by B. B. Warfield
"He came to his own and his own received him not." Though they had been for generations under the tutelage of the law, the schoolmaster to lead them to Christ; though the forerunner had come to prepare the way before Him, proclaiming repentance to be the gate to His spiritual kingdom; yet He found the majority of the people inflamed by earthly hopes and passions and wedded to their expectation of a kingdom of flesh, in which they as kings and priests should revel in the discomfiture of all their enemies. Consequently we find our Lord taking an early opportunity in His ministry, when He saw the multitudes before Him, to teach them the real nature of the kingdom which He came to found. In this aspect, the Sermon on the Mount is closely analogous to the marvelous discourse on the Bread of Life, recorded for us in the sixth chapter of John. In both alike our Lord found Himself in the presence of a carnal-minded crowd whose hopes were set upon an earthly kingdom of might and worldly glory, and who sought Him only in the hope that through Him they might gratify their ambitious aspirations. In both alike the purpose of the Divine teacher is instruction and sifting, or sifting through instruction. They knew not of what spirit they were; He would open to them the nature of the work He came to do, the nature of the spiritual kingdom He came to found.
By historical necessity, the Sermon on the Mount is, then, the proclamation of the law of the kingdom. How beautifully it opens! Not, as the listening crowd, hanging eagerly upon the lips of the wondrous teacher, expected, with a clarion call to arms, or a ringing promise of reward to him who fought valiantly for Israel. Not as we might expect, with a stinging rebuke to their carnal hopes and a stern correction and repression of their ungentle spirit. But gently and winningly, wooing the hearers to the higher ideal, by depicting in the most attractively simple language the blessedness of those in whom should be found the marks of the true children of the kingdom. When the Lord speaks to His children it is not in the voice of the great and strong wind that rends the mountain and breaks in pieces the rocks, nor in that of the earthquake, or of the fire, but in that still small voice or "sound of a gentle stillness" in which He spoke to Elijah in the mountain. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah had come and He opens His mouth and blesses the people in the voice of a Lamb.
Look at this ninefold twisted cord of the beatitudes and learn what the followers of the Lamb must be. As we look does it seem a mirror giving us back the lines and features of our own faces? Or rather, some strange picture of an unknown race brought home by some traveler to a far country—a race of almost unhuman lineaments, so different are they from our own? Indeed, here is the portrait of the dwellers in a far land, even a heavenly; here we trace in living characters the outlines of those who live with God; the citizens of His kingdom whose home and abiding city is above, where Jesus is on the right hand of God. They are not of lofty carriage—but "poor in spirit"; nor are they of gay countenance— they "mourn" rather, and "hunger and thirst" eagerly "after the righteousness" which they lack within themselves; they are "merciful, poor in heart, peacemakers." Surely then, they are well esteemed among men! Nay, this is another of their characteristics. They are supremely lovable; but men hate them. They are persecuted for their very righteousness' sake. But they have their reward. Blessed are they—nay, "blessed are ye—when men shall reproach you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ's sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven."
The promises of Christ are not earthly but heavenly. He promises His servants evils here below; so true is it that "prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity of the New."
Yet in the midst of all this lowliness and evil, they are blessed. As heaven is higher than earth so high is their blessedness above any earthly success or glory or delight. Though they see their earthly house of this tabernacle being literally worn away, then, by afflictions oft and endurances many they need not faint; for even this affliction is light in comparison with the weight of yonder glory. More, they may rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is their reward in heaven. The more suffering for Christ here, the more glory with Christ there. As an old writer has it, the more the vessels of mercy are scoured here, the more may they be assured that God wants them to shine there; the more clear it is that we are being preserved not in sugar but in brine, the more clear that God is preserving us not for a season but for eternity. The last of the beatitudes thus pronounces blessed those who suffer affliction for Christ's sake and bids them rejoice and be exceeding glad, because their reward shall be great.
Let us punctually observe, however, that it is not affliction in itself that is pronounced blessed. It is affliction for Christ's sake. This is the key phrase which locks up the whole list of beatitudes. For Christ's sake. It is this that transmutes poverty of spirit into heavenly humility, that brings comfort to the mourning, and glorious riches to the meek, and plenty to those that hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is this that has been the spring of mercy in the merciful, of purity in the pure of heart, of peace in the peacemakers. And it is this and this only that makes it a glory to endure the scoffs and revilings and persecutions of men. As truly as we may say that the blessedness of affliction and persecution is due to its relation to the reward, is due to the fact that it is the gateway to the kingdom, so also may we say that it depends on its cause. For Christ's sake is the little phrase that points us to its source and law.
When we selected these three words, "For my sake" as the center of our meditation this afternoon, therefore, we elected to ask you to give your attention this hour to the great determining motive of the Christian life, above which the Scriptures know no higher, above which no higher can be conceived. Christ adverts to it as the great moving spring of Christian activity and endurance in the ninth beatitude. When reproach and persecution and reviling are endured on Christ's account, then and then only are we blessed. But this is not the only place or the most moving way that this motive is adduced. The Scriptures are full of it. Let us sum up what we have to say of it in two propositions. (1) For Christ's sake is the highest motive which could be adduced to govern our conduct. (2) For Christ's sake ought and must be our motive in all our conduct. In other words it is the grandest and most compelling, and we should make it our universal and continual motive, in all our conduct of life.
Let us consider then, the greatness of this motive as a spring of action, and here let us observe, first, that its greatness as a motive is revealed to us by the greatness of the requirements that are made of us on its account. This ninth beatitude is an example in point. Men are expected to endure reproaches and persecutions and all manner of evil for Christ's sake. That is, "for Christ's sake" is expected to sweeten the bitterest cup, and to make every affliction joyful to us. Disgraceful scourgings, unjust imprisonments (Matt. 10:18), burning hates (10:22), malignant slanders (Luke 6:22), death itself (Matt. 10:39), and that with the utmost refinement of cruelty and the deepest depths of disgrace; all these are enumerated for us as things before which no Christian should hesitate when it is for Christ's sake. All these are things which Christians have joyfully met with praises on their lips for Christ's sake. The enumeration in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is but a bare catalog of what since then has been endured with delight by those who bore this strengthening talisman in their bosom, For Christ's sake. These too have had trial of Blockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonments, of stonings and sawings asunder, and of long lives of privation in deserts and caves and have for Christ's sake witnessed a good confession. These all, in one word, have testified to us the supreme strength of the motive "for Christ's sake," by joyfully suffering everything for Christ, that they might be glorified with Him, becoming sharers in His sufferings that they might be participants in His glory.
And this leads us to observe, secondly, that the greatness of this motive is revealed to us by the greatness of the promises that are attached to living by it. So in this ninth beatitude, those who are afflicted for Christ's sake are pronounced blessed, and are called upon to rejoice and be exceeding glad, because—because, so it is added, "great is your reward in heaven." And so is it everywhere. "Every one" it is said, without exception (Matt. 19:39), "every one that hath left houses or brethren or sisters or fathers or mothers or children or lands for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall inherit eternal life." Thus it is that those whose eyes are opened may see the recompense of the reward and may be enabled to account the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. He that denieth Christ before men may, indeed, receive the applause of men; but men pass away and their applause is empty air. But, he that denieth men for Christ's sake is received into the eternal habitations. "He that findeth his life shall lose it; but he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." If we suffer with Him so also shall we be glorified together with Him (Rom. 8:17). There is, indeed, no limit to the reward promised; truly "great is our reward in heaven." And the greatness of the motive may be justly measured by the greatness of the reward. As high as heaven is above earth, as long as eternity is beyond time, as great as perfection is above lack, as strong as stability is above that which endureth but a moment; so high is the heavenly reward above the earthly suffering and so strong is the motive to act for Christ's sake.
But, thirdly, let us observe that the greatness of this motive is revealed to us by the fact that God honors it as the motive of His own most mysterious acts of redemption. He not only asks us to do for Christ's sake what is hard for us, but He Himself for Christ's sake does what is hard for Him. What could be more difficult for a just and holy God than to pardon sin and take the sinner into His most intimate love and communion? Yet for Christ's sake God does even this. "I write unto you, little children," says the beloved Apostle, "because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake" (1 John 2:12). All the instrumentalities of grace are set at work in the world, only for Christ's sake. It is for His sake that we are accepted by God, that we have the gift of the Spirit, that we are regenerated, adopted, justified, sanctified, glorified. Nay, even the little things of life are for His sake. It is not only for His sake that we are received by God, but for His sake that we are treated even here and now while yet sinners as God's children, allowed freedom of access to the Throne of Grace, and have all our petitions (little and great alike) heard and answered. "Verily I say unto you," says the Saviour, "whatever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do" (Jno. 14:13).
And thus we are led finally to observe that the greatness of the motive rests on the greatness of Christ's work for us. As He has stopped at nothing for our sakes, so we must not stop at anything for His sake. All that we are and all that we have are His. And as He has loved us and given Himself for us, so must we love Him and give ourselves to Him. Behind the phrase "for thy sake" lurks thus all the motive power of a great love, the fruit of a great gratitude. As we can never repay Him for our redemption, so there is nothing that we can pause at, if done for His sake. Is not this the core of the whole matter? What difference will it make to us what men may judge or what they will do? Need we hesitate because they consider us beside ourselves? If this is lunacy, it is a blessed lunacy! Nay, shall we not rather say with the Apostle of old, "whether we be beside ourselves it is to God. . . . For the love of Christ constraineth us." And why should the love of Christ constrain us? "Because we thus judge, that if one died for all then all died; and He died for all that those that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again." Yes, here it is: for our sakes He died and rose again. And because He died for our sakes, we shall live for Him, yea, and if need be, for His sake also die. Is there, can there be asked, a stronger motive than this?
Or need we ask at this point how universal is this obligation—how far, into what details of life, we should carry it as our motive? It is clear that there can be no call so great that this motive should not dominate it; we must be glad and willing to go to death itself "for His sake." But perhaps, the other side needs emphasis too. Can there be a call so small that this motive need not govern us? Nay, we are bought with a price and are asked not only to be ready to die, but also (sometimes a harder task) to be ready to live for Christ. Whatever we do, however small, however seemingly insignificant—must needs be for Him. We are now new creatures—no more worldlings but Christ's children; let us see to it that we live like Christ's own children; doing all we do for Him and for His sake. So the Scriptures teach us to do: "Whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
"Whatsoever ye do, do from the soul, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance." (Col. 3:17, 23.) As Christians, let us be Christians, recognizably followers of Christ, doing His will in all we do and trying our duty at every stage simply by these questions: Is it according to His will? Does it subserve His glory? Is it for His sake? So doing, we cannot but approve ourselves before man and God as followers of Him.