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.
No one can glance, even in the most hasty manner, over this Divine song without observing the recognition of God's hand in all things by which it is pervaded.
I. And at the very outset we find rising out of these words the question, WHAT IS THAT GREATNESS WHICH IN THE CHRISTIAN IS PRODUCED BY GOD'S GENTLENESS? Scarcely two individuals have the same idea of greatness. All, indeed, will agree that it denotes preeminence, but each will have his own preference as to the department in which that is to be manifested. Some associate it with the deeds of the warrior on the battlefield, others with the triumphs of the orator, or the achievements of the artist, the poet, the philosopher, the man of science; others, with the acquisition of rank or wealth or power. But the greatness which God's gentleness produces may co-exist with many of these, but is independent of them all. For man is great in the proportion that he resembles the holy God who made him. Man's greatness, therefore, is greatness in holiness. It is a moral thing, for the truest manliness and the highest God likeness are convertible terms. Behold our Lord Jesus Christ. Is there anyone who imagines that His greatness was lessened by the fact that He laboured at the carpenter's bench and was one of the poorest of the people? Not among warriors, poets, artists, statesmen, or the like do we name Him; yet even in the estimation of those who deny His deity, He is regarded as the greatest of men. Why? Because of His preeminence in holiness. Now, true greatness in man is precisely what it was in Him who, because He was the God-man, was the archetypal man. It is moral excellence, the greatness of character, preeminence in holiness, and is such that no external meanness can obscure its radiance, and no blaze of earthly glory can outshine its brightness. Thus, whatever our outward sphere may be, to be truly great we must have an inward character of holiness manifesting itself in all our actions; and he will be the greatest who, wherever he may be, is likest Christ. Some years ago a poor Spanish sailor was brought into a Liverpool hospital to die, and, after he had breathed his last, there was found upon his breast tattooed, after the manner of his class, a representation of Christ upon the Cross. You call that superstition, and perhaps you are right; yet there was beauty ill it too, for if we could have in our hearts what that poor seaman had painfully, and with the needle point, punctured over his, we should be great indeed. Is not this, in truth, the open secret of Paul's preeminence? for he thus describes himself: "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifest in our body." The manifestation of the life of Jesus: that is greatness, and to get that we must bear about in the body "the dying of the Lord."
II. BUT HOW DOES GOD'S GENTLENESS MAKE US GREAT?
1. It is because the human heart is always more deeply affected by tenderness than sternness. See this in the reformation of criminals. If you attempt to drag a man by force his nature is to resist you; but if you attempt to attract him by love, it is equally in his nature to follow you. And this is the principle of the Cross of Christ. God might have left us justly to our sins; but He would make us great, and therefore Christ died. It is this which turns the heart to God as Sinai could never do. But the manifestation of this love attracts: in other words, His gentleness produces in me that love to Him which is the source and inspiration of holiness. But, passing from the general to the particular, you may see the words of the text verified in the manner in which God receives individuals into His love, and so begins in them the greatness of holiness. "The bruised reed He does not break; the smoking flax He does not quench"; and there is no one here whom He will not willingly and lovingly receive. Read those gentle and beneficent words which fell so frequently from His lips. Peruse such parables as that of the lost sheep, or that of the prodigal son. Ah! who can tell how many have been encouraged to go to Him by such declarations and invitations as these? And now, as they revert to the first faint stirrings of the new life in them which these words evoked, they can say with truth, "Thy gentleness hath made us great."
2. See this also in the manner in which God in Christ Jesus trains His people after they have come to Him He does not leave them to themselves. He teaches them yet more and more of His grace; yet, in truest tenderness, He teaches them as they are able to bear it.
3. And in His dealings with His people now. Terrible are, at times, their trials, but "He stayeth His rough wind in the day of His east wind," and if the thorn of trial be not extracted, there comes the precious assurance, "My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in weakness." The subject has a two-fold application. It presents Jehovah to the sinner in a very affectionate attitude. Think of it, my friend. God is tender toward you. How often you have provoked Him with your iniquities, your ingratitude, your procrastination! Yet He has not cut you down. You are living evidences of His gentleness. Finally, this subject shows the Christian how he should seek to bring others to the knowledge of Jesus. The gentleness of God should be repeated and reproduced in us, and we should deal with others with the same tenderness and affection as God hath dealt with us. Parents, seek the greatness of your children, that is their godliness, not by rigorous, unbending sternness, but in tender forbearance. You have heard of the mother who, as she was sitting on the brow of a hill, suffered her child unnoticed to wander from her side, until he stood upon the very edge of the beetling cliff. She was appalled when she discovered where he was, but her maternal instinct would not let her shriek. All she did was to open her arms and beckon him to her embrace, and the little fellow, unconscious of the danger in which he stood, ran to be folded to her bosom. So let it be with you. When you see your young people standing on some precipice of temptation, do not scold or blame or cry out about it; that will only push them over. Rather open to them the arms of your affection. Make home to them more attractive than aught else. Let your fatherhood and motherhood become more to them than ever and by your very gentleness you will make them great. Sabbath school teacher, this text speaks to you, and bids you, in your earnest efforts for your scholars' welfare, show to them the same gentleness that Jesus manifested when He took the children in His arms and blessed them. Do not lose your temper with them, but be gentle with them, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
(W. N. Taylor, D. D.)
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.