First Sermon: Matthew 5:3
"Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5: 3.)
The fifth chapter of Matthew opens with these words: "And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain; and when he was set, His disciples came unto Him; and He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying." Then follow the blessings, or Beatitudes, being the first words which the Lord uttered in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount; and the first of this Sermon, as well as the first of the Beatitudes, is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The kingdom of heaven is composed of those who are poor in spirit, and they are blessed in the possession of it; of them is the kingdom of heaven.
But let us review briefly the opening words of the chapter before proceeding to a consideration of the text.
"Seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain." By "seeing," when predicated of the Lord, is signified His Omnipresence and Universal Providence; but, as it is said that He saw the multitudes, and since "the multitudes" mean those whom the Lord came into the world to redeem and save, by "seeing" is here meant the presence of the Lord by His Human with men in the world, or His Advent. By His going up or ascending into a mountain is meant the glorification of the Human of the Lord, or union with the Divine itself; few by "a mountain" in the Word is signified the Divine Love, and also the inmost heaven, where the Divine Love reigns. By the Lord's sitting down on a mountain is meant His presence in His glorified Human in the inmost heaven, and through this heaven with the whole human race. By His disciples "coming unto Him" is meant the presence with Him of those who are to be teachers and leaders of mankind in both worlds; and their instruction by Him immediately follows, for it is said that "He opened His mouth and taught them, saying." The subject treated of in the universal sense is the revelation of Divine Doctrine from the Word out of the inmost heaven; for by the mouth of the Lord is signified His Word. Properly speaking, the subject is the opening of the Word and the revelation of its internal sense in the form of Doctrine, and, at the same time, instruction from it and illustration by it.
Then follows the teaching given by the Lord to His disciples; and what the Lord said to them treats of the Divine Doctrine and its reception by men; setting forth, especially in the Beatitudes, that when the Divine Doctrine is received, man has eternal life; for eternal life is signified by the word "blessed." But before the Doctrine is given, the end in view in the giving of the Doctrine is first represented—the end for which the Lord came into the world, which was the establishment of an internal church, His spiritual kingdom among men. This end is signified by the mountain on which the Lord sat when He taught His disciples, and the Doctrine which He taught them was to be the means by which His eternal kingdom was to be established in the world.
The first Blessing treats of the first state of the church in its reception of the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, or of the Divine Doctrine revealed by Him out of His Word. In general, the Blessings treat of the establishment of the church in a series, of one step or stage after another in its reception of the Divine Truth of the Word, until the end of which we have spoken is reached. Or, what is the same, they treat of regeneration in a series, since that which treats of the successive establishment of the church treats at the same time of the regeneration of the individual man of the church; for the church is established by the regeneration of the individuals who compose it.
The first thing in the implantation of the church is the reception of doctrine from the Lord in the understanding. There is no church before this; for it is doctrine from the Lord that makes the church, and nothing else. When true doctrine is received, the church is said to begin; and it does then actually begin, but not before. Previous to this, man has been going through the stages of preparation for the church; the Lord has been preparing him to receive true doctrine from heaven; but until doctrine is received, the church itself is not with him. That which introduces into the church is the same that introduces into heaven; for the internal of the church is heaven; and, in the spiritual world, no one is introduced into heaven until he has received the true doctrine of heaven. Hence it may be said that the Blessings treat of the series of stages by which man is prepared for and introduced into heaven; indeed, at the close of the series it is said, "Great is your reward in heaven."
Doctrine received into the understanding is the beginning of the church; that is, doctrine enters the mind, forms the understanding, and thus begins the church. Not only does doctrine begin the church, but the whole work of the establishment of the church, from beginning to end, is performed by doctrine, by the doctrine of truth from the Word in which the Lord is present. Doctrine is the means by which the Lord approaches and applies Himself to the understanding of man, the means by which a new understanding is formed. Doctrine is the Divine instrumentality in establishing the church, in regenerating man, in preparing him for heaven. Without doctrine there is no church, no regeneration, no life of heaven with men, no salvation to the human race. This is the reason it is said that the first thing in the implantation of the church is the reception of doctrine from the Lord in the understanding; and this is the reason that the first thing uttered by the Lord in His discourse to His disciples on the mountain was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Blessings which follow treat of the various stages of the reception of doctrine from the Lord, or of the various stages in the establishment of the church by doctrine, or again, of the stages of preparation for heaven by means of doctrine from the Word, and finally of the reward in heaven to which true doctrine leads.
The first thing, let us repeat, in the implantation of the church, the first step in the series, the first state of the church itself, is doctrine from the Lord received into the understanding, and, at the same time, faith in such doctrine. This agrees with the teaching in the Writings throughout, that faith is the first thing of the church in the order of time. This first state of the church, this first thing in the regeneration of the man of the church, is what is meant by the "poor in spirit," who are said to be blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs—"for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
It has been supposed from the beginning of the Christian Church, and many still believe, that heaven is for the poor and not for the rich; and the Word of God does teach this in the merely literal sense. The Lord on one occasion said to His disciples, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God," (Matt. 19:24); and where the Blessings are repeated in Luke, it is not said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," but "Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). It is not surprising, therefore, that those who take the teachings of the Word in their most literal sense, who follow the letter rather than the spirit, who read the Word without true doctrine, should suppose that the poor and not the rich are to be received into heaven. True doctrine, however, reveals that the Word has a spiritual sense throughout, and that many things therein are spoken, not for their literal significance, but for the sake of their spiritual meaning.
The letter of the Word is not without intimations of a spiritual sense, and the text is a remarkable instance of this. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" On reading this, the reflecting mind may see that whenever the poor are spoken of as blessed, and as worthy of the kingdom of heaven—indicating the class of those who are able to be received into heaven—the poor in spirit are meant; and such a mind may reflect further that when the rich are spoken of as being excluded from heaven, it is not meant that those who are rich in this world's goods are to be shut out from heaven merely because of their riches. True doctrine shows that the poor in spirit, or the spiritually poor, are meant by "the poor" in the Word; and that the rich in spirit, or the spiritually rich, are meant by "the rich" in the Word.
It is well to note here, in respect to the spiritual sense of the Word, that every term has a good and an evil signification, for the reason that every good of heaven is turned into its opposite with the evil; and hence there is a society of evil spirits in hell opposite to every society of angels in heaven. The fact that every good and truth flowing down from heaven is turned into its opposite with the evil, explains many things that appear inconsistent in the letter of the Word; for there is hardly a word or phrase that is not used in both senses,—sometimes in a good sense and sometimes in an evil sense. Thus there are two classes of the poor, when regarded in the light of the spiritual sense; namely, the poor who are without the riches of heaven, which are the knowledges of genuine truth from the Word, and yet who desire them from a humble heart, and the poor who are also without such knowledges, but who in the pride of their hearts do not wish for them, believing that they possess the riches of heaven in the conceit of human intelligence. These are meant by the Lord in Revelation, "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich." (Rev 3:17,18.)
It is the same in the Word with the rich as with the poor; there are two classes of them. Those are said to be rich who possess the riches of heaven, but who are still humble in heart, having no conceit or pride of intelligence in the rich things of the Word which they possess. These are meant where the Lord said, "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich." (Revelation 2:9.) The rich in the evil sense are those who possess the things of the Word, but who ascribe them to themselves and their own intelligence and not to the Lord. These are the rich who know not that they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked;" and these are the rich, of whom it is said that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for such to enter into the kingdom of God."
We read in the text that it is the "poor in spirit" who are received into the kingdom of heaven. By "the poor," as we have seen, are meant those who are in spiritual poverty, who know that they do not possess the goods and truths of heaven, and are thus in humility of heart. In the text, the application is especially to those who are about to be formed into a church of the Lord, or about to begin the work of regeneration, or the state in which they are when they are prepared to be taught the genuine truths of heaven, which are spiritual riches; which state is the acknowledgment that they know nothing from themselves, that no truth is their own, but that all is from the Lord. They who are in this state are ready to receive genuine truths in the form of doctrine from the Word. Hence it is said that they are "poor in spirit;" for "spirit," when it is mentioned in the Word, signifies the understanding, or the understanding of truth. Blessed are they who have implanted in the thought of their understanding the acknowledgment that all truth is from the Lord, and nothing at all from man. These, in reality, are spiritually rich, for in that acknowledgment are involved and contained all the riches of heaven; and therefore it is said that "of them is the kingdom of heaven." This acknowledgment, indeed, is the first requisite for entrance into that kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is the spiritual kingdom which the Lord came into the world to establish—not a worldly kingdom such as the Jews vainly expected. John warned the unbelieving Pharisees of this when he said to them, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:2.) The Lord said the same words when He began His preaching (Matt. 4:17). But the Pharisees, in the pride of their spirit—in their confirmed love of the world—were unwilling to believe in any other kingdom than a kingdom of this world; and so they did not repent, and hence did not prepare the way for the Lord and His kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven on earth is the church, a spiritual kingdom among men, where the Lord reigns, and where men are prepared for heaven by the truth of doctrine from the Word. They who are in true poverty of spirit, and no others, are introduced into this kingdom, into this true church of the Lord. These are said to be blessed because in their heart-acknowledgment of the Lord as the Divine Teacher of men is involved all the happiness of eternal life.
We have seen that the opening words of the chapter, the words which precede the text, treat of the revelation of the Divine Doctrine from the Lord out of the inmost heaven, for the sake of establishing His new spiritual kingdom, or a new church on earth; and the series which follow treat of the reception of that doctrine by men on earth, and thus of the establishment of the church with them; and reception into the understanding, as the first step, brings the blessing of heaven with it. All of this is made more clear by the use of the term spirit in the first words which the Lord uttered to His disciples, when He said to them that the poor in spirit are blessed, because they have the kingdom of heaven; for by the reception of the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, they are placed among those who are under the government of the Lord as King, and who, by performing uses in His kingdom, are made happy forever.
When it is said in the Word that the Lord teaches, the meaning in the universal sense is that all Divine Truth proceeds from Him in His glorified Human; and since it is said here that He taught His disciples, the signification is that He reveals the Divine Truth to the men of the church on earth in the form of doctrine adapted to their understandings, that is, to the understandings of those who are in humility of spirit, but not to the proud in spirit; for the Divine Truth can never be adapted or accommodated to them, since there is in a proud spirit, or in the conceit of human intelligence, nothing that can receive the pure Divine Truth of the Word. It shuns the truth, shuts it out, as a diseased eye shuts out the pure light of the sun, being tormented by it.
Now since the subject of the series in this chapter is the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord and its reception by men, and since men first receive it in the understanding, the word spirit is used in the first of the series, and not the word heart. These two words go together, and are often coupled together in the Word, as where it is said, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a firm spirit within me." (Ps. 51:10.) Again, "Make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31.) But in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord did not say at first to His disciples, "Blessed are the poor in heart," but "the poor in spirit;" and He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," because the subject of the series is the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, its revelation as Divine Doctrine to men, and its reception by them. In the sixth blessing, the Lord says, "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." This is because the regenerate state of the will is there the subject; but six blessings are passed before this state is reached; and so in this first blessing "spirit" is used and not "heart."
The lungs are never spoken of in the Word; but their function, which is breathing, or respiration, is frequently referred to under the term "breath" or "spirit;" for this is what the word "spirit" means— breath. In the human body, the lungs represent the understanding and the heart the will; but in the Word, "heart" and "spirit" are coupled together as representing the will and the understanding. In the text, however, the heart is not mentioned, but instead, respiration, breath, or spirit. Anyone can see that the respiration or breath of the body is not meant when it is said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The mind is meant, or the understanding; and, as we have seen, by the "poor in spirit" are meant those who are in humility and not in pride of spirit or understanding, and that with these the church is to begin when the Divine Truth of Revelation, or the Divine Doctrine, is received by them.
And now let us repeat—and the truth gathers force by repetition—let us repeat, that humility of understanding consists in the acknowledgment that all truth is from the Lord, that all doctrine is from the Lord, and nothing from- man, nothing from nature, nothing self derived. When this acknowledgment is implanted in the thought of the understanding, when this acknowledgment is implanted in the active thought of the church, then is such an understanding, then is such a church, blessed by the Lord; then is the life of heaven present in such a man and in such a church. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
It follows as a natural conclusion that they who are not poor in spirit will not receive the Divine Truth when it is revealed, will not receive or believe the teaching of the Lord as He gives it to His disciples, or from the disciples themselves when they are prepared to give it to men. All such, if they persist in their pride of spirit, will be cursed and not blessed. We have referred to the fact that everything in the Word has an opposite sense. So it is in the text, where the opposite of blessing is curse. Blessing expresses the state of eternal happiness in heaven, and curse the state of eternal misery in hell; and the text might be presented in its negative aspect, —Cursed are the proud in spirit; cursed is he in whose understanding is the pride of his own intelligence; cursed is he who confirms himself in his own self-conceit; cursed is he who confirms himself in the belief that all truth is from man, and not from God; for the kingdom of heaven is not of such.
It is not that the Lord curses, for He never curses any man; but men curse themselves by persisting in the refusal to receive what He has to give; and here, in the negative aspect of the text, it is the persistent refusal to receive the Divine Truth which proceeds from Him, and to acknowledge that it is from Him— this is the curse, the curse of the present day.
In our own time, the Divine Truth has been given anew unto men; the Lord is now teaching the spiritual truth of His Word to men in the world as He never taught it before; but there is for the most part persistent refusal to receive it; and that which stands in the way is the proud spirit of man, the worship of human intelligence, the conceit of human understanding, the belief that truth is from nature and from man, and not from the Lord, the persuasion that man lives from himself, and not from heaven, and the Lord in heaven. This is the great obstacle to the reception of the Divine Doctrine now revealed by the Lord out of heaven; and this is the cause of the slow growth of the New Church with those who are in it. This is the curse of the Christian world; and the New Church is not yet out of the shadow of this curse.
The conceit of human intelligence is what is signified in the Apocalypse by "the dragon,"—the enemy of Michael, the persecutor of "the woman who fled into the wilderness," and who is called "that old serpent, which is the devil and satan." He is called "satan" because of this same pride of intelligence, and he is called "devil" because the pride or conceit of human intelligence has its origin in the love of self, which is always signified by "devil" in the Word. This is the devil, this is the satan, this is the dragon, this is the self-love, this is the conceit of human intelligence, which is the great enemy of the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem, and the cause of the slow growth of the New Church in the Christian world.
Blessing is life, and curse is death—eternal life, eternal death. It is worth while to note here the meaning of the word "blessed" in the original Greek. The word here translated "blessed" is the common adjective in Greek signifying "happy." The Blessings or Beatitudes might be called the Happinesses, and the first one might read: "Happy are the poor in spirit; for of them is the kingdom of heaven." But in its root the word is a compound signifying "not dead," that is, alive, immortal; and it appears in the phrase, "the immortal gods," of classic literature. The poor in spirit are not dead; they are alive, they are immortal, they live forever.
The poor in spirit are alive and immortal, live forever, because they have received the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, because they have received the Divine Doctrine revealed by the Lord out of heaven, because they are in illustration from the Lord, because they have been delivered from the pride of their own intelligence and the dominion of their own self love, because they have been released from spiritual captivity, because they have been delivered from the dominion of the spirits of the dragon, and because, while yet in the world, they are as to their spirits with the angels of heaven. And thus we see, perhaps but dimly, the wonderful significance of those first words of the Lord to His disciples gathered around Him on the mountain, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for of them is the kingdom of heaven." Amen.
H. H. 357, or 365;
A. C. 9209.