The First Beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew v. verse 3)
The "poor in spirit" are the truly humble. There is a certain New-Church principle which shows how in the Word the first in order of any list is the universal idea that reigns in all that follows. In the seed of a tree, for example, the whole tree is present, potentially. In the first sentence of the Divine Word, the whole doctrine of the Word is stated in brief. The first Commandment, again, embraces and involves all other commandments. And in the first beatitude, a characteristic of human life is blessed which must be present in all other virtues in order that they may remain virtues at all. " Humility ", which is here the first object of the Lord's blessing, is the ground of all heavenly graces. With true humility established as the characteristic of one's whole attitude of life, other graces can be successively implanted, whereas without it present, the virtue of all other graces is destroyed.
Humility, like fertile soil, is complex in character. We think of it at first as being the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is an attitude of heart and mind more easy to define negatively than positively. It clearly implies the absence of selfishness - a disinterestedness of spirit, without regard to recompense. Its importance would be hard to overstate. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Heaven itself and all the things of heaven are sown in this soil. It is the ground necessary for the very implantation of heaven in our life. And hence it is that it is this quality of human life upon which the heavens of the spiritual world have been established - it is that grace, present in some form in all the manifold graces of angelic life, which has opened heaven to all who are there. We can regard its formation within our own lives as the first thing, the chief thing, of regeneration.
By that strange paradox that appears in so much spiritual teaching, the "poor in spirit" are the only truly rich. The paradox is due to the strange contradiction between our natural ideas of things and the underlying truth. For the essence of "worship" lies in "man's adoration of the Lord and the adoration of the Lord is humiliation". In true humility, worship is perfected, for it consists in the acknowledgment that in one's self there is nothing good, and that for life itself and for everything life brings, one must look to the Lord alone. Such a truth as that comes first to us in our natural, unregenerate ways of thinking as a mere abstract idea; it is revealed from heaven by the Lord, but its wide and impressive significance is undiscerned. Yet the angels of heaven live moment by moment in the full perception they are in entire dependence on their Creator. As a rainbow is held in its form and colour and whole being by the presence of the sun, so man lives moment by moment from the Lord. And as it is with his physical life, so it is with his spiritual life, the affections he may have for things that are worthy and the thoughts he has of things that are true. We are, because God is. The worship of heaven is from the clear perception of this dependence on the Lord, and the perception has grown through the sincerity of angelic worship. We on earth may be far from any such living experience f our dependence upon the Lord, but revealed knowledge about it can grow into conviction and full understanding; and it can come in time to saturate our whole thought and transfigure our attitude towards life. The perception of our worship of the Lord requires that this new attitude be cultivated. We are to live in the full assurance that our very life is the Lord's, that its whole purpose is known to Him alone and that it can he formed and perfected only as we depend on Him. True selfhood, therefore, lies by way of the surrender of self, by laying down our own life, and in thought and purpose and deed taking up that life the Lord ordains. Humility is thus more than an emotion - it is most perfectly expressed in the shunning of evils as sins against the Lord. For this is the quintessence of self-surrender. The measure of our real humility, and thus of our true worship, is the extent to which we shun, in purpose, thought and deed, what is abhorrent to the Lord. That is the sole way by which the old self dies and the new manhood is implanted by the Lord. It is the measure of our " poverty of spirit ", and so it is the degree in which we can receive the kingdom of heaven.
The more the beatitude is examined with reverent care, the more wonderful and the more profound does its inner soul appear. It is one of the great foundation principles of spiritual life. It has kinship and touch with all that is universal in Divine teaching. This indeed is so with all the teaching of our Lord, but there is so quiet, almost platitudinous an aspect, about this first beatitude that the depths it conceals are prone to be passed by unsuspected. It is well to bear in mind in all our reading of the Word that the Lord Himself, the Saviour of the world, is present with all His redemptive power in every truth of the Word. The truths of the Word are as rays of light from the sun—each ray links sun to earth and bears the magic of its origin to the darkness of the earth. So is each truth of the Word a hidden sanctuary in which the Lord is present.
Our care should be that life be not spent in the unthinking repetition of these truths. Such superficial regard for Divine teaching is as if we passed the Lord bypassed Him unrecognised - when yet by the Word of His mouth He would beckon us to Him and would commune with us, imparting the breath of His Holy Spirit.
The opening words of the Sermon on the Mount embody the beginning of blessing, the beginning of beatitude. They place before us a new attitude of life; they plead for a reorientation of thought and endeavour. Like all great leaderships they make a great claim upon us, yet one that is not beyond our reach. They suggest that even as the faithful Daniel of old opened his windows towards Jerusalem that he might pray towards the Holy City, even as the pious Moslem of today still sets his prayer mat towards the Kaaba of Mecca, so each one of us now, when the truly Christian life is known to be an exercise of spirit, is called upon to set the Lord always before him, to set Him first in all endeavour and in all service. This is the keynote of the Christian life, even as it was the opening word of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the beginning of blessing, for it is man's presentation of himself to the Lord. And man's presentation of himself to the Lord must needs be followed by Divine benediction. The law of Divine mercy and grace is as fixed and sure as any. law of nature. It is but our unenlightened natural thought that leads us to suppose that the Lord chooses among men as upon whom He shall bestow this or that spiritual blessing. Yet in reality the blessings of the Lord stream forth as the sunlight streams from the sun, the shadows fall behind when the uplifted face is to the light. Reception of Divine blessings is dependent on the attitude of man alone, the presence or absence of the receptive mind. The one obstacle is self. To look to self and to live for self is to stand with one's back to the sun; it is to lose the light and to dwell in the shadow cast by self.
So is the great impressive thought again brought before us, that heaven and heavenly blessings and heavenly life are possible to all men; the fault and failure lies with the individual alone. The task before us is not difficult, it is not hard to live the life of heaven, but it is of that nature that it will not brook delay. The kingdom of heaven is implanted in true humility of spirit, in the acknowledgment, heart-felt and life-proven, that of ourselves alone we are nothing and that the all of life, the all of worth, in character and service, must come from the Lord. Such true poverty of spirit is a prostration of the soul before the throne of God, not, again be it urged, as a surging emotion whose heat will pass, but in a discipline of life, in a determined resistance to all that is inspired by self, in zealous quest for a deeper understanding of the Divine will and in a compulsion exercised upon the purpose of the heart and the thoughts of the mind. So is the Lord most surely set before us, and the obstacles imposed by self-love to the descent of Divine blessings, moved. So does full self-surrender lead on to true humility of life wherein heart and head and hand are yielded up to be used for the Lord alone, nd into which He, the Giver of all good gifts, may pour those things which shall be for us the kingdom of heaven.