"And seeing the multitudes, He went up into the mountain:
and when He had sat down His disciples came unto Him" (Matt. 5:1).
"And straightway He constrained the disciples to enter
into the boat, and to go before Him unto the other side, till He should send the
multitudes away. And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into the
mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, He was there alone" (Matt.
For some time past there has been one thing pressing more and
more strongly upon my consciousness and being forced up to recognition, and it
is what we have often called "spiritual ascendancy". It seems to me that that is
the issue for the church, and being the issue for the church, it is the issue
for every child of God, every member of Christ. The end of the church's history
on this earth is ascension, and it will not just be mechanical or automatic. It
will be the climax of a spiritual history, which is this having learned to
ascend in a spiritual way, of having come to know what real ascendancy means
This as a necessity has, of course, been felt and recognized
by the Lord's people fairly generally, and although many have not really
perceived the inner nature of it, they have felt the need of it and so this very
sense has been put into phrases, into language, which often have become a
slogan. For instance, 'the victorious life' is almost a slogan. It has been the
name given to certain kinds of Christian activity, work, teaching and movements.
Others have used the word 'overcomer', have spoken about overcoming, and it has
become the name or label for certain teaching and certain movements. And so we
have these various ways of trying to put into a concrete expression something
recognized and felt to be necessary, but not fully understood, and therefore
often limited in its application and meaning. It has been limited rather to
present, temporal, earthly things, rather than being seen as a great spiritual
principle with a very much greater content than just getting the better of your
temper and overcoming difficulties in your make-up and being a little more kind,
generous and happy; for that is very largely the way in which the victorious
life is thought of. There is something infinitely greater in the principle than
most have recognized.
We shall therefore be occupied for a little while with this
matter, and we have come to Matthew's Gospel which is very much marked by these
heavenly features, things which indicate, symbolize and represent that heavenly
position, that above position, for the church.
One of those features in this Gospel is the frequent
occurrence of the word 'mountain' and the number of times in which we find a
mountain brought into view. Another feature is the activity and ministry of
angels. These are suggestions, at least, of something from above, something off
the earth, something which in principle is ascendancy and a link with heaven. A
mountain top is a link with heaven, in type and in figure. An angel visitant and
ministry is a link with heaven. That is the thought which will lead us to the
spiritual truth so vital and necessary for the children of God.
The Strength of the Mountains
You know this matter of what we term 'spiritual ascendancy',
getting above, getting on top, breaking the power of earthly gravitation,
mastering this down-pressure to bring us lower and lower and finally under. We
are all conscious of this spiritual force that is focused upon Christians more
than upon any others, to get them down, to get them to take a lower level or to
accept a lower level, and then when they do that, that is not the end - still
further down they go. Once you have started the downgrade, there is no end to
it; once you have let go a little bit, you let go some more. The end will be
overwhelming, submergence, thoroughly down. We are all conscious of that
tremendous force of down-pressure and down-drag to keep us from maintaining a
high level of spiritual ascendancy, mastery and spiritual dominion, of being on
top of the enemy and things. That position really known, reached, and
maintained, is a tremendous factor in the matter of fortification, of strength,
and that, of course, is why the enemy always seeks to force the people of God
You remember the words in Psalm 125:1: "They that trust in
the Lord are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever. As the
mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from
this time forth and for evermore." Mountains? And the Lord like the mountains?
What is that? It is fortification, it is strength, it is protection. And what is
the point of fortification if there is nothing against which to be fortified?
Away back in Old Testament times, when the people came into
the land, the remarkable thing is that they occupied the higher places more than
the lower. You will find that their towns, cities and villages are almost all of
them upon some high place; the reason being that their enemies, who had chariots
and horses, had their strength on the level, in the plain, but they could do
nothing with chariots and horses against mountains. And therefore the safety,
security and fortification of the Lord's people was by being on high places.
That is a parable. If the enemy can get you on to his level he has beaten you.
So he must pull you down, he must get you down, he must get you to accept
something less than God's full place and mind for you, and then he will undo
you. That is what he has done with the church, speaking of the church now in
very general terms. He has pulled it down to this world level; he has reduced it
to the level of things here, and he has absolutely disintegrated it, broken it
up and divided it and robbed it of its power. The church which is revealed to us
in the New Testament is always on high ground. That is what we are going to see.
In Ephesians, it is "in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". It is a great power to
be on high ground, it is a great defensive, protective factor; the enemy can do
little with you if you keep up there and refuse to come down. Nehemiah found
that to be so, when they said, Come down and let us confer; and he said, "I am
doing a great work so that I cannot come down" (Neh. 6:3). It is a principle
Now here you are in Matthew on the mountains round about
Jerusalem. What you find here is that every one of these mountains reveals some
great factor in the church's state of impregnability. We are simply going to
take the main principles out of some of these mountains.
We come to Matthew chapter five. As you have looked at it,
your eye has passed on from verse 1, and you need to let your eye run right
through to the end of chapter seven, because it is chapters five, six and seven
which contain what happened on this mountain.
The "Exceeding High Mountain" of Temptation
And may I remind you that this is not the first mountain
mentioned in Matthew. There was an exceeding high mountain to which the devil
took the Lord in vision and showed Him all the countries of this world and their
glory, and said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and
worship me" (Matt. 4:9). My point is this: the devil reached his highest point
in that mountain of temptation, and the Lord beat him there. It was on a
mountain that the devil, fully extended, was defeated by the Lord. The Lord, so
to speak, takes up the whole of this question of ascendancy over all the power
of the enemy, this place where the enemy's power is taken from him, and begins
to apply it; and in the Holy Spirit there are always principles. This is not
fanciful interpretation, it is not imagining something. You always have to ask
the question, 'Why is it all written?' Is it just a pretty story, an incident?
No! The Holy Spirit has, may I say, a 'mentality', and the Holy Spirit's
mentality is always conscious of great spiritual principles which fill the
universe and apply to everything. And whenever the Holy Spirit takes up
anything, He sees through the thing to the principle behind it. If the Holy
Spirit has inspired this Gospel and inspired a man to mention various mountains,
He sees behind the figure to the principles.
And so the Holy Spirit has all the time a second
interpretation in mind which is the true, the ultimate, and He is bringing that
in representation. He will bring it out without representation presently through
the apostles in the letters. It will be direct, it will be just pure spiritual
truth; He will not have symbols in those letters, it will be direct teaching. He
will not say then that the church is a city on a mountain; He will say that the
church is in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. That is what He means all the way
along. So the Lord is here taking up this matter of Satan's defeat as on a high
place, and then proceeds to apply that and to tell us what are the secrets of
that ascendancy, dominion, authority and power.
Then we come to these chapters, and does it not strike you as
also containing something significant that, when you come to the end of this
section, at the end of chapter seven, the talk on this first mountain, you have
a man who has built his house upon a rock and the storms came and the winds blew
and the house stood, for it was built upon a rock. It may only be suggestive,
but it does seem to me to be rather remarkable that that is what the Lord is
after - strength, stability, something that cannot be shaken. You will find that
this is the idea of the mountain, "...as mount Zion, which cannot be moved" (Ps.
125:1). Spiritual ascendancy is only another way of saying a rock which
withstands the storm.
The Heavenly and Spiritual Nature of the Kingdom
It is almost too well-known to suffer repetition, that this
Gospel as written by Matthew is the Gospel of the King and the kingdom. That is
the particular emphasis of Matthew: Christ as King. Then if that is true and
that kingdom is not of this world, it is a heavenly and a spiritual kingdom in
this dispensation. And that Kingship is not now political or temporal on this
earth, but spiritual. Then when He ascends the mountain, you have the principle
of spiritual Kingship and the spiritual kingdom of spiritual command, of
spiritual government, of spiritual elevation. In this Gospel Matthew speaks of
Jerusalem as "the holy city" (Matt. 4:5) and "the city of the great King" (Matt.
5:35), but as you proceed you perceive that the earthly Jerusalem is in the way
of rejection. Steadily, deliberately, the movement is towards the setting aside
of the earthly Jerusalem, and as that movement proceeds and the Lord Jesus
reaches the outermost bound of that kingdom there at Caesarea Philippi, (the
furthest point of that earthly Jerusalem's influence in the earthly kingdom), at
that point the Lord Jesus brings the church in. It is the first time in the New
Testament, as far as the order is here, that the church is mentioned, and it
comes fully in: "Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades
shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). There we have our mountain, our
rock, our Zion which cannot be removed, which will withstand the tempests and
the raging storms of adversity which are coming upon it, as it proves later.
The church has been brought right in to take the place of
that earthly Jerusalem. A heavenly thing has come to supplant the earthly, but
the heavenly thing takes over the principles which are illustrated, represented,
and symbolized in the earthly. And if that principle that we have enunciated of
stability, power to resist, to overcome and to have dominion, was inherent in
the earthly representation with the representation's rejection and setting
aside, the principle is lifted right up and made the very principle of the
church, "and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it".
But it has got to be on high ground for that to be true. It
has to be, so to speak, in the mountain, a position essential to power. Power is
not found down on level ground; power is found by reason of position.
A Transfer from the Outward to an Inward Spiritual
Then you come to recognise that in this transference from the
earthly Jerusalem (the temple) to the heavenly and the spiritual (the church),
there is another change indicated. Everything is transferred from the outward to
the inward. Now that is summed up in these chapters.
The first section is in chapter five - on the mountain. The
King is there; His disciples come to Him; those who are to be taught the meaning
and nature of Kingship and the kingdom, who are to come into the spiritual
meaning of that, come to Him. And He begins to enunciate the spiritual laws and
principles of His Kingship and kingdom, and you find that they are an
extraordinary lot of regulations by the standard of this world. The very first
one reverses the whole conception of power. When people begin to build a kingdom
in this world, see how they begin. They will start by looking for the people who
are obviously, manifestly and conspicuously great among men: capable, efficient,
strong, aggressive. But this King says concerning those who are to govern in His
kingdom, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I just want to lift out this principle again. It is something inward and not
outward, something of character, of nature, of disposition; it is a kind of
person inwardly, and that kind of person is altogether different from the person
that this world seeks for its kingdom. But He is saying power is with these,
authority is with these, dominion is with these. Do you want to know what
ascendancy over the enemy, the great devil and his whole kingdom, is? The secret
is "poor in spirit". The Devil can do nothing with that. He can do anything with
anybody whom he can get down on to his own level, that is, being something in
himself. "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God", said the Devil, "I
will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13-14). Get on to the 'I' level,
and it may be a very big 'I', but it is a very low level; it is an earthly
thing, it is a devilish thing. And the Devil cannot even stand up; he is a
serpent, grovelling in the dust.
That is how the Lord looks at pride. "The haughty (the proud)
He knows from afar" (Ps. 138:6). "Every one that is proud in heart is an
abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 16:5). Power over the enemy is the reverse of
the enemy's disposition, taking his own ground from him, or having it taken from
us. The inclusive ground of the enemy's dominion is always pride, which has so
many forms of expression. It is there as a root of all sin; and this kingdom,
this dominion over the whole power of the enemy is, "Blessed are the poor in
spirit." That is where the Lord beat the enemy finally on that exceeding high
mountain. The enemy said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall
down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9); an appeal to the Lord Jesus to be something,
to have something, to be great in the eyes of men. In effect the Lord says, 'It
does not interest Me, that does not touch Me, you cannot get Me on that line, I
have no ambitions in that direction. My whole interest is in spiritual matters,
not things temporal.' "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things
which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). He was poor in spirit in that
sense, and the enemy was defeated. I do not know what the actual truth and
reality of that temptation in the wilderness was, whether it was a literal
mountain, whether the thing happened literally or whether it happened in the
soul of the Master.
We know what it means, you imagine things, you can have
suggestions and presentations of prospects and possibilities made to you; you do
not need to have it all brought about literally, it can all take place in the
chambers of imagery by suggestions. If it was like that with the Lord, it was
rather a principle that was at work, and He was dealing with the spiritual
principle. It was the spiritual principle of dominion, which is not, 'have and
hold and get for yourself'; it is, 'lose everything for yourself if only God
gets what He is after'; "the poor in spirit". It is the reversing from the
outward to the inward, and it was on this very ground that these disciples had
to fight out their one inclusive battle.
Yes, the great battle of their lives had to be fought out on
this very ground. They were ambitious men; they were men who wanted to get
possession and position. "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then
shall we have?" (Matt. 19:27). And they quarreled with one another on the way as
to who should be greatest in the kingdom. They were ambitious: "Grant that... one
may sit on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in the kingdom" (Matt.
20:21 paraphrase). This is the world's idea of success. The Lord is saying, No,
that is not the secret of real power and authority; it is just the reverse of
that: the power to let go. That is being poor in spirit - the power to let go
for the Lord's sake, to let go even your rights. We know how fiercely the battle
sometimes rages on that very point of our ability to let go to the Lord. The
whole thing rages like a storm while we hold on. Immediately we let go to the
Lord and say, 'Well, Lord, I just hand it right over to You, I take my hands
off, You take charge', something happens; there is relief; there is ascendancy;
there is a new position obtained, and it is one of power.
Even in relation to the interests of the Lord, we come into
it. We are so devoted to the 'interest' of the Lord that we get a grip on the
interests of the Lord, and is it not true that so often we only believe things
to be the Lord's will because we want them to be? We want them so much to be the
Lord's will that they must be the Lord's will.
He is on the mountain and He is saying in the first place,
that the secret of the church's power (that means the power of every individual
believer) is that of an inward ascendancy over the spirit, the disposition, and
the mentality of this world, of this old creation And it is a new kind of
outlook, a new kind of mind, a new kind of temper and disposition. It is a
change from the outward to the inward.
The Lordship of Christ
We pass to the next section of these chapters.
"Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets; I
came not to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt. 5:17).
"Verily I say unto you" (5:26); "I say unto you"
And do you notice what that is set over against? "Moses said
- but I say. Yes, Moses said certain things, but I say unto you..." It is
tremendous. Think of those to whom He was speaking, all the immediate world in
which He was moving who were holding the law and its giver, Moses, as its last
word and the final authority in all the things of God. If there was any question
they asked, "What did Moses say? He closes the whole argument". And here one
comes along and says, "Moses said" - yes, "but I say unto you", "I say unto
you". There is constant repetition: "But I say"; and, "Verily, truly, I say."
Now note: He is not contradicting Moses; that would not do.
It is not that He is contradicting Moses, but He is transcending Moses,
He is taking things on to a higher level - you can see the context - from the
outward to the inward. If a man murders his brother, well, Moses said what
should be done to him; but I say unto you that if you are angry with your
brother, you are a murderer. This is something not in the act that you do
outwardly; it is the nature from which it comes, which is very much higher
ground. It is not what you do,
it is your disposition. Many a
murderer has never killed anybody, but he is a murderer all the same, according
to this standard. You say, "That is terrible ground, who can take that ground?"
That is not the point just for the moment. The point here is this: that the King
is on the mountain, and He has gathered to Him the men who are to be instructed
in what that Kingship means, what real ascendancy is. What is it? The full and
final and utter sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. "I say unto you. You may have
thought that Moses was the last word; I am the last word; there comes with Me a
kingdom that never came with Moses; there came with Moses a kingdom and a system
of laws and regulations which were but temporal. There has come with Me a
kingdom and a system of spiritual laws and principles which is spiritual and
eternal, and therefore infinitely greater than that of Moses." I - this is the
only One in God's universe who has the right to use that personal pronoun, but
He used it in the right connection, He used it in relation to the divine mind,
the divine thought. Satan used it out of that relationship.
All I am going to say about that is this, that spiritual
power, authority and ascendancy is gathered up into this: that the Lord Jesus
has the place of complete and perfect sovereignty in and over our lives to
govern them so that our minds are made completely subject to His. Our ideas, our
thoughts, even in His work and His interests, should be subjected to Him, so
that it is not how, where and when we think things should be done, but that He
should become complete Master in His own house.
He is enunciating the principle which became evident with the
coming of the Holy Spirit. What was the secret of the church's ascendancy in
those first days? What was the secret of the power of those who represented the
kingdom of the heavens? Well, it was their subjection to the absolute Lordship
of Christ. Look at Peter in relation to the house of Cornelius, the little bit
of battle that was fought out in relation to the mastery, the Lordship, of
Christ. But when that Lordship was established, even over Peter's traditional
acceptances and mentality, what power came in in the house of God! Why, heaven
came down, heaven was manifested there in mighty power! Peter, in reporting the
thing over against the questionings of his own brethren, said, "Who was I, that
I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17). 'I was perfectly helpless in this matter;
heaven took it out of my hands. Just as had happened at Pentecost, heaven took
it out of our hands; we were swept off our feet, so it happened there.' It is
the Lordship of Christ.
In the life of Paul it was like that. Paul set out on his
way, committing that way to the Lord and trusting the Lord about his way, and he
reached a certain point and he thought to go in a certain direction and preach
there, but he was forbidden of the Holy Spirit. Then he thought in another
direction: this would be the place to go to, this is a needy area, surely it
would be the right thing to make Christ known there, but the Spirit of Jesus
suffered him not (Acts 16:7). Now, supposing he had leaned to his own
understanding and pursued the course of his own judgment, he would have gone
into Asia and Bithynia, and there would have been no result. Perhaps he would
have got into trouble; that is usually what happens when you pursue a
self-chosen, self-directed way. But at that point, the Lord showed him another
direction. Perhaps he had never thought of that. That certainly was not in his
present mental program, but he was adjustable to the Lord. The Lordship of
Christ was established, and so he went there, and you have the churches in
Macedonia, and glorious churches they were - Thessalonica and Philippi and
others. But here was Christ's Lordship governing through the Holy Spirit. And
you find that right through the Acts.
I venture to say that not one of us, leaning to our own
understanding, would have taken Philip's course from Samaria to the desert, but
he was subject to Christ, and who will say that that was not the most fruitful
thing? It is the working out of this principle, "I say unto you". You have to
transfer your seat of authority from that which up until now has been the
greatest, to something that is greater than anything you have known. You say,
"Of course we are there; we do regard Christ as greater than Moses; for us there
is no trouble about that." But the application of that principle is not as
simple as that.
Listen to that last statement of mine again, that last
clause: transfer from what has hitherto been the greatest thing in your
knowledge to something now revealed to demand that transference. Even in
Christianity that principle has to be applied. Are there not many people who
have been born and brought up in a certain Christian way and that is the "best
and greatest" they have ever known? They think that is the last word, and if
they hold to it and take the attitude that there cannot be anything better than
this, they have closed the door to something that may be much better. Many are
there, tied up to what they hold to as the very best thing that ever was or
could be, and so the Lord is excluded. The Lord may constantly be breaking in
and saying, "I have not reached the end; I have not exhausted all revelation; I
have yet much more to make known than has ever been known by the greatest and
fullest person. Are you ready to adjust? Am I Lord?" And on that question of His
Lordship, power, dominion, authority and influence hang.
Adjustableness is such a tremendous thing in the matter of
knowing the Lord in greater fullness. So-and-so says, but I say. Oh, we have
been brought up to believe this! Yes, "but I say..." Sometimes it just works like
that. The Lord is hitting right up against some fixed position of ours, some
kind of finality, some rigidness because we believe that that is the end of all
truth. He comes right up against it and applies this matter of His sovereignty
in new things over our judgments and conceptions, even our spiritual ones. Are
we open for anything more that the Lord may have, or are we fixed? Upon that
depends this whole matter of power and spiritual government. I could give you
many living examples of how that works out, but there is your law of the kingdom
- adjustableness to Christ. "Moses said", and we are fixed on Moses. That was
just the little point between Peter starting out for Caesarea and that great
work of God. Moses said that no unclean creature was to be eaten. The unclean
and clean are catalogued in Leviticus 11; you have a catalogue of unclean
creatures which are forbidden, and here they all are in this sheet, and the Lord
from heaven says, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat" (Acts 10:13). What about Moses?
"But I say unto you...". You say, surely that is a contradiction of Moses? Not at
all. If you saw more deeply into the meaning of that discrimination, you would
see that after all the unclean beasts only represented principles, just as the
clean ones did, and the actuality is secondary. It is only symbolism, after all;
it is the thing implied that matters.
Do we at any point have another authority but the present
exercise of the authority of Christ? The present exercise,
for that authority of Christ comes in at points and stages, and tomorrow it may
mean something more than it means today, and it is the everyday progress of the
authority of Christ. I mean by that that tomorrow some new ascendancies may be
necessary that have not been before; it is His word that must govern in all
things. "But I say unto you".
The great question for you, for me, for the Lord's people is
this: the question of higher ground. And higher ground means advantage, vantage
ground over the enemy and all his work and his power. If that ground is to be
obtained, these two things which come out here in connection with the first
mountain must be realized - things in our own hearts. First, a spiritual
disposition found in those laws of the kingdom: the poor in spirit, those that
mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the
pure in heart, the peacemakers and so on - a disposition. Persecuted for
righteousness' sake - there is no virtue in being persecuted; anybody can be
persecuted for anything, but for righteousness' sake is different. For example,
you do not turn round and say, 'I will get even with you one day.' It is a
disposition: "Who... when He suffered, threatened not", it says of the Lord (1
Peter 2:23). That is the secret of power and ascendancy. And then the
preparedness to let the Lord have the upper hand in all arguments, to let the
Lord have the last word in all matters, to adjust to anything that the Lord
brings in a new light. Yes, openness to Him and complete subjection to His full
authority. That is the way of going on in power. It is proved in this book, as
we have seen, and it always is so. May the Lord bring us on to that mountain.