New Life in Christ: The Beatitudes for Today III -“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”(Matt. 5:4)
Two weeks ago we began to consider the second Beatitude, pronouncing blessing on those who mourn. We noted what this mourning isn’t: it isn’t joyless sorrow; it isn’t the sorrow of bereavement; and it isn’t superficial regret. But if we are to begin to live the blessed life the Beatitudes describe, we need to do more than rule out their opposite. We need to know what it is to mourn in the way Jesus intends. There are many things to say here, but we shall content ourselves with two:
- We mourn for the remaining reality of indwelling sin. It is precisely because we have been born again by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, because new life now beats within, that we feel what we never could before. We once were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We were insensible to our real condition. We felt none of the antipathy that obtains between the principles of righteousness and rebellion. Rebellion ruled our hearts, and there was no conflict. All was quiet and at peace within. But then grace broke in and made us alive together with Christ. And now that the new principle of life has come to preside within, a “continual and irreconcilable war” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XIII. II Of Sanctification) rages within us, “for the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17, cf. Rom. 7:17-23). In a believing heart, nothing is more grievous than the entrenched remnants of our sin battling away, refusing to die, raging against our best efforts to be holy. And so we mourn. Our mourning is the mourning of repentance. It is the mourning of godly sorrow that produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:14). It is the cry of a heart that pleads for cleansing and for grace to live in new obedience.
- We mourn for the remaining reality of worldly rebellion. Just as the fact of indwelling sin in our own hearts grieves us, so, too, the persistent refusal of many in our world to turn from sin to the Savior grieves us. We mourn for a dying world, for our friends and family and neighbors who face a lost eternity apart from Christ. We mourn for the horror and blindness of cultural idolatry on every hand. We mourn and pour out our intercessions for the lost and seek to be bright lights in a dark world for the Gospel. This is the pattern we see in our Savior, who wept for Jerusalem because it was unwilling to come to him (Matt. 23:37). In Acts 17:16, Paul is waiting in Athens and while there he observes the idols of the city, and Luke tells us that “his spirit was being provoked within him.” A Christian is one who mourns because they love the law of God but the world rejects it, “My eyes shed streams of tears because people do not keep your law” (Ps. 119:136). So our mourning for the world is the mourning of intercession. It is the mourning of a pleading heart that sorrows over the spiritual blindness of the nations.
It is this kind of mourning that Jesus says identifies the blessed life. It is a mark of a disciple that they are never free of this kind of mourning till they are free of indwelling sin and free of this world (a double freedom that always comes together!). But for those who do so mourn, Jesus promises comfort. Not the empty comfort of distraction. This is not a platitude to dry tears for a season. This is real and deep and satisfying comfort that sustains us amidst our sorrows. It is the comfort of knowing that “it is finished” (John 20:30). Sin’s dominion and power has been defeated at the cross. It is the comfort of knowing that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness… We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2). It is the comfort of knowing that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” and that “nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:28, 39). It is the comfort of knowing that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
Christian hearts are uniquely capable of a double feeling: we can mourn while we rejoice, and know joy amidst tears. Let your hearts mourn while you rejoice in the Gospel. Be glad in Christ but grieve for your remaining sin, and for a lost world. To all who do, Christ promises the blessedness of abiding gospel comfort.