After accepting Christ at the age of 13, Benjamin Chew studied medicine and graduated in 1929 from King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore, where he is associated with The United Pharmacy Ltd. An elder of Bethesda (Katong), a Brethren assembly, since 1947, he was appointed a minister of religion of the State of Singapore and is active as a Bible teacher and preacher. He heads the Directors of Singapore Youth for Christ, is advisor to the Malaya Evangelistic Fellowship, and is part-time lecturer in the Singapore Theological Seminary.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Many of us in Singapore and Malaya are familiar with the traditional Chinese New Year greeting with its threefold meaning of congratulations, happiness, and prosperity. This particular expression we find nine times in what are commonly called the Beatitudes, a passage which introduces the Sermon on the Mount. The word blessed has the same meaning as our Chinese New Year greeting! Here are some of our scholars’ translations of this meaningful word, makarios: “happy, blithesome, joyous”; “to be congratulated”; “enjoying enviable happiness”; “spiritually prosperous.” The word, therefore, has the meaning of happiness, felicitations, prosperity.
Are not these the very things we all want in life, and, what is infinitely more important, that God desires for us all?
We must note most carefully, however, that our Lord is referring to the highest kind of happiness, one which has a true and lasting quality. When experienced and exhibited here on earth, this happiness of heaven transcends every fleeting pleasure.
We need to remind ourselves also that at the beginning of his ministry, before he ever proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord preached repentance. “Repent,” was the message, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
Before any of us can ever correctly consider the meaning of true happiness, there must be personal repentance, that is, a radical change of mind and heart. This comes when we deliberately turn away in true sorrow for our sins from our own wayward and evil way, and purposefully reach out in our need towards God for his redemption and rule in our lives. The person who has taken this step no longer compares himself with other men, but stands in God’s holy presence to be ruled and judged by him alone. On the other hand, the person who has not experienced this turnabout in mind and attitude will find these beatitudes paradoxical and incomprehensible. He will dismiss them as impractical and impossible or at best will regard them as unattainable idealism. The man who has his face towards God and heaven, however, grasps something of our Lord’s definition of true happiness and spiritual prosperity in the introduction to this great and gracious, and completely authoritative, discourse.
These beatitudes reveal a very remarkable order and step-by-step progression. The first three speak of the happiness of humility. The next three define the happiness of holiness. The last three express the happiness of harmony. And in applying the final beatitude we find the happiness of hope.
The Happiness Of Humility
First of all, the happiness of humility: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
These are the ones who stand and shall stand before the Lord in all his majesty and power. The very opposite in spirit, heart, and action, however, is the man who turns his back to God. Such a one is as proud as Lucifer, for pride is the sin of Satan. He exults in his achievements, often to the embarrassment or disgust of others. He is self-centered and self-assertive. How universally common are these characteristics! In New Testament times the Roman was proud of his brutal military power and rule. The Greek was proud of his philosophy and wisdom, the Jew of his religion and knowledge of God. Things are no different today. Pride remains essentially unchanged in the human heart. So hardened are we to pride that we only joke about it when we notice its grossness in others. There is pride of face in trying to keep up with the “Lims” and the “Tans.” And the pride of race, the curse of communalism and racialism in a polyethnic, multiracial population like ours, is with us, too. There is also the pride of place in the constant struggle for position, prestige, power. If one could speak at all of “degrees” of wickedness, there is also the worst kind of pride, the pride of grace in hypocrisy and intolerance as seen in the Pharisee, who thought himself better than the publican and sinner. This kind of pride of superiority expresses itself today in the highest religious circles. How necessary it is that we measure it is that we measure ourselves against the standard of heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, and stop deceiving ourselves by comparisons with those who are less privileged than we!
The Bible records many striking examples of true humility, occasions when men were confronted by God himself. Isaiah prostrated himself when he saw God’s holiness and glory and exclaimed, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.… Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). And the Apostle Peter, a confident and aggressive man, similarly exclaimed when he saw the power of Christ: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Something of Paul’s humility is evident in his describing himself as “the least of the apostles, not meet to be called an apostle,” and “less than the least of all saints,” the chief of sinners.
All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory; we are all tarred with the same black brush and therefore totally unfit for heaven. Having come to the Cross in our sin and worthlessness we have come to the place of beginning. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word poor means total poverty, destitution, and bankruptcy; this extremity we acknowledge in ourselves as we receive the second beatitude: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
Happy mourners! Not condolences but congratulations to those in sorrow! How completely paradoxical! As humans we do everything possible to avoid mourning. Only at the Cross can we become clearly convinced of sin’s wickedness and pollution, and thereupon sincerely mourn over the fact that it was our sins that wounded and nailed the sinless Son of God to the Cross.
In our innermost mind, will, and being, it becomes our true and constant witness that:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling,
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!
The mourner is blessed because he receives complete forgiveness and cleansing. Made a new man, he now possesses a new life and a new power, that of the risen, living Christ whose matchless love now constrains him. This blessed mourner is comforted with the peace, joy, and strength of the Holy Spirit of God, who comes to indwell forever every newborn child of God.
Now, even in the face of ridicule and reviling and in times of severe persecution, this man’s outstanding characteristic is meekness. This again is not in the least a natural disposition but rather the Christlike quality which the Spirit of God works out in the Christian. The meek man will not be sensitive, for he knows that in himself he has absolutely nothing to his credit; he has no personal rights save those which his Master has graciously given him. Being down and out, he knows he deserves no favors except those extended to him in the love, grace, and mercy of God. He therefore has nothing, and yet as a son and a subject of the Father’s kingdom he possesses everything of the abundance and riches of God. The Apostle Paul described such a one “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10). “… All [things] are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22, 23).
In the economy of God, this earth does not belong to the proud tyrant, nor will the cruel oppressor permanently possess it. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The Happiness Of Holiness
Next we consider the happiness of holiness. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
Said the great gospel prophet, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6a). We know how true this is. Which of us would want all our thoughts to be openly exposed? But what a marvelous change comes about when a man receives Christ and is made a new creation in Him! Now recognizing the supreme standard of the Spirit of holiness, he realizes that only Christ’s righteousness (rightness) in him is acceptable to God. By faith he knows that this righteousness is imputed to him and imparted to him in sovereign grace; he knows it can be implemented in a practical way in thought, word, and deed in his daily life only by the power of the Spirit of God. A “hunger and thirst after righteousness” now possesses him, a new desire to be more and more like his beloved Lord. Accordingly he strives to put away sinful desires and habits—anything which suppresses this spiritual appetite.
He delights in the Word, because he longs to know the wonderful Christ of the Word. As he partakes of it day after day, he is filled with milk and meat far “sweeter” than “honey and the honeycomb”; he is blessed with the fullness of Christ. In this way the longing for Christlikeness brings happiness to dwell in the human heart.
Micah utters these profound words: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (6:8). Holiness and humility are requirements of God, requirements that are bound up with the love of mercy. Like his Lord, the Christian is full of mercy. Jesus said on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Stephen prayed for his murderers as he fell under a shower of stones, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” This is the Christian’s attitude—no anger, no resentment, but rather a deep sorrow for the sinner, even when justice must be meted out to him. This is mercy. Shakespeare was right when he spoke of mercy as a heavenly quality! This quality of mercy is inseparable from inward holiness. A pure heart filled not with stringent and pharisaic correctness but with mercy is what is needed to see the Lord in all his loving mercy and holiness. It is at the Cross that all hearts can be cleansed; it is God who cleanses in order “to sanctify the soul, to pour fresh life in every part and re-create the whole.”
The Happiness Of Harmony
Thirdly, there is the happiness of harmony: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”
What causes tension and war? Why did the League of Nations fail? Why is the authority of the United Nations so often flouted? The basic reason is the fact that the Lord’s principles and prerequisites of happiness have been disregarded. Where there is no humility and no holiness, there is no harmony. Just as this holds for an individual, so it is true for nations of the world. Jesus Christ alone is the Prince of peace. He is our peace, a peace we have through the laying down of his life for us. Satan has always been and is still the author of division and discord, and anyone who sows discord, says the Word of God, is an abomination. On the other hand, God’s child seeks to disseminate the peace that rules in his own heart, the undisturbed harmony in which he rests despite reviling, persecution, and calumny.
The peacemaker, however, cannot compromise with evil; neither can he ignore it. His task, in the final analysis, is to lead men who are at odds with one another to peace with God. This great work of reconciliation God has entrusted to the subjects and ambassadors of his kingdom. If any members are responsible for divisiveness and discord, however, judgment must begin, first of all, in the household of God. Only with the humility and holiness of Christ can we lovingly and in his power become true ministers of reconciliation.
The Happiness Of Hope
Our text closes with the happiness of hope! “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Addressing the saints at Colosse, St. Paul wrote of their faith, their love, and “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” This is the heavenly reward which abides forever and which makes microscopic this present temporary suffering. This hope goes far beyond the usual human expectation, the “hope [that] springs eternal in the human breast.” The heavenly hope of the Christian shines brightly as absolute certainty, even in the deepest gloom. It is the sure and steadfast anchor “within the vail,” for it is the ascended and exalted Christ himself who is the “hope of glory.” We wait in certain exultant hope for his personal return. Then he shall gather his saints, and bring to consummation all the promises and purposes of God for mankind. Then in all creation shall be completed the glorious work of redemption.
Amid our present perils, amid the problems of pain and sorrow that we are called to endure, we begin to understand something of God’s refining process in our own lives as well as in the lives of all the saints. Beyond all these temporal and trivial trials of earth shines the certain hope of heaven and of home with God.
We must not study these precious words of Christ in a coldly analytic spirit. Rather we must receive them as personal tokens from our Saviour, Lord, Master, and Friend. Daily let us receive in increasing measure from the Lord himself this blessedness of felicitations, of congratulation, of happiness, and of prosperity. As we daily come to an end of ourselves and are filled with his humility, his holiness, and his harmony, may Christ in us be the hope of glory, and through us, that hope to others.
Find hope and historical insight. For a limited time, explore 60+ years of CT archives for free!
- Daily devotions from Timothy Dalrymple during this pandemic.
- Hundreds of theology and spiritual formation classics from Philip Yancey, Elisabeth Elliot, John Stott, and more.
- Home delivery of new issues in print with access to all past issues online.
- View the complete archive.
- Join now and get print issues access to archive PDFs.