Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:4a “Blessed are they that mourn:. . .”
Happy are the sad. The paradox is so startling that it forces us to be careful in trying to interpret it. Obviously, not all mourners are blessed. This world is a trail of tears, lined with troubles, disappointments, sicknesses, bereavements, and financial adversities. These natural sorrows, the common lot of all humanity, are in and of themselves neutral, neither good nor bad, neither helpful nor harmful.
Natural sorrows, a reality of life, make us better or worse, depending on how we respond to them. For instance, the death of a child draws many closer to the Savior’s side, but drives many others farther away. Sorrow helps some, but causes many to be “sullen, hard, selfish, negligent of duty, resentful against God, hopeless” (Maclaren). Natural mourning worsens people as often as it improves them.
In speaking of a mourning which is blessed, Jesus had to be referring to a specific type of sorrowing. Mourning is blessed under two conditions: when it rises from the right cause, and rises to the right cure.
The right cause is found in recalling the context of Jesus’ words. He was addressing a crowd wrong in its thinking about the nature of His kingdom. They were angry over Rome’s politics, but needed to be sad over their own spiritual flaws. Israel was full of political anger, Jesus was looking for spiritual repentance.
The blessed mourners are those who, brokenhearted over their own sin, demonstrate the godly sorrow of a tender conscience. This is the emotion evoked by poverty of spirit. Understanding our own spiritual weakness and failure causes us to grieve. The frightful gulf between what we are and ought to be breaks our heart.
Poverty of spirit prompting grief over sin is foundational to the Christian life. Without it, no unbeliever can be saved, and no believer can grow in grace. Beware false sorrow. We truly mourn over a sin only when we determine to leave it behind us forever. Do not weep, if the sin you plan to keep. A watery eye is useless apart from a holy heart. “We must so weep for sin, as to weep out sin” (Watson). Our tears are worthless unless they make us better by truly drawing us closer to God.
This mourning which is blessed grieves not only for our own individual sins, but also for the sins of others. While the Jews were angry and bitter, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (LK 19:41). He sensed their rejection of Himself, and saw they were bringing down wrath and destruction on themselves. I long to hear us speak of America’s sins more with brokenness and tears than with anger. Hate sin less? No, no, a thousand times no. Love sinners more? Yes, yes, a million times yes.
There will be no revival in our land until God’s people learn again how to mourn properly. Luther rightly called true mourning “a rare herb.” Friends, mourn that there are such few mourners. A woman deeply conscious of sin once washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (LK 7:38). Have I shed even a thimble full of tears lately? We cry tears over other things, but have few left for man’s affronts against God.
The sins of our age–hyper-materialism, practical atheism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, profaning God’s name–should be pressing themselves upon our consciousnesses. We ought to be more sensitive, and be weeping, but it is easier to condemn than to care. Mad is less painful than sad, but right now the world needs to see our tears, not hear our jeers. A look of utter grief and heartache might rescue many from error. What cajoling and urging can not achieve, brokenness often does.
God help us to grieve for the right reason, for sin. Blessed mourning begins by rising from the right cause, and then, it must continue rising to the right cure.
Matt. 5:4b “. . .for they shall be comforted.”
The mourners who are blessed are the ones whose broken hearts rise to find comfort. Our mourning is not to produce a sad disposition which continually murmurs and whines. God does not want us morose, miserable, and sullen. There is no virtue in being miserable all the time. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, wants to use our mourning to produce a blessed result for us.
True Godly sorrow never leaves the mourner stranded in grief (2 C 7:10), but rather contains confidence that it will find solace in God. We find comfort, knowing that in our sorrow we will locate the heart and hand of God. In the midst of our mourning, we expect to find forgiveness and cleansing, and power to help. In our brokenness we reach up, knowing we will feel the grip of a gentle, strong hand.
There is an improper sorrow over sin. One can mourn over the right cause, but not be blessed if he does not seek the right cure. It is wrong to grieve over sin to the point of despair. Our mourning over sin can itself become sinful if it refuses to be comforted, and sinks into hopeless remorse.
On the same night, two of Jesus’ disciples failed Him. The leader of His disciples, Peter, denied Christ thrice, caught the piercing gaze of His Master, and then went out and wept bitterly. A generation later, Clement of Alexandria said Peter, for the rest of his life, every time he heard a rooster crow, cried. Ah, nevertheless, Peter’s mourning was blessed. Within sixty hours of his denial, he was back on line, forgiven, serving God, and with a fellow disciple, running to the empty tomb. On the other hand, Judas, treasurer of the disciples, showed a different type of sorrow. Judas betrayed his Master, confessed his sin, and truly grieved, but is in Hell today because his sorrow drove him to despair rather than to Jesus. Judas deemed his sin greater than God’s ability to forgive. His despair was worse than his treason.
Never let tears drown out faith. As our tears fall down, faith must reach up. The Son wants to shine on our raining tears and create a rainbow of forgiveness.
Comfort is in Christ’s blood, not in our tears. “It is a kind of idolatry to make our tears the ground of our comfort. Mourning is not meritorious. It is the way to joy, not the cause” (Watson). Mourning is no end in itself, but the means to an end.
Dear believer, learn at Jesus’ feet the way to true happiness. The mountaintop experiences of joy and fulfillment we all seek are found by being willing to pass through a valley of tears. Even Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross” (HB 12:2). His joy was found on the other side of mourning.
Paul understood this process of finding joy through sadness. He was filled with joy and meaning and purpose, yet confessed to having “great heaviness and continual sorrow” (RM 9:2) in his heart. His mourning over Israel’s sin drove him to purposeful action, to soulwinning, and to prayer, where he found comfort in God. This cycle constantly repeated itself, ever leaving Paul in the seemingly paradoxical state of being “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing” (2 C 6:10a).
To many, seeking joy through sadness sounds ridiculous. They deem impossible such verses as, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (PS 30:5b), and “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (PS 126:5). Many try to avoid sadness at all cost, thus setting the stage for the pleasure mania, “happy” beer commercials, and entertainment frenzy which surrounds us at every hand. People are addicted to seeking happiness at all cost, and yet end up miserable.
Mourn, my friend, over your sin, my sin, our church’s sins, our nation’s sins. Pour out your heart before God. Feel the deep wound of weakness, and as wounded soldiers on a battlefield cry out for water, even so cry out for the water of gladness. Our souls should long, yea thirst, for the joy which only the living God can provide. Our Savior looks down upon the battlefield of this world, seeking those who cry for His water, and comes Himself as their comforting drink of joy.