A Discourse on Meekness and Quietness of Spirit

Matthew Henry

"A meek and quiet spirit, which is in the
 sight of God of great price." 1 Peter 3:4


And now, have we not reason to lament the lack of the adornment of a meek and quiet spirit among those that profess religion, and especially in our own hearts? If this is Christianity, how little is there of the thing, even among those that make great pretensions to the name! Surely, as one said in another case, either this is not gospel, or these are not gospel-professors. And oh, how bare and unbecoming does profession appear for lack of this adorning! When the Israelites had stripped themselves of their ornaments to furnish up a golden calf, it is said they were "made naked to their shame." How naked are we—like Adam when he had sinned—for lack of this ornament. It is well if it be to the shame of true repentance.

I am not teaching you to judge and censure others in this matter; there is too much of that to be found among us: we are quick-sighted enough to spy faults in others, the transports of whose passions we should interpret favorably. But we have all cause, more or less, to condemn ourselves, and confess guilt in this matter. In many things we all offend, and perhaps in this as much as in any, coming short of the law of meekness and quietness.

We are called Christians, and it is our privilege and honor that we are so: we name the name of the meek and lowly Jesus, but how few are actuated by his spirit, or conform to His example! It is a shame that any occasion should be given to charge it upon professors, who, in other things, are most strict and sober, that in this they are most faulty; and that many who pretend to conscience and devotion, should indulge themselves in a peevish, contentious, and morose temper and conversation, to the great reproach of that worthy name by which we are called. May we not say, as that Mahommedan did when a Christian prince had perfidiously broke his league with him, "O Jesus, are these Your Christians?"

It is the manifest design of our holy and excellent religion to smooth and soften and sweeten our temper; and is it not a wretched thing that any who profess it should be soured and embittered, and less conversant and fit for human society than others? He was looked upon as a very good man in his day, and not without cause, who yet had such an unhappy temper, and was sometimes so transported with passion that his friend would say of him, "He had grace enough for ten men, and yet not enough for himself." The disciples of Jesus Christ did not know "what manner of spirit they were of," so apt are we to deceive ourselves, especially when these extravagances shroud themselves under the specious and plausible pretense of zeal for God and religion. But yet the fault is not to be laid upon the profession, or the strictness and singularity of it in other things which are praiseworthy; nor may we think the worse of Christianity for any such blemish: we know very well that the wisdom that is from above is peaceable and gentle, and easy to be entreated, and all that is sweet and amiable and endearing, though she is not herein justified of all who call themselves her children. But the blame must be laid upon the corruption and folly of the professors themselves, who are not so perfectly delivered into the mold of Christianity as they should be; but neglect their ornament, and prostitute their honor, and suffer the authority of their graces to be trampled upon. They let "fire go out of the rod of their branches, which devoured their fruit;" so that there is no meekness as a strong rod to be a scepter to rule in the soul, which is "a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation."

And yet, blessed be God, even in this corrupt and degenerate world there are many who appear in the excellent ornament of a meek and quiet spirit; and some whose natural temper is quick and choleric, yet have been enabled, by the power of divine grace, to show in a good conversation their works with meekness and wisdom. It is not so impractical as some imagine to subdue these passions, and to preserve the peace of the soul, even in a stormy day.

But that we may each of us judge ourselves and find matter for repentance herein, I shall only mention those instances of irregular deportment towards our particular relations which evidence the lack of meekness and quietness of spirit.

1. Superiors are commonly very apt to chide, and that is for lack of meekness. It is spoken to the praise of Him who is the great ruler of this perverse and rebellious world, that He "will not always chide." But how many little rulers are there of families and petty societies that herein are very unlike Him, for they are always chiding. Upon every little default they are put into a flame, and transported beyond due bounds; easily provoked, either for no cause at all, or for very small cause; greatly provoked, and very outrageous and unreasonable when they are provoked. Their bearing is fiery and hasty, their language is scurrilous and indecent; they care not what they say, nor what they do, nor whom they insult; they are "such sons of Belial, that a man cannot speak to them." One had as good meet a bear robbed of her whelps as meet them. These require meekness. Husbands should not be bitter against their wives. Parents should not provoke their children. Masters must forbear threatening. These are the rules, but how few are ruled by them. The undue and intemperate passion of superiors goes under the excuse of necessary strictness and the maintaining of authority, and the education and control of children and servants. But surely every little failure need not be criticized, but rather should be passed by; or if the fault must be reproved and corrected, may it not be done without so much noise and clamor? Is this the product of a meek and quiet spirit? Is this the best badge of your authority you have to put on? And are these the ensigns of your honor? Is there no other way of making your inferiors know their place but by putting them among the dogs of your flock, and threatening them as such? Not that I am against government and good order in families, and such reproofs as are necessary to the support and preservation of it, and those so sharpened as some tempers require and call for. But while you are governing others, please learn to govern yourselves, and do not disorder your own souls under pretense of keeping order in your families; for though you yourselves may not be aware of it, yet it is certain that by those indications of your displeasure which transgress the laws of meekness, you do but render yourselves contemptible and ridiculous, and rather prostitute than preserve your authority. Though your children dare not tell you so, yet perhaps they cannot but think that you are very unfit to command yourselves.* Time was when you were yourselves children and scholars, and perhaps servants and apprentices; and so, if you will but allow yourselves the liberty of reflection, you cannot but know the heart of an inferior, Exod. 23:9, and should therefore treat those that are now under you as you yourselves then wished to be treated. A due expression of displeasure, so much as is necessary to the amendment of what is amiss, will very well consist with meekness and quietness. And your gravity and dreadful composure therein will contribute very much to the preserving of your authority, and will command respect abundantly more than your noise and scolding. Masters of families and masters of schools too have need, in this matter, to behave themselves wisely, so as to avoid the two extremes, that of Eli's foolish indulgence on the one hand, and that of Saul's brutish rage on the other; and for attaining this golden mean, wisdom is profitable to direct.

*No one is fit to rule except he is willing to be governed. Seneca.

2. Inferiors are commonly very apt to complain. If everything is not fair to their mind, they are fretting and vexing, and their hearts are hot within them; they are uneasy in their place and station, finding fault with everything that is said or done to them. Here is lacking a quiet spirit, which would reconcile us to the post we are in, and to all the difficulties of it, and would make the best of the present state, though it is attended with many inconveniences. Those unquiet people whom the apostle Jude in his epistle compares to raging waves of the sea and wandering stars, were murmurers and complainers—blamers of their lot, so the word signifies. It is an instance of unquietness, to be ever and anon quarreling with our allotment. Those wives lacked a meek and quiet spirit who "covered the altar of the Lord with tears:" not tears of repentance for sin, but tears of vexation at the disappointments they met in their outward condition. Hannah's meekness and quietness was in some degree lacking, when she fretted and wept, and would not eat; but prayer composed her spirit; her countenance was no more sad. It was the unquietness of the spirit of the elder brother in the parable, that quarreled so unreasonably with his father for receiving and entertaining the penitent prodigal. Those that are given to be uneasy, will never lack something or other to complain of. It is true, though not so readily apprehended, that the sullenness and murmuring and silent frets of children and servants, are as great a transgression of the law of meekness, as the more open, noisy, and avowed passions of their parents and masters. We find the king's chamberlains angry with the king. And Cain's quarrel with God Himself for accepting Abel, was interpreted as anger by God. "Why are you angry, and why is your countenance fallen?" The sour looks of inferiors are as certain indicators of anger resting in the bosom, as the disdainful looks of superiors; and how many such instances of discontentment there have been, especially under a continual cross, our own consciences may perhaps tell us. It is the lack of meekness only that makes those whom divine Providence has put under the yoke, children of Belial, that is, impatient of the yoke.

3. Equals are commonly very apt to clash and contend. It is for lack of meekness that there are in the church so many pulpit and paper quarrels, such strifes of words and perverse disputings; that there are in the state such factions and parties, and between them such animosities and heart-burnings; that there are in neighborhoods such strifes and brawls and vexatious lawsuits, or such distances and estrangements and shyness one of another; that there are in families envies and quarrels among the children and servants, crossing, thwarting, and finding fault one with another; and that brethren that dwell together do not, as they should, dwell together in unity. It is for lack of meekness that we are so impatient of contradiction in our opinions, desires, and designs, that we must have our own saying, right or wrong, and everything our own way; that we are so impatient of competitors, not enduring that any should stand in our light, or share in that work of honor which we would engross to ourselves; that we are so impatient of contempt, so quick in our apprehension and resentment of the least slight of affront, and so pregnant in our fancy of injuries, where really there are none, or none intended. They are not only loud and professed contentions that evidence a lack of meekness, but also those silent alienations in affection and conversation which make a less noise; little piques and prejudices conceived, which men are themselves so ashamed of that they will not own them: these show the spirit disturbed, and lacking the ornament of meekness. In a word, willfully doing anything to disquiet others—slandering, backbiting, whispering, talebearing, or the like, is too plain an evidence that we are not ourselves rightly disposed to be quiet.

And now, may we not all remember our faults this day; and instead of condemning others, though ever so faulty, should we not each of us bewail before the Lord that we have been so little motivated by this excellent spirit, and repent of all we have at any time said or done contrary to the law of meekness? Instead of going about to extenuate and excuse our sinful passions, let us rather aggravate them, and lay a load upon ourselves for them: "So foolish have I been and ignorant, and so like a beast before God." Think how often we have appeared before God, and the world without our ornament, without our livery, to our shame. God kept account of the particular instances of the unquietness of Israel: "They have tempted me," says He, "now these ten times." Conscience is God's register that records all our miscarriages: even what we say and do in our haste, is not so quick as to escape its observation. Let us therefore be often opening that book now, for our conviction and humiliation, or else it will be opened shortly to our confusion and condemnation. But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord. May we not all say, as Joseph's brethren did—and perhaps some are, as they were, in a special manner called to say it by humbling providences—"We are verily guilty concerning our brother." Such a time, in such a company, upon such an occasion I lacked meekness; my spirit was provoked, and I spoke unadvisedly with my lips, and now I remember it against myself. More, have not I lived a life of unquietness in the family, in the neighborhood, always in the fire of contention, as in my element, and breathing threatenings? And by so doing have not I dishonored my God, discredited my profession, disturbed my soul, grieved the blessed Spirit, and been to many an occasion of sin? And for all this should I not be greatly humbled and ashamed? Before we can put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, we must wash in the laver of true repentance, not only for our gross and open extravagances of passion, but for all our neglects and omissions of the duties of meekness.