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Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
This one Beatitude deals with what I would describe as the two commonest objections to the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is very interesting to observe how people, when they have the gospel presented to them, generally have two main objections to it, and what is still more interesting is that the two objections are so often found in the same people. They tend to change their position from one to the other. First of all, when they hear this announcement, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’, when they are told that salvation is altogether of grace, that it is something that is given by God, which they cannot merit, which they can never deserve, and about which they can do nothing except receive it, they immediately begin to object and say, ‘But that is making the thing much too easy. You say that we receive this as a gift, that we receive forgiveness and life, and ourselves do nothing. But surely,’ they say, ‘salvation cannot be as easy as that.’ That is the first statement.
Then, when one points out to them that it must be like that because of the character of the righteousness about which the text speaks, they begin to object and to say that that is making it much too difficult, indeed so difficult as to make it impossible. When one tells them that one has to receive this salvation as a free gift, because what is required is that we should be fit to stand in the presence of God, who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all, when they hear that we should be like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that we should conform to these various Beatitudes, they say, ‘Now that is making it impossible for us’. They go astray, you see, about this whole question of righteousness. Righteousness to them means just being decent and moral up to a certain level. But we saw in our last chapter that that is a totally wrong definition of it. Righteousness ultimately means being like the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the standard. If we want to face God and spend eternity in His holy presence, we must be like Him. No-one can be in the presence of God who has any vestige of sin remaining in him; a righteousness is demanded that is absolutely perfect. That is what we have to attain unto. And, of course, the moment we realize that, then we see that it is something we ourselves cannot do, and realize that we must therefore receive it as helpless paupers, as those who have nothing in our hands at all, as those who take it entirely as a free gift.
Now this one statement deals with both those aspects. It deals with those people who object to the fact that this evangelical presentation of the gospel makes it too easy, those people who tend to say, as I once heard someone say who had just been listening to a sermon which emphasized human activity in this matter of salvation, ‘Thank God there is some thing for us to do after all’. It shows that that kind of person just admits that he or she has never understood the meaning of this righteousness, has never seen the real nature of sin within, and has never seen the standard with which God confronts us. Those who have really understood what righteousness means never object to the fact that the gospel ‘makes it too easy’; they realize that apart from it they would be left entirely without hope, utterly lost. ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling’---is the statement of everyone who has truly seen the position. Therefore, to object to the gospel because it ‘makes things too easy’, or to object to it because it makes things too difficult, is just virtually to confess that we are not Christians at all. The Christian is one who admits that the statements and the demands of the gospel are impossible, but thanks God that the gospel does the impossible for us and gives us salvation as a free gift. ‘Blessed are they’, therefore, ‘which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ They can do nothing, but as they hunger and thirst for it, they shall be filled by it. There, then, is the test of our doctrinal position. And it is a very thoroughgoing test. But let us ever remember that the two aspects of the test must always be applied together.
Let us now consider the practical test. This is one of those statements which reveal to us exactly where we are in this Christian life. The statement is categorical---they who hunger and thirst after righteousness ‘shall be filled’, and therefore they are happy, they are the people to be congratulated, they are the truly blessed. That means, as we saw in the last chapter, that we are filled immediately, in one sense, namely that we are no longer seeking forgiveness. We know we have had it. The Christian is a man who knows he has been forgiven; he knows he is covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and he says, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God’. Not, we are hoping to have it. We have it. The Christian has this immediate filling; he is completely satisfied concerning the matter of his standing in the presence of God; he knows that the righteousness of Christ is thus imputed to him and that his sins have been forgiven. He also knows that Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has come to dwell within him. His essential problem of sanctification is also solved. He knows that Christ has been made unto him of God ‘wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’. He knows that he is already complete in Christ so that he is no longer hopeless even about his sanctification. There is an immediate sense of satisfaction about that also; and he knows that the Holy Spirit is in him and that He will continue to work in him ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure’. Therefore he looks forward, as we saw, to that ultimate, final state of perfection without spot or wrinkle or blemish or any such thing, when we shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him, when we shall indeed be perfect, when even this body which is ‘the body of our humiliation’ shall have been glorified and we shall be in a state of absolute perfection.
Very well then; if that is the meaning of filling, we must surely ask ourselves questions such as these: Are we filled? Have we got this satisfaction? Are we aware of this dealing of God with us? Is the fruit of the Spirit being manifested in our lives? Are we concerned about that? Are we experiencing love to God and to other people, joy and peace? Are we manifesting long-suffering, goodness, gentleness, meekness, faith and temperance? They that do hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. They are filled, and they are being filled. Are we, therefore, I ask, enjoying these things? Do we know that we have received the life of God? Are we enjoying the life of God in our souls? Are we aware of the Holy Spirit and all His mighty working within, forming Christ in us more and more? If we claim to be Christian, then we should be able to say yes to all these questions. Those who are truly Christian are filled in this sense. Are we thus filled? Are we enjoying our Christian life and experience? Do we know that our sins are forgiven? Are we rejoicing in that fact, or are we still trying to make ourselves Christian, trying somehow to make ourselves righteous? Is it all a vain effort? Are we enjoying peace with God? Do we rejoice in the Lord always? Those are the tests that we must apply. If we are not enjoying these things, the only explanation of that fact is that we are not truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness. For if we do hunger and thirst we shall be filled. There is no qualification at all, it is an absolute statement, it is an absolute promise----’Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’
The question that now remains is obviously this: How can we tell whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness? That is the vital thing; that is all we have to be concerned about. I suggest the way to discover the answer is to study the Scriptures, as, for example, Hebrews 11, because there we have some great and glorious examples of people who did hunger and thirst after righteousness and were filled. Go through the whole of the Bible and you will discover the meaning of this, especially in the New Testament itself. Then you can supplement scriptural biography by reading about some of the great saints who have adorned the Church of Christ. There is ample literature concerning this matter. Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the lives of Luther, of Calvin, and of John Knox. Read the lives of some of the outstanding Puritans and the great Pascal. Read the lives of those mighty men of God of 200 years ago in the evangelical awakening, for example the first volume of John Wesley’s Journal, or the astounding biography of George Whitefield. Read the life of John Fletcher of Madeley. I have not time to mention them all: there are men who enjoyed this fullness, and whose holy lives were a manifestation of it. Now the question is, how did they arrive at that? If we want to know what hungering and thirsting means, we must study the Scriptures and then go on to see it more on our own level by reading the lives of such people, and if we do so, we come to the conclusion that there are certain tests which we can apply to ourselves to discover whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness or not.
The first test is this: Do we see through all our own false righteousness? That would be the first indication that a man is hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Until he has come to see that his own righteousness is nothing, is, as the Scripture puts it, but ‘filthy rags’, or, to use a stronger term, the particular term that the apostle Paul used and which some people think should not be used from a Christian pulpit, the term used in Philippians 3, where Paul speaks of all the wonderful things he had been doing and then tells us that he counts them all as ‘dung’---dung, refuse, putrefying refuse. That is the first test. We are not hungering and thirsting after righteousness as long as we are holding with any sense of self-satisfaction to anything that is in us, or to anything that we have ever done. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the man who knows what it is to say with Paul, ‘In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing’. If we still want to pat ourselves on the back, and feel a sense of satisfaction in the things we have done, it indicates perfectly clearly that we are still trusting and holding on to our own righteousness. If we are in any sense prone to defend ourselves, well, that means that we are just holding on still to some righteousness of our own. And as long as we do that we shall never be blessed. We see that to be hungering and thirsting in this sense is, as John Darby puts it, to be starving, to realize we are dying because we have nothing. That is the first step, seeing all false righteousness of our own as ‘filthy rags’ and as ‘refuse’.
But it also means that we have a deep awareness of our need of deliverance and our need of a Saviour; that we see how desperate we are, and realize that unless a Saviour and salvation are provided, we really are entirely without hope. We must recognize our utter helplessness, and see that, if someone does not come and take hold of us, or do something to us, we are altogether lost. Or let me put it like this. It means that we must have a desire within us to be like those saints to whom I have made reference. That is a very good way of testing ourselves. Do we long to be like Moses or Abraham or Daniel or any of those men who lived in the subsequent history of the Church to whom I have referred? I must add a warning, however, because it is possible for us to want to be like these people in the wrong way. We may desire to enjoy the blessings which they enjoyed without really desiring to be like them. Now, there is a classical example of this in the story of that false prophet, Balaam. You remember he said, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’ Balaam wanted to die like the righteous but, as a wise old Puritan pointed out, he did not want to live like the righteous. That, indeed, is true of many of us. We want the blessings of the righteous; we want to die like them. Of course we do not want to be unhappy on our deathbed. We want to enjoy the blessings of this glorious salvation. Yes; but if we want to die like the righteous we must also want to live like the righteous. These two things go together. ‘Let me die like the righteous.’ If I could but see the heavens open and yet go on living as I am, I should be happy! But it does not work like that. I must long to live like them if I want to die like them.
There, then, are some of the preliminary tests. But if I leave it like that we may come to the conclusion that we have nothing to do but to be entirely passive, and to wait quietly for something to happen. That, however, it seems to me, is to do much violence to these terms, ‘hungering and thirsting’. There is an active element in them. People who really want something always give some evidence of that fact. People who really desire something with the whole of their being do not sit down, passively waiting for it to come. And that applies to us in this matter. So I am going to apply some more detailed tests as to whether we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Here is one of them. The person who is truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness obviously avoids everything that is opposed to such a righteousness. I cannot obtain it myself; but I can refrain from doing things that are obviously opposed to it. I can never make myself like Jesus Christ, but I can stop walking in the gutters of life. That is a part of hungering and thirsting.
Let us sub-divide that. There are certain things in this life that are patently opposed to God and His righteousness. There is no question about that at all. We know they are bad; we know they are harmful; we know they are sinful. I say that to hunger and thirst after righteousness means avoiding such things just as we would avoid the very plague itself. If we know there is an infection in a house, we avoid that house. We segregate the patient who has a fever, because it is infectious, and obviously we avoid such persons. The same is equally true in the spiritual realm.
But it does not stop at that. I suggest that if we are truly hungering and thirsting after righteousness we shall not only avoid things that we know to be bad and harmful, we shall even avoid things that tend to dull or take the edge off our spiritual appetites. There are so many things like that, things that are quite harmless in themselves and which are perfectly legitimate. Yet if you find that you are spending much of your time with them, and that you desire the things of God less, you must avoid them. This question of appetite is a very delicate one. We all know how, in the physical sense, we can easily spoil our appetite; dull its edge, so to speak, by eating things between meals. Now it is like that in the spiritual realm. There are so many things that I cannot condemn in and of themselves. But if I find I spend too much of my time with them, and that somehow I want God and spiritual things less and less, then, if I am hungering and thirsting after righteousness, I shall avoid them. I think it is a common-sense argument.
Let me give another positive test. To hunger and thirst after righteousness means we shall remind ourselves of this righteousness actively. We shall so discipline our lives as to keep it constantly before us. This subject of discipline is of vital importance. I am suggesting that unless we day by day voluntarily and deliberately remind ourselves of this righteousness which we need, we are not very likely to be hungering and thirsting after it. The man, who truly hungers and thirsts after it, makes himself look at it every day. ‘But’, you say, ‘I am so tremendously busy. Look at my agenda. Where have I time?’ I say, if you are hungering and thirsting after righteousness you will find time. You will order your life, you will say, ‘First things must come first; there is a priority in these matters, and though I have to do this, that and the other, I cannot afford to neglect this because my soul is in bondage.’ ‘Where there is a will there is a way.’ It is amazing how we find time to do the things we want to do. If you and I are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a good deal of time every day will be spent in considering it.
But let us go further. The next test I would apply is this. The man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness always puts himself in the way of getting it. You cannot create it yourself; you cannot produce it. But at any rate you do know there are certain ways in which it seems to have come to these people about whom you have been reading, so you begin to imitate their example. You remember that blind man, Bartimus. He could not heal himself. He was blind; do what he would and what others would, he could not get back his sight. But he went and put himself in the way of getting it. He heard that Jesus of Nazareth was going that way, so he took up his stand on the high road. He got as near as he could. He could not give himself sight, but he put himself in the way of getting it. And the man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the man who never misses an opportunity of being in those certain places where people seem to find this righteousness. Take, for example, the house of God, where we meet to consider these things. I meet people who talk to me about their spiritual problems. They have these difficulties; they so want to be Christian, they say. But somehow or other something is lacking. Quite frequently I find that they do not often go to the house of God, or that they are very haphazard in their attendance. They do not know what it is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The man who really wants it says, ‘I cannot afford to lose any opportunity; wherever this is being talked about I want to be there.’ It is common sense. And then, of course, he seeks the society of people who have this righteousness. He says, ‘The oftener I am in the presence of godly and saintly men the better it is for me. I see that person has it; well, I want to talk to that person, I want to spend my time with such a person. I do not want to spend so much time with others who do me no good. But these people, who have this righteousness, I am going to keep close to them.’
Then, reading the Bible. Here is the great textbook on this matter. I ask a simple question again. I wonder whether we spend as much time with this Book as we do with the newspaper or with the novels or with the films and all other entertainments---wireless, television and all these things. I am not condemning these things as such. I want to make it completely clear that that is not my argument. My argument is that the man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness and has time for such things should have more time for this---that is all I am saying. Study and read this Book. Try to understand it; read books about it.
And then, pray. It is God alone who can give us this gift. Do we ask Him for it? How much time do we spend in His presence? I have referred to the biographies of these men of God. If you read them, and if you are like me, you will feel ashamed of yourself. You will find that these saints spent four or five hours daily in prayer, not just saying their prayers at night when they were almost too weary to do so. They gave the best time of their day to God; and people who hunger and thirst after righteousness know what it is to spend time in prayer and meditation reminding themselves of what they are in this life and world and what is awaiting them.
And then, as I have already said, there is the need for reading the biographies of the saints and all the literature you can lay your hands on about these things. This is how the man acts who really wants righteousness, as I have proved by the examples I have given. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to do all that and, having done it, to realize that it is not enough, that it will never produce it. The people who hunger and thirst after righteousness are frantic. They do all these things; they are seeking righteousness everywhere; and yet they know that their efforts are never going to lead to it. They are like Bartimrus or like the importunate widow of whom our Lord spoke. They come back to the same person until they get it. They are like Jacob struggling with the angel. They are like Luther, fasting, swearing, praying, not finding; but going on increasingly in his helplessness until God gave it to him. The same is true of all the saints of all ages and countries. It does not matter whom you look at. It seems to work out like this: it is only as you seek this righteousness with the whole of your being that you can truly discover it. You can never find it yourself. Yet the people who sit back and do nothing never seem to get it. That is God’s method. God, as it were, leads us on. We have done everything, and having done all we are still miserable sinners: and then we see that, as little children, we are to receive it as the free gift of God.
Very well; these are the ways in which we prove whether we are hungering and thirsting after this righteousness or not. Is it the greatest desire of our life? Is it the deepest longing of our being? Can I say quite honestly and truly that I desire above everything else in this world truly to know God and to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, to be rid of self in every shape and form, and to live only, always and entirely to His glory and to His honour?
Let me conclude this chapter with just a word in this practical sense. Why should this be the greatest desire of every one of us?
I answer the question in this way. All who lack this righteousness of God remain under the wrath of God and are facing perdition.
Anybody who dies in this world without being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ goes on to utter hopelessness and wretchedness. That is the teaching of the Bible, that is what the Bible says. ‘The wrath of God abideth on him.’ It is only this righteousness that can fit us to be right with God and to go to heaven and to be with Him and to spend eternity in His holy presence. Without this righteousness we are lost and damned and doomed. How amazing it is that this is not the supreme desire in the life of everybody! It is the only way to blessing in this life and to blessing in eternity. Let me put to you the argument of the utter hatefulness of sin, this thing that is so dishonouring to God, this thing that is dishonouring in itself, and dishonouring even to us. If only we saw the things of which we are guilty so continually in the sight of God, and in the sight of utter holiness, we should hate them even as God Himself does. That is a great reason for hungering and thirsting after righteousness---the hatefulness of sin.
But lastly I put it in a positive form. If only we knew something of the glory and the wonder of this new life of righteousness, we should desire nothing else. Therefore let us look at the Lord Jesus Christ. That is how life should be lived, that is what we should be like. If only we really saw it. Look at the lives of His followers. Wouldn’t you really like to live like those men, wouldn’t you like to die like them? Is there any other life that is in any way comparable to it---holy, clean, pure, with the fruit of the Spirit manifesting itself as ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’. What a life, what a character. That is a man worthy of the name of man; that is life as it should be. And if we see these things truly, we shall desire nothing less; we shall become like the apostle Paul and
we shall say, ‘That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ Is that your desire? Very well, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock (and go on knocking), and it shall be opened unto you.’ ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’---with ‘all the fullness of God’. (88-98)
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