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The Blessedness of the Meek

Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever.—ISAIAH 60:21.

And for the elect there shall be light and grace and peace; and they shall inherit the land.—ENOCH V. 7.

The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way … His soul shall dwell at ease, and his seed shall inherit the land.—PSALM 25:9.

The holiness of the meekest of men has its searching fire; for God would not be all-holy if He were not terrible in His devouring fury against sin; and in being holy, He is, of necessity, meek, and long-suffering, and merciful.—SCOTT HOLLAND.

This Beatitude is practically a quotation from Psalm 37:11. The idea of “inheriting the land” is associated in the history of Israel with the promise of the land of Canaan, given to the seed of Abraham. The failure of the first emigrants to enter in is constantly present in the minds of the prophets and psalmists when they warn the people against the danger of losing their inheritance. “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” What was the cause of that first failure? “They could not enter in,” says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “because of unbelief.”

The root of all their failure was distrust of God. From this sprang discontent and disloyalty. “They thought scorn of that pleasant land.” So, on the borders of the promised land, their courage failed; with the goal in sight they turned back into the wilderness, and left to their little ones the task that God had called them to achieve.

All this helps us to understand the significance of the promise that the meek shall possess (or rather inherit) the land.1 For meekness is, first of all, a characteristic of the right attitude of men towards God. It was in this sense that Jesus claimed to be “meek and lowly in heart.” The meek man is not the man whose invertebrate feebleness of character rightly makes him an object of contemptuous pity to other men. Meekness is confident dependence on God. It grows out of the recognition of the love and power of God. As we think of the majesty of God, the fact of our own insignificance comes home to us, and we “pour contempt on all our pride.” But as we think of the love of God, our sense of insignificance passes into confidence. Meekness and humility are closely akin; in humility the recognition of our unworthiness is more prominent, in meekness there is a stronger sense of confidence. Meekness is the natural attitude of children to a Father whom they reverence, and on whose love they depend.

The lack of reverence that is a characteristic feature of our time is, in part, a reaction from the conventional ideas of an earlier generation. In as far as it represents a desire to avoid unreality, it may be a necessary stage towards a more real reverence. But it is often the result of lack of imagination, and of an exaggerated self-consciousness. In their desire to shock conventional morality, some modern writers do not hesitate deliberately to debase the coinage of religion. Yet irreverence is always the sign of a shallow mind, and its result is always the over-valuation of self which is the exact opposite of meekness. “Make a man perceive worth, and in its reflection he sees his own relative unworth, and worships thereupon inevitably, not with stiff courtesy, but rejoicingly, passionately, and, best of all, restfully; for the inner capacity of awe and love is infinite in man; and only in finding these, can he find peace.”1

“We live by admiration, hope and love.” As our love to God grows stronger, our sense of awe and wonder must become deeper as we contemplate the all-embracing life of the Father who dwelleth in the light that no man can approach unto. It is only the meek who are capable of worship; and a man incapable of worship is generally incapable of nobility in thought or magnanimity in action. It is the adoring realization of the majesty of God that lifts us out of the egotism that makes life “hideous and arid and vile,” till

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

Of the Eternal Silence.

The thought of an inheritance reserved for the people of God is familiar in the Epistles. So St. Peter writes of an inheritance that can neither be devastated by war, nor defiled by sin, nor parched by drought, “reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time”1—or, according to Dr. Hort, “when things are at their worst.” In the prospect of this inheritance we rejoice, even though now, for a season, we are in heaviness through manifold testings. The reward of meekness is that, since its trust is in God and not in self or in circumstances, it can enjoy the blessedness of the assurance that its inheritance is secure.

This attitude of trustful dependence on God must be reflected in our relations with other men. The child of God cannot be self-assertive, inconsiderate, discourteous to others. The supreme example of meekness is the character of Jesus, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” No desire for vengeance marred the perfect serenity with which He bore wrong done to Himself. But the meekness of Jesus flamed into passionate indignation when the honor of His Father was at stake. The anger of Jesus was only the more terrible because it was “the wrath of the Lamb.” Meekness has nothing to do with the easy-going amiability that often masquerades under its name.

Nor has it anything in common with the contemptuous toleration that springs from indifference. “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.” Its foundation is confidence in God—such confidence as lifts the soul above fussy self-assertiveness and petty irritations. “Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful creator.”1 Real meekness is one of the hardest of all the Christian virtues to attain, for the hardest enemy to overcome is self, with its claims to consideration and deference. But God’s aristocracy does not hunger for the praises of men:—

There are, in this loud stunning tide

Of human care and crime,

With whom the melodies abide

Of the everlasting chime,

Who carry music in their heart

Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,

Plying their daily task with busier feet,

Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.2

Two unfailing characteristics of real meekness are courage and courtesy—courage that dares, if need be, to suffer patiently, and courtesy that will not cause needless suffering to others.

But is meekness possible in a world such as that in which we live? Will not the meek find themselves

Delicate spirits pushed aside

In the hot press of the noontide?

If we never “hit back,” shall we not earn the contempt of men? Yes, if we regard meekness only as a negation of courageous effort. But the doctrine of non-resistance that Tolstoi found in the gospel is not the whole truth of the ethical ideal of Jesus. We are pledged “manfully to fight under His banner against sin, the world and the devil.” And the essence of soldiership is

Self-abnegation, freedom from all fear,

Loyalty to the life’s end.1

War lets loose the worst passions of human nature; yet no one who has served in the trenches can have failed to notice the exhibition, sometimes in the most unexpected places, of the qualities of the Christian gentleman—self-forgetfulness, modesty, patience under irritation. Mediæval Romance loved to contrast the blustering braggart, whose only virtue is his courage, with the gentle knight, whose consciousness of the high service to which he has been consecrated makes him patient under provocation and courteous to all who are in need. So the English word “gentle,” meaning originally, “of noble birth,” comes to mean “possessed of the qualities that noble birth ought to imply.”

Yet meekness is not an easy virtue to practice in a competitive age, in which the survival of the fittest seems sometimes to mean the survival of the least scrupulous. A gentleman may be defined as a man who does not always claim what is due to him; and his conduct will often seem quixotic to those who do not understand that self-respect and meekness are near akin. In this, as in so many other things, our difficulty lies in the fact that we are called to exhibit, in a world still imperfectly Christian, the virtues that belong to the Kingdom of God. In that promised land there will be no place for self-assertiveness and resentment; for the children of the Kingdom have learnt not to be served but to serve, and understand the love that seeketh not her own.

The inheritance is not yet ours, but the Christian Church is the sphere within which, under the imperfect conditions of human life, the children of the Kingdom may be trained for their citizenship. Does meekness always reign within the Christian society? Are there no contentions still as to who shall be accounted the greatest? Are there no claims to deference that breed resentment when they are disregarded? “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you, shall be the bondservant of all.”1 The light that is to shine before men must first be kindled in the fellowship of the Christian society.

No one can study the history of the early controversies within the Christian Church without recognizing how they were complicated by self-assertiveness and personal ambitions; and some of the later schisms in the Church might perhaps have been avoided if St. Paul’s entreaty “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” had been remembered. Only men who live very near to God can carry on controversy in the spirit of meekness. Yet he who loses the virtue of meekness loses the title-deeds of his inheritance. Even if he gain the whole world, bad is his bargain; for though he may flare through history like a destroying meteor, the quiet stars watch his end; and “the saints of the Most High possess the Kingdom.”

As we think of this Beatitude, we are reminded of the story of the meeting of Augustine with the British bishops, as Bede tells it in his Ecclesiastical History. Seven bishops, and many other learned men, had arranged to meet Augustine to consider the question of the co-operation of the British Church with the Roman Mission. They went first to a certain holy and discreet man who was living as a hermit among them, to consult him as to whether they ought, at the preaching of Augustine, to forsake their traditions. He replied, “If he is a man of God, follow him.” “How shall we know?” they asked. He replied, “Our Lord saith, Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; if therefore Augustine is meek and lowly in heart, it is to be believed that he has taken upon him the yoke of Christ, and offers the same to you. But if he is stern and haughty, it appears that he is not of God, and you are not to regard his words.” They asked again, “How shall we discern this?” “Arrange,” said the anchorite, “that he may arrive first with his company at the place where the synod is to be held; and if at your approach he rises up to greet you, hear him submissively, being assured that he is the servant of Christ; but if he despises you, and does not rise to greet you, whereas you are more in number, let him also be despised of you.”

They did as he directed, and when Augustine received them sitting in his chair, they refused to recognize his authority, and the last opportunity for linking the two Churches was lost.

1 The attempt of some expositors to prove that, in fact, the existing world-order is ruled by the meek involves a misinterpretation of the thought of the Beatitude. γῆ has always a strictly territorial sense; it is the land, not the world-order (κόσμος) established upon it. And the idea of inheritance (κληρονομέιν) carries the promise into the future. It is the renovated earth (γῆ καινὴ) of Revelation 21 of which our Lord was speaking.

1 Ruskin, Munera Pulveris.

1 1 St. Peter 1:4.

1 1 St. Peter 4:10.

2 Keble, Christian Year.

1 Browning, The Ring and the Book.

1 St. Mark 10:42–44.

Masterman, J. H. B. (1921). Aspects of Christian Character: A Study of the Beatitudes (pp. 54–64). Longmans, Green and Co. (Public Domain)

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