ŇBlessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Ó Matthew 5:3
Here is ChristŐs first rule concerning happiness; wherein observe two points: first, the parties blessed: the poor in spirit; secondly, wherein this blessedness consists: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Before we come to these parts severally, note in a word the form of speech here used. They that are led by human reason will rather say, Blessed are the rich, for theirs are the kingdoms of the world. But Christ here speaks the flat contrary; saying, Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, which is infinitely better than all the kingdoms of the world. Whereby we may see that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; and the ordinary conceit of man, flat opposite to the saving doctrine taught by Christ.
I. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
The word translated poor, doth properly signify a beggar, one that hath no outward necessities but by gift from others; but here it is more largely taken, not only betokening those that want outward riches (for St Luke opposeth these poor to the rich in this world (Luke 6:20,24)), but also those that are in any way miserable, wanting inward or outward comfort; and such an one was Lazarus, that lay begging at Dives gates (Luke 16:20,21). What is meant by poor in spirit is plainly expounded (Isa. 66:2), where the Lord saith, I will look to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words. ChristŐs meaning then is this: that those poor are blessed, who by means of their distress, through want of outward comforts, are brought to see their sins and their miseries thereby; so at finding no goodness in their hearts, they despair in themselves, and fly wholly to the mercy of God in Christ for grace and comfort, as Lazarus did to Dives gate for outward relief.
1. Seeing Christ doth thus set out the person that is truly blessed, let us see whether we be in the number of these poor ones. Indeed we have many poor amongst us; some that by excess and riot have spent their substance, and others that through idleness increase their want; as the wandering beggars, a sinful and disordered people, who join themselves to no church. But none of these can by their poverty make just claim to true felicity. The blessed poor are poor in spirit; and this poverty we must find in our hearts, if we would know ourselves to be truly happy. But after trial, this will be found much wanting; for first, if men live outwardly civil, and keep themselves from gross sins, this thought of pride takes place in their hearts: that they are righteous, and they persuade themselves, with the young man in the gospel (Matt. 19:20), that they can keep GodŐs commandments. Secondly, let worldly wants befall men, in body, goods, or name, and they are grieved; yea, their souls are full of sorrow; but for spiritual wants, as blindness of mind, hardness of heart, unbelief and disobedience, their hearts are never touched. Now whence comes this but from that pride of heart whereby they bless themselves in their estate, and think all is well with them in respect of their souls? So that true it is that poverty of spirit is hard to be found. We therefore must search ourselves, and labour to feel our spiritual wants; and look how Lazarus lay for his body at DivesŐ gates; so must we lie at GodŐs mercy gate in Christ, for our souls; abandoning this pride of heart, and acknowledging that there is no goodness in us of ourselves; for the strait gate of heaven cannot receive a swelling heart that is puffed up with pride. And to induce us unto this good duty, let us consider the gracious promises made to them that be poor in spirit; they are called GodŐs poor (Psa. 72:2); He thinketh upon them (Psa. 40:17); though heaven be GodŐs throne and the earth His footstool, yet wil He look to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit (Isa. 66:2); yea, the Lord will dwell with him that is of a contrite and broken heart (Isa. 57:15); Christ came to preach the glad tidings of the gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18); yea, the Lord filleth the hungry (that is, the poor and hungry soul) with good things, but the rich he sends empty away (Luke 1:53). Let these and many such favours with God which they enjoy, provoke us to become poor in spirit.
2. Secondly, are the blessed those that be poor in spirit? Then here all poor and wretched persons in the world may learn to make good use of their wants and distresses. They must consider them as the hand of God upon them, and thereby be led to the view of their sins; and by the consideration of their sins, be brought to see their misery in themselves, the true ground of this spiritual poverty. Now, when they are once poor in spirit, they are in a blessed state in the judgment of Christ. If a man bleed dangerously at the nose, the best way to save his life is to let him bleed elsewhere, and so turn the course of the blood another way; even so, when a man is oppressed with worldly calamities, he cannot find any comfort in them, for in themselves they are GodŐs curses; yet if thereby he can be brought to see his spiritual poverty, then of curses they become blessings unto him; and therefore when we are in any distress, we must not only fix our eyes upon the outward cross, but by means of that, labour to see the poverty of our souls; and so will the cross lead us to happiness.
3. Thirdly, they that abound with worldly wealth, must hereby learn to become poor if they will be saved; poor, I say, not in goods, but in spirit. This indeed is hard to flesh and blood, for naturally every rich man blesseth himself in his outward estate, and persuades himself that God loves him, because He gives him wealth; but such conceits must he strive against, and learn of God to rejoice in this: that he is made low (James 1:10).
4. Fourthly, on this saying of Christ, that the poor are blessed, the popish teachers (observing the word translated poor to betoken outward poverty) go about to build their vow of voluntary poverty, whereby men renouncing their wealth and possessions of this world, do betake themselves to some monastery, there to live a poor solitary life. But their voluntary poverty will not agree with this text; for ChristŐs poor here pronounced blessed, are such, as by reason of their poverty, are miserable and wretched, wanting outward comforts, as we shewed out of Luke (Luke 6:20,24), where Christ opposeth them to the rich, who abound with all worldly delights. But to undergo the popish vow of voluntary poverty, is no estate of misery or distress; for who do live in greater ease, or enjoy more freedom from the crosses and vexations of this life, than their begging friars? Again, if their vowed poverty had any ground in this text, then Christ should pronounce such poor blessed, as made themselves poor; but that He doth not, for then in the next verse he should pronounce such mourners blessed as voluntarily cause themselves to mourn; for that verse dependeth on this as a more full explanation of this first rule. But no man will say that they that mourn without a cause are there called blessed; and therefore popish vowed poverty hath no ground on this place. And thus much of the persons.
II. Wherein the blessedness of these poor consists: namely, in having a right to the kingdom of heaven: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. By kingdom of heaven (for the better conceiving of this blessedness) we must understand a state or condition of man, whereby he is in GodŐs favour, and hath fellowship with God. The truth of this description is evident by the tenor of the New Testament. Now the estate of man is called a kingdom, because herein God rules as king, and man obeys as GodŐs subject; for no man can be in GodŐs favour, nor enjoy His fellowship unless God be his King, ruling in his heart by His Word and Spirit, and he GodŐs subject resigning himself to be ruled by Him; for this happy estate consists in GodŐs gracious ruling of man, and manŐs holy subjection unto God. Indeed few do see any great happiness in this estate; but the truth is, manŐs whole felicity stands herein; The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17). Here the apostle teacheth us three things: namely, that when GodŐs Spirit rules in a manŐs heart, then first, he is justified, there is righteousness; secondly, he hath peace with God, even that peace of conscience which passeth all understanding; thirdly, the joy of the Holy Ghost, which is an unspeakable comfort, passing all worldly joy whatsoever. And these three do notably set out the state of a happy man; which will yet more plainly appear by their contraries in Judas, who being a wretched sinner, unrighteously betrayed his master, and thereupon fell into the misery of a guilty accusing conscience, which was the cause of his desperate death, and also that his body burst asunder and his bowels gushed out. Now if an evil conscience be so fearful, then how blessed an estate is the peace and joy of a good conscience, which a man then hath when God by His Word and Spirit ruleth in his heart? Again, this estate is called the kingdom of heaven because that man in whom Christ ruleth by His Word and Spirit, is already himself in heaven, though in body he be yet on earth; for heaven is like a city with two gates, through both which a man must pass before he can obtain the full joys thereof. Now as soon as God by His Word and Spirit rules in any manŐs heart, he is already entered the state of grace, which is the first gate; the other remains to be passed through at the time of death, which is the gate of glory, and then he is in full possession.
1. Doth true happiness consist in this estate where Christ ruleth and man obeys? Then here behold the error of all philosophers and wise men of this world touching happiness; for some have placed it in pleasure, some in wealth, and others in civil virtues, and some in all of these. But the truth is, it stands in none of these. A natural man may have all of these and yet be condemned; for the civil virtues of the heathen were in them but glorious sins. Our Saviour Christ hath here revealed more unto us than all the wise men of the world did ever know; and hereby we have just occasion to magnify the books of Scripture far above all human writings, because they do fully set out unto us the nature and estate of true felicity, which no human work could ever do. We must therefore account of them, not as the word of man, but of the ever-living God; yea, this must persuade us to maintain the books of Scripture against all devilish atheists that deny the same to be the Word of God.
2. Secondly, hereby we are taught, from the bottom of our hearts, to make that petition for ourselves, which Christ teacheth in His holy prayer: namely, that He would let His kingdom come (Matt. 6:10), that is, not suffer sin, Satan or the world to reign in us, but by His Word and Spirit to rule in our hearts, giving us grace to be guided thereby in all our ways. We affect nothing more than happiness, and therefore we must oftentimes most seriously make this request to God, preferring this estate with God before all pleasures and happiness in this world, and use all good means to feel in our hearts the power of ChristŐs kingdom.
3. Thirdly, this should move us to hear GodŐs Word with all fear and reverence; for by this means the kingdom of Christ is erected in us; when the Word of Christ takes place in our hearts by faith, and brings forth in our lives the fruits of righteousness and true repentance, then we may truly say, the kingdom of heaven is in us.
4. Lastly, Christ ascribing this happy title of His heavenly kingdom to them that be poor and of a contrite heart, doth herein minister a sovereign remedy against all temptations, from outward poverty and distress. Doubtless poverty is a grievous cross, not only in regards of the want of bodily comforts; but especially because of that contempt and reproach which in this world doth hang upon it; whereupon many do esteem their poverty as a sign of GodŐs wrath against them, and thereby take occasion to despair, thinking the kingdom of darkness belongeth unto them. But here consider you poor, this sentence of Christ, where He plainly teacheth that if a man in outward distress can be brought to feel his spiritual poverty, and the wretchedness of his soul, by reason of his sins; then he is so far from having just cause to despair of GodŐs favour by reason of his poverty, that on the contrary, he may gather to his soul a most comfortable assurance, from the mouth of Him that cannot lie, that the kingdom of heaven belongs unto him.