The Beatitudes supply a Divine description of those who are the subjects and citizens of Christ's spiritual kingdom. They give us a moral portrait of those who have been born again, and with its several features we should honestly and diligently compare our hearts and lives. It is on the second Beatitude, which I feel led to speak tonight. "Blessed are those who mourn--for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4
Now it is obvious that Christ does not here refer to every species of "mourning." There are thousands of mourners in the world tonight, who are not included within our text; those mourning over blighted hopes, over financial reverses, over the loss of loved ones. But, alas, so far from many of them coming beneath this Divine benediction, that they are under God's condemnation; nor is there any promise or guarantee that they shall ever be Divinely "comforted."
There are three kinds of "mourning" referred to in the Scriptures--
The "mourning" of our text is a spiritual one. The previous verse indicates the line of thought here, "Blessed are the poor in spirit--for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Yes, "blessed are the poor," not the poor in purse--but the poor in heart--those who realize themselves to be spiritual bankrupts in themselves, paupers before God. That felt poverty of spirit is the very opposite of the Laodiceanism which is so rife today, that self-complacency which says "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." So it is spiritual mourning here.
Furthermore, these "mourners" Christ pronounced "blessed." They are so because the Spirit of God has wrought a work of grace in them, and hence they have been awakened to see and feel their lost condition. They are "blessed" because God does not leave them at that point, "they shall be comforted."
Now it has to be acknowledged that my text brings before us an aspect of Truth which is not very popular today. In this age, people had much rather hear about that which is bright and cheerful, than what is somber and doleful. The Gospel is far more acceptable than the Law. People had rather hear about Christ than that which, under the Spirit, is calculated to reveal to them their deep need of Christ. Nevertheless our text raises a most important question, which I feel led to press on your hearts, and on my own--Do I really belong to the class which Christ here pronounces "Blessed," for observe it is a class, as the plural pronoun denotes--not "blessed is he," but "those who mourn."
But why raise such a question here? Are not the majority of us professing Christians? Do we not believe firmly that the Scriptures are the Word of God? are we not "resting on the finished work of Christ"? are we not rejoicing in the assurance that our sins are forgiven? Ah, may I remind you of the Lord's parable of the sower. Of the stony-ground hearer He declared, "he received the Word," and received it "with joy"; yet, of him Christ solemnly affirmed "yet he has no root in himself" (Matt. 13:21). And it is greatly to be feared, that there are many such today in orthodox circles of Christendom--the product of a superficial "evangelism," which is so eager to secure quick and visible "results"--their conversion was not preceded by conviction and contrition.
There is a class which come to the great Physician, though they do not feel themselves to be desperately and deadly sick. They have a certain kind of "faith"--I dare not call it a saving faith--but it is not preceded by repentance! They apparently feed on the Lamb--but there are no "bitter herbs" (Exo. 12:8). There is a "joy," but it is not one which follows a deep sorrow. There is a "comfort" experienced, yet there is no previous "mourning." But my dear friends, what is the Divine order? Is there not a stripping before clothing, a wounding before healing, an abasing before exalting? Must not the ground of the hard heart be plowed before the good Seed can enter and take root? Those who are whole--in their own estimation and feelings--need not a physician--but those who are sick. How was it with Israel in Egypt--the greatest of the Old Testament types of salvation.
Were not the Hebrews sorely afflicted, groaning and crying out in deep distress, before God sent them a deliverer? Turn with me now to the following Scriptures, and note carefully the order of Truth presented in them. "Weeping may endure for a night--but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). "They that sow in tears--shall reap in joy" (Psalm 126:5). "The heart knows his own bitterness; and a stranger does not intermeddle with his joy" (Proverbs 14:10). "To appoint unto those who mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isaiah 61:3).
The same order is also observable in the New Testament, "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). "Having received the Word in much affliction (did you so "receive" it?), with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6). "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms" (James 5:13). So it is in our text--the "mourning" precedes the "comfort." Therefore I press upon you, and upon myself--am I among this class of spiritual "mourners"? The pressing importance of this question appears when we thoughtfully observe that Christ pronounces those in this class "blessed"--the Divine benediction rests upon them.
Do you know what it is which rests upon those who do not belong to this class? The Divine condemnation! There is no middle ground, no third class--it is one or the other. You may remember that after Israel crossed the Jordan and entered the land of Canaan, certain ones were required to stand upon mount Gerizim and pronounce upon the obedient the blessings of God; while others were to stand upon mount Ebal and pronounce upon the disobedient the curses of God (Deut. 27:12, 13). So again in Matthew 25, unto the sheep Christ says, "Come you who are blessed of My Father" (v. 34); whereas to the goats He says, "Depart from Me you who are cursed" (v. 41). If, then, we really value our souls, if we are truly concerned as to where we shall spend eternity, it behooves us to seriously examine our hearts and make sure of which class we belong to.
"Blessed are those who mourn." The first reference is to that initial "mourning" which ever precedes a genuine conversion. Do not misunderstand me--I am not arguing for any stereotyped experience, for any definitely defined depth of sorrow or any protracted season of grief. But I do insist (as Scripture does) that repentance precedes forgiveness; that there must be a real sense of sin before the Remedy for it will even be desired. Thousands acknowledge they are sinners, who have never mourned over the fact.
Take the woman of Luke 7, who washed the Savior's feet with her tears--have you ever shed any over your sins? Take the prodigal in Luke 15--before he left the far country he said, "I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto Him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before You, and am no more worthy to be called Your son" (vv. 18, 19)--ah, where shall we find those today with this sense of their sinnership? Take the publican of Luke 18--why did he "smite upon his breast" and say "God be merciful to me, a sinner"? (v. 13). Because he felt the plague of his own heart. So of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost--they were "pricked in the heart, and cried out"!
This "mourning" springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over rebellion against God and hostility to His will. In some cases it is a grief over the very morality in which the heart has trusted, over the self-righteousness which has caused such delight. This "mourning" is the agonizing realization that it was my sins which nailed the Lord of Glory to the cross. When Israel shall see Christ "they shall mourn for Him" (Zech. 12:10). So it is now when, by the power of the Spirit, the contrite sinner sees Christ by faith. And it is such tears and groans which prepare the heart to truly welcome and receive the "balm of Gilead," the comfort of the Gospel.
But our text is by no means to be confined unto the initial experience of conviction and contrition, for observe the tense of the verb--it is not "have mourned," but "mourn"--a present and continual experience. The Christian himself has much to mourn over. The sins which he now commits--both of omission and commission are a cause of daily grief to him, or should be so, and will be if his conscience is tender. An ever-deepening discovery of the depravity of his nature, the plague of his heart, the sea of corruption within, ever polluting all that he does, deeply grieves him. Consciousness of the surgings of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the coldness of his love, and his paucity of fruit, make him cry "O wretched man that I am!" A humbling recollection of past offences, "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3).
Yes, "Ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (Romans 8:23). Does not the Christian groan when under the disciplining rod of the Father, "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous--but grievous" (Heb. 12:11). And is he not deeply pained by the awful dishonor now done to the Lord Jesus on every side. But blessed be God it is written, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezek. 9:4). So too there is a sympathetic mourning over the sorrows of others, "Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
And these holy mourners Christ pronounced "Blessed." This is at complete variance with the world's ideas. In all ages and climates, men have deemed the prosperous and the light-hearted the happy ones--but He who spoke as never man spoke, declared "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn." And why are these mourners "blessed"?
First, because such mourning proves they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who makes intercession for them "with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Second, because this holy mourning brings them into fellowship with the sufferings of Christ--when here, He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
Third, because they shall be Divinely "comforted."
Learn, then, from what has been before us, the folly of measuring the helpfulness of the books we read or the preaching we hear--by the degree of peace and joy which it imparts to our hearts. Ah, the truth is, dear friends, that sometimes the address which is of most help and blessing, is the one which causes us to get alone with God and weep before Him! Our souls are by no means always in a fit condition to be regaled by the sweets of the Gospel. When we have flirted with the world, or indulged the lusts of the flesh--the Holy Spirit gives us a rebuke or admonition!
"For they shall be comforted." There is a threefold reference here.
First, to the initial "comfort" which immediately follows a sound conversion (one that is preceded by conviction and contrition), namely, the removal of that conscious guilt which lies as an intolerable load on the conscience. Then it is Christ says, "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Note that there again we have presupposed one who feels sin to be a "burden" before he comes to Christ--that is what propels him to Christ for relief. Then it is Christ gives rest to the sin-weary heart.
Then it is the Holy Spirit applies the comfort of the Gospel to the stricken soul--it is the realization of free and full forgiveness by the blood of Christ.
Second, there is continual "comforting" of the "mourning" saint by the Holy spirit, who is the Comforter. The one who mourns over his departures from Christ is comforted by the assurance that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). The one who mourns under the chastening rod of God is comforted by the promise, "afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). The one who mourns over the awful dishonor done to his Lord in the religious world, is comforted by the fact that Satan's time is now short, and soon Christ will bruise him beneath His feet.
Third, the final "comfort" is when we leave this world and are done with sin forever.
Then shall "sorrow and sighing flee away." To the rich man in Hell, Abraham said of the one who had begged at the gate, "Now he is comforted" (Luke 16:25). The best wine is reserved for the last. The "comfort" of Heaven will more than compensate for all the "mourning" of earth.
The second text is "Woe unto you who laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). What a solemn commentary are these words of the Lord, on the festivities of this week--indulging the lusts of the flesh under the pretense of keeping Christ-mass! O the unholy mirth and jollification of the world, with the sacred name of Christ tacked over it all! It is nothing but paganism perpetuated by Rome--alas that so many professing Christians should adopt it. "A merry Christmas"--carnal indulgement over the memory of the unwanted Son of God lying in a manger!
"Woe unto you who laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep." This is a joy that is fleshly, the pleasures of sin for a season--unto such applies "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep--let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness" (James 4:9).
There is the less need for me to speak at length on this second text, because it enunciates identically the same truth as the first, only it gives the reverse side. "Woe unto you who laugh now." I need hardly say that the "laughter" here is not to be confined to the exercise of the facial muscles--it is a state of heart which the Lord is here reprehending. It is an indifference to God's demands, an unconcern about the claims of Christ, a thinking only about enjoying the things of time and sense. Eternal concerns are deliberately shelved--the paramount interests of the soul are ignored. Sin is regarded lightly, "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18).
"Woe unto you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." Such "laugh" (though they may be too well bred to do so outwardly) at the warnings of Christian friends, considering them as "kill-joys" or fanatics. They "laugh" at the solemn truth of eternal punishment, supposing it to be a myth with which to frighten ignorant people. And so they go giddily and gaily along the broad road which leads to destruction, "laughing" while hastening to a hopeless eternity! How solemn is that word of God's "I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes!" (Proverbs 1:26)
Now dear friends, I have sought to hold up these texts as a mirror in which we may see ourselves, and ascertain to which of the two classes we belong. The class of spiritual "mourners" Christ declares blessed--the class of carnal "laughers," is the one upon which He pronounces His solemn woe. The Lord graciously grant that in HIS light, we may "see light," and clearly perceive to which of these diverse companies we really belong.