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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 5–7:29]

ON one occasion, when Jesus saw a very great multitude gathered together to hear Him, He went up into a mountain and sat down; and His disciples were with Him. The people placed themselves around, and along the sides of the mountain (Fig. 72), waiting in respectful silence till He commenced to speak. Then He taught them:


Fig. 72. Mount of the Beatitudes. (Phot. Bonfils.)

1. The eight Beatitudes

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, because your reward is very great in heaven.”

The poor in spirit are 1. the humble who know their own misery and sinfulness, and who confess by word and deed that they can do nothing of themselves, but that they have received from God all that is good in them. Examples: Joseph, Moses, Gedeon, David, Judith, John the Baptist, Peter. 2. the unworldly whose heart does not cling to worldly goods and pleasures, and who, be they rich or poor, have no inordinate desire for them. Example: Abraham, Job, Lazarus, the Apostles.

The meek are those who are not made angry or bitter by contradictions, injuries, or abuse. Example: David, in his conduct towards Saul and Absalom.

Mourning which is pleasing to God. There is a great deal of mourning and complaining in this “vale of tears”, but all this mourning is not pleasing to God. When, for example, a man grieves, because his pride or his revenge or any other passion is not gratified, his sadness is the result of sin, and can in no way please God. Our sorrow for the dead, or for personal losses or disappointed hopes, is a holy sorrow only so far as it convinces us of the nothingness of the things of this world, and raises our hearts to God in worship and resignation. The sorrow most pleasing to God is that of those who renounce the sinful joys of this world, and grieve over their own sins and the sins of others. Examples: Lot, Elias, Jeremias, Judith, John the Baptist.

Hunger after justice. Men desire and strive after many things, but the best and noblest desire is for virtue and grace. Everything else perishes; only virtue endures. It is not enough for us to keep from mortal sin; we must be ever striving to attain to a higher degree of virtue. Examples; Simeon, Anna, Andrew and John, the Ethiopian Chamberlain.

Mercy is practised by those who, from a real love of their neighbours, are anxious to help them in their spiritual and corporal necessities. Examples: Abraham, Moses, Tobias, the good Samaritan.

Cleanness of heart consists in banishing from our hearts all impure thoughts and desires. This cleanness of heart is also called holy purity; it gives both joy and a taste for the supernatural, increases faith in the soul, and leads to the blessed vision of God. Examples: Joseph in Egypt, Judith, Susanna.

Peacemakers are those who hate discord, love and cherish concord, and try to restore it, when it has been disturbed. Example: Abraham.

Fortitude under persecution. Those suffer persecution for justice’ sake who patiently and bravely endure scorn, contempt, neglect, poverty and any other penalty rather than give up either faith or virtue. Examples: Abel, Elias, Jeremias, Daniel and his companions, Eleazar, the Machabean brothers, John the Baptist, Stephen, and all martyrs.

The maxims of Christianity and the maxims of the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, and especially in the Beatitudes, our Lord proclaimed the ruling maxims of His Kingdom. It was a discourse—new, utterly unheard-of, and coming straight from heaven! Blessed are the poor, the mourners—the persecuted! This was in direct opposition to the Jews’ hopes of an earthly Messias, and showed plainly that His kingdom was not to be of this world, a kingdom of pomp and pleasure, but a kingdom of renouncement and self-denial. These maxims of our Lord’s kingdom are in direct contrast to the maxims of the un-Christian world. In the world reign supreme the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Its children say, “Come, let us enjoy the pleasures and good things of this earth. Do not deny your senses. Give free scope to your passions and desires. Allow no one to injure you. Take revenge. Have no thought for the needs of others. Let each man look after himself. Eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy to your fill the good things of this earth!” The laws laid down by Christ for His kingdom are very different; and he, therefore, who lives in accordance with the maxims of the world, cannot be a true follower of Christ nor an heir of heaven.

APPLICATION. Is your heart still pure and uncorrupted? Have you a horror of everything impure? Guard the innocence and purity of your heart most jealously, for it is your greatest treasure. Avoid the society of bad companions and suppress all sinful curiosity. Pray that you may preserve your innocence.

2. The Work of Christ’s Apostles and Disciples in the world

Then, turning to His apostles, He said to them: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more, but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid; neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may give light to all who are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The office of the priesthood. Under the two figures of salt and light our Lord showed the apostles what a high vocation theirs was in the kingdom of God. Under the first figure He described to them the priestly office. “Even as salt gives a savour to food and preserves it from corruption, so must you make sinful man holy and pleasing to God, and keep him from the corruption of sin.”

The office of teacher was described to the apostles by our Lord under the figure of the light of the world. They were, He said, to enlighten the world, which was lying in the darkness of sin and unbelief, by their teaching and example, thus showing the way to heaven. They being the vanguard of the Church, all eyes would be directed to them. Under the same figure our Lord taught them that they could not give light of themselves, but that He would kindle the light in them. Their light was borrowed light, but they must let this light shine through them in such a way as to make themselves models for the whole world by their words and deeds.

Apostolic zeal. By both figures our Lord signified that the apostles must be entirely devoted to their high calling. Even as salt imparts its savour by being itself dissolved, and light can only give light by being consumed, so were the apostles to devote their bodies and souls entirely to their vocation. They were to be consumed, and, if necessary, to give up their lives for the conversion of the world.

APPLICATION. You too ought to be a light to your brothers and sisters and comrades. Do you give them a good example? Do you urge them to do what is right, and warn them against what is evil? Have you ever given scandal?

3. The true justice of the New Law

Then, addressing the multitude, He said: “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

“I tell you that, unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother: ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say: ‘Thou fool!’ shall be in danger of hell-fire. If, therefore, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then, coming, thou shalt offer thy gift.”

“You have heard that it was said to them of old: ‘Thou shalt not forswear thyself.’ But I say to you not to swear at all. Let your speech be yea, yea; no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.

“You have heard that it hath been said: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.

“You have heard that it hath been said: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour1 and hate thine enemy’. But I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in to heaven, who maketh His sun rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathens this? Be you, therefore, perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus is the Divine Lawgiver. By the foregoing words our Lord stood forward as the Lawgiver of the New Testament, speaking with divine authority. He put Himself above Moses and the prophets, who spoke in the name of God, saying: “Thus saith the Lord;” for He spoke and commanded in His own name: “I say unto you!”

The moral law of Jesus Christ is a perfect law, because it forbids evil thoughts and words as well as evil deeds. It requires not only an outward observance of commandments, but also an inward amendment, sanctification, and elevation of the soul.

The Fifth Commandment. Our Lord explicitly teaches that the fifth Commandment forbids not merely the actual deed of murder, but every angry thought and injurious word.

Taking an oath is not, according to our Lord’s teaching, sinful in itself, for it is a religious and a sacred act; but its abuse is sinful, and therefore no one ought to take an oath without necessity. Our Lord Himself took an oath before the court of the High Priest, when He asserted that He was the Son of God (chapter LXIX).

The command to love our neighbour is applied by Jesus to all men, even to our personal enemies. Our Lord also requires that our love should be of a practical kind.

Christian perfection. Finally, our Lord requires us to strive ceaselessly after perfection, placing the perfection of God before us as our model.

The Goodness of God. Our Lord draws special attention to this by reminding us that God does good, and sends rain and sunshine on those who offend Him as well as on those who love Him. He supplies sinners with food and drink, and tries to draw their hearts to Him by gratitude for His benefits.

APPLICATION. Do you ever use bad or injurious words? You have heard how severely our Lord condemns such words; therefore do all you can to cure yourself of this hateful habit. If ever any bad word escapes your lips, say an ‘Our Father’ as a penance.

4. Human respect

“Take heed that you do not your justice before men to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when thou dost an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the streets, that they may be honoured by men: Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.

“And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.

“And when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast: Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face. That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.”

God is Omnipresent and Omniscient. He is, as our Lord teaches us, in secret, and sees in secret. He knows all our thoughts and our most hidden intentions.

The Justice of God. He will reward the just, if not in this world, certainly in the next.

A right intention. Prayer, fasting and alms-deeds are good works, as the angel Raphael told Tobias (Old Test. LXIX). But good works are neither meritorious nor pleasing to God, if our intention in doing them is not good, and not directed to the glory of God. If we seek our own glory when practising good works, we are serving our own self-love and pride, and not God, and therefore we must not expect any reward from Him.

The public worship of God. Our Lord’s admonition: “When thou prayest, go to thy chamber &c.”, must not be misunderstood. He does not intend to blame the public worship of God in churches, for He Himself went to the Temple, as also did His apostles. The public worship of God in common is necessary and pleasing to Him, but we must frequent it not to seek our own glory, but that of God. But our private devotions ought, if possible, to be made in secret, so that they may not be spoilt and made worthless in the sight of God by a desire for human praise.

APPLICATION. Do you learn your lessons well only in order to win praise? Do you say your prayers in order that you may be thought good? You would be far richer than you are in merits before God, if you always had a right intention in your practice of good works.

5. How we are to pray

“And when you are praying, speak not much as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you, therefore, like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. Thus therefore shall you pray:

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.”

The necessity of Prayer. God does not require our prayers to know what we want, for He is Omniscient, and knows our needs better than we do ourselves. But they are necessary for us, to turn our hearts from the things of this world, and draw us heavenward by a humble sense of our nothingness and by a longing for the gifts of God.

Long prayers. Is it not right then that we should make long prayers? Did not our Lord spend whole nights in prayer? And did not St. Paul, after his conversion, pass three days praying? (chapter LXXXVIII.) Our Lord does not object to the long duration of our prayers, but to empty forms, useless repetition of words, and mere lip-service in prayer, wherein the heart takes no part. In another place He expressly says that men ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1), and St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

The Lord’s Prayer, Our Lord has given us the ‘Our Father’ as a model prayer, and has expressly commanded us to use it. It is the most excellent and comprehensive of prayers: and in it we pray for all that is best, and for deliverance from evil. But, let it be remarked, the good things we ask for are spiritual, and the deliverance we pray for is from spiritual evils. We pray for both a temporal and a spiritual benefit only in the fourth petition, when we ask for the daily necessaries of life. This ought to teach us to pray chiefly for spiritual blessings, such as grace, pardon, virtue &c.; and not only for such temporal benefits as health, a good harvest &c.

6. Confidence in God

“Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

“No man can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore, I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to-day and to-morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous, therefore, saying: What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek you, therefore, first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added1 unto you.”

The Goodness of God. God provides for all His creatures. He feeds the birds of the air and adorns the flowers of the field with beautiful colours. He is the most loving Father to us men, and Him we have to thank for body and life, food and drink, dwelling and raiment.

Confidence in God. Are we, then, to take no thought for the things of this life, such as food and clothing? Yes; we must, according to our abilities, provide for them, but we are not to be over-anxious, and must trust in the goodness, wisdom and power of God. We must work, but we must also pray; for all our efforts will be quite useless without the blessing of God.

Care for our salvation must be our chief concern as Christians. Before everything else we must try to attain to the kingdom of heaven, i. e. to save our souls, and for this end we must live in the grace of God and strive ceaselessly after His “justice”. A true love of ourselves demands this of us, for our soul is more precious than our body, and we ought to seek its interests first.

Covetousness, or the worship of mammon. He who “serves” mammon is the man who fondly considers the gaining and increasing of riches to be the greatest business of life, and neglects the worship of God and the care of his own soul, not even shrinking from such sins as theft, usury and perjury, if they will enable him to add to his wealth.

The right use of worldly possessions consists in using them for God and in the practice of good works. Holy men, such as Abraham, Job and Tobias, possessed great riches, but they were not slaves to them. On the contrary, they made their wealth serve them, and expended it in the service of God and their neighbour.

Good works. All good works, such as works of piety, mortification and brotherly love, are treasures laid up in heaven. When we die, we must leave all earthly things, even our very bodies, behind us: only our good works will go with us, and procure for us a favourable judgment.

APPLICATION. Perform this very day some good work of brotherly love!

7. Charitable judgment about our neighbour

“Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful; give, and it shall be given to you. With the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again. As you would that men should do to you, do ye also to them.

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.

“And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye, and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye!”

The qualities of charity. God being so good and merciful to us, we ought to be full of love and indulgence towards our fellow-men. Since we ought to love our neighbour as we do ourselves, the whole law of brotherly love is summed up in this maxim: “All that you would that men should do to you, do ye also to them,” or, to reverse it: All that you do not want men to do to you, be careful not to do to them. Therefore our brotherly love must be:

a) sincere. We are to wish our neighbour, in our hearts, quite as much good as we wish ourselves. Further, our love must be

b) practical. We must do good to our neighbour according to our means: “Give, and it shall be given unto you.” Finally, our love must be

c) universal. We must not exclude from our love either our enemies or those who have injured us, but must forgive them from our hearts. “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.”

Sins against brotherly love. Our Lord equally warns us as to all sins against brotherly love, whether they be committed by thought, word, or deed.

a) Censoriousness and detraction. He who desires to find fault with others, must make sure that he himself is better than they! And yet, do we not constantly find that those men who have great faults of their own, are the very ones who judge the small faults of their neighbours most severely, not at all remembering their own short-comings? Such men are hypocrites, for they pretend to detest and avoid sin in others, while all the time they are loving and cherishing it in themselves. Furthermore, they sin against brotherly love by preferring to talk about what is bad in their neighbours, rather than about what is good in them, and they are more zealous in exposing their faults than in concealing them.

b) False suspicions and rash judgments. “Judge not!” says our Lord. We cannot judge rightly, not being omniscient and able to search our neighbour’s heart. We ought, therefore, to judge others most tenderly and indulgently, and never even suspect evil of them without the most conclusive proofs. Still less ought we to condemn them, and without sufficient reason to take for granted that the supposed evil is a fact.

Venial sin and mortal sin. By the distinction which our Lord draws between “motes” and “beams”, He teaches us that there is a great difference between one kind of sin and another.

The reward of heaven is exceeding great. “Good measure pressed down, and shaken together, and running over shall they give unto you” (Luke 6:38). God will not be sparing, but generous in His rewards.

Degrees of happiness in heaven. The more a man measures, the more will be measured to him, i. e. the more good a man does on earth, the higher will be his reward in heaven.

APPLICATION. Do not our Lord’s words about the mote and the beam smite your own conscience? You know the faults of others much better than you know your own, and you judge them severely, while you excuse yourself. The Saints did just the contrary: they were severe to themselves, and indulgent to others. Guard against uncharitable judgments and conversations.

8. The narrow gate and the strait way

Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it!

The road to heaven and the road to hell. The narrow, up-hill road, entrance to which is gained through a strait gate, signifies walking in the way of God’s commandments, which restrain our desires and passions, but which must be obeyed unless we would stray from the road to heaven. It costs much effort, watchfulness and self-denial to observe the commandments and not to stumble in the narrow way, or, if we stray from the road, to return to it by true penance! For this reason our Lord says in another passage: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force!” On the other hand, the road which leads down-hill to perdition is broad and easy, for unbridled wilfulness and licence reign there, each one going whithersoever his lusts and desires carry him. Very many—the luxurious and the thoughtless—travel on that road to hell, but very few pass through the narrow gate of penance and travel on the road of self-denial to heaven. What a terrible truth this is!

9. A warning against false prophets

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Not every one that saith to me: ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of my Father in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Faith must be living. We must shape our lives according to the will and teaching of God. Now faith teaches us that God has revealed His will to us by His commandments, so that what we have to do, if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, is to keep the commandments. Not every one who says: ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Not faith alone, nor a confession of faith by words only, can obtain an entrance there without a faithful observance of God’s commandments. The just man must practise good works, and show thereby that the grace, fear and love of God are in him. “Every good tree brings forth good fruit.”

False prophets are those who teach things concerning faith or morals contrary to what our Lord and His Church teach, and who therefore, in reality, teach unbelief, and are heresiarchs, seducers, and “ravening wolves”, who lead others to commit grievous sins, and are the cause of their eternal loss.

APPLICATION. Avoid all companions who are either irreligious or immoral. Do not read any bad or un-Christian books. To read such books is dangerous to both faith and morals, and for this reason it is forbidden by the Church.

10. Conclusion

“Every one, therefore, that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock. And the rain fell, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.”

Now it came to pass that, when Jesus had fully ended these words, the people were in admiration at His doctrine. For He taught them as one having power, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees.

The rock of faith. The magnificent concluding words of the Sermon on the Mount mean this: He who has a living faith in Jesus Christ stands firmly on a rock. He does not totter in time of danger, being assured that, by reason of his aim in life and his good works, his soul is safe. The rock, therefore, which resists all trials and temptations, even the terrors of death and the judgment, is a living faith in Jesus Christ.

Only living faith assures salvation. Once more our Lord reiterates that, in order to be saved, a man must not only hear, but also do what He says. He who hears and believes our Lord’s words, and does not to them, is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. Faith alone—faith without works—cannot save.

Jesus, the Great Prophet. In Him was fulfilled Moses’ prophecy (Old Test. XLIV): “The Lord thy God will raise up to thee a Prophet of thy nation, and of thy brethren, like unto me. Him thou, shalt hear.” He promulgates by His own authority the Law of the New Testament, which is far greater and more perfect than the Law of the Old Testament given on Mount Sinai.

APPLICATION. Oh, how much better and more beautiful would the world be, if all men would obey the perfect Law which Jesus Christ laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. There would, in that case, be no embittering of one another’s lives, no hatred nor enmity, no lies and deceit, no avarice nor hardness of heart, no bad nor uncharitable words. Everywhere we should find peace and happiness. Men would edify one another by their piety and good works, and all would strive together after goodness and salvation. This could be and ought to be; and why is it not? It is because men follow their own passions, instead of the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

You, dear children, are the hope of the future, and through you things ought to improve. Your village or parish will be the model of all others, if only you will begin at once to live in accordance with your holy faith and obey the glorious lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. Strive earnestly after holiness! Fight against your besetting sins! Correspond faithfully with grace! By so doing you will be happy on earth, and blessed in heaven. What our Lord said will be fulfilled in you: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be filled.”

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