A. W. Pink
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled." (Matthew 5:6)
In the first three Beatitudes we are called upon to witness the heart exercises of one who has been awakened by the Spirit of God. First, there is a sense of need, a realization of my nothingness and emptiness. Second, there is a judging of self, a consciousness of my guilt and sorrowing over my lost condition. Third, there is an end of seeking to justify myself before God, an abandonment of all pretenses to personal merit, a taking of my place in the dust before God. Here, in the fourth, the eye of the soul is turned away from self to Another: there is a longing after that which I know I have not got, and which I am conscious I urgently need.
There has been much needless quibbling as to the precise import of the word "righteousness" in our present text. The best way to ascertain its significance is to go back to the Old Testament scriptures where this term is used, and then turn on these the fuller light furnished by the New Testament Epistles.
"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it" (Isaiah 45:8). The first half of this verse refers, in figurative language, to the advent of Christ to this earth; the second half to His resurrection, when He was "raised again for our justification." "Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel" (Isaiah 46:12-14). "My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 51:5). "My salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed" (Isaiah 56:1). "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10). These passages make it clear that God's "righteousness" is synonymous with God's "salvation."
The above scriptures are unfolded in the Epistle to the Romans where the "Gospel" receives its fullest exposition. In 1:16, 17, we are told "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last." In 3:22, 24 we read, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all those who believe, for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." In 5:19 the blessed declaration is made, "for as by one man's disobedience many were made (legally constituted) sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made (legally constituted) righteous." While in 10:4 we learn, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes."
The sinner is destitute of righteousness, for "there is none righteous, no not one." God has therefore provided in Christ a perfect righteousness for each and all of His people. This righteousness, this satisfying of all the demands of God's holy law against us, was wrought out by our Substitute and Surety. This righteousness is now imputed—legally placed to the account of the believing sinner. Just as the sins of God's people were all transferred to Christ—so His righteousness is placed upon them, see 2 Cor. 5:21. Such is a brief summary of the teaching of Scripture on this vital and blessed subject of "Righteousness."
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Hungering and thirsting express vehement desire, of which the soul is acutely conscious. First, the Holy Spirit brings before the heart the holy requirements of God. He reveals to us His perfect standard, which He can never lower. He reminds us that "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Second, the trembling soul, conscious of its own abject poverty, realizing his utter inability to measure up to God's requirements, sees no help in SELF. This is a painful discovery, which causes him to mourn and groan. Have you done so?
Third, the Holy Spirit now creates in the heart a deep "hunger and thirst," which causes the convicted sinner to look for relief and seek a supply outside of himself. The eye is now directed to Christ, "The Lord our Righteousness" (Jer. 23:6).
Like the previous ones, this attitude begins before conversion, but is perpetuated in the saved sinner. There is a repeated exercise of this grace, felt at varying intervals. The one who longed to be saved by Christ, now yearns to be made like Him. Looked at in its widest aspect, this hungering and thirsting refers to that panting of the renewed heart after God (Psalm 42:1), that yearning for a closer walk with Him, that longing for more perfect conformity to the image of His Son. It tells of those aspirations of the new nature for Divine blessing which alone can strengthen, sustain and satisfy.
Our text presents such a paradox that it is evident no carnal mind ever invented it. Can one who has been brought into vital union with Him who is the Bread of Life, and in whom all fullness dwells, be found still hungering and thirsting? Yes, such is the experience of the renewed heart. Mark carefully the tense of the verb: it is not "Blessed are those who have hungered," but "Blessed are those who do hunger and thirst." Do you, dear reader? Or are you content with your attainments and satisfied with your condition? Hungering and thirsting after righteousness has ever been the experience of God's saints: see Psalm 82:4; Phil. 3:8, 14, etc.
"They shall be filled." Like the first part of our text, this also has a double fulfillment—an initial and a continuous. When God creates a hunger and a thirst in the soul it is that He may satisfy them. When the poor sinner is made to feel his need of Christ, it is that he may be drawn to and led to embrace Him. Like the prodigal, who came to the Father as a penitent, the believing sinner now feeds on the One figured by the "fattened calf." He is made to exclaim "surely in the Lord, I have righteousness."
"They shall be filled." Not with wine wherein is excess, but "filled with the Spirit." "Filled" with "the peace of God which passes all understanding." "Filled" with Divine blessing to which no sorrow is added. "Filled" with praise and thanksgiving unto Him who has wrought all our works in us. "Filled" with that which this poor world can neither give nor take away. "Filled" by the goodness and mercy of God, until their cup runs over. And yet, all that is enjoyed now is but a little foretaste of what God has prepared for those who love Him. In the Day to come we shall be "filled" with Divine holiness, for we shall be "like him" (1 John 3:2). Then shall we be done with sin forever; then shall we "hunger no more, neither thirst anymore" (Rev. 7:16).
Excerpt from the book Comfort for Christians by A. W. Pink, available as a free eBook