What is blessedness? The proverbial man-in-the-street, having given up religion long ago, would probably think the question quaint. He has his own hopes for life: expressed, perhaps, in terms of happiness, pleasure and success. At least he hopes to struggle through somehow. But he knows nothing of seeking God’s help – except in the most dire emergency, when there is absolutely no hope of help from any other source.
What then is blessedness? For an answer, we must turn to the pages of Scripture, where the great God reveals to us all we need to know about the great issues of life. On such vital matters, human wisdom is totally inadequate. Only our Creator has the wisdom to direct us how to live our lives here in a way that is pleasing to Him and profitable to ourselves. But, first of all, we ought to note that in the Bible we are reminded again and again that we live in a world under the curse of God, and that “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal 3:10). The question arises at once: If all are under the curse – for no one keeps all God’s commandments continually – how can anyone be described as blessed?
Blessedness is possible because the curse may be removed. David could write by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even after his great sin: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity” (Ps 32:1f). Those whose sins are forgiven are no longer under the curse; rather they are blessed. They have found a substitute, One who took their place under the curse and who was able to bear that curse for them. From the moment they first believed in Christ, they are blessed “with all spiritual blessings” in Him (Eph 1:3). They are blessed in time and blessed for eternity, for this is a blessedness which will never come to an end.
Let us now ask further: Who are they that have been forgiven? Who are they that have escaped the curse and will be for ever blessed? Again we must go to the Scriptures. We go to the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. He began: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). It is certainly no part of the world’s idea of blessedness to include the word poor. But this is divine teaching, the product of divine wisdom – altogether higher than the best of human wisdom. The Saviour was telling His hearers, and He is telling us, that they are blessed who do not trust in themselves, especially in spiritual things. They have discovered their own sinfulness; so they now know they can put no confidence in themselves or in anything they can do. It is impossible for them to save themselves, no matter how long they persevere and no matter how conscientiously they try. They are like Paul, who declared: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor 3:5). They cannot earn their own salvation; they go willingly as helpless sinners to the One who “died for the ungodly”.
They can have no hope in any other, but they know that God is able to supply all their “need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). And He will do so because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”; the riches purchased by their King are for them. They will be given whatever He sees they need. When this is so, are they not blessed indeed? And may they not rest assured that, when they reach the end of their race in this world, their blessedness will be absolutely perfect? Says David Brown in commenting on this verse: “God wants nothing from us as the price of His saving gifts; we have but to feel our universal destitution and cast ourselves upon His compassion. So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fulness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance; and when He shall say to them from His great white throne, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,’ He will invite them merely to the full enjoyment of an already-possessed inheritance”.
The Saviour further identifies this people by saying, “Blessed are they that mourn”. Again this is not a worldly person’s idea of blessedness; pleasure and happiness, yes – but mourning, certainly not! But this mourning is not inconsistent with a spiritual joy. It is a mourning over sin and imperfection. It is a mourning which shows where the loyalty of their souls lies, for they are willingly subject to the One who is offended by their sin. “They mourn because they are spiritually alive”, explains John Kennedy. “They thus have a sensitiveness which others lack. The life which is in them is in contact with a body of sin and death. It cannot be so without sorrow reaching the soul . . . from the death still within. Life in the understanding meets with darkness and prejudice and error. Life in the will meets with a tendency to rebellion and aversion. Life in the conscience meets with untenderness and bondage. Life in the affections meets with all manner of corruption in the lusts of the flesh. This cannot be without sorrow.” (1)
But the Lord will yet comfort them; that is His promise. Their hearts will yet be purified from all sin, and their imperfection will yet be totally removed. That is part of their blessedness; even now they may take comfort from the prospect of future perfection. Even in this world, although they must mourn over sin and corruption, they may rejoice in the glorious provisions of the covenant of grace. And, as they enter heaven, God will wipe all tears from their eyes – all mourning will be left behind the moment they leave this world – and everlasting joy will be their experience throughout the endless ages of eternity.
Christ gives further instruction: “Blessed are the meek”. How different from contemporary attitudes! Self-assertion is one of the characteristics most admired today. But here we are taught that what God will bless is meekness, a willing submission to His claims, especially His claim that we believe in Christ. “He is supremely blessed”, writes Charles Hodge, “who cheerfully submits to be governed by the infinite reason and holiness of God”. (2) Even more incredible to the unbeliever is the Saviour’s explanation of the blessedness of the meek: “they shall inherit the earth”. To quote David Brown again, as he brings out Christ’s reference to Psalm 37: “When they delight themselves in the Lord, He gives them the desires of their heart; when they commit their way to Him, He brings it to pass . . . the little that they have, even when despoiled of their rights, is better than the riches of many wicked. All things, in short, are theirs . . . whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are theirs (1 Cor 3:22). And at last, overcoming, they ‘inherit all things’ (Rev 21:7).”
We will do no more than quote from the next Beatitudes: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . the merciful . . . the pure in heart . . . the peacemakers”. These are the characteristics we are to seek, not those the world would call desirable. The riches and the pleasures of this world will pass away, but the riches that Christ sets before us will last for ever: the kingdom of heaven, a place among the children of God, genuine satisfaction. And, finally, “blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. Granted, we are not to seek persecution; but we should seek to be the kind of people who may, in one way or another be persecuted – though not necessarily by the state. Such will be blessed indeed. Great will be their reward in heaven, according to the promise of their Saviour. May we not rest until we are sure that we are among this blessed people!
1. Expository Lectures, p 8.
2. Systematic Theology, vol 1, p 441.