Christianity 201

October 1, 2013

The Broken are Better Off

For two weeks now, my wife and I have been part of a small group.  It’s been a long time since circumstances allowed us to join a home study group, and because we’re studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, I’ll probably write about it several times over the next few weeks.

Blessed arrrr the meek - Beatitudes for PiratesLast night I had an insight as we read the Beatitudes, the “Blessed are…” passages — or as seen at right, the “Blessed arrrrr…” passages — that being blessed is often in relationship or by comparison to others.  So I wondered about the passage being modified to “Better off are…”   Here’s how it would read: (to avoid potential copyright issues, the text I’ll modify is the King James Version)

Matthew 5: 3 Better off are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Better off are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Better off are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Better off are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Better off are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Better off are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Better off are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Better off are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Better off 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 which were before you.

Of course, there is much more to experiencing blessing than simply for person “A” to receive some benefit from God that person “B” has not. But what do we mean by “Blesssing”?  Easton’s Bible Dictionary states:

(1.) God blesses his people when he bestows on them some gift temporal or spiritual (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35).

(2.) We bless God when we thank him for his mercies (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2).

(3.) A man blesses himself when he invokes God’s blessing (Isa. 65:16), or rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18).

(4.) One blesses another when he expresses good wishes or offers prayer to God for his welfare (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). Sometimes blessings were uttered under divine inspiration, as in the case of Noah, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Gen. 9:26, 27; 27:28, 29, 40; 48:15-20; 49:1-28; Deut. 33). The priests were divinely authorized to bless the people (Deut. 10:8; Num. 6:22-27). We have many examples of apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 6:23, 24; 2 Thess. 3:16, 18; Heb. 13:20, 21; 1 Pet. 5:10, 11).

(5.) Among the Jews in their thank-offerings the master of the feast took a cup of wine in his hand, and after having blessed God for it and for other mercies then enjoyed, handed it to his guests, who all partook of it. Ps. 116:13 refers to this custom. It is also alluded to in 1 Cor. 10:16, where the apostle speaks of the “cup of blessing.”

In introducing his commentary on the Beatitudes, Matthew Henry first sets up the reader with an examination of what is meant by “Blessed.”

Christ begins his sermon with blessings, for he came into the world to bless us (Acts 3:26), as the great High Priest of our profession; as the blessed Melchizedec; as He in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, Gen. 12:3. He came not only to purchase blessings for us, but to pour out and pronounce blessings on us; and here he does it as one having authority, as one that can command the blessing, even life for evermore, and that is the blessing here again and again promised to the good; his pronouncing them happy makes them so; for those whom he blesses, are blessed indeed. The Old Testament ended with a curse (Mal. 4:6), the gospel begins with a blessing; for hereunto are we called, that we should inherit the blessing. Each of the blessings Christ here pronounces has a double intention: 1. To show who they are that are to be accounted truly happy, and what their characters are. 2. What that is wherein true happiness consists, in the promises made to persons of certain characters, the performance of which will make them happy. Now,

1. This is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world. Blessedness is the thing which men pretend to pursue; Who will make us to see good? Ps. 4:6. But most mistake the end, and form a wrong notion of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way; they choose their own delusions, and court a shadow. The general opinion is, Blessed are they that are rich, and great, and honourable in the world; they spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; they eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand, and have every sheaf bowing to their sheaf; happy the people that is in such a case; and their designs, aims, and purposes are accordingly; they bless the covetous (Ps. 10:3); they will be rich. Now our Lord Jesus comes to correct this fundamental error, to advance a new hypothesis, and to give us quite another notion of blessedness and blessed people, which, however paradoxical it may appear to those who are prejudiced, yet is in itself, and appears to be to all who are savingly enlightened, a rule and doctrine of eternal truth and certainty, by which we must shortly be judged. If this, therefore, be the beginning of Christ’s doctrine, the beginning of a Christian’s practice must be to take his measures of happiness from those maxims, and to direct his pursuits accordingly.

2. It is designed to remove the discouragements of the weak and poor who receive the gospel, by assuring them that his gospel did not make those only happy that were eminent in gifts, graces, comforts, and usefulness; but that even the least in the kingdom of heaven, whose heart was upright with God, was happy in the honours and privileges of that kingdom.

3. It is designed to invite souls to Christ, and to make way for his law into their hearts. Christ’s pronouncing these blessings, not at the end of his sermon, to dismiss the people, but at the beginning of it, to prepare them for what he had further to say to them, may remind us of mount Gerizim and mount Ebal, on which the blessings and cursings of the law were read, Deut. 27:12 There the curses are expressed, and the blessings only implied; here the blessings are expressed, and the curses implied: in both, life and death are set before us; but the law appeared more as a ministration of death, to deter us from sin; the gospel as a dispensation of life, to allure us to Christ, in whom alone all good is to be had. And those who had seen the gracious cures wrought by his hand (Matt. 4:23, 24), and now heard the gracious words proceeding out of his mouth, would say that he was all of a piece, made up of love and sweetness.

4. It is designed to settle and sum up the articles of agreement between God and man. The scope of the divine revelation is to let us know what God expects from us, and what we may then expect from him; and no where is this more fully set forth in a few words than here, nor with a more exact reference to each other; and this is that gospel which we are required to believe; for what is faith but a conformity to these characters, and a dependence upon these promises? The way to happiness is here opened, and made a highway (Isa. 35:8); and this coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ, it is intimated that from him, and by him, we are to receive both the seed and the fruit, both the grace required, and the glory promised. Nothing passes between God and fallen man, but through his hand. Some of the wiser heathen had notions of blessedness different from the rest of mankind, and looking toward this of our Saviour. Seneca, undertaking to describe a blessed man, makes it out, that it is only an honest, good man that is to be so called: Deut. vita beata. cap. 4. Cui nullum bonum malumque sit, nisi bonus malusque animus—Quem nec extollant fortuita, nec frangant—Cui vera voluptas erit voluptatum comtemplio—Cui unum bonum honestas, unum malum turpitudo.—In whose estimation nothing is good or evil, but a good or evil heart—Whom no occurrences elate or deject—Whose true pleasure consists in a contempt of pleasure—To whom the only good is virtue, and the only evil vice.

Our Saviour here gives us eight characters of blessed people; which represent to us the principal graces of a Christian. On each of them a present blessing is pronounced; Blessed are they; and to each a future blessing is promised, which is variously expressed, so as to suit the nature of the grace or duty recommended.

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