The Mount of Instruction
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
2. THE MOUNT OF INSTRUCTION
‘And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth, and taught them’, Matt. 5. 1-2.
In the sermon on the mount we behold the glory of the Lord as the great teacher of His own, and desire that we may learn of Him whose lips drop sweet-smelling myrrh.
It may be objected by some that this ‘sermon’ has special significance for the ‘kingdom’ and is not applicable to the present dispensation of grace. While recognising the importance of dispensational teaching, the view which assigns large portions of the New Testament, especially the words of our Lord, exclusively to some future date cannot be upheld. The sermon on the mount was spoken to the disciples of the Lord, and is full of teaching for His would-be followers of all times.
In the consideration of the glory of the Lord as a teacher upon this mount of instruction we are impressed, as were those who heard, by the authority with which He spoke. Prophets of old had come with the message of God, prefixing their statements with the words ‘Thus saith the Lord’. They came with an authority given them by God to speak God’s Word. Here, however, is One who contrasts His own words with those that were written of old by the great lawgiver Moses, and who by the very form of His words claims absolute and ultimate authority. ‘Ye have heard that it was said . . . But I say unto you . . .’. The authority implicit in such words was shown to be a reality in the works that He did. We read, ‘what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him’, Mark 1. 27; ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!’, Matt. 8. 27. In resurrection life He said to His disciples, ‘All power (authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth’, Matt. 28. 18. Here then is the word of the King with power, Eccles. 8. 4.
The question of authority is that which has divided Christendom. In his analysis of Mark’s Gospel, the late Mr. Harold St. John has asked where authority is ultimately vested. His answer is that the source of all authority is Christ at God’s right hand, the channel of authority is the Bible, and the power of authority is the Holy Spirit, the Interpreter. If then we are to become His disciples indeed, how necessary it is for us to allow the Spirit of God to interpret to our hearts and in our experience the Mind of Christ as revealed in the Word, that we may be always subject to His authority and yield to His sway.
As every trained teacher knows, teaching must have an aim. Never must the teacher be as one who beats the air. The aim of the Lord Jesus as a teacher was not solely imparting knowledge. His teaching reveals the profoundest knowledge and the deepest understanding of human nature, but its aim was the heart and not the head.
It is the heart and not the brain
That to the highest doth attain.
The aim underlying the whole ‘sermon’ may be summarised as the attainment of true righteousness and with this aim in view the Lord enunciates principles of eternal value relating to purity, piety and peace. Of course there is no question here of a person becoming righteous before God as a result of self-effort. The Lord is speaking to His disciples and for them, as for us, the dynamic of His teaching would he in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
He taught such principles of moral purity that, if we did not know His saving grace and purifying power, we should say with Peter, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’, Luke 5.8. Here is the searching glance of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold evil. Here is One who searches not only the words and actions of men, but the thoughts and intents of the heart. ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me’, Ps. 51. 10
In Matthew 6, the principles of true piety are taught. The social aspect is seen in relation to the giving of alms, the religious aspect in relation to prayer and the personal in relation to fasting. The hypocrite parades his ‘piety’ before the eyes of men and has his reward. The truly pious one remembers that God sees in secret, ‘And in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom’, Ps. 51. 6.
The Lord teaches that true peace comes as a result of complete trust in the Father who knows our needs and who delights to give good gifts to them that ask Him. Peace, however, is not merely passive, a freedom from anxiety, but it is active in seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Did He not say later, ‘Take my yoke ... learn of me . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls’?, Matt. 11. 29. His yoke is the doing of the will of God, and His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
The Appendix to His Teaching
Finally we notice the parable which concludes this great ‘Manifesto of the King’. It is very often used in Gospel preaching, the rock being used as a symbol of the person and work of Christ. We sing triumphantly,
On Christ the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
This is blessedly true - He is the great rock foundation of our trust and hope. In the context, however, that is not the teaching of this parable. ‘Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them . . .’; ‘And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not . . .’, Matt. 7. 24, 26. The true disciple of the Lord is recognised not by glibness of tongue in the use of religious phraseology but by a humble doing of the will of God, which will has been expressed in the words of our Lord. The will of God told out in the words of the Lord is the true way for the disciple. He who obeys builds upon a sure foundation. The fiercest storms may break upon him, but his faith will remain strong for he has built upon the rock. If, however, we disregard the words of the Lord of all authority (although our eternal salvation is secure in Him and in His finished work), how great is our folly! Our life’s work, our testimony, all that we have built upon earth, however imposing in appearance, will shatter and fall, and great shall be the fall of it. ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice’, 1 Sam. 15. 22.
Give me Thy meek and lowly mind;
I would obedient be,
And all my rest and treasure find
In learning, Lord, of Thee.