By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
THE GENTLENESS OF CHRIST
The needs of men are such, that any suitable relief brought to them must be marked by great kindness and gentleness. The wicked are often rough and boisterous. Towards God their conduct is insolent. They care not for the Redeemer.
With the heirs of salvation it is different. They feel themselves to be feeble. They are grieved in spirit. They are often faint-hearted. They are poor and timid. A sense of sin bows them down. A sense of weakness destroys their self-confidence. Their boldness does not diminish their humility. Their confidence consists with contrition. Their adversaries are many, mighty, and malignant. Their understanding of divine things is often imperfect. The best of them have no confidence in the flesh.
Some of God's dear people are born with great weakness of intellect, which is not relieved either by education or by grace. They never take clear and strong views of any subject. They live and die as children in understanding. They are often perplexed by things which are plain to others. Regeneration does not give new faculties, but a right direction to those we have.
Sometimes disease or a casualty shatters the nervous system, and for life renders one incapable of vigorous exercise of mind or resolute purposes of heart. Divine grace does not restore health to the sickly, though it gives sweet submission in suffering. Many have a morbid tendency to dark views of their spiritual state. Nor have they learned to discriminate between exercises of mind which are the result of natural causes, and those produced by spiritual truth.
Wrong teaching, especially in the earlier stages of religious experience, often sadly affects character. The truths of Scripture are presented out of proportion. The solemn and the dreadful and the gloomy aspects; sometimes take the place of the mild and the gentle, and the bright and cheering. Even in true piety there is often a sad mixture of superstition.
In some Christian men there is such a tendency to levity and inconstancy, that the Savior sees it necessary often to make them smart for their transgressions, and to humble them in the dust. The terrors of the law are let loose upon them. The arrows of the Almighty stick fast in them. Some who now, by Divine grace, have a well-regulated temper, once had wild passions; but they have been tamed by severe discipline. Some of the most cheerful Christians once had months or years of dejection of mind and sharp anguish of spirit, to cure their lightness and fickleness.
Besides, such are the infinite majesty and glory of divine things, such the unhappy effects of sin upon the mind, and such the unspeakable importance of salvation in the eyes of a renewed sinner—that the strongest among the saints often have the deepest sense of their weakness, and those who have the clearest views are the least satisfied with their attainments.
Consequently, many in the church are desponding, yet sincere. Their faith is weak, though true. They have many fears about themselves, while others have good hopes of them. Though they walk in darkness, they walk uprightly. If they do not go forward like some, yet they do not go backward. Their hearts cleave unto God. They stick to his ways.
There is not a more interesting subject than the treatment which Christ gives to the timid and feeble among his people.
1. All his people, at some time or other, have fears—and are conscious of feebleness. Their weakness and their leanness often constitute their song.
2 Any provision for such, includes also the necessities of the strong.
3. It is delightful to the pious, to know that their weakest brethren shall be cared for and upheld.
4. All sincere Christians love to contemplate the kindness of their Lord and Master, to whoever manifested.
We dare not tell such, that a dim view of religious truth or a low state of religious enjoyment is the best. There may be a necessity for present distress, arising from some defect of character. But all Christians should seek for enlargement and establishment in truth, holiness, and comfort. Even the most mature should be beckoned on to higher attainments.
Nor should we abate anything of the requirements of God's word as a rule of life, or of self-examination. If God is merciful, he is also holy. If he is condescending, he is also full of majesty. Presumption is a great foe to grace.
The great resources of God's people, whether comparatively weak or strong—must be found in the character, the covenant, and the grace of the Redeemer. In a review of their lives, the Lord's people ascribe their triumphs to no other cause. Like David, each of them says, "Your gentleness has made me great." 2 Sam. 22:36; Psalm 18:35.
1. The CHARACTER of Christ, as given us both in prophecy and in history, is full of encouragement to all his people, even the feeblest. Thus said the evangelical prophet: "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth." Isaiah 42:2, 3. Nothing in all the Scriptures is said contrary to this prediction. Our Lord's whole life upon earth was an illustration of its verity. In his righteous indignation, he has trodden blaspheming tyrants to hell; but never did he trample on a broken heart. Human ingenuity has never yet suggested anything expressive of kindness which he might have said or done, that he did not say or do, or something more loving.
The shortest, but by no means the least instructive verse in his history is, "Jesus wept." This was at the grave of his friend Lazarus. At his last celebration of the Passover, he laid himself out to say the tenderest and most consolatory things to his mourning disciples. In his agony, he apologized for their drowsiness. To erring Peter he sends a personal message to meet him in Galilee. He bids unbelieving Thomas come and thrust his hand into his side, that he might no longer doubt. Often did he invite poor sinners to partake of the blessings of his salvation: "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." After his ascension to heaven, when one of his followers was pierced by a thorn in the flesh, and terribly buffeted by Satan, he made this consolatory revelation: "My grace is sufficient for you."
2. The COVENANT of Christ, of which he is the surety and the head, abounds in provisions and promises made to the trembling and the feeble. "As your days, so shall your strength be." "He who is feeble among them at that day shall be as David." "He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might he increases strength." "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." These are mere samples of engagements made before the coming of Messiah. In the New Testament they are confirmed. Speaking of "him who is weak in the faith," Paul says: "He shall be held up, for God is able to make him stand." Like promises abound in the gospels and in the epistles. The very last book of Scripture is full of the kindest things spoken to sincere believers. All these promises are yes and amen in Christ. Study them. Let them dwell in you richly.
3. In some stage of their experience all Christians have their fears and weaknesses.We must be babes before we are men. We must crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can run. The very best things come from small beginnings. The greatest rivers at their head are but little rills. The greatest oaks come from acorns no larger than a thimble. The greatest families and kingdoms had humble beginnings. The kingdom of heaven in the heart is like a grain of mustard-seed, which is the smallest of all seeds. Despise not the day of small things. We must take root downwards, and then bear fruit upwards. The finest picture on earth, when only the outlines were drawn, was a poor thing; not until it was finished was it fair to pronounce judgment upon it.
4. Some humble child of Godmay say, "I have made but poor progress. I have sore troubles, "fears within, and fightings without." Let such remember,
1. Whatever makes us humble is good for us. Humility is the most excellent of graces. Without it there is no real progress heavenward.
2. Paul speaks of it as the common experience of Christians in his day that they were sorely troubled: "We know not what we should pray for as we ought." We are not sufficient, as of ourselves, to think anything. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Your troubles are not greater than these.
3. God's plan is that our sanctification ordinarily should not be begun and finished in a day, as was that of the thief on the cross. Nature and grace are like the house of Saul and the house of David. The contest between them is long and deadly; but the house of Saul waxes weaker and weaker, and that of David stronger and stronger, finally getting full dominion.
4. It is a precious token of God's regard to us, that he so deals with us as to destroy our carnal security, mortify our pride, make us loathe and abhor ourselves, and yet gives us a relish for spiritual enjoyments, and leads us to seek them above all other things.
5. He is a real Christian and is making progress, to whom Christ is more and more precious.As our estimate of him rises, our estimate of ourselves necessarily becomes lower. To believers Christ is everything. He is all their salvation. But for the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, that would have been one of the least celebrated of all towns. But for his residence in Nazareth, the proverb might still have been true of it. But for his visit to the second temple, its glory would have remained every way inferior to that of the first. Christ dignifies everything with which he is connected. Union with Christ is life from the dead. If we are guilty, he has atoned; if we are vile, he is worthy; if we are nothing, he is all in all.
And then he is so gracious to the needy and guilty and faint and trembling. See how he reasons with the desponding disciples on the way to Emmaus. During his ministry he granted great blessings even to those who approached him doubting and saying, "If you will," or, "If you can." When the poor afflicted woman thought to steal a blessing from him and escape his notice, he stopped her, but only to deal kindly with her. Christ never puts new wine into old bottles. Some men begin their ministry with denunciations and threatenings of the law, but from the first Christ pronounced blessings on the humble. The very last words in the Bible are: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." There are heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of mercy in Christ—beyond all human necessities, miseries, and sins. To be in Christ is heaven begun. To be with Christ and like Christ is heaven completed. His mercies are shore-less, fathomless, eternal, unchangeable! He has helped myriads to glory who were as weak, as unworthy, as desponding as any of us.
6. To his sincere followers Christ has a tender regard at all times and in all trials.His kind providence over them is constant, wise, and wonderful. With them everything has a good outcome. With them all is for the best. Everything helps on the saints to glory. To the deeply afflicted, the Savior says: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten;" "therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." Your brethren may cast you out under pretense of glorifying God, but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. Isaiah 66:5.
7. Christ surely includes the case of even the feeblest and most desponding of his people when he speaks of them as his little ones.He will certainly avenge the wrongs of such. He regards them as the apple of his eye. He knows their sins, and errors, and follies—but he still loves them tenderly! They may be babes and sucklings, yet out of their mouth he will ordain praise. Their weakness affords him a welcome opportunity to show pity and condescension. His are the compassions of a God. He is the express image of his Father, and his spirit is as loving as the Father's to the Son.
8. In his word Christ fully authorizes us to persuade all his people, even the humblest, to look at the quality rather than the quantity of their attainments.The stronger our graces the better. Christian character cannot be too vigorous. Nor should any sit down contented with small acquirements. But any real grace is a token for good. A shilling may be as good money as a pound. A dew-drop is as truly water as the ocean. A spark has the nature of fire no less than the glowings of a furnace. Kind is one thing; degree is another. To doubt the genuineness of our faith because we have not full assurance is not wise. He to whom Christ is precious, to whom the word of God is sweeter than honey, to whom sin is odious, to whom secret devotion is a delight, who makes it the business of his life to honor his Master, and who regards the world as a broken idol, has the witness that he is passed from death unto life. "It is safer to be humble with one talent than proud with ten; yes, better to be a humble worm than a proud angel." [Flavel.] "He who is contented with just grace enough to get to heaven and escape hell, and desires no more, may be sure he has none at all, and is far from being made partaker of the divine nature." [Janeway.]
9. If the trembling and feeble would have the full comfort of Christ's salvation, let them do his will.In keeping the commandments there is great reward. "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them." Whenever we wander from the path of duty, we weaken our principles and wound our consciences. Let us carefully guard against censoriousness and severity of judgment. Let us forgive, as we hope to be forgiven. Let us love others as Christ has loved us. Let us wait upon the Lord in all his ordinances. If Paul could not do what he would, he would yet do what he could. "Prayer and pains, through faith that is in Christ Jesus—can do all things," says Eliot. No man ever sincerely did what he honestly believed to be his duty, and then solely relied on the infinite mercy of God in Christ, and yet came short of heaven. But we must obey as well as trust. We must do the will of God, as well as hope in his mercy. "Blessed are those who keep his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."
10. It would greatly comfort all God's people, if they would rely more upon the promise, covenant, and oath of God—and less on their own frames of mind and heart.Our feelings vary with a thousand influences; but the covenant of God is sure and unchangeable. "If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself." The life of the believer is hid with Christ in God. He is like mount Zion, which cannot be moved. But O how variable are his feelings; how easily discouraged is his heart. If left to himself, he must fail. But Jesus never changes. His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him and keep his covenant. He pities like a God. He pours water upon those who are thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.
11. Let all believers remember that they are not forbidden the nearest access to God.The covenant is as sure to the trembling and feeble, as to any others. Christ's power is made perfect in man's weakness. If he accepted and saved none but the strong and resolute and unwavering—who would be saved? Did ever a good husband neglect a wife because she was weak and timid? and is not Christ the husband of all who put their trust in him? He says: "For a small moment have I forsaken you, but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer." Jehovah, he is God. Let his people shout for joy. Let his ministers speak a word in season to those who are weary. Let all the saints comfort the feeble-minded. Let despondent, yet sincere believers, hope in God—for their redemption draws near!