It was erected 1843 about 38 years after Horatio Nelson was killed in the battle of Trafalgar. It stands out to me because it seems peculiar. He is so high up, you can hardly make out his features. But there was a reason for that.
In the movie “Master & Commander”, Nelson is discussed with awe. The Captain was asked if he ever saw Nelson. He nodded. Did he ever speak to you? He nodded again – “there were two occasions I recall – I will never forget the moment” – suddenly all the listeners being awestruck, lean forward with a glazed look in their eyes – the Captain proceeded – “there we were, sitting at the table and Lord Nelson leaned across to me and said – Mr Aubrey! – And my heart began to thump in my chest – “Mr Aubrey, could I impose upon you to pass the salt.”
Before the battle of Trafalgar, he was already regarded as a national hero. Victories in the Nile, at Naples & Gibraltar and other places. It had cost him an arm and an eye. He was regarded as a highly effective leader. He based his command on love rather than authority. In his day, he was a superstar. He was the Briton of Britain’s. He was the classic example of courage, commitment and charisma. His exploits were heralded everywhere. He combined this talent with an adept grasp of strategy and politics, making him a highly successful naval commander. No one would dare speak a word against Horatio Nelson.
His active career meant that he was considerably experienced in combat. He was a shrewd judge of his opponents. He was able to identify and exploit his enemies’ weaknesses. That was the official account of him. If anyone was to be emulated, Nelson was that man. That is what put his statue on such a high column. His victory at Trafalgar was just the final icing on the cake. He saved Britain from invasion by the combined forces of France & Spain.
But was it true. LPTW. Is Nelson a picture of true greatness? It certainly is the world’s view of greatness. It is what the world admires & celebrates. But is it realistic? Does it really exist? Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The task for us today is simply this. Are we able to abandon the world’s view of greatness for God’s view of greatness? And can we embrace it in such a way that we would actively pursue it to the exclusion of all that the world values?
It was different to that reported and proclaimed and gossiped about in the media. They said his personality was complex. He often went out of his way to be noticed by his superiors, and the general public. He was easily flattered by praise, and depressed when he felt he was not given sufficient credit for his actions. He often took risks and was willing to sacrifice others in order to achieve his desire to be noticed. He was often prone to insecurities and suffered violent mood swings. He was extremely vain: he loved to receive decorations, tributes and praise.
He became involved in a long going affair with the notorious Lady Hamilton and the two of them flaunted their relationship under her husband’s nose, while he still lived with her. It became the highlight of the gossip columns. In fact, Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson became the two most famous Britons in the world. They were not only in love with each other, but they were in love with their fame.
In the BBC‘s 100 Greatest Britons TV programme, about 10 years ago, in 2002, Horatio Nelson was voted the ninth greatest Briton of all time. But is that true? Sadly for Nelson, there will be a much higher court to make the final decision. In our Lord’s teaching, greatness begins in the spirit of a person.
It should not be surprising to us, that
Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” The way up is the way down. The way to greatness is to stop trying to be great. It begins by admitting we are totally destitute of worth & ability. The truly great & happy person is the one who is able to let go, and trust God. It is being persuaded that apart from God’s grace we have nothing. Jesus had good reason to say, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The person who is ‘poor in spirit’ is the person who trusts God entirely with their life and with their happiness.
We must certainly say, this is not the way adopted by the Horatio Nelsons of this world. The unbeliever relies on manipulating whatever they can to their own advantage. If it’s attention they want, then like a child they know how to create a fuss, or throw a tantrum. The Apostle said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal,…..!” The unbeliever cannot do that.
And yet it is tragic how multitudes enter religion, and by pass this 1st Beatitude. Why is it, that we have so many extreme views in the church. So many harsh things are said. Why is it, that to some people, spiritual gifts & speaking in tongues & signs & prophecies are the issues to confront people? This is what interests them.
A group of us spoke about this after church last week, and the subject of conspiracies came up. There are always those who want to speak with some dread of the latest conspiracies in the world. Who is trying to get control of who, and how they are doing it. I say here, as I said then, ‘there have always been conspiracies in the world.’ There is a devil in the world, and this is how he keeps busy. It will never be any different. God will again, as He has in the past, always overturn conspiracies. But for some, this is the highlight of religion. This is what keeps up their interest. That combined with the latest prophetic signs
It is because they have never felt the power of this 1st Beatitude. They have side stepped what it means to be “poor in spirit”. They have not entered by the Narrow way.
There are always two sides to the gospel. There is the pulling down and the raising up. You remember the words of old Simeon when he held the baby Jesus – this child is set for the falling and rising again of many.” It is an essential part of the gospel, that the fall comes first. This Beatitude is the foundation of true Christian experience. So this is a very searching test for everyone of us.
It has nothing to do with wealth or poverty. The poor person is no closer to the kingdom of Heaven than the rich person. Think about the word “Poor” – It means what you think it does. It is someone who has nothing, and is afraid of the consequences of having nothing. The original Greek word means “destitute – desperate.”
Someone has to help me or I am done for. Or as the prophet said – “Woe is me, I am undone!” It is not a condition that most people would envy. This is not admired by the world – it is despised. And yet our Lord tells us, such a person is to be congratulated – they are truly blessed, because they have begun to see themselves for what they truly and really are; and to them only, and no others, is the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us not deceive ourselves. Such a condition is the only way we can draw near to God. Unless a person is poor in spirit they will never meet God in this life.
Let me illustrate. Remember how Charles Wesley expresses it in the hymn we sang before – “Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness; vile and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.” We sometimes forget these are real words that express something about ourselves. Is that how you feel toward yourself?
I suppose even as Christians, we have to think about it, before we concur. If someone asked us, “How are you?”, would we answer this way – “I am all unrighteousness; vile and full of sin I am….!” Of course we wouldn’t. Because this is not speaking of one sinner confronting another sinner, this is how a Christian feels when they are face to face with God. And if a person feels anything in the presence of God except this utter poverty of spirit, it means they have never truly faced God at all. That is the meaning of this Beatitude.
Robert Schuller is the minister of the Crystal Cathedral in California. He has one of the largest churches in the USA and an international TV audience. He regularly has famous stars in his congregation. There is a special segregated area for them.
In Robert Schuller’s view, those who come to church expect something uplifting and rewarding for their efforts. He says they have a right to some soothing words of comfort. They desire to be reassured that everything is going to be just fine.
He does not believe that people want to hear about sin. He says, ‘they already feel badly enough about themselves – what they need is positive uplift,’ they need to feel good about themselves. The tragedy is, this is the attitude of so many churches today. There are declining numbers in church attendance and this is how they deal with it.
Not because there is no place for comfort and positive uplift, but because the Bible takes a different approach. More than two thirds of the Bible is taken up with confrontational issues. Things that make us feel uncomfortable. Things that put us on the spot.
During the earthly ministry of our Lord, the crowds that followed Him at first were staggeringly large. But then after the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, they began to dramatically fall away. His approach with the disciples who were left was to be confrontational. His method in His teaching & parables was very pointed and provoking. It was not always comforting and positive.
He urged His followers to face the truth about themselves. What was it, that truly motivated them? What was the reality of their faith. When our Lord said “Not everyone who calls Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven’ – Who was He speaking to? He was warning those He was very familiar with. When He said, “Many will come to Me on that day, and say, “Lord have we not done many great works in Your Name – I will say to them, I never knew you.” – He was warning those He knew very well. People that He cared about, and was concerned for.
The same was true in the days of the prophets. Isaiah said, “the sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites.” He was addressing those who were in regular earshot of the Bible’s message. This is God’s way of rescuing those who are on the verge of eternal blessing, but stand on the edge of the pit of eternal misery. In other words, this is a message the church needs to hear again and again – but sadly it is brushed aside.
Scripture gives the best commentary. Isa.57:15 “For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
“The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.”
It was the spirit of a man like Gideon – “No – this is impossible; I belong to the lowest tribe and lowest family.” Moses – who believed it was a mistake to choose him – he felt so unworthy & unable. Same with David – “Lord, who am I that You should come to me – what is my house?” Peter was also broken & contrite – “Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” It was the spirit of the man our Lord pointed out in the parable – who stooped before God in the temple crying, ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Which way do we look? The world lifts up on columns, the very opposite to what God lifts up. But the day is coming, when everything will vanish away, and they will suddenly find themselves in the presence of God. Then all their worldly values will mean nothing. All their conniving & manipulations & striving for greatness will mean nothing. Horatio Nelson got what he wanted. The praise of the world – recognition – respect – but as our Lord said, those who seek those things have ‘had their reward.” They won’t get anything else.
Where do we stand? For you and I, it must be different. Jesus said, “The HS would come to convict the world of sin, of righteousness & of judgment.” And when that conviction comes to us, the one thing that matters, is how do I stand in the presence of God? That is when we are overcome. And without any effort on our part, we will be ‘poor in spirit.’ We will be conscious of our utter nothingness – worse than that – we will feel how ‘vile and full of sin we are.’ We will feel bruised and crushed.
But friends, they are the very ones that God has promised to dwell with and revive. They are the ones to whom Jesus says, “let not your hearts be troubled, you believe …..! It is for those who are broken and shattered and poor in spirit, that Jesus shed His blood. As He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep.”