Does the Sermon on the Mount apply to us today?

Is the Sermon on the Mount the rule for the Christian to-day?

The question is not, be it noted, whether the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are applicable to us to-day; but was it intended to be the rule of Christian living? Of course, it is part of God’8 Word, and as such, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. So, indeed, is the Law of Sinai, and the rest of the Scriptures, but that does not prevent our drawing dispensational differences, and holding that certain parts do not apply to us primarily or directly. The law is not the Christian’s rule of life, for we are told again and again (e.g., Romans 7:4; Galatians 2:19) that we have died to the law. It would then be difficult to assert that the Sermon on the Mount, which is the quintessence of the law, is the Christian rule of life. It may be questioned whether many who laud it as a code of morals, and make it literally binding as a rule on the Christian, have a very clear idea of its teaching, or really practise it themselves in any exhaustive way. They seem to have in their mind a dozen or so verses about giving to every man that asketh you, letting a man have your cloak who asks for your coat, going with a man two miles if he forces you to go one, and giving your right cheek to the one who has just smitten you on the left. But this is only a very small part of the Sermon, and if no one has ever perfectly obeyed the ten commandments, it is equally certain that no one has ever perfectly carried out the Sermon which deals with the hidden thoughts of the heart, as well as with acts.

Indeed, when Paul was before Ananias and was unjustly smitten, he did not turn the other cheek, nor did our Lord Himself before Caiaphas, as He certainly would have done, had He laid down the Sermon on the Mount as the Christian rule of conduct. In the new style of teaching, unfortunately too common, heard in our midst to-day, from men who have but a feeble grasp of any distinctive truth or place, it is often the fashion to belittle dispensational teaching. No doubt this teaching has been exaggerated, but that is no reason for denying it its true place.

To understand rightly the Sermon on the Mount, we must under stand the dispensational character of the Gospel of Matthew, and in a less degree of the other Synoptists. It is addressed primarily to Israel; from the first chapter, Christ is offered them as their King—the heir to the throne of David. John the Baptist was the herald of the coming Kingdom, and so the Lord, the twelve and the seventy; and the miracles, which are so prominent in chapters 8 and 9; were the signs of the Kingdom; it was as King that the Lord presented Himself to Israel in chapter 21 (see vv. 4, 5). The Sermon on the Mount comes in its place, as the rules binding on the children of the Kingdom, while the Kingdom is being set up. When the Kingdom was rejected, and the powers of the King attributed in chaps. 9 and i a, to Satan, then the Lord revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom, namely, how the Kingdom would be set up in men’s hearts, during the absence of the rejected King. When the Church is taken away, the testimony of the Kingdom will once more come to the front, and I take it, that during that period, the Sermon on the Mount, will come into very literal force for God’s servants among Israel. It has been alleged, on the other hand, that our Lord in His parting commission told His disciples to teach the converts to observe whatsoever He had commanded them, but that that does not apply to the whole of Matthew is clear, for no one would maintain that our Lord’s words in Matthew 10:5 and 6, about not preaching to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the children of Israel, should be taught to converts to-day, as a rule for their witness. I only quote this to show that our Lord intends His “Sermon” to be interpreted in the light of subsequent revelation; e.g., “Owe no man anything”; “Whiles it remained was it not thine own?” “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”; “If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil, but if well why smitest thou me?”

W.H.