Jesus opens His Sermon on the Mount with poetically succinct teachings we know as the Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatus, meaning, “blessed.” Jesus tells us how to be blessed, and I am not sure that the millennial generation’s Instagram hashtag quite captures the gist. Jesus, unsurprisingly, surprises here:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Colin Smith introduced me to the idea—not an innovative one, he indicates—that the beatitudes represent a progression, a path to spiritual maturity in the Christian life. Please don’t read a rigid path there, but a movement of the heart by which each of these dispositions and characteristics become present in order to progress in maturity through the series. I first heard this material in sermon form taught by Pastor Colin at The Orchard in 2012.
As Pastor Colin teaches, to be poor in spirit is to know that we cannot bring anything to God, that we are empty-handed as we approach Him; this is the gateway blessing to the rest of the Beatitudes.
- To mourn spiritually—the focus here in the Beatitudes—is to take ownership of and lament named sins with heartfelt sorrow, but without despair.
- To be meek is to give up control, to yield to God—it is our strength under submission to Him.
- To be hungry as a Christian is actually a sign of spiritual health—it is to long for righteousness out of a renewal of the affections.
- To be merciful enables forgiveness, and involves a compassion for others that comes through savoring God's forgiveness of us.
- To be pure is to have a heart that goes after one thing; it is single-mindedness.
- To be peacemakers is, in part, to give up our rights for the sake of others, and to be willing to move toward—rather than away—from conflict for the purpose of resolving it while being motivated by how we have benefitted by God’s giving up of His rights for our sakes.
- Finally, he teaches that being persecuted is about being willing and wise about enduring the cost of being a Christian who lives out the Beatitudes; great reward in heaven is promised to the persecuted.
Pastor Colin teaches how these characteristics—poorness of spirit, spiritual mourning, meekness, hunger for righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, and peacemaking—progress:
I’m convinced that there is a roots-life-fruit pattern to the Beatitudes: the first three beatitudes form the roots of a godly life, and since these roots lie in an awareness of our own need, they produce a deep longing for what we do not have. Becoming poor in spirit, mourning over your sins, and submitting your life to God will produce a deep hunger and thirst for righteousness in your soul. This desire is the life of godliness, and it will produce the beautiful fruit of mercy, purity, and peace that Christ speaks of in the fifth, sixth, and seventh beatitudes.
The purpose of this book is to describe what a Christian looks like—not to indicate how to become a Christian. Pastor Colin provides a clear explanation of the relationship between faith and works in the Christian life, that our salvation is by faith alone, while works are necessary—even if not at all a part of the transaction of salvation:
[Thomas] Watson says, “If we do not imitate His [Christ’s] life, we cannot be saved by His death.” Listen carefully to what he is saying. Watson is quite clear: we are saved by Christ’s death. He does not say that we are saved by imitating Christ’s life. What he does say, and what more importantly the Bible makes clear, is that the distinguishing mark of a person who is saved by Christ’s death is that he or she seeks to imitate Christ’s life.
Finally, I appreciated later in his book this distinguishing point concerning “Aims, Limits and Possibilities” and think it is helpful to have in mind throughout the entire read:
The first chapter of [Bishop Moule’s] book is titled: “Aims, Limits and Possibilities.” Under “Aims’ he wrote, “it is nothing less than the supreme aim of the Christian Gospel, that we should be holy.” In particular, Moule says that we aim “to displace…self from the inner throne, and to enthrone Him; to make not the slightest compromise with the smallest sin…to walk with God all day long; to abide every hour with Christ…to love God with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.” These are the aims, but we pursue them knowing that there will be limits to what we actually attain. Here Moule says, “I mean…not limits in our aims, for there must be none, nor limits in divine grace itself, for there are none, but limits, however caused, in the actual attainment by us of Christian holiness. There will be limits to the last, and very humbling limits, very real fallings short…”
Our aims in having momentum through these beatitudes are to be for nothing less than complete holiness; in the same breath, we acknowledge our limits, our need for Christ with true humility. As we come upon our limits, we start again from the first line in the Beatitudes. We are poor in spirit; we have brought nothing to God that He has not given, and we move forward through the remainder of the dispositions of the heart that Jesus teaches.
Many, though not all, of our readers will know that my first daughter went to be with Christ in 2013. I often comment to others my awe at how, ahead of time, God graciously and sovereignly equipped me for grief. There were many notable influences to prepare me, and this material was one. This material encouraged me in knowing the differences between spiritual mourning and natural mourning, and how to be meek in grief—and what meekness is to begin with. It encouraged me in the pursuit of purity—to pursue a heart that could go in one direction, and a purposeful direction that I would be able to continue going even without my daughter near. Now as I think back and see God’s faithfulness, I remember with a deep-set gratitude sitting in our home listening to these sermons, with a full, pregnant stomach of my growing daughter, preparing—unbeknownst to me—for her heaven-going.
Once I read this material would be published this month, my enthusiasm about another look at the Beatitudes with Pastor Colin, and a past, personal appreciation for this material, compelled me to write this review. To revisit this material has been beneficial once again. I recall that a friend once resignedly informed me that she knew she would always struggle with a particular sin. It didn’t strike me as fully biblical when I heard it—how could she know? But I didn’t know how to respond in a way that would help demonstrate from Scripture or motivate toward the opposite. This book teaches the why and how. It is thought-provoking, revealing of the heart, and practical; whichever approach best suits you, you will find. We are not stuck in our sins; we have a way forward to make genuine progress in our Christian faith. And we can move forward from sin in righteousness, and find a next, new area for growth—combating new sins Christ reveals to our hearts, given that we will be growing from sins until our salvation is complete. As this is the aim, this is a book I’ll want to revisit again.