the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Moses On the New Testament Mount
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
THE Sermon on the Mount is the last sermon of Moses that has come down to us. It is the last sermon and it is the best of that great lawgiver. In this last sermon of his we have Moses rising above himself and stretching himself beyond himself. But all the time, and with all that, this is still Moses. The mouth, indeed, is the mouth of a far greater than Moses, but the hands and the heart are still the hands and the heart of the old lawgiver. For as we sit under this sermon we soon find that we are still in the hands and the heart of the law. The law is at its most spiritual indeed; the law is at its most holy, and just, and good indeed, in the Sermon on the Mount. But the very spirituality of its holiness only serves to make our condemnation under it all the more hopeless, and our death at its hands all the more certain and inexorable. Till we cry out under this sermon, as the murderers of his Master cried out under Peter's sermon-Men and brethren, what shall we do? The eight beatitudes with which this sermon begins are undoubtedly very beautiful. There is no denying that. That is to say they are very beautiful to him who finds himself in a position to claim them as his due, and to possess them and to expatiate upon them. But let him who has tried with all his might to purchase them and to claim them, let him tell us what he thinks of their beauty and what effect their beauty always has upon his heart and upon his conscience. Orion and the Pleiades are very beautiful, he will tell you. But he will tell you also that he will sooner hope to build his house up among their sweet influences, than he will hope to possess the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount by anything he can ever suffer or perform or attain. The pole-star is not so far out of his reach, he will tell you, as is the nearest to him of those beautiful, but heart-breaking, beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. I do not know how it is in this matter with you. But I will tell you frankly how it is with me. Ever since I first saw something of their terrible spirituality, I cannot bear to read so much as one single beatitude, or indeed any other sentence in this sermon, till I have again strengthened my heart with the Epistle to the Romans. To me the Epistle to the Romans is the true foundation-stone, corner-stone, and cope-stone, of the whole New Testament. Nay, its bold-hearted author is bold enough to take his Epistle to the Romans, and his Epistle to the Galatians, and to lay them away up before and underneath even the Book of Genesis itself. And as often as I read again his so ancient and so unanswerable argument, I forthwith feel that I hold in my hand, not only the true key to all the promises and prophecies and types and emblems of the Old Testament; but what is far better to me, I hold in my hand the true and only key to let me out of that dungeon of despair into which Moses again shuts me, as often as I read any of his sermons, and forget my Romans and my Galatians. I can walk at liberty around Mount Sinai itself; I can climb to the very top of its most threatening precipices, and can look down over them to their very bottom, if I have Paul as my mountain guide to lean upon, and his Romans to direct me and to encourage me.
Luther-'not such a perfect gentleman as Paul, perhaps, but almost as great an evangelical genius,'-Luther labours with all his might, and it is not little, to keep Moses in his right place and not to let him move out of his right place, no, not by so much as one single inch, or, rather, out of his three right places. The first of Moses' right places is what the Reformer calls his political place. That is to say, the place from which the great lawgiver issues his laws for the good government of states and cities and households. Moses' second place is that of a universal prosecutor and accuser of all men; for out of his second place he convicts all men of sin and death and shuts all men's mouths. And his third right place, according to Luther, is to be an overseer and task-master of all wise and safe housebuilding, as in the text. Now, come and let us take this approved housebuilder tonight, and let us address ourselves to learn some communion-evening lessons from him, and from Moses, and from Paul.
Well then, let it he remarked and remembered that the first praise that is given to this wise housebuilder is this, that he digged deep down for a foundation before he began to build his house. And this sermon which leads up to him, digs deep down also, if ever sermon did. As you will see if you will but walk over the ground it covers and with your eyes open. Take, to begin with, that hunger and thirst after righteousness to which the fourth beatitude is attached, and you will see what a deep and central shaft that sinks into your own soul. Then take all kinds of purity of heart, and that is, as you must confess, another very deep and very secret shaft. And take your demanded reconciliation to your offended brother, before you need seek for your reconciliation to your offended God, and that, you must allow, is not surface work. Neither is the command to do good to the men who hate you and despitefully use you. Now all that is what this sermon describes as digging deep. And one of our very first lessons from all that should surely be that as this sermon digs so deep, so should all sermons do. The true worth to us of every sermon is not its learning, or its eloquence, but its depth: the depth of him who preaches it, and the depth of them who hear it. Thomas Goodwin, whose depth has drawn me to him all my days, has this passage on this subject. "By this digging deep I do not mean deep terrors, for it is not necessary that all kinds of earth should be digged out with iron pickaxes. God uses such tools to none but hard earth only. Very small spades and shovels suffice to dig up and empty out some men. Only, all men must be dug up and emptied out somehow. All men must be emptied out by a spiritual insight into their true estate, and made to see down to the bottom of their own hopelessly evil hearts. And must be made to confess their utter inability to build a single stone of a safe house for themselves, except out of and then upon that Rock which is Christ."
There is no saying of His in all this sermon of His that is more deep-digging and fundamental than what our Lord here says to us about much secret prayer. For there is nothing that we scamp and skim over more than just much secret prayer. The Preacher of this sermon had all His own days dug deep, and had laid the foundations of His own house deep, in continual and unceasing secret prayer. And He went on doing that till the time came when He Himself was to be likened to a wise man. For all that night in the garden of Gethsemane He was still digging deep, and was making absolutely sure that His house was founded on God His Father, and on Him alone. And it was so, that when the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house all that night, it fell not: for it was founded on a Rock. And had Peter taken his Master's advice and example all his days, and even that one night, his house would not have fallen with such a sad fall, all that night and all next day. Do this deep saying of Christ yourselves, O all you communicants of today! For there are clouds rising that will soon burst on your house also, and if it is not dug deep with much secret prayer, you may depend upon it, great will be the fall of it.
And now as you go over all this deep-dug ground, what do you say to all these sayings of His about meekness, and about hunger after righteousness, and about purity of heart, and about peacemaking, and reconciliation to your offended brother, and about cutting off your right hand, and plucking out your right eye, and about loving your neighbour as yourself, and about closet prayer, and about laying up treasure in heaven, and about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and about judging not, that you be not judged, and about entering in at the strait gate-what do you say to all these sayings of His who came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it, and to have it fulfilled in you? What do you really think and feel about the whole of this Sermon of His on the Mount? Babes at the breast; preachers and writers with the shell on their heads, chatter their praises of the Sermon on the Mount, and incessantly advertise us that all their New Testament, and all their creed, and all their catechism, are summed up in the Sermon on the Mount. My brethren, you know better. You have dug deeper. The law of God has been dug deeper than that into your understanding and your heart and your conscience. Yes, this is very Moses to you, and Moses with his two-edged sword in his hand, as never before. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." And by this deep law of wise house-building all your foolish building is discovered and denounced to you. Just try your hand at a truly spiritual house, and see. Take-"Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth." And begin at once to found deep, and to build up, your spiritual house. Begin to live a life of meekness. Study humility. Keep ever before your eyes the many and deep reasons there are why you should be the meekest and the humblest-minded of men. Set yourself with all your might to put up with all injustice, and all ill-usage, and all contempt, and all neglect on all hands. Suffer long and be kind. And your house will rise, for a time, on that foundation, till one day a storm will come. One dark day the rain will descend and the floods will come, and the winds will blow and beat upon your house of meekness, till it will fall, and will bury you under it. Another will attempt his house on this foundation, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." Begin to lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and tell me how long your refuge lasts you. And so on, through all the foundations laid on Sinai.
Yes. This whole sermon is still Moses and his two tables of stone, rather than Jesus Christ and His Cross and Righteousness. Literally, no doubt, Jesus Christ did preach this sermon. Nobody disputes that. But then, the real truth is, that it is not Christ's preaching that proves Him to be the true Christ to you at all; it is not His sermons but His Cross that is the sure proof of that to you: and His Cross is still a far way off. We have far greater preachers of Christ in the New Testament Church than Christ was Himself. It was not yet the time for any one fully to preach Christ. As He said Himself to His mother at the marriage of Cana-My time is not yet come. The truth is-I will say it for myself, if you will not let me say it for you-unless far other sermons than the Sermon on the Mount had been preached in the New Testament Church it had been better for me I had not been born. But for Paul's preaching of Christ, I, for one, would be of all men the most miserable. 'Far greater and far better sermons than mine shall be preached,' He said, 'because I go to the Father. I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.'
Wherefore then serveth the Sermon on the Mount? you will demand of me; to which demand of yours Paul will answer you. "It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to all them that believe." In other words-The Sermon on the Mount sets forth, as never before nor since, a splendid exhibition of the majestic and noble righteousness, as well as the exquisitely inward spirituality, of God's holy law. And this sermon commands all men, and more especially all men of a spiritual mind, to keep looking at themselves continually in this glass that Christ Himself here holds up before them. Holds up with His own hands before them in order that they may see, and never for a moment forget, what manner of men they still are. And then His redeeming death being accomplished, and Paul being raised up to preach the true, and full, and complete, and final, Gospel; and after we have heard and believed that Jesus Christ is made of God to us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, we now return to the Sermon on the Mount to see in all its beatitudes and in all its commandments what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Moses On the New Testament Mount'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​m/moses-on-the-new-testament-mount.html. 1901.