The late Rev. Angus MacKay
Text: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mat. 5:3).
IN the preceding chapter we read that the Lord Jesus “went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Mat. 4:23). Great multitudes of people from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond Jordan followed Him. He then went up into a mountain, His disciples being with him, and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In considering briefly these words of our text, as the Lord may be pleased to help us, let us notice, first, who this teacher is; secondly, the subject of His wonderful teaching, and thirdly, His assertion regarding the right of those who are poor in spirit.
First, then, let us notice who this teacher is. He is the Anointed One, that is, the Christ, as Peter confessed in His presence, and as we read in chapter 16. Jesus asked His disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17).
God does not reveal Himself savingly to sinners but in the One who is the image of His person and the brightness of His glory. Where do we find the brightness of the Fathers glory and the express image of His person? In Christ. The Word of God most clearly informs us that the Son of God is the brightness of the Fathers glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). Fallen humanity loves idolatry adores graven images. In the person of Christ we have the image of the eternal Father. To worship and adore Him is no idolatry but is the worship of the eternal God. “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Our Lord said to Philip, and now by His Spirit He declares the same profound truth to us: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
How wonderfully glorious it was that the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary that the power of the Highest overshadowed her, and that that holything that was born of her is “called the Son of God”. The eternal Son of God took to Himself this miraculously sanctified part of the substance of the Virgin.
Here we have the incarnation, a divine mystery which will be an inexhaustible wonder to the redeemed people of God and to the holy angels to all eternity. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6). Again we read: “which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12).
This glorious person, then, is the divine Teacher of infinite knowledge, the great Prophet of the Church. How patient He is in teaching His people! And assuredly He will continue to teach them, as God promises the church: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord: and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa. 54:13). There are no dunces in the school of Christ, but the children of God find themselves slow in learning, and are often afraid that they have not learned the ABC regarding the glory of the person of Christ Himself. Still, they like to pray, “That which I see not teach thou me” (Job 34:32).
They are taught that this blessed One was rich from all eternity in the glory of His divine person. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet for your sakes, children of God, He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich. It is He who is the Creator of heaven and earth, for “without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). How then did He become poor? Ah! He became poor by His glory being veiled. He dwelt in this vexatious world in the likeness of sinful flesh. “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). We live in a day when it is declared from some pulpits that Jesus of Nazareth was a mere man, and when young men are taught such “damnable heresies” in theological colleges. O! how earnestly we should proclaim that Jesus was and is God, and that He is God in our nature! Ah! may we exclaim with David:
Lord, our Lord, is thy name!”
(Psl. 8:1, metrical).
What does the awful sight at Calvary mean? Jesus dying on the Cross was the sin-bearer of Gods elect. Their innumerable sins were imputed to Him. His death was the atoning sacrifice for their sins. Therefore, in being united to Him by faith, they have their sins blotted out forever; they now have peace through the blood of the Cross; they are made rich through His poverty; and all to the glory of God.
But Christ is now risen from the dead. He is alive, and alive for evermore. It is He, the exalted one, who is the teacher of His people by His Spirit, ever present with them to instruct them, and to be a present help to them in time of trouble. In itself, affliction is bitter, but Jesus with them in their affliction is sweet incomparably sweet. The storm in itself is terrifying, but Jesus in the storm is peace. “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
We see, then, that the Lord Jesus is the omniscient teacher and loving preacher who said, and who now by His Spirit declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Secondly, let us notice the subject of His teaching: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Before we can have an adequate view of our spiritual poverty, we must understand a little regarding the abundance of riches which we have lost. In Adam we were created by God abundantly rich; we were created in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. When we see a pauper who was always poor, we dont take particular notice of him, but when we see a millionaire who by his own folly has gone bankrupt, we take special notice of him. For a considerable time he will be the common talk of the community. Now, if such a bankrupt still looked upon himself as a very wealthy man, and continued to maintain that he was rich, would we not question his sanity? Now we, by our rebellion and sin against God, have lost our abundance of riches; we lost the image of God and we lost communion with God. Still, man in his spiritual bankruptcy imagines that he is rich, when truly he is poor and miserable, wretched, blind and naked. Fallen, depraved man is spiritually insane: he will not come to Jesus Christ that he might have the riches of wisdom and eternal life. Oh what madness is in the heart of each one of us, until the Lord, in His mercy, opens our eyes!
The poor in spirit are not those who may be poor merely in their lot, circumstances and health. Certainly, the poor in spirit may be poor in their lot, but being poor in our lot does not necessarily mean that we are poor in spirit. The promise is to the poor in spirit. All unregenerate ones, whether temporally rich or poor, are spiritually poor, but few in this generation are poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who are taught by the Holy Spirit, and know assuredly, that they are spiritually poor. In the mercy of God they have been brought to their senses, and to see that the carnal mind is enmity against God; that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. It is no difficult task to give the assent of the intellect to this truth; it is another matter to be taught this truth by the Holy Spirit in the hidden man of the heart.
There are those among us, old and young, who are groaning under a true sense of the depth of their spiritual poverty and depravity. Some of Gods dear children are at times afraid that the sense they have of the wickedness and deceitfulness of their heart is not that which the Lords people have. At times they fear that their painful consciousness of the desperate wickedness of the heart is not common to the people of God at all. It is hard for them to believe that the heart of any true believer is so desperately wicked as theirs is. Paul said of himself that he was the chief of sinners, and what ought we to think of ourselves? O! to be taught as godly Mrs Winslow was! Writing to a friend, she says, “How amazing that I am receiving such sweet times of the presence of the Lord this for me, the vilest of the vile.” In her unconverted days she was moral and circumspect, and since her conversion she was exemplary in vital godliness. And what does all this mean? Is it unreasonable? Is it mysticism? No! We find the meaning of it in Pauls Epistle to the Romans: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:22-25).
How is it that the Lords people are so painfully conscious of sin in their own hearts? Because they have seen by faith the glory of Christ, and they are taught by the Holy Spirit, more than they realise, regarding the divine glory revealed in the person of Christ. “O! Im not sure if I ever saw by faith the glory of the Lord,” one might say. If you, friend, are burdened with indwelling sin, the barrenness of your soul, and your ignorance of divine things, and have the prayerful sigh ascending from your heart, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10), then you have seen by faith, and you are beholding, the glory of Christ in the gospel. We will never be poor in spirit, until in sovereign mercy we are brought to loathe ourselves, and to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, yes, we need to be brought, with a renewed will, to the mercy-seat, and there be taught experimentally what is a free pardon and true repentance through the divine merit of the blood of Christ. O! to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Those who are taught by the Holy Spirit are blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As Isaac said of Jacob, “I have blessed him, yea and he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:33), so it is with the poor ones of Christ. They are blessed, and they shall be blessed. They are blessed in time and shall be blessed eternally made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity. We can have no true conception of heaven, except in the measure that we know the comforting presence of the Lord, and communion with His people, here in the Valley of Baca.
Although the poor in spirit are not satisfied with the measure of their knowledge of Christ and of love to Him, they are satisfied with the nature of their knowledge, faith and love. While they are learning that, by nature, they are depraved, vile and desperately wicked, they hope that their knowledge of the way of salvation in Christ is of a spiritual and saving nature. O! what joy unspeakable it must be to be perfectly holy and to be with Christ, waiting for the redemption of our bodies at the sound of the last trumpet! Then our whole person will be with Christ, with the redeemed, and with the angels of God. “We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
There are some rich ones of this world who secretly grieve when they see that their neighbour is now as wealthy, or more wealthy, than they themselves are. This is not so with the people of God: they love those whom they see rich in faith, spiritual knowledge and holiness. Though often their heart language is,
so fills my loins with pain,
That in my weak and weary flesh
no soundness doth remain”
(Psl. 38:7, metrical),
in thirst doth pant and bray;
So pants my longing soul, O God,
that come to thee I may”
Thirdly, we notice the Saviours assertion regarding the right of the poor in spirit: “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Being justified by faith, they have a right to the unsearchable riches of Christ. Their faith, which is the gift of God, is not the meritorious cause of their justification. It is Christ, in the glory of His finished work, who is the meritorious cause of their being pardoned and accepted by God as righteous persons. Faith, which purifieth the heart, worketh by love and overcometh the world, is the instrumental cause whereby they receive the righteousness of Christ.
Now, the poor in spirit have begun enjoying the kingdom of heaven here in the wilderness of this world. At times, when the Lords countenance is hid from them, they give expression to their spiritual loneliness by saying, “I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop” (Psl. 102:6); but at other times they can joyfully exclaim with the Psalmist:
shall surely follow me:
And in Gods house for evermore
my dwelling-place shall be”
(Psl. 23:6, metrical).
In this world, some married couples have a joint account in the bank. In the Saviours assertion regarding the poor in spirit having the kingdom of God, we have a heavenly joint account. Ah yes, the poor in spirit, being married to Christ, may exclaim with ineffable joy and with all humility, that they are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). God Himself is their infinite portion and treasure. Strong as death is, it has no power to erase the name of the spouse of Christ from this most blessed joint account. Death has been abolished by Christ for his people. He has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Once we are over the river, ah! then, we shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him; we shall fully enjoy the blessing of life that shall never end; we shall evermore behold the glory of “the Lamb in the midst of the throne”.
How is it that we love our own home more than any other home on earth? However humble our cottage may be, we love it exceedingly more than the palace with all its grandeur. Why? We have a lawful right to it; it is our own; it is our home. Now, the poor in spirit have a right to heaven. Apart from the fact that they are on their way to heaven, they have a right to it. The Fathers act in adopting them into the family of God invests them with a personal right to heaven “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. When at last they shall be in heaven and look back on their wilderness journey, how clearly they will see Gods love to them in all that they had to pass through here: that Gods love was toward them in all their sorrows as well as their joys; in all their chastisements as well as their comforts, as He led them heavenward in infinite wisdom and love. Then, when they shall have their dwelling there, they shall see, not as through a glass darkly but most clearly in the light of heaven, in the light of eternity: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christ, in all His glory, is the centre, the fountain, the light, the joy, the all of heaven.
There are none in heaven who are poor in spirit; their sense of spiritual poverty is forever taken away; there is no poverty of any kind there. There, the inhabitants are blessed with all the fullness of God; there, to all eternity, they will enter more and more into the glory of the unsearchable riches of Christ. They will have the full assurance that they are in heaven for eternity; that they are forever with Christ, with the people of God and with the holy angels; that there is one fold and one Shepherd. We believe that in heaven there will be a sweet remembrance of the bitterest trials they ever passed through in this world.
and quiet now they be:
So to the haven he them brings,
which they desired to see”
(Psl. 107:30, metrical).