A Gentle Spirit
This article was written and published at the beginning of this century. Its content, however, is timeless. The vocabulary and grammar may seem unusual, but the message is clear.
by George D. Watson, D.D.
The Rarity of Gentleness
When God conquers us and takes all the flint out of our nature, and we get deep visions into the Spirit of Jesus, we then see as never before the great rarity of gentleness of spirit in this dark and unheavenly world. Even apart form the criminality and vileness of manís fallen condition, there is a host of deformities which sin has entailed upon mankind. Among these deformities may be classed roughness, rudeness, curtness, and the painful facility of using stinging, cutting words and manners, and gestures, and looks, and tones of voice, which are almost universally manifested, not only by sinners, but by Christians, and good Christians, and even by many who advocate the higher life. It is so seldom we find a real gentle spirit, one who is gentle all through, and gentle under all circumstances, that when we meet such an one it seems like a cala lily in a field of briars, or a patch of blooming prairie surrounded by rough deserts.
I am not speaking of that natural grace which some people seem to inherit, for that is not deep enough.
One of the worst criminals I ever saw was a perfectly handsome man, with a voice and manner so soft as a ladyís But I speak of divine gentleness which comes in to the soul as a result of having all the nature and faculties perfectly subdued by the Holy Spirit. It is amazing what lack of gentleness there is among the Lordís own people. Among the reasons why so few Christians are thoroughly gentle in spirit may be the following:
Not Recognizing The Worth Of Gentleness
So few really apprehend the worth of a gentle spirit; they seem to overlook it as a cardinal trait in religion. There are so many Christians who regard real gentleness as a weakness, a soft, sentimentalism, which in some way interferes with thorough righteousness, and boldness, and plain dealing, and a pushing zeal for God. The graces of the Spirit do not settle themselves down upon us by chance, and if we do not discern certain states of grace, and choose them, and in our thoughts nourish them, they never become fastened in our nature of behavior. Just as rough worldly men look upon experimental salvation as a weak thing, fit only for old women and children, so a great many sturdy, driving Christians, regard perfect gentleness and quietness of spirit as too tame a thing to have much divine power in it. The more we possess a certain grace, the more we see the value of it.
The reason why so few Christians seek perfect humility in everything is because they do not see the infinite worth of humility. The same is true of gentleness; in fact gentleness is the expression of humility, like the odor is to the flower.
There is something about the character of God, and it pervades all His creation, and every branch of His government, which bespeaks the infinite gentleness of His nature. He clothes all the vast and rugged forms of His works with a majestic quietness, and velvet gentleness, which betrays they character of His mind. He drapes the roughest mountain with green shrubbery, or the soft blue air; even storms are edged around with a fringe of delicacy, and none of the stupendous works of God in ocean, earth or air, or flying worlds, have that severe "raw-headed and bloody-bone" appearance, which would have been the case if a creature had made them.
God leaves a trace of Divine refinement on everything He touches. And when we look at His moral government, and even at the outpouring of His wrath, on nation or individuals, there is not a touch of personal revenge, but the highest proofs of patience and tender pleading, and He punishes as if He wept while doing it, and His thunderbolts are bot preceded and succeeded with pathetic accents, as if tender mercy were the garniture in which His fiery judgments were clothed.
God never does anything in a harsh or uncouth way. He often breaks the hearts of the toughest old sinners with a touch of gentleness, or a soft sweet voice, or the stroke of a motherly hand softer than the down on an angelís wings. Unless we have clear perceptions of the character of God, it is not likely that we will have a positive thirst for that character. Vision precedes action. We must see with our spiritual eye the graces of the Spirit, before we live them out in our experience. The words, "Behold the Lamb of God," must always precede the words, "Who taketh away the sin of the world."
No Desire To Be Gentle
So few professed Christians form a deep determination to becoming thoroughly gentle in their nature and life. They look upon a gentle disposition as a beautiful flower which can grow only in favored spots, or as a spiritual luxury, a celestial cake and ice cream, which is pleasant to have in the feverish bustle of life, but not as being an essential staple in Christian experience. This is why so few Christians are really gentle. Many wicked sinners think they cannot give sufficient emphasis to their language without loading it with oaths and rude swearing.
And in like manner, many Christians think if they are not rough, and loud, and impetous, and cutting, that their words will have no power. Some think they must us "slang," and "rowdy expressions," to suit a certain class or strike truth home, but if such persons will consult the behavior of Jesus, and the Apostles, and preachers like Wesley, and Fenelon, and Fletcher and Edwards, and Finney, men that God used in breaking the hardest of hearts, they will find that the purest, hottest truth requires no adjuncts of passion or street language to give it edge.
Unless we, from the bottom of our hearts, desire a gentle spirit, and then by the grace of God determine that we will have it, it is not likely that we will ever known its inexpressible blessedness. It is possible for us to desire sanctification, and even resolve on having it, without involving the proper appreciation of having a soul filled with all the meekness and gentleness of Jesus.
It is a law in the spiritual life that we get from God just about what we determine to have. It is amazing how God watches and honors the deep, serious determinations of the will of his creatures. Most men do not known that they determine to go to hell, but such will be proved to be the fact in the day of judgment. Most Christians are in one sense willing to be made holy, but a still fewer number ever seriously determine from their hearts desire to be holy, and a still fewer number ever seriously determine to become holy, and a still fewer number determine to have all their nature turned into spotless, lowly, gentle love.
Every advance step in grace must be preceded by first apprehending it, and then a prayerful resolve to have it. Real gentleness is not a mere set of parlor manners that we can put off and on, it must be soaked into every fiber of our being, and must be drawn from a Divine mountain.
No Commitment To Becoming Gentle
So few are willing to undergo the suffering out of which thorough gentleness comes. We must die before we are turned into gentleness, and crucifixion involves suffering; and it is not a painted death, but a real breaking and crushing of self, which wrings the heart, and conquers the mind. There is a good deal of mere mental and logical sanctification nowadays, which is only a religious fiction. It consists of mentally putting oneís self on the altar, and then mentally saying the altar sanctifies the gift, and then logically concluding therefore one is sanctified: and such an one goes forth with a gay, flippant, theological prattle about the deep things of God; but the natural heart strings have not been snapped, and the Adamic flint has not been ground to powder, and the bosom has not throbbed with the lonely, surging sights of Gethsemane, and the beautiful self-constructed air castles have not been crushed to pieces; and not having the real death marks of Calvary, there cannot be that soft, sweet, gentle, floating, victorious, overflowing, triumphant life that flows out like a Spring morning from an empty tomb.
We must not only lie in the tomb when we are first sanctified, but that death must be carried out in the little hidden details of life, and this involves a vast amount of quiet suffering, the unostentatious bearings of a thousand pains, and the speechless enduring of secret crosses, told only to God with silent midnight tears. But if we want to be filled with a gentle spirit, we must be filled with death to self. Many Christians seem to not understand that, after the instantaneous work of sanctification, there is a vast stretch of progress in having the mind of Jesus; that the will can more and more sink into God's will, until, in numberless ways, the choices and preferences on the smallest matters are sunk in the sweet, placid waters of the Father's will, and the thoughts can be more and more lifted to heavenly perceptions, and all the affections enlarged and flooded with the indwelling of Jesus, until every expression, and tone, and manner, in some way indicates the mark of God upon it.
To have a real gentle spirit, there must not be the least secret feeling of anything bitter, or sour, or severe, or combative, or dictatorial, or sitting in judgment, or religious braggadocio. If we do not know how to suffer, then we will never know how to be gentle.
No Commitment To Be Like Jesus
To be filled with the gentleness of Jesus, we must put it above everything else; that is, set a price on it in our hearts, above all Christian activity, above all preaching, or evangelistic work, or Scripture exegesis, or building of churches, or running a mission, or feeding the poor, or nursing the sick, or going to heathen lands, or cutting a great figure in the Christian world, or in the visible church. Who will believe this and comply with it?
The ruin of spirituality among modern Christians is in putting the fussy doing of religion ahead of the deep, divine inward being like Jesus. Unless our hearts fairly break with the intense love of the humility and gentleness of Jesus, so that we appreciate being just like him in all our inward spirit and behavior, and esteem that first and foremost in the moral universe, then we must fail of ever knowing him in the deepest sense that Paul refers to in the third chapter of Philippians. The Lamb of God reveals the very sweetness of his inner life only to those who esteem him in and for himself, above all creation and spiritual activities.