Matthew Henry points out that we can show meekness towards God’s plan for our lives, and we can show meekness towards all men. That’s how we usually think of meekness, especially in the sense of controlling our anger towards others. Sometimes anger can actually help us in the spiritual battle, but meekness allows us to keep it in check–to follow Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not.”
The classical philosophers used to teach that meekness was defined as an average between extreme volatile anger and complete apathy, but they admitted that it was hard to know where the balance is. The Bible, however, lists meekness as one of the fruits of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives this grace to believers in order to calm and comfort our hearts, to make us more holy, and to teach us to subdue our feelings under Christ and logic.
So what is meekness?
More particularly, the work and office of meekness is to enable us prudently to govern our own anger when at any time we are provoked, and patiently to bear out the anger of others that it may not be a provocation to us.
First, meekness teaches us to control our anger when we’re provoked. Henry here makes a neat contrast between self-control and meekness:
- Self-control helps to control our hunger for things that are pleasing.
- Meekness controls our passions against things that are not pleasing and helps us to not have bitterness about them.
It is true of anger, as it is true of fire, that it is a “good servant,” but a “bad master.”
Meekness puts anger in its place, just like the sand keeps the sea in its place. It says, “Hitherto thou shalt come, and no further; here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” This is the kind of control I need to have on my anger.
Whenever you are angry, here are the four jobs that meekness will do:
- Consider the circumstances of that which we find to be a provocation.
- Calm the spirit so that inward peace may not be disturbed by any outward provocation.
- Curb the tongue and keep the mouth as with a bridle when the heart is hot.
- Cool the heat of passion quickly and not suffer it to continue.
One point that I find convicting in that first “work” of meekness is that we cannot think well when we are angry. Anger clouds our judgment; we can’t see well what really happened or what was the truth. We can’t hear the still, small voice of the Lord, because our feelings are making so much noise, demanding all of our attention (which we love to indulge). The full point in Henry’s book is this: “To consider the circumstances of that which we apprehend to be a provocation, so as at no time to express our displeasure, but upon due and mature deliberation.” In other words, think before you speak (or express displeasure)!
John 11:33 describes how Jesus “troubled Himself” about the grief of others. This gives the idea that He first considered whether He should be grieved by this and found good reason for His emotions. So with us, things go well in our spirit if we don’t allow anger to enter our spirit that we haven’t first thought about. It only comes in if we’ve decided that it’s wise. (So, not much anger will be getting in, right?)
A meek man will never be angry at a child, at a servant, at a friend till he has first seriously weighed the cause in just and even balances, while a steady and impartial hand holds the scales, and a free and unprejudiced thought judges it necessary.
Henry gives two illustrations showing how much care we should take to guard our souls from anger.
First, we will stand guard against anger getting into our souls, just as we would watch for a thief who doesn’t come in by the door but climbs up by some other way. This was a personal example to me, since we’ve been broken into both ways recently–by our front door, and by a thief who consistently jumps over our back fence and tries to break in a back window. We have had to put out lots of money just to secure our house from this thief living next door to us! When you know that a thief may enter, how much more watchful you are! Every night we sleep with devices right beside us instead of in another room. We lock several doors at night, and even more when we leave the house. That is how attentive I should be about anger getting into my soul.
Second, we should watch against anger in our souls like a border patrol inspects travelers across their border from a neighboring country in time of war. I just finished reading God’s Smuggler, a story of a Christian missionary who smuggled Christian literature across the borders of Communist countries after World War II. What an exciting story! The border crossings were most nerve-wracking to read about: the times when “Brother Andrew” would pray that God would blind the eyes of the inspectors at the border so that they would not see the cargo of literature he had in his car.
In a time of war (and such a time it is in every sanctified soul in a constant war between grace and corruption) due care must be taken to examine all passengers, especially those that come armed, whence they come, whither they go, whom they are for, and what they would have. Thus should it be in the well-governed, well-disciplined soul.
Let meekness stand sentinel, and upon the advance of a provocation let us examine who it is that we are about to be angry with, and for what. What are the merits of the cause, wherein lay the offence, and what was the nature and tendency of it? What are likely to be the consequences of our resentments, and what harm will it be if we stifle them, and let them go no further? Such as these are the interrogatories which meekness would put to the soul…
This is my attempt to rephrase Matthew Henry’s book The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit.
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