A Gentle Heart by J R Miller
J. R. Miller, 1896
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“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Matthew 11:29
“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:1
“The fruit of the Spirit is . . . gentleness.” Galatians 5:22
“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Philippians 4:5
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12
“We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11
“The Lord’s servant must be gentle towards all.” 2 Timothy 2:24
“The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:4
Gentleness is a beautiful quality. It is essential to all true character. Nobody admires ungentleness in either man or woman. When a man is harsh, cold, unfeeling, unkind, and crude and rough in his manner—no one speaks of his fine disposition. When a woman is loud-voiced, dictatorial, petulant, given to speaking bitter words and doing unkindly things—no person is ever heard saying of her, “What a lovely disposition she has!” She may have many excellent qualities, and may do much good—but her ungentleness mars the beauty of her character.
No man is truly great, who is not gentle. “Your gentleness has made me great.” Psalm 18:35. Courage and strength and truth and justness and righteousness are essential elements in a manly character; but if all these be in a man and gentleness be lacking—the life is sadly flawed. We might put the word gentleness into Paul’s wonderful sentences and read them thus: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not gentleness, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not gentleness, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not gentleness, it profits me nothing.”
If any Christian, even the Christliest, would pray for a new adornment, an added grace of character—it may well be for gentleness. This is the crown of all loveliness, the Christliest of all Christly qualities.
The Bible gives us many a glimpse of gentleness as an attribute of God. We think of the Law of Moses as a great collection of dry statutes, referring to ceremonial observances, to forms of worship, and to matters of duty. This is one of the last places where we would look for anything tender. Yet he who goes carefully over the chapters which contain these laws, comes upon many a bit of gentleness—like a sweet flower on a cold mountain crag.
We think of Sinai as the seat of law’s sternness. We hear the voice of thundering, and we see the flashing of lightning. Clouds and darkness and all dreadfulness surround the mountain. The people are kept far away because of the fearful holiness of the place. No one thinks of hearing anything gentle at Sinai. Yet scarcely even in the New Testament is there a more wonderful unveiling of the love of the divine heart than we find among the words spoken on that smoking mountain. “I am the Lord, I am the Lord, the merciful and gracious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.” Exodus 34:6-7
There is another revealing of divine gentleness in the story of Elijah at Horeb. A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the storm there was an earthquake, with its frightful accompaniments—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then a fire swept by—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was heard a soft whisper breathing in the air—a still, small voice, a sound of gentle stillness. And that was God. God is gentle. With all His power, power that has made all the universe and holds all things in being, there is no mother in all the world so gentle as God is.
Gentleness being a divine quality is one which belongs to the true human character. We are taught to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; if we would be like God—we must be gentle!
This world needs nothing more than it needs gentleness. All human hearts hunger for tenderness. We are made for love—not only to love, but to be loved. Harshness pains us. Ungentleness touches our sensitive spirits as frost touches the flowers. It stunts the growth of all lovely things.
We naturally crave gentleness. It is like a genial summer to our life. Beneath its warm, nourishing influence beautiful things in us grow.
Then there always are many people who have special need of tenderness. We cannot know what secret burdens many of those about us are carrying, what hidden griefs burn like fires in the hearts of those with whom we mingle in our common life. Not all grief wears the outward garb of mourning; sunny faces often times veil heavy hearts. Many people who make no audible appeal for sympathy yet crave tenderness—they certainly need it, though they ask it not—as they bow beneath their burden. There is no weakness in such a yearning. We remember how our Master himself longed for expressions of love when he was passing through his deepest experiences of suffering, and how bitterly he was disappointed when his friends failed him.
Many a life goes down in the fierce, hard struggle—for lack of the blessing of strength which human tenderness would have brought. Many a man owes his victoriousness in sorrow or in temptation—to the gentleness which came to him in some helpful form from a thoughtful friend. We know not who of those we meet any day, need the help which our gentleness could give. Life is not easy to most people. It duties are hard. Its burdens are heavy. Life’s strain never relaxes. There is no truce in life’s battle. This world is not friendly to noble living. There are countless antagonisms. Heaven can be reached by any of us, only by passing through serried lines of strong enmity. Human help is not always ready, when it would be welcomed. Too often men find indifference or opposition—where they ought to find love. Life’s rivalries and competitions are sharp, and often times deadly.
We can never do amiss in showering gentleness. There is no day when it will be untimely; there is no place where it will not find welcome. It will harm no one—and it may save someone from despair. The touch of a child on a woman’s hand, may save a life from self destruction.
It is interesting to think of the new era of love which Jesus opened. Of course there was gentleness in the world before he came. There was mother love. There was friendship, deep, true, and tender. There were marital lovers who were bound together with most sacred ties. There were hearts even among heathen people in which there was gentleness almost beautiful enough for heaven. There were holy places where affection ministered with angel tenderness.
Yet the world at large was full of cruelty. The rich oppressed the poor. The strong crushed the weak. Women were slaves and men were tyrants. There was no hand of love reached out to help the sick, the lame, the blind, the old, the deformed, the insane, nor any to care for the widow, the orphan, and the homeless.
Then Jesus came! And for thirty-three years he went about among men—doing kindly things. He had a gentle heart, and gentleness flowed out in his speech. He spoke words which throbbed with tenderness. There was never any uncertainty about the heart-beat in the words which fell from the lips of Jesus. They throbbed with sympathy and tenderness.
The people knew always, that Jesus was their friend. His life was full of rich helpfulness. No wrong or cruelty ever made him ungentle. He scattered kindness wherever he moved.
One day they nailed those gentle hands to a cross! After that the people missed him, for he came no more to their homes. It was a sore loss to the poor and the sad, and there must have been grief in many a household. But while the personal ministry of Jesus was ended by his death, the influence of his life went on. He had set the world a new example of love. He had taught lessons of patience and meekness which no other teacher had ever given. He had imparted new meaning to human affection. He had made love the law of his kingdom.
As one might drop a handful of spices into a pot of brackish water, and therewith sweeten the waters—so these teachings of Jesus fell into the world’s unloving, unkindly life, and at once began to change it into gentleness. Wherever the gospel has gone these saying of the great Teacher have been carried, and have fallen into people’s hearts, leaving there their blessings of gentleness.
The influence of the death of Jesus also has wonderfully helped in teaching the great lesson of gentleness. It was love that died upon the cross! A heart broke that day on Calvary. A great sorrow always, for the time at least, softens hearts. A funeral touches with at least a momentary tenderness, all who pass by—loud laughter is subdued even in the most careless. A noble sacrifice, as when a life is given in the effort to help or to save others, always makes other hearts a little truer, a little braver, and a little nobler in their impulses.
The influence of the death of Jesus on this world’s life is immeasurable. The cross is like a great heart of love beating at the center of the world, sending its pulsings of tenderness into all lands. The life of Christ beats in the hearts of his followers, and all who love him have something of his gentleness. The love of Jesus, kindles love in every believing heart. That is the lesson set for all of us in the New Testament. We are taught that we should love as Jesus loved, that we should be kind as he was kind, that his meekness, patience, thoughtfulness, selflessness, should be reproduced in us.
There is need for the lesson of gentleness in homes. There love’s sweetest flowers should bloom. There we should always carry our purest and best affections. No matter how heavy the burdens of the day have been, when we gather home at nightfall we should bring only cheer and gentleness. No one has any right to be ungentle in his own home. If he finds himself in such a mood he should go to his room—until it has vanished.
The mother’s life is not easy, however happy she may be. Her hours are long, and her load of care is never laid down. When one day’s tasks are finished, and she seeks her pillow for rest, she knows that her eyes will open in the morning on another day full as the one that is gone. With children about her continually, tugging at her dress, climbing up on her knee, bringing their little hurts, their quarrels, their broken toys, their complaints, their thousand questions to her—and then with all the cares and toils that are hers, and with all the interruptions and annoyances of the busy days—it is no wonder if sometimes the strain is almost more than she can endure in quiet patience.
Nevertheless, we should all try to learn the lesson of gentleness in our homes. It is the lesson that is needed to make the home-happiness a little like heaven! Home is meant to be a place to grow in. It is a school in which we should learn love in all its branches. It is not a place for selfishness or for self indulgence. It should never be a place where a man can work off his annoyances, after trying to keep polite and courteous to others, all the day. It is not a place for the opening of doors of heart and lips to let ugly tempers fly out at will. It is not a place where people can act as they feel, however unchristian their feelings may be, withdrawing the guards of self control, relaxing all restraints, and letting their worse tempers have sway.
Home is a school in which there are great life-lessons to be learned. It is a place of self-discipline. All friendship is disciple. We learn to give up our own way—or if we do not we never can become a true friend.
It is well that we get this truth clearly before us, that life with all its experiences is our opportunity for learning love. The lesson is set for us is, “Love one another. As I have loved you—so you must love one another.” Our one thing to master this lesson, is love. We are not in this world to get rich, to gain power, to become learned in the arts and sciences, to build up a great business, or to do great things in any other way. We are not here to get along in our daily work, in our shops, or schools, or homes, or on our farms. We are not here to preach the gospel, to comfort sorrow, to visit the sick, and perform deeds of charity. All of these, or any of these, may be among our duties, and they may fill our hands; but in all our occupations the real business of life, that which we are always to strive to do, the work which must go on in all our experiences, if we grasp life’s true meaning at all—is to learn to love, and to grow loving in disposition and character.
We may learn the finest arts—music, painting, sculpture, poetry; or may master the noblest sciences; or by means of reading, study, travel, and converse with refined people, may attain the best culture. But if in all this, we do not learn love, and become more gentle in spirit and act—we have missed the prize of living. If in the midst of all our duties, cares, trials, joys, sorrows—we are not day by day growing in sweetness, in gentleness, in patience, in meekness, in unselfishness, in thoughtfulness, and in all the branches of love, we are not learning the great lesson set for us by our Master, in this school of life.
We should be gentle above all—to those we love the best. There is an inner circle of affection to which each heart has a right, without robbing others. While we are to be gentle unto all men—never ungentle to any—there are those to whom we owe special tenderness. Those within our own home belong to this sacred inner circle.
We must make sure that our home piety is true and real, that it is of the spirit and life, and not merely in form. It must be love—love wrought out in thought, in word, in disposition, in act. It must show itself not only in patience, forbearance, and self control, and in sweetness under provocation; but also in all gentle thoughtfulness, and in little tender ways in all the family interactions.
No amount of good religious teaching will ever make up for the lack of affectionateness in parents toward children. A gentleman said the other day, “My mother was a good woman. She insisted on her boys going to church and Sunday-school, and taught us to pray. But I do not remember that she ever kissed me. She was a woman of lofty principles—but cold and reserved—lacking in tenderness.”
It does not matter how much Bible reading, and prayer, and catechism-saying, and godly teaching, there may be in a home. If gentleness is lacking, that is lacking which most of all, the children need in the life of their home. A child must have love. Love is to its life, what sunshine is to plants and flowers. No young life can ever grow to its best—in a home without gentleness.
Yet there are parents who forget this, or fail to realize its importance. There are homes where the scepter is iron—where affection is repressed—where a child is never kissed after baby days have passed.
A woman of genius said that until she was eighteen she could not tell time by the clock. When she was twelve her father had tried to teach her how to tell time; but she had failed to understand him, and feared to let him know that she had not understood. Yet she said, that he had never in his life spoken to her a harsh word. On the other hand, however, he had never spoken an endearing word to her; and his marble-like coldness had frozen her heart! After his death she wrote of him, “His heart was pure—but cold. I think there was no other like it on the earth.”
I have a letter from a young girl of eighteen in another city—a stranger, of whose family I have no personal knowledge. The girl writes to me, not to complain, but to ask counsel as to her own duty. Hers is a home where love finds no adequate expression in affectionateness. Both her parents are professing Christians, but evidently they have trained themselves to repress whatever tenderness there may be in their nature. This young girl is hungry for home-love, and writes to ask if there is any way in which she can reach her parent’s hearts to find the treasures of love which she believes are locked away there. “I know they love me,” she writes. “They would give their lives for me. But my heart is breaking for expressions of that love.” She is starving for loves’ daily food!
It is to be feared that there are too many such homes—Christian homes, with prayer and godly teaching; and with pure, consistent living—but with no daily bread of lovingness for hungry hearts.
I plead for love’s gentleness in homes. Nothing else will take its place. There may be fine furniture, rich carpets, costly pictures, a large library of excellent volumes, fine music, and all luxuries and adornments; and there may be religious forms—a family altar, good instruction, and consistent Christian living; but if gentleness is lacking in the family communion—the lack is one which leaves an irreparable hurt in the lives of the children.
There are many people who, when their loved ones die, wish they could send some words of love and tenderness to them, which they have never spoken while their loved ones were close beside them. In too many homes gentleness is not manifested while the family circle is unbroken; and the hearts ache for the privilege of showing kindness, perhaps for the opportunity of unsaying words and undoing acts which caused pain. We would better learn the lesson of gentleness in time, and then fill our home with love while we may. It will not be very long until our chance of showing love shall have been used up!
But home is not the only place where we should be gentle. If the inner circle of life’s holy place have claim on us, for the best that our love can yield—the common walks and the wider circle also have claim for our love and gentleness. Our Master manifested himself to his own—as he did not to the world; but the world, even his cruelest enemies, never received anything of ungentleness from him. The heart’s most sacred revealings are for the heart’s chosen and trusted ones, as the secret of the Lord is with those who fear him; but we are to be gentle unto all men, as our Father sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust. What we learn under home’s roof, in the close fellowship of household life—we are to live out in our associations with others.
As Moses’ face shone when he came down among the people, after being with God in the mount—so our faces should carry the warmth and glow of tenderness from love’s inner shrine—out into all other places of ordinary social interaction. What we learn of love’s lesson in our home—we should put into practice in our life in the world, in the midst of its strifes, rivalries, competitions, frictions, and manifold trials and testings.
We must never forget that true religion—in its practical outworking—is love. Some people think religion is mere orthodoxy of belief—that he who has a good creed is truly religious. We must remember that the Pharisees had a good creed, and were orthodox; yet we have our Lord’s testimony that their religion did not please God. It lacked love. It was self-righteous, and unmerciful.
Others think that true religion consists in the punctilious observance of forms of worship. If they are always at church on Sundays and other church meetings, and if only they attend to all the ordinances, and follow all the rules—they are religious. Yet sometimes they are not easy people to live with. They are censorious, dictatorial, judges of others, exacting, severe in manner, harsh in speech. Let no one imagine that any degree of devotion to the church, and diligence in observing ordinances, will ever pass with God for true religion—if one has not love, is not loving and gentle.
The practical outworking of true religion—is love. A good creed is well; but doctrines which do not become a life of gentleness in character and disposition, in speech and in conduct, are not fruitful doctrines. Church attendance religious duties are right and good; but they are only means to an end—and the end is lovingness. The religious observances which do not work for us kinder thoughts, diviner affections, and a sweeter life—are not profiting us. The final object of all Christian life and worship—is to make us more like Christ—and Christ is love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, “You shall love.” “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments are all summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Romans 13:8-9
Those who live the gentle life of patient, thoughtful, selfless love—make a melody whose strains are enrapturing.
Someone asks almost in disheartenment. “How can we learn this lesson of gentleness?” Many of us seem never to master it. We go on through life, enjoying the means of grace, and striving more or less earnestly to grow better. Yet our progress appears to be very slow. We desire to learn love’s lesson—but it comes out very slowly in our life.
We must note, first of all, that the lesson has to be learned. It does not come naturally, at least to most people. We find it hard to be gentle always, and to all kinds of people. Perhaps we can be gentle on sunny days; but when the harsh north wind blows—we grow fretful, and lose our sweetness. Or we can be gentle without much effort to some gentle-spirited people, while perhaps we are almost unbearably ungentle to others. We are gracious and sweet to those who are gracious to us; but when people are rude to us, when they treat us unkindly, when they seem unworthy of our love—it is not so easy to be gentle to them. Yet that is the lesson which is everywhere taught in the Scriptures, and which the Master has set for us.
It is a comfort to us to know that the lesson has to be learned—and does not come as a gift from God, without any effort. We must learn to be gentle, just as artists learn to paint lovely pictures. They spend years and years under masters, and in patient, toilsome effort—before they can paint pictures which at all realize the lovely visions of their soul. It is a still more difficult art to learn to reproduce visions of love in human life—to be always patient, gentle, kind. It gives us encouragement, as we are striving to get our lesson, to read the words in which Paul says that he had learned to be content whatever his condition was. It adds, too, to the measure of our encouragement to see from the chronology of the letter in which we find this bit of autobiography, that the apostle was well on toward the close of his life—when he wrote so triumphantly of this attainment. We may infer that it was not easy for him to learn the lesson of contentment, and that he was quite an old man before he had mastered it!
It is probably as hard to learn to be always gentle—as it is to learn to be always contented. It will take time, and careful, unwearying application. We must set ourselves resolutely to the task; for the lesson is one that we must not fail to learn, unless we would fail in growing into Christliness. It is not a matter of small importance. It is not something merely that is desirable, but not essential. Gentleness is not a mere ornament of life, which one may have, or may not have—as one may, or may not, wear jewelry. It is not a mere frill of character, which adds to its beauty, but is not part of it. Gentleness is essential in every true Christian life! It is part of its very warp and woof. Not to be gentle—is not to be like Jesus.
Therefore the lesson must be learned. The golden threads must be woven into the texture. Nothing less than the gentleness of Christ himself, must be accepted as the pattern after which we are to fashion our life and character. Then, every day some progress must be made toward the attainment of this lovely ideal. “See that no day passes, in which you do not make yourself a somewhat better Christian.” The motto of an old artist was, “No day without a line.” If we set before us the perfect standard—the gentleness of our Master—and then every day make some slight advance, though it be but a line, toward the reproducing of this gentleness in our own life, we shall at last wear theornament of a gentle spirit, which is so precious in God’s sight.
We must never rest satisfied with any partial attainment. Just so far as we are still ungentle, rude to anyone, even to a beggar, sharp in speech, haughty in bearing, unkind in any way to a human being—the lesson of gentleness is yet imperfectly learned, and we must continue our diligence. We must get control of our temper, and must master all our moods and feelings. We must train ourselves to check any faintest risings of irritation, turning it instantly into an impulse of tenderness. We must school ourselves to be thoughtful, patient, charitable, and to desire always to do good. The way to acquire any grace of character—is to compel thought, word, and act in the one channel—until the lovely quality has become a permanent part of our life.
There is something else. We never can learn the lesson ourselves alone. To have gentleness in one’s life—one must have a gentle heart. Mere human gentleness is not enough. We need more than training and self-discipline. Our heart must be made new—before it will yield the life of perfect lovingness. It is full of self and pride and hatred and envy and all undivine qualities. The gentleness which the New Testament holds up to us as the standard of Christian living—is too high for any mere attainment. We need that God shall work in us, to help us to produce the loveliness which is in the pattern—Christ. And this divine co-working is promised. “The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.” The Holy Spirit will help us to learn the lesson, working in our heart and life the sweetness of love, the gentleness of disposition, and the graciousness of manner, which will please God.
There is a legend of a great artist. One day he had labored long on his picture, but was discouraged, for he could not produce on his canvas the beauty of his soul’s vision. He was weary too; and sinking down on a stool by his easel, he fell asleep. While he slept an angel came; and, taking the brushes which had dropped from the tired hands, he finished the picture in marvelous way.
Just so, when we toil and strive in the name of Christ to learn our lesson of gentleness, and yet grow disheartened and wary because we learn it so slowly—Christ himself comes, and puts on our canvas the touches of beauty which our own unskilled hands cannot produce! “Your gentlenesshas made me great.” Psalm 18:35