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


Have we not reason to labor and endeavor, since there is such a virtue and such a praise, to attain these things? Should we not lay out ourselves to the utmost for this ornament of a meek and quiet spirit? For your direction in this endeavor, if you are indeed willing to be directed, I shall briefly lay before you some Scripture precepts concerning meekness; some patterns of it; some particular instances in which we have special need of it; some good principles that we should abide by; and some good practices that we should abound in, in order to our growth in this grace. In opening these things, we will endeavor to keep close to the law, and to the testimony.

If we lay the word of God before us for our rule, and will be ruled by it, we shall find the command of God making meekness and quietness as much our duty as they are our ornament. We are there told, as the will of God that we must seek meekness.

1. This command we have in Zeph. 2:3, and it is especially directed to the meek: "Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth—seek meekness." Though they were meek, and were pronounced so by Him that searches the heart, yet they must seek meekness; which teaches us that those who have much of this grace, have still need of more, and must desire and endeavor after more. He that sits down content with the grace he has, and is not pressing forward towards perfection, and striving to grow in grace, to get the habit of it more strengthened and confirmed, and the operation of it more quickened and invigorated, it is to be feared has no true grace at all; and that, though he sits ever so high and ever so easy in his own opinion, he will yet sit down short of heaven. Where there is life, one way or other there will be growth, until we come to the perfect man. "He that has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger." Paul was a man of great attainments in grace, and yet we find him "forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forward to those that are ahead." Those who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, are yet told that they "have need of patience." Thus the meek of the earth—who being on the earth, are in a state of infirmity and imperfection, of trial and temptation—have still need of meekness; that is, they must learn to be yet more calm and composed, more steady and even and regular in the government of their passions, and in the management of their whole conversation. They who have silenced all angry words, must learn to suppress the first risings and motions of angry thoughts.

It is observable that when the meek of the earth are especially concerned to seek meekness, when the day of the Lord's anger hastens on, when the times are bad, and desolating judgments are breaking in, then we have occasion for all the meekness we have and all we can get, and all is little enough: meekness towards God the author, and towards men the instruments of our trouble; meekness to bear the trial, and to bear our testimony in the trial. There is sometimes an "hour of temptation," a critical day when the exercise of meekness is the work of the day: sometimes the children of men are more than ordinarily provoking, and then the children of God have more than commonly need of meekness. When God is justly angry and men are unjustly angry, when our mother's children are angry with us and our Father angry too, there is anger enough stirring, and then "blessed are the meek," that are careful to keep possession of their souls when they can keep possession of nothing else.

Now the way prescribed for the attainment of meekness is to seek it. Ask it of God, pray for it: it is fruit of the Spirit, it is given by the God of all grace, and to Him we must go for it. It is a branch of that wisdom which he that lacks must ask of God, and it shall be given him. The God we address is called "the God of patience and consolation;" and He is the God of consolation because the God of patience—for the more patient we are, the more we are comforted under our afflictions—and as such we must look to Him when we come to Him for grace to make us "like-minded," that is, meek and loving one towards another, which is the apostle's errand at the throne of grace. God's people are, and should be, a generation that "covet the best gifts," and make their court to the best Giver, who never said to the wrestling seed of Jacob, Seek in vain; but has given us an assurance firm enough for us to build upon, and rich enough for us to encourage ourselves with—Seek, and you shall find. What would we more? Seek meekness, and you shall find it.

The promise annexed is very encouraging to the meek of the earth that seek meekness: "It may be you shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger." Though it is but a promise with an "it may be," yet it ministers abundance of comfort: God's probabilities are better than the world's certainties; and the meek ones of the earth that hope in His mercy, and can venture their all upon an intimation of His good will, shall find to their comfort, that when God brings a flood upon the world of the ungodly, He has an ark for all his Noahs, His resting, quiet people, in which they shall be hid, it may be, from the calamity itself, at least from the sting and malignity of it—"HID," as Luther said, "either in heaven or under heaven, either in the possession or under the protection of heaven."

2. We must put on meekness. "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, meekness." It is one of the members of the new man, which we must put on. Put it on as armor, to keep provocations from the heart, and so to defend the vitals. Those who have tried it will say it is "armor of proof." When you are putting on "the whole armor of God," do not forget this. Put it on as attire, as your necessary clothing, which you cannot go without; look upon yourselves as ungirt, undressed, unblessed without it. Put it on as a livery garment, by which you may be known to be the disciples of the meek and humble and patient Jesus, and to belong to that peaceable family. Put it on as an ornament, as a robe and a diadem, by which you may be both beautiful and dignified in the eyes of others. Put it on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, because you are so in profession; and that you may approve yourselves so in truth and reality, be clothed with meekness as the elect of God, a choice people, a chosen people, whom God has set apart for Himself from the rest of the world, as holy, sanctified to God, sanctified by Him: study these graces, which put such a luster upon holiness, and recommend it to those that are without, as beloved, beloved of God, beloved of man, beloved of your ministers: for love's sake, put on meekness. What winning, persuasive rhetoric is here! enough, one would think, to smooth the roughest soul, and to soften and sweeten the most obstinate heart. Meekness is a grace of the Spirit's working, a garment of his preparing; but we must put it on, that is, we must lay our souls under the commanding power and influence of it. Put it on, not as a loose outer garment, to be put off in hot weather, but let it cleave to us, as the belt cleaves to a man's loins; so put it on as to reckon ourselves naked to our shame without it.

3. We must follow after meekness. This precept we have, 1 Tim. 6:11. Meekness is there put in opposition to those foolish and hurtful lusts that Timothy must flee from: "You, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." See what good company it is ranked with. Every Christian is in a sense a man of God—though Timothy is called so as a minister—and those that belong to God are concerned to be and do so as to recommend themselves to Him, and His religion to the world; therefore let the men of God follow after meekness. The occasions and provocations of anger often set our meekness at a distance from us, and we have it to seek when we have most need of it; but we must follow after it, and not be taken off from the pursuit by any diversion whatever. While others are ingenious and industrious enough in following after malice and revenge, projecting and prosecuting angry designs, you be wise and diligent to preserve the peace both within doors and without. Following meekness bespeaks a sincere desire and a serious endeavor to get the mastery of our passion, and to check, govern, and moderate all the motions of it. Though we cannot fully attain this mastery, yet we must follow after it, and aim at it. Follow meekness, that is, as much as it is in you, live peacefully with all men, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit: we can only make one side of the bargain; if others will quarrel, yet let us be peaceful; if others will strike fire, that is their fault; let us not be as tinder to it.

4. We must show all meekness unto all men. This is one of the subjects which Paul directs a young minister to preach upon. "Put them in mind to show all meekness." It is that which we have need to be often reminded of. Meekness is there opposed to brawling and clamor, which is the fruit and product of our own anger, and the cause and provocation of the anger of others. Observe, it is "all meekness" that is here recommended to us, all kinds of meekness—bearing meekness, and forbearing meekness; qualifying meekness, and condescending meekness; forgiving meekness; the meekness that endears our friends, and that which reconciles our enemies; the meekness of authority over inferiors; the meekness of obedience to superiors; and the meekness of wisdom towards all. "All meekness," is meekness in all relations, in reference to all injuries, all sorts of provocation, meekness in all the branches and instances of it: in this piece of our obedience we must be universal. Observe further, we must not only have meekness, all meekness, but we must show it by drawing out this grace into exercise as there is occasion: in our words, in our looks, in our actions, in every thing that falls under the observation of men, we must show that we have indeed a regard to the law of meekness, and that we make conscience of what we say and do when we are provoked. We must not only have the law of love written in our hearts, but on our tongues too we must have "the law of kindness." And thus the tree is known by its fruit. This light must shine, that others may see the good works of it, and hear the good works of it too, not to glorify us, but to glorify our Father; we should study to appear, in all our conversation, so mild and gentle and peaceful, that all who see us may witness for us that we are of the meek of the earth. We must not only be moderate, but "let our moderation be known."

He that is in this respect a wise man, let him show it in the "meekness of wisdom." What are good clothes worth if they are not worn? Why has the servant a fine livery given him, but to show it for the honor of his master, and of the family he belongs to? How can we say we are meek if we do not show it? The showing of our meekness will beautify our profession, and will adorn the doctrines of God our Savior, and may have a very good influence upon others, who cannot but be in love with such an excellent grace, when thus, like the ointment of the right hand, it betrays itself, and the house is filled with the odor of it.

Again, this meekness must be thus showed unto all men—foes as well as friends, those without as well as those within, all that we have anything to do with. We must show our meekness not only to those above us, of whom we stand in awe, but to those below us, over whom we have authority. The poor indeed use entreaties, but whatever is the practice, it is not the privilege of the rich to "answer roughly." We must show our meekness "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the contentious; for this is thank worthy." Our meekness must be as extensive as our love, so exceedingly broad is this commandment, "all meekness to all men." We must show this meekness most to those with whom we most converse. There are some that, when they are in company with strangers, appear very mild and good-humored, their behavior is plausible enough and complaisant; but in their families they are peevish and froward and ill-natured, and those about them hardly know how to speak to them: this shows that the fear of man gives greater check to their passion than the fear of God. Our rule is to be meek towards all, even to the brute creation, over whom we are lords, but must not be tyrants.

Observe the reason which the apostle gives why we should show all meekness towards all men; "for we ourselves also were sometimes foolish." Time was when perhaps we were as bad as the worst of those we are now angry at; and if now it is better with us, we are purely beholden to the free grace of God in Christ that made the difference; and shall we be harsh to our brethren, who have found God so kind to us? Has God forgiven us our great debt, and passed by so many willful provocations, and shall we be extreme to mark what is done amiss against us, and make the worst of every slip and oversight? The great gospel argument for mutual forbearance and forgiveness is, that "God for Christ's sake has forgiven us."

It may be of use also for the qualifying of our anger at inferiors, to remember not only our former sinfulness against God in our unconverted state, but our former infirmities in the age and state of inferiors: were not we ourselves sometimes foolish? Our children are careless and playful and froward, and scarcely governable; and were not we ourselves so when we were of their age? And if we have now put away childish things, yet they have not. Children may be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, without being provoked to wrath.

5. We must "study" to be quiet, that is, study not to disturb others, nor to be ourselves disturbed by others: be ambitious of this, as the greatest honor, so the word signifies. The most of men are ambitious of the honor of great business and power and preferment: they covet it, they court it, they compass sea and land to obtain it; but the ambition of a Christian should be carried out towards quietness: we should consider it the happiest post, and desire it accordingly, which lies most out of the road of provocation.

"Let him that will, ascend the tottering seat
Of courtly grandeur, and become as great
As are his mounting wishes: as for me,
Let sweet repose and rest my portion be.
———Let my age
Slide gently by, not overthwart the stage
Of public action, unheard, unseen,
And unconcerned, as if I never had been."

This is studying to be quiet. Subdue and keep under all those disorderly passions which tend to the disturbing and clouding of the soul. Compose yourselves to this holy rest; put yourselves in a posture to invite this blessed sleep which God gives to His beloved. Take pains, as students in arts and sciences do, to understand the mystery of this grace. I call it a mystery, because St. Paul, who was so well versed in the deep things of God, speaks of this as a mystery. "I am instructed," as in a mystery, "both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need:" that is, in one word, to be quiet. To study the art of quietness is to take pains with ourselves, to have in our own hearts the principles, rules, and laws of meekness; and to furnish ourselves with such considerations as tend to the quieting of the spirit in the midst of the greatest provocations. Others are studying to disquiet us; the more need we have to study how to quiet ourselves, by a careful watching against all that which is ruffling and discomposing. Christians should, above all studies, study to be quiet, and labor to be motivated by an even spirit under all the unevenness of Providence, and remember that one good word which Sir William Temple tells us the prince of Orange said he learned from the master of his ship, who, in a storm, was calling to the steersman, "Steady, steady." Let but the hand be steady and the heart quiet, and though our passage be rough, we may weather the point, and get safe to the harbor.