BLESSEDNESS.—Though the word ‘blessedness’ itself is never found in the recorded utterances of our Lord nor in the pages of the Gospels, the idea conveyed by it is very frequent. The adjective ‘blessed’ occurs in many contexts, and may, indeed, be termed a characteristic epithet on Christ’s lips. The thought expressed by it was inherited, like so many others, from the Old Testament. It is one of the dominant notes of the Psalter (Heb. אַשְׁרֵי ‘O the happiness of’), and constitutes one of the clearest and most common terms whereby to denote the ideal of Israel’s highest hopes. It was natural, therefore, that Jesus should take the word to set forth the great spiritual realities of His kingdom. It is in this sense that it meets us on the earliest pages of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The famous form of the sayings there collected (see art. Beatitudes) is one of the best-known sections of the narrative. So throughout the pages of the Gospels and elsewhere in the NT we find sayings cast in the same mould. All of them are expressive of the spiritual graces to be looked for in disciples of the kingdom (.g. Matthew 11:6, Luke 7:23, Matthew 24:46, Acts 20:35
), or are indicative of high privileges open to believers in its message (.g. Matthew 13:16, Luke 11:28, John 20:29
). Spiritual gladness is not only a note of service in the kingdom, but is to accompany all its true and inalienable rewards.
When we set ourselves to discover the significance of these sayings we are struck (1) by their spiritual character. Twice (Luke 11:27
; Luke 14:15
) beatitudes of a material character are uttered by our Lord’s hearers, and He at once rebukes them, and shows the necessity of fixing the desires of the heart on the inward and unseen. The main qualities designated and praised are meekness, purity, tenderness of heart, peaceableness, faith, patience, contrition, qualities which have no sooner been named than we are reminded of such lists of the fruits of the Spirit as we find in Galatians 5:22-23
or Ephesians 4:30-32
. Blessedness, as Christ presented it, was therefore a condition of the mind and heart that expressed an attitude of faith and love towards God and men, and obtained the reward with certainty even if the sowing were ‘in tears’ and the ‘interest far off.’
(2) Several of these sayings are marked by the sense of the futurity of their fulfilment. It is noteworthy that in the list of Beatitudes in Matthew 5, while the majority speak of futurity, ‘shall be comforted,’ ‘shall inherit,’ etc., one or two are written in the present tense, e.g. ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ In Matthew 5:10
we have the unique form of expression, ‘have been persecuted … theirs is.’ In St. Luke also we find the same commingling of present and future. This reflects a state of opinion that prevails throughout the Gospels, and gives rise to some of the greatest problems of interpretation, viz. in what sense the kingdom of God is to be understood—as a present or as a future condition. The Beatitudes are not only closely related to this question—they constitute a special aspect of it. As Titius puts it, ‘Over every saying of Jesus may be written the inscription, “Concerning the kingdom of God” ’ These sayings, then, reveal the nature of the kingdom in its twofold aspect as an inward, spiritual, present reality which exists, progresses, suffers, is in perpetual conflict; and, as a great future fulfilment, when conflict shall turn to peace, failure to victory, suffering to reward, and the inward desire and the outward attainment be one in the presence of perfected power.
Blessedness may therefore be regarded as one of the forms under which our Lord presented the character of His kingdom, and so it becomes an illuminative idea whereby to read the whole Gospel narratives. They all illustrate it. They all serve to make up its content. The word and thought derived from the Old Testament receive richer significance, and may be taken as equivalent to those other great terms, such as ‘eternal life’ and ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ under which, in the pages of St. John and St. Matthew, the great purposes of God in Christ are set forth.
Literature.—The articles ‘Blessedness’ and, in particular, ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; the articles in this Dictionary on Beatitudes, Kingdom of God, Eternal Life, Parables, etc.; the Commentaries on Matthew 5 and Luke 6, and on the other verses quoted, especially, for practical purposes, Morison, Bruce
; Trench, The Sermon on the Mount. The most recent full commentary on Matthew is that of Zahn (in German). Books on the Kingdom of God should also be consulted, and, in particular, A. Titius, Die NT Lehre von der Seligkeit, etc., erster Teil, 1895; and Bousset, Jesu Predigt in ihrem Gegensatz zum Judentum. See also N. Smyth, Christian Ethics, 118ff.; J. B. Lightfoot, Sermons in St. Paul’s, 178; T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 25.
G. Currie Martin.