Page images

It it admitted, by general consent, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the first portions of this discourse, makes an obvious reference to the false notions so generally prevalent among the expectants of the Messiah in that day, as to the temporal grandeur, and political power, which they supposed he would assume. An impression existed on the public mind, that some illustrious personage was about to appear; and the Jews, in particular, believed that the Saviour, foretold in prophecy, would come as a potent prince, invested with regal honours and authority; that his arrival would be announced to the world by remarkable signs in the heavens; and that the special object of his mission would be to restore the decayed kingdom of Israel to its former importance and independence. Many of the audience now present, it is reasonable to suppose, had imbibed this idea; and perhaps not a few were hoping for some official and lucrative distinctions at their deliverer's hands. If this were the case, and the supposition is not improbable, the character which he first describes, the benediction he pronounces on him, and the kingdom he promises to give him, must have immediately convinced them of their mistake.-" Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." It is hence evident that he meant, at the very commencement of his public instructions, to mark at once, and in the most decided terms, the peculiar temper and spirit of his religion, and to show to his disciples how completely opposite it was to all those splendid and popular qualities, which were the great objects of admiration and applause to the heathen, and are still too much so even to the Christian world.*

In the discussion of the beatitude which I have now

* Bp. Porteus.



The expression," poor in spirit," it is easy to perceive, regards the disposition of the heart, rather than the condition in life; and the frame of the soul, rather than any circumstances of worldly poverty. Neither indigence or wealth in itself has the least connection with real religion, for that blessing does not lie in any particular path of our temporal pilgrimage. If affluence expose us to manifold temptations, so does poverty likewise; and if the former has its snares, so also has the latter its dangers. One man may be rich in this world's goods, and yet be "poor in spirit;" and another may be destitute, and have no certain dwelling-place, while his heart is full of pride. There have been many individuals of illustrious birth, who have been made more illustrious for their solid piety; and there have also been many wretched through their destitution, made much more miserable by their dreadful crimes. It is true, that our Lord exercised his ministry principally among the poor, and this fact was sufficient to satisfy his imprisoned precursor that he was the prophet "that should come," and that he must not "look for another." It is true, likewise, that while the nobles, "who received honour one from another," did not believe in his mission, publicans and sinners came and wept at his feet; and entered the kingdom of heaven. But neither the nobility of the one, or the plebian extraction of the other, led to the exclusion or admission, apart from the state of the

heart itself. The gospel of the kingdom was preached freely and fully to all; and where it was not received, the cause must be traced, as in the present day, to some moral delinquency in the heart of the hearer, and not to any "respect of persons" on a worldly account, in the divine being.

Farther, the state of mind here mentioned, must be carefully distinguished from the application of the phrase in the text, as sometimes used among men. Frequently it has been employed to signify a mean and servile, a cringing and undignified, deportment and disposition. "Meek and lowly" in heart, the Christian doubtless ought to be, and such he will be, if he learn the copy his master has set him; but, in perfect agreement with this, he may conduct himself with a dignity of demeanour, and a firmness of mind, in every situation of life. He may estimate himself with the modesty of an Apostle, as "less than the least of all saints;" but he ought, nevertheless, to be free from the fear of men; neither allured by their flatteries, or intimidated by their reproaches. Indeed, it is a maxim in religion, that he who rightly fears God, needs fear none besides. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." The slaves of vice are always cowards in the hour of real danger. The good are the truly brave. "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour." "His heart is fixed,

trusting in God."

In what, then, it may be asked, does this dispositionconsist, and what are its peculiar qualities? To this question I give the following answers.

First. It consists in a deep conviction of guilt and depravity before a pure and holy Being. This is a material feature in the state of mind here presented to our notice. Whatever may be discredited or believed, every serious person will admit, that there can be nothing of this blessed


disposition in the heart of the Pharisee, "who goeth about to establish his own righteousness," and will "not submit to the righteousness of God." "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." The glad tidings of "liberty to the captive, and of opening the prison door to them that are bound," are wholly unattractive to us, till we learn the difficult and painful lesson of our utter destitution of that which is really good in the sight of the Almighty. Necessary, however, as such a conviction is, to endear the gospel to us, it is not natural to man, who, with "his understanding blinded," as he comes into the world, "discerneth not the things of God." The very reverse of this "humbleness of mind" is the scriptural representation of his character, and the fact of its truth is but too fully confirmed by the unequivocal testimony of universal observation. The law of God he deems too rigorous, and its demands too severe. humiliating but essential doctrine of salvation, through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, offends his pride, and his reason scorns it as perfectly irrational. Instead of reading the Scriptures with prayer and heart-searching application, he comes to them determined to make them speak his own sentiments; and he will, therefore, reject such passages as are against his opinions, and which he cannot, by any sophistry, explain away as the interpolations of men. Or if he be a professed believer in the peculiar truths of our holy faith, and would shudder at the thought of taking such insufferable liberties with the sacred pages, yet he lives a Pharisee; his heart cleaves to the law for life, rather than to the mediation of Christ. And while, in such an individual, you may often find much that is truly lovely and valuable, in reference to man, you will frequently discover, at the same time, strong symtoms of decided enmity in his heart towards evangelical religion. The doctrine of divine

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

influence may be disputed; men may produce their hypotheses against it, and speculate upon them with great dexterity, yet I am, nevertheless, bold to affirm, on the authority of revelation itself, that the haughty spirit, and rebellious heart, of the natural man, cannot be transformed into the disposition of the text by any power, except it be divine. It is by the entrance of God's word into the mind, and the triumph of his grace in the soul, that we become "poor in spirit," in order to be "rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom." When the Holy Spirit flashes conviction into the conscience of a sinner,-when, in consequence of this, he feels the plague of his own heart,— when he sees the number of his sins, the strength of his corruptions, the weakness of his resolutions, and the imperfections of his best performances,-and when, under an overwhelming consciousness of his utter condemnation as a transgressor, he exclaims, "Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth ;”then this disposition is implanted within him, and the possessor of such a spirit, has already the beginning of blessedness in his breast.

Secondly. This temper of heart consists, also, in the exercise of humility through all the several stages of the Christian's pilgrimage. It commences in a deep sense of sin, guilt, and desert of punishment; but it does not terminate on obtaining peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a vital principle of the believer's spiritual constitution, which grows with his growth, and increases with the increase of his knowledge of God. As he becomes a father in Christ, he will become a little child in his own estimation. The most eminent Christian is always the most humble. It is indeed his humility that exalts him, and makes him great. The Apostle of the Gentiles, who was most honoured of God in the conversion of sinners, describes himself, "as one born out of due


« PreviousContinue »