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THE BEATITUDES-THE NATURE OF BLESSEDNESS.
REV. J. Rudge, d.d.
ST. SEPULCHRE'S CHURCH, SNOW HILL, NOVEMBER 7, 1824.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."-MATTHEW, v. 3.
CHRYSOSTOM, Theophylact, and many other fathers of the Christian church, are of opinion that our Lord's sermon from the mount was the first which he ever preached to the public. Whatever be the credit due to this opinion, the sermon itself claims, on every account, our strictest reverence and regard. The Gospel philosophy which it contains throughout far exceeds every thing that has been said or written by the greatest and wisest philosophers who ever existed, notwithstanding that, to a mind unenlightened, it may appear, if not absurd, in many respects strange and paradoxical; for, in the language of an able writer, in place of one contrary position expelling another, which was what the philosophers were wont to say, contrarium contrarium expellet, one contrary begets another. To illustrate the truth of this remark: poverty, which is wont to expel riches, is here said to beget them; for who so rich as he who possesses a kingdom? Mourning, another beatitude in the estimation of the great Instructor of Christian philosophy, is wont to banish joy; but here it is said to produce it; for "they that mourn shall be comforted." Meekness often exposes its possessors to insult, to oppression, and the loss of personal liberty and property; but here it is said to secure an everlasting inheritance. Persecution, the bane of human felicity, is here represented as making men happy and blessed. How alien this doctrine from the ideas which obtain in the world! The exclamation of worldly men is, " Blessed are the rich, the powerful, the honourable and exalted of the earth!" But Christ says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble in mind, the meek in temper, the persecuted in the world." In his religion-the wondrous system of ethical wisdom he propounded-poverty leads the van, and persecution brings up the rear; from which it is evident that every faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, every scribe and pupil that is instructed by his Master in Israel, is heir to a cross, as well as entitled to a crown.
Here we may observe how closely the Christian graces are linked together; for he who possesses one, possesses all. He who is poor in spirit is a mourner: he who mourns is meek: he who is meek is merciful, &c. The graces of the spirit resemble a row of pearls which are suspended on a golden chain to adorn and beautify the spouse of Christ, and to distinguish those who are the heirs of salvation,
In this divine sermon we behold the difference between the promulgation of the law, and the publication of the Gospel. The one was issued with the
severest commands, and the most awful threatenings; amidst thundering and lightning, and the voice of a trumpet; the mountain smoking, and the people trembling through fear. But the other was proclaimed with blessings and promises by the mouth of Him who was gentleness itself-whose lips dropped as the honeycomb-whose doctrine was so sweet, so placid, as to ravish the hearts of all who heard it.
I propose, in this sermon, and in some subsequent discourses, to draw your attention to some of the beatitudes of our religion, and to suggest the improving views and thoughts with which they should be contemplated. I have described the character of the preacher, and the occasion of the discourse on the mount; and to some of the matter of that sermon, it is my present intention to advert for the lasting instruction of my hearers.
The first beatitude in order, as, perhaps, the first in importance, is poorness in spirit, to which I shall, in this and in a subsequent discourse or two, claim your attention. There are four points which the discussion will embrace, of which I shall consider one at present, and the remainder I shall reserve for some future discourses. The length of our previous most beautiful and edifying services is often an impediment to the preacher, and precludes him from investigating fully a subject of importance to which he wishes to direct the attention of his hearers. Hence the discourse must be contracted within proper limits, and not exceed the time usually allotted in the church for the exercises of the pulpit, and whatever some persons may dream, I am free to avow that meagre and unsatisfactory must be any sermon on any great cardinal doctrine of religion which is circumscribed by time, and confines a discourse to twenty minutes duration.
I shall first offer some general observations on the nature of blessedness, and state in what that in particular, of which mention is made in the text, consists.
I shall, secondly, consider that heavenly disposition of soul to which Christ here annexes blessedness, viz., poverty of spirit.
Thirdly, I shall give some marks, or signs, by which you may ascertain if you are among the number of those who are "poor in spirit."
Fourthly, I shall take some notice of the reward which our Lord promises to all such as possess this cardinal and indispensable grace: "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." As I proceed, the proper improvement and application of the subject will be suggested.
May the power of divine grace bring down every haughty and sinful imagination of which our hearts may be possessed, and endue us with that blessed poverty of spirit, which, in the sight of God, is of great price, and to which he has promised a celestial kingdom!
First, in the strength of God, we now proceed to explain THE NATURE OF
BLESSEDNESS IN GENERAL, AND TO STATE IN WHAT THAT IN PARTICULAR CONSISTS, TO WHICH REFERENCE IS MADE IN THE TEXT.
Blessedness may be considered, as in truth it is, the perfection of our nature; and its attainment the desire, as it should be, of all men: but its nature, and the way by which it may be secured, few have rightly understood. Various have been the notions entertained by philosophers with respect to happiness, and so numerous the sentiments to which they have given expression and
development, that, according to one of the fathers (Austin) no less than two hundred and eighty-eight opinions have been holden concerning it, of which it may be observed, that not one has approximated to the truth. Many in ancient, as well as many in modern times, even among professing Christians, have defined it to be, a sufficiency of all good things, plentiful subsistence, and worldly prosperity." Possessing these, how many may we find who, with the rich fool in the Gospel, say "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry," not considering that there is not a terrestrial garden, nor a forest, nor a field, nor a grove, in which the tree of happiness grows; and that with as great a prospect of success we might expect to produce oil from the flinty rock, as to extract real happiness from terrestrial productions. The truth of this remark is clear and evident, and the most superficial observer must be convinced of its justice, if he will but reflect, for one moment, that nothing in reality possesses the power of rendering a man happy, which is not fully commensurate with the desires of his soul. Now worldly things, being by their nature perishing and transitory, and "no sooner blown than blasted," like the grass of the field, and some sweet flower of the garden, cannot possibly make a man happy. And how should it be otherwise? for worldly enjoyments have nothing real or substantial in them: they are pleasing deceits, and alluring impostors. Nor are they, by any means, suitable to the soul of man. The one is spiritual, and of divine origin: the other is of the earth, earthy. How, then, is it possible for riches to satisfy a spiritual intelligence? Not earth, nor sea, nor sky, with all that is rich in their possessions, boundless in their view, and magnificent in their prospect, can impart satisfaction to an immortal soul, until it can hold on its Creator and its God. It is not in the power of sublunary enjoyments to quiet the troubled mind, to heal the wounded spirit, or to soothe the agitated conscience. When God writes bitter things against the sinner; "when his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down" by his indignation and wrath; when conscience, like an armed man, attacks the transgressor, how vain and inefficacious are the oil and the wine of consolation offered by the kindness and sympathy of the creature, to minister to the mind diseased, and to heal the heart which is stung with remorse, and burthened with sin! Ah! how can the golden wedge screen from the fury of the fierce anger of the living God? Did Belshazzar's mirth and banquetting, his wine and women, and the golden vessels of the temple, in which he drank his profane and unhallowed libations, prevent his spirit from being troubled, when he beheld the hand-writing upon the wall? No: "his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other." And what happened to a Belshazzar must and will happen to every sinner: in the midst of his profanations, in the plenitude of his mirth, and in the course of his delinquencies, the terrors of the Lord will be arrayed against him: the same awful manifestations of divine wrath will go forth, the same retributive justice will overtake and smite the profaners of his temple, the violators of his sabbaths, and the despisers of his laws and ordinances. Awake, then, O sinner! arise from thy evil courses, break forth from the unholy contract which thou hast made with sin, and Christ shall give thee light to walk in the sweetness of his paths, and the beauty of his ways.
This indelible character is impressed on all the concerns of the world, and
on all the objects of sense, that, instead of solid comfort and satisfaction, they are like the moth in the garment, they fret and torment us. And if so, with what truth can it be said that they render a man blessed? Worldly riches are compared to wind, to denote their emptiness; and to thorns, to indicate their harassing and vexatious nature. They are wind, because they pass away suddenly and are seen no more. They are thorns, because they torture the mind with many cares in the pursuit, and pierce the heart with many distressing apprehensions lest they should be lost. Without the favour of heaven, they are a curse rather than a blessing, and are often "kept for the owners thereof to their hurt." Riches often pander to the pride, and are as fuel for the lust, of their possessors, yea, a snare and a temptation, leading many to perdition and ruin. How many, like Judas, have sold their salvation for money; and, like the Pharisees, have therewith purchased their damnation! How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God."
Besides these indisputable facts, worldly honours and riches have nothing which is permanent in them. They last but for a season; and often a short one too. Can they, then, render a man, at any time, truly blessed? Never: he who is as Dives to-day may be as the poor beggar, bereft of every thing, to-morrow; and by some reverse of fortune and accident of life, be, as Lazarus, compelled to wait at the rich man's door, a pitiless but unsuccessful applicant. Riches the truth is exemplified daily in the bankrupt fortunes and scattered possessions of the once wealthy and gainful trader in this great commercial city -"riches make to themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle towards heaven." They are still in flight; they pass quickly like a rapid stream; they glide through the ocean of life, like the ship in full sail on the great and wide sea; they are bandied about from one to another; and no sooner do they make their salutation, than they take their departure. How then is it possible that such passing and uncertain things should make a rational soul happy!
But it is not from theory only, but it is from experiment (which, as my Lord Bacon has observed, is the test of truth), that we are taught the utter inability of all earthly things to render a man really blessed. As a proof, let us turn our attention for one moment to a consideration of the wisest, the richest, the most magnificent potentate that ever wore the regal diadem, and swayed the destinies of empires. And what was Solomon? He was of royal lineage; his seat of government was fixed in the first metropolis of the world, which, for the splendour of its buildings, and the extent and magnificence of its tabernacles, was called "the city of God." As for gold, silver, jewels, pearls, spices, and precious things, no man ever possessed them in such profusion. Silver was as abundant as the stones in the streets of Jerusalem, and was nothing accounted of in "the days of Solomon." No pleasure; nothing, in short, which could minister to the senses and give delight to the heart was wanting to consummate his felicity, and render his enjoyments complete: sumptuous farestately palaces-a throne of ivory and gold-a multitude of attendants-horses and chariots-music of all kinds, with every joy of which the heart of man is capable and, what was more excellent than all these attributes of wealth, and panderers to enjoyment, his wisdom far surpassed that of the wisest of the children of men of whom history has transmitted the record. He had a key of knowledge, by which he could open the darkest cabinets of nature, and unravel the most intricate parts of science; and such were the rare and
exquisite endowments with which he was privileged, that, to the carnal beholder, he appeared to be invested more with the attributes of some superior intelligence, than with the qualifications of a mere ordinary mortal. Surely it may be pronounced that one so much above the common level, in the splendour of his wealth, the extent of his sovereignty, and the range and powers of his intellect, must have been blessed. Was it really the case with him? No; the feeling of his heart corresponded with the declaration of his lips, and with the experience of mankind, that the world, with all the riches it gave, all the honours it bestowed, and all the pleasures it possessed, was nothing but "vanity and vexation of spirit!"
Hence it is evident that blessedness is a jewel which is not to be found in all the treasures of nature. If this be true, it will be but lost labour to search for it; we shall but mis-spend our time, and waste our talents in the pursuit. Strange, my brethren, that men should be so infatuated as to seek that which is not, as to grasp at a shadow, to catch at the world, as though the pearl of blessedness adorned an earthly crown, or was to be found in any situation below, however relatively high, or comparatively happy. "Give me such a sum of money" is the language of one: "Give me such an estate" is the language of another," and happiness will be mine-I shall be amply satisfied." In the dispensations of God, perhaps, the wishes of the one are realized, and the object of the other is gained. But is their happiness complete? After the charm of novelty has passed, are they still content? Are no other wants felt, and no other desires cherished? Do they centre in present possessions the ease and tranquillity of their minds, and do their thoughts never wander on other objects, nor their hearts pant for other acquisitions? Alas! all the comforts derived from the creature are vain and unsatisfactory. They have no character of permanence and durability stamped upon them, and it is wisely ordained that it should be so. For were it otherwise, our desires would never be raised above them, nor should we much concern ourselves to seek after more noble, more satisfactory, more lasting and abiding enjoyments.
But where then is the true blessedness of which our Lord speaks to be found? The answer is, in the possession and fruition of the chief good; and that is, in God alone. In whatever gives real blessedness to the soul there must be a superior worth and excellence, as well as a sensible enjoyment in its possession. But nothing on earth is of even equal value with the human soul: the world is vastly below it and therefore nothing in the world can render it happy. Nothing is more excellent, except the supreme good, which is God. Possessing Him, we possess every thing. Happy then is the people whose God is the Lord." That only can make the soul happy in which she can rest, and in which she delights. Now God is expressly called, the "soul's rest*;" and in him she finds that sweetness, with which she is not only delighted, but ravished. Fulness is likewise a necessary ingredient in blessedness; for a scanty draught will not allay the thirst of an immortal soul. In God only is an inexhaustible fulness; and he makes all who come unto him, "to drink of the rivers of his pleasures;" to bathe in the chrystal streams of living water, of which the property is, not to refresh and heal only, but to "fill with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." In fine, God is every thing to the soul that is in him. He is a sun to enlighten our way-he is a shield to defend us from our
Psalm cxvi. 7.