“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Here is Christ’s second rule touching blessedness; wherein consider two points: first, the parties who are blessed, they that mourn; secondly, wherein their blessedness consists, namely, in receiving comfort.
I. For the first; by mourners, we must not understand every one that is in any way grieved, but such as have just and weighty causes of grief, and do therefore mourn; for the words import an exceeding measure of grief, such as is expressed by crying and weeping, as is plain by St Luke, who thus relateth Christ saying, Blessed are ye that now weep. And yet every one is not blessed that mourneth under grievous distress; for Cain, Saul, Ahithophel and Judas were all deeply affected in soul with their most woeful estates, though far from this blessedness. This rule then, must be understood: that they are blessed who with their mourning for weighty causes of grief, do withal mourn for their sins; for so was the former rule to be understood, of those that with the sense of their outward distress, had adjoined an inward feeling of their spiritual wants; and this verse is but a more full explication thereof, as if He should have said: They are blessed that are poor in spirit. Yea, put the case a man be distressed for most weighty causes of grief, so as he howl and cry under the burden of them; yet if withal, he can unfeignedly mourn and wail in heart for his sins, notwithstanding all his poverty and distress, he is truly blessed.
This blessed sentence upon them that mourn, serves sundry ways for a sovereign salve to the conscience of a Christian:
1. As first; put the case a man were distressed with grievous calamities, and withal were overtaken with some heinous sin, whereupon not only is his body afflicted, but his conscience also wounded, and so he is cast into the guise of desperation. Yea, say further, that by reason of the terror of his conscience, his flesh were withered, and his marrow consumed in his bones. Were not this a cause of exceeding mourning? Yet lo, our most blessed physician Christ Jesus hath made a plaster for his sore; for if this man of distresses can withal truly mourn for offending God through his transgressions, he is undoubtedly blessed; for Christ hath said it, whose word shall never fail, though heaven and earth come to nothing. A blessed text, which being well applied, will not only support the heart in great distress, but recover the conscience from under deep despair.
2. Secondly, put the case a man were exceedingly sick, and that he felt the very pangs of death without all ease to seize upon him, so as both speech and sight, with all outward comforts begin to fail him. This state were lamentable; yet if in his soul he can truly mourn for his offences, even in this extremity, he is blessed.
3. Thirdly, put the case a man were taken of his enemies, and his wife and children slain before his face, having their brains dashed out upon the stones, afterwards himself put to a most woeful rack and torment. This were an estate more woeful than death; yet herein a man must not judge himself as a castaway, but with mourning for this misery, he must labour to be sorrowful for his sins, and then he need not fear what flesh can do unto him, for he is blessed. Christ’s Word must stand, let thy distress be what it will, if under it thou mourn for thy sins, blessed art thou. We cannot conceive while we enjoy peace, of the worth of this rule in the evil day; neither do we know how near the time is wherein we shall have need thereof; and therefore we must now learn this never to be forgotten, to season all other mourning with godly sorrow for our sins.
II. Wherein this blessedness consists; namely, in that their mourning shall have an end, and be turned into true comfort. That this is true happiness will appear by the contrary; for the woe and sorrow that is here begun, and continued in the world to come, is the punishment of the damned spirits, and the portion of the reprobate, which is endless misery; and therefore unto them that mourn, it is true happiness that they shall receive comfort. This promise of comfort is accomplished four ways:
1. First, when God tempers and delays the sorrows and afflictions of them that mourn, according to the measure of their strength (1 Cor. 10:13), God is faithful; and will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able to bear. This was promised to David and his seed, that if they did sin, He would correct them with the rod of men; but not take His mercy quite from them (2 Sam. 7:14,15).
2. Secondly, when God removes the grief with the causes thereof; thus he comforted Manasseh, who for his abominable idolatries and witchcrafts was carried captive into Babylon, and there laid in prison, fettered in chains of iron (2 Chr. 33:11); yet when he did mourn under that affliction, and withal humbled himself unto God for his sins, the Lord comforted him, by bringing him out of that captivity and prison, to Jerusalem into his own kingdom.
3. Thirdly, When God gives inward comfort to the heart and conscience, by His Word and Spirit. In this case Paul said, We rejoice in afflictions, knowing that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given us (Rom. 5:5); yea, when he was exceedingly afflicted above his strength, so as he received the sentence of death in himself, having no hope of life, yet even then he professeth that, as the sufferings of Christ abounded toward him, so his consolations through Christ abounded in him (2 Cor. 1:5).
4. Fourthly, when God by death puts an end to all their miseries, and brings their souls to eternal life. Thus was Lazarus comforted, as Abraham saith unto Dives (Luke 16:25), and thus doth Christ comfort the thief upon the cross (who with his bodily torment for his lewd life, was undoubtedly touched in conscience for his sins, and therefore desires Christ to remember him when he came into His kingdom) by telling him that that day he should be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Here then we have a notable remedy against the immoderate fear of death, whether natural or violent, and of any other judgments of God: for when death itself, or any other misery whatsoever shall befall us, if we can therewith bewail our transgressions, we need not fear, still holding fast His promise by faith in our hearts, that we shall be comforted. Secondly, this promise well observed, may teach us to avoid the peril of this false conceit; that true faith doth always minister present comfort. Many do herewith perplex themselves, measuring their estate towards God by that which they feel in themselves; so as if in time of trouble they find not present comfort, they judge themselves void of faith, and cast out of God’s favour. But herein they greatly wrong themselves; for though the apprehension of comfort, from God in distress, be a fruit and work of faith, yet a man may have true faith that wants this sense and feeling of present comfort. Doubtless none are blessed that want faith, yet many are blessed that want feeling; for here it is said, they that mourn for sin are now blessed; and yet it is not said, they are now comforted, but they shall be comforted; meaning afterward, in God’s good time.