represents the original, which, according to the commentators, means rather ‘reprobate,’ ‘forsaken of God.’ If this is so, the same principle which we have seen at work hitherto is apparent here. He who consigns another to reprobation or damnation is himself in God’s sight what he calls another. What an awful commentary on that text, ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ Awful, indeed, when we remember that the commonest form of oath which defiles the lips of men is just that which, if our Lord’s words are true, reflects back on him who uses it the doom he invokes on another. Whosoever shall say, ‘Thou damned one!’ is under sentence of damnation at God’s hands.

Canon Aubrey L. Moore.


(1) ‘We have some remarkable instances of a triumph over a passionate nature recorded of great people. Columbus, a man of natural heat and impetuosity, had schooled himself, we are told by his biographers, to “a courteous and gentle gravity.” Queen Elizabeth, though on more than one occasion her passionate nature broke its bounds, yet made it her object to curb herself in this respect; and the great compiler of the Heidelberg Catechism, being a modest though very passionate man, made it a rule never to answer an objection immediately. These and many other instances go to prove that the natural temptation to this form of anger may be resisted till calmness and gentleness seem almost natural. We all know that the Society of Friends are remarkable for their quietness and meekness, and the story is told of one who, being asked how he learned to control his passion, answered, that when he was young he noticed that angry men always spoke loud and fast, and he determined, if he could help it, never to let his voice rise above a certain pitch. The voice is generally the first sign to show a loss of self-command. When a man is becoming more and more overcome with drink, he chatters and loses all caution; when a man is in a passion, he knows not what he says; but still, out of the abundance of the angry heart, the mouth speaks its angry words, and by those words the speaker is condemned.’

(2) ‘We have some wonderful instances on record of those who have successfully struggled against this sin. It is a harder struggle than the struggle with passionateness. But the harder the struggle, the nobler the victory in the eyes of men, and the more precious in the sight of God. Archbishop Secker, who had as his special cross a very irritable temper, guarded himself by making it a rule always to speak in a slow and measured tone. Dr. Channing, again, among his papers has left us notes of the battle that resulted in his beautiful serenity. “When I feel irritable, let me be silent,” he writes in his private memoranda. “I wish to be cool and collected amidst insult and provocation.” George Washington, Sir Robert Peel, and even Mahomet, are quoted as signal instances of a triumph over a natural irritability.’



In this particular portion of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is undertaking a revision of the old law. One of the commandments that He takes in this way is the sixth, referring as it does, of course, to the law of murder. Under the old Jewish law only sins of act were taken into consideration at all. These words of our Lord mean something like this: In the new law He implies you are to think of malicious anger in your heart as under the old law men were accustomed to think of ordinary homicide—a case, that is, that could be dealt with by the local court. When this malice of heart expresses itself in words of dislike and contempt, that is to be regarded by Christians as of the same moral guilt as more flagrant kinds of sin, and would be dealt with by the central court. But a stronger expression, combining insult with contempt and anger, is a sin which may bring a man into eternal punishment.

I. The awful loftiness of the Christian standard.—Our Lord takes no notice of sins of act at all, for in the citizens of the New Country, the New Kingdom—such is His meaning—sins of act are to be, as it were, altogether out of the question. He deliberately raises the sins of thought and feeling to the level previously occupied by sins of act. He counts words yet graver sins, and deliberate expressions of hatred and contempt He counts as a sin that may destroy the: soul.

II. ‘Hell fire.’—We ought not to let this text pass without reminding ourselves that there is such a place as hell. That doctrine is out of fashion just now. The lost ones there are not there because God has rejected them, but because they have rejected Him.

III. Sins of contempt.—The sins of this commandment are sins of contempt as much as, and even more, perhaps, than sins of anger, and this is brought out by the two instances of the breaking of this commandment our Blessed Lord gives us.

IV. ‘Thou fool.’—There are two classes of individuals of whom we are not to say? Thou fool’—(a) of ourselves. Self-contempt is the parent of more vice and more mischief than one likes to think of, just as it is possible that self-respect is one of the most powerful of weapons for good. Let us be proud of our Christian calling, let us value our Christian status. (b) We are not to say ‘Thou fool’ to our neighbour—to our neighbour that is younger than ourselves. ‘Take heed,’ says our Blessed Lord, ‘that ye despise not one of these little ones.’ Christ speaks here to fathers and mothers and teachers and guardians, to elder brothers and elder sisters. We are not to say ‘Thou fool’ to our neighbour that is older than we, nor to our neighbour on a different social status from ourselves. Grades of society based on anything but character will be unknown in heaven.

V. Despising God.—Note the great reason why. Because to say ‘Thou fool,’ to despise ourselves or our neighbour, is to despise God. We are all of us made in the image of God. We are, each one of us, temples of the living God. To despise that temple, or to degrade it by sin, is to despise and dishonour Him who dwells therein.

—The Rev. J. G. Bartlet.

Verses 33-36


‘Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou … shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all,’ etc.

Matthew 5:33-36

According to the Quaker view, our Blessed Lord forbids all oaths, whether promissory or evidential, and in her Articles the Church of England is blameworthy in giving her sanction to such oaths.

I. Are all oaths forbidden?—The difficulties of this position are not inconsiderable. If all swearing be forbidden here, the Saviour’s attitude towards the Law of Moses at this point is suddenly changed, and instead of confirming, He proceeds to destroy. Oaths were admitted under the old law. Again, St. Paul repeatedly strengthens his language by formal appeals to the God of truth. ‘God is my witness’ (Romans 1:9). If, then, our Lord is to be understood here as condemning oaths of every kind, He is distinctly at issue with the Law of Moses, and His apostle, by his practice, is as markedly at issue with Him. If, on the other hand, we simply understand the prohibition here to be that of all light and irreverent appeals to the Divine Being, direct or indirect, all difficulty vanishes.

II. The acknowledgment of God.—In the taking of an oath some very solemn and weighty truths are acknowledged by implication. The existence of a personal God: His interference in human affairs: His immutable character as the True and Faithful One, Who loves the true and will avenge the false: His judicial as well as his inquisitorial powers—all this is implied and assented to when a man calls God to witness to the truth of what he is doing or saying; and such an attestation to distinctively religious truth, in connection with certain grave functions of state or of law, is a healthy protest against that growing materialism which every earnest Christian must so deeply deplore.

III. The need of reverence.—On the general question of reverence, it may be observed that Eastern manners admitted, and still admit, of much more frequent allusions to the great Object of worship, which contrast favourably with our shy and meagre acknowledgments of His presence. And now that we appear to be breaking through this reserve to some extent, it would seem that, with clumsy maladroitness, we are doing so at the expense of all true reverence. Christianity is being popularised to-day as it never was before, and in the process is parting with much of its mysterious character; and in some quarters, where this particular phase of it has met with astonishing success, it is not easy for a devotional mind to distinguish between this familiar treatment of the subject and downright profanation. There is a current fashion of speaking of the Redeemer as if He were more of a human friend than a Divine. On many lips the holy and yet purely human name ‘Jesus’ altogether supersedes the name ‘Christ,’ which bespeaks His Divine Messiah ship. An unbecoming familiarity is thus fostered, at times sinking almost to the spirit of patronage.

IV. Reverence in daily life.—The subject touches more nearly the daily lives of most of us at other points. Profanity admits of degrees, and in some of its shapes it gains an all too facile entrance into polite society. Reverence is a tender, delicate plant, and very little may sometimes prove enough to nip it. People will tell us, attitude is quite immaterial in worship. So it may be, if we only have regard to the Hearer; we have, however, some doubts if we consider the suppliant himself. A careless posture not only betokens a careless frame of mind, but induces it. Besides, is it becoming to draw near to the King of kings in a posture which would insult our earthly sovereign? Nothing abject is called for. We draw near with boldness. But if a spotless seraph, as he worships, veils his face with his wings before the throne of heaven, we who worship at the footstool can hardly do less than kneel.

Bishop Alfred Pearson.


(1) ‘Bending over his manuscript in the scriptorium of the monastery, the poet makes his good father pause on coming to the Holy Name. He is writing out a copy of a Gospel:—

“I come again to the Name of the Lord;

Ere I that awful Name record,

That is spoken so lightly among men,

Let me pause a while and wash my pen;

Pure from blemish and blot must it be

When it writes that word of mystery.”’

(2) ‘That great and good man, the Hon. Robert Boyle, who wrote “Nature’s Reflection”—he was a nobleman, a statesman, and an author—before he ever said the name of God he always made a hush, a pause.’

(3) ‘Two years ago I was on the “Kulm,” i.e. the top, of the Stanserhorn (a mountain near Lucerne), and the view was perfect and all was delightful and one felt in tune with Nature and in touch (if I may reverently say so) with God. Suddenly I heard voices. It was two Americans. One of them began to speak, and he could not admire the beauty around him without taking that sacred Name in vain, that Name at which every knee shall one day bow! A cloud had come over my beauteous scene; the day was spoiled to me.’

Verse 37


‘Let your communication be Yea, yea.’

Matthew 5:37

The main object of our Divine Lord here is to impress upon us the supreme and critical importance of Candour, Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy, and Truthfulness in all our speech, conversation, and mental attitude. Let your yes mean yes, let your no mean no.

I. The tribunal of conscience.—The great and chief happiness of life is to give Conscience her full and absolute sway. The most powerful proof to us of the facts of our holy religion, of God and the soul, and the future life of rewards and punishments, is the undying tribunal of Conscience in our hearts. But to be careless about the strictest conception and expression of truth is a daily violation of this heavenly witness within us. First, let us train ourselves by God’s grace to see things as they really are, without exaggeration, diminution, colour, or prejudice, and then let us equally ask His gracious help to say them as they really happened, as we from the very ground of our hearts believe them to be, without fear or flinching.

II. The habits of the world.—This is by no means so easy a task as at first sight it seems. The habits of the world are quite the other way; and many of the children of God are so much influenced by the habits of the world that they become, to their shame, very largely indifferent to this virtue of Candour, Truthfulness, and Accuracy, and thus lose much of the blessing of God and the benignant presence of the Holy Spirit. How seldom it is that worldly people give you the whole reasons for their conduct! How terribly careless people are about repeating scandal and gossip! What a tremendous responsibility lies on that vast body of educated men who make their living by journalism, and who daily purvey to thousands and millions whom they have never seen, the views they are to hold, the things they are to accept as true!

III. Want of candour in party conflict.—And then, again, what a temptation to this unchristian want of candour is there in the excitement of political and ecclesiastical parties! How greatly those who are engaged in such struggles need to pray that they may not take up with any other code of morals but the laws of Christ; that they may not have heated, prejudiced, partial views of the questions that are brought forward, or shape their line of action out of deference to some great name, but may try to look at everything in the light of justice and of truth! How instinctively we turn with honour and gratitude to those who always speak out their mind fearlessly, whether we agree with them or not! How inestimably precious and how rare, but how powerful for good, is a statesman or an ecclesiastic who is absolutely honest, truthful, candid, and unprejudiced, to whatever party he may belong!

IV. White lies.—Living thus in the midst of exaggeration and unreality, many of us do not see things in their true proportions and colours. We think that there are white lies as well as black lies, and that most lies are white. We fancy that we may tell the white lies, because they do not cause much harm and because they are allowed by the world in general. And we forget that we are not lying with men but unto God, of whose nature truth is an essential element.

—Archdeacon Sinclair.


‘Our Lord’s special object here is to insist on His people practising the habit of absolute truthfulness. which will not need any oath to confirm it, and which is apt to be greatly weakened by the use of such language. The needless taking of oaths tends to lessen a man’s sense of truth, and enfeeble his regard for it. Men who swear much by heaven or by earth do not regard such oaths as very binding; and once they have accustomed themselves to untruth in this way, bigger and rounder adjurations will be needed, and will be found equally useless, until the whole soul becomes corrupted with that worst of all rottenness—an utterly lying spirit.’

Verse 44


‘I say unto you, Love your enemies.’

Matthew 5:44

It is one of the signs of the Divine originality of Christ that in the midst of a condition of society which throughout the world was based on national selfishness and racial hatred, He ordered the citizens of His kingdom to act on the very opposite principle of treating every human being as a friend.

I. Pride and party spirit.—It is difficult for us in these days of Christian toleration to form any idea of the pride and party spirit that raged in the bosom of an orthodox Jew in the days of our Lord. But though the world in the present day is in this respect more enlightened in theory, yet its practice is little better than the practice of the Jews. By the term world we do not mean anything uncharitable. We do not mean that we ourselves are as good as we ought to be, and that others are not. By the world we do not mean this person or that. In modern life, just because everybody is not alike a sincere Christian, there is much bigotry, injustice, animosity, vindictiveness, and party spirit about in the air, and whole classes of people are infected by these evil passions, and do not seem to know that they are unchristian. Great, very great is our danger, therefore, lest we, mingling, as we cannot help mingling, in the great currents of feeling which are surging and swaying about us, should unthinkingly give up our hearts to this bitter, vindictive, unfair, malignant way of looking at our fellow-creatures. I do not mean that we are to pretend that what everybody does is right. It is one thing to reprove and confute; another thing to be unfair and to hate.

II. Who is our enemy?—When the lawyer asked our Lord, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ he drew from our Saviour the memorable parable of the Good Samaritan. It is important for us here to ask, ‘Who is our enemy?’ Alas, there is no difficulty in answering that question. Has nobody ever injured you? Have you never been ridiculed? Has none ever said unkind things behind your back which have been carefully repeated to you by candid friends? Has nobody ever played you a mean trick? Has nobody ever passed you by out of partiality for some other? Has nobody ever insulted you, or harmed your friends? Have your plans never been thwarted? Have you never lacked that respect and attention which your self-esteem led you to expect? You must indeed have been singularly lucky if none of these things ever happened to you. Yes, in this life we all of us have our enemies, even if they be not very tremendous foes.

III. Christ’s law of love.—‘I say unto you, Love your enemies.’ A hard task to us in our natural state. Unaided we cannot think kindly of the offender. Our lips would more easily form themselves into a curse than a blessing. The Holy Spirit of God alone can help us to the calm, tranquil, undisturbed feeling of Christian benevolence which our Lord commands. That is why our Lord commands it with such confidence. He is urging it for our own sakes. It is because such boilings of our blood prevent us from being what we should be. They are of the devil, not of God. Christ gives us the reason; ‘That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.’

Are we, like the world, and like the Jews, hating our enemies? or are we struggling, in obedience to our Master, to love them, to bless them, to do good to them, to pray for them? Pray more earnestly than ever before for the conquering, glorious, powerful grace of the Holy Spirit in this thing; that we may reach this happy, unruffled, cheerful, hopeful temper.

Archdeacon Sinclair.


‘There is no grander story in history than the tale of Fra Giovanni Galberta. He was a cavalier of Florence, and his brother had been killed in a duel by an enemy, and in accordance with the custom of the time it became his duty to avenge his brother’s death, and all his mind was given to tracking out the slayer of his brother, to slay him in turn. For some time he sought for him in vain, until at last, one Good Friday morning, as he was riding up a hill opposite Florence, at a turn in the road that wound up its side, he suddenly came face to face with the man whom he had so long been seeking. He leapt from his horse and drew his sword, and his enemy, being entirely unarmed, could only fall on his knees and extend his hands and implore pardon. Galberta raised his sword above the head of his foe, and as he did so he saw a crucifix set up to mark the road for the pilgrimage to the church, and as he cast his eye on the figure on the cross, he was struck with the likeness between it and the figure that knelt at the base before him. He paused, drew back his sword for a moment, and, gazing still on the crucifix, he seemed to see the figure on the cross bow His head before him. He caught the meaning of the lesson and sheathed his sword, and flung his arms round his enemy’s neck and pardoned him, and they swore eternal friendship, and there and then agreed to withdraw from the world with all its malice and hatred, with all its ungodliness and untruth. They withdrew from the world, and founded the great monastery of Vallombrosa. How beautiful a story, showing how the power of the cross has brought peace into the world at every age, how the pleading figure of our Lord bids us to lay aside all malice and all uncharitableness. Can we gaze upon the cross of Christ and retain any ill-will or any ill-feeling in the face of that exhibition of boundless forgiveness and love? Cannot we cast ourselves before it and strive to roll away the oppressive, the unspeakable burden of an unforgiving spirit?’



A man’s enemies in those days were a prominent and inevitable factor of his daily life. Our Lord’s injunction from one point of view is easier for people to follow nowadays than it was then. For we certainly have fewer personal enemies now than men had in the days when oppression and violence were more common.

One result of this is that our Lord’s command to love our enemies has become somewhat vague to us. ‘Who are our enemies?’ we ask. We begin almost to doubt whether the command has any real meaning for us, just because we feel that all the world is at peace with us. But this would be a shallow view of the matter. A Christian must have enemies. If he is honestly trying to live up to the standard which has been set him by Jesus Christ, he must be brought into antagonism with those whose standard of duty falls short of the Divine ideal.

In asking ourselves how we may best interpret the phrase ‘our enemies’ under the conditions of modern life, we have to take two things specially into account—politics and religion.

I. Political opponents.—Some people regard their political opponents as enemies in a very definite sense. Fortunately it is not very common for political antagonism to degenerate into personal animosity in England. But we all know of cases in which some burning political question has permanently broken up old friendships. Men sometimes feel so strongly the harm to the country which the other side is doing that they cannot help introducing a touch of personal enmity into their relations with their opponents. That is perhaps natural. But our Lord says to us, emphatically, Love your enemies. Love your political enemies. Protest as much as you like by all fair methods of argument and in all constitutional ways against their principles and their policy, but do not misrepresent them, do not malign them, do not impute to them motives which they would disavow. Show that you love them by being willing to meet them on neutral, non-political ground, in a spirit of kindliness and goodwill. Whatever our party views may be, we shall all be the better for being reminded from time to time how clear our duty is in this respect.

II. Enmity amongst Christians.—It is, however, in matters of religious controversy that our great difficulty lies nowadays in obeying the command to love our enemies. Let me put aside altogether any question of our relations towards other branches of the Christian Church. It is so unnatural, so unjustifiable, so plainly contrary to the Spirit of our Founder for any Christians to regard other Christians as enemies that we may refuse to consider the command from this point of view. However great our differences may be, nothing can excuse our supposing that Christ intended any reference to those who like ourselves are His followers, when He bids us love our enemies.

III. Relation between Christians and non-Christians.—But the relation between Christians and non-Christians is a very different thing. In a sense, and with certain qualifications, those who do not accept Christianity are the enemies of Christians. Sometimes the enmity of the anti-Christian element in modern society is very strongly emphasized. Very different from this small body of extremists are those who in far greater numbers accept the Agnostic position. These are, many of them, surely enemies whom, as Christians, we can without any hesitation love. If there be sometimes traceable in some of them a spirit of semi-contemptuous tolerance for the weaker natures which still cling to the old traditional beliefs, how many of them there are with whom we can feel much sympathy. They are the enemy, indeed, but they are ‘our friend the enemy.’ They are not entirely with us, and yet they can barely be said to be against us. They go with us as far as they can; they would like to go even further if they could. They have a deep reverence for the character and teaching of Jesus; they have a firm belief in the truth of God’s presence in the world and of man’s communion with God. Nothing can be of more moment to the future of Christianity than the relations which we establish with these men and others more or less like them. Now let us be quite clear on one point: in our desire to be on sympathetic terms with those who do not accept Christianity in our sense, we must not juggle away our own beliefs, we must not blur the outlines of our Christian creed. Nothing is gained by starting a so-called new theology, which does not really evade difficulties and cannot, strictly speaking, claim to be new. But this point made clear, let us try to establish close personal relations with those who are outside the pale of the Church.

The Rev. H. G. Woods, d.d.


(1) ‘There is a striking passage in the Talmud, dealing with the creation of man, which bears on the question of forgiveness and mercy. “When God would have created man He called before His Throne the council of the highest angels. ‘Create him not,’ said the angel of justice; ‘he will be hard and cruel to those weaker than himself; he will be unforgiving and unjust to his brother man.’ ‘Create him not,’ said the angel of peace; ‘he will redden the earth with human slaughter, with confusion, horror, and war; the first-born of his race will slay his brother.’ ‘Create him not,’ said the angel of truth; ‘he will lie for his party, he will lie for his religion, he will lie for his gain, he will lie most of all for envy and malice.’ And they would have said more, but there stepped forth and kneeled before the Throne the angel of forgiveness and mercy. ‘Create him,’ she prayed; ‘create him in Thine own noble image, and as the object of Thy love; when all others of Thy ministers forsake him I will be with him, I will lovingly aid him, I will touch his heart with pity, I will make him forgiving and merciful to the unfortunate and to those weaker than himself.’”’

(2) ‘The story is told of Archbishop Cranmer that if one would be sure of having him do a good turn, it was necessary to do him some ill one, for though he loved to do good to all, yet especially would he watch for the opportunity to do good to such as wronged him.’

Verse 48


‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’

Matthew 5:48

If we are apt to grow self-complacent, to thank God we are not as other men are, but far better, it arises from the low standards we set before us. Now our Lord lifts up our thoughts far above all the standards of earth. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ Many of us simply pass over and ignore the words as impracticable and impossible. ‘Perfect!’ we say, ‘perfect as God is perfect! Impossible. Imperfection marks everything, and must mark everything here below; it is Quixotic to expect we can attain that which is plainly above our reach.’ And so we quietly ignore the words altogether, and to the vast majority they are a dead letter. Yet spoken by our Lord they must have a real and important meaning. In worldly things, in arts and sciences, a high standard is of great importance. And in the spiritual life our Lord gives us what alone will make our life high and noble and pure; He gives us a high standard, the highest of all standards, the Almighty Father Himself.

I. The true standard.—Christ bids us look above and see the real and the true.

(a) The perfect sanctity, the intense purity of God: dwelling in light unapproachable. For that all-holy Presence we have to prepare ourselves.

(b) His perfect knowledge. More and more then we must be ever seeking after truth.

(c) The perfect harmony and unity of the Divine perfections. We have so many ‘ragged ends’; many noble qualities, many false, unreal ones; much of the glitter and the flashiness which is only untrue and unreal.

II. God’s image.—We need more and more to gaze on God, to look up into His Divine face. The glory of the sun is reflected in the water; so will the light of God be more and more reflected in the soul which is upturned to Him. His image, as it were, will be photographed there. And remember to this end two most important considerations—

(a) God Himself will do the work. We lay open our hearts; He enters; He works.

(b) The great need of care in small matters. Perfection consists in little things. It is just this which our Lord is especially pressing here. The very word is ‘complete,’ aiming at each virtue in its fulness, not at one to the neglect of the others.

III. The immense power of prayer in this matter.—Alas! we have so little faith in its efficacy. We pray, and there the matter ends; for the most part we have not the faith to expect and look for the answer. Pray for the particular graces which you need to perfect you in holiness, and then expect the answer to come. For He gives the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, and surely with Him we have all. More and more our life will be perfected here, until at last we come by His Almighty power ‘unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’

The Rev. W. A. Brameld.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 29th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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