By J.R. Miller
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness--for they shall be filled." Matthew 5:6
We would probably say, at first thought, that the satisfied are the happy, that those who have every desire fulfilled are the blessed. We do not think of intense and painful hunger, as a desirable state. Yet the Lord pronounces one of His beatitudes upon the unsatisfied, those who hunger and thirst.
However, it is not in the condition of hunger, itself, that the blessedness lies--but in that of which hunger is the sign, and that to which it leads. It is the token of life and health. A dead man has no desire, no longing for anything. One who has no craving for that which is good, no thirst for God, no yearning to be holy, to be like Christ, to be filled with the Spirit--is spiritually dead!
There is a touching story of one who was in declining health and went to the warm South in the winter to search of renewed life. She wrote to her friend, cheerful letters in which she spoke of the charm of the place, the wonderful luxuriance of all vegetable growths, and the abundance of food upon the table. Yet every letter contained the sad note, "If only I could eat, I would soon get well here; but I have no appetite." Then in a few weeks her frail body was borne back to her home--dead amid plenty, not for the lack of food--but for lack of hunger. Blessed are those who hunger, for hunger is a mark of health and of vigorous life, while the lack of it tells of disease and coming death.
The same is true of the mind. Hunger is blessed, because it is a mark of intellectual health. While one craves knowledge and is eager to press out upon the broad sea to discover the new worlds that lie beyond it--one's mind is alive and in wholesome state. Satisfaction with one's present knowledge, without desire to learn more, is evidence that one has reached the limit of one's mental growth. The artist had reason to weep, when he found himself satisfied even with his magnificent creation, recognizing the truth that he had now reached his best, and that there was no further progress for him.
In spiritual life, the principle is the same. Those who hunger--are blessed. The unsatisfied, are those whose souls are prospering and in health. Not to be eager to know more of God and to have more of the life of God in the heart--is to be spiritually dead. Longing is an invariable mark of true religion. Not the soul at ease, content, satisfied--but the soul thirsting for God, is the Scriptural ideal of God-likeness. Men are represented as hungry and thirsty. The soul is too great to feed on anything which this world can furnish. The beginning of salvation is the awaking of a desire to find God, to come back into His favor, to be restored to fellowship with Him, to be blessed with His love and to be filled with His life. The state of true blessedness, is one of hunger for God.
Thus Jesus spoke of Himself as bread, the bread of life, offered to meet this spiritual hunger. He said He was the bread of God, bread from heaven, of which if a man should eat--he would live forever. The faith that turns to Christ and receives the blessings that He has brought to the world, is spiritual longing. It begins in a consciousness of personal need, which finds full satisfaction in Christ. Not to hunger is therefore to go unblessed. It tells of a soul satisfied without God. But a yearning for God, is evidence of the beginning of spiritual life.
There is a story of child who had dwelt by the sea--but who was found by a wealthy relative and carried away to an inland valley. His home there was more beautiful and luxurious--but he was not happy. Something was lacking. He missed the music of the ebbing and flowing tides. He missed the dewy spray on his cheeks. A feeling of homesickness possessed him. One day he climbed to the top of a high hill, and far off he saw a blue spot on the horizon. "The sea! The sea!" he cried, with trembling heart. He rested not until he had found his way back to his heart's beloved home. So it is with the soul that becomes homesick for God. It finds no satisfaction, until it rests in God. Blessed is such hunger, for it tells of hope.
Hunger is blessed also, because of the good to which it leads. It is the inspiration of every worthy advance and development. It drives the scholar to his patient and unwearying researches which result in benefit to the world. It sends the explorer out on untraversed seas to discover new lands with their treasures. In the Christian, it is hunger for God and for holiness, and for the privilege of ministering. It is the inspiration of everything beautiful. Spiritual longing is the fire in the heart--which impels to all consecration, to all holy effort, to all giving and doing, to all self-denial and sacrifice. It is the empty hand stretched up to God, to receive the gifts of grace. It is the fire in the heart, which kindles all love for God and burns on the altar in all pure desire.
It is not all longing which has the seal of blessedness upon it. It is "those who hunger and thirst after righteousness" to whom the promise of satisfaction is given. Righteousness is godliness. It includes all that is worthy and Godlike. The lofty standard is set in our Lord's teaching: "Be therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." We have another glimpse of it in the prayer, that we may do God's will "as it is done in heaven." The life of heaven, is the pattern for those who are seeking after righteousness. It begins in the heart when Christ is first received, and works itself out into all the life and character. In its perfection, this righteousness is the image of Christ--a measure which embraces all moral excellence.
It is important that we understand well the true nature of the hunger to which such blessedness is promised. It is not a vague and empty longing. There is a craving which is not the sign of wholesome spiritual life--it is sentimental, morbid, and sometimes sickly. It is not merely a desire to know more of God, to be made more like God, to be led into deeper consecration or more perfect self surrender to Christ. This may only be an idle, dreamy yearning--which leads to nothing worthy or beautiful.
Righteousness is something very real. It is holiness of life. It is Christ-likeness in character. It is uprightness and integrity in all conduct, obedience to all God's commandments, the cheerful acceptance of the divine will, even when it traverses our own will. This is very different from many people's thought of holiness. They think of it as a sort of halo encircling the brow, a spiritual ecstasy too sublime, too ethereal, for this world's everyday life. But the righteousness which the Bible sets as copy for our living--is righteousness which takes God's commandments as working rules for all life.
The longing which climbs to heaven's blessedness, is longing for the mind that was in Christ Jesus in His condescension and ministry. That was an intense longing to do the Father's will, and to save a lost world. Many people sing with fervor, "Nearer, my God, to Thee," but really have no real desire to get nearer to God. Many pray to be made more like Christ, who never think what it would mean to them to become indeed like Christ.
Nor does this hunger for righteousness exhaust itself in mere longing. There is too much idle longing. It says its prayers and sings it hymns and breathes out its sighs and aspirations for holiness--but takes no tangible steps toward the realization of the righteousness it so yearns to possess. Not so easily, can this righteousness be attained. Nor artist ever dreamed a great picture upon his canvas; it takes skill and toil to see this dream in color, so that its beauty may charm the beholder. No godly man ever longed himself into a splendid character; it took years of patient self-denial, self-restraint and self-discipline to build up the life which so reflects the holiness of Christ. "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." 1 Timothy 4:7
True hunger for righteousness puts its longings into holy endeavors which grow into worthy deeds. It dreams beautiful dreams--but it seeks at once to bring its dreams down into the life of the common days, and to translate them into beautiful acts! The visions of loveliness which raise the soul in the hour of prayer, or at the Lord's Table, or on some transfiguration mount--it seeks to work out in lovely character, in Christlike disposition, or in loving service.
Nothing is so worthless in Christian life--than emotions which come to nothing, good resolves which are never kept, and ecstatic feelings which fade out and leave the heart colder than before!
The longing that is blessed, seeks at once to climb to the new height it has discovered. The heavenly vision granted to it--it attempts to paint on the canvas. Thus it makes each today better than yesterday, each tomorrow fairer than today.
Very precious is the promise which is made to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, "They shall be filled." No such assurance comes to those who hunger after earthly pleasures.
We are not to infer that the hunger is fully satisfied at once, that the moment one begins to long for righteousness, desire ceases. There is a satisfaction which does come as soon as the soul finds its home in Christ. Peace then begins. There should be no longer any unhappy restlessness. But satisfaction is not complete, and never can be complete, in this world. The peace of God which is promised, passes understanding, and yet it is to come into our heart with tides like the flowing of an infinite ocean. The hunger is to continue, for we are to continue to grow in grace--until grace ends in glory.
We must not suppose that the blessedness of Christian faith, is something which we can take in at a single draught, as one would drink a cupful of water. It is not an experience in which we reach fullness of joy, in one hour. It is something whose meaning it will take eternity to learn.
It is a comfort to us, to know that Christ promises to satisfy all our longing. One of the world's religions proposes to give happiness by quenching desire. Destroy life's longings, it teaches, and the soul will be at peace. But Christ offers to satisfy every hunger and thirst. The desires and longings of our nature are not sinful; they do not need to be destroyed. A man found a torrent in the mountain. As it rushed on impetuously it could only work ruin. He builds a flume for it and carried its waters in a quiet stream into the valley where they turned spindles and wheels, watered the fields and gave drink to the thirsty. Thus Christ would take the mighty cravings and longings of human souls--and yoke them for obedient life and holy service. That is the way He would satisfy our longings--not by destroying them--but by leading them in ways of righteousness. If we take Christ's yoke upon us and learn of Him--we shall find rest unto our soul.
No doubt the blessing seems ofttimes to come slowly. Our hungers seem not to be satisfied. We continually fall far below the excellence we seek to reach. The pure flowers of our heart's intentions, blooming at the opening of the day, lie withered and stained in the dust at the days close. We fail in our attempts to make our dreams and visions come true.
But we should never be discouraged. Even though we appear not to be growing into the divine likeness, we should never become weary. Every earnest striving, with faith in Christ, sets our feet a little higher on the steep mountain path. Even when we seem not to be advancing, we are really in some way climbing upward, and at last we shall come out of all the struggles, into full blessedness at the feet of Christ.