The Law of Citizenship

Chapter 28

Early one morning, on a grass covered hillside, Christ gave the most complete description of the nature of His kingdom of which we have a record. This discourse has become known to us as "the sermon on the mount." The people of that day looked with longing for the day when the Messiah would come and the national greatness they believed would attend the establishment of His kingdom. In this sermon, Christ disappointed all hope of worldly greatness. He sought to correct the ideas that a false education had instilled and to give His hearers a right conception of His kingdom and of His own character. In doing so, He did not, however, directly attack the errors in their thinking. Without combating their ideas of the kingdom of God, He told them the conditions of entrance, leaving them to draw their own conclusions as to its nature.

Christ's first words were words of blessing. Happy are they, He said, who recognize their spiritual poverty and feel their need of redemption. The gospel is to be preached to the poor. Not to the spiritually proud, those who claim to be rich and in need of nothing, is it revealed, but to those who are humble and contrite. The proud heart strives to earn salvation, but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ. The Lord can do nothing toward our recovery from sin until, convinced of our own weakness, we yield ourselves to His control. It is only then that we can receive the gift of salvation that He is waiting to give us.

"Blessed are they that mourn," He continued, "for they shall be comforted." The mourning is not an expression of sorrow brought on by depression. A sorrow because of the unpleasant consequences that our sins and mistakes bring us is not repentance. Real sorrow for sin is the result of the Holy Spirit revealing to our heart the realization that by our every sin, Jesus is wounded afresh. We mourn for the sins that have brought pain to Him. Such mourning will lead to the renunciation of sin.

God's assurance for the sorrowing is, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners." "For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow." Isaiah 57:18; Jeremiah 31:13

"Blessed are the meek." Our most difficult experiences may be made must less difficult if we meet them with the meekness which is found in Christ. If we possess His humility, we shall rise above the neglect, the rejection, the irritations to which we are daily exposed. These unpleasant experiences will no longer bring a gloom to our spirit. The highest evidence of a Christ-like character is self-control.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." All who long to bear the likeness of the character of God shall be satisfied. If the eye is kept fixed on Christ, the work of the Spirit does not end until the soul is conformed to His image.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." The person who has given his life in ministering to those less fortunate than himself is united with Him who has all the resources of the universe at His command. He may claim all the unchangeable promises of God. The Lord will not fail him in his hour of need. "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19. And in the hour that his life history closes, he will find a place of safety in the mercy of the loving Saviour and finally, everlasting life.

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Impurity thought lessens the moral sense, making it more difficult for the mind to receive the impressions of the Holy Spirit. As the spiritual vision dims, men cannot behold God. All impurity of speech or thought must be avoided by all who desire to clearly understand spiritual truth.

"Blessed are the peacemakers." Human plans will fail of providing peace, because they do not reach the heart. Only the grace of Christ implanted in the heart will cast out the evil passions that cause disagreement and strife.

The people had come to think that happiness depended upon their possessions and that fame and the honor of men were much to be coveted. But in the presence of that vast throng, Jesus declared that earthly gain and honor were all the reward such persons would ever receive. He spoke with certainty, and a convincing power attended His words. Many were convicted that this remarkable teacher was actuated by the Spirit of God, and that the sentiments He uttered were divine. As they silently listened, a feeling of fear crept over them. They looked at one another doubtfully. Who would be saved if this Man's teachings were true?

After explaining what is the basis of true happiness and how it may be obtained, Jesus more definitely pointed out the duty of His disciples, as teachers chosen of God to lead others into the path of righteousness and eternal life. Knowing that they would often suffer from disappointment and discouragement, that they would meet with decided opposition, and their testimony would be rejected, He continued:

"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."

The world loves sin and hates righteousness. This was the cause of the hostility towards Jesus, and all who refuse Christ's infinite love will find Christianity a disturbing element. While those who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit begin war with themselves, those who cling to sin war against the truth and its representatives. The servants of God are not, however, to allow concern for peace to keep them from carrying forward the gospel commission. They are to fulfill every duty, irrespective of the fear or the favor of men.

"Ye are the salt of the earth," Jesus said. Hearts that respond to the influence of the Holy Spirit are the channels through which God's blessing flows. In other words, Christians are not to withdraw themselves from the world in order to escape persecution.

"Ye are the light of the world." The Jews tried to limit the blessing of salvation to their own nation, but Christ showed them that salvation, like the sunshine, belongs to the whole world, not a favored few.

While Jesus had not addressed the specifics of the Law, He did not leave His hearers to conclude that He had come to set aside its requirements. He said nothing to unsettle their faith in the religion and institutions that had been committed to them through Moses. It was because of His great reverence for the Law that He sought to set aside their false interpretations.

The Pharisees prided themselves on their obedience to the Law, yet they knew so little of its practical principles in their everyday practice that to them the Saviour's words sounded like heresy. He read their thoughts and answered them, saying, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." He came to explain the relation of the Law to man and to illustrate its precepts by His own life of obedience. If the Law of God could have been changed or abolished, then Christ need not have suffered the consequences of our transgression.

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled." The sun shining in the heavens, the solid earth beneath your feet, are God's witnesses that His Law is changeless and eternal. Though they may pass away, the divine precepts shall endure. "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the Law to fail." Luke 16:17. The system of types that pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God was to be abolished at His death, but the precepts of the Decalogue are as unchangeable as the throne of God.

The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience, a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It is not able to bring the character and conduct into harmony with God's standard of righteousness—His Law. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth that reveals itself in practical Christian living. The darkest chapters of history are stained with the record of crimes committed by bigoted religionists. The Pharisees thought themselves the greatest religionists of the world, but their so-called orthodoxy led them to crucify the Lord of glory.

The same danger exists today. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they claim to believe certain doctrinal truths, without having ever brought these truths into their everyday life. They have not believed and loved the truth, therefore they have not received the power and grace that come through being in harmony with heaven's principles.

Taking up the commandments separately, Jesus explained the depth and breadth of their requirement. Instead of removing any of their force, He showed how far-reaching their principles are. He showed that by the evil thought or the lustful look, the Law of God is transgressed. Murder first exists in the mind. He who gives hatred a place in his heart is setting his feet in the path of the murderer, and his offerings are offensive to God.

Worldly policy and the undeviating principles of righteousness do not imperceptibly blend into each other like the colors of the rainbow. Between the two a broad, clear line is drawn by the eternal God. If one sin is cherished in the soul, or one wrong practice retained in the life, the whole being is contaminated and the man becomes an instrument of unrighteousness. The likeness to Christ is as distinctly different from that of the worldling as midday in contrast with midnight.

Pointing to the birds flying above and to the flowers of the field, Christ assured His hearers that all who have chosen God's service are to rest in His care. He urged them to consider the objects of His creation. "Are ye not much better than they?" He said. God's children are never absent from His mind. The great Master-Artist took thought for the lilies, giving them a beauty that outshone the glory of Solomon. How much more does He care for man, who is the image and glory of Himself.

Christ continued, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow." God does not give us strength today to bear tomorrow's burdens, neither does He give us all the directions for our life's journey today, lest we become confused. The strength and wisdom given to us day by day are for the present emergency.

In the time of Christ, the people of Palestine lived in walled towns, which were mostly situated upon hills or mountains. The gates, which were closed at sunset, were approached by steep, rocky roads; and the traveler journeying homeward at the close of the day often had to press his way up the difficult ascent hastily in order to reach the gate before nightfall. The narrow, upward road leading to home and rest, furnished Jesus with an impressive figure of the Christian way. Continuing his instruction, He said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." The path which I have set before you, He said, is narrow; the gate is difficult of entrance. If you hold to any besetting sin, you will find the way too narrow for you to enter. Your evil habits and practices must be given up if you would keep the way of the Lord. As a follower of Christ, you cannot allow the world's opinions or its standard to be your standard of conduct in life. The vast majority will choose the broad downward path. If you would climb the path of spiritual life, you must go with the few who follow the other road. Self-sacrifice, reproach, and poverty were Christ's portion; and they must be ours also, if we are at last to enter the Paradise of God.

In the road to death, the whole race may go, with all their worldliness, all their selfishness, all their pride, dishonesty, and immorality. There is no need of searching for the entrance to the road that leads to destruction, for the entrance is wide, the way is broad, and the feet naturally turn into the path that ends in death.

While it is true that Satan's path is made to appear attractive, do not conclude that the upward path is the most difficult way and that the downward road is the easy way. The light of hope which shines from the entrance of the broad road fades into the darkness of despair, and the person who follows that path descends into the shadows of unending night. All along the way that leads to death there are sorrows and disappointments that stand as warnings against going on. Selfish plans may present flattering promises and hold out the hope of enjoyment; but in the end, life is embittered by hopes that center in self.

The Christian life is a battle and a march. The battle which we have to fight—the greatest battle that was ever fought by man—is the surrender of self to the will of God, the yielding of the heart to the rule of love. The hereditary tendencies, the former habits, must be given up before Satan's stronghold can be broken. Though we are not of ourselves able to bring our purposes and desires and inclinations into submission to the will of God, if we are willing to be made willing, God will accomplish the work for us, even "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5. Then, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Philippians 2:13

Christ had set forth the principles of His kingdom, showing them to be the great rule of life. To further impress the lesson, He added an illustration. It is not enough, He said, for you to hear My words. By obedience you must make them the foundation of your character. Self is but shifting sand and by the winds of temptation, the tempests of trial, your strongest resolutions will be swept away. But these principles that I have given will endure. Receive Me; build on My words.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."

This chapter is based on Matthew 5–7