If you are like me, you will sometimes run across words that you have in your vocabulary but have no clue what it practically looks like in everyday living. From reasonableness to love, we sometimes need to sit down and dig into not only what words mean but what they look like when acted out in the lives of people. Recently, I've been working through Dane Ourtlund's book Edwards on the Christian Life (see other books I'm reading by going here). It's been refreshing and challenging to me as Ortlund walks through the life of Edwards as well as many of his most popular writings. One thing that caught my attention right away was his focus on one of the words many of us know, but aren't sure what it exactly looks like: Gentleness.
Edwards saw gentleness not as a mere word that was to be breezed by when reading about the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but rather as a word that is to be defined and lived out in the life of a Christian. Edwards said this, "A lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper is the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians." If gentleness is truly that important, then what is it? And how can people like you and I have a spirit of gentleness?
1. What is gentleness?
Whenever Edwards spoke of gentleness, he always used these words: calmness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, lamb-like or dove-like, and meekness. He said "Gentleness makes us like little children." How does this happen? Paul is clear in Galatians 5:22-23 that gentleness is not a gift of the Spirit, but a fruit of the Spirit. This means that just as patience comes from walking in the Spirit, gentleness is no different. With all that said, what exactly is gentleness? Gentleness is the calm, humble spirit a Christian has when they are consumed with God's beauty and walking in obedience to Him.
"Gentleness is the calm, humble spirit a Christian has when they are consumed with God's beauty and walking in obedience to Him."
2. How do we obtain gentleness?
Edwards said that when his own eyes were opened to the beauty of God, he saw two things above all else: "God's majesty and meekness joined together." What exactly was Edwards getting at? Hymn writer John Newton once said this:
"Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at the obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose."
Edwards and Newton were thinking what we desperately need to understand: that a spirit of gentleness is bred on the grounds of humble reliance on God and the right view of self. When we see ourselves as those who can do nothing apart from God (John 15:5) and see God as the sovereign, loving God that He is (1 John 4:18; Ps. 115:3), we walk away humbled and in deeper love with Him and people.
I pray that we, like Edwards, would see the great importance of gentleness. That we would be overcome by the majesty and beauty of God on the Cross and walk away humbled and in awe of all that He is. Because when we see Him, we see the fulness of gentleness.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.