devotional

Arthur Middleton

In a sermon (edited below) preached in the Grosvenor Chapel, London, in Lent 1921, Bishop Charles Gore spoke of the ethical character of the Kingdom of God in the Beatitudes. Among these are three great paradoxes.

  1.  People are everywhere hunting for money; but I say blessed are the poor; if not the poor in fact then at least in will and heart; blessed are the detached.
  2. People are everywhere hunting for pleasure; but I say blessed are those who enter into the sorrows and sufferings of the world; blessed are they that mourn.
  3. People are everywhere asserting themselves and putting themselves first; but I say ‘blessed are the meek'.

It is not only in negatives that our Lord describes the character of the Kingdom: the positive descriptions of the Christian character that follow attract even those who are not willing to make that character their own. There is the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, which is no mere formal righteousness but a positive passion for the good; and the mercy and the purity or singleness of heart; and the love of peace; and the readiness to suffer.

This character – so unworldly, so isolated from the world, but rich and ennobling in its motives – is to stand, within a bewildered or hostile world, distinct in itself. It is to be like salt to keep the whole from corruption; to be like the light shining in the dark place, raised up like a city set on a hill. That is to be the character of the Christian life.

Our Lord then passes on to revise the Ten Commandments. This is to prevent us from thinking that because we are free from the Pharisaism that burdened the Ten Commandments, we can opt for a lower standard. No! Here comes one of his ‘Except’ sayings: ‘except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

The sixth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ so revised, means that in His Kingdom you cannot be angry, because anger is the root of murder. It is as serious as murder. Feelings and thoughts of antagonism and hatred – expressed in words of bitterness and contempt – become more deliberate, and therefore are the still graver sin and subject to severer judgement. That is the first movement of the will, and the first expression of passion. It is the same with adultery. Lusting after someone means that adultery has already been committed ‘in the heart’. The deliberately conceived intention of sinning, though it is restrained from actually taking effect, has all the sinfulness and the guilt of the outward sin.

It is all a matter of the will. A person is to look into his heart and where he or she finds there something that inhibits true spiritual freedom, or control over the passions, they are to exorcise it and cast it out. A person must be strong at the centre before he can be free at the circumference of his being. As Jesus said, ‘It is better to enter into life halt or maimed rather than having two hands or two feet to go into hell.’

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