The Beatitudes, by John MacArthur
If you want a pointed and relatively short book that encourages Bible study on an important area of scripture and that confronts the reader with questions about how Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are to be applied in the lives of believers, this is certainly a good book. I must say there is a lot about this book that I happened to enjoy and that makes for something that is pleasant to read and easy enough to appreciate. I don’t think that everyone will appreciate this book but I certainly found material to reflect on here. Although this book is labeled as a Bible Study, it’s really more of a set of sermons in how the messages are structured, and the Bible Study aspects of it come from the reader answering the questions of the author at the end of every chapter of this book. The book, therefore, has a certain consistent format about it that makes for strange reading, but nevertheless a pattern of reading that one can follow and that one can see as being characteristic of the author as being someone who holds to challenging views and delights in challenging his readers.
This particular book is about 200 pages long and it is divided into ten messages that sequentially dealt with the contents of Matthew 5:1-12. The author begins with a discussion of the nature of happiness (1), which is how he celebrates the blessed of the beatitudes. As might be expected, the author’s views of happiness are distinct from the spirit of our present evil age. After that the author discusses the happiness of the humble (2) and the nature of pride in the fallen nature of humanity. After that there is a discussion of why it is happy to be sad and to mourn over our sins and the wickedness of our age (3). The author discusses what is blessed about being meek, discussing the meaning of meek within Greek, a worthwhile discussion (4). Likewise, the author discusses the sort of hunger that one should have for God’s kingdom and for righteousness and how that hunger can be cultivated through life’s experiences (5), and then discusses the happiness of the merciful (6) in a world that is often pitiless. The author discusses the blessedness of the holy and what that means, and again the author likes to challenge the reader to move beyond surface appearances to the deeper reality (7). The author explores the happiness of the peacemakers (8) and then spends the last two chapters discussing the happiness of those who are harassed and persecuted in this life (9, 10), after which there is a scriptural and then a topical index for the book as a whole.
One of the more notable aspects of this book is its structure. Each chapter of the book is formatted in a consistent way, beginning with an outline, then moving on to an introduction, a lesson, which is carefully labeled and categorized with plenty of supporting scriptures and word studies where appropriate. After a conclusion the author has included a lot of pointed questions that he calls, quite typically, “Facing the Facts.” And as might be guessed these facts are not always pleasant ones. For example, in discussing the hunger for righteousness, the author discusses the effect of grammar on the meaning of Matthew 5:6, calls upon the reader to question his or her reasons for feeling unhappy, and discusses how a godly person responds to devastation that is brought into one’s life. These questions require both intellectual and emotional strength to address in a successful manner. This book is not made for people who want smooth and easy words, but if you want a stiff challenge to your complacency, a book like this is always welcome.