By J.R. Miller
"Blessed are the meek--for they shall inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5
Meekness is not an easy grace. Indeed, no grace comes easily. It is the heavenly life into which we are being fashioned, and nothing less that a moral and spiritual revolution will produce in us the heavenly qualities. The old must die--that the new may live. Spiritual graces are not merely amiable traits of human nature trained and cultivated into gentleness--they are transformations wrought by the divine Spirit.
An old prophecy, in a vision of the reign of the Messiah, pictured the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion in close companionship. Whatever we may say as to the literal fulfillment of this prophecy in the subduing and taming of ferocious animals--it has its higher fulfillment in the regeneration of a human soul, which is wrought through the gospel. The wolf in men's disposition and temper--is changed into lamb-like gentleness.
Christian meekness, for example, is a converted wolf. Human nature is resentful. When struck--it strikes back. When wronged--it demands reparation. "An eye for an eye--a tooth for a tooth," is its law. It is not natural for anyone to bear injuries patiently, to submit without bitterness to unkindness, to forgive personal wrongs or insults, and not to nourish grudges. It is only the person has been regenerated by grace, who follows the law of meekness.
Indeed, no heathen morality ever gave meekness a place among the fine things in character. The best that Aristotle could say of it, was that it was "a defect." It is only in the Christian ideal, that meekness shines as a virtue. The world calls it unmanly, a cowardly quality, and a defect unworthy of one who wears the human form. The boy on the playground who submits to wrong or injustice without resentment, is sneered at as a coward. It is only in the new manhood which Christ came to create and inspire, that meekness is set to shine as one of its divinest features.
What is meekness? It is defined in one dictionary as submission to the divine will; patience and gentleness, from moral and pious motives. Another definition gives this--gentle or mild of temper, self-controlled, not easily provoked or irritated, forbearing under injuries and annoyances.
There are two different phases of meekness indicated in these definitions--a submissive spirit toward God; and a patient, quiet, forgiving spirit toward men.
We should be meek toward God. We should accept whatever He sends, without complaint, without a rebellious word or feeling. It is easy to find reasons why we should do this. He is our Father--and loves us with a love which we never can doubt. Nothing but good can ever come from Him to us. Whatever the form of the providence may be, we know that it enfolds a blessing.
We are confident, too, of God's wisdom. He makes no mistakes in any of His dealings with us. When our ways are set aside for His, we know it is because His are better. Payson was asked, when enduring great bodily affliction, if he could see any particular reason for the painful dispensation. "No," he replied, "but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand reasons; God's will is the very perfection of all reason."
When we think of these great truths concerning God, our heart should be quieted in any experience of pain or sorrow, or in any mystery of darkness, and it should appear reasonable to us to wait and suffer in patience, and with trustful, songful acquiescence. Why should the frail creature doubt the wisdom and the goodness of the strong Creator? Why should the child distrust the love and wisdom of the Father? With faith in God, it should be easy for us to be submissive toward Him.
It is easy to see the blessing there is, in such submissive trust. The captive bird which flies violently against the wires of its cage, trying to escape--only beats and bruises its own wings, and at the end of its frantic struggles, is still a captive. Alike hurtful to one's self and unavailing, are all resistings of God's will.
Wiser far is the bird which, when it finds itself shut in the cage, unable to escape--begins to sing, filling its prison with sweet music. It spares itself all hurt. It shows a spirit of trust and confidence. Then even in its captivity, it scatters blessings all about it, in its notes of cheerful song.
This illustrates the meekness with which God's children should accept even then most painful events of life. Their faith should never fail. They should look upon the inevitable, not as a decree of stern fate to which they can only submit--but as a revealing of the Father's will, and therefore something holy and sacred; something, too, in which a thousand blessings of love are folded up.
The form of the blessing promised to the meek, is very suggestive--"they shall inherit the earth." Resistance to God's will, gets nothing for its striving. A man cannot contend with God--and hope to overcome omnipotence. The struggling bird has only hurts and bruises--as the result of its struggles. It has broken no wire of its prison. It has loosened no chain. It has opened no door. But the bird which cheerfully accepts its bondage and sings in its prison--is no longer captive. It is a free as if it were soaring in mid-air. All the world belongs to it. Acquiescence in any suffering, already has the victory over the suffering. The Christian who rejoices in the midst of pain and trial--has overcome all pain and trial.
Paul was the freest man in Philippi, that night when he lay in the deepest dungeon, his feet in stocks, and his body covered with gashes. His heart was free and he filled all the prison with his hymns of joy. His meekness made him the inheritor of all things. Just so, the poor man who has the joy of the Lord in his poverty, owns all things--the blue skies are his; the beautiful fields are his; the springs of water, the rivers, the hills, the mines, all the treasures of the earth, are his. Meekness makes a man free indeed, and gives him possession of all things.
The other phase of meekness is that which is manifested in our relations with men. It commands us to be mild in temper and disposition, not to strive, to be gentle, not easily provoked, slow to anger, not resentful.
The meek spirit has been compared to the fragrant wood, which bathes the ax that cuts into it, in perfume. It is like those flowers which give out their sweet odor--only when they are crushed. Its best is revealed only under injury or wrong. It is said of a certain godly man, that people never found the richest treasures of his nature--until they did him a wrong or showed him an unkindness; then his heart poured out its surprise of love.
It was thus with Christ Himself. The world would never have known the most marvelous love of that heart--if it had treated Him only with honor and affection. It was men's sins--which led to the wonderful revealing of the cross. The same is true in smaller measure, of all meekness; we would not know of its sweetness, were it not for the injuries and wrongs it receives.
Christian meekness is not mere softness or easy going disposition. There are those who by nature are submissive and unresisting, who are easily imposed upon, who allow others to take advantage of them, and will never lift a finger to assert or maintain their rights. But that is not Christian meekness. The meek man is he who feels keenly the insult or the injustice, and is naturally disposed to claim his rights or to resent the injury--but who curbs his feeling, controls himself because he is a Christian, and lets love have sway, returning kindness for unkindness.
Christian meekness is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the love of Christ in the heart, overcoming natural feeling. It manifests itself in patience with disagreeable and unreasonable people, in the forgiveness of injuries, in the quiet enduring of wrongs, in the returning of good for evil, in uncomplaining self-forgetfulness for the sake of others.
A Brahman compared the Christian missionary to a mango tree. It puts forth blossoms and then weights its branches with fruits. For itself? No, for the hungry who come to it for food. By and by the tree is assailed with clubs and stones. Its leaves are torn and its branches are bruised and broken. It is stripped bare. But does it resent this cruel treatment and refuse to yield fruit another year? No! Next year it is more fruitful than ever. So it is with the Christian missionary, said the Hindu. He gives his rich life for the helping of others. He endures enmity and persecution--but his only response is more help, new fruits of love, the repaying of wrong and cruelty with love's best gifts.
That is Christian meekness. It had its highest exemplification in the Master Himself, who always returned good for evil, who at the last, when nailed on a cross, gave from the cruel wounds made by men--His blood for man's redemption. It is thus we must live--if we would be indeed followers of Christ.
The blessing of meekness comes to every one who truly learns the lesson. To worldly thought, it seems loss indeed, to allow one's self to be wronged, injured, thrust aside and trodden down. How can one inherit the earth--when one is continually being robbed of the things which are esteemed as earth's chief good? Yet there is a sense in which those who seem to lose all things--really gain all things.
It is told of Phillips Brooks, that once, after listening quietly, with deep sympathy, to a young woman who came to him with a story of a grievous wrong which had been done to her, he said to her, "I am very sorry for you. It is hard to be misunderstood, injured, and wronged, in this manner. Yet, shall I hurt you more if I tell you that I am not so sorry for you as for someone else?" Then he spoke to her of his pity for the wrong-doer, who had so needlessly caused such pain, adding, "It is so pitiable to have made so much trouble in a world already so full of heartaches!"
It is never the one who is wronged or injured--who is the real loser--but the one that does the evil. He who suffers and sins not--but keeps loving and sweet--is enriched by what seem losses. His heart is at peace, and this fills the world with beauty for him.
The spirit of meekness also yields contentment, and he who is contented is rich, owning all things. Then love enriches. Nothing hurts one's life as resentment does. It poisons all joy, and embitters every sweet pleasure. But love fills the heart with cheer, and makes all the world bright with the smile of God. Thus the meek are the inheritors of all things.