The Benediction Matthew 5:3

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:3

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 encyclop√¶dia 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.]