with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
All lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. These graces are specially needful in the Church; for their opposites, pride, irascibility, and impatience do much to create heart-burning and division.
I. LOWLINESS OF MIND.
1. Its nature. It is that deep humility, as opposed to pride, arrogance, and conceit, which is produced by a right sense of our weakness, ignorance, and dependence, and by a due appreciation of the undeserved glory to which we are called in Christ Jesus. Men are made humble and self-distrustful less by the knowledge that they are weak, ignorant, and mortal, than by the fact that, while striving for a higher end, they are always coming short of it by their mistakes and their follies, and are in constant need of a strength greater than their own. It is thus possible to unite a high aim with a profound humility.
2. Its importance. It is necessary because God requires it (Micah 6:8); because Christ exemplified it (Matthew 11:29); because God dwells with the humble (Isaiah 58:15); because it is the way to learn wisdom (Proverbs 11:2), to attain grace and holiness (Proverbs 3:5, 6; James 4:6), and to preserve unity in the Church (James 4:1). It has many promises made to it. God will respect the humble (Isaiah 66:2), he will give them grace (1 Peter 5:6), he will exalt them (1 Peter 5:6), and reward them with all good things. Its importance is specially manifest in Church relations. Believers are not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think (Romans 12:3), nor exalt themselves above their degree (2 Corinthians 10:13-15), but to esteem others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3). Let believers, therefore, have a humble apprehension of their knowledge, for "knowledge puffeth up" (1 Corinthians 8:1); and humble thoughts of their goodness, for we cannot understand all our errors, and need to be cleansed from our secret faults (Psalm 19:12). Let them "put on humbleness of mind," as the brightest ornament of Christian character (Colossians 3:12).
II. MEEKNESS. There is a natural connection between meekness and humility, and therefore they are often joined together.
1. Its nature. It is that disposition which does not arraign God and does not avenge itself on man. As regards God, it implies a ready submission to the authority of his Word (James 1:21), and a cheerful resignation to his providence, as opposed to murmuring and fretfulness (Psalm 39:9). As regards man, the meek will have a calm temper under provocations; he will be "slow to wrath" (James 1:19); he will give "the soft answer that turneth away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1); he will show that ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which adorns more than rubies (1 Peter 3:4). When joined with strength it. makes one of the most effective characters. It is especially to be esteemed in a religious life. Therefore the apostle says, "Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13). It is with meekness and fear that we are to give a reason of our hope (1 Peter 3:15), and it is in a spirit of meekness we are to recover the erring (Galatians 6:1). It is one of the nine graces of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
2. Its importance. See how largely it contributes to the usefulness of Christian life. The meek man has great power with men. See how it contributes to the comfort of life; for it keeps him from the friction of temper that so often detracts from true repose; it brings us nearer and nearer to him who was pre-eminently "meek and lowly of spirit" (Matthew 11:29); and it has the promise of the earth for art inheritance (Matthew 5:5). Let us, therefore, seek meekness (Zephaniah 2:3).
1. Its nature. It is the disposition that leads us to suppress our anger (2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22); and is opposed to that irritability often expressively called shortness of temper, which is quick to show resentment. This spirit is of great moment in the Church, where there may be frequent collisions of opinion, or interest, or feeling, and it waits with patience till the passionate or obstinate see their way to more reasonable courses.
2. Its importance. God commands it (Romans 12:17). He exemplifies it (Matthew 5:44; Romans 5:6-8), and his Son has left us a most impressive exhibition of it (1 Peter 2:21-23). We all fail in our duty and need to have due consideration made to our failings. We are above all to bear and. forbear in matters of religious fellowship (Romans 15:1).
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS LONG-SUFFERING IS TO BE EXERCISED. "Forbearing one another in love." Christians are not to resent injuries or retaliate for wrongs done to them, but are to bear with each other's infirmities, to cover each other's weaknesses, to pity each other's frailties, and to forgive the provocations they inflict upon each other. This is to be done, not from a principle of merely worldly courtesy or from contemptuous indifference, but from that love which "suffereth long, and is kind." It is "charity which covereth a multitude of sins," just as surely as "hatred stirreth up strife" (Proverbs 10:12). It would be impossible to secure the equanimity of life if the principle of forbearance, prompted and guided by love, were not generally exercised the counsel of the apostle in this whole passage pointedly condemns the proud, arrogant, censorious disposition, which tramples, not only on the rules of courtesy, but of Christian affection. We owe to others what they require at our hands. There is much in us they have to allow for, and therefore it becomes us to allow for much in them. Therefore our very manners ought to show true Christian consideration, for the poet has rightly said -
" And manners are not idle, but the fruit
Of loyal nature and of noble mind." T.C.
With all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love.
These words, after all that has gone before, thrill us like the tones of a trumpet. If it had been left to ourselves to expand the general exhortation into practical details, we should have insisted, perhaps, on the duty of cultivating a magnanimity corresponding to the greatness of our position and the greatness of our hopes. We might have argued that those who have received such a "calling" should exhibit a certain stateliness of character, a lofty indifference not only to the baser pleasures of life but to power and fame. Or we might have urged that with such a "calling" Christian men should be inspired with a passionate zeal for heroic tasks and fortitude for martyrdom. This would be to walk worthily of the calling wherewith we were called. But instead of appealing to us in this lofty tone, Paul exhorts us to humility, to meekness, and to long suffering; and this suggests a principle of great value in the discipline of the spiritual life. Religious excitement, originated by direct contact with God, will always enlarge and exalt our conception of God's greatness, and will deepen our sense of dependence on Him. The heart may be flooded with a shining sea of religious emotion; the imagination may be glowing like the heavens at sunset with purple and golden splendour; but as emotion becomes more intense, and as our conception of the Christian life becomes more and more glorious, the infinite greatness of God's righteousness and power and grace will inspire us with deeper wonder and awe. We have received unmeasurable blessings, we have been raised to wonderful honours, we are hoping to share with Christ Himself infinite blessedness and glory; but all that we have has come from the eternal thought and purpose and love of God; all that we hope for will be conferred by His grace and "the exceeding greatness of His power." The wealth is not ours; it is a Divine gift: the strength is not ours; it is the inspiration of the Divine life: the dignity is not ours; it is conferred on us by the free unpurchased love of God, because we are in Christ. We live in palaces of eternal light and righteousness, and among the principalities and powers of heaven; but our native home was in the dust, and this transfigured, eternal, and glorified life was not achieved by our own strength, it has come to us from God. We are nothing; God is all. Humility, lowliness, is disciplined by prayer, by communion with God, by the vision of Divine and eternal things; by meditation on God's righteousness and our own sin, on the greatness of God and the limitations of all created life, on the eternal fulness of God and our own dependence on Him; on the blessings which God has made our inheritance in Christ, and the dark destiny which would have been the natural and just result of our indifference to God's authority and love.
Where there is "lowliness" there will be "meekness," the absense of the disposition to assert personal rights, either in the presence of God or of men. Meekness submits without a struggle to the losses, the sufferings, the dishonour which the providence of God permits to come upon us. It may look with agitation and distress upon the troubles of others, and the miseries of mankind may sometimes disturb the very foundations of faith; but in its own sorrows it finds no reason for distrusting either the Divine righteousness or the Divine goodness. It is conscious of possessing no merit, and therefore in the worst and darkest hours is conscious of suffering no injustice. The same temper will show itself in relation to men. It has no personal claim to defend. It will, therefore, be slow to resent insult and injury. If it resents them at all, the resentment will be a protest against the violation of Divine laws rather than a protest against a refusal to acknowledge its personal rights. There will be no eagerness for great place or high honour, or for the recognition of personal merit; and therefore, if these are withheld, there will be no bitterness or mortification.
Meekness is one of the elements of long suffering. Paul is thinking of the mutual relations of those who are in Christ, and his words imply that there will be large occasions for the exercise of this grace in the conduct and spirit of our Christian brethren. We are not to assume that all those who are honestly loyal to Christ will keep His precepts perfectly, or that in all those who have received the Divine life the baser elements and passions of human nature have been extinguished. Our Christian brethren will sometimes treat us unjustly. They will judge us ignorantly and ungenerously. They will say harsh things about us. They will be inconsiderate and discourteous. They will be wilful, wayward, selfish. They will make us suffer from their arrogance, their ambition, their impatience, their stolid perversity. All this we have to anticipate. Christ bears with their imperfections and their sins; we too have to exercise forbearance. In forbearance, meekness and love are blended.
There is nothing lost by meekness and yielding. Abraham yields over his right of choice: Lot taketh it. And, behold, Lot is crossed in that which he chose: Abraham blessed, in that which was left him! As heaven is taken by violence, so is earth by meekness. And God, "the true proprietor," loves no tenants better, nor grants larger leases to any, than the meek.
Some years ago, I had in my garden a tree that never bore any fruit. One day, I took my axe in my hand, determined to fell it. My wife met me in the pathway and pleaded for it: "Why, the spring is now very close, stay and see whether there may not be some change in it: and if not, then you can cut it down." As I never repented following her advice before I yielded to it now: and what was the consequence? Why, in a few weeks the tree was covered with blossoms, and in a few more it was bending under a load of fruit. "Ah," said I, "this should teach me. I will learn a lesson from hence not to cut down too soon: that is, not to consider persons incorrigible or abandoned too soon, so as to give up hope for them, and the use of the means of prayer on their behalf."
The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way; but took it up, for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in that, yet much good may be learnt from it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any, there may be some work of grace there going on, that thou knowest not of. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to shed His precious Blood for it: therefore despise it not.
The late Rev. Dr. R— had a somewhat lofty manner of expressing himself. In the course of visiting his parish he called at the cottage of an elderly female, who familiarly invited him to "come in by and sit doun." The Doctor, who expected a more respectful salutation, said, in stately tones, intended to check any further attempt at familiarity, "Woman, I am a servant of the Lord come to speak with you on the concerns of your soul." "Then ye'll be humble like your Maister," admirably rejoined the cottager. The Doctor felt the reproof deeply, and never again sought to magnify himself at the expense of his office.
A missionary in Jamaica was once questioning the little black boys on the meaning of Matthew 5:5
, and asked, "Who are the meek?" A boy answered, "Those who give soft answers to rough questions."
Anthony Blanc, one of Felix Neff's earlier converts, was very earnest in winning souls to Christ. The enemies of the gospel were angry at his success, and used alike scoffs and threats against him. One night, as he was returning home from a religious meeting, he, was followed by a man in a rage, who struck him a violent blow on the head. "May God forgive and bless you!" was Anthony's quiet and Christian rejoinder. "Ah!" replied his assailant, furiously, "if God does not kill you, I'll do it myself!" Some days afterwards Anthony met the same person in a narrow road, where two persons could hardly pass. "Now I shall be struck by him again," he said to himself. But he was surprised, on approaching, to see this man, once so bitter towards him, reach out his hand and cry to him, in a tremulous voice, "Mr. Blanc, will you forgive me, and let all be over?" Thus this disciple of Christ, by gentle and peaceful words, had made a friend of an enemy.
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