The Sermon on the Mount has a unique fascination. It seems to present the quintessence of the teaching of Jesus. It makes goodness attractive. It shames our shabby performance. It engenders dreams of a better world.
As John Donne put it in a sermon preached during Lent 1629, not without a little pardonable hyperbole: ‘All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity, is in these three chapters, in this one Sermon on the Mount’.
I have to confess that I have fallen under its spell, or rather under the spell of him who preached it. For the last seven years at least I have been constantly pondering it. In consequence, I have found my mind wrestling with its problems and my heart set on fire by the nobility of its ideals. During this period I have tried to share my thoughts and my excitement with students of Cambridge University, with other students groups in the United States and Canada, with the congregation of All Souls, Langham Place and with those thousands of eager pilgrims who came from all over the world to the 1972 Keswick Convention.
Of course commentaries by the hundred have been written on the Sermon on the Mount. I have been able to study about twenty-five of them, and my debt to the commentators will be apparent to the reader. Indeed, my text is liberally sprinkled with quotations from them, for I think we should value tradition more highly than we often do, and sit more humbly at the feet of the masters.
My aim for this exposition, in keeping with the whole *Bible speaks today* series, has been to listen carefully to the text. I have wanted above all to let it speak, or better to let Christ speak it again, and speak it to the contemporary world. So I have sought to face with integrity the dilemmas which the Sermon raises for modern Christians, and not to dodge them. For Jesus did not give us an academic treatise calculated merely to stimulate the mind. I believe he meant his Sermon on the Mount to be obeyed. Indeed, if the church realistically accepted his standards and values as here set forth, and lived by them, it would be the alternative society he always intended it to be, and would offer to the world an authentic Christian counter-culture.
I am extremely grateful to John Maile, New Testament lecturer at Spurgeon’s College, London, for reading the manuscript and making some helpful suggestions, and to both Frances Whitehead and Vivienne Curry for typing it.