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spirit, then, being the chief and most indispensable of these graces, our Lord hath placed it first; and after having laid it like a skilful architect as the first stone in the building, he then adverts to the other ornaments of the beauteous and polished Christian temple, and enumerates the other decorations and “corners” with which the Christian soul is to be strengthened and embellished !
One sure sign of that blessed poverty of spirit is a diffidence; yea, such a humbling opinion of our own selves, that like David, “our souls are even as a weaned child.” Though content with our worldly circumstances, though satisfied with the lot in which we have been placed by a wise and gracious providence, yet, if there be one drawback on the contentment of our minds, and the resignation of our souls, it is, that our spiritual attainments are not greater, that our graces are not more abundant, and our progress in Christian perfection and holiness more apparent.
Now permit me to ask, is this your case? Do you ever in a meek and rational spirit thus commune with your hearts, and languish under the sense of your besetting infirmities ; of vows frequently violated, of resolutions not always realized, and of virtues not always carried on to perfection; yet, notwithstanding, do
you strive against sin, and if you do not always bear the laurels of victory, do you so run as to deserve, in humble dependence on Christ, to obtain them? Then permit me to assure you, you have no cause for alarm. You are not far from the kingdom of heaven, not far from the prize of your high calling in Christ Jesus, not far from that beatitude of religion, which is the comfort, the hope, the blessing only of the poor in spirit. Furthermore, your diffidence is the sign by which you may ascertain that this invaluable blessing is yours in reality ; for absolute perfection is not within the grasp and attainment of any human being in his present state of imperfection, though the progress towards it should be the every-day endeavour of man even with his present limited powers. And here I am reminded of that beautiful passage of the accomplished Addison, in which, speaking of a subject, upon which he says he always meditated with great delight, the immortality of the soul, he observes, that considered with its Creator, the soul is like one of those mathematical lines that 'may draw nearer to another for all eternity without a possibility of touching it: and can there be a thought so transporting as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to him, who is not only the standard of perfection, but of happiness! The man by whom this progress is continually made, is, of all created beings, the most likely to bewail the hardness of his heart, the coldness of his love, and the blackness of his ingratitude, and with the poor publican to strike his breast, and pray to God to be merciful to him as a sinner. But the case of the hypocrite is widely different. Every view which he takes of his condition corresponds exactly with the feelings of the Pharisee, He is perfectly satisfied with his own goodness, and boasts of his own attainments ; and in the same proportion as he looks with disdain upon the pretensions of others, he regards his own claims to be accounted righteous as fully established in his own sight. He is as loud in commendation of himself as he is in reprobation of others.
How alien from this unsound and unwholesome state of mind is that of the “ poor in spirit!” Are any of the riches of this world denied him ? Is his worldly condition lowly? Are his temporal prospects disheartening? Is the aspect of every thing around him sad and cheerless? And are his own enemies even those of his own household ? To his other worldly misfortunes, is that of domestic strife and family discord to be added? Is it the bitter portion of a parent to know what a daughter's shame and the heartless conduct of a reprobate son meaneth? These are, indeed, the worst of human ills, the very bitterest gall and wormwood that parental experience can know, that can empoison the streams of parental endearment, and make the grey hairs of an aged father or mother to descend with sorrow to the grave! But even here the influence of this divine beatitude is felt; and not a murmur escapes the lips of him in whom this heavenly temper dwelleth. He is full of resignation to the divine will; and, notwithstanding his “ tribulation,” what our Lord said of the church at Smyrna may be applied, with truth, to him, that he is “ rich”-rich in the consolations of God, and in the comfort, that though his afflictions may endure for a season, the joys of eternity will succeed to the sorrows of time, and he will be amply recompensed by the glorious prize of the kingdom of heaven in the morning of the resurrection. If he complains, it is only that this mind has not been sufficiently formed, and this view has not been sufficiently cherished, heretofore, within him. He prays, therefore, daily for grace, that its stock may be increased, and that the lamp may hourly be replenished with fresh oil; and his best endeavours are so to trim his lamp that it may ever burn in a bright and enduring flame. But why should you breathe this complaint, my Christian friends ? Is it because your graces are so few, and your progress in holiness so small ? If this be the case, then, be of good cheer. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid ; for know ye, “ There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath many riches !” Many there are of the glorious fellowship of saints militant on earth—hereafter, we humbly hope, to be triumphant in heaven-who, during their earthly pilgrimage, have lain as humble beggars at the door of mercy, subsisted wholly on the alms of free grace, and yet have died possessed of great riches, rich in faith, rich in all the racter, and so disproportioned in quality. He arrogates to himself no merit on account of his best doings and most signal services to God and his fellow-creatures; but in the view of them, he confesses, as enjoined by his alone meritorious Lord and Master, that he is but an unprofitable servant, and has done only what it was his bounden duty to do. He labours, he strives for higher attainments; yet not he, but the grace of God which is in him. He liveth, yet not he, but Christ that liveth in him. He prays, he pleads for more plentiful supplies of grace, and for more conformity in life and temper to that divine Head, from whom the spiritual machinery derives all its being and strength, and in whom, by the Spirit, all his members move in beauteous order, and with admirable consis- tency. He is continually knocking at heaven's gate ; and with sighs, and tears, and groans, which cannot be uttered, importuning for the alms of charity, and suing for the beatitudes of religion ; nor does he cease until, like the poor supplicants in the Gospel, he has moved the compassion of David's son, and the portals have been opened for his admission to the mercy and bounty of his Lord and Saviour. Now, let me ask, my brethren, whether you have these signs and marks, by which you can identify yourselves as “ the poor in spirit ?”
graces of the Spirit, and heirs of the heavenly kingdom. Like Lazarus, destitute of this world's wealth and conveniences, yet rich in the approbation of God, and in the blessed anticipation of enjoying the bosom of Abraham, and the felicities of angels in glory.
The man who is poor in spirit is of a meek and quiet mind; lowly in heart, and esteeming others better than himself. He sees excellences in others, but deformities in himself. Hence his chief solicitude, is to pluck out the mote that is in his own eyes, and to cast from him the vileness that is in his own heart. His loathing is, respecting his own corrupt and diseased nature; and with Job he is ready to exclaim, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." And, however strange it may appear, the fact is certain, that his humility is in the exact ratio to the excellency of his graces, and the multitude of his virtues, in other words, the higher his attainments, the deeper his humility; and the more he acts up to the elevated and hallowed character of a saint, the more prompt and sincere is his confession, that he is the chief of sinners, not, I mean, in the canting phraseology of the term, but in true meekness and sincerity of soul. If there be any good thing in him-any distinguishing grace or particular excellency, he vaunts it not forth in the ears of the people, or in the public assemblies of the multitude, to win their transient applause, and attract their wondering gaze: no, no ; in the silent and acceptable oratory of his heart, he blesses the giver of the gift, and prays that it may alone be a means of grace to himself, and an instrument of usefulness to others, in turning himself and many from the vanities of time to the things of God and eternity. Does he perform any acceptable service, and discharge any important duty ? He acknowledges that the strength by which he was enabled to do the one and the other, is not his own, but Christ's that strengthened him. When he examines his own graces, it is with no feeling of proud and lofty exultation, but with a meek and candid admission that they are so deficient in cha
Another sure and infallible evidence of your having attained to this divine and indispensable temper of mind is this: Is the Lord Jesus Christ precious to you? Do you feel how suitable the Saviour is to supply your every want, to cure your every wound, and to pardon your every sin ? And hence do your hearts overflow with gratitude, with love, and with adoration ; and is the 6 chosen of God,” in the mightiness of his undertakings, the splendour of his miracles, the mercies of his salvation, and in the power and glories of his resurrection, precious to your views, and the “ elect” of your souls ? He, who is poor in spirit, knows, as the Church of Laodicea was admonished by the great preacher of truth, that he is “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Hence he goes
to Christ to have his wretchedness removed, his misery relieved, his poverty made rich, the eyes of his understanding opened, and the shame of his nakedness covered. He feels his soul pining through hunger, and dying through thirst, and he hastens to Christ, who is represented in the Scriptures of truth, under the elegant similitudes of bread and water, of which whosoever eateth and drinketh, he shall never hunger nor thirst. By the bread is signified his body, and by the water his blood, of which, whosoever is weary and heavy laden, and who knows wherein his true happiness and duty consist, he will never refuse to partake, in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the nourishment of his body, and the refreshment of his soul. He perceives that his wounds are mortal, and his application is directed to Him whom the Scriptures describe as the Physician of the soul. And why is this description given, but for our good and instruction, and to teach us that, in the failure of all earthly applications for corporeal relief, here is one whose prescriptions never fail to cure the more inveterate and desperate maladies of the soul? The day of visitation must and will come to all of you; and then will the force of this great truth be pressed upon your acceptance: and in the blasting of your strength, and the ruin and disorganization of your corporeal machine, the loosening of the silver cord, and the breaking of the golden bowl of these corruptible bodies of yours, your minister will have to expatiate upon the virtues and efficacy of the Redeemer's medicines, that they never fail to reanimate and invigorate the soul in the dreariest season of her languishment and ailing, that for every mortal wound there is an efficacious cure, a reviving cordial, a healing balm, and that one leaf even plucked from the tree of life, affords a sovereign remedy and a successful medicine, however inveterate your disease and malignant your sins. In a strictly scriptural sense, it may be said, that he bathes in his Saviour's blood, is clothed in his Saviour's robe, and convinced that in him all fulness dwells; he seeks to find in him, “ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."
Being thus fully persuaded, that all the riches of grace and glory, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, are to be found in Christ, the “ poor in spirit” is willing to receive him on the terms in which he is presented in the Scriptures. And this is a point of infinite importance to be considered. If, then, the New Testament be truth, and not a cunningly-devised fable, which it is the delirium of the human intellect to think, we must thus conclude. Without Christ, in whom are all our strength and sufficiency, we are lost and undone. Our solicitude, therefore, will be to accept of him in simplicity and sincerity of soul, not standing on this or that point, as is the case with the proud sinner, but submitting to him wholly as our Prince, and receiving him heartily as our Saviour. I observe, that this we shall do unreservedly if we be poor in spirit; we shall deem no work too hard, no sacrifice too great, in order to win Christ. There is not a besetting sin, to which we are addicted, which we shall not renounce; there is not a beloved lust, to which