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They Shall Be Filled

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”—ST MATTHEW 5:6.

Two of those virtues which are pronounced blessed by Our Lord have a special characteristic of their own. They are not outward or apparent in any fashion; they are not directly concerned with any dealing between man and man, though they color all such dealings; they concern man in his relation to God and to God alone. The one is this spiritual hunger after righteousness, the other is purity of heart; the one is the quality of intensity in relation to God, the other is the quality of purity of aim and intention, without which even intensity is apt to go astray and lose its direction. If there were no other men on earth, the solitary man might exercise these virtues alone; were none other near him he could hunger and thirst after God, and he could be pure in heart. Sometimes we are told that “religion is a matter only between man and his God.” That kind of saying seems to some men to be a pious way of escaping obligations of which they cannot help feeling the force, but which are disagreeable. The employer uses it when he is rebuked on religious grounds for sweating his hands: “religion,” he says, “has nothing to do with the wages I pay, only economics affect the question.” Of course we all really feel the falseness of such a position. The law of Christ ought to reach, and was meant to reach and color every relation of life. It is not true that, if we keep a right relation to God, we fulfil the whole law. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen?”

What is this intensity, this enthusiasm for goodness, this longing and craving and aching for God? Surely it is the ideal state of soul to which we all desire to attain. It knows nothing of the compulsion of fear. The mediæval pictures of the flames of hell do not call it into being. It does not even listen for the stern voice of duty; it beholds righteousness; it sees in it the reflection of God, and the whole soul goes out to admire, to love, to imitate, to reproduce. It is spiritual idealism of the most practical kind, it is the eager inward desire of personal goodness, it is the wing David prayed for—“the wing of a dove.” It is the burning wish not for deliverance, not even for forgiveness, but for likeness to God, the wish to choose always among the good the things that excel, i.e., to become like Christ Himself.

This is its positive ideal. It is not a mere weariness of evil, a desire to escape from remorse; nor is it a mere sense of undefined want, an outcome of the weariness of the unsatisfied Hedonist; nor is it a mere pang of pain because we are not as good as we might be; nor is it a vague terror of mind that seizes on us when we are convinced of sin; nor is it the sullen gnawing of an inward hopelessness. None of these things are a “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” They may lead up to it; any of them may be an early stage on the road to it; this self-disgust may be, or any painful sense of deficiency and unworthiness may be, but they are not the thing itself. They may even simulate it: just as in sickness there is a false hunger which vanishes when wholesome food appears, so there is a stage of moral sickness when we abuse the world, meaning thereby our worldly neighbors, and rage against our own unsatisfactoriness, and think that we are longing to be free of others and ourselves, to get out of it all, to live wholly for good works, and lo! some act of Christ-like service offers itself for us to do, and our desire vanishes. We do not want to do that; we want to do something else, we want the great opportunities afforded by Abana and Pharpar and not these waters of Jordan. We would do much, but not that; we make splendid excuses for our evasion, but we do not see what that evasion really proves, that our minds are not set on righteousness, that we have mistaken the diseased craving of moral sickness for a desire for goodness.

Doubtless a genuine spiritual hunger and thirst may grow out of the ruins of false ideals, but the point is that dissatisfaction with them does not necessarily lead to it. Weariness with one’s surroundings may only result in a vacuous and tepid mournfulness for what we cannot help. The hunger and thirst after righteousness is the desire for something positive; it comes of a new sense awakening, the sense that there is such a thing as a beautiful and enthralling goodness, “more to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold,” a thing quite different from the drab caricatures of goodness that repel us.

It is not born of the hunting after the Vision nor from speculating about it; it begins with the sight of the King in His beauty, it is the want that comes after the Vision has been seen. You know the vivid expression so often repeated in the New Testament, “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” What must it be to have eyes to see the Perfect Moral beauty, to see it as Thomas saw it in a moment, and to cry with him, “My Lord and my God,” to feel the mingled longing for Him and desire to flee from Him, that strange paradox of feeling which poetry can best express.

*The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart

All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts,

Thou wilt be sick with love and yearn for Him;

There is a pleading in His precious eyes

Will pierce thee to the quick and trouble thee,

And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself and wilt desire

To slink away and hide thee from His sight,

And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell

Within the beauty of His countenance.

This is the vision of the Eternal Christ that awakens the true hunger and the thirst within the soul.

There are two characteristics of it which we may usefully consider.

I. The growth of this hunger and thirst within us is attested rather by positive assurances than by negative signs. To be sick of wickedness does not prove much. It may only prove that certain forms of wickedness have grown unattractive. But to be moved by goodness, wherever seen; to admire heroism; to be drawn towards nobility; to be stirred by self-sacrifice; above all, to detect goodness when it is disowned and discrowned, this does prove that there is in us at any rate the beginning of this blessed state. If among your fellowmen what is noble and good stirs you; if you can admire, and grow enthusiastic about the moral beauty of another’s life, even if you are far from imitating him, there is at any rate a beginning within you. To cultivate that beginning is your highest work. Feed on the best food for strengthening such enthusiasms that you can find in real life, in art, in history, in fiction. Do not read bad books or go to plays whose wickedness enthralls you.

A discussion is now going on in the papers as to the evil influence of certain sides of the modern drama, and much is said in defense and in depreciation of the growing habit of presenting the uglier sides of human nature to minute inspection. One clergyman writes that “he feels stimulated by thoughts of mercy, self-recovery, and the restoring power of genuine love” in witnessing a spectacle which another man describes as “immorality presented in its most loathsome form.” But there is certainly no room for doubt here. No one will ever learn to hunger and thirst after righteousness, really, by witnessing strained situations. There are people so strangely constituted as to prefer fogs to pure air, or music-hall songs to Beethoven and Mozart. One can only parallel them in the moral sphere with people who think to gain strength by gazing on such scenes of putrid degradation. The better such scenes are acted, the more lifelike the presentation, the greater the danger of subtle degradation. There is no more scathing condemnation of modern society, no more odious spectacle, than the sight (which is, so I am told, seen every night) of English fathers and mothers conveying their own children to receive their impressions of life from a story* whose leading features are (1) the betrayal of everything that makes life noble and helpful in woman, and (2) a view of heredity as morally dangerous as it is scientifically unsound.

It is said, of course, that we ought to face facts as they are. By all means let us face facts when it is necessary, but when you want to find the state of the atmosphere you do not put your nose over the nearest sewer. There are sewers, and there are people whose duty it is to work at them; they are part of the facts of life. No, depend upon it, it is no part of our moral education to look upon vice as a spectacle, to look on and see how it works out. We know that, alas, by too many sad tales within our own experience. That there is a morbid and unhealthy interest, that there is in some natures a horrid and creeping sensation of intense absorption in such scenes, is the very reason for keeping away from them. No one can estimate the harm done to their own power of moral and spiritual vision every time they let themselves fasten with interest on bad scenes. There is only one way of safe approach to them, and that is the way of service, the effort to help them. Any other approach is only so much lessening of moral power. The danger is real, lest they who have familiarized themselves with bad scenes and indulged the coarser side of their nature here, when they come “to stand before the Son of Man,” should find themselves, by their own indulgence, hopelessly incapacitated for the sight of Him.

To kindle within us the love of righteousness, the desire of God, we must expose ourselves to the highest influences, to the noblest art, to the best literature. The utterances of the Holy Spirit in every region of legitimate interest are not hard to find; we must “covet earnestly the best gifts” of art, of literature, and of history. Surely we shall not thereby indispose ourselves for that more excellent way, for the love of God and the love of man for God’s sake, which is the crown and the topstone of all Christian growth. And the more we find ourselves being moved by goodness, in the same way that the coarser minds are moved by spectacles of vileness, the more we find ourselves thinking on what is pure and worthy and of good report around us, detecting it, rejoicing in it, the more we shall approach to the real hunger and thirst after righteousness.

II. And as this hunger and thirst grows within you, it will teach you something about others that you could not otherwise learn; it will help you to detect the gold amid the dross, the real goodness beneath the superficial badness. You will get, so to speak, a new sense, a power to detect goodness, a power of a higher kind within you, a power to seize what there is to love, to admire, to reverence, to imitate, in others. Do not think it is an easy power to gain; it needs self-repression, it needs sympathy, it needs the visualizing faculty. One man finds nothing to admire in another, not because there is nothing, but because he has blinded his eyes, so that he cannot see. There are those who have no eyes for righteousness, and mercy, and purity beneath plain faces and bedraggled garments, who see the outside of everybody and stop in that. These are the blind, who say, “We see, therefore their sin remaineth.”

To sum up; Righteousness is Christlikeness; it is taking the principles and the ideas of the life of Christ, reverencing them, thinking of them, reproducing them.

If we do this, admiration will come; admiration will lead to imitation, imitation to desire, desire to surrender to the Will of God. Righteousness is not a creed, nor a set of habits, nor a set of customs, but a life, a yearning after perfection, a desire for holiness, an aching for God which is as “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and which yet shows itself by the most ordinary and practical service of our brother man.

* Dream of Gerontius (J. H. Newman).

* The allusion is to the play called “John-a-Dreams.”

Eyton, R. (1896). The Benediction on the Passion for Righteousness (I). In The Beatitudes (Second Edition, pp. 54–62). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. (Public Domain)

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