The “Sermon”—What it is, and
What People Say About it
I was a kid, my Uncle Gene used to say that his
“religion” was the “Sermon on the Mount.” I know that
Uncle Gene didn’t belong to a church and never attended
a church service except an Easter Sunrise Service once a
year. He never mentioned the Bible, and I’m pretty sure
he never read it. I’m not sure he had any idea that
Jesus was connected with the sermon. At least he never
mentioned Jesus. Yet he thought the “Sermon on the
Mount” was the cat’s pajamas.
first grand-sponsor in A.A. used to suggest that the men
he sponsored read “the Sermon on the Mount.” Turned out,
he meant Emmet Fox’s book—something I learned when I saw
that several of the men had Fox’s book and said it had
been recommended by my grand-sponsor. Later, at our
Wednesday night meeting, this man said the “Sermon on
the Mount” and the Bible were very special in A.A. But
he later confided to me that he had never read the
Bible. On several other occasions, he warned men that
AAs who read the Bible got drunk and that they should
have been reading the Big Book and nothing else. My own
first sponsor told me the same things. Together, these
men tried to stop me from taking my sponsees to a Bible
fellowship. Both talked lots about their “higher power,”
a little about Fox’s “sermon,” but never mentioned Jesus
Christ in my presence.
had an A.A. friend come up to me one day and ask me
where the “Lord’s Prayer” came from. He wanted to know
where he could find it. Of course, he had been saying it
at the end of every A.A. meeting every day for months
and months. He had expressed interest in going to a
Bible fellowship, and it’s just possible he put together
the idea that the Lord’s Prayer and the Bible were
to my own knowledge about the “sermon,” I have to
confess that, even though my mother studied the Bible
daily, wrote me about it frequently, and used to read to
me from the Psalms when I was ill, I don’t think I knew
very much about the sermon. I think I believed that
Jesus had delivered the talk to his disciples on a
mountain. Also, I had heard stuff about the
“Beatitudes,” the “Lord’s Prayer,” “turn the other
cheek,” “love your enemies,” and the “Golden Rule.” But
I had never heard of, or used, a Bible Concordance. And
I am sure I couldn’t have found those verses or sayings
in the Bible to save my soul!
Early AAs Heard about
it All the Time
Sermon on the Mount had a different history in early A.A.
Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob said several times that
Jesus’ sermon on the mount contained the underlying
philosophy of A.A. As A.A.’s own literature reports:
“He [Dr. Bob] cited the Sermon on the Mount as
containing the underlying spiritual philosophy of A.A.”
(DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. NY: Alcoholics
Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980, p. 228). Dr. Bob
had no hesitancy about reading from the Bible and
reading from it this sermon at meetings. An A.A.
Grapevine article states that at a meeting led by
Dr. Bob, Dr. Bob “put his foot on the rung of a
dining-room chair, identified himself as an alcoholic,
and began reading the Sermon on the Mount” (DR. BOB,
supra, p. 218). Dr. Bob pointed out that there were
no twelve steps at the beginning, that “our stories
didn’t amount to anything to speak of,” and that they [A.A.’s
“older ones”] were “convinced that the answer to their
problems was in the Good Book” (DR. BOB, supra,
p. 96). Clarence Snyder pointed out as to Dr. Bob: “If
someone asked him a question about the program, his
usual response was: ‘What does it say in the Good
Book?’” (DR. BOB, supra, p. 144). Bob
said quite clearly: “I didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I
had nothing to do with the writing of them” but that “We
already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and
tangible form. We got them as a result of our study of
the Good Book” (DR. BOB, supra, pp.
96-97). He also said the older members were convinced
that the answer to their problems was in the Good Good.”
Dr. Bob stressed over and over that the “the parts we
found absolutely essential were” the Book of James, the
Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 (e.g.
DR. BOB, supra, p. 96). In the Foreword he
wrote to Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book,
Dr. Bob’s son “Smitty” pointed to the importance of
James, the Sermon, and Corinthians; and I heard Smitty
repeat his statement at several large A.A. history
meetings, including one at A.A.’s San Diego
International Convention in 1995. Dr. Bob’s sponsee
Clarence Snyder, got sober in February of 1938 and later
became the AA with the greatest amount of sobriety.
Clarence often echoed Dr. Bob’s words about the Bible
and the three essential parts. Also, in a talk given to
AAs in Glenarden, Maryland, on August 8, 1981, Clarence
said: “This program emanates from the Sermon on the
Mount and the Book of James. If you want to know where
this program came from, read the fifth, sixth, seventh
chapter of Matthew. Study it over and over, and you’ll
see the whole program in there” (Glen Cove, NY: Glenn K.
Audio Tape #2451).
course, the Lord’s Prayer itself can be found in several
of the Gospels and particularly in Jesus’ sermon at
Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer from the sermon was
originally and frequently recited by the A.A. pioneers
at the close of every meeting (e.g.: DR. BOB,
supra, pp. 141, 148, 183, 261)—just as it was in the
meetings of the Oxford Group, from which A.A. derived.
Wilson actually quoted from two parts of the sermon in
the Big Book—though he never indicated his source. He
borrowed the phrase “Thy will be done” [from Matthew
6:10] and partly quoted “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself” from Matthew 5:43 (also found in many other
places in the Bible—e.g.: Leviticus 19:18; Romans
13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
Bob read and circulated among early AAs and their
families a good many materials discussing every facet of
the sermon—e.g.: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
by Oswald Chambers (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Ltd., n.d.);
The Christ of the Mount: A Working Philosophy of Life
by E. Stanley Jones (NY: The Abingdon Press, 1931);
The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox (NY: Harper &
Row, 1934); The Lord’s Prayer and Other Talks on
Prayer from The Camps Farthest Out by Glenn Clark
(MN: Macalester Park Publishing Co., 1932) and I Will
Lift Up Mine Eyes by Glenn Clark (NY: Harper &
Brothers, 1937). See Dick B. Dr. Bob and His Library,
3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research
Publications, Inc., 1998); DR. BOB and the Good
Oldtimers, supra, pp.310-311. Many Oxford
Group books discussed the sermon as did many of the
daily devotionals the early AAs used—devotionals such as
The Upper Room and The Runner’s Bible. See
DR. BOB, supra, pp. 71, 139, 151, 178, 220, 311 and, as
to The Runner’s Bible, DR. BOB, supra, p.
293; RHS. NY: A.A. Grapevine, Inc., 1951, p. 34;
Dick B., Good Morning, 2d ed., Dr. Bob and His
Library, 3rd ed.,The Books Early AAs
Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed.
A Study of the
Actual Sermon on the Mount AAs Read
(Matthew Chapters 5-7)
discussion will not deal with a particular book or
commentary on Matthew chapters 5-7. It will focus on the
verses in the Sermon on the Mount itself. For this
Sermon, which Jesus delivered, was not the property of
some present-day commentator or writer. The fact that
Dr. Bob read the Matthew chapters themselves, as
well as many interpretations of them, verifies the A.A.
belief that the Sermon was one of the principles
common property of mankind,
which Bill Wilson said the AAs had borrowed. And here
are some major points that appear to have found their
way from the Sermon into the basic ideas of the Big
Book. The points were, of course, in the sermon itself.
In addition, the pioneers read many books and articles
on and about the sermon which are thoroughly documented
in the author's
title, The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.'s
Roots in the Bible. Those items further
illustrate some of the points made in the sermon and
that might have found their way into A.A.
The Lord's Prayer
- Matthew 6:9-13
Oxford Group meetings closed with the Lord's Prayer in
New York and in Akron. In early A.A., the alcoholics
also closed meetings with the Lord's
Prayer. Moreover, I have personally attended at least
two thousand A.A. meetings, and almost every one has
closed with the Lord's
Prayer. At the 1990 International A.A. Conference in
Seattle, which was a first for me, some 50,000 members
of Alcoholics Anonymous joined in closing their meetings
with the Lord's Prayer. The question here concerns what
parts, if any, of the Lord's Prayer found their way into
the Big Book, Twelve Steps, A.A. Slogans, and the A.A.
fellowship; and we hasten to remind the reader that the
prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here
are the verses of the Lord's Prayer (King James
Version) as found in Matt. 6:9-13. Jesus instructed
this manner therefore pray ye:
Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is
in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for
Bob studied specific commentaries on the Sermon by
Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley
Jones. And these writers extracted a good many
teachings, prayer guides, and theological ideas from
Prayer verses in the Sermon. But there are a few
concepts and phrases in the Lord's
Prayer itself which either epitomize A.A. thinking or
can be found in its language whether
the A.A. traces came from the Lord's
Prayer or from other portions of the Bible. For example,
the Big Book uses the word
when referring to the Creator Yahweh, our God; and the
context shows that this usage and name came from the
Bible. The Oxford Group also used the term
among other names, when referring to God. The concept
and expression of God as
is not confined to the Sermon on the Mount. It can be
found in many other parts of the New Testament. But AAs
have given the Our
prayer a special place in their meetings. Thus the Lord's
Prayer seems the likely source of their use of the word
phrase Thy will be done
is directly quoted, or is the specific subject of
reference, in the Big Book several times (Big Book, 4th
ed., pp. 63, 67, 76, 85, 88). It underlies A.A.'s
contrast between self-will
The Oxford Group stressed, as do A.A.'s
Third and Seventh Step prayers, that there must be a
decision to do God's
will and surrender to His will. These ideas were
also symbolized in the A.A. prayer's
will be done.
us our debts
certainly states that God can and will
and these concepts can be found in the Big Book, whether
they came from the Lord's
Prayer or from other important Biblical sources such as
the Book of James.
A Study of the Actual Sermon on the Mount AAs Read
(Matthew Chapters 5-7)
This discussion will not
deal with a particular book or commentary on Matthew
chapters 5-7. It will focus on the verses in the Sermon on
the Mount itself. For this Sermon, which Jesus delivered,
was not the property of some present-day commentator or
writer. The fact that Dr. Bob read the Matthew chapters
themselves, as well as many interpretations of them,
verifies the A.A. belief that the Sermon was one of the
principles comprising the common property of mankind,
which Bill Wilson said the AAs had borrowed. And here are
some major points that appear to have found their way from
the Sermon into the basic ideas of the Big Book. The points
were, of course, in the sermon itself. In addition, the
pioneers read many books and articles on and about the
sermon which are thoroughly documented in the author's
title, The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.'s Roots in the
Bible. Those items further illustrate some of the points
made in the sermon and that might have found their way into A.A.
The Lord's Prayer
Oxford Group meetings closed with the Lord's Prayer in New
York and in Akron. In early A.A., the alcoholics also closed
meetings with the Lord's Prayer. Moreover, I have personally
attended at least two thousand A.A. meetings, and almost
every one has closed with the Lord's Prayer. At the 1990
International A.A. Conference in Seattle, which was a first
for me, some 50,000 members of Alcoholics Anonymous joined
in closing their meetings with the Lord's Prayer. The
question here concerns what parts, if any, of the Lord's
Prayer found their way into the Big Book, Twelve Steps, A.A.
Slogans, and the A.A. fellowship; and we hasten to remind
the reader that the prayer is part of the Sermon on the
Mount. Here are the verses of the Lord's Prayer (King James
Version) as found in Matt. 6:9-13. Jesus instructed the Judaeans, After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in
heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in
heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for
Dr. Bob studied specific
commentaries on the Sermon by Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark,
Emmet Fox, and E. Stanley Jones. And these writers extracted
a good many teachings, prayer guides, and theological ideas
from Lord's Prayer verses in the Sermon. But there are a few
concepts and phrases in the Lord's Prayer itself which
either epitomize A.A. thinking or can be found in its
language whether the A.A. traces came from the Lord's Prayer
or from other portions of the Bible. For example, the Big
Book uses the word Father when referring to the Creator
Yahweh, our God; and the context shows that this usage and
name came from the Bible. The Oxford Group also used the
term Father, among other names, when referring to God. The
concept and expression of God as Father is not confined to
the Sermon on the Mount. It can be found in many other parts
of the New Testament. But AAs have given the Our Father
prayer a special place in their meetings. Thus the Lord's
Prayer seems the likely source of their use of the word Father.
The phrase Thy will be
done is directly quoted, or is the specific subject of
reference, in the Big Book several times (Big Book, 4th ed.,
pp. 63, 67, 76, 85, 88). It underlies A.A.'s contrast
between self-will and God's will. The Oxford Group
stressed, as do A.A.'s Third and Seventh Step prayers, that
there must be a decision to do God's will and surrender to
His will. These ideas were also symbolized in the A.A.
prayer's Thy will be done.
Finally, Forgive us our
debts or trespasses certainly states that God can and
will forgive; and these concepts can be found in the Big
Book, whether they came from the Lord's Prayer or from other
important Biblical sources such as the Book of James.
The Full Sermon on the
Mount: Matthew Chapters 5-7
Dr. Bob studied, and
circulated among early AAs, an E. Stanley Jones book, The
Christ of the Mount (Nashville: Abingdon, 1931; Festival
ed., 1985, pp. 36-37) which outlined the Sermon's contents
in this fashion:
1. The goal of life: To be
perfect or complete as the Father in heaven is perfect or
complete (5:48); with twenty-seven marks of this perfect
[Jones wrote of these verses:] The perfect life consists in
being poor in spirit, in mourning, in being meek, in
hungering and thirsting after righteousness, in being
merciful, pure in heart, in being a peacemaker, persecuted
for righteousness sake and yet rejoicing and being exceeding
glad, in being the salt of the earth, the light of the
world, having a righteousness that exceeds, in being devoid
of anger with the brother, using no contemptuous words,
allowing no one to hold anything against one, having the
spirit of quick agreement, no inward lustful thinking,
relentless against anything that offends against the
highest, right relations in the home life, truth in speech
and attitude, turning the other cheek, giving the cloak
also, going the second mile, giving to those who ask and
from those who would borrow turning not away, loving even
one's enemies, praying for those that persecute (pp. 50-51).
2. A diagnosis of the
reason why men do not reach or move on to that goal: Divided
personality (6:1-6; 7:1-6).
3. The Divine offer of an
adequate moral and spiritual re-enforcement so that men can
move on to that goal: The Holy Spirit to them that ask him
4. After making the Divine
offer he gathers up and emphasizes in two sentences our part
in reaching that goal. Toward others we are to do unto
others as we would that they should do unto us (7:12);
toward ourselves we are to lose ourselves by entering the
straight gate (7:13).
5. The test of whether we
are moving on to that goal, or whether this Divine Life is
operative within us: By their fruits (7:15-23).
6. The survival value of
this new life and the lack of survival value of life lived
in any other way: The house founded on rock and the house
founded on sand (7:24-27).
Our own discussion will
review Jesus' Sermon, chapter by chapter. It will pinpoint
some principal thoughts that Dr. Bob and Bill may have had
in mind when they each said that the sermon on the mount
contained the underlying philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here follows our review:
Matthew Chapter 5
1. The Beatitudes. The
Beatitudes are found in Matt. 5:3-11. The word beatitudes
refers to the first word Blessed in each of these verses.
Merriam Webster's says blessed means enjoying the bliss
of heaven. The word in the Greek New Testament from which blessed was translated means, happy, according Biblical
scholar Ethelbert Bullinger. Vine's Expository Dictionary of
Old and New Testament Words explains the word Blessed as
follows: In the beatitudes the Lord indicates not only the
characters that are blessed, but the nature of that which is
the highest good. Dr. Bob's wife Anne Smith described the
Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount as the Christ-like
virtues to be cultivated (Dick B., Anne Smith's Journal,
The beatitude verses can be found at the very beginning of
Jesus's sermon and read as follows:
And seeing the multitudes,
he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his
disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after
righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the
children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness'
sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute
you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely,
for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in
heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were
before you (Matt. 5:1-12)
Italicized below are
Webster's definitions for the key words in each beatitude
verse, with quotes also from the King James Version, which
was the version Dr. Bob and early AAs most used. As the
verses appear in the King James, they state: Blessed are:
- the poor (humble) in
spirit [renouncing themselves, wrote E. Stanley Jones]: for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 3) ;
- they that mourn (feel or express grief or sorrow): for
they shall be comforted (v. 4);
- the meek (enduring injury with patience and without
resentment); for they shall inherit the earth (v. 5);
- they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
(acting in accord with divine or moral law): for they shall
be filled (v. 6);
- the merciful (compassionate): for they shall obtain mercy
- the pure (spotless, stainless) in heart [has a passion for
righteousness and a compassion for men seeks law and shows
love, wrote Jones]: for they shall see God (v. 8);
- the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of
God (v. 9);
- they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 10);
- ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall
say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake (end
or purpose): for great is your reward in heaven: for so
persecuted they the prophets which were before you (v. 11).
Did Dr. Bob, Anne, Bill,
or Henrietta Seiberling study and draw specifically on these
beatitude verses as they put together A.A.'s recovery
program? The author can neither provide nor document any
answer. But there are some ideas common to A.A.'s spiritual
principles in the beatitudes as you see them expressed
above. These are:
(1) Humility overcoming
(2) Comfort for the suffering;
(3) Patience and tolerance to the end of eliminating
(4) Harmonizing one's actions with God's will;
(5) Compassion, which Webster defines as sympathetic
consciousness of others distress together with a desire
(6) Cleaning house which means seeking obedience to God
and, based on the principles of love, straightening out
harms caused by disobedience;
(7) Making peace;
(8) Standing for and acting upon spiritual principles,
whatever the cost, because they are God's principles.
The foregoing are Twelve
Step ideas that can be found in the Beatitudes; and A.A.
founders probably saw them there as well, and they can most
certainly be found in the Big Book humility, comforting
others, patience and tolerance, Thy will be done,
compassion, amends, peacemaking, acting on the cardinal
principles of Jesus Christ as virtues to be cultivated.
2. Letting your light
shine. Matt. 5:13-16 suggest glorifying your Heavenly Father
by letting others see your good works. That is, Letting
your light shine does not mean glorifying yourself, but
rather glorifying God by letting others see your spiritual
walk in action to see the immediate results of your
surrender to the Master. These ideas may be reflected in the
Big Book's statement: Our real purpose is to fit ourselves
to be of maximum service to God. . . . (p. 77).
3. Obeying the Ten
Commandments. In Matt. 5:17-21, Jesus reiterates the
importance of obeying the law and the prophets, specifically
referring to Exod. 20:13 (Thou shalt not kill), but
obviously referring as well to the other important
commandments such as having no other god but Yahweh (Exod.
20:2-3), worshiping no other god (Exod. 20:4-5), eschewing
adultery (Exod. 20:14), refraining from stealing (Exod.
20:15), and so on. And even though some of these
commandments may have fallen between the cracks in today's A.A., they very clearly governed the moral standards of
early A.A. that Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs embraced. The Ten
Commandments were part of early A.A. pamphlets and
literature, and (for example) Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs
would have nothing to do with a man who was committing
4. The Law of Love in
action. In Matt. 5:17-47, Jesus confirms that the Law of
Love fulfills the Old Testament Law. He rejects anger
without cause, unresolved wrongs to a brother, quibbling
with an adversary, lust and impurity, adultery, retaliation,
and hatred of an enemy. The author's title The Oxford Group
& Alcoholics Anonymous covers many of these ideas as roots
of A.A. principles. And the foregoing verses in Matthew may
very well have influenced A.A. language about:
resentments—Matthew 5:22: A. . .I say unto you, That
whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be
in danger of the judgment. . .” See Alcoholics Anonymous 4th
ed., p. 67: “God save me from being angry.”
restitution—Matthew 5:23-24: “ATherefore if thou bring thy
gift before the altar, and there rememberest that thy
brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before
the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy
brother, and then come and offer thy gift; See DR. BOB,
supra, p. 308: “We learned what was meant when Christ said,
‘Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar. . . “
(c) Avoidance of
retaliation for wrongdoing by others—Matthew 5:38-39: “AYe
have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a
tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not
evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek,
turn to him the other also; See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th
ed., p. 67: “Though we did not like their symptoms and the
way these disturbed us. . .We avoid retaliation or argument.
. . at least God will show us how to take a kindly and
tolerant view of each and every one.”.
(d) Making peace with our
enemies—Matthew 5:43-44: “AYe have heard that it hath been
said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you. Love your enemies, bless them that curse
you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which
despitefully use you, and persecute you.” See Alcoholics
Anonymous, 4th ed., pp. 67, 70: “When a person offended we
said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful
to him? . . . Thy will be done. . . . We have begun to learn
tolerance, patience, and good will toward all men, even our
enemies, for we look on them as sick people.”
Matthew Chapter 6
1. Anonymity. Matt. 6:1-8,
16-18—urging almsgiving in secret, praying in secret,
fasting in secret, and avoiding vain repetitions, and
hypocrisy. These verses could very possibly have played a
role in the development of A.A.'s spiritual principle of
anonymity. Jesus said, your Father knoweth what things ye
have need of, before ye ask him and thy Father, which
seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. The vain
practices which Jesus condemned were acts focusing on
self-importance, inflating the ego, and manifesting
self-centeredness--something A.A. disdains. Making a public
display of gift-giving, praying, fasting, and repetitive
prayers was something Jesus criticized because of the
pointless hypocrisy of showing off feigned piety to men
whereas God was it object and already knew the heart of the
hypocrite. See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 62:
“Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root
of our troubles. . . . Above everything, we alcoholics must
be rid of this selfishness.” Early Oxford Group and A.A.
literature often spoke of God-sufficiency versus self-sufficiency,
and God-centeredness versus self-centeredness. We have
located no direct tie between Jesus’ teachings of Jesus on
anonymity and A.A.'s Traditions on this principle. But the
concepts are parallel; and The Runner's Bible and other A.A.
biblical sources that AAs studied do discuss their
significance at some length. Also, see Alcoholics Anonymous,
4th ed., pp. 76, 77, 93: “Our real purpose is to fit
ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people
around us. . . . We will lose interest in selfish things and
gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. .
. . To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self-sacrifice
and unselfish, constructive action.”
2. Forgiveness. Matt.
6:14-15 refer to forgiving men their trespasses; and Emmet
Fox's forceful writing about these verses exemplifies the A.A. amends process. Fox said:
The forgiveness of sins is
the central problem of life. . . . It is, of course, rooted
in selfishness. . . . We must positively and definitely
extend forgiveness to everyone to whom it is possible that
we can owe forgiveness, namely, to anyone who we think can
have injured us in any way. . . When you hold resentment
against anyone, you are bound to that person by a cosmic
link, a real, tough metal chain. You are tied by a cosmic
tie to the thing that you hate. The one person perhaps in
the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to
whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger
than steel (Fox, The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 183-88).
There is no assurance that
Fox's writing on the sermon's forgiveness point specifically
influenced the Big Book's emphasis on forgiveness. To be
sure, at least two A.A. history writers have claimed that
Fox's writings did influence Bill Wilson. However, other
books that were read by early AAs books by such authors as
Henry Drummond, Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, and Harry
Emerson Fosdick used language similar to that used by Fox in
his discussion of forgiveness of enemies. And Jesus' sermon
on the mount is not the only place in the New Testament
where forgiveness is stressed. Thus, after, and even though,
Christ had accomplished remission of past sins of believers,
Forbearing one another,
and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against
any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Col. 3:13)
See also the following
verse, a favorite often quoted and used by Henrietta
Seiberling the well known early A.A. teacher who was often
thought of as an A.A. founder:
If a man say I love God,
and hateth his brother. he is a liar: for he that loveth not
his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he
hath not seen? (1 John 4:20)
In any event, the Big
Book, Fourth Edition, states at page 77:
The question of how to approach the man we hated will arise.
It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him
and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward
him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults.
Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in
our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend,
but we find it more beneficial to us. We go to him in a
helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill
feeling and expressing our regret. Under no condition do we
criticize such a person or argue. Simply we tell him that we
will never get over drinking until we have done our utmost
to straighten out the past (italics added).
3. The sunlight of the
Spirit? Speaking of the futility and unhappiness in a life
which includes deep resentment, the Big Book states: when
harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the
sunlight of the Spirit. One often hears this sunlight
expression quoted in A.A. meetings. Yet its origins seem
unreported and undocumented. Anne Smith referred frequently
in her journal to the verses in 1 John which had to do with
fellowship with God and walking in the light as God is
light. So did A.A.'s Oxford Group sources. And the following
are the most frequently quoted verses from 1 John having to
do with God as light and the importance of walking in the
light (rather than walking in darkness) in order to have
fellowship with Him:
That which we have seen
and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship
with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and
with his Son, Jesus Christ.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and
declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no
darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in
darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have
fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ
his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:3-7).
Though this particular
discussion is concerned with the Sermon on the Mount, we
have mentioned also the foregoing verses from 1 John 1:3-7
(having to do with walking in God's light as against opposed
to walking in darkness). For very possibly those ideas in 1
John, together with the following verses in the Sermon, may
have given rise to Bill's references to the alcoholic's
being blocked from the sunlight of the Spirit when he or
she dwells in such dark realms as excessive anger. Matt.
6:22-24 (in the Sermon) state:
The light of the body is
the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body
shall be full of light.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of
darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be
darkness, how great is that darkness!
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the
one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one,
and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
4. Seek ye first the
kingdom of God. Matt. 6:24-34 seem to have had tremendous
influence on A.A. The substance of these verses is that man
will be taken care of when he seeks first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness. Verse 33 says:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things [food. clothing, and shelter] shall be
added unto you.
Dr. Bob specifically
explained the origin of our A.A. slogans Easy Does It and First Things First. (DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp
135, 144). When he was asked the meaning of First Things
First, Dr. Bob replied. Seek ye first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added
unto you. He told his sponsee Clarence Snyder that First
Things First came from Matt. 6:33 in the Sermon on the
Mount. And this verse was widely quoted in the books that
Dr. Bob and the Akron AAs read and recommended (Dick B., The
Good Book and The Big Book, p. 125, n.119; That Amazing
Grace, pp. 30, 38).
On page 60, the Big Book
states the A.A. solution for relief from alcoholism: God
could and would if He were sought. (italics added). This
concept is one of seeking results by reliance on God
instead of reliance on self. And this is a bedrock idea in
the Big Book. See Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., pp. 11, 14,
25, 28, 43, 52-53, 57, 62. In view of Dr. Bob's explanations
as to the origin of First Things First, the Big Book's
emphasis on seeking very likely came from the seeking the
kingdom of God first idea in Matt. 6:33.
According to Dr. Bob, the
slogans Easy Does It and One day at a time came from the
next verse Matthew 6:34. See Dick B., The Good Book and The
Big Book, pp. 87-88, and other citations therein. The Big
Book glowingly endorses “three little mottoes” which are
“First Things First; Live and Let Live; Easy Does It”
(Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 135). Two of the three
very clearly have their roots in Matthew 6:24-34.
Matthew Chapter 7
1. Taking your own
inventory. Much of A.A.'s Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh
Step actions involve looking for your own part, for your own
fault in troublesome matters. This self-examination process
(as part of the house-cleaning and life-changing process in
the Steps) was expected to result in that which, in Appendix
II of the Fourth Edition of the Big Book, became described
as the personality change sufficient to bring about
recovery from alcoholism (Big Book, p. 567). Matt. 7:3-5
And why beholdest thou the
mote [speck] that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest
not the beam [log] that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote
[speck] out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [log] is in
thine own eye.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam [log] out of thine
own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the
mote [speck] out of thy brother's eye.
These verses from Matthew
were frequently cited by A.A.'s spiritual sources as the
Biblical foundation for self-examination and thus finding
one's own part, one's own erroneous conduct, in a
relationship problem. Anne Smith specifically wrote in her
spiritual journal that she must look for the “mote” in her
2. Ask, seek, knock. Matt.
Ask, and it shall be given
you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
For every one that asketh
receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that
knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will
he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto
your children, how much more shall your Father which is in
heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Bill Wilson's spiritual
teacher, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, wrote:
Our part [in the crisis of
self-surrender] is to ask, to seek, to knock. His [God's]
part is to answer, to come, to open (Samuel M. Shoemaker,
Jr. Realizing Religion. NY: Association Press, 1923, p. 32).
The Runner's Bible (one of
the most important of the early A.A. Bible devotionals) has
an entire chapter titled, Ask and Ye shall receive.
Another favored devotional among the A.A. pioneers was My
Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Chambers says,
about the foregoing verses beginning with Matt. 7:7:
The illustration of prayer
that Our Lord uses here is that of a good child asking for a
good thing. . . . It is no use praying unless we are living
as children of God. Then, Jesus says: Everyone that asketh
The foregoing verses, and
relevant comments by A.A. sources, underline all the
requisites in the asking and receiving concept. First, you
must become a child of God. Then, establish a harmonious
relationship with Him. And only then expecting good results
from the Creator, Yahweh, our God—“Providence from Him as
our Heavenly Father who cares about His children’s needs..
Given the emphasis in
early A.A. on the Sermon, those verses from Matt. 7 very
probably influenced the following similar ideas expressed as
follows in the Big Book's Fourth Edition:
If what we have learned
and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all
of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are the children
of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship
upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are
willing and honest enough to try (p. 28).
God will constantly
disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning
meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still
sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order.
But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got.
See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and
great events will come to pass for you and countless others.
This is the Great Fact for us (p. 164, italics added).
In this same vein. Dr.
Bob's wife, Anne, wrote, in the spiritual journal she shared
with early AAs and their families:
We can't give away what we
haven't got. We must have a genuine contact with God in our
present experience. Not an experience of the past, but an
experience in the present actual, genuine (Dick B., Anne
Smith's Journal, 1933-1939. 3rd ed, Kihei, HI: Paradise
Research Publications, Inc.,1938, p. 121).
3. Do unto others. The so-called Golden Rule cannot, as
such, be readily identified in A.A.'s Big Book though it
certainly is a much-quoted portion of the Sermon on the
Mount which Bill and Dr. Bob said underlies A.A.'s
philosophy. The relevant verse is Matt. 7:12:
Therefore all things
whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so
to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Perhaps the following two
Big Book Fourth Edition segments bespeak that Golden Rule
philosophy as Bill may have seen it:
We have begun to learn
tolerance, patience and good will toward all men, even our
enemies, for we look on them as sick people. We have listed
the people we have hurt by our conduct, and are willing to
straighten out the past if we can (p. 70).
Then you will know what it
means to give of yourself that others may survive and
rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of Love
thy neighbor as thyself (p. 153).
In his last address to AAs,
Dr. Bob said: “Our Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the
last, resolve themselves into the words ‘love’ and ‘service’
(DR. BOB, supra, pp. 77, 338).
I now know from my
extensive research of the United Christian Endeavor Society,
to which Dr. Bob belonged as a youngster in the North
Congregational Church at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, that
Christian Endeavor also stressed “love and service” and that
the original Akron fellowship’s principles and practices
seem very much patterned on those Dr. Bob embraced from his
Christian Endeavor days. Christian Endeavor’s magazine was
called the “Golden Rule”—which further highlights the
significance of this concept in Dr. Bob’s life and legacy.
4. He that doeth the will
of my Father. There are several key verses in the sermon on
the mount which could have caused Bob and Bill to say that
Matthew Chapters Five to Seven contained A.A.'s underlying
philosophy. The verses are in the Lords Prayer itself (Matt.
6:9-13), the so-called Golden Rule quoted above (Matt.
7:12), and the phrase Thy will be done (Matt. 6:10). In
addition to these three roots, however, I believe that the
major spiritual principle borrowed by the founders from the
sermon on the mount can be found in Matt. 7:21:
Not every one that saith
unto me. Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;
but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Bill Wilson said clearly
in the Big Book and in his other writings that the key to
success in A.A. is doing the will of the Father the Father
Who is the subject of the Lord's Prayer, Almighty God Whose
will was to be done, and the Creator upon whom early AAs
relied. Note that Wilson wrote:
I was to sit quietly when
in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my
problems as He would have me (Bill's Story, Big Book, 4th
ed., p. 13).
He humbly offered himself
to his Maker then he knew (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 57).
. . . praying only for
knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out
(Step Eleven, Big Book, 4th ed., p. 59).
May I do Thy will always
(portion of Third Step Prayer, Big Book, 4th ed., p. 63)!
Thy will be done (Big
Book, 4th ed, pp. 67, 88).
Grant me strength, as I go
out from here, to do your bidding. Amen (portion of Seventh
Step Prayer, Big Book, 4th ed., p. 76).
There is God, our Father,
who very simply says, I am waiting for you to do my will'
(Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 105).
From a long string of
literary heritage, the Oxford Group, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and
Bill Wilson gained the simple idea that God has a plan, and
man’s chief end is to accomplish that plan. In his treatise,
The Ideal Life, published in 1897, Professor Henry Drummond
(also the author of The Greatest Thing in the World—to be
discussed in a moment) wrote these influential words:
First, Drummond quoted
from Acts, Chapter 13, which reads as follows:
And afterward they desired
a king: and God gave unto them Saul. . . And when he had
removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king:
to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found
David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which
shall fulfill all my will. Of this man’s seed hath God
according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus
Drummond’s theme was “The
Man After God’s Own Heart: A Bible Study on the Ideal of a
Christian Life.” He took King David as the example because
God said David was a man after His own heart—who “shall”
fulfill my will. Eloquently, Drummond wrote:
Now we are going to ask
today: What is the true plan of the Christian life? We
shall need a definition that we my know it, a description
that we may follow it. And if you look, you will see that
both, in a sense, lie on the surface of our text. “A man
after Mine own heart,”—here is the definition of what we are
to be. “Who shall fulfill all my Will.”—here is the
description of how we are to be it. These words are the
definition and the description of the model human life. The
describe the man after God’s own heart. They give us the key
to the Ideal Life. The general truth of these words is
simply this: that the end of life is to do God’s will”
(Henry Drummond. The Greatest Thing in the World. London and
Glasgow: Collins Clear-Type Press, n.d., p. 203).
Dr. Bob owned all the
Drummond books. I saw them as I poured over his books in the
attic of his daughter Sue Smith Windows, in the lists she
and her brother Smitty wrote to me in their own hand, and in
the books Smitty donated to Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron. Dr. Bob
read them. His name and address were in most. And Sue even
phoned me shortly before her death to confirm the importance
of Drummond’s Natural Law in the Spiritual World which we
had reviewed in her attic. And what about Bill? Well, we
know for sure that he at least heard all the Oxford Group
ideas. We know he said that he and Dr. Bob felt they had
seeded A.A. And Bill probably talked more about “Thy will be
done” and doing God’s will than any other Biblical concept
he borrowed for the Big Book.
What, then, was the source
of the underlying philosophy of A.A. in the Sermon? Take
your choice. It could have been the Lord’s Prayer. It could
have been “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer. It could
have been the Golden Rule, and Dr. Bob hinted at this at one
time. It could have been the Beatitudes. It could have been
“love thy neighbor, and even thine enemies.” It could have
been “First Things First:--“seek ye first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness.” But the most forceful of the sermon
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord Lord, shall enter into
the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my
Father which is in heaven (Matthew 7:22).
The idea can be found in
Let us hear the conclusion
of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments:
for this is the whole duty of man
I like some of these words
about Bob and Bill:
Prayer, of course, was an
important part of Dr. Bob’s faith. According to Paul S., “Dr.
Bob’s morning devotion consisted of a short prayer, a
20-minute study of a familiar verse from the Bible, and a
quiet period of waiting for directions as to where he, that
day, should find use for his talent. Having heard, he would
religiously go about his Father’s business, as he put it”
(DR. BOB, supra, p. 314).
The Gospel of Luke tells
us that, at age 12, Jesus “tarried behind in Jerusalem”
after his parents had left. Three days later, they found him
in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both
hearing them, and asking them questions. They all were
astonished at his understanding and answers. His parents saw
him; chewed him out for tarrying; but heard Jesus reply to
How is it that ye sought
me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
(See Luke 2:43-49)
DR. BOB continues with the
report that Dr. Bob, when he was conducting surgery and
wasn’t sure, would pray before he started. Bob commented,
“When I operated under those conditions, I never made a move
that wasn’t right”. . . . Whenever he got stuck about
something, he always prayed about it. . . . He prayed, not
only for his own understanding, but for different groups of
people who requested him to pray for them,” said Bill Wilson
. . . “Bob was far ahead of me in that sort of activity’
(DR. BOB, supra, pp. 314-315)
Opinions are not always
held in high regard in today’s A.A. But I’ll have a shot at
this one: I believe that endeavoring to do the will of the
Creator, as set forth in the Bible or as God may reveal it
to the individual, constituted the underlying philosophy in
the Sermon on the Mount, of which Bob and Bill spoke.
Dick B. is the author of
23 published titles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous,
as well as more than 60 articles on the subject. He speaks
at conferences, seminars, and panels, and can be reached at
PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; ph/fax 808 874 4876;
email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website URL is
and has had more than 325,000 visits since it went on line
in late 1995.