Blessed are the poor in spirit
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What then is necessary to come to this place of “poor in spirit”? It begins with an accurate understanding of oneself:
But the deepest reason for a habitual and fixed lowly opinion of ourselves lies in a sadder fact. We are not only recipient nothingnesses; we have something that is our own, and that is our will, and we have lifted it up against God. And if a man’s position as a dependent creature should take all lofty looks and high spirit out of him, his condition as a sinful man before God should lay him flat on his face in the presence of that Majesty; and should make him put his hand on his lips, and say, from behind the covering, “Unclean! unclean!” Oh, brethren, if we would only go down into the depths of our own hearts, every one of us would find there more than enough to make all self-complacency and self-conceit utterly impossible, as it ought to be, for us for ever. I have no wish, and God knows I have no need, to exaggerate about this matter; but we all know that if we were turned inside out, and every foul, creeping thing, and every blotch and spot upon these hearts of ours spread in the light, we could not face one another; we could scarcely face ourselves. If you or I were set, as they used to set criminals, up in a pillory with a board hanging round our necks, telling all the world what we were, and what we had done, there would be no need for rotten eggs to be flung at us; we should abhor ourselves. You know that is so. I know that it is so about myself, “and heart answereth to heart as in a glass.” And are we the people to perk ourselves up amongst our fellows, and say, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”? Do we not know that we are poor and miserable and blind and naked? Oh, brethren, the proud old saying of the Greeks, “Know thyself,” if it were followed out unflinchingly and honestly by the purest saint this side heaven, would result in this profound abnegation of all claims, in this poverty of spirit.
So little has the world been influenced by Christ’s teaching that it uses “poor-spirited creature” as a term of opprobrium and depreciation. It ought to be the very opposite; for only the man who has been down into the dungeons of his own character, and has cried unto God out of the depths, will be able to make the house of his soul a fabric which may be a temple of God, and with its shining apex may pierce the clouds and seem almost to touch the heavens. A great poet has told us that the things which lead life to sovereign power are self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self-control. And in a noble sense it is true, but the deepest self-knowledge will lead to self-abhorrence rather than to self-reverence; and self-control is only possible when, knowing our own inability to cope with our own evil, we cast ourselves on that Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world, and ask Him to guide and to keep us. The one attitude for us is, “He did not so much as lift up His eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” And then, sweeter than angels’ voices fluttering down amid the blue, there will come that gracious word, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Alexander Maclaren, The Beatitudes and Other Sermons (London: Alexander and Shepheard, 1896), 5–7.