Meekness, Not Weakness

Matthew 5:5
On a television series of British comedy, a rich widow is very used to getting her own way, much to the discomfort of the local pastor. So he says to her, “As I never cease to remind you, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Upon which, she says, “And as I never cease to remind you, rector, the meek don’t want it.” The old joke is that the meek will inherit the earth, if that’s okay with the rest of you. Now we laugh and find this funny precisely because we believe that meekness is weakness. First, we will explore what meekness is not, and then we will explore what it is.

Meakness is not weakness. It is not true that a truly meek person can be pushed over by a hard slap in the face from a wet noodle. Meekness is not spinelessness. The two best examples of meekness in the Bible are Moses and Jesus, neither of which could possibly be said to be spineless.

The world thinks of its hope as being in the strong men of the earth. The world thinks of meekness as being a doormat. The world thinks that it is okay to render evil for evil, as long as the other person started it. The world tells us to stick up for ourselves, because no one else will. Anyone who does not stick up for himself is automatically called a mouse. The world (and us, to a great extent) thinks that meekness means that the strong will get the best part of the pie, and the meek will get nothing at all. The world only has one problem with its way of thinking: they have left God out of the picture. If this is truly a dog-eat-dog kind of world, and there is no divine retribution waiting for the world at the end of time, then there is no reason to be meek. We should all claw our way to the top, stomping on everyone below us, and making sure that they cannot get up again, lest they do the same thing to us. We might as well see ourselves as the center of the universe. Never mind that 6 billion other people are suffering from the same delusion. That wouldn’t make communication difficult, now, would it? “One center of the universe calling another center of the universe…” This is a fairly complete description of what meekness is not. It is not what the world thinks it is.

Meekness can be defined as seeing ourselves truly and seeing God truly, and behaving in the light of that knowledge. If we saw ourselves truly, what would we see? We would see sinners. We would know who we truly are because we would see ourselves in the light of God’s Word. We were originally created to be like God, knowing good and evil. But we threw away that knowledge when we ate of the tree. We are wicked people now. Truly meek people know that they are far more wicked in their hearts than they ever dared to imagine. For instance, we would much rather hear God’s name taken in vain than our own. We might even say of ourselves that we are not perfect. But if someone else were to come along and say that, we would punch them in the nose! But if we saw ourselves truly, we would be on our knees. As John Bunyan says, “He who is already down does not need to be afraid of falling down.” The meek person can therefore accept criticism without getting defensive. I know that I especially have a problem with this. Anytime someone criticizes me, I am instantly on the defensive. But I should not be like that. A meek person knows that he deserves far more criticism than he ever gets. A truly meek person will then take what is true in such criticism and even thank the person who criticized him. A meek person sees himself truly.

The reason a truly meek person sees himself truly is that he sees God truly. What does he see? A God who is infinitely holy. A God who executes punishment on all those who disobey God’s law. A God who is angry with sinners. Some people think that God is only angry with sin, not with sinners. That may be a good way for us to act, but God does not send sin to hell, but sinners. It is with sinners that God is righteously angry. But a meek person will also see God’s grace. God had mercy on the world, when He sent His Son to be born of a woman. Jesus was the very meekest person on earth. When reviled, He did not revile in turn. When insulted, He did not respond in kind. Instead, Jesus loved His enemies by dying for them. The meek person realizes that Jesus is the answer for the wrath of God. God the Father loved us so much that He sent His meek Son. Truly meek people know that they are far more wicked in their hearts than they ever dared to imagine, but also they know that they are far more loved than they ever dared to hope. Meekness sees ourselves truly, because meekness sees God truly. This is a good place to read Psalm 37:1-13. Notice here that God is in the habit of vindicated the meek. The meek person realizes that this life is not the end. There is a salvation from the very presence of sin awaiting him at the end. Therefore, he does not fret himself over the evildoer. What a remarkable comfort that is to us. We cannot retaliate, because God is in the business of revenge. That is right, God will revenge us.

If we know this truth, then we will not need to be angry in our own defense ever again. If we are irritated at every little thing that bugs us, if we explode at every little injury done to us, then we will be at everyone’s mercy who wants to turn our crank. As someone said, “Anger is not the strongest thing there is. What controls anger; that is stronger.” If that is true, then we can receive criticism without getting defensive. Matthew Henry says that the person is truly meek who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge a single one. Meekness then implies a teachable spirit. We are to be led by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Meekness is a jewel polished by grace.

Meekness certainly does not come to us by nature. But as Thomas Watson says, “to render evil for evil is like the animals, to render evil for good is devilish, but to render good for evil is Christian.” This is not possible for fallen man to do. Even if we forgive some offences, there are just a few that we want to hang onto. We can forgive our brother some things, but not all. That is just like nature, too, isn’t it. We even justify holding onto some grudges, since we have forgiven all the other ones. That is a half-way forgiveness. Is that how you want God to remember your sin? Do you want God to say, “Well, I will forgive your greed most of the time, but when you stole that bubble gum, I will remember that.” You might think to yourself, “That wouldn’t be so bad. At least only my little sins would be remembered.” The problem is that the least little sin can land us in hell, because God is infinitely holy and cannot tolerate the presence of the smallest sin in heaven. We are not safe from hell unless every last one of our sins has been forgiven, and our sinful nature changed. So do you want God to forgive you half-way? Then forgive your brother all the way.

The hidden fear we all have about being meek is that the meek will lose at the last. We saw that fear dealt with in Psalm 37. But Jesus, the meekest man who ever lived, says that the meek will win in the end. They will inherit the earth. The problem for us that we have no faith. We don’t believe that God will reverse the decision that the world made. The world decided that might was right. God will decide that blessed are the meek, for they, and only they, will inherit the earth.

What does it mean to inherit the earth? It means that the meek will not take it by force, will not invade the land, and will not earn it by their own efforts. They will inherit the land. The land will be deeded to them. God will give it to them. It means that we have to put off our expectation that God will reward us now. We have to be patient and kind to all. It does not mean that we will never be angry. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

Interestingly, the world denounces such anger as misplaced. For instance, if we protest the killing of innocent children in the womb, we are called fanatics. But if they needed to stick up for themselves, they will do it. See how inconsistent the world is? For the world, anger is only rightly placed when it for oneself. But for Jesus, we are only rightly to be angry when someone else’s right is at stake. It is a sad fact that most of the babies that we have tried to save since 1973 would have grown up to be worldly minded. We are trying to save the world’s babies. That is labeled fanaticism. But we call it righteous anger. The secret here is always to be angry at the right moment, and never to be angry at the wrong moment. What is the wrong moment? It is disciplining the children while you are angry. That should never happen. We need to ask the Lord to give us meekness to deal with that situation as it comes up.

The promise for us is that God will take vengeance on the world. God will reverse the world’s decision about meekness. Jesus, the meekest man who ever lived is also the world’s judge. It is for that reason that we can forbear to punish others. Before you let that snappy comment come out of your lips, consider whether you are being meek. What will that snappy comment gain you, except a guilty satisfaction? Forbear. It is much better to forgive twenty offenses against you, than to take revenge for a single one. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

That means the rights of the first-born. The only people who get to inherit the entire land of their fathers are those who are first-born. Jesus was the first-born from the dead. He, the meekest man who ever lived, inherits the nations. But somehow, we will all have that right as well, because we are united to Jesus Christ, the first-born, and so we will share in what Jesus has. That means the entire heavens and earth will be ours. Think of that the next time you are tempted to lash out in anger at someone. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

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God’s Law

The law of God has its origin not in the Mosaic economy, but in the Covenant of Works. In fact, theWCF says that the law was given as a covenant of works (19.1). This is completely contrary to most proponents of the Federal Vision, who, if they acknowledge the covenant of works at all, will not say that the law is part of the covenant of works as the stipulations. They have this completely erroneous notion that because God condescended to make a covenant with Adam, that the inheritance of eternal life could not have been on the basis of merit. What these authors fail time and time again to realize is that there are more definitions of merit than absolute condign merit. Absolute, condign merit is not possible for any mere human to achieve, not even Adam. However, Christ, the God-man, did achieve this kind of merit, since He did not have to achieve it for Himself, but achieved it vicariously. But it is never this kind of merit that could be predicated of Adam. Instead, it is merit according to a pact. That is, God condescended to bind Himself to the fulfillment of the promises of the Covenant of Works, if Adam obeyed. Another vital point to consider here is the definition of grace. Grace is usually defined as unmerited favor given by God to sinful people. As a matter of fact, we have not merely “unmerited” God’s favor, but we have positively “demerited” God’s favor. That is, we have not merely been neutral with regard to God’s favor. We have actively spurned it, and in thus doing, we have made ourselves worthy of nothing but judgment.

So, Adam can be said to have merited eternal life, if it is understood that the merit being spoken of is the merit of obedience to the pact to which God bound Himself by condescension.

The WCF says that it is this very law that is republished in the Sinai Covenant. It continued to be the perfect rule of righteousness, even if mankind was no longer going to inherit eternal life by doing the works of the law. What this means is that in the Sinai Covenant, though certainly part of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works still plays a part. There is an element of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy. The one who does these things may live by them. But cursed is the one who does not continue in all the works of the law, to do them. If one performs circumcision with a view toward law-keeping and eternal life, then one is obligated to perform the whole law.

All this leads us to the divines’ interpretation of the law, which can be found in LC 99.4. This passage explains why it is that the divines interpret the law given to Adam as indicating that life was promised upon obedience, even if that promise is not explicitly stated. The flip side of any command or negation is implied. So, in the statement “Do not eat of the tree,” what is implied there is trusting in the commandment of God, that God has defined good and evil, and that God is the ultimate authority in their lives. The opposite promise of life (to the threat of death) is also promised, according to the divines’ interpretation in LC 99.4.

The law of God as given at Mount Sinai can be divided into three parts: the moral law, the civil law, and the ceremonial law. Only the first part, the moral law (as comprehended in the Ten Commandments) is still binding on the Christian (though not for salvation, since we are no longer subject to the covenant of works. We are subject to it as a rule or guide for the Christian life). The second and third parts of the law are now expired.

There are three uses of the law. The first use is to show us our sin and to point us to Christ. The second use is to restrain unbelievers from being as bad as they could be. The third use of the law is as a guide to the Christian life.

Happy are the Unhappy

Matthew 5:4
The child sees a horse and says, “That horse must be a Christian, because he has such a long face!” There are many misconceptions about what true mourning is. You can be a mourner, and yet not receive comfort. What does the world say? Be happy. If it feels good, do it. Seek pleasure, not sorrow. Jesus says differently. It is not true, however, that Jesus is counseling us here to be miserable. Jesus counsels mourning, not moping. Nor is true mourning merely a weeping over sin’s consequences. There is the case of the child who gets caught with the hand in the cookie jar. The child screams out his penitence, but only because he is sorry that he got caught, and wants to try to avoid the consequence. So what is true mourning? True mourning is a God-given sorrow over one’s own sin, and over the sin of other people.
First, we must mourn over our own sin. It is important to realize that there is a progression in the Beatitudes. The first Beatitude tells us that we have no righteousness of our own. Being poor in spirit means that we have to rely wholly on God. When we empty ourselves of our own righteousness, then we will come to realize that we are sinners. Once the blinders of our own sel-righteousness come off, we will recognize that the only thing we have to offer is our own sin. Being poor in spirit leads to mourning over one’s own sin.
David mentions that his sin is ever before him. We do not mourn only for sin’s consequences. We are tempted to do that often, however. We are tempted to think that we are sorry over our sin, when we are really only sorry that we got caught, or that we are sorry because of what happened after. That kind of mourning is really only mourning for oneself. It is mourning that is directed at me. True mourning, on the other hand, is directed toward God. We are sorry that we have offended our heavenly Father. We are sorry that we have broken God’s law. We are sorry that we have caused a rift in the relationship with God.
It is not mere generalities for which we must mourn. We need to mourn in general for sin, but that is not enough. We must also mourn because of specific sins. If we only mourn for sin in general, then we will automatically try to rationalize our sin away. We will try to excuse ourselves, because it is really only one small sin, after all. “Just one little sin.” That could be the motto for the road to hell: “just one little unrepented sin.”
Mourning means a turning away from that particular sin. Augustine once said, “He truly mourns the sins he has committed, who never again commits the sins he has mourned.” Mourning must be joined with a hatred of sin. We must hate and turn from that sin that keeps us from fellowship with God.
There is a sense in which we must mourn once for all. We must turn from sin to our Savior. There is a turning, a repenting that must take place. We must mourn here on earth temporarily, if we do not want to mourn eternally in hell.
The world says exactly the opposite of Jesus. The world tells us to be well, be happy, just do it, especially if it feels good. The world turns a blind eye to sin. But we must not be blind. Instead we must turn not a blind eye to sin, but turn away from sin. We must believe in what Jesus tells us here. We must believe in Jesus. Mourning over sin is appropriate. We must mourn the fact that we lost our place in the garden of Eden. We must mourn all the evil that has come into the world on account of sin. The world does not see this aspect of humanity. Conservatives will condemn sin, and liberals will excuse sin, but neither will mourn for sin unless God changes the heart.
If we do believe in Jesus, then we must mourn daily for sin. It does not mean that we always literally weep. That is not what mourning is. Mourning is an attitude of the heart that hates sin, and wants to do anything it can to prevent sin from taking more territory. Mourning is a good antidote to daily sin. It is hard to fall into the fire of temptation, when the fountain of the heart keeps the heart moist and wet. Mourning is a water to extinguish the fiery darts of the Evil One. This kind of mourning is not bitter. There is a sweetness to this kind of mourning. Compassion is born from it. That leads us to the second kind of mourning. The first was to weep for our own sin.

The second kind of mourning is to mourn for the sin of other people. These two kinds of mourning are connected. If we mourn over the sin of others, we are less likely to have sins of our own to mourn. But those who do not mourn the sins of others are probably not aware of their own sins. Do we mourn over other people’s sin? Or do we only mourn over another’s sin when it affects us? For instance, does it bother us when we hear foul language? Do we inwardly grieve, or do we think that that kind of language is somehow eloquent? This is especially true when someone uses the Lord’s name in vain. But if we do not mourn over someone else’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, are we honoring God’s name ourselves? To honor God’s name means more than not taking it in vain ourselves, it means that we want all people to honor it.
To take another example, what about greed? Suppose you see a shady business deal take place, or you see someone greedily snatch property. Does it grieve you to see it? Do you always remain silent, or will you say something? There is a time to remain silent, namely, when the injustice is done to us. But when injustice is done to others, woe to us if we remain silent! Are we to have a prophetic voice in this culture? Then we must denounce greed when we see it. If we do not, are we really concerned about the property of other people? If we see greed, we must mourn over it; we must speak the truth in love. All too often, we remain silent, because we fear rejection. We fear that the other person will never speak to us again. There is a way, however, to do this. That way is to speak the truth in love. Identify with the person by saying something like, “You know, I would tempted to do the very same thing.” Then you can say that you don’t believe that what the person is doing is right.
If we mourn truly over our own sin, and over the sin of others, then there is a precious promise waiting for us. We will receive comfort. Mourning is made on purpose to give comfort. Now, some people think that mourning causes joy. It is not the cause of joy, but rather the way to joy, just as the road is not the cause of my taking a trip, but is the way to get there. It is the only way to get there. Jesus tells us that only those who mourn for sin will receive this comfort. Those who treat sin lightly, or dismiss it by rationalizing, or by excusing, or by making fun of God’s law, or any number of other ways to lessen sin; those people will never receive the comfort about which Jesus is talking. One must dig deep in order to build high. Jesus is saying, “Happy are the unhappy.” That is how weird it might sound to our ears. But it is the only way to true happiness. Happiness is dependent on our relationship to God. That relationship is severed. Only by truly repenting of sin can we come into a right relationship with God.
Only by realizing that our sin put Jesus on the cross can we ever expect to receive the benefits of His death. It was our hand that nailed Jesus’ wrist to the cross-bar. It was our hand that nailed Jesus’ feet to the bottom of the cross.
If we know this, then we cannot love sin. Someone said that it is worse to love sin than to commit it. Remember that repentance must be accompanied by hatred for sin. If we have that hatred for sin, then we will be comforted.
Notice that the comfort will come. That means two things: it is certain that it will come, and it is in the future that it will come. This is talking primarily about the comfort that we will receive in the new heavens and the new earth. It is true that we receive comfort in this life as well. However, the most important thing to remember is that ultimately, every tear will be wiped from our eye. There is no mourning of crying in the new Jerusalem. There is no more separation, no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death. We have the down payment of that comfort now in the person of the Holy Spirit. We do not have all misery. We have the joy of the Holy Spirit. It is not true that those who truly mourn are those who mope around the house in utter misery all the time. There are many who weep who will not be comforted, because they do not truly mourn. They will not receive comfort. No, the Holy Spirit enters our lives, and gives us a certain hope that all will be made right, all wrongs will be righted, all sin punished. Those people who have the most joy are those people who truly mourn for sin. Let us not be satisfied with anything less than true mourning. It is not comfortable now, but it will be. We will have comfort. So often, however, we are satisfied with having as much comfort as possible now, not realizing that this life is not home to us. We are aliens and strangers here on this old earth. We need to wait for the new heavens and the new earth in order to receive the true comfort. As Abraham said to the rich man, “In this life you received your comforts, while Lazarus received only bad things. But now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Which person do we want to be? Do we want to mourn now, or later? We will do one or the other. The world wants to escape pain altogether. It is not possible. Do not make an idol out of comfort. The way to comfort is almost entirely in the opposite direction. It is like Alice in Alice in Wonderland. She wanted to get to the garden. However, the more she tried to get there, the further away she got. It was only when she tried to go in the opposite direction, that she made her way to the garden. If we make an idol out of comfort, and pursue it for its own sake, we will never find it. It is impossible. However, if we seek holiness rather than happiness, if we seek God rather than man, if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, then and only then will all these other things be added to us as well. That is the true meaning of mourning. Happy are the unhappy, for they will be happy.