The Sermon on the Mount and the Kingdom

J. N. Darby.

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(Notes and Comments Vol. 5.)

It is a great mistake to apply the Sermon on the Mount in its positive statements to the law of the Ten Commandments, as if it was a spiritualising of them. The Law, as a system, is spoken of, taken up in Matthew 5:17, 18, along with the Prophets. Prophecies, ceremonies, and all that is in the Law, were not set aside, or annulled, but fulfilled, the body was of Christ, and no doubt the Lord fulfilled its behests and precepts. It was to be kept till all was fulfilled. For faith, it was fulfilled in Christ, and, as to practical righteousness, is fulfilled in the Christian; Romans 8. But what the Lord goes then through is the contrast of an internal state of heart with Pharisaic outward formal righteousness. Only two of the commandments are mentioned as of the old times, and a subjective state is contrasted with a mere formal fulfilment of the letter. Duties to God are not entered on (never, I think, in Matthew, for God was revealing Himself in a new way). Man was not to think merely of killing - if one hated his brother, was angry even without a cause, God took notice of it; so of adultery. You have thus the state of the heart judged. So, as to alms, and all else, it is a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees, as in verse 20. But in no wise a spiritualising of the Law. As I have said myself, eight out of ten commandments are not referred to. Verse 20 is the key to it; compare Matthew 6:2, 16. There, of course, you get positive directions.

Matthew 5:1-16 is the whole character, and state, and position of the disciples as entering into the kingdom; verses 17-20, relationship to foregoing dispensation and revelation - not destroy but fulfil. But then, as instructing them, taking it up on the side of man's responsibility (vv. 19, 20) the difficult point is "these." It is to be remembered that all this was before redemption, and no mention of it in the Sermon. It is the character of the enterers. The rock is obedience. Now this would make it obedience to the Law, but seen as they all were by the Lawgiver who was there, by Christ Himself, who did look to the end of those things which were to be abolished - the spiritual estimate of them by Christ Himself. The one who then in Israel, while the Law was in force, enfeebled any, the least, was the least in the Kingdom. Disobedience, and taught disobedience to the schoolmaster, was not obedience to the Father, nor the way to coming blessing, nor would Pharisee righteousness do. Then (v. 21) He gives not a spiritualising of the Law, but the two great principles of sin at all times - violence and corrupt lust.

70 Verses 25, 26, are Israel's then condition; the reducing it to practice ever (vv. 23, 24). To the second is added the question of divorce, not now to be allowed save in one case. Then the principle of human competency is judged, and mere human righteousness of the law of Talion. Grace takes its place as supreme, above law, in connection with relationship to the Father. The Law and Prophets were fully owned as of Jehovah to be fulfilled, but man's will and power negatived, and grace and the Father in sovereign goodness introduced. This was the Son's place perfectly, and exactly, upon earth. Not that He had not power, but did nothing of Himself - was not making vows. In the first two, the two great principles of evil in man relatively, we have instead of unbroken violence of will, the lowly seeking of forgiveness, to be reconciled in the acknowledgment of fault seeking peace, and this applied to the Jews' then state, Christ being there, their present state the consequence then spoken of. In connection with the other principle, the most thorough self-judgment, plucking out a right eye, cutting off a right hand, at all cost maintaining purity and holiness. This judgment of self to maintain holiness of heart as against sin, as the other, grace in holiness. Then relationship with God and the Father. As regards God, not voluntary promising to Him, as a Jew would, but the just sense of His greatness, and our incapacity to do anything, restraining us; and then grace, not resisting evil in contrast with legal maintaining our rights, to the full measure of the Father now revealed - a total change of dispensation, not the Holy Ghost revealing a glorified Christ, and, sent of the Father, the Spirit of adoption, but the Father fully revealed in the Son in grace. Thus, besides the blessed moral instruction, the fullest dispensational teaching in the revelation of the Father in grace in the Son. But it is wholly Christ on earth, "I have declared unto them thy name."

Verse 25. The Jews were with Jehovah (with Messiah) in the way, the precept being given morally. Here the Father is fully revealed as to His character in love in Christ. Man's ways before God, and the revelation of the Father before men, both in Christ.

71 Thus far subjective. But now the Father's name has been introduced, and is the basis up to the end of Matthew 7:12. It is the positive activity of divine life - doing righteousnesses, alms, prayer, fasting, all to be with, as if true from, the Father. The incense was all burned to God, however the sweet savour might go forth. They were to trust Him as a Father, and not to be laying up, or having anxiety. Here the Father's name connects itself with what is subjective, still as the consequence of a true and right object. This is chapter 6:19-34. Note too, though it be the revelation of the Father in the Son on earth, the Father is in heaven though they are on earth, and so viewed, but this sets their treasure in heaven, their motive wholly there, and it is wholly this - God or mammon; compare Matthew 5:12. When they are the light of the world, the Father's name comes in - it is grace - verses 14-16. Verse 13, it is responsibility and so dealt with. (Note, this is the present difficulty, to unite both, to maintain being the salt of the earth and be light to it in love, to abide as Joshua in the tabernacle, and go with Moses into the camp, though having pitched the tabernacle very far off from it - but that is what we have to do.) Compare the difference of verses 10 and 11, 12 and 9, from what goes before. Hence also in chapter 6, we have reward.

Matthew 7 gives, as before, subject responsibility and self-judgment, in contrast with man's pretention to judge others, though these were profane and reckless men, to whom the rich blessings of grace and truth should not be presented, but all this is not redemption. Then grace in the Father which closes the instruction. The rest is composed of warnings not to deceive one's self or be deceived, and obedience is laid as the foundation, and true wisdom. It remains a strait gate and a narrow way. In sum, the discourse belonged to that time (whatever instruction there be for us) is what Christ was as the Man according to God's heart, and Son of the Father, and they were called so to walk. It does not treat of redemption, nor love to sinners, but of responsibility as then specially developed, and the Father's name and grace - they being on the earth. Do to others, grace doing, what one would wish one's self, reciprocal care loving one's neighbour as one's self. This is the Law and the Prophets. Is not this what they amount to? But the Law is "this" - such is its true character; and the Prophets, not touto (this) but houtos ho logos (this is the word). God is in heaven, but the reward there, if we suffer for Him who came thence, and is there, but Man on the earth.

72 So the prayer. It is Christ's ministry, the manifestation of His mind on earth, and connected with the true Remnant, but with the Father.

The divisions in the Sermon come out more clear to me. It is clearly the characters suited to the Kingdom, and the circumstances and heart-duties of those who are awaiting its establishment in power. Chapter 5:1-16, the character of those to whom the Kingdom belongs, and who belong to it, even reward in heaven if persecuted. It is a change of dispensation, as far as realised, havo ([the age] to come), and not hazeh (this [age]). Verses 17-37, the connection, and mutual bearing of the new and old, with the spirit engendered by the Law, and the Law itself; but going on to take up the great principles of sin in nature, violence and corruption, and God's power, and our nothingness in connection with it, and so subduedness. Verses 38-48, good in the midst of evil, and that doubly - Christ's life on earth, not resisting evil, and grace, the manifestation of God in Him on earth. This closes one section.

Matthew 6:1-34, purity of motive, not to be seen of men - as to alms, prayer, fasting, all to be done to God. This world's good, moreover, not to be a motive at all, nor a matter of care - cannot serve two masters - and we are to trust God, and first to seek the Kingdom of God. Subdivided, verses 1-18, 19-34.

Matthew 7, general characteristics, directions, and warnings. Then, note, the name of the Father comes in, when good in grace, as it was in Jesus, comes in; chap. 5:45. Previous to verse 37, it was, after the first characteristics, contrast with the old system with the Jews; those, also, consequently, who touched the commandments in that state of things, would be small in the Kingdom. This was the moral, not the grace side. The Law and the Prophets were of Jehovah, and were fully owned, and now, as far as they referred to it, to be fulfilled. This Jewish aspect brings in verse 25. They were passing from their dispensation to another, as indeed they expected. But from chapter 5:43, 45, all is connected with the Father. Verse 38, as said, begins Christ on earth.

I find more than I remembered in 1874. Chapter 5:1-16 is their character and place, and therefore the Father is brought in at the end. Verses 17-37, contrast or principles in reference to "of old." Verses 38-48, are really Christ in His double character - as Man on earth, and revealing the Father. Hence verse 43 brings in full grace. Then the Father properly begins, or grace, and all from that is relationship with Him, and reference to Him now revealed in Christ. Religious duties, dikaiosune (righteousness). Chapter 7 is general, not special relationships, but truth and discernment in conduct, still in relationship with the Father.

73 The character of the end of chapter 5 is deeply important. After insisting on the subjective state and spirit suited to the kingdom, the putting down of will and unsubdued self, He takes up the principle of the Law, dealing with evil for its repression by the law of Talion, and then introduces the immense principle, known by Christ's coming into the midst of evil - good entirely above evil, but acting in the midst of it - takes notice of it, and as exercised against one's self, but above it, and acting from its own motives, and this is what God does, and here is made known to those born of Him, those connected with Christ. "As their Father," a totally new principle, they are to be like Him - this was the perfect path of Christ - a wonderful privilege, showing what, in this connection, "perfect" means. It is not reached by the evil, save to draw out the good, and make a new created but divine path in this world. It is not righteousness, in the sense of justice, not what presents us to God, but that wherein we are to be perfect like Him. What a place to put us in! But it is not holiness (though largely ministering to it; see 1 Thess. 4) not intrinsic purity though supposing it and inseparable from it, but as above evil and self, goodness, for such is God even our Father, evil would make it impossible - it is goodness in the midst of evil. Goodness in the midst of good is heaven (but, in its highest character, result of redemption, for good and evil are now known - in the Cross, absolutely and perfectly brought to an issue) but in itself, as result. Goodness in the midst of good, all answering to itself, and adoringly capable of enjoying it. This is. grace. Good above evil.

It is as clear as language can make it that verses 17 and 18 have nothing to do, good or bad, with our fulfilling the Law in our walk. Whatever "fulfil" means for the Prophets, it means for the Law. Verse 18 connects it more strongly with that sense than the structure even of the preceding verse. The previous dispensation and revelations of God, He came not to set aside as testimony but to fulfil. They were God's testimony, not for a permanency, but not as such to be made void. The righteousness of God is revealed wholly apart from law, but was witnessed by law and prophets. Whatever the Law and the Prophets put forth as that which God would have, that Christ met in all that concerned Him, for all is not fulfilled yet. Nor will one atom of God's testimony pass away as void in either - all will be made good. Am I to fulfil the Prophets? Yet what is here said of fulfilling, is said of law as of prophets. Whatever is fulfilled it is, here, by what Christ came to do. The righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us, because we are not under it, by those who walk after the Spirit.

74 Although taking up the Remnant as such, yet I think the Sermon on the Mount, and the tenth chapter must be taken as especially applying to the kingdom as then proposed, and the disciples as then called - a period which practically ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. It may be resumed in a modified way at the end, and doubtless will, but they could hardly pray then, "Lead us not into temptation," for they are in it, and they have been delivered to the Judge. Jehovah will be hardly in the way with them as He was now. Doubtless it will be applicable to them in principle (as to us), but the direct application is to the Remnant then. Only there was suspension, by the Son of Man's not coming then, of the whole thing, the Church coming in then meanwhile.

There is a closing in Matthew 9, as well as in Matthew 12. And note in Matthew 10, the Spirit is spoken of, as in the disciples. But the mission divides in a measure between chapter 10:15, 16. Matthew 11 and 12 give a much more definite rejection, with its declared consequences as against Israel, and bringing in a new state of things, as the Father and the Son, the Son of man Lord of the Sabbath, and the unclean spirit entering into the generation with seven more, and the like. Up to the end of chapter 10, we get His then presence in grace, and even the mission in grace after He was gone, and passes this last over. Even the same blasphemy of the Pharisees is followed by calling for the prayer for labourers. He raises the dead Israel (Jairus' daughter) as well as on the way heals whoever had faith to touch Him. And, though the effect is intimated in result as the children of the Kingdom being cast out, and the swine rushing headlong into the sea, yet the direct dealings, the subjects of the teaching are grace - the blessing the Gentile who had more faith than Israel, and healing Legion.

75 Chapters 11 and 12, the axe is at the root of the tree. There had been the mourning and the piping. In chapter 10, grace continues to Israel. In chapter 11, the Person of the Son in grace takes the place of His service there, to whomsoever He may reveal the Father, and in Matthew 12, final judgment is on Israel because a greater than Jonah and Solomon was there unheeded. He knows only His disciples through the Word, not His relations in the flesh with Israel. This development of Matthew is very striking. After the Sermon on the Mount, in which what suited the Kingdom and those who would enter into it is stated, and the Father's name manifested to the disciples, we have in chapter 8, Jehovah cleansing but touching the leper. A wonderful testimony - nothing in circumstance like it - and the Gentiles received while the children of the kingdom would be shut out. Still the subject, as noticed, is grace (only for faith). Then Jehovah bearing, as Man, our sicknesses and infirmities, but the Son of man not where to lay His head. Obligation to leave all, even the dead to bury their dead, then storms, but Christ tranquil (asleep to man's eyes) but the disciples in the same boat with Him, and then casting aside Satan's whole power by a word, but the ruin of the possessed swine (Israel) and the easy world getting rid of Him. The whole picture of His presence in grace.

Matthew 9, we have the character of His mission. Again He is the Jehovah of Psalm 103 - forgives and heals what Israel (as we all) wanted, but new wine cannot be put into old bottles. All is grace, but Israel rejects, cannot as such receive, but it is grace. He is come to call sinners. We have then the coming to raise really Israel, and those who had faith healed on the way. Still He has compassion on Israel as sheep without a shepherd, and sends labourers into the harvest, of which I have spoken. My object now is to note the character of grace in all these dealings, though it may with unbelief bring with it judgment.

In Matthew 11, He is Jehovah, there testing John Baptist himself by the adequate evidence He gives of Himself. It is now counsels and judgment - the Law and the Prophets were till John - the Kingdom was going to be set up, and pressing into it with the suffering violence of faith was the path. If they could receive it, it was Elias, but the die was cast - John had mourned but they had not lamented - He had piped and they had not danced. He reproaches the cities because they did not repent, and the Father, as we have said, is revealed by the Son in whom rest and the easy yoke of submissive obedience is found. Then the sign of the covenant dealt with - He is Lord of the Sabbath - He continued in patient grace, but would not be known till He sent forth judgment to the Gentiles. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost comes in, and then the full judgment of the generation. In chapter 11, then we have the judgment, and the deaf ears of the generation, and the Father and the Son brought in to replace present ministry. In chapter 12, He is paramount to the old covenant as Son of man, and, on the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the generation is given up to final judgment of the seven spirits worse than idolatry, only those who receive the Word are owned. He is now the Divine Word, not Messiah in Israel, nor Jehovah seeking fruit from His vine. Even here note the Father and the Son, as such, bring in pure grace (Israel being set aside as in John) the Word, responsibility in itself and when the Kingdom is set up. So that judgment applies to it at the end as it did to Israel.

76 The Kingdom of God was present in the Person and power of Christ on the earth. The Kingdom of heaven is presented prospectively (at hand). The establishing heavenly rule with a heavenly character in those that were its children, poor in spirit, converted, becoming as little children, persecuted for righteousness' sake. By the rejection of Christ, the Kingdom became like (homoiothe) such and such, and not only the enemy sowed tares, but the fisherman's net gathered of every kind. But the good seed were the children of the Kingdom, and the object of the net was the good fishes. Next, the Kingdom of the Son of man is when Christ comes and establishes His power on earth. The Father's Kingdom is the heavenly part which is the source of all. So the Lord's prayer, so the explanation of the parable of the tares, introducing both these last - when Christ will drink the wine, be their companion for joy in a new way. Now, as far as Christ was concerned, it was only good seed, and no one entered into the Kingdom by Him but the converted - those whose righteousness exceeded that of Scribes and Pharisees. But in Israel Christ was gathering the wheat into His garner, His fan was in His hand. This testimony of the Kingdom of heaven at hand was to Israel, not to Gentiles, as in Matthew 10. They were not to go to them. The Sower, when Israel was judged, and the other parables in chapter 13, go out beyond this.

77 Then as to the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven; it is as thus presented as coming in, not reward in heaven - that in Matthew 5, is a distinct thing - but the least in the Kingdom (the then prospective Kingdom) was greater in the blessings he enjoyed, His place, than John the baptist.

The Sermon on the Mount is very interesting in connection with Matthew 10 and 24. First Matthew 10 and 24, when they speak of being hated for Christ's sake, do not speak of the final conflicts of the last three years and a half, but of that general mission which could be carried on even when Christ was there, and yet extended beyond it and continued when He was gone. In chapter 10 it applies to Israel alone, the lost sheep of the House of Israel. They were not to go to Gentiles or Samaritans. They were on the ground of the Matthew testimony - the Father's name revealed to them, sent forth from Jesus announcing the Kingdom of heaven's being at hand. Only when brought before kings and rulers of the Gentiles, there is the additional fact of the Spirit of their Father helping them, and the ministry is carried on in the presence of a hostile people. They are Maschilim (the instructed). It is not redemption, or what we call the Gospel, but the proximity of the Kingdom - not Christ's personal ministry, nor is the Holy Ghost presented as the Comforter sent down, though when sent down, He might act in this way. The disciples are placed in the revelation of the Father's name as Christ revealed it when on earth, and their Father's Spirit speaks in them. It is the kind of testimony, or position of rendering it, which is consequent on Psalms 1 and 2. They have to endure to the end. They will not have accomplished their service till the Son of man be come - that brings us to Psalm 8. It is not laid upon the basis of a Son of man suffering, though most of the testimony went on after the fact, and led to all their trials, but they are a Remnant suffering from a hostile and wicked nation, and from perverse and rebellious Gentiles. They are in view of a coming Son of man whom God has made strong for Himself. As to the spirit of the nation - "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." They are for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Jerusalem is not definitely part of the scene.

78 In Matthew 24, Jerusalem is definitely the centre of the subject. Her house left desolate, and not to see Christ again until she say: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. We have not the Son of man here, but the Stone which the builders refused become the Head of the corner. Hence the disciples suffer, from the outset there are false Christs. It is not a testimony, though it may be supposed, but they suffer for Christ's name's sake. And the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, and then the end of the age comes. Then there is a specific time of three and a half years referred to in Daniel, during which Jerusalem is under special oppression through the abomination set up. Those that are in Judaea are to flee to the mountains. It closes with the coming of the Son of man. All Judea is the subject of warning, but the occasion is the abomination of desolation in Jerusalem. To verse 14 it went on to the end. What follows is special, but the tribulation is not confined to Jerusalem, but it is intimated that its focus is in Judaea. The fact of the preaching in all nations is merely a sign of the end.

In Matthew 5-7, we have just these elements as to the character of the Remnant. It is, as often remarked, the character belonging to the Kingdom. But then we have suffering for Christ's sake, and going to heaven as the martyred Remnant will. The Father's name is revealed - redemption in no way taught. The condition of Israel briefly but clearly told us in verses 25, 26. The Law and the Prophets not destroyed. They are salt in the land and light in the world. But here, as in chapter 10, the last trial is not found. It is a matter apart, even in chapter 24. The Lord's prayer is perfectly suited to that time. It goes on to that day; Matthew 7:22, 23. Even false prophets are warned against, but they are discerned morally, just as the judgment in that day is on the same ground. Hence we have not the Son of man, because the subject is what is morally fit for the Kingdom, and to be applied then that He might not be rejected. He was propounding, as a present thing, the doctrine as to the principle of the Kingdom, only He brings in their consequences. While stating the change both as to Church and Kingdom (the Church by a special revelation, not what Christ was openly teaching) it is remarkable how Matthew keeps on Jewish ground; so there is no taking up to heaven at all.

Jehovah their Messiah was there as Prophet. It would go out to Gentiles (Matt. 8:11), who would be in the Kingdom of heaven. The Son of man had not where to lay His head. Christ is in the troubles with His disciples, but it passes on to His rejection as then (and from Matthew 13, sowing, not looking for fruit), the definite rejection, yet of Him who satisfied the poor with bread in Israel. The nation judged in its rulers. But God, from His nature, blesses necessarily beyond, where so looked to, and the Remnant according to His own perfectness if not administrative fulness naturally. Then chapter 16, the nation is judged practically, and the Church brought in.