“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
WE ALL MOURN FROM TIME TO TIME, BUT THE BLESSING OF JESUS UPON “THOSE WHO MOURN” HAS TO DO WITH A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF MOURNING. In this text, those who mourn are the penitent, those who grieve for their sins. And the grief of the penitent is not just over what their sins have cost them personally; it is a sorrowful recognition that they have selfishly insulted God’s love and also His honor. God is seeking those whose inward character moves them to tears when they become aware that they’ve sinned. His blessing is upon those who are still responsive to their conscience in this way — and not upon those who deny the painful ugliness of their sins in order to eat, drink, and be merry.
This “beatitude” is a hard saying to accept for those of us living in an age when most individuals have no higher objective in life than to “feel good.” We don’t like to hear our preachers dwell on the issue of sin for more than a respectable moment; we’d rather hear something cheery. Like the people of Isaiah’s day who said to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10), we shift uncomfortably in our seats when the subject of the sermon is godly sorrow.
But the “glad tidings” Jesus came to bring can never be seen as truly good news until we have first digested the painful truth about ourselves. Even after we come into a right relationship with God and our past sins have been forgiven, our love for God will never be what it ought to be unless we remember the seriousness of the sins we’ve been forgiven. Years after becoming a Christian, Paul could write, “[I] am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). If it is honest, the remembrance of our sins can never be anything but sorrowful, but it is a necessary part of our humility and our gratitude. And strange though it seems, it is also a part of our joy. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Joy and sorrow are inseparable” (Kahlil Gibran).
“The difference between true and false repentance lies in this: the man who truly repents cries out against his heart; but the other, as Eve, against the serpent, or something else” (John Bunyan).