ŇBlessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.Ó Matthew 5:6
Here is the fourth rule touching blessedness, which is also mentioned by St Luke, yet something different from this of Matthew, for according to Luke, Christ directeth His speech to His disciples, and speaks of bodily hunger, saying, Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be satisfied; as if He should say, You my disciples do now suffer hunger and thirst, but this shall not prejudice your happy estate, for hereafter you shall be satisfied. Now Matthew goes a degree further, and layeth down a cause and reason why they being hungry are blessed; not simply, for that they were pinched with bodily hunger, but became withal, they did further spiritually in their souls hunger after righteousness. Thus then the two evangelists do agree; St Luke lays down this rule generally, but Matthew propounds therein the reason of this blessedness.
This rule, as the former, contains two parts; first, who are blessed; secondly, wherein this blessedness doth consist.
I. For the first, the parties blessed are such as hunger and thirst after righteousness. The exposition of these words is diverse. Some give this sense: Blessed are those that are grieved with the injuries that abound in the world, and withal do in heart and soul long for the amendment and reformation thereof. Others expound the words thus: Blessed are those that by wrongs and injuries are deprived of their right in this world, and so are constrained to hunger and thirst after that which is their own, hoping by patience to obtain the same. But there is a third exposition which doth more fully open to us the meaning of Christ; to wit, by righteousness we may well understand in the first place, the righteousness of faith, whereby a sinner is justified through grace in Christ, and so stands righteous before God, having the pardon of all his sins. Besides this, we may understand inward righteousness, whereby a man is sanctified and made holy, having GodŐs image renewed in him by the spirit of grace, which was lost by the fall of our first parents. And that this imputed and renewed righteousness may here be understood, will appear by these reasons: First, in such places of Scripture where like sentences are repeated, we must understand not civil righteousness, but justification, sanctification, regeneration; as (Isa. 55:1) Ho everyone that thirsteth, come to the waters, and buy without silver; and (John 7:37) If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; and (Rev. 21:6) I will give to him that is athirst, to drink of the waters of life freely; all which places are one in substance; for by waters we must understand righteousness, which is that spiritual grace of God, the fountain of all blessings, whereby sinners are justified and sanctified. Secondly, that which is most of all to be desired, must needs be the most excellent righteousness; but this righteousness here mentioned is most to be desired; for Christ saith men shall hunger and thirst after it, thereby expressing a most earnest and vehement desire; and therefore by righteousness, we must understand GodŐs grace and mercy in Christ, absolving a sinner from the guilt and punishment of his sins, with sanctification the fruit thereof, whereby he is purged from corruption. Secondly, by hungering and thirsting, we must understand two things: First, a sorrow and grief of heart in regard of a manŐs own sins and unrighteousness; secondly, an earnest and constant desire of the righteousness of God, that is, of justification and sanctification in Christ. Answerable to these two things which are in bodily hunger and thirst, to wit, first a pain in the bottom of the stomach for want of meat and drink; secondly, an earnest desire and appetite after meat and drink, to be satisfied therewith. And blessed is he that is so grieved for his own unrighteousness, and withal hath an earnest desire after reconciliation with God in Christ, and after true regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Ghost; for this is true spiritual hunger and thirst, whereto belongs this gracious promise: that in due time he shall be satisfied and filled with plenty of GodŐs mercy and grace, wherein this happiness doth consist, which is the second branch of this rule. This I take to be the true and proper meaning of these words, whereupon the two former expositions depend; for he that is thus spiritually an hungred, is oft deprived of his own right among men, and so is said to hunger and thirst after that which is his own in this world. Again, such a man doth unfeignedly grieve at the iniquities that be in the world, and withal, his heart doth most earnestly desire reformation thereof, both in himself and others.
1. First, this sentence must be remembered as a storehouse of true comfort in all grievous temptations, but especially against these three: the want of faith, the smallness of sanctification, and despair.
(1) For the first, many in GodŐs church have a true care to please God in all things, and to live in no sin against their conscience; and yet they find in themselves much distrust and despair of GodŐs mercy, they feel more doubting than faith; whereupon they are brought to doubt of their election and state of grace before God. Now how may such be relieved, and be well persuaded of their good estate? Answer: The way is laid down by our Saviour Christ in this rule: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness. For here He teacheth that those are blessed who are displeased with their own doubting and unbelief, if they have a true earnest desire to be purged from the distrust, and to believe in God through Christ. Indeed this desire of faith and to believe, is not true faith in nature, but in GodŐs acceptance; for God respects them for this true desire, as if they had faith. And they are blessed, because they shall have plenty of faith, and assurance of grace and favour with God in Christ; for it is mercy and grace with God, to hunger after grace and mercy, when the heart feels the want thereof. But yet such persons must be admonished, that they shew the truth of the desire by a constant endeavouring in the means which God hath sanctified for the obtaining of a true and lively faith in Christ, wherewith they may be satisfied.
(2) The second temptation is from the smallness of sanctification. Many there be that endeavour to please God, making conscience of all sin, and yet they find in themselves an exceeding measure of rebellious corruption, much ignorance in their minds, perverseness in their wills, and forwardness in their affections; yea, a continual proneness unto all manner of sin; and on the contrary, they can perceive but small fruits of sanctification; the old man they feel rushing in them like a mighty giant, but the new man so weak and feeble, that they can hardly discern any spiritual life. And hereupon they are sore troubled with temptations, yea, oftentimes driven to doubt whether they have any true grace at all. This cannot but be an heavy case, and yet here is true comfort for them; for Christ calleth them blessed (not that are filled with righteousness, but) who hunger and thirst after it; that is, who feeling the want of righteousness in themselves, do earnestly desire it in their souls. These persons therefore, that feel in themselves a sea of corruption, and scarce a drop of sanctification, must truly examine their own hearts, how they stand affected to these things; for if they be truly grieved for their corruption and rebellion, and withal do earnestly desire grace and sanctification, using the means constantly, whereby they may be freed from the one and endued with the other; then they have wherewith they may comfort their hearts, for Christ calls them blessed; and so they are, for in due time they shall be satisfied; and in the meantime, their will and desire is accepted of God in Christ for the deed itself.
(3) The third temptation is to despair; when a man after the breach of conscience by some grievous sin, is plunged into this gulf, that he thinks verily hell is prepared for him, and he must needs be damned; what remedy now in such a case? Answer: Some think the only way is to propound unto him the grounds of universal grace; as that, because he is a man, Christ died for him, for Christ died for all; but this is a slender comfort, for the despairing conscience will thus reply, God indeed hath done His part, but I refused GodŐs grace when it was offered. Therefore another way of comfort must be sought; which is, by proving unto him out of GodŐs Word that he is within the Covenant, and that the promises of grace and life do belong unto him. For the effecting whereof, one main ground is here propounded; to wit, that though a man want all righteousness, yet if he truly hunger after it, he is blessed; and the right applying of this ground is this: search must be made whether the party thus despairing, hath in him any spark of true grace or no; and this will be known by these two demands: first, whether he dislike his sins because they are sins? Secondly, whether he truly desires to be reconciled unto God, to repent and believe in Christ? Now if his conscience tells him that these things be in him indeed, then he is brought within the compass of this blessedness here pronounced by Christ, and hath title to this promise, that he shall be satisfied; for he that is grieved for his sin, because thereby he hath offended God, and withal hath an earnest desire of mercy and grace to repent and believe, is truly blessed. And therefore it may be said unto him: Seeing thou findest in thy heart this grief for sin and desire of grace, thou art blessed, and shall be satisfied. Thus may the distressed soul receive comfort. But as for them that live in sin, here is no comfort, for they have no true dislike of sin, no purpose or desire to repent thereof.
2. Secondly, as this rule of Christ ministereth comfort to some, so it declareth the miserable estate of others; to wit, of all those that want this spiritual hunger after righteousness, for they have no title to the promise of heavenly satisfaction by GodŐs mercy in Christ. And yet generally this is the estate of men everywhere; for after riches, pleasures, honours and preferments, men hunger and thirst, as the drought in summer doth after rain; but rare it is to find a man that savourest the things of God, and thirsteth after His righteousness, and yet such only are blessed.
3. Thirdly, this rule of Christ serves for sure direction, whereby we may know our estate before God in regard of true happiness. If we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we are surely blessed; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Now this spiritual hunger is known by two things: First, by an unfeigned hearty sorrow and grief for sins past; where this is wanting, true spiritual hunger and thirst is not. Secondly, by an earnest desire of GodŐs mercy in Christ for the pardon of sin and for sanctification, testified by a constant endeavour in the use of means to come thereby. He that hath these things in him may assure himself that he is blessed, for these be the motions of GodŐs Spirit, and the true pledges of His grace. Hereby then we must try our estate, if these things be in us, we have wherein we may rejoice; but if our hearts be dead, and hard, so as we have no touch for our sins, no hungering after the blood of Christ, nor desire of sanctification; then are we void of grace, and so most miserable; for the smallest measure of true grace that can be, is to hunger after grace in the want thereof.
4. Lastly, this rule of blessedness must admonish us, as we tender our salvation, so to labour for this spiritual hunger in our souls, after reconciliation with God in Christ for all our sins past, and for the sanctification of our hearts and lives by His Word and Spirit. We may hear, read and talk of GodŐs Word, and yet all to no end, unless we be in heaviness for our own unrighteousness, and from our hearts do send forth sighs and groans after mercy and grace in Christ. For what availeth it to have wit and learning, honour and riches, if the soul be void of mercy and grace in Christ? Which doubtless it is, while this spiritual hunger is wanting in the heart. And to move us to labour for this hunger, the reason annexed is very effectual, namely, the LordŐs promise that they shall be filled, which also shews wherein this blessedness doth consist. Now they that thus hunger are filled, partly in this life, by receiving the testimony of the Spirit touching reconciliation with God in Christ, and some fruits of sanctification whereby the old man is mortified and the new man is renewed in them; but principally at the end of this life, when they shall be fully justified and sanctified, and have GodŐs image perfectly renewed in them.