Arthur Pink, September 1951
There is "a time to keep silent, and a time to speak" (Ecc 3:7), and often as much wisdom and grace is needed for the one, as for the other. When little ones, some of us were taught, "Speech is silvern, silence is golden" would that the children of this day were so instructed, not in order unto what our ill-advised generation designates self-suppression, but as a necessary lesson in the all-important art of self-control. Like all other proverbs, that one is to be understood relatively, and not absolutely, for the power of speech has been given us by God to use, yet the "time to keep silent" precedes the "time to speak" in our opening text!
There can be no room for doubt that if we learned to keep a much tighter rein upon our tongues, all of us would have far less to answer for in the Day to come, when even "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof" (Mat 12:36).
What a remarkable and mysterious word is that in Revelation 8:1, "There was silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour" so mysterious that we refuse to speculate thereon and therefore make no comments upon it. But on other passages, we shall seek to offer some remarks.
1. A GUILTY silence."When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long" (Psalm 32:3). The writer was David, making reference to his experience during those months which followed his fearful fall and before the prophet rebuked him for the same. No mention is made of that experience in the historical narratives, but what has just been quoted intimates that, before the appearing of Nathan unto him, David had long been exceedingly tortured in his conscience. Through reluctance to humble himself before God or to be known as a criminal before men, he had refused the only effectual relief by not confessing his sins unto the Lord. By such failure, he obtained proof that "He who covers his sins shall not prosper" (Pro 28:13).
David's secret remorse not only preyed upon his spirit, but impaired his health. When the guilt of sin lies upon the conscience, not only is it an intolerable burden to the inward man, but the outward is affected too. As nothing so injuriously affects our animal spirits and enervates the body as grief, so nothing has a worse effect on the soul of a saint than to offend the Holy One and refuse contritely to own the same. Such was David's sad case, and, in consequence, he suffered what no tongue can express. The displeasure of the Lord was manifested, "Day and night your hand was heavy upon me." Not until then did he acknowledge his transgression and receive forgiveness. That is recorded for our instruction!
2. A SUBMISSIVE silence."I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!" Psalm 39:9
Realizing that it was the chastening hand of God upon him, David refrained from murmuring. It was not the silence of sullenness, but of meekly acquiescing to the rod. When we are in our right minds, we shall have nothing to object against God's dealings with us, or dispute with them. God is sovereign in the acts of His providence and therefore an important branch of our obedience unto Him lies in suffering His will, as well as in doing His will. That obedience is evidenced by refusing to repine against Him by the utterance of any impatient words.
Shall vile dust and ashes censure the providential dealings of the Most High God, or impugn His goodness? Let all God's treatment of us be both wondrous and righteous in our eyes.
"If our hope is in God for a happiness in the eternal world then we can well afford to reconcile ourselves to all the dispensations of Divine providence concerning this world." (Matthew Henry)
The consideration that all our afflictions are appointed by our loving heavenly Father, should silence all complaints. It did so with David. He knew they came not by chance, but according to divine appointment.
After months of acute suffering, and still in agony of body, the last words of John Calvin were, "Lord, You grind me to powder, but it suffices me because it is Your hand."
"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!" Hebrews 12:10-11
3. A DIGNIFIED silence."He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth" (Isa 53:7). Most blessedly did Christ exemplify in His conduct and life what had been predicted of Him, putting up with unspeakable insults and indignities without resistance or complaint against either the justice of God or the injustice of men. Solomon says, "Oppression makes a wise man mad" (Ecc 7:7), causing him who has the greatest command over himself to rage when meeting with unexpected and undeserved hard usage. But when Christ was reviled, "He reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." He was meekness personified in its uttermost perfection. When they spit in His face and mocked Him as the Messiah, He uttered not a word. When false witnesses deposed against Him, He refuted them not. When the high priest impertinently asked, "Do you answer nothing? what is it which these witness against you?" He held His peace. He refused to speak in self-defense because He knew that He stood at His Father's bar and was bearing the shame due unto the sins of His people. When they charged Him with blasphemy, He opened not His mouth. Not only did He display perfect patience under suffering, but cheerful compliance with the Father's will.
4. A FORBIDDEN silence."I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest." (Isa 62:6). Ministers of the Gospel are here likened to "watchmen" (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5; Heb 13:17), or sentinels upon the Church's walls, which is as a city besieged. It was the duty of sentinels to observe the motions of the enemy and give warning of a threatened attack, and in order thereto they were to be vigilant. In like manner, it is the business of Christ's servants to be wakeful and watchful, faithful unto those whose souls are committed to their trust and ever menaced by foes. They must not hold their peace, but, as Matthew Henry said, "Take all opportunities to give warning to sinners, in season and out of season, and must never betray the cause of Christ by a treacherous or cowardly silence. Nor must they hold their peace at the throne of grace, but importunately supplicate God's blessing on His cause."
The closing sentence is addressed to God's people at large, who are not to rest lazily upon the intercession of their pastors, but are themselves to be active and zealous in the discharge of that duty. Such are, in the margin, beautifully designated "the LORD's remembrancers" those who humbly but trustfully put Him in mind of His promises.
5. A DISCREET silence."Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time" (Amos 5:13). The day in which that prophet's lot was cast was an exceedingly evil one one in which they had left off righteousness in the earth (verse 7), when the magistrate who faithfully rebuked was hated, and those who spoke uprightly were abhorred (verse 10), when the poor were mercilessly oppressed (verse 11), and political corruption abounded (verse 12). When, in short, God charged them with "manifold transgressions and mighty sins."
In such a time, a still tongue marked a wise head. Great caution was required with their speech lest it should be misinterpreted and misrepresented, and so bad matters made worse for them. This precept pertained not to the prophets themselves, for it was ever their duty to "cry aloud, spare not . . . show my people their transgression" (Isa 58:1). Let the consequences be what they may. But for the private people to open their mouths in such a day is likely to stir up against them ill-will and hatred and cause the name of God to be blasphemed. In perilous times, the old adage holds good, "The least said, the soonest amended."
6. A COMMANDED silence."Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak" (1 Corinthians 14:34). "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I do not allow a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Those are the only passages in the New Testament where any silence is specifically enjoined, and it is striking to observe that this prohibition is repeated. Those verses are far more than the opinions of Paul, being given by inspiration of God, and therefore of divine and binding authority. They are too plain to be misunderstood. What they require is obedient submission not a reluctant or chagrined one, but a loving response from a desire to please Him who loved them and gave Himself for them. To say that many good people are in favor of women making public addresses and praying audibly where men are present evokes the rejoinder. More's the pity, for when good people do wrong, it makes the wrong worse rather than better. To plead the prompting of the Spirit, in view of these verses, is most impious, for He never leads anyone to act contrary to the Word. No matter what the inducement of circumstances, it is never right to do wrong.
7. A shamed silence."For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:15). Strict Christians who refuse to join unbelievers in their carnal pleasures and excesses are regarded as dissemblers and their conduct as peevish obstinacy. Baseless charges are to be expected, for they called the Master "Beelzebub." But it is our responsibility to take every possible care that there be nothing in our lives to afford just ground for censure, "Give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" (1 Timothy 5:14). Nay, more, it is our duty so to act that we silence the slanders of the ungodly by holy and benevolent lives, so that they are thereby refuted and confounded. A consistent walk is the most effectual confutation. See to it then that your conduct gives the lie to every false charge made by worldlings, and thereby shame them into silence.