We come now to a consideration of the first of the Beatitudes, `Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ As I have already indicated in our last study, it is not surprising that this is the first, because it is obviously, as I think we shall see, the key to all that follows. There is, beyond any question, a very definite order in these Beatitudes. Our Lord does not place them in their respective positions haphazardly or accidentally; there is what we may describe as a spiritual logical sequence to be found here. This, of necessity, is the one which must come at the beginning for the good reason that there is no entry into the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, apart from it. There is no-one in the kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit. It is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and all the other characteristics are in a sense the result of this one. As we go on to expound it, we shall see that it really means an emptying, while the others are a manifestation of a fullness. We cannot be filled until we are first empty. You cannot fill with new wine a vessel which is partly filled already with old wine, until the old wine has been poured out. This, then, is one of those statements which remind us that there has to be a kind of emptying before there can be a filling. There are always these two sides to the gospel; there is a pulling down and a raising up. You remember the words of the ancient Simeon concerning our Lord and Saviour when he held Him as an Infant in his arms. He said, `this child is set for the fall and rising again of many.’ The fall comes before the rising again. It is an essential part of the gospel that conviction must always precede conversion; the gospel of Christ condemns before it releases. Now that is obviously something which is fundamental. If you prefer me to put it in a more theological and doctrinal form, I would say that there is no more perfect statement of the doctrine of justification by faith only than this Beatitude: `Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs (and theirs only) is the kingdom of heaven.’ Very well then, this is the foundation of everything else.
But not only that. It is obviously, therefore, a very searching test for every one of us, not only as we face ourselves, but especially as we come to face the whole message of the Sermon on the Mount. You see, it at once condemns every idea of the Sermon on the Mount which thinks of it in terms of something that you and I can do ourselves, something that you and I can carry out. It negatives that at the very beginning. That is where it is such an obvious condemnation of all those views which we considered earlier, which think of it as being a new law, or in terms of bringing in a kingdom amongst men. We do not hear so much of that talk now, but it still lingers and it was very popular in the early part of this century. Men talked about `bringing in the kingdom’, and always used as their text the Sermon on the Mount. They thought of the Sermon as something that can be applied. You have to preach it and then men immediately proceed to put it into practice. But this view is not only dangerous, it is an utter denial of the Sermon itself, which starts with this fundamental proposition about being `poor in spirit’. The Sermon on the Mount, in other words, comes to us and says, `There is the mountain that you have to scale, the heights you have to climb; and the first thing you must realize, as you look at that mountain which you are told you must ascend, is that you cannot do it, that you are utterly incapable in and of yourself, and that any attempt to do it in your own strength is proof positive that you have not understood it.’ It condemns at the very outset the view which regards it as a programme for man to put into operation immediately, just as he is.