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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their's is the kingdom of heaven.
These words are a part of Christ's sermon on the mount, in which, he clearly pointed out to his disciples the true spirit, and absolute importance of that religion, which he was about to introduce. And one great end he had in view, was to represent and enforce the nature of true spiritual worship, and to show that it consists in right exercises of heart, and not in mere external actions. This directly contradicted the prevailing notions, and popular instructions of the Scribes and Pharisees, who taught a scrupulous attention to the minor duties of the law, and “passed over judgment, and the love of God.”Christ introduced his discourse by pronouncing a blessing upon
in spirit; because no other character would embrace his instructions, and imitate his example. He had noticed, in the teachers of that day, a very different spirit, and found their instructions adapted to inspire their hear. ers with pride and vanity, rather than with humility and self abasement. When he, therefore, became the preacher of his own heavenly religion, the first words which fell from his lips, were these, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their's is the kingdom of God.” This humble spirit he recommends as of great importance to the christian life, and essential to the character of those who are the heirs of the kingdom of God. The proposition which I shall illustrate is this,
That no one can be an heir of the kingdom of heaven, unless poor in spirit. We shall
I. Describe this disposition. And
First then, I am to describe this disposition. Here may not be improper' to observe, that there are many things which are mistaken for it, which in reality are nothing like it, and are no evidence of it.
A man may have a great conviction, or high sense of the divine perfections--the holiness, justice, good ness, and infinite power of God, and of his own de pendence on him, as the God in whose hand is his breath, and whose are all his ways; and yet not be poor in spirit. Reason teaches, that we are dependent creatures, absolutely so, for our existence and for every mercy which renders this existence desirable ; but this rational convietion of dependence is a thing essentially different from poverty of spirit. i
Again, a'man may have a great conviction of his sinfulness, and of the goodness of the divine character,
and yet have no true humility. Natural men may have great convictions of sin, yea, it is probable, the conscience of the sinner may be so awakened, that he may be fully sensible that there is nothing good in him, that he is indeed a dead in trespasses and sins," and has nothing of which he can be proud, feel his mouth stopped, as to any complaint against the justice of God, yet his heart be entirely destitute of humility, and even opposed to it. Thus, it is with sinners, who have had great convictions, but have embraced fallacious hopes, and in the exercise of false religious affections, they have been prouder after their supposed conyersion, than they were before, and more under the government of a self justifying spirit. The reason is, nothing short of the regenerating influences of the holy Spirit will effectually destroy the pride of the “carnal heart," which “is enmity against God.” Mere convictions of conscience have no tendency to make a man“ poor in Spirit,” in the sense of the text. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and by the law a man may see, that he is a sinner in so complete a sense, as to have nothing of which he can make a righteousness, and yet his pride be unmortified. And in this sense no doubt satan, the grand enemy of God and man, now knows, that he is a sinner, and has no just cause to oppose God; and also all sinners will have the fullest conviction at the day of judgment, that they are sinners; and yet, it is certain, this conviction will not destroy their opposition and pride of heart; but they will continue in their full strength while the sinner sees himself without excuse ; and his conviction, instead of bringing him to submit to God, will fik his mouth with blasphemies against him. A person may then have this conviction without the least degree of poverty of spirit. Many sinners have, under conviction, seen it reasonable to love Gody and aim at his glory in all their exercises and conduct; and yet set themselves, their own private interest, above God and his glory. How many have mistaken legal convietion, for evangelical holiness, and have supposed, when they were brought to see that God would be just in their condemnation, that they then had true religion ? But it is certain, that they who are only brought to see the justice of God in executing upon them the penalty of his law, and get no further, have no more religion than all sinners will have in eternity, who will clearly see the justice of God in their final condemnation.
3. Sinners may be convinced of their utter insufficiency to help, or recommend themselves to God by any thing they can do, and yet be of an unhumbled spirit. They may on this account be in great anguish of spirit, and cry mightily to God, that he would save them from that amazing wrath, to which they see themselves exposed, and yet their uncircumcised heart be in no degree humbled ; nor in any measure reconciled to God. A disposition to justify self, in not loving God with all the heart, will actually die, and the contrary spirit take place only in proportion as God appears amiable to the soul. Nothing short of this will incline us from the heart, to debase ourselves and exalt God. I am now prepared to say,
1. That true poverty of spirit implies such a sense of our vileness, as to lead us, from the heart to condemn ourselves, before God. This temper of heart, supposes such a view of God, as an infinitely perfect, and amiable being; and of his law as holy, just, and good, as will destroy a self righteous and self justifying disposition. Then the sinner will give up every sin-extenuating plea, and take the whole blame to himself, and confess with the returning prodigal, “ Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” The same humble temper was expressed by Job, when he said, “ I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." “ God be merciful to me a sinner" is the constant language of the humble, contrite heart. This temper led David to lament his wickedness in the matter of Uriah, in this expressive language, “ Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done evil in thy sight, that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and clear when thou judgest.” Contemplate another instance of this temper. behold a certain woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts and cried unto him, saying, have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou son of David—but he answered and said, it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs; and she said, truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table.”
2. To be poor in spirit is to think lowly of our religious attainments. The humble man keeps his eye