Meditations on the Beatitudes: The First Beatitude

Matthew 5:1‑16  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Matthew 5:1-161And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 2And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. 13Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:1‑16)
Part 2
The First Beatitude
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 3.
If ever it was needful for thee, my soul, to weigh thy words in the balances of the sanctuary, and to meditate in its sacred light, surely it is at this moment. How deeply important to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s own words here, and to enter fully into the true spirit of His teaching. Condition of soul and blessing are inseparable; the one depends on the other. This is what thou must learn. It is also well to remember, that it is not by means of great learning or great opportunities for study—valuable as these are—that we know Jesus, understand His Word, or see His glories; but by the light and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
“He shall glorify Me,” says the Lord, “for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:1414He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:14)).
The first beatitude, observe, lies at the basis of all the others. It is not only a distinct feature in itself, but it should characterize all the others and all who belong to Jesus. Surely nothing can be so necessary to a soul that has to do with God as poverty of spirit. Not poverty in circumstances merely, or poverty in words and ways, but in spirit—in the heart, the feelings, the inward man, and all before the living God. How often we may have said with reference to one who has injured us,
“I freely forgive him, and I will be the same to him as ever, but I can’t forget it for all that.”
This is not being “poor in spirit;” it is being outwardly so, but not “in spirit.” It comes from the same root as the spirit of the world which says,
“I will have it out with him, I am determined not to be beaten.”
How different to the state of the blessed man, here described by the Lord— “poor in spirit;” not in outward conduct merely, but in spirit! The outward ways should be the true expression of the inward state. This is God’s pleasant sacrifice.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51:1717The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17)).
This was ever the spirit, in all divine perfection, of the lowly, dependent, Son of Man. But the grace that has brought down the proud spirit of man, and laid him in the dust, humbled and broken, before God; has laid the foundation of a true Christian character, and of the soul’s richest blessing. True, alas! he may one day forget his right place, and the old spirit of the natural man may be allowed to appear for a time, but the Lord knows how to bring him back, and how to break him down again. Nothing can be more sad than for one who has been down in this place ever to leave it, even during a moment’s temptation. It is to lose sight of that Christ-like grace which God especially delights to honor in every dispensation.
“O to be nothing—nothing,
Only to lie at His feet
A broken, emptied vessel,
Thus for His use made meet!
Emptied, that He may fill me
As to His service I go,
Broken, so that unhindered
Through me His life may flow.
“O to be nothing—nothing,
An arrow hid in His hand,
Be a messenger at His gateway
Waiting for His command:
Only an instrument ready,
For Him to use at His will;
And should He not require me—
Willing to wait there still.”
Turn again, I pray thee, my soul, and muse a little longer on these mysterious, moral depths. O! to fathom them with thine own line, to know them in thine own deep experience! Is it thus? When all is gone from us, when we are nothing—nothing at all, even in thought and feeling, then all comes into us from God—God in Christ Jesus; and we are satisfied? Yes, thank God, this is the condition, this the blessing.
The robe, the ring, the fairest miter, would not be enough; nothing but the fatted calf, could satisfy the famished prodigal, after he has spent his all. When he was brought down to the husks, and even these kept from him, he thought of his father’s house, where only he could find the fatted calf. It must ever be so.
When Naomi returned as an emptied one to the land of Israel, she found it was the beginning of barley harvest. When Abram fell on his face before God, then flowed the many streams of grace from the ocean of eternal love. “I will, I will,” runs on freely. It is all grace now.
And so with the leper. When the evil energy of the flesh ceased to work, he was pronounced clean. The priest could now go forth to the unclean place, and bring him into the camp, with the full blessing, of death and resurrection, typically seen, and in due time, the eighth day, the consummation of blessing, he comes into his tent.
So long as we are seeking to maintain anything of our own, to cherish an unbroken spirit as to some favorite opinion or object, we are resisting God’s will and shutting out His grace; but when we are brought down to our real nothingness, and have nothing to maintain but Christ and His glory, the flood gates are thrown open, and grace flows in.
Some have thought that literal poverty, in its ordinary sense, is connected in the Lord’s mind with the blessings of the kingdom, and so have parted with their property at once, and become poor for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. In place of distributing their income as the Lord’s stewards, and as He might call for it, they have entrusted it to others, and taken the place of dependence themselves. The former is certainly a much easier way than the latter; but which is right? To hold property for Christ and His service in this world, and to give it out as a steward according to His mind, is a Christian service that requires much waiting on the Master, and great liberty of soul in His presence. A scrupulous conscience would be in perpetual bondage. The idea is founded on Luke 6:2020And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20), “And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, and said, Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The words, “in spirit”, are left out. But there is no ground in this text for such an idea. It is the fruit of superstition, not of faith, and savors of Monachism. It is a question of the inner man in contrast with the outer. He who is poor as to this world’s goods, may be of a proud unbending spirit, while the rich may be truly humble. At the same time we believe that the Lord has oftener used a man’s miseries than his comforts to bring him to Himself, but that is the Lord’s doing, and quite another thing. The steward’s place is to meet his Master’s mind, and not to indulge his own. The difference between Matthew and Luke in presenting the beatitudes, is to be accounted for by the characteristic and divinely arranged differences of the gospels.
“That in Matthew,” says one, “gives the discourse on the mount in the abstract, presenting each blessing to such and such a class.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke makes it a more personal address. “Blessed are ye poor.” The reason is manifest. In the one case it is the prophet greater than Moses, who lays down the principles of the kingdom of heaven in contrast with all Jewish thought, feeling, and expectation. In the other case, it is the Lord comforting the actually gathered disciples, addressing themselves as so separated to Himself, and not merely legislating, so to speak. It was now the time of sorrow; for as bringing the promises in His person, man would not have Him.
Returning for a moment to our text, we would only further add on this beatitude, that the Lord here says, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the “poor in spirit.” They are the heirs of the kingdom. The riches of the King, and the glories of His kingdom have come down to enrich the “poor in spirit.” Who would not be poor in spirit? we may well exclaim. Who would not willingly be self-emptied before the Lord? But O! the danger of being pre-occupied when the invitation comes. Houses, lands, oxen, the home, the world; and, what is worst of all, deadliest of all—self—self-occupation in a thousand ways!
But to the poor in spirit, to those who have reached the end of self, to those who are in the dust before God, yet cling by faith to Jesus and His cross; to those whose reason is silent, whose fair forms of religiousness are laid aside, who can only say, I have nothing now but Christ; all that I sought to maintain is gone—nothing, no, nothing now but Christ. The whole riches of His kingdom, and, better far, He Himself is mine—mine now, mine forever. Praise His name!
“Enough—give thou the humble heart, and I consent;
O, make me nothing, and therewith content.
My gain is loss, my trust is in the cross;
Hold me! I’m weak, I fall; be Thou mine All in all.
I will be nothing still,
That Christ alone my heaven of heavens may fill,
Yet set me, Lord, a little glowing gem
Upon His diadem; to shed my tiny ray
Among the splendors of His crowning day;
Though unperceived, I still should like to shine,
A tribute glory on that brow divine.”
(Continued from Page 124)
(To be continued).