Charles Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism discusses the opposing views concerning the Sermon on the Mount.
One critic claims that dispensationalist believe that “the Sermon on the Mount is neither the Church’s duty nor privilege. It is not for now” (T. A. Hegre, The Cross and Sanctification, page 6). George E. Ladd said, “A system which tales this great portion of Jesus’ teaching away from the Christian in its direct application must receive penetrating scrutiny” (Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1952, page 104). This difference of views on the Sermon on the Mount is disagreement over interpretation not application of the sermon.
Various Views on the Sermon on the Mount
1. There is a liberal and conservative view that the Sermon on the Mount is a message of salvation.
The Liberal View: Adolf Harnack views the sermon as works for salvation. According to Harnack the Sermon on the Mount teaches “the several departments of human relationships and human failings so as to bring the disposition and intention to light in each case, to judge man’s works by them, and on them to hang heaven and hell” (What is Christianity? London: Williams & Norgate, 1904, 72).
The Conservative View: John MacArthur, Jr. says the Sermon on the Mount “is pure gospel, with as pointed an invitation as has ever been presented” (The Gospel According To Jesus, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988, p. 214).
Ryrie responds with a series of questions:
“The discourse contains several pointed invitations, but invitations to what? To believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again? Impossible to prove. To repent? Definitely. Who were to repent? The Jewish people. About what were they to repent? About their disobedience to God’s Law. That repentance was with a view to What? To entering the kingdom of heaven, which was at hand. The Messianic, Davidic kingdom on this earth.” There is not one statement of gospel in the Sermon.
2. The Sermon on the Mount is a message for the Church.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, says the Sermon “is something which is meant for all Christian people. It is a perfect picture of life in the kingdom of God” Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 1:16. If the Sermon is primarily for the Church, it is impossible to interpret it consistently literal. Example from Ryrie: “Every businessman all Christian schools would go bankrupt if they gave to all who asked anything of them (Matt. 5:42). Carl F. H. Henry said, that the Sermon is “the rule of daily life for the Christian believer” (Christian Personal Ethic, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1957, 287). Ryrie’s response, “The complete of all the teachings of Jesus does not mention the Holy Spirit once or the church per se or prayer in the name of Christ. These things were taught by Christ on other occasions during His ministry but not in the Sermon (John 14:16; 16:13, 24; Matt. 16:18).
3. The Sermon on the Mount is related to the Kingdom.
“This has to do with interpretation, not application, for all dispensationalists that I have ever read say, even insist, that the Sermon contains teachings whose principles apply to the church.” Ryrie, p. 99. Another example is the Original Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1000. “The distinction is between understanding the Sermon as the rule of life for those in the church (in which case its prescriptions must be taken word for word) and applying principles and lessons from it.” Ryrie, p. 99.
There are Three Basic Version of this last view:
a. The Sermon relates only to the millennial kingdom.
This is Dwight Pentecost’s view: “We conclude, then, that the Sermon on the Mount was our Lord’s exposition of the holiness of God. It set forth the demands that a holy God made on those who would be accepted by Him and received into Messiah’s kingdom.” What about Matt. 6:10; 5:10? (Words and Works of Jesus Chirst, page 172).
b. The Sermon relates to any time the Messianic kingdom is offered (during the Lord’s offer and the future Tribulation).
This view is supported by verses that anticipate the coming kingdom: 5:11, 12; 44; 6:10; 7:15. This view is weakened by verses that demand obedience in the context of a righteous government (5:38-42).
c. The Sermon relates both to any time the kingdom is offered and to the time when the millennial kingdom is functioning on this earth.
The Sermon is a detailed explanation of what the Lord meant by repentance for Israel. The Sermon relates to any time the kingdom is offered. The Sermon also relates to life in the millennial kingdom. The Sermon is applicable for believers today because “all Scripture is profitable” (2nd Tim. 3:16). Are other sermons in Matthew interpreted for the church today? (Mt. 10:5-15; 19:21; 24:20). The answer is no.
RYRIE’S FINAL STATEMENT
“Thus, the dispensational interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount simply tries to follow consistently the principle of literal, normal, or plain interpretation. It results in not truing to relegate primarily and fully the teachings of the Sermon to the believer in this age. But it does not in the least disregard the ethical principles of the Sermon as being not only applicable but also binding on believers today” (p. 101).