Blessed are the Meek: for they shall inherit the earth by Martyn Lloyd Jones
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
IN our consideration of the Beatitudes as a whole, we have already found that there are certain general characteristics which apply to them all. As we come to study each Beatitude separately we find that this proves to be so in detail. Here once more, therefore, we must point out that this Beatitude, this particular description of the Christian, causes real surprise because it is so completely and entirely opposed to everything which the natural man thinks. ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ World conquest—possession of the whole universe—given to the meek, of all people! The world thinks in terms of strength and power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. That is the world’s idea of conquest and possession. The more you assert yourself and express yourself, the more you organize and manifest your powers and ability, the more likely you are to succeed and get on. But here comes this astounding statement, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth’—and they alone. Once more, then, we are reminded at the very beginning that the Christian is altogether different from the world. It is a difference in quality, an essential difference. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him. He is an enigma to the world. And if you and I are not, in this primary sense, problems and enigmas to the non-Christians around us, then this tells us a great deal about our profession of the Christian faith.
This statement must have come as a great shock to the Jews of our Lord’s own day; and there can be no doubt, as we agreed at the beginning, that Matthew was writing primarily for the Jews. He places the Beatitudes in the forefront of the Gospel for that reason. They had ideas of the kingdom which, you remember, were not only materialistic but military also, and to them the Messiah was one who was going to lead them to victory. So they were thinking in terms of conquest and fighting in a material sense, and immediately our Lord dismisses all that. It is as though He says, ‘No, no, that is not the way. I am not like that, and my kingdom is not like that.’—’Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ It is a great contrast to the Jews’ way of thinking.
But further, this Beatitude comes, alas, in the form of a very striking contrast to much thinking within the Christian Church at the present time. For is there not a rather pathetic tendency to think in terms of fighting the world, and sin, and the things that are opposed to Christ, by means of great organizations? Am I wrong when I suggest that the controlling and prevailing thought of the Christian Church throughout the world seems to be the very opposite of what is indicated in this text? ‘There’, they say, ‘is the powerful enemy set against us, and here is the divided Christian Church. We must all get together, we must have one huge organization to face that organized enemy. Then we shall make an impact, and then we shall conquer.’ But ‘Blessed are the meek’, not those who trust to their own organizing, not those who trust to their own powers and abilities and their own institutions. Rather it is the very reverse of that. And this is true, not only here, but in the whole message of the Bible. You get it in that perfect story of Gideon where God went on reducing the numbers, not adding to them. That is the spiritual method, and here it is once more emphasized in this amazing statement in the Sermon on the Mount.
As we approach this statement let us first of all try to look at it in its relationship to the other Beatitudes. Clearly it follows on from what has gone before. There is an obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Each one suggests the next and leads to the next. They are not spoken haphazardly. There is first of all that fundamental postulate about being ‘poor in spirit’. That is the primary fundamental spirit that leads in turn to a condition of mourning as we become aware of our sin; and that in turn leads to this spirit of meekness. But—and I want to emphasize this—we not only find this logical connection between them. I would point out, also, that these Beatitudes as they proceed become increasingly difficult. In other words, what we are now considering is more searching, more difficult, more humbling and even more humiliating than anything we have looked at hitherto in our consideration of this Sermon on the Mount. We can look at it like this. The first Beatitude asks us to realize our own weakness and our own inability. It confronts us with the fact that we have to face God, not only in the Ten Commandments and the moral law, but also in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the life of Christ Himself. Anybody who feels that he, by his own strength, can accomplish all that, has not started to be a Christian. No, it makes us feel we have nothing; we become ‘poor in spirit’, we are truly helpless. Anyone who thinks that he can live the Christian life himself is proclaiming that he is not a Christian. When we realize truly what we have to be, and what we have to do, we become inevitably ‘poor in spirit’. That in turn leads to that second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling of sin within us, and seeing the sin even in our best actions, thoughts and desires, we mourn and we cry out with the great apostle, ‘0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ But here, I say, is something which is still more searching—‘Blessed are the meek’.
Now why is this? Because here we are reaching a point at which we begin to be concerned about other people. Let me put it like this. I can see my own utter nothingness and helplessness face to face with the demands of the gospel and the law of God. I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us. I say of myself that I am a sinner, but instinctively I do not like anybody else to say I am a sinner. That is the principle that is introduced at this point. So far, I myself have been looking at myself. Now, other people are looking at me, and I am in a relationship to them, and they are doing certain things to me. How do I react to that? That is the matter which is dealt with at this point. I think you will agree that this is more humbling and more humiliating than everything that has gone before. It is to allow other people to put the searchlight upon me instead of my doing it myself.
Perhaps the best way of approaching this is to look at it in terms of certain examples. Who is this meek person? What is he like? Well, there are many illustrations one can give. I have merely selected some which I regard as the most important and striking. Take certain of the Old Testament characters, for instance. Look at the portrait of that great gentleman—in many ways, I think, the greatest gentleman in the Old Testament—Abraham, and as you look at him you see a great and wonderful portrait of meekness. It is the great characteristic of his life. You remember his behaviour with respect to Lot, and how he allows the younger man to assert himself and take the first choice and does it without a murmur and without a complaint—that is meekness. You see it again in Moses, who is actually described as the most meek man on the face of the earth. Examine his character and you see the same thing, this lowly conception of himself; this readiness not to assert himself but rather to humble and to abase himself—meekness. There were wonderful possibilities ahead of him, all the possibility of the court of Egypt and his position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But how truly he evaluated it all, saw it as it was, and humbled himself completely to God and His will.
The same is true of David, especially in his relations with Saul. David knew he was to be king. He had been informed, he had been anointed; and yet how he suffered Saul and Saul’s unjust and unkind treatment of him! Read the story of David again and you will see meekness exemplified in a most extraordinary manner. Again, take Jeremiah and the unpopular message that was given to him. He was called upon to speak the truth to the people—not the thing he wanted to do—while the other prophets were saying smooth and easy things. He was isolated. He was an individualist—non-cooperative they would call him today—because he did not say what everybody else was saying. He felt it all bitterly. But read his story. See how he suffered it all and allowed the unkind things to be said about him behind his back, and how he went on delivering his message. It is a wonderful example of meekness.
Come, however, to the New Testament, and here you will see it again and again. Look at the portrait of Stephen and you will see this text illustrated. Look at it in the case of Paul, that mighty man of God. Consider what he suffered at the hands of these different churches and at the hands of his own countrymen and various other people. As you read his letters you will see this quality of meekness coming out, and especially as he writes to the members of the church at Corinth who had been saying such unkind and disparaging things about him. It is again a wonderful example of meekness. But of course we must come to the supreme example, and stand and look at our Lord Himself ‘Come unto me,’ He said, ‘all ye that labour. . . and I will give you rest . . . .I am meek and lowly in heart.’ You see it in the whole of His life. You see it in His reaction to other people, you see it especially in the way He suffered persecution and scorn, sarcasm and derision. Rightly was it said of Him, ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.’ His attitude towards His enemies, but perhaps still more His utter submission to His Father, show His meekness. He said, ‘The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself’, and ‘the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works’. Look at Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Look at the portrait of Him which we find in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us that He did not regard His equality with God as a prerogative at which to clutch or something to hold on to at all costs. No, He decided to live as a Man, and He did. He humbled Himself, became as a servant and even went to the death on the cross. That is meekness; that is lowliness; that is true humility; that is the quality which He Himself is teaching at this point.
Well then, what is meekness? We have looked at the examples. What do we see in them? First, let us notice again that it is not a natural quality. It is not a matter of a natural disposition, because all Christians are meant to be like this. It is not only some Christians. Every Christian, whatever his natural temperament or psychology may be, is meant to be like this. Now we can prove that very easily. Take these various characters whom I have mentioned, apart from our Lord Himself; and I think you will find that in every case we have a man who was not like this by nature. Think of the powerful, extraordinary nature of a man like David, and yet observe his meekness. Jeremiah similarly lets us into the secret. He says he was almost like a boiling cauldron, and yet he was still meek. Look at a man like the apostle Paul, a master mind, an extraordinary personality, a strong character; yet consider his utter humility and meekness. No, it is not a matter of natural disposition; it is something that is produced by the Spirit of God.
Let me emphasize it by putting it like this. Meekness does not mean indolence. There are people who appear to be meek in a natural sense; but they are not meek at all, they are indolent. That is not the quality of which the Bible is speaking. Nor does it mean flabbiness—I use the term advisedly. There are people who are easy-going, and you tend to say how meek they are. But it is not meekness; it is flabbiness. Nor does it mean niceness. There are people who seem to be born naturally nice. That is not what the Lord means when He says, ‘Blessed are the meek.’ That is something purely biological, the kind of thing you get in animals. One dog is nicer than another, one cat is nicer than another. That is not meekness. So it does not mean to be naturally nice or easy to get on with. Nor does it mean weakness in personality or character. Still less does it mean a spirit of compromise or ‘peace at any price’. How often are these things mistaken. How often is the man regarded as meek who says, ‘Anything rather than have a disagreement. Let’s agree, let’s try to break down these distinctions and divisions; let’s smooth over these little things that divide; let’s all be nice and joyful and happy.’
No, no, it is not that. Meekness is compatible with great strength. Meekness is compatible with great authority and power. These people we have looked at have been great defenders of the truth. The meek man is one who may so believe in standing for the truth that he will die for it if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet meek men. God forbid that we should ever confuse this noble quality, one of the noblest of all the qualities, with something merely animal or physical or natural.
My last negative would be that meekness is not merely a matter of outward manner, but also, and still more, of inward spirit. A well-known hymn which inculcates the spirit of meekness tells us to ‘stay the angry blow’, and of course it is right. But if we are to be truly meek we must not only ‘stay the angry blow’, we must get into that state and condition in which we do not feel like doing it at all. We must control the lips and the mouth, and not say the things we feel like saying. You cannot spend time with a verse like this without its humbling you. It is true Christianity; it is the thing for which we are called and for which we are meant.
What, then, is meekness? I think we can sum it up in this way. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is therefore two things. It is my attitude towards myself; and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. You see how inevitably it follows being ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘mourning’. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner. These other things must come first. But when I have that true view of myself in terms of poverty of spirit, and mourning because of my sinfulness, I am led on to see that there must be an absence of pride. The meek man is not proud of himself, he does not in any sense glory in himself. He feels that there is nothing in himself of which he can boast. It also means that he does not assert himself. You see, it is a negation of the popular psychology of the day which says ‘assert yourself’, ‘express your personality’. The man who is meek does not want to do so; he is so ashamed of it. The meek man likewise does not demand anything for himself. He does not take all his rights as claims. He does not make demands for his position, his privileges, his possessions, his status in life. No, he is like the man depicted by Paul in Philippians 2. ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Christ did not assert that right to equality with God; He deliberately did not. And that is the point to which you and I have to come.
Then let me go further; the man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive. We all know about this, do we not? Is it not one of the greatest curses in life as a result of the fall—this sensitivity about self? We spend the whole of our lives watching ourselves. But when a man becomes meek he has finished with all that; he no longer worries about himself and what other people say. To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending. So we are not on the defensive; all that is gone. The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, ‘You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you’. He never thinks: ‘How wonderful I really am, if only other people gave me a chance.’ Self-pity! What hours and years we waste in this! But the man who has become meek has finished with all that. To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly. ‘He that is down need fear no fall.’ When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad. You need not worry about what men may say or do; you know you deserve it all and more. Once again, therefore, I would define meekness like this. The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do. That, it seems to me, is its essential quality.
It must then go on and express itself in our whole demeanour and in our behaviour with respect to others. It does so like this. A person who is of the type that I have been describing must of necessity be mild. Think again of the examples; think again of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mild, gentle, lowly—those are the terms. Quiet, of a quiet spirit—I have already quoted the terms—‘meek and lowly’. In a sense the most approachable Person this world has ever seen was the Lord Jesus Christ. But it also means that there will be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person pays for it. It also means, therefore, that we shall be patient and long-suffering, especially when we suffer unjustly. You remember how Peter puts that in the second chapter of his first Epistle, that we should ‘follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’. It means patience and long-suffering even when we are suffering unjustly. There is no credit, Peter argues in that chapter, if, when we are buffeted for our faults, we take it patiently; but if we do well and suffer for it and take it patiently, then that is the thing that is praiseworthy in the sight of God. That is meekness. But it also means that we are ready to listen and to learn; that we have such a poor idea of ourselves and our own capabilities that we are ready to listen to others. Above all we must be ready to be taught by the Spirit, and led by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Meekness always implies a teachable spirit. It is what we see again in the case of our Lord Himself. Though he was the Second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity, He became man, He deliberately humbled Himself to the extent that He was dependent entirely upon what God gave Him, what God taught Him and what God told Him to do. He humbled Himself to that, and that is what is meant by being meek. We must be ready to learn and listen and especially must we surrender ourselves to the Spirit.
Finally, I would put it like this. We are to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly. We learn to say with the apostle Paul that our policy must be this, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’. We need not repay, we just deliver ourselves into the hands of God. The Lord will revenge; He will repay. We have nothing to do. We leave ourselves and our cause, and our rights and everything with God, with a quietness in spirit and in mind and heart. Now all this, we shall see later, is something that is abundantly illustrated in the various detailed teachings of this Sermon on the Mount.
Now notice what happens to the man who is like this. ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.’ What does that mean? We can summarize it very briefly. The meek already inherit the earth in this life, in this way. A man who is truly meek is a man who is always satisfied, he is a man who is already content. Goldsmith expresses it well when he says: ‘Having nothing yet hath all.’ The apostle Paul has put it still better, for he says, ‘as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ Again, in writing to the Philippians, he says in effect, ‘Thank you for sending your present. I like it, not because I wanted anything, but I like the spirit that made you send it. Yet as for myself; I have all things and abound.’ He has already said to them, ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound’ and ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. Notice, too, the striking way in which he expresses the same thought in 1 Corinthians 3. After telling his readers that they need not be jealous or concerned about these things, he says, ‘All things are yours’, everything; ‘whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.’ All things are yours if you are meek and truly Christian; you have already inherited the earth.
But obviously it has a future reference also. ‘Do ye not know’, says Paul again to these Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 6, ‘do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?’ You are going to judge the world, you are going to judge angels. You will then have inherited the earth. In Romans 8, he puts it this way. We are children, ‘and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.’ That is it; we are going to inherit the earth. ‘If we suffer’, he says to Timothy, ‘we shall also reign with him.’ In other words, ‘Do not be worried about your suffering, Timothy. You be meek and suffer and you shall reign with Him. You are going to inherit the earth with Him.’ But I think it is all to be found in those words of our Lord in Luke 14:11, ‘Whosoever exalteh himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’
There, then, is what is meant by being meek. Need I emphasize again that this is obviously something that is quite impossible to the natural man? We shall never make ourselves meek. The poor people who went off and made themselves monks were trying to make themselves meek. We shall never do it. It cannot be done. Nothing but the Holy Spirit can humble us, nothing but the Holy Spirit can make us poor in spirit and make us mourn because of our sinfulness and produce in us this true, right view of self and give us this very mind of Christ Himself. But this is a serious matter. Those of us who claim to be Christian claim of necessity that we have already received the Holy Spirit. Therefore we have no excuse for not being meek. The man who is outside has an excuse, for it is impossible to him. But if we truly claim that we have received the Holy Spirit, and this is the claim of every Christian, we have no excuse if we are not meek. It is not something that you do and I do. It is a character that is produced in us by the Spirit. It is the direct fruit of the Spirit. It is offered to us and it is possible for us all. What have we to do? We must face this Sermon on the Mount; we must meditate upon this statement about being meek; we must look at the examples; above all we must look at the Lord Himself. Then we must humble ourselves and confess with shame, not only the smallness of our stature, but our utter imperfection. Then we must finish with that self which is the cause of all our troubles, so that He who has bought us at such a price may come in and possess us wholly. (67-76)