…for they shall be comforted.
DMLJ: To ‘mourn’ is something that follows of necessity from being ‘poor in spirit.’ It is quite inevitable. As I confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life that I am meant to live, I see myself, my utter helplessness and hopelessness.
MHA: …in Matthew’s version mourning as an inner spiritual state is transformed into being comforted, which again is of a spiritual nature.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
It is ‘blessed,’ or ‘happy,’ to mourn. Talk about a statement that marks off Christians as something far different than those who are not Christians, for whom this is an utterly ridiculous statement. They say: We don’t mourn, we chase pleasure. We do everything we can to not face our troubles. This is the world that many inhabit today.
Instead, Jesus teaches that the only ones who are truly happy are the ones who mourn. Here again, the idea is a spiritual one, not a physical one; it references a spiritual attitude. A fundamental conviction must occur – one that comes with mourning. This conviction must precede conversion (the term used by Lloyd-Jones); a real sense of sin must come before there can be the true joy of true salvation. Instead, this defect regarding a true understanding of what sin is produces a superficial person and offers a wholly inadequate kind of Christian life.
DMLJ: They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy. They do not like the doctrine of sin. They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached. They want joy apart from the conviction of sin.
To be happy and blessed via true conversion, first one must mourn by seeing sin and its consequences for what these truly are. We mourn because we see our sin. The Christian knows this feeling of utter hopelessness: the good that I would do, I do not; the evil which I would not do, I do.
MHA: The second Beatitude, like the first, has a rich history of interpretation. In the Eastern Christian tradition, the interpretation that became established connected this Beatitude with the theme of repentant mourning, which must be the Christian’s lifelong labor.
There is nothing of glib joviality in the apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. We are taught to be sober, grave, temperate; sober-minded. The Christian examines what principles are in him that move him to act to sin. By examining, he finds a war in his members; he hates this and mourns because of it.
MHA: Another type of mourning is found in tears of compunction. …tears of repentance first arise out of a person’s consciousness of his own sinfulness; these tears are accompanied by bitterness of heart and contrition.
From Metropolitan Alfeyev, Isaac the Syrian teaches:
For a man comes from mourning into purity of soul. …All the saints strive to reach this entrance-way, because by means of tears the door is opened before them to enter the land of consolation.
Mourning is an attitude that Lloyd-Jones finds wholly lacking in the church of his time, and consider this was written over sixty years ago. He is writing at a time when men are not at all attracted to the church, something that has only grown more problematic in the intervening years:
DMLJ: …men who are outside the Church always become attracted when the Church herself begins to function truly as the Christian Church, and as individual Christians approximate to the description here given in these Beatitudes.
I have heard the author Tom Holland offer, during the covid madness, that he didn’t want to hear from the Church of England the same public health mumbo-jumbo that came out of the NHS. Instead, he wanted real meat – explain the mysteries, hold individuals accountable, teach the virtuous life.
DMLJ: But I also think that another explanation of this is the idea which has gained currency that if we as Christians are to attract those who are not Christian we must deliberately affect an appearance of brightness and joviality.
I saw a video of the worship team at Andy Stanley’s church opening with “Stairway to Heaven,” an even louder and more raucous version than the original, with band members that made Led Zeppelin look like the Osmond family. Then again, Stanley attracts large crowds. But does any of this indicate a life different and separate, as Jesus is teaching here? To ask that question is to answer it. Just because large crowds are attracted says nothing of what they are being attracted to.
Instead of joy and happiness arising from within, it is a manufactured “joy,” to use the term loosely. It is really more of a glibness or joviality than true inner joy. And whether by design or not, it is a superficial joy that hides or overcomes any sense of sin:
DMLJ: I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the Church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin.
Thus far, the examination of mourning has been individual and personal. But it doesn’t stop here:
DMLJ: The man who is truly Christian is a man who mourns also because of the sins of others. … He is concerned about the state of society and the state of the world. He mourns because of it…
He sees the suffering of mankind, of wars and rumors of wars; he sees the whole world is in an entirely unhealthy and unhappy condition – and he knows this is due to sin. And he mourns because of it.
So, where is the comfort that is promised in the second half of this Beatitude? The man who truly mourns will repent and will be converted. If we truly mourn, we will rejoice because of this – we see our condition for what it really is which moves us to the joy and life of what we were meant to be.
Metropolitan Alfeyev suggests that it is Jesus who offers this comfort and joy – and he notes that Jesus states this Himself. In Luke 4, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61. From the passage in Luke:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (emphasis added)
Jesus doesn’t merely announce this blessedness; He is the giver of this blessedness.
DMLJ: What sort of a man is [this man who mourns]? He is a sorrowful man, but he is not morose. He is a sorrowful man, but he is not a miserable man. He is a serious man, but he is not a solemn man. He is a sober-minded man, but he is not a sullen man.
With all his gravity, there is warmth and attraction. He is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy.
DMLJ: That is the type of Christian seen in the Church in ages past, when the doctrine of sin was preached and emphasized, and men were not merely urged to take a sudden decision. A deep doctrine of sin, a high doctrine of joy, and the two together produce this blessed, happy man who mourns, and who at the same time is comforted.
There is also a blessed hope – the hope for the world in the new heavens and the new earth.
I recently had an extensive conversation with someone who placed their hope for a new heaven and a new earth (although he wouldn’t put it this way) in man and institutions of men, institutions led not by God and not governed by the life described in these Beatitudes. It is where much of the world places their hopes – in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in a rules-based order, in the newly forming Global South, in the Belt and Road Initiative.
For this, I offer a comment made by Anonymous, as it describes perfectly this defect of why good intentions, without God and the attitude described in these Beatitudes, will never achieve their stated intent, and often result in the opposite:
An interesting perspective on the Beatitudes that I wanted to mention is that of the late Patriarch Pavle of Serbia, who when faced with cruel warmongers calling themselves "peacemakers" pointed out:
Nothing is in the Gospel by accident. Our Savior praised the peacemakers in the seventh place in the Beatitudes. Who can open his mouth and preach peace— and not only peace to a particular house or person, but to the whole world— if he has not first experienced poverty of spirit? If he has not mourned his own sins and tamed the savage nature within himself? If he has not felt hunger and thirst for God's righteousness? If he has not conquered the selfishness within himself with mercy? And if he has not achieved such purity of heart that he can see God?
And so only after progressing to this sixth level, after persistent exercise in transforming the inhuman to the human, can one step up to the seventh level and become a true peacemaker, a child of the God of peace, of righteousness and of love.
Without true mourning, we know where this road leads.