The subject is poverty of spirit and mourning, as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:3-4, and how that compares to the self-esteem movement of our day.
After being a Christian for 40 years, including over 30 years as a pastor, Charles Simeon wrote these words (in the early 1800s):
"With this sweet hope of ultimate acceptance with God, I have always enjoyed much cheerfulness before men; but I have at the same time labored incessantly to cultivate the deepest humiliation before God. I have never thought that the circumstance of God’s having forgiven me, was any reason why I should forgive myself; on the contrary, I have always judged it better to loathe myself the more, in proportion as I was assured that God was pacified towards me… There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one, is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
John Piper wrote of Simeon’s attitude: “If Simeon is right, vast portions of contemporary Christianity are wrong.” And just to be clear, my friend, Simeon is right.
That wasn’t a one-time statement of Charles Simeon – it was his life. He fled to the place of refuge, the place that so many today try to flee from. He wrote:
"Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God, that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust… I feel this to be safe ground. Here I cannot err… I am sure that whatever God may despise… He will not despise the broken and contrite heart”
After Simeon had served at Trinity Church for 50 whole years and contemplating the success he had had in ministry, he wrote “I love the valley of humiliation. I there feel that I am in my proper place.”
What a stark contrast to so much of Christianity in our society, which is boastful, proud, and very much pleased with itself! Many churches of today are more interested in promoting good feelings and self-fulfillment rather than encouraging poverty of spirit.
Dr. John MacArthur put it this way:
"Yet in the church today there is little emphasis on humility, little mention of self-emptying. We see many Christian books on how to be happy, how to be successful, how to overcome problems, and on and on. But we see very few books on how to empty ourselves, how to deny ourselves, and how to take up our crosses and follow Jesus – in the way that He tells us to follow Him."
Does this reflect your heart? Your desire? You may not "be there" yet, but is that the direction you're headed? The direction you want to head? If so, then you're on your way to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:3-4.
One helpful resource related to this is to read the prayers of the Puritans. If you don't have one, get a copy of The Valley of Vision (Arthur Bennett, editor), which you can find in paperback form, or even in a bonded leather for less than $20. It is one of the most important little books that the Christian can have.