True Practicing Christian and the Natural Man by Martyn Lloyd Jones
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.
IN our study of this paragraph concerning our attitude towards our enemies, let us now concentrate in particular upon one phrase, ‘What do ye more than others?’ which is to be found in verse 47: ‘And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?’ Having given His detailed exposition of how His people should treat and regard their enemies, our Lord, as it were, brings the entire section and the whole teaching to a grand and glorious climax. All along, as we have seen, He has not been concerned so much about the details of their behaviour; rather, His desire has been that they should understand and grasp who they are and how they are to live. And here He sums it all up in this amazing statement that comes right at the very end: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ That is to be the quality of life we are to live.
There is no attitude with regard to the Sermon on the Mount which is quite so ridiculous as that which regards it as if it were but an ethical programme, a kind of social scheme. We have already considered that, but we must return to it, because it seems to me that this paragraph alone is enough to explode once and forever any such false notion with respect to this great Sermon. This one paragraph contains what we might call the most essential characteristic of the New Testament gospel in its entirety, and that is the paradox which runs right through it. The gospel of Jesus Christ, though I object to much modern use of the term, is essentially paradoxical; there is an apparent contradiction in it from the beginning to the very end. We find that here, in the very essence of this message.
The paradoxical character of the gospel was first stated by that ancient man, Simeon, when he had the Infant Jesus in his arms. He said, ‘This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.’ There is the paradox. At one and the same time He is set for the fall and for the rising again. The gospel always does these two things, and unless our view of it contains these two elements, it is not a true one. Here is a perfect illustration of it. Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take this passage from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter—these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Is there anything more discouraging? We feel that the Ten Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lust, about going the second mile and throwing in the cloak together with the coat, and so on. There is nothing more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount; it seems to throw us right out, and to damn our every effort before we have started. It seems utterly impossible. But at the same time do we know of anything more encouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Do we know of anything that pays us a greater compliment? The very fact that we are commanded to do these things carries with it an implicit assertion that it is possible. This is what we are supposed to be doing; and there is a suggestion, therefore, that this is what we can do. It is discouraging and encouraging at the same time; it is set for the fall and rising again. And nothing is more vital than that we should always be holding those two aspects firmly in our minds.
The trouble with that foolish, so-called materialistic view to the Sermon on the Mount was that it did not see either side of the Sermon clearly. It reduced both of them. In the first place it reduced the demands. Those who held it said: ‘The Sermon on the Mount is something practical, something that we can do.’ Well, the answer to such people is that what we are asked to do is to be as perfect as God, as perfect in this matter of loving our enemies as He is. And the moment we face the actual demands, we see that they are quite impossible to the natural man. But these people have never seen that. What they have done, of course, is just to isolate certain statements and say: ‘This is all we have to do.’ They do not believe in fighting under any circumstances. They say, ‘We are to love our enemies’; so they just become passive resisters. But that is not the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount includes this injunction: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ They have never faced the stringency of the demand.
At the same time they have never seen the other side, which is that we are children of God, and are unusual and exceptional. They have never seen the glory and grandeur and the uniqueness Of the Christian position. They have always thought of the Christian as just a man who makes a greater moral effort than anyone else and disciplines himself. In other words, most of the trouble experienced by such people with this Sermon on the Mount, as indeed with the whole of the New Testament teaching, is that they never truly understand or grasp what it means to be a Christian. That is the fundamental trouble. People who are in difficulty about salvation in Christ are in this difficulty because they have never understood what a Christian really is.
In this phrase we have, once more, one of those perfect definitions as to what constitutes a Christian. The dual aspect is displayed; discouragement and encouragement; the fall and the rising again. Here it is: ‘What do ye more than others?’ Now here there is real value in Dr. Moffatt’s translation, ‘If you only salute your friends, what is special about that?’ That is the key to it all. We find this thought not only here but also in verse 20. Our Lord started by saying: ‘I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. . . .’ The Pharisees and scribes had a high and exalted standard, but the righteousness in view here is more than their righteousness; there is something special about it.
Let us consider this great principle in the form of three subsidiary principles.
1. The Christian is essentially a unique and special kind of person. This is something which can never be emphasized sufficiently. There is nothing more tragic than the failure on the part of many professing Christians to realize the uniqueness and the special character of a Christian. He is a man who can never be explained in natural terms. The very essence of the Christian’s position is that he is an enigma. There is something unusual, something inexplicable and something elusive about him from the standpoint of the natural man. He is something quite distinct and apart.
Now our Lord tells us here that this special characteristic, this uniqueness, is twofold. First of all it is a uniqueness that separates him from everybody who is not a Christian. ‘If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?’ They can do that, but you are different. ‘And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?’ (So reads the Authorized Version; the Revised Version has ‘Do not even the Gentiles the same?’) The Christian, you see, is a man who is different from others. He does what other people do, yes; but he does more than they do. That is what our Lord has been emphasizing all along. Anyone can go the first mile, but it is the Christian who goes the second. He is always doing more than anybody else. This is obviously tremendously important. The Christian at once, and by primary definition, is a man who stands out in society, and you cannot explain him in terms of the natural man.
However, we must go beyond that. The Christian, by our Lord’s definition, and it is repeated elsewhere right through the New Testament, is not only a man who is doing more than others; he does what others cannot do. That is not to detract from the capacity and ability of the natural man; but the Christian is a man who can do things which nobody else can do. We can emphasize that still more by putting it like this. The Christian is a man who is above, and goes beyond, the natural man at his very best and highest. Our Lord showed that here in His attitude towards the standard of morality and behaviour of the Pharisees and scribes. They were the teachers of the people, and they exhorted everybody else. He says to those who listened: ‘You must go beyond all that.’ And we must go beyond it also. There are many people in the world who are not Christian but who are very moral and highly ethical, men whose word is their bond, and who are scrupulous and honest, just and upright. You never find them doing a shady thing to anybody; but they are not Christian, and they say so. They do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and may have rejected the whole of the New Testament teaching with scorn. But they are absolutely straightforward, honest and true. As someone once said of the late Lord Morley, who spelt the name of God with a small ‘g’, you could ring a gold coin on his conscience. Now the Christian, by definition here, is a man who is capable of doing something that the best natural man cannot do. He goes beyond and does more than that; he exceeds. He is separate from all others, and not only from the worst among others, but from the very best and highest among them. He strives in his daily life to show this capacity of the Christian to love his enemies and to do good to them that hate him, and to pray for them which despitefully use him and persecute him.
2. The second aspect of this uniqueness of the Christian is that he is not only unlike others, but he is meant to be positively like God and like Christ. ‘That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. . . . Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ This is stupendous, but it is the essential definition of the Christian. The Christian is meant to be like God, he is meant to manifest in his daily life in this cruel world something of the characteristics of God Himself. He is meant to live as the Lord Jesus Christ lived, to follow that pattern and to imitate that example. Not only will he be unlike others. He is meant to be like Christ. The question which we must ask ourselves, then, if we want to know for certain whether we are truly Christian or not, is this: Is there that about me which cannot be explained in natural terms? Is there something special and unique about me and my life which is never to be found in the non-Christian? There are many people who think of the Christian as a man who believes in God, a man who is morally good, just, and uptight and all the rest. But that does not make a man a Christian. There are people who deny Christ, Mohammedans for example, who believe in God and who are highly ethical, just and straight in their dealings. They have a code of morality and they observe it. There are many who are in that position. They tell you that they believe in God, and they are highly ethical and moral; but they are not Christian, they specifically deny Christ. There are many men, like the late Mr. Gandhi and his followers, who are undoubtedly believers in God, and again, if you look at their lives and actions there are scarcely any grounds you can find for criticism; but they are not Christians. They said they were not Christians; they still say that they are not Christians. Therefore we deduce that the characteristic of the Christian is just this quality (I will put it in the form of a question). As I examine my activities, and look at my life in detail, can I claim for it that there is something about it which cannot be explained in ordinary terms and which can only be explained in terms of my relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there anything special about it? Is there this unique characteristic, this ‘plus’, this ‘more than’? That is the question.
Let us now turn to the second principle, which will elucidate the first. Let us look at some of the ways or respects in which the Christian does manifest this uniqueness and special quality. He does so, of course, in the whole of his life because, according to the New Testament, he is a new creation. ‘Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,’ so he is going to be altogether different. First of all, the Christian is different from the natural man, and goes beyond the natural man in his thinking. Take, for example, his attitude towards the law, morality and behaviour. The natural man may observe the law, but he never goes beyond it. The characteristic of the Christian is that he is still more concerned with the spirit than he is with the letter. Your moral, ethical man wants to live within the law, but he does not consider the spirit, the ultimate essence of the law. Or put it in a different way, the natural man gives a grudging obedience, the Christian man delights ‘in the law of God after the inward man’.
Or look at it in terms of morality. The natural man’s attitude towards morality is generally negative. His concern is that he should not do certain things. He does not want to be dishonest, unjust or immoral. The Christian’s attitude towards morality is always positive; he hungers and thirsts after a positive righteousness like that of God Himself.
Or again, consider it in terms of sin. The natural man always thinks of sin in terms of actions, things that are done or not done. The Christian is interested in the heart. Did not our Lord emphasize that in this Sermon, when He said, in effect: ‘As long as you are not guilty of physical adultery you think you are all right. But I ask, What about your heart? What about your thoughts?’ That is the view of the Christian man. Not actions only, he goes beyond that to the heart.
What about the attitude of these two men towards themselves? The natural man is prepared to admit that perhaps he is not entirely perfect. He says: ‘You know I am not a complete saint, there are certain defects in my character.’ But you will never find a man who is not a Christian feeling that he is all wrong, that he is vile. He is never ‘poor in spirit’, he never ‘mourns’ because of his sinfulness. He never sees himself as a hell-deserving sinner. He never says, ‘Were it not for the death of Christ on the cross, I would have no hope of seeing God.’ He will never say with Charles Wesley, ‘Vile and full of sin I am’. He regards that as an insult, because he claims that he has always tried to live a good life. He therefore resents that and does not go as far as that in his self-condemnation.
Then what about the attitude of these two men towards other people? Your natural man may regard others with tolerance; he may bring himself to be sorry for them and say that we must not be too hard on others. But the Christian goes beyond that. He sees them as sinners, and as the dupes of Satan; he sees them as the terrible victims of sin. He does not merely see them as men for whom allowances are to be made; he sees them as dominated by ‘the god of this world’ and held captive by Satan in all his various forms. He goes beyond the other.
The same is true of their respective views of God. The natural man thinks of God primarily as Someone who is to be obeyed, and Someone whom he fears. That is not the essential view of the Christian. The Christian loves God because he has come to know Him as Father. He does not think of God as One whose law is grievous and hard. He knows He is a holy yet loving God, and he enters into a new relationship with Him. He goes beyond everybody in his relationship to God, and desires to love Him with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and his neighbour as himself.
Then in the matter of living, the way in which the Christian does everything is different. The great motive to Christian living is love. Paul puts it in a remarkable way when he says: ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ The difference between your naturally good, moral man and the Christian is that the Christian has an element of grace in his actions; he is an artist, while the other man acts mechanically. What is the difference between the Christian and the natural man in doing good? Well, the natural man often does a great deal of good in this world, but I hope I am not being unfair to him when I say that he generally likes to keep a record of it. He is rather subtle sometimes in the indirect way in which he refers to it, but he is always conscious of it, and keeps an account of it. One hand always knows what the other hand is doing. Not only that, there is always a limit to what he does. He generally gives out of his superabundance. It is the Christian who gives without counting the cost, who gives sacrificially and in such a way that each hand does not know what the other is doing.
But look at these two men as they react to what happens to them in this life and world. What about the trials and tribulations that come, as they must come, such as sickness or war? The good, natural, moral man often faces these things with real dignity. He is always a gentleman. Yes; by exercising an iron will-power, he faces it with a stoical kind of resignation. I do not want to detract from his qualities, but he is always negative, he is just holding himself in check. He does not complain, he is just bottling it up as it were. Does he ever know what it is to rejoice in tribulation? The Christian does. The Christian rejoices in tribulations for he sees a hidden meaning in them. He knows that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’, and that God allows things to happen at times in order to perfect him. He can wrestle with the storm, he can rejoice in the midst of his tribulation. The other man never rises to that. There is something special about the Christian. The other man just maintains his calm and dignity. You see the difference?
Our Lord puts it here finally in the matter of injuries and injustice. How does your natural man behave when he suffers these? Again, he may face it with this calm and iron will. He just manages not to hit back and retaliate. He merely ignores it a11, or cynically dismisses the person who misunderstands him. But the Christian deliberately takes up the cross, and holds to Christ’s injunction which tells him to ‘deny himself; and take up his cross’. ‘He who will come after me’, says Christ in effect, ‘is certain to get persecution, and to suffer injuries. But take up the cross.’ And here He tells us how we are to do these things. He says: ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ And he is to do it all gladly and willingly. That is the Christian.There is something special about him, he is always going further than anybody else.
The same is true of our attitude towards our neighbour; even if he is our enemy. The natural man can sometimes be passive. He can decide not to strike back and hit back, but not easily. Once more, there has never been a natural man who has been able to love his enemy, to do good to them that hate him, to bless them that curse him, and to pray for them that despitefully use him and persecute him. I do not want to be unfair in what I am saying. I have known men who call themselves pacifists and who would not hit back, or kill; but I have sometimes known bitterness in their hearts against men who have been in the Forces and against certain Prime Ministers, which was simply terrible. Loving your enemy does not just mean that you do not fight and kill. It means that you are positively loving that enemy and praying for him and for his salvation. I have known men who would not fight, but who do not love even their brethren. It is the Christian alone who can rise to this. Your natural ethics and morality can make a passive resister; but the Christian is a man who positively loves his enemy, and goes out of his way to do good to them that hate him, and to pray for them that use him despitefully and malign him.
But finally let us look at these two men as they die. The natural man, again, may die with dignity. He may die on his death-bed, or on the field of battle, without a grumble, or without complaining; He maintains the same general attitude to death as he had to life, and he goes out with stoical calm and resignation. That is not the Christian’s way of facing death. The Christian is one who should be able to face death as Paul faced it, and he should be able to say: ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’, and: ‘having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.’ He is entering into his eternal home, going into the presence of God. Even more, the Christian not only dies gloriously and triumphantly; he knows where he is going. He is not only not afraid; there is a sense of anticipation. There is always something special about him.
3. What is it that thus makes the Christian a special person? What is it that accounts for this uniqueness? What makes him do more than others? It is his whole outlook on sin. The Christian man has seen himself as utterly hopeless and condemned; he has seen himself as a man who is utterly guilty before God and who has no claim whatsoever on His love. He has seen himself as an enemy of God and an outsider. And then he has seen and understood something about the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. He has seen God sending His only begotten Son into the world, and not only that, sending Him even to the death of the cross for him, the rebel, the vile and guilty sinner. God did not turn His back on him, He went beyond that. The Christian knows that all this happened for him, and it has changed his whole attitude towards God and to his fellow men. He has been forgiven when he did not deserve it. What right then has he, not to forgive his enemy?
Not only that, he has an entirely new outlook towards life in this world. He comes to see that it is only an antechamber to real life and that he himself is a sojourner and a pilgrim. Like all the men of faith described in Hebrews 11 he is seeking that ‘city which hath foundations’. He says: ‘Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.’ That is his whole view of life, and it changes everything. He has also a hope of glory. The Christian is a man who believes he is going to look into the face of Christ. And when that great morning comes, when he looks into the face of One who endured the cruel cross for him in spite of his vileness, he does not want to remember, as he looks into those eyes, that he refused to forgive someone while he was here on earth, or that he did not love that other person, but despised and hated him and did everything he could against him. He does not want to be reminded of things like that. So, knowing all this, he loves his enemies and does good to them who hate him, because he is conscious of what has been done for him, what is coming to him, and of the glory that remains. His whole outlook has been changed; and this has happened because he himself has been changed.
What is a Christian? A Christian is not a man who reads the Sermon on the Mount and says: ‘Now I am going to live like that, I am going to follow Christ and emulate His example. There is the life I am going to live and I shall do so by my great will-power.’ Nothing of the kind. I will tell you what a Christian is. He is one who has become a child of God and is in a unique relationship to God. That is what makes him ‘special’. ‘What do ye more than others?’ He should be special, you should be special, because you are a special person. You say breeding counts. If this is so, what is the breeding of a Christian? It is this, he has been born again, he has been born spiritually and he is a child of God. Did you notice the way our Lord puts it? ‘I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Why? ‘That you may be God’? No: ‘That ye may be the children’—and not even of God—‘ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’. God has become Father to the Christian. He is not the father of the non-Christian; He is God to them and nothing else, the great Law-Giver. But to the Christian, God is Father. Then, our Lord does not say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as God in heaven is perfect.’ No, thank God, but ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ If God is your Father you must be special, you cannot help it. If the divine nature is in you, and has entered into you through the Holy Spirit, you cannot be like anybody else; you must be different. And that is what we are told about the Christian everywhere in the Bible, that Christ dwells in his heart richly through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit is in him, filling him, working His mighty power in the depths of his personality, teaching him His will. ‘It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do.’ And, above all, the love of God has been shed abroad in his heart through and by the Holy Spirit. He is bound to be special, he must be unique, he cannot help it.
How can a man who has never had the love of God shed abroad in his heart love his enemy and do all these other things? It is impossible. He cannot do it; and furthermore he does not do it. There never has been a man outside Christ who can do this. The Sermon is not an exorbitant demand of this kind. When you first read it, it discourages you and casts you down. But then it reminds you that you are a child of your Father in heaven, that you are not just left to yourself but that Christ has come to dwell in you and to take up His abode in you. You are but a branch of the Vine. Power and life and sustenance are there; you are simply to bear the fruit.
I end, then, with this searching question. It is the most profound question a man can ever face in this life and world. Is there anything special about you? I am not asking whether you are living a good, moral, upright life. I am not asking whether you say your prayers, or whether you go to church regularly. I am asking none of these things. There are people who do all that and still are not Christians. If that is all, what do ye more than others, what is there special about you? Is there anything of this special quality about you? Is there something of your Father about you? It is a fact that children sometimes do not resemble their parents very closely. People look at them and say: ‘Yes, there is something of his father there after all,’ or ‘I see something of the mother; not very much, but there is something.’ Is there just that much of God about you? That is the test. If God is your Father, somewhere or another, in some form or other, the family likeness will be there, the traces of your Parentage will inevitably appear. What is there special about you? God grant that as we examine ourselves we may discover something of the uniqueness and the separateness that not only divides us from others, but which proclaims that we are children of our Father who is in heaven. (314-324)