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


The rule is general—we must show "all meekness;" but it will be useful to observe some special cases to which the Scripture applies this rule.

1. We must give reproofs with meekness. It is the apostle's direction, "If a man is overtaken in a fault," that is, if he is surprised by a temptation and overcome, as the best may be, if God leaves them to themselves, "you which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness." By the spiritual man, to whom he gives this rule, he means not ministers only; doubtless it is a rule to private Christians: all that have opportunity must reprove, and all that reprove must do it with meekness. You that are spiritual, if you would approve yourselves so indeed, actuated by the Holy Spirit, and minding the things of the Spirit, be careful in this matter. Especially let those that are Christians of the highest form, that excel in grace and holiness and the best gifts—such are called spiritual, in distinction from babes in Christ, 1 Cor. 3:1—let them look upon themselves as obliged, in a more peculiar manner, to help others; for where God gives five talents, He expects the improvement of five; the strong must bear the infirmities of the weak. The setting of a dislocated joint or a broken bone is, for the present, painful to the patient; but it must be done, and it is in order to the making of broken bones to rejoice. Now this you must do with the spirit of meekness, with all the candor and gentleness and convincing evidences of love and kindness that can be. The three qualifications of a good surgeon are very requisite in a reprover: namely, to have an eagle's eye, a lion's heart, and a lady's hand; that is, to be endued with a great deal of wisdom and courage and meekness. Though sometimes it is necessary to reprove with warmth, yet we must never reprove with wrath, "for the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God."

There is an observable difference, but no contradiction between the directions Paul gives to Timothy, and those he gives to Titus in this matter. To Titus he writes to "reprove sharply," and to "rebuke with all authority." To Timothy he writes "not to strive, but to be gentle;" to reprove "with all long-suffering." The reason for this difference may be found in the different temperament of those they had to deal with. Timothy was among the Ephesians, a tractable, complaisant people, who would be easily managed, and with them he must always deal gently. Titus was among the Cretians, who were headstrong, and not to be wrought upon except by sharper methods. Thus, in reproving, a difference must be made; on some we must "have compassion, and others save with fear," but never with anger, "pulling them out of the fire." Or the reason for the different instructions they received may be found—as Gregory, one of the ancients, assigns it—in the different temperament of Timothy and Titus. "Titus was a man of a very soft and mild temperament, and he needed a spur to quicken him to a necessary sharpness in his reproofs; but Timothy was a man of a more warm and sanguine temperament, and he needed a bridle to keep him from an intemperate heat in his reproofs;" and then it teaches us, that those who are naturally keen and fervent should double their guard upon their own spirits when they are reproving, that they may do it with all meekness.

Christ's ministers must be careful, while they display God's wrath, to conceal their own; and be very jealous over themselves, lest sinful anger shelter itself under the cloak of zeal against sin. When reproving—whoever be the reprover—degenerates into railing and reviling and opprobrious language, how can we expect the desired success? It may provoke to contention and to every evil work, but it will never provoke to love and to good works. The work of heaven is not likely to be done by a tongue set on fire of hell. Has Christ need of madmen? or will you talk deceitfully and passionately for Him? A potion given too hot, scalds the patient, and does more harm than good; and so many reproofs, good for the matter of it, have been spoiled by an irregular management. Meekness hides the lancet, gilds the pill, and makes it passable; dips the nail in oil, and then it drives the better. Twice we find Jonathan reproving his father for his rage against David; once he did it with meekness: "Let not the king sin against his servant"—against David—and it is said, "Saul listened to him." But another time his spirit was provoked: "Why shall he be slain?" and the issue of it was ill. Saul was not only impatient of the reproof, but enraged at the reprover, and cast a javelin at him. Reproofs are likely to answer the intention when they manifestly evidence the good will of the reprover, and are made up of soft words and hard arguments; this is to "restore with the spirit of meekness," and there is a good reason added, "considering yourself;" he may fall today, I may tomorrow. Those who think they stand fast, know not how soon they may be shaken and overthrown, and therefore we must treat those that are overtaken in a fault, with the same tenderness and compassion that we would wish to find, if it were our own case.

2. We must receive reproofs with meekness. If we do that which deserves rebuke, and meet those that are so just and kind as to give it us, we must be quiet under it, not quarreling with the reprover, nor objecting to the reproof, nor fretting that we are touched in a sore place; but submitting to it, and laying our souls under the conviction of it. If reproofs are physical, it becomes us to be patient. "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness," and an excellent oil, healing to the wounds of sin, and making the face to shine; and let us never reckon that it breaks the head, if it helps to break the heart. Meekness suffers the word of admonition, and takes it patiently and thankfully, not only from the hand of God that sends it, but from the hand of our friend that brings it. We must not be like the reprobate Sodomites, or that pert Hebrew, Exod. 2:14, that flew in the face of their reprovers, though really they were the best friends they had, with, "Who made you a judge?" but like David, who, when Abigail so prudently scotched the wheels of his passion, not only blessed God that sent her, and blessed her advice, but blessed her: not only hearkened to her voice, but accepted her person. Though perhaps the reprover supposes the fault greater than really it was, and though the reproof be not given with all the prudence in the world, yet meekness will teach us to accept it quietly, and to make the best use we can of it. Further, if indeed we are completely innocent of that for which we are reproved, still the meekness of wisdom would teach us to apply the reproof to some other fault of which our own consciences convict us: we would not quarrel with a real intended kindness, though not done with ceremony, and though in some circumstances mistaken or misplaced.

You that are in inferior relations—children, servants, scholars—must, with all meekness and submission, receive the reproofs of your parent, masters, and teachers; their age supposes them to have more understanding than you, and their place gives them an authority over you to which you are to pay a deference, and in which you are to acquiesce, else farewell all order and peace. The angel rebuked Hagar for flying from her mistress, though she dealt harshly with her, and obliged her to return and submit herself under her hands. "If the spirit of a ruler rises up against you," and you are chided for a fault, "do not leave your place," as an inferior; for "calmness lays great errors to rest." "If you have thought evil, lay your hand upon your mouth" to keep that evil thought from breaking out in any undue and unbecoming language. Reproofs are likely to do us good when we meekly submit to them; they are "as an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold," when "an obedient ear" is given to a wise reprover. Yes, even superiors are to receive reproofs from their inferiors with meekness, as they would any other token of kindness and good will. Naaman, who turned away from the prophet in a rage, yet heeded the reproof his own servants gave him, and was overruled by the reason of it, which was no more a disparagement to him than it was to receive instruction from his wife's maid to whom to go for a cure of his leprosy. Meekness teaches us, when a just reproof is given, to regard not so much who speaks, as what is spoken.

3. We must instruct gainsayers with meekness, 2 Tim. 2:24, 25. It is prescribed to ministers that they "must not strive, but be gentle to all men," in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves. They serve the Prince of peace; they preach the gospel of peace; they are the ambassadors of peace; and therefore must be sure to keep the peace. The apostles, those prime-ministers of state in Christ's kingdom, were not military men, or men of strife and noise, but fishermen that followed their employment with quietness and silence. It is highly necessary that the guides of the church be strict governors of their own passions. "Learn of me," says Christ; "for I am meek and lowly," and therefore fit to teach you. We must "contend earnestly," but not angrily and passionately—no, not for "the faith once delivered to the saints." When we have ever so great an assurance that it is the cause of truth we are pleading, yet we must so manage our defense against those who gainsay, as to make it appear that it is not the confusion of the erroneous, but the confutation of the error that we intend. This meekness would teach us not to prejudge a cause, nor to condemn an adversary unheard, but calmly to state matters in difference, as knowing that a truth well opened is half confirmed. It would teach us not to aggravate matters in dispute, nor to father upon an adversary all the absurd consequences which we think may be inferred from his opinion; it would teach us to judge charitably of those that differ from us, and to forbear all personal reflections in arguing with them. God's cause needs not the patronage of our sinful passions, which often give a mighty shock even to the truth for which we plead. Meekness would prevent and cure that bigotry which has been so long the bane of the church, and contribute a great deal towards the advancement of that happy state in which, notwithstanding little differences of apprehension and opinion, the Lord shall be one, and His name one. Public reformations are carried on with most credit and comfort, and are most likely to settle on lasting foundations, when meekness sits at the stern and guides the motions of them. When Christ was purging the temple, though He was therein actuated by a zeal for God's house that even ate Him up, yet He did it with meekness and prudence, which appeared in this instance, that when He drove out the sheep and oxen, which would easily be caught again, He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away." He did not let loose the doves and send them flying, for that would have been to the loss and prejudice of the owners. Angry, noisy, bitter arguings ill become the assertors of that truth which is great, and will prevail. Our Lord Jesus lived in a very froward and perverse generation, yet it is said, "He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the street." Though He could break them as easily as a bruised reed, and extinguish them as soon as one could quench the wick of a candle newly lighted, yet He will not do it until the day comes when "He shall lead justice to victory." Moses dealt with a very obstinate and stiff-necked people, and yet "my teaching," says he, "will fall on you like rain, my speech will settle like dew." It was not the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, that brought Elijah into temper—for the Lord was not in them—but "the still small voice;" when he heard that, he wrapped his face in his mantle. In dealing with gainsayers, a spirit of meekness will teach us to consider their temper, education, custom, the power of prejudice they labor under, the influence of others upon them, and to make allowances accordingly, and not to call, as passionate contenders are apt to do, every false step an apostasy; every error and mistake, no, every misconstrued, misplaced word, a heresy; and every misdemeanor no less than treason and rebellion: methods of proceeding more likely to irritate and harden, than to convince and reduce gainsayers. I have heard it observed long since, that "the scourge of the tongue has driven many out of the temple, but never drove any into it."

4. We must make profession of the hope that is in us with meekness. "Be ready always to give an answer"—to make your defense or apology, so the word is—whether judicially or extrajudicially, as there is occasion, "to every man that"—soberly, not scoffingly and in derision—"asks you a reason for the hope that is in you," that is, of the hope you profess, which you hope to be saved by, "with meekness and fear." Observe, it is very well consistent with Christian quietness to appear in the defense of truth, and to avow our Christian profession, when at any time we are duly called to it. That is not meekness, but base cowardice, that tamely betrays and delivers up any of Christ's truths or institutions by silence, as if we were ashamed or afraid to confess our Master. But the office of meekness at such a time is to direct us how and in what manner to bear our testimony, not with pride and passion, but with humility and mildness. Those that would successfully confess the truth, must first learn to deny themselves; and we must give an account of our hope with a holy fear of missing it in such a critical juncture. When we give a reason for our religion, we must not boast of ourselves, or of our own attainments, nor reflect contempt and wrath upon our persecutors, but remember that "the present truth," so it is called, 2 Peter 1:12, the truth which is now to be asserted, is the same with the word of Christ's patience, Rev. 3:10; that is, the word which must be patiently suffered for, according to the example of Him who, with invincible meekness, before Pontius Pilate "witnessed a good confession." A great abasement and diffidence of ourselves may very well consist with a firm assurance of the truth, and a profound veneration for it.

In lesser things, wherein wise and good men are not all in agreement, meekness teaches us not to be too confident that we are in the right, nor to censure and condemn those that differ from us, as if we were the people, and wisdom should die with us; but quietly to walk according to the light that God has given us, and charitably to believe that others do so too, waiting until God shall reveal either this to them, Phil. 3:15, or that to us. Let it in such cases suffice to vindicate ourselves, which every man has a right to do, without a magisterial sentencing of others. Why should we be many masters when we are all offenders, Jas. 3:1, 2, and the bar is our place, not the bench? Meekness will also teach us to manage a singular opinion, when we differ from others, with all possible deference to them and suspicion of ourselves, not resenting it as an affront to be contradicted, but taking it as a kindness to be better informed. Nor must we be angry that our hope is inquired into: even such a trial of it, if we approve ourselves well in it, may be found to praise and honor and glory, to which our meekness will very much contribute, as it puts a luster upon and a convincing power into the testimony we bear. We then "walk worthy of the vocation with which we are called," when we walk "in all lowliness and meekness."

5. We must bear reproaches with meekness. Reproach is a branch of that persecution which all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must expect; and we must submit to it, behaving ourselves quietly and with a due decorum, not only when "princes sit and speak against us," but even when "the abjects gather themselves together against us," and we become "the song of the drunkard." Sometimes we find it easier to keep calm in a solemn and expected engagement than in a sudden skirmish or a hasty rencounter; and therefore, even against those slight attacks, it is necessary that meekness be set upon the guard. If we be slandered, and have all manner of evil said against us falsely, our rule is, not to be disturbed at it, not to render "railing for railing;" but though we may, as we have opportunity, with meekness deny the charge, as Hannah did when Eli over hastily censured her as drunken: "No, my lord, I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink;" yet when that is done, we must, without meditating any revenge, quietly commit our cause to God, who will, sooner or later, clear up our innocence as the light, which is promised in Psa. 37:5, 6; and therefore "do not fret," but wait patiently; "cease from anger, and forsake wrath." Mr. Dod used to charm his friends into silence under reproaches with this: that "if a dog barks at a sheep, the sheep will not bark at the dog again." We only gratify our great adversary and do his work for him when we allow the peace and serenity of our minds to be broken in upon by the reproaches of the world. For me to disquiet myself and put myself into a passion because another abuses me, is as if I should scratch the skin off my face to wipe off the dirt which my adversary throws on it. When reproaches provoke our passions, which excite us to render bitterness for bitterness, we thereby lose the comfort and forfeit the honor and reward which the divine promise has annexed to the reproach of Christ; and shall we suffer so many things in vain? We also thereby give occasion to those who had spoken evil of us falsely, to speak evil of us truly; and perhaps our religion suffers more by our impatience under the reproach, than by the reproach itself. For what have we the law and pattern and promise of Christ, but to calm our spirits under reproaches for well-doing? Truly those can bear but a little for Christ who cannot bear a hard or an unkind word for Him. If we either faint or fret in such a day of adversity, it is a sign our strength is small indeed. May it not satisfy us, that by our meekness and quietness under reproaches we engage God for us, who has promised that He will "with righteousness judge the poor," the poor in spirit, and will "reprove with equity for the meek of the earth." He that has bid us to "open our mouth for the dumb," will not Himself be silent. And shall we not learn at last, instead of fretting and being exceedingly angry, to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, when "we suffer this for righteousness' sake?" May we not put such reproaches as pearls in our crown, and be assured that they will pass well in the account another day, when there will be an advantageous resurrection of names as well as bodies, in which prospect we have reason to "rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name;" that we are honored to be dishonored for Him who for our sakes endured the cross and despised the shame. It is one of the laws of meekness to despise being despised.