Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” Psalm 18:35
Take, for instance, that opening Scripture of Adam and of his sin and exile. Whatever else it means, it means unquestionably that God is angry with disobedient man. And yet at the back of it what an unequaled tenderness, as of a father pitying his children and loving them with a love that never burns so bright as in the bitter hour of necessary punishment. Losing his innocence, in the love of God Adam found his calling and his crown. He fell to rise into a world of toil, and through his toil to realize his powers. So looking backward through that bitter discipline, unparadised but not unshepherded, he too could surely say with David, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”
Or think again of the story of the Exodus, that true foundation of the Jewish race. It took one night to take Israel out of Egypt but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel. And while that night, when the first-born were slain, was dark and terrible with the mighty power of God, what are those forty years of desert wandering but the witness of the gentleness of heaven? Leaving Egypt a company of slaves, they had to win the spirit of the free. Leaving it shiftless, they had to win reliance; leaving it cowardly, they had to learn to conquer; leaving it degraded, as slaves are always degraded, they were to reach to greatness by and by, and looking back on it all what could they say but this, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” Never forget that in its age-long story the Bible reveals the gentleness of God. Hinted at in every flower that blossoms, it is evidently declared in Holy Scripture. It is seen in Adam and in Abraham. It is seen in the wilderness journey of the Israelites. It is found in the choicest oracles of prophecy and in the sweetest music of the Psalms.
God’s Gentleness in Our Lives
I think, too, that as life advances, we can all confirm that that is true. We all discover as the psalmist did, how mighty has been the gentleness of heaven. In the ordinary sense of the word, you and I may not be considered great. We have neither been born great, nor have we come to greatness, nor has greatness been thrust upon us. And yet it may be that for you and I life is a nobler thing than it was long ago, and the truth is more queenly, and duty more dignified, than in the past. We may not have won any striking moral victories, yet our life has learned to the victorious side. We have not conquered yet all that we hoped to conquer, yet our will is serving us better through the years. There are still impurities that lift up their heads and still passions that have to be brought to heel, yet it may be that you and I are now nearer the sunrise than ten years ago.
If then, that is the case with you, I urge you to look back on the way that you have come and think of all that life has meant for you. Think of the temptations that would have overcome you had not God in His gentleness taken them away. Think of the courage you got when things were dark; of the doors that opened when every way seemed barred. Think of the unworthy things that you have done which God in His infinite gentleness has hidden–of the love that inspired you and the hope that came to you when not far distant was the sound of breakers. You, too, if you are a man at all, can lift up your eyes and cry out, God is just. It may be you can do more than that and lift up your voice say, God is terrible. But if you have eyes to see and a heart to understand, there is something more than you can say, for you can whisper, “To me, in pardoning, shielding mercy, God has been infinitely and divinely gentle.” If every lily of the field lifting its head can say, “Thy gentleness hath made me great”; if every sparrow chirping on the eaves is only echoing that meadow music, then I do feel that you and I, who are of more value to God than many sparrows, owe more than we shall ever understand to the abounding gentleness of heaven.
Because He Knoweth Our Frame
Now it seems to me that this gentleness of God reveals certain precious things about Him. It reveals, for instance, and is rooted in His perfect understanding of His children. There is a saying with which you are familiar; it is that to know all is to forgive all. That is an apothegm, and like all apothegms, it is not commensurate with the whole truth. Yet as a simple matter of experience, so much of our harshness has its rise in ignorance that such a saying is sure of immortality–to know all is to forgive all. How often you and I, after some judgment, have said to ourselves, If I had only known. Something is told us that we knew nothing about, and instantly there is a revulsion in our hearts. And we retract the judgment that we passed, and we bitterly regret we were unfeeling, and we say we would never have spoken so, had we only known.
The more we know–I speak in a broad way–the more we know, the more gentle we become. The more we understand what human life is, the greater the pity we feel. And I think it is just because our heavenly Father sees right down into our secret heart, that He is so great and pitifully gentle. For He knoweth our frame and remembereth we are dust, and He putteth all our tears into His bottle. And there is not a cross we carry and not a thought we think but He is acquainted with it altogether. And all we have inherited by birth, of power or weakness, of longing or of fear–I take it that all that is known to the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.
Our Value in His Sight
And then again God’s gentleness reveals this to us–it reveals our abiding value in His sight. It tells us, as almost nothing else can tell us, that we, His children, are precious in His eyes. There are certain books on my shelves at home with which I hardly bother to be gentle. I am not upset when I see them tossed about nor when they are handled in a rough way. But there are other books that I could never handle without a certain reverence and care, and I am gentle because they are of value to me. And the noteworthy thing is that these precious volumes are not always the volumes that are most beautifully bound. Some of them are little-tattered creatures that a respectable servant longs to light the fire with. But every respectable servant of a book lover comes to learn this at least about his master, that his ways, like those of another Master, are mysterious and past finding out. For that little volume, tattered though it may be, may have memories that make it infinitely precious–memories of school days or of college days, memories of the author who was well known to him. It may be the first Shakespeare that he ever had or the first Nancy Drew that he ever handled, and he shall handle it gently to the end, because to him it is a precious thing. So I take it God is gentle because you and I are precious in His sight. He is infinitely patient with the worst of us because He values the worst of us so dearly. And if you want to know how great that value is, then read this text again and again: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.”