You have also given me the shield of your salvation: and your right hand has held me up, and your gentleness has made me great.
Whatever may have been the special link of association in the Psalmist's mind between the dignity to which he had himself been raised and the condescension of the Most High, the text naturally suggests to our own minds the connection subsisting between the gentleness of God and the true greatness of man.
I. CONSIDER THE FACT OF THE DIVINE GENTLENESS; Gentleness is more than kindness. A man may be benevolent, and yet rude. He may do much good to others, and yet his well-doing may lack tenderness, and even his condescension may be a phase of his pride. But when we speak of the "gentleness" of any man or woman we speak of a quality into which enter the elements of humility, sympathy, simplicity, delicacy of feeling, calmness of spirit, patience, and long suffering. It is a quality which eludes definition. It is to be felt rather than described. Gentleness is, so to speak, an "expression" on the face of love, the power of which may be realised in a moment, but the characteristics of which can with difficulty be transferred to the canvas. Now, when we speak of the gentleness of God we speak primarily of a quality in the Divine nature, made known to us, as it could only be, by its manifestations, by the revelation of an actual feeling in the Divine heart. We know how the gentleness of the human heart expresses itself, — in smiles which steal their way into the soul as the sunbeams steal into forest nooks; in tones which fall upon the ear as dew upon the grass, or as "snowflake upon snowflake." And so, when we find in God's works and ways the characteristics of lowliness and tenderness, we ought not merely to say that God acts as if He were gentle, but we ought to trace these characteristics upwards to an actual quality in the Divine nature. Carrying, then, this principle with us, let us look at some of the modes in which the Divine gentleness is revealed. And —
1. The very language which I have just been using about the sunlight, the dew, the summer breeze, may suggest to us that God manifests His gentleness in the minuter forms and quieter aspects of nature. Creation reveals God: His wisdom, power, glory, but also, to some extent, His character. Not all things in nature thus reveal His character, but most do. We have in nature that which tells of what is grand and awful in Him. The vast mountains, with their wintry summits hidden in snow and mist; the ocean, lashed into fury by the tempest which strews upon its waters the wrecks of human industry; the earthquake and volcano, the thunder roar and lightning flash — these are manifestations of a majesty which is almighty to create or to destroy. But when, on the other hand, we walk out into the fields on some fresh spring morning, and see the buds opening in the hedgerows; or when, on the quiet summer eve, we stroll by some streamlet and hear the birds sing among the leaves which are gleaming in the sunset, then God seems nearer to us than in thunder roar or ocean tempest. Nearer to us, because the nearness is one which we can more easily bear — not of majestic power, but of quiet gentleness. How this gentle presence steals into our hearts amid the flowers. Yes; even if there were nothing else to testify to the gentleness of God, the flowers would bear their silent witness. Mere power could manifest itself in ten thousand other and grander ways. What must be the nature of Him who finds a delight in thus clothing the earth with beauty? Pluck one of the daisies at your feet, and think — the great God who made the worlds has made this little flower to grow! Must not He Himself, then, be gentle and lowly, even as He is mighty? "A fevered child hushed to sleep by its mother" look at that picture for a moment.
2. Another mode in which the Divine gentleness is revealed — namely, in the creation and maintenance of human affection. It is God who is the Inspirer of that love within the mother's heart. He it is who has constituted those relations which bind us to one another, and which tend to elicit the deepest and tenderest affection. And has not man been created in the Divine image? Would he have been constituted with these capacities of affection unless his Maker delighted in beholding their exercise? How near God draws to us in the gentle courtesies of home and friendship: more near than even in the quiet scenes of nature. How often does some daughter within a household become, through her loving ways, as "a smile of God" to her parents; and the cradle of a sleeping infant, as another "Bethel" to the grateful mother, a very "gate of heaven" to her soul, giving her new glimpses of the presence and tenderness of God. Yes, "out of the mouth even of babes and sucklings God," etc. And in friendship too, with its tender ministries and patient loving help — how this tells of the Divine sympathy, and of Him who "healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." There could be no tenderness at all in us, if its archetype were not first in Him.
3. God has also manifested His gentleness in the gift and Person of His Son Jesus Christ. Here, indeed, the revelation of the Divine humility reaches its climax. We cannot kneel in imagination before the manger of Bethlehem without feeling how real is the lowliness of God. The incarnation of the Divine Son was itself a humiliation. And this incarnation, remember, was the answer of the Creator to the sin of His creatures. Men were forgetting and forsaking Him, and trampling His laws under their feet. And all this enmity of theirs He meets — not with another deluge, not with fire and brimstone from heaven; but with the gift of the only-begotten Son, to take upon Him their nature, that the Divine Life might thus be inwrought, as it were, into the very texture of humanity, and that the world might be saved. Oh, what patient humility is here! How gently did the great God thus steal into the midst of the human family in the form of this Bethlehem Child. And how all through His life on earth does He show the same lowly gentleness. I might speak to you of other modes in which God manifests His gentleness. I might remind you how tenderly He often deals with us in His providence — erecting barriers of circumstance which help to keep us in the path of safety; mingling mercy also even with His chastisements; laying a gentle hand on the wound which must be probed, and sweetening the bitterness of the cup which must be drunk. Think, too, of the gentleness implied in the gift of the Holy Spirit the Comforter, who wrestles with us when we are tempted to sin, rebukes our transgressions in deep whispers within the soul, and gives peace and consolation by His own indwelling presence.
II. THE EFFECT OF THE DIVINE GENTLENESS UPON OURSELVES. It "makes us great." It enlarges our being: helps us to the attainment of noble spiritual character. And He does this —
1. By raising our estimate of our own nature. So long as we think only of the greatness of God and of His holiness, our own weakness and sin make us feel almost as if our existence were a worthless thing. But when God draws near to us in His gentleness, and calls us His "children," then we begin to be conscious of the dignity of our being.
2. The gentleness of God "makes us great" by inspiring us with faith in Himself. Humility, not pride, is the godlike attribute; and faith in God is the root of all the highest creature greatness. For it is the key to self-conquest; and "he who ruleth his own spirit is," etc. What has not faith done in and by those who have been inspired with its might? (Hebrews 11) Now as faith is the secret of all this higher spiritual greatness, so the gentleness of God is the secret of this faith. We could not look up to God with a childlike confidence if He were merely in our thoughts "the Thunderer of Olympus." But, being lowly and gracious in His own nature, He so manifests His fatherly gentleness as to win our trust. And thus the Divine gentleness "makes us great," by awakening within us that faith which is the root of greatness.
3. The gentleness of God "makes us great," by inducing the development of all our highest capacities. It has been remarked that civilisation has proceeded with more rapid strides and has reached a higher stage on the broader plains of earth, amid the tamer and quieter aspects of nature, than in the neighbourhood of the loftiest mountains and the grander features of our world. See the contrast between the populations of India or South America and those that cover the plains of Europe. The theory is that, in presence of the more sublime phenomena of nature, the spirit of man is awed and crushed, so that his development is cramped and fettered; whereas, on the broader plains of the world, his spirit becomes freer, and he learns to master the forces of nature, instead of cringing before her like a slave. But, however this may be, we know from our own experience that men who are greater, wiser, nobler than ourselves, help us in proportion as they stoop to us and identify themselves with us. To be met with gentleness is to be mightily helped, if it be only the gentleness of a strength which we respect. And thus it is that the Divine gentleness induces the development of our noblest powers. So long as we think only of the majesty of God there is danger lest terror paralyse our souls. But it is far otherwise when we realise the Divine lowliness — when we feel that God is drawing near to us in tender sympathy, and encouraging us, as "dear children," to do our best for Him. Then our reverence for His greatness only makes our gratitude for His condescension the more intense; and this gratitude is a stimulus to all holy energy. Our meditation suggests two practical lessons —
(1) Learn how you may yourselves become greater. Your whole being will shrivel if you worship a colossal fate or an almighty spectre. The devotees of mere power grow weak. Let awe and trust blend themselves in your souls.
(2) Learn how you may help others to become greater. Treat them with gentleness, not with a weak softness — that will only enervate. Cultivate robustness of character. But see to it that you cultivate gentleness also. Has some poor ship dashed itself on the rocky coast, and would you save the crew with that strong thick rope of yours? Then attach to it the slender cord, and throw them that; that may bring them the strong rope, which will prove the means of their deliverance. Would you save men from a spiritual shipwreck? Would you strengthen souls in the hour of temptation? Then the stronger your own character is, the better; but let your strength avail itself of gentleness, and it will become the mightier to protect and redeem. Would you make men wiser? Then the wiser you yourselves are, the better; but your wisdom must in gentleness stoop to their ignorance, if you would educate and instruct them. Would you make men purer? Then the purer your own heart is, the better; but your purity must in gentleness bear pityingly and patiently with them, if you would arouse them to a truer self-respect, and lead them into a higher and holier life. It is the gentleness of greatness that makes men great.
(T. Campbell Finlayson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.