Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 5:3 - 5:3

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Matthew 5:3 - 5:3

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The First Beatitude

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.—Mat_5:3.

1. The Beatitudes, which stand in the forefront of Christ’s moral system, are not meant to convey an exhaustive description of the Christian character; they refer to moral qualities of which society can take no cognizance and to which it offers no rewards—unobtrusive qualities which press no claims and exact no recognitions, and which depend for their existence on a man’s own inward self-regulation. No doubt the qualities here described issue in action, and often in very striking action. They are the motive power of many noble acts, they inspire much of the heroism of the world, their results win the praise, the enthusiasm, the homage of mankind; but in themselves they must exist, before anything of this kind can take place, as deliberately chosen laws of character and of inward being. They do not easily lend themselves to that self-advertisement which is the bane of our modern quasi-religious movements, and it would be hard to construct out of them materials for a thrilling biography; and yet, when accepted as a basis of character, they are full of power—their un-self-conscious influence is the strongest thing in the world, the thing that still works miracles, the thing that attracts, and moves, and sways, and tells in spite of every external gulf. They are to be cultivated for themselves, not for their results; for a man would find it hard, if not impossible, to cultivate any one of them for the value of the power and influence it would give him. The passion of the heart must love them for their own sake, if it would take them in perfectly and distribute all around their precious results. They come down from heaven, and none may summon the gifts of heaven for any ulterior reason; those who would win them must love them for themselves, for their own intrinsic beauty. Every one of them, if rightly looked at, will kindle within us that sense of beauty, that desire, that longing, which is the first step towards possession. It is something to admire, to envy, to long for them, to be able to appreciate their moral beauty, to have “eyes to see and ears to hear,” even if one fails grievously to reproduce them in oneself. And the very tone and temper of our day, while in some ways it is a hindrance, comes in here to help us. In an age when men were weary of the rules of ecclesiastics, the hair-splittings of mere ceremonialists and of moral expedients, Christ first uttered them, and their simple ethical beauty went into the hearts of those who heard them. Who can say that there is not much in our modern conditions of the same weariness, produced, too, by much the same means?

Last night I spent at home; I meant to dedicate the time to writing, but I was in a mood too dark and hopeless to venture. The exhaustion of Sunday remained; I tried light reading in vain. At last Charley came in from school, and I made him do his Latin exercise before me; all the while I kept my eyes fixed on that engraving of the head of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci, which I have had framed, and felt the calm majesty of the countenance by degrees exerting an influence over me, which was sedative. Then I made him read over, slowly, the Beatitudes, and tried to fix my mind and heart upon them, and believe them; explaining them to him afterwards, and to myself as I went on. “Blessed are”—not the successful, but “the poor in spirit.” “Blessed,” not the rich, nor the admired, nor the fashionable, nor the happy, but “the meek and the pure in heart, and the merciful.” They fell upon my heart like music.1 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 442.]

2. Our Lord begins His reckoning of blessedness with poverty in spirit. And this is evidently just; for if blessedness depends upon attainments, then the first step is to be conscious of poverty. He who thinks himself already rich, why should he desire increase? Poverty in spirit leads to mourning and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. The heavenly throne is given to those for whom it is prepared; but they must previously have been prepared, and preparation of heart involves the poverty in spirit from which the golden ladder of the Beatitudes climbs upward to blessedness. Earthly thrones are generally built with steps up to them; the remarkable thing about the thrones of the eternal kingdom is that the steps are all down to them. We must descend if we would reign, stoop if we would rise, gird ourselves to wash the feet of the disciples as a common slave in order to share the royalty of our Divine Master.

The world has its own idea of blessedness. Blessed is the man who is always right. Blessed is the man who is satisfied with himself. Blessed is the man who is strong. Blessed is the man who rules. Blessed is the man who is rich. Blessed is the man who is popular. Blessed is the man who enjoys life. These are the beatitudes of sight and this present world. It comes with a shock, and opens a new realm of thought, that not one of these men entered Jesus’ mind when He treated of blessedness.1 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master, 55.]


The Poor

1. Whom did Jesus mean by the poor in spirit? It is usually supposed that He meant the humble-minded, but this was probably not His meaning, as we see from the corresponding passage in St. Luke’s Gospel. There we find the Beatitude in a simpler form: “Blessed are ye poor”; and this phrase must be taken in a literal sense of material poverty, because it is followed by the words, “Woe unto you that are rich!” and it is impossible, of course, to suppose that Jesus would have condemned those who are spiritually rich. We may feel tolerably sure that the very same people whom St. Luke calls simply “poor” are called by St. Matthew “poor in spirit.” But why the variation of phrase, and which of the two phrases did Jesus actually use? The latter question is beside the mark. Strictly speaking, He did not use either. He spoke Aramaic, the language which in His day had superseded Hebrew in Palestine, and the Gospels were written in Greek. Both phrases are therefore translations, and the actual words used are beyond our reach. There is reason, however, to think that St. Matthew’s “poor in spirit” is the later, and St. Luke’s “poor” the earlier, version of the saying.

We might illustrate our Lord’s point of view by a reference to the Psalms. The Psalmist frequently speaks of the poor (the poor and needy) as if they were as a matter of course the servants of God. They are constantly identified with the godly, the righteous, the faithful; they suffer undeservedly; God has a special care of them and listens to their cry. There is a certain amount of truth, no doubt, in this picture of the poor which the Psalms draw. It is true to some extent nowadays. Poverty still has a tendency to wean people from worldliness. Poverty may, of course, be so grinding as to fill the mind continually with sordid anxieties and so make a spiritual life almost impossible. But poor people are often strikingly unworldly.

There is a tendency in all material possession to obscure the needs it cannot satisfy. A full hand helps a man to forget an empty heart. The things that effectually empty life are the things that are commonly supposed to fill it. The man who is busy building barns and storehouses is sometimes shutting out the sweet alluring light of the city of God and the vision of heavenly mansions. “Property” is not the best stimulus to faith. “Blessed are the poor.” There are fewer obstacles and obstructions between them and the Kingdom. They are not compassed about with spurious satisfactions. There are not so many things standing between them and life’s essentials. There is one delusion the less to be swept from their minds. History bears all this out. If you look into the story of the Kingdom, you will find it has ever been the kingdom of the poor. They have ever been the first to enter in.

The poverty which was honoured by the great painters and thinkers of the Middle Ages was an ostentatious, almost a presumptuous poverty: if not this, at least it was chosen and accepted—the poverty of men who had given their goods to feed the simpler poor, and who claimed in honour what they had lost in luxury; or, at the best, in claiming nothing for themselves, had still a proud understanding of their own self-denial, and a confident hope of future reward. But it has been reserved for this age to perceive and tell the blessedness of another kind of poverty than this; not voluntary nor proud, but accepted and submissive; not clear-sighted nor triumphant, but subdued and patient; partly patient in tenderness—of God’s will; partly patient in blindness—of man’s oppression; too laborious to be thoughtful—too innocent to be conscious—too long experienced in sorrow to be hopeful—waiting in its peaceful darkness for the unconceived dawn; yet not without its own sweet, complete, untainted happiness, like intermittent notes of birds before the daybreak, or the first gleams of heaven’s amber on the eastern grey.1 [Note: Ruskin, Academy Notes, 1858.]

2. Yet the picture which the Psalms put before us is, after all, an ideal one. It is very far from being true that all poor people are, or ever were, followers of righteousness and godliness. Our Lord felt this, just as He also felt the corresponding truth about the rich. He begins by telling His disciples how hard it is for them that have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God, and then He modifies the saying by restricting it to them that trust in riches. Exactly the same modification has taken place in St. Matthew’s version of the Beatitude as compared with St. Luke’s. The blessing is pronounced on the poor, not, however, on the actual poor, but on those who embrace poverty in spirit, even though as a matter of fact they are rich. The man who by the external accident of his position in life is rich is not necessarily debarred from the blessing, because he can be, and indeed ought to be, in spirit poor.

In saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” then, Jesus is saying, Blessed are the unworldly; blessed are they who, though in the world, are not of the world. The world says, Get all you can and keep all you get. Jesus says, Blessed are they who in will and heart at any rate have nothing. He does not say to every one, “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.” That is a counsel of perfection beyond the reach of the average man; it needs the spirituality of a Francis of Assisi to hear and obey that command. But He does say to us all, Do not cling to your possessions as though they were your own by some inalienable right. Be ready to resign them freely and cheerfully if need be. Remember that they are a trust from God. Be ready always to use them in His service and for the good of your fellow-men. If you can do all this, you are poor in spirit, and the blessing is yours.

So long as 1700 years ago a tract was written upon this subject by Clement of Alexandria, entitled, Quis dives salvetur? (“What rich man shall be saved?”). The teaching of this ancient Father is still to the point: “Riches in themselves are a thing indifferent; the question with regard to them being this, as to whether they are used as an ὄñãáíïí of good. By those whom He praises as poor in spirit, Christ means to denote those who, be they rich or poor, are in heart loosened from worldly possessions, are therefore poor; and to this idea an admirable parallel passage might be found in 1Co_7:29, ‘They that possess, as though they possessed not’ (comp. Jer_9:23); and in St. Jam_1:9-10, ‘But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate: and the rich, in that he is made low.’ ”1 [Note: E. G. Loosley.]


The Poor in Spirit

The more usual interpretation of “the poor in spirit,” however, has more interest and attractiveness, and deserves consideration.

1. Poverty of spirit is not poverty in the lower soul but in that higher part of man which comes into immediate contact with the Divine, in the higher soul which comes face to face with God, in that spirit with which “the Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God.”

The simplest way to grasp its meaning is perhaps to consider its opposite, i.e., the moral distortion of being lifted up in spirit. This uplifted spirit is the spirit of self-exaltation which filled the heart of Nebuchadnezzar when he contemplated the glories of the great Babylon which he had built. This is the spirit of those who are self-satisfied and at ease, who call their lands after their own names, and look at everything through the medium of their own self-importance. For such the world has no significance except as it affects their interest or their convenience. This is the radical spirit of worldliness; for it is the spirit which makes self the centre of everything. This spirit is the seed-ground of sin. All kinds of wrong become possible to the man who makes his own pleasure or aggrandizement the supreme rule of his life. Conscience has little place in the heart of the man who makes self the axis of reference in all his conduct. This inflated egotism is flat against the order of the universe, and essentially hostile to the Kingdom of God It is in one sense the starting-place of evil; it is in another sense its climax. Egotism in moral life is the cause of most of the heedlessness and sinfulness of the world; and yet it is only after a prolonged indulgence of selfishness that the humane and kindly instincts of nature are destroyed. The evil principle of self works till all the finer, better, and purer feelings and aspirations are brought to naught. It stands out then as the naked antagonist of all that is good.

And so Vergil and Dante come at last to the Angel-Guardian of the Cornice, against the place of ascent to the next ring—the Angel of Humility, “in his countenance such as a tremulous star at morn appears.” He bids them to the steps and beats his wings on Dante’s forehead. There comes to Dante’s ears the sound of sweet voices singing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and he notices that, though mounting steep stairs, he is lighter than when walking on the level below. Why is this? Vergil explains that one of the seven Sin-marks on Dante’s brow has been erased by the Angel’s wings, the Pride-mark, and that all the remaining six have, at the same time, become much fainter than before; a beautiful indication this of the doctrine that Pride is the deadliest foe of human salvation. When the last Sin-mark is removed Dante will experience not merely no difficulty in mounting but actual delight. Dante feels his brow on hearing this and finds that only six of the marks remain, and Vergil smiles at this. True humility is not even conscious of being humble.1 [Note: H. B. Garrod, Dante, Goethe’s Faust, and Other Lectures, 140.]

2. Poverty of spirit is not a feeling of self-disgust which comes over us when we compare our gifts and talents with those of others; it is born from no earthly inspiration, it proceeds from coming face to face with God. A man may be poor in spirit while his soul is on fire with enthusiasm for the cause of God, for the good of man. It is born of a double sense, both of the Divine greatness and of the Divine nearness. It is shown in unrepining acquiescence in our present limitations; it is shown in acceptance of the will of God in everything; it is shown not in self-depreciation, but in the strength that comes of trustfulness. It is the attitude which, in the presence of God, recognizes its entire dependence, empties itself, and is as a poor man, not that it may be feeble, but that God may fill it. It is the virtue which sends a man to his knees bowed and humbled and entranced before the Divine Presence, even in the hour of his most thrilling triumph. He cannot vaunt himself, he cannot push himself, he is but an instrument, and an instrument that can work only as long as it is in touch with its inward power; the “God within him” is the source of his power. What can he be but poor in spirit, how can he forget, how can he call out “worship me,” when he has seen the Vision and heard the Voice, and felt the Power of God? Poor in spirit, emptied of mere vain, barren conceit, deaf to mere flattery he must be, because he has seen and known; he has cried “Holy, Holy, Holy”; he knows God, and henceforth he is not a centre, not an idol, but an instrument, a vessel that needs for ever refilling, if it is to overflow and do its mission. His is the receptive attitude; not that which receives merely that it may keep, but that which receives because it must send forth. And so he accepts all merely personal conditions, not as perfect in themselves, but as capable of being transmuted by that inward power which is his own yet not his own—his own because God is within him, not his own because he is the receiver, not the inspirer.

I am sure there must be many who have a difficulty in understanding these words of our Lord—“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It must almost seem to them as if He had meant to pronounce a blessing on the cowardly and mean-spirited; whereas the blessing is on those who know and keep their place in the Divine hierarchy. We are dependent creatures, not self-existent or self-sufficing; but there is nothing degrading in this dependence, for we share it with the eternal Son. When we forget this, we lose our blessedness, for it consists in the spirit of sonship, by which alone we can receive and respond to our Father’s love. God does not call for the acknowledgment of our dependence as a mere homage to His sovereignty, but because we are His children, and it is only through this acknowledgment that we can receive His fatherly love and blessing. The blessedness arises out of the spirit of dependence, and when that spirit departs the blessedness departs with it; therefore as the spirit of independence is the spirit of this world, we need not wonder at its unblessedness, for that spirit shuts the heart against God and cuts off its supply from the Fountain of Life.1 [Note: Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, The Spiritual Order, 233.]

3. Only he who has discerned the ideal can feel what is described in the text as poverty of spirit. The man contented with himself, satisfied with his work and his position, to whom no ideal opens itself as something yet unattained, can never feel poverty of spirit. In short, this foundation Beatitude, on which all the other Beatitudes are built up, sets forth a universal law of human life; it describes the attitude of mind characteristic of the wisest, strongest, best of the human family. The greater a man is in any walk of life the wider his vision, and the keener his insight the greater is his poverty of spirit in the presence of the perfection he has seen.

So doth the greater glory dim the less.

A substitute shines brightly as a king

Until a king be by; and then his state

Empties itself, as doth an inland brook

Into the main of waters.

The vision of the greater glory, showing the contrast between what he has seen and what he has in possession, makes the man full of poverty of spirit. The stars shine as brightly during the daylight as they do at night, but they are invisible because of the greater glory of the sun. One can be content with his present state only when he has seen no brighter, clearer vision.

Miss Ellice Hopkins writes her impressions of a visit to the Briary at this time:

“At a very unassuming looking house at the foot of the Downs lived another of the Immortals, our great painter, who always went by the name of the ‘Divine Watts.’ Mrs. Cameron took us to see his studio, and to be introduced to him. We found a slightly built man with a fine head, most courteous in manner, and with the simplicity and humility of the immortal child that so often dwells at the heart of true genius. There was something pathetic to me in the occasional poise of the head, the face slightly lifted, as we see in the blind, as if in dumb beseeching to the fountain of Eternal Beauty for more power to think his thoughts after Him. There is always in his work a window left open to the infinite, the unattainable ideal.”1 [Note: George Frederic Watts, i. 299.]

4. Poverty of spirit comes first because it must be first. It is the foundation on which alone the fabric of spiritual character can rise. It is the rich soil in which alone other graces will grow and flourish. Hill-tops are barren because the soil is washed off by the rains; but the valleys are fertile because there the rich deposits gather. In like manner proud hearts are sterile, affording no soil in which spiritual graces can grow; but lowly hearts are fertile with grace, and in them all lovely things grow. If only we are truly poor in spirit, our life will be rich in its fruits.

A consciousness of want and shortcoming is the condition of success and excellence in any sphere. Of those who aspire to be doctors, lawyers, painters, musicians, scholars, I would say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit—blessed are they who are conscious of their defect and want—for to them the high places of their professions belong.” The only hopeless people in the world are the self-satisfied people, the people who do not think they need anything. The only man who will ever make a great scholar is the man who is keenly conscious of his own ignorance, who feels, like Sir Isaac Newton, that he has but gathered a few pebbles on the shore of the infinite ocean of truth; who carries the satchel still, like Michel Angelo, into an old age, and who, like J. R. Green, dies learning. But the man who starts by thinking he knows everything dooms himself to lifelong ignorance. A sense of want, humility of mind, is the very condition of excellence and success.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Way into the Kingdom, 31.]

The most marked of all the moral features in Dr. Duncan’s character was humility. He was singularly humble, in consideration of his great talents, of his vast treasures of learning, and of his attainments in the Divine life. But if we set all these aside, and compare him with other Christian men, we cannot but come to the conclusion that out of all the guests bidden in these days by the King within the circle of our knowledge, it was he that took the lowest room at the feast. This lowliness was allied to the childlike simplicity which pervaded his whole Christian course, and was made more evident by the helplessness which rendered him so unfit to guide himself in common matters, and so willing to be guided by others. But its root lay in his sense of the majesty of God, which was far more profound than in other men, and humbled him lower in the dust; in his perception and his love of holiness, and the consciousness of his own defect; in his sense of ingratitude for the unparalleled love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in his abiding conviction of past sin and of present sinfulness. This habitual humbling was deepened by the wounding of his very tender conscience, through yielding himself to be carried away by what chanced to take hold of his mind. These combined elements rendered him an example of an altogether rare and inimitable humility. Men who may be reckoned holier might be named out of those who served the Lord along with him; but among them all it would be hard to find one so humble. The holiness of Robert M‘Cheyne, if not so deep, was more equal, and more thoroughly leavened the character hour by hour. The holiness of William Burns was in some respects as deep, and it was singularly constant. They were both more watchful, and therefore more evenly holy. But in the race to stoop down into their Lord’s sepulchre, John Duncan outran them both; he was the humblest of the three, and of all the men whom most of us have known.1 [Note: A. Moody Stuart, Recollections of the late John Duncan, 175.]

5. We must also distinguish between poverty of spirit and self-depreciation. There is a false humility which finds pleasure in calling itself a worm and a miserable sinner, simply as an excuse for being no better. It is a false humility which pleads its humbleness as an excuse for aiming low. It is a false humility which says, “We are no better than our fathers were,” as an excuse for not trying to rise to a higher level, and for maintaining a low standard and perpetuating abuses. It is a false humility which leads us to take the lower room, that we may shirk our duties and avoid taking a lead when we are called upon to do so. It was not true humility that led the idle servant to bury his talent in the ground. Whatever name it may assume, it is conceit and pride that in the heart believes itself fitted for higher things, and is discontented with its part on the world’s stage. It is pride that wishes to be ministered unto, and is too conceited to minister. There is no true humility in pretending to be worse than we are, in underrating the gifts that God has given us, in declining to take the part for which we are fitted.

Do you want a cure for that false humility, that mock modesty which says, “I am not worthy,” and trumpets its denial till all the world knows that an honour has been offered; which, while it says with the lips, “It is too great for me,” feels all the time in the heart that self-consciousness of merit which betrays itself in the affected walk and the showy humility? Would you be free from this folly? Feel that God is all; that whether He makes you great, or leaves you unknown, it is best for you, because it is His work.2 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]


The Benediction

1. The bulk of the remaining Beatitudes point onward to a future; this deals with the present; not “theirs shall be,” but “theirs is the kingdom.” It is an all-comprehensive promise, holding the succeeding ones within itself, for they are but diverse aspects—modified according to the necessities which they supply—of that one encyclopædia of blessings, the possession of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven—what is it here? Surely we shall read the words aright if we think of them as conveying the promise of a present dominion of no ordinary kind; an inward power that comes here and now, and finds its exercise in ways all unknown to the possessor, that blesses those whom it has never seen and cheers those who have felt only its shadow; an inward un-self-conscious, often unrealized, power that flows out and is conveyed in a word or a look, or even by something more subtle still. So does Christian influence work among men. The poor in spirit make men believe that Christ is God, because they show the Divine beneath the human.

Often, as formerly with Jesus, a look, a word sufficed Francis to attach to himself men who would follow him until their death. It is impossible, alas! to analyze the best of this eloquence, all made of love, intimate apprehension, and fire. The written word can no more give an idea of it than it can give us an idea of a sonata of Beethoven or a painting by Rembrandt. We are often amazed, on reading the memoirs of those who have been great conquerors of souls, to find ourselves remaining cold, finding in them all no trace of animation or originality. It is because we have only a lifeless relic in the hand; the soul is gone. It is the white wafer of the sacrament, but how shall that rouse in us the emotions of the beloved disciple lying on the Lord’s breast on the night of the Last Supper?1 [Note: Paul Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi, 131.]

2. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who feel their own unworthiness and utter need, and who seek in Christ the sufficiency they do not find in themselves. They have already entered into their heritage because they have learnt their true position in it—fit to rule because they have learnt to serve, fit to influence because they have felt the Divine spark kindling them. They may not be called to high office; their place in the world may be a very lowly one, but their rule is more of a fact now than if they had the mastery of many legions. For there is no influence so certain, so strong, so compelling, as that which is founded upon the assured sense of the Divine indwelling, and the Divine co-operation; if a man has that sense he must become poor in spirit, emptied of mere conceit and shallow pride, because he has seen what real greatness is.

The clearest and most significant of all the relationships of this grace of humility is that which connects it with greatness. Humility and greatness always walk together. I do not think that Ruskin ever spoke a truer word than when he said, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility.” That truth shines with lustre upon every page of our human record. There is nothing more beautiful in the whole of the human story than the humility of the greatest men. The mind of the seer is not so far from the heart of the little child as we sometimes imagine. Most of the great scientific discoveries have been achieved through the spirit of humility. Men have been willing to be led to great discoveries through observation of the simplest things—an apple falling from the tree or steam coming through a kettle’s spout. The willingness to learn has opened the doors to the most fruitful discoveries. An over-assertive knowledge is always the cloak of ignorance. And as with knowledge, so with everything else. Power always veils itself. It does not seek to produce an impression. It does not need to do that. It walks in the paths of the humble. There are many people in the world who will not stoop to menial tasks. In their blindness they imagine humble duties to be a sign of lowly station or inferior nature. If they but knew, there is no sign of inferiority so patent as that which cannot stoop in lowliness or work in secret. There is a beautiful and significant sentence in St. John’s record of the ministry of our Lord which illustrates this association between greatness and humility. This is how it reads: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself … and began to wash the disciples’ feet.” The moment when He was most conscious of greatness was the time when He performed the most menial duty. And that association is always true in humble life. Greatness is never ashamed to be found in lowly guise. The surest sign of a high nature is that it can stoop without apologizing for itself.1 [Note: Sidney M. Berry, Graces of the Christian Character, 78.]

3. We can understand the happiness of this attitude. The man is absorbed in the work—the God-given work—before him. He has no leisure to pause and ask what the world thinks of him. There is a real work to do, and he is alive to its importance and to the necessity of turning his whole energy into it. The work has to be done; the trust must be discharged; the criticisms of the world, whether favourable or unfavourable, are of little moment. Egotism has so small a place in his spirit that he is neither uplifted nor depressed by the words of men’s lips. His soul is set on other things. He seeks the Kingdom of God, and no kingdom of self—and it is in the emancipation of self from self that he finds that Divine Kingdom. He loses himself to find himself. This is the note that seals the possession of the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, this is the keynote of all our Lord’s teaching. It is the note of His own life. It is expressly what He says of Himself: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is what He teaches by His example. For He ever watched the Father’s hand. He spoke the Father’s words, He did the Father’s works, and all He thought, felt, and did was done in obedience to the Father. He emptied Himself. At every fresh departure in His work He spent the night in prayer and fellowship with the Father, and whenever He needed wisdom and power for His life-work He sought these from the Father. Thus in virtue of His poverty of spirit He was in possession of the Kingdom.

I cannot tell you how great a point our Blessed Father made of self-abandonment, i.e., self-surrender into the hands of God. In one place he speaks of it as: “The cream of charity, the odour of humility, the flower of patience, and the fruit of perseverance. Great,” he says, “is this virtue, and worthy of being practised by the best-beloved children of God.” And again, “Our Lord loves with a most tender love those who are so happy as to abandon themselves wholly to His fatherly care, letting themselves be governed by His divine Providence without any idle speculations as to whether the workings of this Providence will be useful to them to their profit, or painful to their loss, and this because they are well assured that nothing can be sent, nothing permitted by this paternal and most loving Heart, which will not be a source of good and profit to them. All that is required is that they should place all their confidence in Him, and say from their heart, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ my soul, my body, and all that I have, to do with them as it shall please Thee.”1 [Note: J. P. Camus, The Spirit of St. Francis De Sales, 278.]

Christ showed that sacrifice, self-surrender, death, is the beginning and the course and the aim and the essential principle of the higher life. To find life in our own way, to wish to save it, to seek to gain it, to love it, is, He proclaims, to miss it altogether.… The law of sacrifice is based on essential moral relations, justified by the facts of common experience, welcomed by the universal conscience.… Sacrifice alone is fruitful.… The essence of sin is selfishness in respect of men, and self-assertion in respect of God, the unloving claim of independence, the arrogant isolation of our interests.… That which we use for ourselves perishes ignobly: that which He uses for us but not on us proves the beginning of a fuller joy. Isolation is the spring of death; life is revealed through sacrifice.… Vicarious toil, pain, suffering, is the very warp of life. When the Divine light falls upon it, it becomes transformed into sacrifice.… Not one tear, one pang, one look of tender compassion, one cry of pitying anguish, one strain of labouring arm, offered in the strength of God for the love of man, has been in vain. They have entered into the great life with a power to purify, and cheer, and nerve, measured not by the standard of our judgment but by the completeness of the sacrifice which they represent.2 [Note: Bishop Westcott, The Victory of the Cross, 22.]

The First Beatitude


Ainsworth (P. C.), The Blessed Life, 61.

Brett (J.), The Blessed Life, 7.

Callan (H.), Heart Cures, 18, 27.

Carpenter (W. B.), The Great Charter of Christ, 77.

Charles (Mrs. R.), The Beatitudes, 21.

Deshon (G.), Sermons for the Ecclesiastical Year, 484.

Dudden (F. H.), Christ and Christ’s Religion, 47.

Dykes (J. O.), The Manifesto of the King, 25.

Eyton (R.), The Beatitudes, 14.

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