"Blessed are the poor in spirit." There is a vast difference between this and being hard up in our circumstances. There is no virtue (and often no disgrace) in financial poverty as such, nor does it, of itself, produce humility of heart, for anyone who has any real acquaintance with both classes soon discovers there is just as much pride in the indigent as there is in the opulent. This poverty of spirit is a fruit that grows on no merely natural tree. It is a spiritual grace wrought by the Holy Spirit in those whom He renews. By nature we are well pleased with ourselves, and mad enough to think that we deserve something good at the hands of God. Let men but conduct themselves decently in a civil way, keeping themselves from grosser sins, and they are rich in spirit, pride filling their hearts, and they are self-righteous. And nothing short of a miracle of grace can change the course of this stream.
Nor is real poverty of spirit to be found among the great majority of the religionists of the day: very much the reverse. How often we see advertised a conference for "promoting the higher life," but who ever heard of one for furthering the lowly life? Many books are telling us how to be "filled with the Spirit," but where can we find one setting forth what it means to be spiritually emptied-emptied of self-confidence, self-importance, and self-righteousness? Alas, if it be true that, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15), it is equally true that what is of great price in His sight is despised by men-by none more so than by modern Pharisees, who now hold nearly all the positions of prominence in Christendom. Almost all of the so-called "ministry" of this generation feeds pride, instead of starving the flesh; puffs up, rather than abases; and anything which is calculated to search and strip is frowned upon by the pulpit and is unpopular with the pew.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." And what is poverty of spirit? It is the opposite of that haughty, self-assertive and self-sufficient disposition which the world so much admires and praises. It is the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude which refuses to bow to God, which determines to brave things out, which says with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?" To be "poor in spirit" is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things. Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of my emptiness, the result of the Spirit's work within. It issues from the painful discovery that all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags. It follows the awakening that my best performances are unacceptable, yea, an abomination to the thrice Holy One. Poverty of spirit evidences itself by its bringing the individual into the dust before God, acknowledging his utter helplessness and deservingness of hell. It corresponds to the initial awakening of the prodigal in the far country, when he "began to be in want."
God's great salvation is free, "without money and without price." This is a most merciful provision of Divine grace, for were God to offer salvation for sale no sinner could secure it, seeing that he has nothing with which he could possibly purchase it. But the vast majority are insensible of this, yea, all of us are until the Holy Spirit opens our sin-blinded eyes. It is only those who have passed from death unto life who become conscious of their poverty, take the place of beggars, are glad to receive Divine charity, and begin to seek the true riches. Thus "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5): preached not only to their ears, but to their hearts!
Poverty of spirit may be termed the negative side of faith. It is that realization of my utter worthlessness which precedes the laying hold of Christ, the eating of His flesh and drinking His blood. It is the Spirit emptying the heart of self that Christ may fill it: it is a sense of need and destitution. This first Beatitude, then, is foundational, describing a fundamental trait which is found in every regenerated soul. The one who is poor in spirit is nothing in his own eyes, and feels that his proper place is in the dust before God. He may, through false teaching or worldliness, leave this place, but God knows how to bring him back; and in His faithfulness and love He will do so, for it is the place of blessing for His children. How to cultivate this God-honoring spirit is revealed in Matthew 11:29.
He who is in possession of this poverty of spirit is pronounced "blessed." He is so because he now has a disposition the very opposite of what was his by nature, because he has in himself the first sure evidence that a Divine work of grace has been wrought in his heart, because he is an heir of the "kingdom of heaven"-the kingdom of grace here, the kingdom of glory hereafter. Many are the gracious promises addressed to the poor in spirit. "I am poor and needy: yet the Lord thinketh upon me: Thou art my help and my deliverer" (Ps. 40:17), "The Lord heareth the poor" (Ps. 69:33), "He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy" (Ps. 72:13), "Yet setteth He the poor on high from affliction" (Ps. 107:41), "I will satisfy her poor with bread" (Ps. 132:15), "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word" (Isa. 66:2). Let such favors as these stir us up to pray earnestly for more of this poverty of spirit.
"Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted" (v. 4). Mourning is hateful and irksome to poor human nature: from suffering and sadness our spirits instinctively shrink. It is natural for us to seek the society of the cheerful and joyous. The verse now before us presents an anomaly to the unregenerate, yet is it sweet music to the ears of God's elect: if "blessed" why do they "mourn"? If they mourn, how can they be blessed? Only the child of God has the key to this paradox, for "happy are they who sorrow" is at complete variance with the world's logic. Men have, in all places and in all ages, deemed the prosperous and the gay to be the happy ones, but Christ pronounces blessed those who are poor in spirit and who mourn.
Now it is obvious that it is not every species of mourning which is here referred to. There are thousands of mourners in the world today who do not come within the scope of our text: those mourning over blighted hopes, over financial reverses, over the loss of loved ones. But alas, so far from many of them coming beneath this Divine benediction, they are under God's condemnation; nor is there any promise that such shall ever be Divinely "comforted." There are three kinds of "mourning" referred to in the Scriptures: a natural, such as we have just referred to above; a sinful, which is a disconsolate and inordinate grief, refusing to be comforted, or a hopeless remorse like that of Judas; and a gracious, a "godly sorrow," of which the Holy Spirit is the Author.
The "mourning" of our text is a spiritual one. The previous verse indicates clearly the line of thought here: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Yes, "Blessed are the poor," not the poor in purse, but the poor in heart: those who realize themselves to be spiritual bankrupts in themselves, paupers before God. That felt poverty of spirit is the very opposite of the Laodiceanism which is so rife today, that self-complacency which says, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." In like manner it is spiritual mourning which is in view here. Further proof of this is found in the fact that Christ pronounces these mourners "blessed." They are so because the Spirit of God has wrought a work of grace within them, and hence they have been awakened to see and feel their lost condition. They are "blessed" because God does not leave them at that point: "they shall be comforted."
"Blessed are they that mourn." The first reference is to that initial mourning which ever precedes a genuine conversion, for there must be a real sense of sin before the remedy for it will even be desired. Thousands acknowledge that they are sinners, who have never mourned over the fact. Take the woman of Luke vii, who washed the Saviour's feet with her tears: have you ever shed any over your sins? Take the prodigal in Luke 15: before he left the far country he said, "I will arise and go unto my Father and say unto Him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee, And am no more worthy to be called Thy son"-where shall we find those today with this sense of their sinnership? Take the publican of Luke 18: why did he "smite upon his breast" and say "God be merciful to me a sinner"? Because he felt the plague of his own heart. So of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost: they were "pricked in their heart, and cried out."
This "mourning" springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over rebellion against God and hostility to His will. In some cases it is grief over the very morality in which the heart has trusted, over the self-righteousness which has caused such complacency. This "mourning" is the agonizing realization that it was my sins which nailed to the Cross the Lord of glory. When Israel shall, by faith, see Christ, "they shall mourn for Him" (Zech. 12:10). It is such tears and groans which prepare the heart to truly welcome and receive the "balm of Gilead," the comfort of the Gospel. It is, then, a mourning over the felt destitution of our spiritual state, and over the iniquities that have separated between us and God. Such mourning always goes side by side with conscious poverty of spirit.
But this "mourning" is by no means to be confined unto the initial experience of conviction and contrition, for observe the tense of the verb: it is not "have mourned," but "mourn"-a present and continuous experience. The Christian himself has much to mourn over. The sins which he now commits-both of omission and commission-are a sense of daily grief to him, or should be, and will be, if his conscience is kept tender. An ever-deepening discovery of the depravity of his nature, the plague of his heart, the sea of corruption within-ever polluting all that he does-deeply exercises him. Consciousness of the surgings of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the coldness of his love, and his paucity of fruit, make him cry, "O wretched man that I am." A humbling recollection of past offences: "Wherefore remember that ye being in time past" (Eph. 2:11).
Yes, "Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (Rom. 8:23). Does not the Christian groan under the disciplining rod of the Father: "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" (Heb. 12:11). And is he not deeply grieved by the awful dishonor which is now done to the Lord Jesus on every hand? The fact is that the closer the Christian lives to God, the more will he mourn over all that dishonors Him: with the Psalmist he will say, "Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy law" (Ps. 119:53), and with Jeremiah, "My soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eyes shall weep sore and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive" (13:17). But blessed be God, it is written, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezek. 9:4). So too there is a sympathetic mourning over the sufferings of others: "Weep with them that weep" (Rom. 12:15).
But let us return to the primary thought of our verse: "Blessed are they that mourn" has immediate reference to the convicted soul sorrowing over his sins. And here it is most important to note that Christ does not pronounce them "blessed" simply because they are mourners, but because they are such. mourners as "shall be comforted." There are not a few in Christendom today who glory in their grief and attempt to find comfort in their own inward wretchedness-as well seek health from our sicknesses. True comfort is not to be found in anything in self-no, not in perceiving our own vileness-but in Christ alone. Distress of soul is by no means always the same thing as evangelical repentance, as is clear from the case of Cain (Gen. 4:13). But where the Spirit produces in the heart a godly sorrow for sin, He does not leave him there, but brings him to look away from sin to the Lamb of God, and then he is "comforted." The Gospel promises no mercy except to those who forsake sin and close with Christ.
"They shall be comforted." This gracious promise receives its fulfillment, first, in that Divine consolation which immediately follows a sound conversion (i.e. one that is preceded by conviction and contrition), namely the removal of that conscious load of guilt which lies as an intolerable burden on the conscience. It finds its accomplishment in the Spirit's application of the Gospel of God's grace to the one whom He has convicted of his dire need of a Saviour. Then it is that Christ speaks the word of power, "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28)-observe that His language clearly presupposes the feeling of sin to be a "burden" as that which impels to Him for relief; it is to the sin-sick heart that Christ gives rest. This "comfort" issues in a sense of a free and full forgiveness through the merits of the atoning blood of Christ. This Divine comfort is the peace of God which passeth all understanding, filling the heart of one who is now assured that he is "accepted in the Beloved." First God wounds and then heals.
Second, there is a continual "comforting" of the mourning saint by the Holy Spirit, who is the Comforter. The one who sorrows over his departures from Christ is comforted by the assurance that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). The one who mourns under the chastening rod of God is comforted by the promise, "afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). The one who grieves over the awful dishonor done to his Lord in the religious world is comforted by the fact that Satan's time is short, and soon Christ will bruise him beneath His feet. Third, the final "comfort" is when we leave this world and are done with sin for ever. Then shall "sorrow and sighing flee away." To the rich man in hell, Abraham said of the one who had begged at his gate, "now he is comforted" (Luke 16:25). The best wine is reserved for the last. The "comfort" of heaven will more than compensate for all the "mourning" of earth.
From all that has been before us learn, first, the folly of looking to the wounds which sin has made in order to find consolation; view rather the purging and healing blood of Christ. Second, see the error of attempting to measure the helpfulness of the books we read or the preaching we hear by the degree of peace and joy they bring to our hearts. Yet how many there are who say, We have quite enough in the world, or in the home, to make us miserable, and we go to church for comfort. But it is to be feared that few of them are in any condition of soul to receive comfort from the Gospel: rather do they need the Law to search and convict them. Ah, the truth is, dear friend, that very often the sermon or the article which is of most benefit is the one which causes us to get alone with God and weep before Him. When we have flirted with the world or indulged the lusts of the flesh the Holy Spirit gives us a rebuke or admonition. Third, mark then the inseparable connection between godly sorrow and godly joy: compare Psalms 30:5; 126:5; Proverbs 14:10; Isaiah 61:3; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; James 2:13.