The Christ of the Sermon on the Mount

"He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."— Matt. vii. 29.

"T DO not care about doctrines ; give me the Sermon JL on the Mount." So say some, many of whom, no doubt, admire the said Sermon a good deal more than they obey it. But they are right in so far as the socalled Sermon is not a summary of Christian doctrine, but of Christian morals. It is not a gospel, or a creed; it is the law of the kingdom given by the King Himself, but the truths on which it reposes, and still more the power by which it can be obeyed, are to be looked for elsewhere.

Still, though that is true, this collection of our Lord's ethical teachings does go farther into the region of Christian doctrine than some of its admirers seem to see. And I have taken this text, not so much for the purpose of speaking about it specially, as because it sums up the impression that was made upon our Lord's hearers, and may serve as a starting point for our considering what is implied in regard to some very important matters, by the teaching of this Sermon on the Mount.

I wish to look at what Jesus Christ says about Himself in it, and to ask to what conclusion that points. We shall not do justice to this non-doctrinal summary of Christian morals, unless we recognise that the conclusion to which it leads is no less solemn 'and lofty than that to which the plainest words of our Lord's selfrevelation conduct us. If any man will accept the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount at His own valuation, he will have to go farther than perhaps he thinks towards accepting the Christ of John's Gospel, of the Epistles, and of the Apocalypse. So I gather together the scattered intimations that drop from our Lord's lips in this discourse concerning Himself, and note the impression that it made on His hearers. I begin with that feature which is brought out in the words that I have taken for a kind of text.

I. Note, first, the unique air of authority that breathes through the whole of this discourse.

A great many attempts have been made, and that very conspicuously in recent days, to trace the influence of Jewish tradition on our Lord's teachings; and I am by no means concerned to deny ,that such influence may to a certain extent be traced, or to assert that His human development was altogether independent of the circumstances in which He grew up. But these attempts have generally been made in the interests of a purely natural explanation of our Lord and His work, and in order to make out that He was, like every man, a creature of his times. Now, it may be worth our while to notice that, as my text and other places of Scripture tell us, the broad, outstanding impression which His teaching made upon His contemporaries, who, perhaps, knew as much about Rabbinical teaching as modern scholars do, was precisely the opposite one—viz., its utter unlikeness to the kind of thing that they were accustomed to hear from those learned lips. Originality was a sin in the schools of the scribes. Their whole ingenuity—and it was great—was directed to deducing consequence after consequence, ever more fine-spun and fantastic, from the admitted principles of early teachers. But here was a man that quotes nobody, that never argued, that did not base what He said upon anything previously said by any one, but who stood before them making this impression—that He was a teacher, clean out of the rut in which Rabbi This trod wearisomely after the footsteps of Rabbi That, that He saw things with His own eyes, and drew water out of His own well. "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," and if anybody wants to understand the difference between Jesus Christ and the teachers of the day in which He lived, let him, if he can, get hold of a page of the Talmud, and then read the Sermon on the Mount, and he will find out that the unlikeness is a great deal more conspicuous than the similarity.

We need only to turn to this great discourse in order to get proof of this. For what is the first thing that would strike a reader, if he were to come to it with fresh eyes? I suppose it would be, not so much the wisdom, or the reasonableness, or the elevation of the individual precepts contained in it, as the strange air of having the right to command which breathes through it. This man speaks to the listeners as if He were their master, and our master, and everybody's master; with a royal tone, condescending to no vindication of His right to command, but, with clear-cut, sharp definiteness, laying His orders upon every human heart.

We cannot say that, in thus speaking, He is hiding His own personality behind the truths that He is uttering. That may be the explanation of much of the apparent dogmatism of moral teachers. It does not usually matter who says the thing ; what is said, and not who says it, is the important matter for us. But in this case, Jesus Christ thrusts His own personality into the front; and the only vindication that He gives through all the sermon of the autocratic imperativeness of His tone, is not by referring to the elevation or the self-evident reasonableness of His commandments, but "I say unto you." What right has He to plant Himself opposite humanity, and to speak as if He had the authority to bid them, as His servants, "Go," and they would go; "Come," and they would come; "Do this," and they would do it? The right is based on what is articulately uttered elsewhere, but is implied in the very discourse itself.

I do not need to ask you to set by the side of that characteristic the tone which becomes all other moralists and guides. If Jesus Christ is only what they are, one of a class, the peculiarity which distinguishes His teaching from theirs puts Him beneath, and not above, them. For no one of the rest has

"made the important stumble
Of saying that he, the sage and humble,
Is likewise One with the Creator."

That is what He did. It was not arrogance for Him to push His personality into the front, as the all-sufficient sanction of His commands. It matters not what is the shape of the lampstand if the light is blazing. But here the lampstand is the light; and we do not understand Jesus Christ unless we have found the reason for His authoritativeness in His Divinity.

II. Let me ask you to consider our Lord's attitude, in this Sermon, to earlier Revelation.

That is all summed up in one word of the Sermon. "I came not to destroy" [the law and the prophets], "but to fulfil." Now, I have no time to dwell upon the significance, though it is important, of that introductory word " I came." I must leave that for other occasions. But I ask you to notice what is meant by that great word "to fulfil," and how much Jesus Christ asserts about Himself and His relation to that past Revelation, which He and His hearers equally regarded as being sent from God, by that declaration, "I came ... to fulfil."

To fulfil? That refers primarily, as I take it, to the fact that He has discharged to the full, in His individual life, all the obligations which that ancient set of commandments laid upon men, that He had done all that Moses and the prophets had required, as God's organs, that men should do. And this assertion, though it be entirely incidental, carries with it great weight in reference to His consciousness of sinlessness, and is in conformity with all His utterances. From the very beginning of His career never a word drops from His lips to express that He has any experience of that which is common to us all, the sense of imperfection, or the sting of remorse. He begins His course with "It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." In the midst of it He could ask, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" and assert, "I do always the things that please Him." At the last He conld say, "It is finished !" and look back upon a life of uninterrupted and complete conformity to the will of the Father in Heaven. Thus He fulfilled the law. What right had He to say that? Was He right or wrong in saying it? If He was right, how came it that there has been a man in the world uninfected by the universal disease, and one heart in which there was no drop of the poison that has trickled into all others? The Sermon on the Mount craves for an answer to that question.

He came to fulfil the prophets. He asserted that He, standing there in the midst, the Son of the carpenter in a little village, was the goal towards which the whole solemn march of progressive Revelation through the centuries had been tending, and that in Him all the purposes and premonitions of that earlier Revelation centred and were fulfilled. That is a strange claim for a man to make. The Sermon on the Mount makes that. And we have to answer the questions, why? and what then?

But, further, the fulfilment of which our Lord spoke was not merely His own personal realisation of the ideal set forth in the ancient law, or His being the theme and the goal of ancient prophecy and prophetic rites and ceremonial, but it was a fulfilment of a kind, of which He went on to give a series of illustrations. That fulfilment was that He laid His hand on the law of Sinai, which He and His hearers believed to have come straight from God, and assumed the right of modifying it, of expanding it, of putting it in some measure on one side, of shifting its incidence and enlarging its scope. What business had He to do that? Nor is that all, but He uses a daring antithesis: "It has been said to them of old time." Said when? In the giving of the law. Said by whom? By Moses, as the mouthpiece of God. "It has been said to them of old time "—and now, side by side with that, "I say unto you." So He makes the authority of His own utterances co-ordinate with those of that ancient law, and asserts that He, too, has the power thus to modify, to republish, and to enlarge, the very law of God Himself.

Put these three things together. "What must a man have thought of himself, who asserted that he was the realised ideal of humanity as God had willed it to be; who asserted that he was the pivot on which the world's history turned, the centre to which all the rays of the earlier Revelation converged, and who dared to put his "I say unto you" side by side with Moses' "Jehovah hath said"? What must he have thought of himself? Answer the question. That is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount.

III. Note our Lord's attitude to the followers who He anticipated would gather around Him.

There are three things which He says upon that subject, each of which may require just a word; and all of which, put together, bring out a wonderful outline of what He requires from and will give to His disciples.

He demands from ns absolute obedience and implicit trust. "He that heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them; I will show you what he is like. He is like a wise man that built his house upon a rock." That is to say, this Jesus, shut up in that little strip of country, surrounded by circumstances altogether different from ours, with no knowledge, so far as we are told, of the deep things that philosophers have taught and argued about, long before the dawn of European civilisation, industrial progress, and physical science, fronted the world, in all its ages, in far distant lands, and down the stream of time to the very end, and to all idiosyncrasies of character, to all in every condition, dared to say, "If you will build your life on My commandments, you will build upon a rock. Do as / bid you, and your being will be stable and eternal." What right had He to say that?

Again, He expects of His followers a devotion so entire that they will be glad to suffer even to the death for His sake. "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven." What reason is there for a man's yielding himself up thus to that Lord? He demands it, and He tells us that we shall be wise if thus we fling away our lives for His dear love. And men have done it by the hundred and the thousand ; and the noble army of martyrs has proved the truth of that gracious promise, when they had admitted the rightfulness of that solemn demand. Why should the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount expect men to go to the death gladly for His sake? Because the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount is "the Lamb of God" whose sacrifice "taketh away the sin of the world." I know no other ground on which He has the title to build that demand, or to cherish that anticipation.

One word more. He promises that His followers shall receive an illumination and a perfecting which will make them the light and the salt of the world. They are to be these, because they are His disciples. That is to say, He knows Himself to be able to touch the deadest into life, to kindle the darkest into flame, to turn the most putrid, not only into a thing sweet and sound itself, but capable of diffusing sweetness and soundness through the corrupt mass. The man that makes these claims, that expects this sacrifice, that holds out these promises, is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount.

IV. Lastly, and only a word. Note our Lord's revelation of Himself as in future the Judge of Mankind.

Remember the solemn words, "Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? . . . . And I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me all ye that work iniquity." That is in accordance with all the rest of our Lord's teaching upon that subject. Whatever drapery there may be about the New Testament representations of the general judgment, however much there may be of parable in the picture of the bar and the gathered universe, and the sheep on the one hand and the goats on the other, the two facts of a judgment of every man beyond the grave, and of Christ as the administrator of that judgment, stand out clear, and in my belief undeniable. He that sat on the mountain, and opened His lips and spake this Sermon, is to sit on the throne of His glory; and from His lips is to come my sentence and yours, and that of all men. That is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount. You do not like doctrines; you like it. Do you accept its teaching that He is the Judge of all the earth? Do you believe that He is able infallibly to appreciate the character, and absolutely and irreversibly to determine the fate, of every man? Do you believe that His sentence will be just and conclusive? Do you believe that not to be known by Him is ruiD, and to depart from Him eternal death? These statements are in the Sermon on the Mount. You say that you accept it; do you accept them?

Brethren, gather all these things together and let me again put the question to you—where do all these characteristics lead us except to the conclusion, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He appointed Heir of all things "? This Christ has the right to speak with authority, and to deal freely with ancient sacred words, because He is Himself the Eternal Word, the climax of all Revelation. He has the right to demand absolute trust and obedience, even up to the suffering of death, because He has tasted death for every man. He has the right to promise light and healing, because He Himself is the Fountain thereof, and, being the Light of the World, can kindle a kindred flame in us. He has the right to judge mankind, because He is the Son of man and Son of God. He made these claims for Himself in this Sermon on the Mount ; and the Voice from another mount, that of the Transfiguration, countersigned them all when it proclaimed, " This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him."