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


Good examples help very much to illustrate and enforce good rules, bringing them closer to particular cases, and showing them to be practical. Precedents are of great use in the law. If we would be found walking in the same spirit, and walking in the same steps with those that are gone before us to glory, this is the spirit by which we must be motivated, and these the steps in which we must walk: this is the way of good men, for wise men to walk in. Let us go forth then "by the footsteps of the flock," and set ourselves to follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who will bear their testimony to the comfort of meekness, and upon trial recommend it to us; but we shall single out only some few from the Scripture.

1. Abraham was a pattern of meekness, and he was the father of the faithful. As he was famous for faith, so was he for meekness; for the more we have of faith towards God, the more we shall have of meekness towards all men. How meek was Abraham when there happened a strife between his herdsmen and Lot's, which, had it proceeded, might have been of ill consequence, for "the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land;" but it was seasonably overruled by the prudence of Abraham. "Let there be no strife, please:" though he might command peace, yet for love's sake he rather beseeches. Every word has an air of meekness, and a tendency to peace. And when the expedient for the prevention of strife was their parting from each other, though Lot was the junior, yet Abraham, for the sake of peace, quitted his right, and gave Lot the choice; and the gracious visit which God gave him thereupon was an abundant recompense for his mildness and condescension.

Another instance of Abraham's meekness we have when Sarah quarreled with him so unreasonably about her maid, angry at that which she herself had done. "My wrong be upon you: the Lord judge between you and me." Abraham might soon have replied, You may thank yourself, it was your own contrivance; but laying aside the present provocation, he abides by one of the original rules of the relation, "Behold, your maid is in your hand." He did not answer passion with passion, that would have put all into a flame; but he answered passion with meekness, and so all was quiet.

Another instance of Abraham's meekness we have in the transactions between him and Abimelech his neighbor. He first enters into a covenant of friendship with him, which was confirmed by an oath, and then does not reproach him, but reproves him for a wrong that his servants had done him about a well of water; which gives us this rule of meekness, "Not to break friendship for a small matter of difference:" such and such occasions there are, which those who are disposed to it might quarrel about; but "what is that between me and you?"

If meekness rules, matters in variance may be fairly reasoned and adjusted without violation or infringement of friendship. This is the example of that great patriarch. The future happiness of the saints is represented as the bosom of Abraham—a quiet state. Those who hope to lie in the bosom of Abraham shortly, must tread in the steps of Abraham now, whose children we are as long as we thus do well, "and who," as Maimonides expresses it, "is the father of all who are gathered under the wings of the divine Majesty."

2. Moses was a pattern of meekness; it was his master-grace; that in which, more than in any other, he excelled. This testimony the Holy Spirit gives of him, that "the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth."

This character of him is given upon occasion of an affront he received from those of his own house, which intimates that his quiet and patient bearing it, was the greatest proof and instance of his meekness. Those can bear any provocation that can bear it from their near relations. The meekness of Moses, as the patience of Job, was tried on all hands. Armor of proof shall be sure to be shot at. It should seem that his wife was none of the best-humored women; for what a passion was she in about the circumcising of her son, when she reproached him as a bloody husband; and we do not read of one word that he replied, but let her have her saying. When God was angry, and Zipporah angry, it was best for him to be quiet. The lot of his public work was cast "in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness;" but as if all the mutinies of murmuring Israel were too little to try the meekness of Moses, his own brother and sister, and those of no less a figure than Miriam the prophetess, and Aaron the saint of the Lord, quarrel with him, speak against him, envy his honor, reproach his marriage, and are ready to head a rebellion against him. God heard this, and was angry. Num. 12:2, 9; but Moses, though he had reason enough to resent it wrathfully, was not at all moved by it, took no notice of it, made no complaint to God, no answer to them, and we do not find one word that he said, until we find him praying heartily for his provoking sister, who was then under the tokens of God's displeasure for the affront she gave him. The less a man strives for himself, the more is God engaged in honor and faithfulness to appear for him. When Christ said, "I seek not mine own glory," he presently added, "but there is one that seeks and judges." And it was upon this occasion that Moses obtained this good report: "He was the meekest of all the men on the earth." "No man," says Bishop Hall, "could have given greater proofs of courage than Moses. He slew the Egyptian, beat the Midianite shepherds, confronted Pharaoh in his own court, not fearing the wrath of the king; he durst look God in the face amid all the terrors of mount Sinai, and draw near to the thick darkness where God was; and yet that Spirit which made and knew his heart, said he was the meekest, mildest man upon the earth. Mildness and fortitude may well lodge together in the same breast, which corrects the mistake of those that will allow none valiant but the fierce."

The meekness of Moses qualified him to be a magistrate, especially to be king in Jeshurun, among a people so very provoking that they gave him occasion to use all the meekness he had, and all little enough to bear their manners in the wilderness. When they murmured against him, quarreled with him, arraigned his authority, and were sometimes ready to stone him, he resented these provocations with very little of personal application or concern; but instead of using his interest in heaven to summon plagues upon them, he made it his business to stand in the gap, and by his intercession for them, to turn away the wrath of God from them; and this not once or twice only, but many times.

And yet we must observe that, though Moses was the meekest man in the world, yet when God's honor and glory were concerned, no one was more warm and zealous: witness his resentment of the golden calf, when, in a holy indignation at that abominable iniquity, he deliberately broke the tables. And when Korah and his crew invaded the priest's office, Moses, in a pious wrath, said unto the Lord, "Do not respect their offering." He that was a lamb in his own cause, was a lion in the cause of God: anger at sin as sin is very well consistent with reigning meekness. Nor can it be forgotten that though Moses was eminent for meekness, yet he once transgressed the laws of it. When he was old, and his spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips, and it went ill with him for it, Psa. 106:32; which is written not for imitation, but for admonition—not to justify our rash anger, but to engage us to stand on guard at all times against it, that he who thinks he stands may take heed lest he fall, and that he who has thus fallen may not wonder if he come under the rebukes of divine Providence for it in this world, as Moses did, and yet may not despair of being pardoned upon repentance.

3. David was a pattern of meekness, and it is promised that "the feeble shall be as David." In this, as in other instances, he was a man after God's own heart. When his own brother was so rough upon him without reason, "Why did you come down here?" how mild was his answer. "What have I done now? Is there not a cause?" When his enemies reproached him, he was not at all disturbed at it. "I, as a deaf man, heard not." When Saul persecuted him with such an unwearied malice, he did not take the advantage which Providence seemed to offer him, more than once, to revenge himself, but left it to God. David's meek spirit concurred with the proverb of the ancients: "Wickedness proceeds from the wicked, but my hand shall not be upon you." When Nabal's churlishness provoked him, yet Abigail's prudence soon pacified him, and it pleased him to be pacified. When Shimei cursed him with a bitter curse in the day of his calamity, he resented not the offense, nor would hear any talk of punishing the offender: "So let him curse; let him alone, for the Lord has bidden him;" quietly committing his cause to God, who judges righteously. And other instances there are in his story which evidence the truth of what he said: "My soul is even like a weaned child." And yet David was a great soldier, a man of celebrated courage, that slew a lion and a bear, and a Philistine—as much a ravenous beast as either of them—which shows that it was his wisdom and grace, and not his cowardice, that at other times made him so quiet. David was a man that met with very many disquieting and disturbing events in the several scenes of his life, through which, though they sometimes ruffled him a little, yet, for the main, he preserved an admirable temper, and an evenness and composure of mind which was very exemplary. When, upon the surprise of a fright, he changed his behavior before Abimelech, and counterfeited that madness which angry people realize, yet his mind was so very quiet and undisturbed that at that time he penned the 34th Psalm, in which not only the excellency of the matter, and the calmness of the expression, but the composing of it alphabetically in the Hebrew—speaks him to be, even then, in a calm frame, and to have very much the command of his own thoughts. As at another time when his own followers spoke of stoning him, though he could not still the tumult of his troops, he could those of his spirit, for then he "encouraged himself in the Lord his God." As to those prayers against his enemies which we find in some of his psalms, surely they did not proceed from any such irregular passion as did in the least clash even with the evangelical laws of meekness. We cannot imagine that one who was so piously calm in his common conversation, should be sinfully hot in his devotion; nor are they to be looked upon as the private expressions of his own angry resentments, but as inspired predictions of God's judgments upon the public and obstinate enemies of Christ and His kingdom, as appears by comparing Psa. 69:22, 23, with Rom. 11:9, 10; and Psa. 109:8, with Acts 1:20. Nor are they any more opposite to the spirit of the gospel than the cries of the souls under the altar, or the triumphs of heaven and earth in the destruction of Babylon. Rev. 6:10; 19:1.

4. Paul was a pattern of meekness. Though his natural temper seems to have been warm and eager, which made him eminently active and zealous, yet that temper was so rectified and sanctified, that he was no less eminently meek: he became all things to all men. He studied to please all with whom he had to do, and to render himself engaging to them, for their good to edification. How patiently did he bear the greatest injuries and indignities, not only from Jews and heathens, but from false brethren, that were so very industrious to abuse and undermine him. How glad was he that Christ was preached, though out of envy and ill-will, by those that studied to add affliction to his bonds. In governing the church, he was not led by the sudden resolves of passion, but always deliberated calmly concerning the use of the rod of discipline when there was occasion for it. "Shall I come to you with a rod, or in the spirit of meekness?" that is, Shall I proceed immediately to censures, or shall I not rather continue the same gentle usage as hitherto, waiting still for your reformation? Here the spirit of meekness appears more open and legible than in the use of the rod, though that also is very well consistent with it.

Many other examples of meekness might be adduced, but the time would fail me to tell of Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Joshua; of Samuel also, and Job and Jeremiah, and all the prophets and apostles, martyrs and confessors, and eminent saints, who by meekness subdued, not kingdoms, but their own spirits; stopped the mouths, not of lions, but of more fierce and formidable enemies; quenched the violence, not of fire, but of intemperate and more ungovernable passions; and so wrought righteousness, obtained promises, escaped the edge of the sword, and out of weakness were made strong; and by all this obtained a good report. Heb. 11:32-34. But, after all,

5. Our LORD JESUS was the great pattern of meekness and quietness of spirit; all the rest had their spots, but here is a copy without a blot. We must follow the rest no further than they were conformable to this great original: "Be followers of me," says Paul, "as I am of Christ." He fulfilled all righteousness, and was a complete example of all that is holy, just, and good; but I think in most, if not all those places of Scripture where He is particularly and expressly propounded to us for an example, it is to recommend to us some or other of the duties of Christianity; those, I mean, which tend to the sweetening of our conversation with one another. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, that He might teach us how to dwell together in unity. We must walk in love, as Christ loved us; forgive, as Christ forgave us; please one another, for Christ pleased not Himself; be charitable to the poor, for we know the grace of our Lord Jesus; wash one another's feet, that is, stoop to the lowest offices of love, for Christ did so; doing all with lowliness of mind, for it is the same mind that was in Christ Jesus; but above all, our Lord Jesus was an example of meekness. Moses had this grace as a servant, but Christ as a son: He was anointed with it above measure. He is called the "Lamb of God," for His meekness and patience and inoffensiveness, and even in His exaltation He retains the same character. One of the elders told John that "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" would open the sealed book; "and I beheld," says John, "and lo, a Lamb." He that was a lion for strength and courage, was a lamb for mildness and gentleness; and if a lion, yet "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," which the dying patriarch describes to be a lion gone up from the prey, and that is stooped down and couched, and not to be roused up, Gen. 49:9, indicating the quietness and repose even of this lion. If Christ is a lion, He is a lion resting: the devil is a lion roaring. But the adorations given to Christ by the heavenly hosts speak of Him as a Lamb. "Blessing and glory to Him that sits upon the throne;" they do not say, and to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but the "the Lamb." Though He has a name given Him above every name, yet He will be known by that name which denotes His meekness, as if this were to be His name forever, and this his memorial to all generations. As He that rides upon the heavens by His name Jah, is the Father of the fatherless, and the Judge of the widows; so Christ rides "prosperously, because of meekness."

Now it is the character of all the saints that they follow the Lamb: as a lamb they follow Him in His meekness, and are therefore so often called the sheep of Christ. This is that part of his copy which He expressly calls us to write after: "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." If the master is mild, it ill becomes the servant to be froward. The apostle is speaking of Christ's meekness under His sufferings, when he says that He "left us an example, that we should follow His steps."

Let us observe particularly the meekness of our Lord Jesus towards his Father, and towards his friends, and towards his foes, in each of which He is an example to us.

1. He was very meek toward God His Father, cheerfully submitting to His whole will, and standing complete in it. In His commanding will, "Lo, I come," says He, "I delight to do Your will:" though it enjoined Him a very hard service, yet it was "His food and drink;" and He always did those things that pleased His Father. So likewise in His disposing will He acquiesced from first to last. When He was entering on that sharp encounter, though sense startled at it, and said, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;" yet He soon submitted with a great deal of meekness: "Not as I will, but as You will." Though it was a very bitter cup, yet his Father put it into His hand, and therefore He drank it: "The cup that My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"

2. He was very meek towards His friends that loved and followed Him. With what remarkable instances of mildness, gentleness, and tenderness did He train up His disciples, though from first to last He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Where nature is corrupt, such are apt to be peevish and froward with those about them; yet how meekly and calmly did He bear with their weaknesses and infirmities. After they had been long under the inspection and influence of such a teacher, and had all the advantages that men could have for acquaintance with the things of God, yet how weak and defective were they in knowledge and gifts and graces! How ignorant and forgetful were they; how slow of heart to understand and believe! And what blunders did they make! Dull scholars it should seem they were, and bad proficients. But their hearts being upright with Him, He did not cast them off, nor turn them out of His school, but corrected their mistakes, instructed them in their duty and the doctrine they were to preach, by precept upon precept, and line upon line; and taught them, as they were able to bear it, as one that considered their frame, and could "have compassion on the ignorant, and on those who are out of the way." As long as He was with them, so long He suffered them. Mark 9:19. This, as it is a great encouragement to Christian learners, so it is a great example to Christian teachers.

Also Christ was meek in his forgiving and passing by their unkindness and disrespect to Himself. He was not extreme to mark what they did amiss of this kind. When they murmured at the cost that was bestowed upon Him, and called it waste, and had indignation at it, He did not resent it as He might have done, nor seem to observe how much what they said reflected upon Him; nor did He condemn them any other way than by commending the woman. When Peter and James and John, the first three of His disciples, were with Him in the garden, and very unseasonably slept while He was in his agony praying, so little concerned did they seem to be for Him, yet observe how meekly He spoke to them: "Could you not watch with Me one hour?" And when they did not have a word to say for themselves, so inexcusable was their fault, He had something to say for them, and instead of accusing them, He apologizes for them: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." When Peter had denied Him, and had cursed and sworn he did not know Him, than which—besides the falsehood and perfidiousness of it—nothing could be more unkind, with what meekness did He bear it! It is not said the Lord turned and frowned upon Peter, though he deserved to be frowned into hell, but "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter," and that look recovered him into the way to heaven: it was a kind look, and not an angry one. Some days after, when Christ and Peter met in Galilee, and had dined together as a token of reconciliation, and some discourse passed between them, not a word was said of this matter; Christ not upbraid him with his fault, nor chide him for it, nor did there appear any other fruit of the falling out of these lovers, but only the renewing of their love with greater endearments; which teaches us to forgive and forget the unkindness of those that are for the main our true friends, and if any occasion of difference happens, to turn it into an occasion of confirming our love to them.

3. He was very meek towards his enemies, that hated and persecuted Him. The whole story of His life is filled with instances of invincible meekness. While He "endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself," He had a perpetual serenity and harmony within, and was never in the least discomposed by it. When His preaching and miracles were caviled at and reproached, and He Himself represented under the blackest characters, not only as the drunkard's companion, but as the devil's confederate, with what a wonderful calmness did He bear it! How mildly did He answer with reason and tenderness, when He could have replied in thunder and lightning! How well satisfied, under all such invidious reflections, with this, that "wisdom is justified of all her children." When some of his disciples would have had fire from heaven upon those crude people that refused Him entertainment in their town, He was so far from complying with the motion, that He rebuked it: "You know not what manner of spirit you are of." "This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you." The design of Christ and of His holy religion is to shape men into a mild and merciful temper, and to make them sensibly tender of the lives and comfort even of their worst enemies. Christianity was intended to revive humanity, and to make those men, who had made themselves beasts. But our Lord Jesus did in a more especial manner evidence His meekness when He was in His last sufferings—that dreadful scene. Though He was the most innocent and the most excellent person that ever was, who, by the doctrine He had preached and the miracles He had wrought, had richly deserved all the honors and respect that the world could pay Him, and infinitely more; and though the injuries He received were ingeniously and industriously contrived to the highest degree of affront and provocation; yet He bore all with an undisturbed meekness, and with that shield quenched all the fiery darts which his malicious enemies shot at Him.

His meekness towards His enemies appeared in what He said to them: not one angry word, in the midst of all the indignities they offered Him. "When He was reviled, He reviled not again." When He was buffeted and spit upon and abused, He took it all patiently; one would wonder at the gracious words which even then proceeded out of His mouth: witness that mild reply to him that smote him: "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?"

Also His meekness towards His enemies appeared in what He said to God for them: "Father, forgive them;" so giving an example to His own rule: "Pray for those who despitefully use you." Though He was then deeply engaged in the most solemn transaction that ever passed between heaven and earth, though He had so much to do with God for Himself and His friends, yet He did not forget to offer this prayer for His enemies.

The mercy He begged of God for them was the greatest mercy—that which He was then dying to purchase and procure—the pardon of their sins: not only, Father, spare them, or reprieve them, but, Father, forgive them; the excuse He pleaded for them was the best their crime was capable of: "They know not what they do."

Now in all these things our Master has left us an example. What is the practice of religion, but the imitation of God endeavored by us? And what is the principle of it, but the image of God renewed in us? We are bid to be followers of God, as dear children. But this sets the copy we are to write after at a mighty distance, for God is in heaven, and we are upon earth; and therefore in the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God in our nature, the copy is brought among us, and the transcribing of it in some measure appears more practicable. "He that has seen Me," says Christ, "has seen the Father;" and so he that imitates Christ, imitates the Father. The religion which our Lord Jesus came into the world to establish, being every way so well calculated for the peace and order of the world, and being designed to recover the lapsed souls of men from their degenerate state, and to sweeten their spirits and temper, and so to befriend human society, and to make it some way conformable to the blessed society above; He not only gave such precepts as were wonderfully fitted to this great end, but recommended them to the world by the loveliness and amiableness of His own example. Are we not called Christians from Christ, whom we call Master and Lord, and shall we not endeavor to accommodate ourselves to Him? We profess to rejoice in Him as our forerunner, and shall we not run after Him? To what purpose were we listed under His banner, but that we might follow Him as our leader? We all have reason to say that Jesus Christ is very meek, or else we that have provoked Him so much and so often would have been in hell long ago; we owe it to His meekness, to whom all judgment is committed, that we have not before this been carried away with a swift destruction, and dealt with according to the desert of our sins, which, if duly considered, one would think should tend greatly to soften us. The apostle draws an argument from that kindness and love to us which we ourselves have experienced, who were foolish and disobedient, to persuade us to be "gentle, showing all meekness;" and he beseeches the Corinthians "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ," as a thing very winning, and of dear and precious account. Let "the same mind" therefore be in us, not only which was, but which, as we find to our comfort, still is in Christ Jesus. That we may not forfeit our interest in His meekness, let us tread in the steps of it; and as ever we hope to be like Him in glory hereafter, let us study to be like Him in grace, in this grace now. It is a certain rule, by which we must all be tried shortly, that "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ," that is, if his spirit is not in some measure like Christ's, "He is none of his." Rom. 8:9. And if we are not owned as His, we are undone forever.