By Pastor Glenn Pease
The soloist asked the visiting preacher what his subject was. She wanted to follow up with an appropriate message in song. When he hesitated she told him to never mind, she would listen and select something appropriate. When he concluded his sermon she sang, "Sometime, Somewhere, We'll Understand." Many a sermon is hard to understand because it is over our heads, complicated, and far removed from our experience of life. But one of the paradoxes of life is that a sermon can also be hard to understand just because it is too simple, and easy to grasp. This is the case with the beatitudes. Jesus uses no big words; nor does He get complicated, or off on areas of life removed from common experience. On the contrary, He is so simple and clear in what He says that it becomes a problem.
Blessed are those who mourn is just too clear, and Luke makes it even more clear when he writes, "Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh." This is so clear and obvious that it is hard to understand. The simplicity of it must be complicated by distinctions and interpretations before it makes sense, for who ever heard of happy sadness? Paradox always calls for careful interpretation. If we take these words as an absolute statement without qualification we end up as universalists. If all who mourn are to be comforted, then all shall be comforted, for all men mourn. The aged poet reflects back on life and writes,
I've seen your weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return,
And every time has added proofs
That man was made to mourn.
Certainly, Jesus did not mean to convey the idea that mere mourning is the key to happiness. That would turn hell into heaven, and give us salvation by sorrow. What of the immoral mourning of Ahab because he could not have the vineyard of Naboth? What of Jonah's mourning because of God's mercy on Ninevah? What of Hamen's mourning over the advancement of Mordacai? What of the mourning of Judas over his betrayal of Jesus, and the millions who mourn because the consequences of sin are misery and death? The road to damnation is wet with the tears of those who mourn. It is clear that the simple statement of Jesus cannot be taken as a absolute rule, for that would lead to the superficial conclusion that all evil men will be comforted rather than condemned. Sin, suffering, and sorrow would be only illusions, and we will all be happy when the light of truth dissolves them. This is an unbiblical view of evil, and certainly this is not what Jesus meant.
What then did Jesus mean by this statement? Bill Graham asks, "How can one extract the perfume of gladness from the gall of sorrow?" If not all sorrow leads to happiness, and not all mourning leads to comfort, then we need to distinguish between good and evil sorrow. The best way to accomplish this is to look at the mourning of Christ.
What made Him weep and shed tears? This will be the kind of mourning that we must do to be blessed. We must study the attitudes of Christ which made Him mourn to see the meaning of this beatitude. The first attitude of Jesus that led Him to mourn was His-
I. ATTITUDE ON SIN.
Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, not just because of what sin was doing to Him through those who rejected Him, but because of what sin was doing to them. Weep not for me, He said to those who felt sorry for Him, but weep for yourselves. The consequences of sin are horrible, and those who do not find refuge in Christ must suffer the full force of God's wrath on sin. This is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and there can be no doubt that He shed many tears of mourning as he prayed alone all night in secluded places. This kind of mourning over sin is a key to happiness, because it leads one to oppose sin and its consequences. This is to take a stand with God against Satan, and assures one of eternal victory and comfort.
This attitude is different from that of sorrow over sin because the consequences spoil your pleasure. The worldly person mourns over sin in this way. The one thief on the cross mourned because his sin led him to the death penalty. He did not feel bad over his sin, but he felt terrible over getting caught, and having to pay the penalty. The world's beatitude is, "Blessed are they that never get caught." Bertha Buxton said, "After all, the eleventh commandment (thou shalt not be found out) is the only one that is vitally important to keep in these days." This is no joke, but the sincere philosophy of masses of people. To enjoy the pleasures of sin and escape the penalty is the goal of life for many. This leads to being insensitive to sin, and a careless and carefree attitude which is just the opposite of what Jesus is saying.
When we cease to be sensitive to sin, and, therefore, cease to mourn over what it is doing to God, others, and to ourselves, we cut ourselves off from the hope of anything but the most superficial happiness. Newman said, "Our best remedy against sin is to be shocked at it." The tragedy is that sin is so common that we tend to take it for granted. We adjust to it and consider our comfort and ease in its presence a sign of strength. As a college student, John McFarland spent a summer in the slums of Chicago. When he returned to school, and to the country parish where he served, he told of his shock at what he saw. After the service, a member of the congregation, who had been on the board of a large corporation in Chicago, came up to him and said, "Don't worry about it John-you'll get to the place where that sort of thing won't bother you any more."
He was right, of course, but what he failed to realize is that when we adjust to sin, and are no longer bothered and disturbed enough to mourn, we drop down to zero on God's objective standard of happiness. By escaping the sorrow that comes with being disturbed by sin, we place ourselves in a neutral position in the battle of good and evil. This is the lukewarm position that is distasteful to God, and makes you of no value in His plan to push back the forces of darkness. Happiness for the Christian is dependent upon being sorrowful over sin, and what it does to people's lives. Those who do not mourn over sin do not repent, and so they do not receive God's forgiveness, and so cannot be ultimately happy.
He that lacks time to mourn lacks time to mend.
Eternity mourns that. 'Tis and ill cure
For life's worst ills to have no time to feel them.
Had the Prodigal Son never come to the place of mourning over his folly, he never would have experienced the happiness of a father's forgiveness, and a joyous welcome home. His mourning was the key to his happiness, and so it is for millions who mourn over their sin, and flee back to God in repentance.
God's love runneth faster than our feet,
to meet us stealing back to Him and peace,
and kisses dumb our shame; nay, and puts on
the best robe, bidding angels bring it forth.
The angels of heaven rejoiced over the repentant returning sinner. God is happy as well, and so is the one who has mourned over his sin. In no other kind of sorrow can so much happiness be found. Who is happier than the one who has just lost his heavy burden at the cross.
It is important that we see this is to be continuous, and not just a once for all mourning at the time of conversion. It is not, blessed are those who have mourned, but, those who do mourn. Sensitivity to sin must characterize the Christian at all times. This leads to immediate sorrow when we sin, and to confession and cleansing. Paul wrote in II Cor. 2:10, "For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regrets, but worldly grief produces death." There is a clear distinction between sorrow that leads to death, and that which leads to the life of happiness. Happiness comes only from the sorrow that is honest and realistic about sin.
Pascal said, "There is no comfort in anything except the truth." And the truth is, says L. P. Jacks, "We are all stockholders in human misery and degradation." The poor in spirit recognized this, and those who mourn do something about it, for they repent and receive God's solution to their sin through Christ. In a very literal sense, no man will ever be truly happy who has not mourned because of his sin, and that of others. Jesus wept over what sin did to others, and this leads us to the consideration of the second kind of mourning Jesus had in mind. It is that mourning which comes from-
II. ATTITUDE OF SYMPATHY.
Thomas Jefferson said, "Sensibility of mind is indeed the parent of every virtue, but it is the parent of much misery too." Jesus could have lived a much more peaceful and undisturbed life had He not been so sensitive to people's needs. He had compassion on the multitudes over and over again, and this meant a heart constantly bearing the burdens of others. Dr. Jowell called Jesus the divine seismograph. He wrote, "His heart was a delicate instrument sensitively registering the faintest tremors of the world's pain and sorrow." This is the kind of mourning that leads to happiness by God's standard. The happiest people in the world are not those who have sealed up their hearts, and walled themselves off from the suffering of the world. On the surface it may seem like happiness to be oblivious and indifferent to the needs of others, but in reality it is a curse. It is that form of security in which you lose your life by saving it. He who would save his life must lose it, said Jesus. He must open his heart to the pain of involvement, and take up the cross and follow Him. Follow Him to happiness on the road of sympathy.
Lord Shaftesbury, the English Reformer, saw a funeral as a boy that changed the course of history. The body of the poor man had been put in a hand made coffin, and was being pulled by his three drunken friends on a hand drawn cart. They were singing foolish songs, and in their carelessness they let the coffin fall and break open. They were hilarious and disgusting, and the sadness of it hit him so deeply that he vowed that he would do something to change that sad scene. He was grieved by what he saw, and because he came to have the power to do something about it, his mourning led to victory over much evil. He went on to make a major difference in many social issues of his day. Theophylact said, "It is one of the worst sights to see a sinner go laughing to hell." Jesus mourned over such sinners, and so have many others, and these mourners, because of their sympathy with the sinner have done things to lead many of them to heaven.
"Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God," was the prayer of the founder of World Vision. No Christian can be happy in depth if he does not have the heart of Christ which mourns over what sin does to people's lives. David in Psa. 119:136 wrote, "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed." When you get so hardened that the power of sin to destroy lives no longer bothers you, you have shriveled up, rather than have grown. It may hurt to care but it is only those who hurt who care enough to help.
Isolation and the attempt to be happy by taking care of no. 1 and leaving others to bear their own burdens is the devil's joy. James Reid said, "The saddest thing in all God's world is not a soul that sorrows; it is a heart so dull that it is incapable of feeling grief at all." Abraham Lincoln said, "I am sorry for the man who can't feel the whip when it is laid on the other man's back." It costs to be sensitive and to have compassion. A great deal of subjective happiness goes down the drain when you take up the cross of sympathy, and weep with those who weep. It is a burden that lifts, however, and leads you and others into the depths, and also the heights, of blessedness.
Samuel H. Miller, dean of Harvard said, "There is no way to share in the agony of our world, its darkness and shame and bewilderment, except by suffering what it suffers, caring in our hearts what it cares in its heart, and sweating through the Gethsemane of its travail and decision." This, of course, is what the incarnation of Christ is all about. When Jesus, with strong crying and tears, wept in agony in Gethsemane, He entered wholly and sympathetically into the suffering of mankind, and by so doing opened the way to perfect understanding between God and man, and thus, to perfect happiness. If you are never sad, but only mad at sinners, you will not be a happy Christian.
A joy there is, in sacrifice secluded;
A life subdued, from will and passion free;
Tis not the joy which over Eden brooded,
But that which triumphed in Gethsemane.
Blessed are those who mourn because of their attitude toward sin, and their attitude of sympathy toward the sinner. The third attitude which shows the reality of finding happiness in sorrow is very comprehensive, and it takes in mourning over sickness, suffering, separation, setbacks, and sidetracks in life. It is the-
III. ATTITUDE OF SUBMISSION.
This attitude alone can make it possible for the Christian to find happiness in much of the mourning of life. We have a vague idea in our minds that grief, tragedy, and suffering somehow brings us nearer to God, but we don't believe it enough to long for those things. On the contrary, we shun them, and pray for God's providence to help us avoid them. We would rather draw nearer to God in health and prosperity any day. The world also wants the happiness of a suffering free life, but, of course, they cannot attain it, and Jesus knew none of His followers could attain it either, and so He incorporated the unavoidable sorrows of life into His system of happiness. Suffering and sorrow from evil is real. Jesus endured it Himself, but He also conquered it through submission. Not my will but thine be done, was the conclusion Jesus came to as He mourned in the garden. The only way much suffering can be redeemed for good is by letting it drive you to God in total submission. Any mourning that leads to this attitude will place you high on God's objective standard of happiness, and in His providence will often lead also to great subjective happiness.
For example, when Frank Laubach was a missionary in the Philippines, he wanted desperately to be chosen president of the Theological Seminary in Manila. One vote cost him the appointment. As a result, he became bitterly resentful, and so much so that in his brooding his work and his health began to fail. Here is destructive mourning that will never lead to happiness, but only to misery. There is only one way that this sorrow can be a means to happiness, and fortunately for him, the world, and the kingdom of God, Frank took it. In desperation he cast himself before God in total submission. Without reservation, he committed his life to be used in any way God saw fit. To demonstrate his death to self, he went to live among the fierce head-hunting Moros, whom no missionary had been able to reach.
For months he lived in great danger, but he labored diligently and won their confidence, and began a Christian work among them. Because of his submission and willingness to be nobody, God made him somebody, and Frank Lauback went on to become one of the best known men in all the world, as the world's greatest apostle to illiterates. He has taught more people to read then any man in history. A friend of his wrote of his experience. "God took the deep yearning that had turned into mourning, and the mourning that had triumphed in relinquishment, and out of this yearning and relinquishment brought into birth a meek, God-controlled Frank Lauback."
Any mourning that leads to submission to God, rather than resistance, resentment, or rebellion, will lead to happiness. This principle holds true for the sorrow that comes with the loss of a loved one, or the shock of finding you have cancer, or any number of things that lead to mourning. Dr. William F. Rogers in his book, Ye Shall Be Comforted, gives us a bit of established information that will be of value to all of us. "As human personalities we can stand a great deal in the way of emotional shock, but the one thing that gets us into trouble is deceit. When we honestly face and accept the fact, no matter how distressing, the immediate shock can be accommodated without dire consequences, but when we try to evade or suppress unpleasant realities, then we are in for emotional disturbances. When we express our sense of loss and sorrow, the reality of it is fully established, it is accepted, and it is overcome."
From a scientific and psychological point of view he concludes, "There is no comfort for those who do not mourn." The statement of Jesus is not absolute in the sense that all mourning will be comforted, but it is absolute in the sense that all mourning which leads to submission to God shall be comforted. This means that the essence of this beatitude is the same as the first one, and all of the rest, for it is a matter of dependence upon God. An attitude toward sin that drives you to Christ as your only hope. An attitude of sympathy that drives you to serve others in the compassion of Christ, and finally, an attitude of submission that drives you to your knees before God, broken and yielded to be used as He wills. These are the attitudes that will lead us to Christlike happiness in sorrow.