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12. Christian meekness
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
We are now got to the third step leading in the way to blessedness, Christian meekness. ‘Blessed are the meek’. See how the Spirit of God adorns ‘the hidden man of the heart, with multiplicity of graces! The workmanship of the Holy Ghost is not only curious, but various. It makes the heart meek, pure, peaceable etc. The graces therefore are compared to needlework, which is different and various in its flowers and colours (Psalm 45:14). In the words there is a duty, and that duty like the dove brings an olive leaf in the mouth of it, ‘they shall inherit the earth’.
The proposition I shall insist on is that meet persons are blessed persons. For the right understanding of this, we must know there is a twofold meekness. Meekness towards God, meekness towards man.
1 Meekness towards God, which implies two things: submission to his will; flexibleness to his Word.
(i) Submission to God’s will: when we carry ourselves calmly, without swelling or murmuring, under the dispensations of providence. ‘It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good’ (1 Samuel 3:18). The meek-spirited Christian saith thus: Let God do what he will with me, let him carve out what condition he please, I will submit. God sees what is best for me, whether a fertile soil or a barren. Let him chequer his work as he please, it suffices that God has done it. It was an unmeek spirit in the prophet to struggle with God: ‘I do well to be angry to the death’ (Jonah 4:9).
(ii) Flexibleness to God’s Word: when we are willing to let the Word bear sway in our souls and become pliable to all its laws and maxims. He is spiritually meek who conforms himself to the mind of God, and does not quarrel with the instructions of the Word, but with the corruptions of his heart. Cornelius’ speech to Peter savoured of a meek spirit: ‘Now therefore we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God’ (Acts 10:33). How happy is it when the Word which comes with majesty is received with meekness! (James 1:21).
2 Meekness towards man. Basil the Great calls this the indelible character of a gracious soul. ‘Blessed are the meek’. To illustrate this, I shall show what this meekness is. Meekness is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our passion. It is a grace. The philosopher calls it a virtue, but the apostle calls it a grace, and therefore reckons it among the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:23). It is of a divine extract and original. By it we are enabled to moderate our passion. By nature the heart is like a troubled sea, casting forth the foam of anger and wrath. Now meekness calms the passions. It sits as moderator in the soul, quieting and giving check to its distempered motions. As the moon serves to temper and allay the heat of the sun, so Christian meekness allays the heat of passion. Meekness of spirit not only fits us for communion with God, but for civil converse with men; and thus among all the graces it holds first place. Meekness has a divine beauty and sweetness in it. It brings credit to religion; it wins upon all. This meekness consists in three things: the bearing of injuries, the forgiving of injuries, the recompensing good for evil.
First, meekness consists in the bearing of injuries. I may say of this grace, ‘it is not easily provoked’. A meek spirit, like wet tinder, will not easily take fire. ‘They that seek my hurt spake mischievous things, but I, as a deaf man, heard not’ (Psalm 38:12, 13). Meekness is ‘the bridle of anger’. The passions are fiery and headstrong; meekness gives check to them. Meekness ‘bridles the mouth’, it ties the tongue to its good behaviour. Meekness observes that motto, Bear and forbear. There are four things opposite to meekness.
(i) Meekness is opposed to hastiness of spirit. ‘Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools’ (Ecclesiastes 7:9). When the heart boils in passion, and anger (as Seneca says) sparkles forth in the eye, this is far from meekness. ‘Anger rests in the bosom of fools’. Anger may be in a wise man, but it rests in a fool. The angry man is like flax or gunpowder. No sooner do you touch him but he is all on fire. Saint Basil calls anger drunkenness, and Jerome says there are more drunken with passion than with wine. Seneca calls anger ‘a short fit of madness’. Sometimes it suspends the use of reason. In the best things we are cool enough. In religion we are all ice, in contention all fire. How unbecoming is rash anger! How it disguises and disfigures! Homer says of Agamemnon that when he moderated his passion, he resembled the gods. He was like Jupiter in feature, like Pallas in wisdom, but when he was in his fury, he was a very tiger. Nothing of Jupiter appeared in him. As Plato counselled the great revellers and drinkers of his time, that they should view themselves in a glass when they were in their drunken humour, and they would appear loathsome to themselves, so let a man disguised with passion view himself in the glass, and sure he would ever after be out of love with himself. ‘The face swells with anger, the veins become black with blood’. ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil’ (Ephesians 4:26, 27). Oh, says one, he has wronged me and I will never give place to him; but better give place to him than to the devil. An hasty spirit is not a meek spirit. Not but that we may in some cases be angry. There is an holy anger. That anger is without sin which is against sin. Meekness and zeal may stand together. In matters of religion, a Christian must be clothed with the spirit of Elias, and be ‘full of the fury of the Lord’ (Jeremiah 6:11). Christ was meek (Matt. 11:29), yet zealous (John 2:14, 15). The zeal of God’s house ate him up.
(ii) Meekness is opposed to malice. Malice is the devil’s picture (John 8:44). Malice is mental murder (1 John 3:15). It unfits for duty. How can such a man pray? I have read of two men that lived in malice, who being asked how they could say the Lord’s prayer, one answered, he thanked God there were many good prayers besides. The other answered, when he said the Lord’s prayer he left out those words, ‘as we forgive them that trespass against us’. But Augustine brings in God replying, ‘Because thou dost not say my prayer, I will not hear thine’. Were it not a sad judgement if all that a man ate should turn to poison! To a malicious man all the holy ordinances of God turn to poison. ‘The table of the Lord, is a snare; ‘he eats and drinks his own damnation’. A malicious spirit is not a meek spirit.
(iii) Meekness is opposed to revenge. Malice is the scum of anger, and revenge is malice boiling over. Malice is a vermin which lives on blood. Revenge is Satan’s nectar and ambrosia. This is the savoury meat which the malicious man dresses for the devil. The Scripture forbids revenge: ‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves’ (Romans 12:19). This is to take God’s office out of his hand, who is called ‘the God of recompenses’ (Jeremiah 51:56) and the ‘God of vengeance’ (Psalm 94:1). This I urge against those who challenge one another to duels. Indeed, spiritual duels are lawful. It is good to fight with the devil. ‘Resist the devil’ (James 4:7). It is good to duel with a man’s self, the regenerate part against the carnal. Blessed is he that seeks a revenge upon his lusts. ‘Yea, what revenge!’ (2 Corinthians 7:11). But other duels are unlawful. ‘Avenge not yourselves’. The Turks, though a barbarous people, in ancient times burnt such as went to duel, applying hot coals of fire to their sides. They who were in heat of revenge were punished suitably with fire.
Some may object. But if I am thus meek and tame in bearing of injuries and incivilities, I shall lose my credit. It will be a strain to my reputation. I answer: To pass by an injury without revenge is no eclipse to a man’s credit. Solomon tells us it is the glory of a man to ‘pass over a transgression’ (Proverbs 19:11). It is more honour to bury an injury than revenge it; and to slight it than to write it down. The weakest creatures soonest turn head, and sting upon every touch. The lion, a more majestic creature, is not easily provoked. The bramble tears. The oak and cedar are more peaceable. Passion imports weakness. A noble spirit overlooks an injury.
Again, suppose a man’s credit should suffer an impair with those whose censure is not to be valued. Yet think which is worse, shame or sin? Will you sin against God to save your credit? Surely it is little wisdom for a man to venture his blood that he may fetch back his reputation, and to run into hell to be counted valorous.
Not but that a man may stand up in defence of himself when his life is endangered. Some of the Anabaptists hold it unlawful to take up the sword upon any occasion (though when they get the power, I would be loath to trust them, their river water often turning to blood), but without question a man may take up the sword for self-preservation, else he comes under the breach of the sixth commandment. He is guilty of self-murder. In taking up the sword he does not so much seek another’s death, as the safeguard of his own life. His intention is not to do hurt, but to prevent it. Self-defence is consistent with Christian meekness. The law of nature and religion justify it. That God who bids us ‘put up our sword’ (Matthew 26:52) yet will allow us a ‘buckler, in our own defence, and he that will have us ‘innocent as doves’ not to offend others, will have us ‘wise as serpents’ in preserving ourselves.
Though revenge may be contrary to meekness, yet not but that a magistrate may revenge the quarrels of others. Indeed, it is not revenge in him, but doing justice. The magistrate is God’s lieutenant on earth. God has put the sword in his hand, and he is not ‘to bear the sword in vain’. He must be ‘for the punishment of evildoers’ (1 Peter 2:14). Though a private person must not render to any man ‘evil for evil (Romans 12:17), yet a magistrate may; the evil of punishment for the evil of offence. This rendering of evil is good. Private men must ‘put their sword into the sheath’, but the magistrate sins if he does not draw it out. As his sword must not surfeit through cruelty, so neither must it rust through partiality. Too much lenity in a magistrate is not meekness, but injustice. For him to indulge offences, and say with a gentle reproof as Eli, ‘Why do you such things? Nay, my sons, for it is no good report that I hear’ (1 Samuel 2:23, 24), this is but to shave the head that deserves to be cut off. Such a magistrate makes himself guilty.
(iv) Meekness is opposed to evil-speaking. ‘Let all evil-speaking be put away’ (Ephesians 4:31). Our words should be mild, like the waters of Shiloah which run softly. It is too usual for passionate spirits to break out into opprobrious language. The tongues of many are fired, and it is the devil lights the match. Therefore they are said in Scripture to be ’set on fire of hell’ (James 3:6). Men have learned of the ‘old serpent, to spit their venom one at another in disgraceful revilings. ‘Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire’ (Matthew 5:22). Under that word ‘fool’, all vilifying terms are by our Saviour forbidden. Let us take heed of this. It is hateful to God. God is not in this fire, but in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).
Some may say, But did not the apostle Paul call the Galatians fools? (Galatians 3:1). I answer, Paul had an infallible spirit, which we do not have. Besides, when Paul uttered those words, it was not by way of reproach, but reproof. It was not to defame the Galatians but to reclaim them; not to vilify them but to humble them. Paul was grieved to see them so soon fall into a relapse. Well might he say ‘foolish Galatians’ in an holy zeal, because they had suffered so much in the cause of religion, and now made a defection and fell off. ‘Have ye suffered so many things in vain?’ (verse 4). But though Paul, guided by the Spirit of God, did give this epithet to the Galatians, it is no warrant for us when any have wronged us to use disgraceful terms. Meekness does not vent itself in scurrility. It does not retaliate by railing. ‘Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee’ (Jude 9). Some understand by Michael, Christ, but more truly it is meant of one of the chief of the angels. The contest or dispute between the archangel and the devil was about the body of Moses. Some divines say that when God disposed of Moses’ body, he employed the archangel to inter him so secretly that his burying place might not be known. It is likely if his dead body had been found, the Israelites might have been ready in a preposterous zeal to have adored it. The devil opposes the archangel and contends about the dead body, but the archangel ‘durst not’, or, as some read it, he could not endure to ‘bring a railing accusation’. It seems the devil provoked him with evil language, and would fain have extorted passion from him, but the archangel was mild, and said only, ‘The Lord rebuke thee’. The angel would not so much as rail against the devil. We may learn meekness of the archangel: ‘Not rendering railing for railing’ (1 Peter 3:9).
Not but that a Christian ought prudentially to clear himself from slanders. When the apostle Paul was charged to be mad he vindicated himself. ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus’ (Acts 26:25). Though a Christian’s retorts must not be vulnerating, they may be vindicating. Though he may not scandalise another, yet he may apologise for himself. There must be Christian prudence, as well as Christian meekness. It is not mildness but weakness to part with our integrity (Job 27:6). To be silent when we are slanderously traduced, is to make ourselves appear guilty. We must so affect meekness as not to lose the honour of innocence. It is lawful to be our own defenders. The fault lies only in this, when we retort injuries with reproachful terms, which is to pay a man back in the devil’s coin.
The second branch of meekness is in forgiving of injuries. ‘And when ye stand praying, forgive’ (Mark 11:25); as if Christ had said, It is to little purpose to pray, unless you forgive. A meek spirit is a forgiving spirit. This is an Herculean work. Nothing more crosses the stream of corrupt nature. Men forget kindnesses, but remember injuries. I once heard of a woman that lived in malice, and being requested by some of her neighbours when she lay on her deathbed, to forgive, she answered, ‘I cannot forgive though I go to hell’. This is cutting against the grain. Some can rather sacrifice their lives than their lusts, but forgive we must, and forgive as God forgives. Forgiveness must be:
(i) Really. God does not make a show of forgiveness and keep our sins by him. He ‘blots out’ our debts (Isaiah 43:25). God passes an act of oblivion (Jeremiah 31:34). He forgives and forgets. So the meek spirit not only makes a show of forgiving his neighbour, but he does it from the heart (Matthew 18:27).
(ii) Fully. God forgives all our sins. He does not for ‘fourscore write down fifty’, but he gives a general release. ‘Who forgiveth all thy iniquities’ (Psalm 103:3). Thus a meek-spirited Christian forgives all injuries. False hearts pass by some offences, but retain others. This is but half forgiving. Is this meekness? Would you have God deal so with you? Would you have him forgive your trespasses, as you forgive others?
(iii) God forgives often. We are often peccant! We run every day afresh upon the score, but God often forgives. Therefore he is said to ‘multiply pardon’ (Isaiah 55:7). So a meek spirit reiterates and sends one pardon after another. Peter asks the question, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?’ (Matthew 18:21) Christ answers him, ‘I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but until seventy times seven’ (verse 22).
Some may object that such an affront has been offered that flesh and blood cannot put up? I answer: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50). Christians must walk antipodes to themselves, and with the sword of the Spirit fight against the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).
Again, you may say: But if I forgive one injury I shall invite more. I answer: It argues a devilish nature to be the worse for kindness; but suppose we should meet with such monsters, yet it is our duty to be ready to forgive (Colossians 3:13). Shall we cease from doing good because others will not cease from being evil? If the more you forgive injuries, the more injuries you meet with, this will make your grace shine the more. Another’s vice will be a greater demonstration of your virtue. Often forgiving will add the more to the weight of his sin, and the weight of your glory. If any shall say to me, I strive to excel in other graces, but as for this grace of meekness, the bearing and forgiving of injuries, I cannot arrive at it; I desire in this to be excused. What do you talk of other graces? Where there is one grace, there is all. If meekness be wanting, it is but a counterfeit chain of grace. Your faith is a fable: your repentance is a lie; your humility is hypocrisy.
And whereas you say you cannot forgive, think of your sin. Your neighbour is not so bad in offending you as you are in not forgiving him. Your neighbour, in offending you, but trespasses against a man, but you, refusing to forgive him, trespass against God. Think also of your danger. You who are implacable, and though you may smother the fire of your rage, yet will not extinguish it, know that if you die this night, you die in an unpardoned condition. If you will not believe me, believe Christ. ‘If you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses’ (Mark 11:26). He who lives without meekness, dies without mercy.
The third branch of meekness is in recompensing good for evil. This is an higher degree than the other. ‘Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you’ (Matthew 5:44). ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him’ (Romans 12:20). ‘Not rendering evil for evil, but contrariwise blessing’ (1 Peter 3:9). This threefold cord of Scripture should not easily be broken. To render evil for evil is brutish: to render evil for good is devilish; to render good for evil is Christian. The heathens thought it lawful to wrong none unless first provoked with an injury, but the sunlight of Scripture shines brighter than the lamp of reason. ‘Love your enemies.’ When grace comes into the heart, it works a strange alteration. When a scion is engrafted into the stock, it partakes of the nature and sap of the tree and brings forth the same fruit. Take a crab, engraft it into a pippin, it brings forth the same fruit as the pippin. So he who was once of a sour crabby disposition, given to revenge, when he once partakes of the sap of the heavenly olive, he bears generous fruits. He is full of love to his enemies. Grace allays the passion and melts the heart into compassion. As the sun draws up many thick noxious vapours from the earth and sea, and returns them in sweet showers, so a gracious heart returns all the unkindness and discourtesies of his enemies with the sweet influences and distillations of love. Thus David, ‘They rewarded me evil for good; but as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, I humbled my soul with fasting . . .’ (Psalm 35:12, 13). Some would have rejoiced; he wept. Some would have put on scarlet; David put on sackcloth. This is the rarity or rather miracle of meekness. It retorts good for evil. Thus we have seen the nature of meekness.
Meekness shows us the badge of a true saint. He is of a meek, candid spirit. ‘He is not easily provoked’. He takes everything in the best sense and conquers malice with mildness. I would to God all who profess themselves saints were bespangled with this grace. We are known to belong to Christ when we wear his livery. He is a saint whose spirit is made so meek that he can smother prejudices and bury unkindnesses. A passion of tears better becomes a Christian than a passion of anger. Every saint is Christ’s spouse (Canticles 4:8). It becomes Christ’s spouse to be meek. If any injury be offered to the spouse, she leaves it to her husband to revenge. It is unseemly for Christ’s spouse to strike.
Let me beseech all Christians to labour to be eminent in this superlative grace of meekness. ‘Seek meekness’ (Zephaniah 2:3). Seeking implies we have lost it. Therefore, we must make an hue and cry after it to find it. ‘Put on therefore as the elect of God, meekness’ (Colossians 3:12). Put it on as a garment, never to be left off. Meekness is a necessary ingredient in everything. It is necessary in instruction: ‘In meekness instructing . . .’ (2 Timothy 2:25). Meekness conquers the opposers of truth. Meekness melts the heart. ‘Soft words’ are softening. Meekness is necessary in hearing the Word. ‘Receive with meekness the engrafted Word’ (James 1:21). He who come to the Word with either passion or prejudice gets no good, but hurt. He turns wine into poison, and stabs himself with the sword of the Spirit. Meekness is needful in reproof. ‘If a man be overtaken with a fault, restore such an one with the spirit of meekness’ (Galatians 6:1). The Greek word is ‘put him in joint again’. If a bone be out of joint, the surgeon must not use a rough hand that may chance break another bone. But he must come gently to work, and afterwards bind it up softly. So if a brother be through inadvertence overtaken, we must not come to him in a fury of passion, but with a spirit of meekness labour to restore him. I shall lay down several motives or arguments to meeken the spirits of men.
Let me propound examples of meekness
(i) The example of Jesus Christ. ‘Thy king cometh unto thee meek’ (Matthew 21:5). Christ was the sampler and pattern of meekness. ‘When he was reviled, he reviled not again’ (1 Peter 2:23). His enemies’ words were more bitter than the gall they gave him, but Christ’s words were smoother than oil. He prayed and wept for his enemies. He calls us to learn of him: ‘Learn of me, for I am meek’ (Matthew 11:29). Christ does not bid us (says Augustine) learn of him to work miracles, to open the eyes of the blind, to raise the dead, but he would have us learn of him to be meek. If we do not imitate his life, we cannot be saved by his death.
(ii) Let us set before our eyes the examples of some of the saints who have shined in this grace. Moses was a man of unparalleled meekness. ‘Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth’ (Numbers 12:3). How many injuries did he put up? When the people of Israel murmured against him, instead of falling into a rage, he falls to prayer for them (Exodus 15:24, 25). The text says, they murmured at the waters of Marah. Sure the waters were not so bitter as the spirits of the people, but they could not provoke him to passion, but to petition. Another time when they wanted water, they fell a chiding with Moses. ‘Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children with thirst?’ (Exodus 17:3). As if they had said, If we die we will lay our death to your charge. Would not this exasperate? Surely it would have required the meekness of an angel to bear this, but behold Moses, meekness. He did not give them an unbecoming word! Though they were in a storm, he was in a calm. They chide, but he prays. Oh that as the spirit of Elijah rested upon Elisha, so may some of the spirit of Moses, this meek man (or rather earthly angel), rest upon us! Another eminent pattern of meekness was David. When Shimei cursed David, and Abishai, one of David’s lifeguard, would have beheaded Shimei. No, says king David, ‘Let him alone, and let him curse’ (2 Samuel 16:11). And when Saul had wronged and abused David and it was in David’s power to have taken Saul napping, and have killed him (1 Samuel 26:7, 12), yet he would not touch Saul, but called God to be umpire (verse 23). Here was a mirror of meekness.
(iii) The examples of heathens. Though their meekness could not properly be called grace, because it did not grow upon the right stock of faith, yet it was very beautiful in its kind. When one reviled Pericles and followed him home to his gate at night, railing upon him, he answered not a word, but commanded one of his servants to light a torch, and bring the railer home to his own house. Frederick, Duke of Saxony, when he was angry, would shut himself up in his closet and let none come near him, till he had mastered his passion. Plutarch reports of the Pythagoreans, if they chanced to fall out in the day, they would embrace and be friends ere sunset. Cicero, in one of his Orations, reports of Pompey the Great that he was a man of a meek disposition. He admitted all to come to him so freely, and heard the complaints of them that were wronged so mildly, that he excelled all the princes before him. He was of that sweet temper that it was hard to say whether his enemies more feared his valour, or his subjects loved his meekness. Julius Caesar not only forgave Brutus and Cassius, his enemies, but advanced them. He thought himself most honoured by acts of clemency and meekness. Did the spring-head of nature rise so high, and shall not grace rise higher? Shall we debase faith below reason? Let us write according to these fair copies.
2 Meekness is a great ornament to a Christian. ‘The ornament of a meek spirit’ (1 Peter 3:4). How amiable is a saint in God’s eye when adorned with this jewel! What the psalmist says of praise (Psalm 33:1), the same may I say of meekness. It is ‘comely for the righteous’. No garment is more becoming to a Christian than meekness. Therefore we are bid to put on this garment. ‘Put on therefore as the elect of God, meekness’ (Colossians 3:12) A meek spirit brings credit to religion and silences malice. It is the varnish that puts lustre upon holiness, and sets off the gospel with a better gloss.
3 This is the way to be like God. God is meek towards them that provoke him. How many black mouths are opened daily against the Majesty of heaven? How do men tear his Name! vex his Spirit! crucify his Son afresh! They walk up and down the earth as so many devils covered with flesh, yet the Lord is meek, ‘not willing that any should perish’ (2 Peter 3:9). How easily could God crush sinners, and kick them into hell! But he moderates his anger. Though he be full of majesty, yet full of meekness. In him is mixed princely greatness and fatherly mildness. As he has his sceptre of royalty, so his throne of grace. Oh how should this make us fall in love with meekness! Hereby we bear a kind of likeness to God. It is not profession makes us like God, but imitation. Where meekness is wanting, we are not like men. Where it is present, we are like God.
4 Meekness argues a noble and excellent spirit. A meek man is a valorous man. He gets a victory over himself. Passion arises from imbecility and weakness. Therefore we may observe old men and children are more choleric than others. Strength of passion argues weakness of judgement, but the meek man who is able to conquer his fury, is the most puissant and victorious. ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). To yield to one’s passion is easy. It is swimming along with the tide of corrupt nature, but to turn against nature, to resist passion, to ‘overcome evil with good’, this is like a Christian. This is that spiritual chivalry and fortitude of mind that deserves the trophies of victory and the garland of praise.
5 Meekness is the best way to conquer and melt the heart of an enemy. When Saul lay at David’s mercy and David only cut off the skirt of his robe, how was Saul’s heart affected with David’s meekness? ‘Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lift up his voice and wept, and he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil; forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not; wherefore the Lord reward thee good . . .’ (1 Samuel 24:16, 17). This ‘heaping of coals’ melts and thaws the heart of others. It is the greatest victory to overcome an enemy without striking a blow. The fire will go where the wedge cannot. Mildness prevails more than fierceness. Passion makes an enemy of a friend. Meekness makes a friend of an enemy. The meek Christian shall have letters testimonial even from his adversary. It is reported of Philip, king of Macedon, that when it was told him Nicanor openly railed against his Majesty, the king instead of putting him to death (as his council advised), sent Nicanor a rich present, which so overcame the man’s heart, that he went up and down to recant what he had said against the king, and highly extolled the king’s clemency. Roughness hardens men’s hearts; meekness causes them to relent (2 Kings 6:22). When the king of Israel feasted the captives he had taken in war, they were more conquered by his meekness than by his sword. ‘The bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel’ (2 Kings 6:22)
6 Consider the great promise in the text. ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’. This argument perhaps will prevail with those who desire to have earthly possessions. Some may object, If I forbear and forgive, I shall lose my right at last and be turned out of all? No! God has here entered into bond, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’. The unmeek man is in a sad condition. There is no place remains for him but hell, for he has no promise made to him either of earth or heaven. It is the ‘meek shall inherit the earth’.
How do the meek inherit the earth when they are strangers in the earth? (Hebrews 11:37).
The meek are said to inherit the earth, not that the earth is their chief inheritance, or that they have always the greatest share there, but:
(i) They are the inheritors of the earth because, though they have not always the greatest part of the earth, yet they have the best right to it. The word ‘inherit’, says Ambrose, denotes the saints, ‘title to the earth’. The saints’ title is best, being ‘members of Christ’, who is Lord of all. Adam not only lost his title to heaven when he fell, but to the earth too; and till we are incorporated into Christ, we do not fully recover our title. I do not deny that the wicked have a civil right to the earth which the laws of the land give them, but not a sacred right. Only the meek Christian has a Scripture-title to his land. We count that the best title which is held in capite. The saints hold their right to the earth in capite, in their head, Christ, who is ‘the prince of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5). In this sense, he who has but a foot of land inherits more than he who has a thousand acres, because he has a better and more juridical right to it.
(ii) The meek Christian is said to inherit the earth, because he inherits the blessing of the earth. The wicked man has the earth, but not as a fruit of God’s favour. He has it as a dog has poisoned bread. It does him more hurt than good. A wicked man lives in the earth as one that lives in an infectious air. He is infected by his mercies. The fat of the earth will but make him fry and blaze the more in hell. So that a wicked man may be said not to have what he has, because he has not the blessing; but the meek saint enjoys the earth as a pledge of God’s love. The curse and poison is taken out of the earth: ‘The meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace’ (Psalm 37:11), on which words Augustine gives this gloss: Wicked men (says he) may delight themselves in the abundance of cattle and riches, but the meek man delights himself in the abundance of peace. What he has he possesses with inward serenity and quietness.
When it is said the meek shall inherit the earth, it does not intimate that they shall not inherit more than the earth. They shall inherit heaven too. If they should only inherit the earth, then (says Chrysostom) how could it be said, ‘Blessed are the meek’? The meek have the earth only for their sojourning-house: they have heaven for their mansion-house. ‘He will beautify the meek with salvation’ (Psalm 149:4). The meek beautify religion, and God will beautify them with salvation. Salvation is the port we all desire to sail to. It is the harvest and vintage of souls. The meek are they which shall reap this harvest. The meek shall wear the embroidered robe of salvation. The meek are lords of the earth and ‘heirs of salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).
7 Consider the mischief of an unmeek spirit. There is nothing makes such room for the devil to come into the heart and take possession, as wrath and anger. ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil’ (Ephesians 4:26, 27). When men let forth passion, they let in Satan. The wrathful man has the devil for his bedfellow. Passion hinders peace. The meek Christian has sweet quiet and harmony in his soul, but passion puts the soul into a disorder. It not only clouds reason, but disturbs conscience. He does not possess himself whom passion possesses. It is no wonder if they have no peace of conscience who make so little conscience of peace. Wrathfulness grieves the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30, 31), and if the Spirit be grieved, he will be gone. We do not care to stay in smoky houses. The Spirit of God does not love to be in that heart which is so full of the vapours and fumes of distempered passion.
8 Another argument to cool the intemperate heat of our cursed hearts, is to consider that all the injuries and unkind usages we meet with from the world, do not fall out by chance, but are disposed of by the all-wise God for our good. Many are like the foolish cur that snarls at the stone, never looking to the hand that threw it; or like the horse, who being spurred by the rider, bites the snaffle. If we looked higher than instruments our hearts would grow meek and calm. David looked beyond Shimei’s rage: ‘Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him’ (2 Samuel 16:11). What wisdom were it for Christians to see the hand of God in all the barbarisms and incivilities of men! Job eyed God in his affliction, and that meekened his spirit. ‘The Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord, Job 1:21). He does not say, The Chaldeans have taken away, but ‘The Lord hath taken away’. What made Christ so meek in his sufferings? He did not look at Judas or Pilate, but at his Father. ‘The cup which my Father hath given me’ (John 18:11). When wicked men revile and injure us, they are but God’s executioners. Who is angry with the executioner?
And as God has an hand in all the affronts and discourtesies we receive from men (for they but hand them over to us), so God will do us good by all if we belong to him. ‘It may be’ (says David) ‘that the Lord will look upon mine affliction, and requite me good for his cursing’ (2 Samuel 16:12). Usually, when the Lord intends us some signal mercy, he fits us for it by some eminent trial. As Moses’ hand was first leprous before it wrought salvation (Exodus 4:6), so God may let his people be belepered with the cursings and revilings of men before he shower down some blessings upon them. ‘It may be the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.’
9 Want of meekness evidences want of grace. True grace inflames love and moderates anger. Grace is like the file which smoothes the rough iron. It files off the ruggedness of a man’s spirit. Grace says to the heart as Christ did to the angry sea, ‘Peace, be still’ (Mark 4:39). So where there is grace in the heart, it stills the raging of passion and makes a calm. He who is in a perpetual frenzy, letting loose the reins to wrath and malice, never yet felt the sweet efficacy of grace. It is one of the sins of the heathen to be ‘implacable’ (Romans 1:31). A revengeful cankered heart is not only heathenish, but devilish. ‘If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is devilish’ (James 3:14, 15). The old serpent spits forth the poison of malice and revenge.
10 If all that has been said will not serve to master this bedlam-humour of wrath and anger, let me tell you, you are the persons whom God steaks of who hate to be reformed. You are rebels against the Word. Read and tremble: ‘Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever; that this is a rebellious people, children that will not hear the law of the Lord’ (Isaiah 30:8, 9). If nothing yet said will charm down the wrathful devil, let me tell you, God hath charged every man not to meddle or have any league of friendship with you. ‘Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go’ (Proverbs 22:24). What a monster is he among men, that every one is warned to beware of, and not to come near, as one who is unfit for humane society! Make no league, says God, with t h a t m a n. If you take him into your society, you take a snake into your bosom. ‘With a furious man thou shalt not go’. Will you walk with the devil? The furious man is possessed with a wrathful devil.
Oh that all this might help to meeken and sweeten Christians, spirits!
But some will say, It is my nature to be passionate! I answer:
(i) This is sinful arguing. It is secretly to lay our sin upon God. We learned this from Adam. ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’ (Genesis 3:12); rather than Adam would confess his sin, he would father it upon God. ‘The woman thou gavest me’. As if he had said, If you had not given this woman to me, I had not eaten. So, says one, It is my nature; this is the froward, peevish nature God has given me. Oh no! you charge God falsely. God did not give you such a nature. ‘He made man upright’ (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God made you straight; you made yourself crooked. All your affections at first, your joy, love, anger were set in order as the stars in their right orb, but you misplaced them and made them move eccentric. At first the affections like several musical instruments well tuned, made a sweet consort, but sin was the jarring string that brought all out of tune. Vain man, do not plead that it is your nature to be angry; thank yourself for it. Nature’s spring was pure till sin poisoned the spring.
(ii) Is it your nature to be fierce and angry? This is so far from being an excuse, that it makes it so much the worse. It is the nature of a toad to poison that makes it the more hateful. If a man were indicted for stealing, and he should say to the judge, ‘Spare me; it is my nature to steal’, were this any excuse? The judge would say, ‘You deserve the rather to die’. Sinner, get a new nature. ‘Flesh and blood cannot enter into the kingdom of God’.
What shall I do to be possessed of this excellent grace of meekness?
1 Often look upon the meekness of Christ. The scholar that would write well has his eye often upon the copy.
2 Pray earnestly that God will meeken your spirit. God is called ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Peter 5:10). He has all the graces in his gift. Sue to him for this grace of meekness. If one were patron of all the livings in the land, men would sue to him for a living. God is patron of all the graces. Let us sue to him. Mercy comes in at the door of prayer. ‘I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them’ (Ezekiel 36:26, 37). Meekness is the commodity we want. Let us send prayer as our factor over to heaven to procure it for us; and pray in faith. When faith sets prayer on work, prayer sets God on work. All divine blessings come streaming to us through this golden channel of prayer.
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