Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The subject of the sermon on the mount may be said to be the righteousness of the kingdom. To give all his hearers a clearer conception of this fundamental idea, our Lord speaks
(1) of the citizens of the kingdom;
(2) of the law of the kingdom;
(3) of the life, the devotional and practical conduct of the kingdom.
The citizens of the kingdom are first described, their character being indicated in the first paragraph, their influence being referred to in vers. 13-16. The passage containing the Beatitudes will best yield its meaning if we consider
(1) that Christ offers blessedness;
(2) in what this blessedness consists;
(3) to whom it is imparted.
I. OUR LORD IS IN AGREEMENT WITH THE INSTINCT OF HUMAN NATURE, WHICH CRAVES HAPPINESS, AND SETS THIS AS THE ULTIMATE END, OR CHIEF GOOD. It is indeed almost a truism to call it so, because to say that a man is happy or blessed is just to say that no more need be done for him; that he has attained. Other things, such as wealth, power, knowledge, we seek as a means to some end beyond themselves; happiness we seek for its own sake, and not as a means to something beyond itself. A man does not seek to be happy in order that he may be rich; he seeks to be rich in order that he may be happy. And though this idea has been so much abused, and made the pretext for finding enjoyment in sensual and debasing pleasure, our Lord makes no scruple in giving the idea a foremost place in his teaching, and implying it throughout his whole scheme of human life. No one preaches self sacrifice as our Lord does; no one goes the same length in requiring that we shall lay down life itself for others. But with what argument does he induce us to do so? By assuring us that he that loseth his life, the same shall save it. In the very words which command absolute self-sacrifice, he respects the instinct for self-preservation. But to say that happiness is the chief good is quite a different thing from saying that we can find our way to happiness by choosing what promises to bring it us. This would require in us the power of looking at life as a whole, of weighing to-morrow with to-day, and giving no part of our nature a preference over other parts - a wisdom which we have not got. As with many other things, we most certainly attain when we cease to seek. The child does not grow to manhood by considering how he can grow, but by following his natural appetite for food. And to secure the great end of happiness there is also an appetite that guides us - the appetite for righteousness. It is not by asking - Will this or that conduce to my happiness? that we discover what we should do, but by asking ourselves - Is this right or wrong? Through neglect of this consideration many have been scandalized that so much should be said about rewards and punishments in the Bible. It is true that our Lord considers happiness the chief good, and promises it continually, but he never bids men make this their practical aim in life. On the contrary, in this very sermon, so full of reward and of promise of happiness, he lays down another law of conduct: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." Happiness is found when righteousness is sought. Neither could the conduct enjoined by our Lord have been done from a self-seeking motive. No hope of reward could make a man love his enemies, or hunger and thirst for righteousness.
II. To describe the blessedness offered, OUR LORD MAKES USE OF PHRASES WITH WHICH THE PEOPLE WERE FAMILIAR AS DENOTING THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE KINGDOM, but which here start into new significance. The Comforter was one of the most familiar designations of the Messiah among those who waited for the consolation of Israel, and he says to them, "Blessed are ye that mourn: for ye shall be comforted." The inheritance of the land was looked for as an accompaniment of Messiah's reign, and he says, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." They were to be filled, not with corn and wine, but in a spiritual sense. But is the blessedness here described such as really answers our wants. Use our Lord's method, and contrast it with the blessedness which many in our own day look for. There are earnest men among us who hold the confident faith that if only the sources of mental and physical suffering were removed, there is no reason why every man should not enjoy the happiness which every one seeks. The sources of suffering are, they think, within human control, and though the conquest is grievously slow, yet every individual may derive deep and rational enjoyment from his efforts for the common advancement. But the blessedness of an advancing civilization offers no relief for the two most painful of human woes - separation from those we love, and bondage to evil desires. It has nothing to say of death or sin. Will the individual work for his race if there is no wider horizon than this world? Will any but those naturally virtuous abstain from sin, if all you can offer is that in some far-off age they may possibly benefit in an infinitesimal degree one or two individuals? The blessedness our Lord offers is of a very different kind. Look at one or two of the terms in which it is described: "Fulness of righteousness to those who hunger and thirst for it." It is a remarkable fact that, bad as we are, there should be in so many of us an insatiable craving for what is good. Through all conditions of men we find this craving to stand free from pollution, superior to infirmity. And this blessedness our Lord gives. Again, there is the intense persistent craving to see God, to be as sure that God is with us as if we saw him. With what gladness and steadfastness, with what strength and hope, with what confident self-sacrifice, should we face the world and its ills if we knew and were sure that a loving, mighty God was at our side! What is there in duty, what is there in self-devotion, that can be difficult for those who have seen God? The day, says our Lord, is coming when this shall be. Be pure in heart, he says, and you will know and see me. Be like me, and you shall look upon me." Such is the blessedness which Christ does not despair of bringing to the world. He reveals a kingdom "different from that we see, but not less real " - a kingdom in which there is to be found u satisfaction for all the wants the world fails to satisfy, and a remedy for the miseries it inflicts."
III. THIS BLESSEDNESS IS FOR INDIVIDUALS, AND ESPECIALLY FOR THE WEAK AND THE SUFFERINGS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FAILED IN THIS LIFE AND WHO FEEL THAT IT IS A POOR AND PITIABLE DECEPTION if there is nothing to compensate for the wrong and misery they have suffered here, or to respond to the deepest longings of their nature. "Blessed," says our Lord, "are ye whom this world has not enriched and satisfied;" blessed are ye, because this emptiness leaves room for the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are ye that mourn," because for all sorrow there is a special Beatitude - a being drawn to the very heart of God, and a receiving of his special fatherly care. While our Lord bids his followers seek first the kingdom of God, while he assures them they must take up the cross and follow him, he at the same time certifies them of blessedness in the end. Sorrow, doubt, defeat, anguish of spirit, are what mark the course of thousands of his followers, but he calmly pronounces them blessed. No craving for righteousness, no natural impulse thwarted, no earthly hope renounced, no happiness postponed for others' sake, shall lose its reward. We have all learned that present pleasure and immediate gratification very frequently lead to permanent sorrow; we are here taught that present trouble and sorrow are often the direct path to permanent joy. How do we stand with regard to the Beatitudes? Can you bring yourself certainly under one or other of these categories? Many never reach happiness, because they neglect to seek it on those lines which our Lord here points out as leading to everlasting happiness. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.