The First Beatitude Matthew 5:3

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.—Matthew 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.]

to be continued