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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull recently passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he taught them the principles of blessedness, called the Beatitudes, meaning “to be blessed” or “to be happy.” Jesus had taught these same principles to his Judean disciples at the Sermon on the Mount[i] and later the Sermon on the Plain.[ii] To the Nephites he added several additional principles of blessedness. Collectively, the body of principles contained in these sermons could aptly be described as the law of the gospel.
President Harold B. Lee called this sermon “the constitution for a perfect life.”[iii] He wrote, “In order to gain entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, we must not only be good but we are required to do good and be good for something.”[iv] That is, we must strive to achieve the celestial state of blessedness, which characterizes a Zion person. President Lee suggested that these principles of blessedness “represent a recipe for righteousness with incremental steps.”[v]
The Beatitudes follow an intriguing sequence that leads from one state of blessedness to the next. In fact, they mark our spiritual journey from its inception to its perfect conclusion.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Consider, for example, the soul who is poor in spirit. That he lacks pride is one interpretation, but another suggests that he is spiritually impoverished, lacking that which is essential to make the journey to the promised land. His spiritual lack draws him to the only Source; thus Jesus commends those who are poor in spirit “who come unto me,” promising and prophesying that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[vi]
In other words, the kingdom of heaven on earth–The Church of Jesus Christ, which is the custodian of saving covenants and ordinances—is the inheritance of those who humble themselves and make their way to Christ seeking to satisfy their spiritual lack. Then having received of the Spirit, the once-impoverished are strengthened to journey onward until they arrive in the celestial kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are all they that mourn. Recognition of spiritual lack also causes sons and daughters of God to mourn or mourn righteously—mourning that leads to spiritual growth. For whatever reason, sin or weakness, they mourn for their fallen condition and plead for relief. The Lord responds to such mourning with comfort,[vii] the soothing voice and soft touch, and the promise of eventual reward.
Blessed are the meek. Spiritual lack and righteous mourning summon meekness, that Godlike quality of humility. The meek yearn to ascend from their spiritual poverty and reduced circumstances and yearn to be reunited and reconciled with God and enjoy spiritual abundance. Their longings are heard by the Lord and prayers, and those prayers are answered again with the promise of inheritance: this time inheritance of the earth,[viii] which shall become a celestial kingdom.[ix]
Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness. Spiritual lack, righteous mourning, meekness—what do they lead to? “Hungering and thirsting after righteousness.”[x] Who is the Righteous? Jesus Christ.[xi] What are His names? The Bread of Life;[xii] the Living Water.[xiii] What is the promise given to those who hunger and thirst for the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Righteous? “They shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”[xiv]“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”[xv]
Blessed are the merciful. When a person receives the miracles of the Lord—relieving spiritual poverty, experiencing divine comfort, being spiritually fed—he realizes that he has been blessed by love alone, not for any deserving action. Miracles are pure manifestations of mercy.
Then another miracle occurs when the recipient discovers that mercy is both an expansive and a reciprocal principle: mercy grows and returns with the giving of mercy. Thus the Lord promises that those who give away the mercy they received from the Lord will yet see that mercy compounded return again to them. “And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”[xvi]
Blessed are all the pure in heart. The acts of mercy-giving and mercy-receiving tend to purify the soul. Eventually, they who are sufficiently purified—“the pure in heart”—shall, with an immutable promise, “see God.”[xvii] This is the end of the journey for those who have struggled to overcome their spiritual impoverishment, mourned for their fall condition, humbled themselves before the Lord, hungered and thirsted to find Him and know all about Him, lived as He lives: extending mercy as they receive mercy, and submit to the purifying process of the Holy Ghost – “all the pure in heart…shall see God.”
Blessed are all the peacemakers. What do the pure in heart become? Peacemakers—makers of peace in similitude of the Prince of Peace. They abhor contentions and disputations; they do the peace works of Christ. Their promise is glorious: “They shall be called the children of God;”[xviii] that is, they become the sons and daughters not only by descendency but by spiritual birth and inheritance: heirs of salvation.[xix]
Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake. The state of the pure in heart and peacemakers places them at odds with Babylon. Suddenly, the sons and daughters of God find themselves at war with a system that will no longer support them. This intense hatred summons persecution in a multitude of ways. Lehi and Nephi listed a few: mockery, scorn, anti-Christ philosophies, direct or overt conditions that tend to “yoke, torture, slay, and bind.” Who are the persecutors? The idolaters, the materialistic, and the spiritually perverse to name a few.[xx] The Lord reserves great promises for those who endure the word’s persecution: “For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven.”[xxi]
Clearly, the Beatitudes mark the spiritual journey that begins with the first motions of conversion and ends with unequalled celestial reward. They describe what we become by following this journey.
[i] Matthew 5-7.
[ii] Luke 6:20-49.
[iii] Lee, Decisions for Successful Living,56-57.
[iv] Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, 59-60.
[v] Condie, “Agency: The Gift of Choices,” Ensign, September 1995,16
[vi] 3 Nephi 12:3.
[vii] 3 Nephi 12:4.
[viii] D&C 45:58.
[ix] D&C 88:18-26.
[x] 3 Nephi 12:6.
[xi] Moses 7:47.
[xii] John 6:48.
[xiii] John 4:11.
[xiv] 3 Nephi 12:6.
[xv] John 6:35.
[xvi] 3 Nephi 12:7.
[xvii] 3 Nephi 12:8.
[xviii] 3 Nephi 12:9.
[xix] Mosiah 27:25; D&C 25:1.
[xx] 1 Nephi 8:26-28; 13:7-9.
[xxi] 3 Nephi 12:10-12.