What Saith the Scripture?
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
December 4, 1844
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
In several of the first verses of this chapter, Christ states the distinctive
features of the Christian character, and affirms the blessedness of those who possess
them. The text gives one of them: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven.
In this discourse I shall show--
I. What it is to be poor in spirit.
II. Why such are blessed.
I. What it is to be poor in spirit.
- 1. To have a realizing sense of our spiritual state. In this it is implied that
we understand our own guilt and helplessness, and realize as a practical fact our
own utter emptiness by nature of every thing good, and of any tendency to that which
is good. It is one thing to hold this in theory, and another thing to be heartily
sensible of the humbling fact. Most professing Christians admit in words that they
are in themselves wholly helpless and destitute, but to know and feel as an abiding
practical conviction that this is their true spiritual condition how few are able!
- 2. Being poor in spirit implies that we see in its true light the tendency in
us to every thing evil--that we understand that the habitudes of our minds, that
our appetites and propensities, that nearly the whole power of the sensibility continually
tends to selfishness.
- 3. A realizing conviction of being shut up to the grace of God for help. I know
people hold in theory that salvation is all grace, and suppose themselves not to
doubt it; and I know too that very many of those same people do not believe it after
all: they do not conceive it so as to realize the fact. Ask them--do you expect to
be saved by your own works? and they will say no, to be sure. Are you shut up to
the grace of God? Yes. But to hold it as part of your creed, and to realize it as
God's truth, are two vastly different things.
- 4. A conviction that we are shut up to faith in Christ as the only possible way
of obtaining help. This too is held in theory, and many suppose themselves to understand
it, who yet do not really apprehend it at all. And let me ask, who that has come
to a realization of this fact has not been astonished to see how superficially he
once held the truth on this point? Who in such a case has not been shocked to see
in how loose and heartless a manner all the truths respecting the importance of man
were held by him--to see that his belief was mere theory, without ever so much as
reaching the heart at all? To be poor in spirit implies a right sense of the fact
that we are shut up to faith in Christ as the only possible way of obtaining help
in our helpless condition.
- 5. A conviction of being shut up to God for faith-- to the sovereign working
of God's Holy Spirit, and the sovereign grace of God as manifested through Christ,
to produce this faith. Not that it is not our own exercise; it is indeed, and from
its nature must be, but we must be sensible that without the Spirit of Christ we
shall no more exercise this faith, than we shall get to heaven by our own works of
obedience to law. It is one thing to hold this as the doctrine of an orthodox creed,
and quite another to feel it in our inmost being.
My own experience speaks strongly here. I was led to contemplate unbelief as a
distinct sin, and its infinite guilt and inexcusableness. The question came--do you
believe God as you believe men? Do you take His word and trust in His promise as
you take the word and trust the promise of men? The answer was unavoidable--no, I
do not. I do not trust God's promises as I trust man's promises. Herein was revealed
and laid open to me my infinite wickedness, that I would not trust in God's promises
and rest in them, even as firmly as I would trust in the word of men. I saw it now
clearly. I saw the God-dishonoring, damning (for so I viewed it) the God-dishonoring,
damning fact, that while I knew, and confessed, and saw clearly that God would not
and could not lie, after all I did not believe fully and with all my heart. I would
not take the word of the Mighty God as I would the word of frail and fallible man.
And then, being led to perceive my absolute unbelief, I felt notwithstanding, that
unless God pleased so to reveal Himself to me, that I could throw my soul upon Him--so
to enlighten my mind and draw it to Himself by laying open before my soul His goodness
and truth as to induce me to cast myself on Him by faith, I should sink. I felt that
unless He would give me faith in Him, I was as certain to be damned as that I existed.
Now this is what I mean by being sensible that you are shut up to God for faith.
But moreover, we must be willing thus to be shut up to God. We must not merely see
the fact, but be willing to be thus. We must see that we are condemned and that justly,
for not being right; and hopeless, helpless in ourselves, shut up to the sovereign
love of God to work that which is well pleasing in His sight, and thus shut up to
the sovereign grace of God by our voluntary wickedness.
- 6. A deep and abiding sense of the absolute need we are in of a Savior from our
utter wickedness, helpless and just condemnation. The mind must perceive and feel
its guilt in such a sense as to be sure that its salvation is out of the question,
except Christ shall substitute His death for ours, a ransom for our souls; such a
sense of our own vileness as to lay hope out of the question altogether, except through
the sacrifice of Christ. O it is easy to say we are helpless and that Christ is our
only hope and dependence; it is easy to recite for our creed--"I believe that
salvation is through Christ alone and wholly." But how hard is it to see our
vileness and guilt--our abominable filthiness, our loathsomeness, and our hopeless
condemnation except Christ be applied to our souls in His offices and relations as
Redeemer, Savior, Sanctifier, Teacher and King. How hard to know this as we know
what we see and hear without eyes and ears.
- 7. Not only a sense of this dependence upon Christ, and helplessness out of Him
is implied, but a willingness to have it so-- a willingness to cleave to Christ in
all His offices and relations, a setting aside self, a self-loathing, a self renunciation
in all respects, a casting away all hope in ourselves, all dependence upon ourselves,
all trust in our own wisdom or righteousness, or our efforts at sanctification, and
every thing else which is our own. These things are implied in poverty of spirit
in the text. In short it is a correct view of our utterly helpless state, a realizing
sense of that fact, and a disposition of soul corresponding to such views.
I come now to show--
II. Why those who are thus poor in spirit are blessed.
- 1. Because the kingdom of God is within them. The text says, "Theirs is
the kingdom of heaven." They have already the first elements of the kingdom
of God within them.
- 2. Because flesh and blood has never revealed this to them. Before, they might
have had it as mere theory after the flesh, but if they have come to feel and realize
their state in its dreadful aggravations, flesh and blood have not revealed it unto
them, but God has uncovered with His own hand the deep vileness of their souls and
undertaken their cure.
- 3. They have already surmounted the greatest difficulty in the way of their salvation.
After Christ has provided a feasible method of salvation, so that God can be just
and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, the greatest difficulty is to make
mankind see their need of Christ. It is a great work to make men feel themselves
hopeless, to humble them, to tear away their self-dependence and self-righteousness,
and the notion of resources in themselves for any thing good. God is constantly engaged
in bringing about this result. When a man has come to know himself and to renounce
himself in all respects as to dependence and hope, then rely upon it the greatest
difficulty is over come, and the chief discipline endured.
- 4. It is the most painful part too. To slay him, to tear away the last fiber
of hope in his own righteousness or efforts after righteousness, and burn in upon
his soul a sense of his real abominable wickedness and hopeless ruin in himself--O
this costs more trouble and patience and loathing of soul, and anguish of spirit
than anything else. How many times must he be infinitely ashamed of himself--so sunk
in the lowest pit of shame, as to abhor himself with unutterable loathing! How often
be compelled in agony to exclaim--Infinite wretch that I was. How full of pride and
of hell I was, and how little I knew it! To be mortified so many times in order to
empty him of himself; he must weep, and agonize, and grieve, and despair so often;
must undergo a perpetual dying--for it is indeed a perpetual dying, while passing
through this process of having himself shown to himself. He sees this sin and that
sin, is ashamed here and ashamed there, is mortified at every turn; he dallies with
temptation, breaks his resolutions, and falls into shameful sins, and is vexed and
angry at himself, and ready as it were to spit in his own face; he stumbles, and
plunges, and flounders and falls, till at last all hope vanishes, and the soul lies
down, weary and worn out by vain struggles, and gives up in despair. All this is
painful enough; but once gone through with, the man begins to understand himself
thoroughly, becomes poor in spirit, glad to renounce all self, part with his own
righteousness, his own wisdom, his self-dependence, because they are nothing. When
he is thus thoroughly crucified the most painful work is done. If he falls from this,
then he must do his first work over; but let him keep in this state of mind, continue
thus poor in spirit, and the rocks and breakers are well nigh past.
- 5. Because he has now come to be prepared for the application of the remedy for
his disease. He is in an attitude in which Christ is best pleased to see him. The
thing is effected for which Christ has been laboring. Heretofore Christ has been
trying to crown Himself upon the mind, but self has been a constant hindrance and
this Christ has been belaboring with a continual stroke. Christ would knock and knock,
but to use a homely figure, the mind has been brushing up, and brushing up, and putting
things to rights like an untidy housekeeper, unwilling to admit Him, and trying to
put matters in a little better trim instead of letting Christ in forthwith, and saying--"Lord,
thou seest what filth and rubbish are here." He is obliged to knock and keep
knocking and to stand without till His head is wet with dew, and His locks are the
drops of the night. The sinner is making preparations, and must become exceedingly
righteous before he comes to be saved. But when Christ has convinced him of his own
utter helplessness and that the more he tries to wash and cleanse his pollution,
the more polluted he becomes, and that all he can do is only sinking him deeper into
the horrible pit--then, then the soul is ready to receive Christ in all His offices
and relations--to receive a whole Christ as presented in the gospel.
- 6. Because in a sense, such a person has already learned what the remedy is.
He has learned to reject himself, and that his dependence must be utterly and forever
on another than himself. He has learned how blessed it is to be nothing, to know
and do nothing of himself, to be universally dependent upon Christ for every thing--for
breath, for grace, for faith, for every thing; to have Christ his "all and in
- 7. Because they learn how blessed it is to trust Christ. They see such fullness
in Christ, they do not wish any strength of their own. Their wisdom, righteousness,
sanctification and redemption are in Christ, and they need and wish for none of their
own. Christ is all they need, and they need nothing in themselves. They have them
all in Christ, and they are willing and glad to have them in Him.
- 8. Because they have learned how to be composed in the midst of all kinds of
trials. They neither have nor seek any resort in themselves. They know in whom their
strength lies, and who is their strong tower. They can depend on Christ for all,
and they know He cannot fail them. But let me say,
- 9. Because they have no self interest. They have seen themselves to be perfectly
destitute and worthless. They have no reputation to build up, they have no appetite
that must be gratified, no passion that must be catered for, none of these to contend
for or hold on to. They are emptied out, and every particle of self value is gone
entirely. They labor not for themselves, but for Christ.
- 10. Because to be poor in spirit is to be rich in faith. Then poor in the proper
sense, emptied of dependence upon themselves, then they are rich in faith. But I
hasten to conclude with several
1. It is easy to see what Paul meant when he said "When I am weak, then am I
strong." Paul you know had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet
him. He was at first very uneasy at it, and he besought the Lord thrice that it might
be removed, but Christ told him His grace should e sufficient for him. As if He had
said, "I shall not remove that thorn. I gave it to keep you under such a pressure
of infirmity that you could never forget your dependence upon me." Paul then
gloried in his infirmity. He says he gloried in infirmities and tribulations and
persecutions, because they emptied him of himself, and made Christ his strength.
They made him know his weakness and his strength. When he was weak in himself, he
was strong in Christ. His trails kept alive a sense of his entire dependence, and
thus prepared him to do all things through Christ who strengthened him.
2. To be poor in spirit, is to be in a highly spiritual state. Persons are often
in a spiritual state without being aware of it. In my intercourse with Christians,
I have often been struck with the sad mistake made in respect to what is a spiritual
frame. Certain high wrought pleasurable emotions are often regarded as the highest
spiritual states; whereas other states, which can exist only under a high degree
of the Spirit's influence, are nevertheless not so regarded at all. Is this state,
in which a man sees himself all empty and naught, shut up to God's goodness, shut
up to God to make him as He shall please, a vessel of wrath or a vessel of mercy--sees
how infinitely reasonable it is for God to deal with him thus; that it is just for
God to consult wholly His own wisdom, and to consult the creature not at all, and
that he lies in the hands of God as clay in the hands of the potter, for God to mold
from the filthy lump a vessel of honor or dishonor as seems good in His sight; when
he feels thus, and lies crucified and dead as to the least idea of self-dependence--is
this a state of weak and low spirituality? Nay verily. Scarcely can there be a state
of higher spiritual exercise than this. This poverty of spirit, total renunciation
of self, is far enough from being a carnal state of mind.
3. This state of spiritual poverty is a very healthful state of mind. It is healthful
to be laid in the dust, to be emptied, and stripped, and made naked and bare; to
be laid in the dust and kept there. It is the only state of mind that is safe. Of
a man who is kept in such a state, I have great hopes.
4. Certain forms or stages of this spiritual poverty are very disheartening. Individuals,
when Christ reveals to them the depth, as it were bottomlessness, of their misery,
and gives no such revelation of Himself, and of His intention to do all for them
as to give them a firm hope, feel greatly disheartened. There is such a sinking away
from all expectation in themselves, that unless Christ gives them an indication of
His love, and opens a medium of communication between Himself and them, a state of
great misgiving and anxious suspense will ensue. The mind comes into a state in which
it does not rebel, it does not murmur or weary itself except in this; it does not
see at the time, its acceptance with God. It feels that God would be just in casting
it out, and it lies there with the eye fixed on Christ, and cries, "If God does
not take me up, and by His self-moved goodness sanctify and save me, I am lost to
all eternity." While there is nothing in the mind upon which it can seize as
a present evidence that Christ is his, this self-renunciation and self-emptying will
leave the mind in a state of despondency. I do not mean of despair. I hardly know
how to express it; the mind is not joyful, nor is it in that agony which is the accompaniment
of clear light and desperate resistance; but it is in despondency, in a kind of mourning--and
perhaps that is what is meant by the "mourning" in the next verse--"Blessed
are they that mourn for they shall be comforted." The mind mourns when thus
completely emptied of all self-trust, while yet is has no such hold on Christ as
to feel assured of its interest in Him. It mourns for sin, for its own madness; it
mourns at the thought of being separated from God, it mourns over its lost condition.
It is a state of most perfect mourning. If you have experienced it, you know well
the state to which I refer. If you have experienced what it is to be driven out of
self, and torn away from self, and crucified to self, before you had faith to lay
hold on Christ and feel yourself set upon the rock; if you have every been emptied
of self, having no longer any expectation of helping yourself, no more than of creating
a universe, having no more thought or intention of trying to save yourself, or of
doing any thing effectual for yourself, than of walking in mid air, or than of stepping
upon the boiling waves, (for if you have been in the state, you no more thought of
helping yourself than of going a journey to Europe across the Atlantic on foot,)
having it well settled in your mind, that you will no more succeed in doing any thing
in your salvation, than you would succeed in walking from the top of a house into
mid air, if you have been thus, and at the same time the offices and relations of
Christ were not so revealed to you as to enable you to avail yourself of them, then
you know the mourning which I mean. It is any thing but a worldly sorrow, any thing
but an ungodly sorrow. It is a sorrow after a godly sort which worketh life. And
remember--a man needs to be thoroughly emptied of self in order to come into the
state of mourning above described. Most have so much self reliance, so much complacency
in self, and know so little of themselves, that they cannot have this state. It can
be produced in no other way than by showing a man his character and nothingness as
they really are. But I remark
5. Such seasons as these very commonly precede and are the prelude to great spiritual
enlargement. Where you witness great spiritual enlargement, inquire and you will
find that in proportion as it is deep and abiding, the season of spiritual poverty
was thorough and complete. If the sense of poverty be slight, the enlargement will
be so, and the opposite. If the enlargement be great, the man can tell you what none
but spiritual minds can tell; such experience as "none but he that feels it
knows;" and the things that he will tell you will be any thing but unreasonable.
He sees what common eyes never saw. He has found out what all men ought to know,
but what few have seen. If his enlargement is abiding, he will have a rich history
to give. He may not be communicative, but fish him out, get at the bottom of his
heart, and he will drop his eyes and tell you what he found in himself, how he found
himself out, how he sank, and kept sinking from one depth to another still lower,
till it was like sinking into the bottomless pit itself. He was driven from the last
hold upon himself, the last link was broken, and he fell into the arms of Christ
and was saved. And O, the salvation! Such a salvation is worth the having! But again,
6. Christ has no pleasure in causing this poverty of spirit only as it is the only
way to get Himself before the mind. In no other way than by revealing to us by bitter
experience our own weakness and sin, can He make us renounce ourselves and cast our
all upon Him: and so He takes this way. And I tell you that no man can have a more
important revelation from God, than this same revelation of self by the Spirit. And
no man sees God in Christ, or apprehends Christ as He is for the soul, till he has
seen himself--till he sees the old man and the necessity of putting on the new man.
7. These seasons of spiritual poverty are indispensable to holding on to Christ.
See a young convert--young converts know little of themselves or of Christ. They
run well for a time, but they must be taught more of Christ, and this they can learn
only by learning more of themselves. Well, Christ begins the work in a soul. The
convert was all joy, but his countenance falls. Poor child! do not scold him. He
is sad; he dares hardly indulge a hope. What is the matter? He desponds. You encourage
him to trust in Christ and rejoice in Him. But no, that will not serve the turn,
that does not remove the load. Christ has undertaken a work with him--has set about
revealing him to himself, and the work will cost the poor soul many prayers, and
tears, and groans, and searchings and loathings of heart. He prayed before for sanctification
and he is astonished out of measure. He receives any thing in the world but sanctification.
He prayed for the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, and he verily expected some beatific
sight. He thought he should see the heavens opened as Stephen did. But instead of
this, what a state! he seems given over to the tender mercies of sin. Every appetite
and lust is clamorous as a fiend; his passions get the mastery; he frets, and grieves,
and vexes himself, and repents and sins again; he is shocked, ashamed of himself,
afraid to look up, is ashamed and confounded. Poor thing! he prayed to be sanctified,
and he expected Christ would smile right through the darkness, and light up his soul
with unutterable joy. But no! it is all confusion and darkness. He is stumbling,
and sliding, and floundering, and plunging headlong into the mire, till his own clothes
abhor him, and he is brought to cry--"Lord, O Lord, have mercy on me!"
He expected--O what a fairy land! and he finds--what a desert--barren, dark, full
of traps, and gins, and pitfalls; as it were the very earth conspiring with all things
else, to ruin him. Child be not disheartened; Christ is answering your prayer. Cold
professors may discourage you, but be not discouraged; you may weep and groan, but
you are going through a necessary process. To know Christ, you must know yourself;
to have Christ come in, you must be emptied of yourself. How will He so this for
you? If you would but let go of self--if you would but believe all that God says
of you, and renounce yourself at first and at once, you might be spared many a fall;
but you will not, you will believe only upon experience, and hence that experience
Christ makes sure that you shall have to the full. And now, mark: whoever expects
to be sanctified without a full and clear and heart-sickening revelation of his own
loathsomeness, without being first shown how much he needs it, is very much mistaken.
Till you have learned that, nothing you can do can avail aught; you are not prepared
to receive Christ as He is offered in the gospel.
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
Evangelist" Index- 1845