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


For the good government of the soul, the judgment must be furnished with proper dictates, or else it will never be able to keep peace in the affections; the emotions of the soul are then likely to be even and regular and constant, when we have established good principles by which we are governed, and under the influence of which we act. We shall select a few truths, out of many which might be mentioned, proper for use as there is occasion.

1. He who is master of his own passions has the sweetest and surest peace. The comfort that a man has in governing himself is much greater than he could have in having people to serve him, and nations to bow down to him. It is certain the worst enemies we have, if ever they break loose and get head, are in our own bosoms. Enemies without threaten only the evil of pain; they can but kill the body, and no great hurt in that as a child of God, if they do not provoke the enemies within, our own irregular passions, which, if they are not kept under, plunge us in the evil of sin. An invasion from abroad does not disturb the peace of a kingdom as much as an insurrection at home; and therefore it concerns us to double our guard where our danger is greatest; and above all keepings, to keep our hearts, that no passion be allowed to stir without a good reason to be given for it, and a good use to be made of it; and then if we be troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, yet not in despair, 2 Cor. 4:8, 9; offended by our fellow-servants, but not offending our Master; reproached by our neighbors, but not by our own consciences—this is like Zion's peace, peace within the walls. We need to pray as one did, Lord, deliver me from that ill man, my own self, and then I am safe enough. The lusts that "war in our members" are the enemies that "war against the soul." If this war is brought to a good issue, and those enemies suppressed, whatever other disturbances are given, peace is in the soul, with grace and mercy from God, and from the Lord Jesus. Nehemiah was aware of this, as the design of his enemies, when they hired a pretended prophet to give an alarm, and to advise him meanly to shift for himself; it was, says he, "that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin." Whatever we lose, we shall not lose our peace, if we do but keep our integrity; therefore, instead of being solicitous to subdue our enemies that lay siege to us, let us double our watch against the traitors within the garrison, from whom especially our danger is: since we cannot prevent the shooting of the fiery darts, let us have our shield ready with which to quench them. If we would not hurt ourselves, blessed be God, no enemy in the world can hurt us. Let us but keep the peace within by the governing of our own passions, and then, whatever assaults may be made upon us, we may therein, with the daughter of Zion, despise them and laugh them to scorn, and shake our head at them. Isa. 37:22. Let us believe that in times of agitation and alarm our strength is to sit still, in a holy quietness and composure of mind: "this is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing;" and it is enough.

2. In many things we all offend. We have this truth as a reason why not many of us should be masters. Jas. 3:2. It would help to subdue and moderate our anger at the offenses of others, if we considered,

1. That it is incident to human nature to offend. While we are in this world, we must not expect to converse with angels, or the spirits of just men made perfect; no, we are obliged to have a communication with creatures that are foolish and corrupt, peevish and provoking, and who are all subject to like passions: such as these we must live among, or else we would have to go out of the world. And do we not have reason then to count upon something or other uneasy and displeasing in all relations and conditions? The best men have their defects in this imperfect state; those who are savingly enlightened, yet knowing but in part, have their blind side; the harmony, even of the communion of the saints, will sometimes be disturbed with jarring strings; why then should we be surprised into passion and disquiet, when that which gives us the disturbance is no more than what we looked for? Instead of being angry, we should think with ourselves thus: Alas, what could I expect but provocation from corrupt and fallen man? Among such foolish creatures as we are, it must be that offenses will come; and why should not I have my share of them? The God of heaven gives this as a reason for His patience towards a provoking world, that it is in their nature to be provoking: "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth," and therefore better is not to be expected from him. And upon this account He had compassion on Israel. Psa. 78:39. "He remembered that they were but flesh;" not only frail creatures, but sinful, and bent to backslide. Do men gather grapes from thorns? "I knew that you would deal very treacherously, and was called a transgressor from the womb." And should not we, much more, be governed by the same consideration? "If you see the violent perverting judgment and justice in a province," remember what a provoking creature sinful man is, and then you will not marvel at the matter. The consideration of the common infirmity and corruption of mankind should be made use of, not to excuse our own faults to ourselves, which merely takes off the edge of our repentance, and is the poor subterfuge of a deceived heart; but to excuse the faults of others, and so take off the edge of our passion and displeasure, and preserve the meekness and quietness of our own spirits.

2. It is incident to ourselves among the rest to offend. The apostle puts himself into the number: We all offend. We offend God; if we say we do not, we deceive ourselves; and yet He bears with us from day to day, and is not extreme to mark what we do amiss. Our debts to Him are talents, our brethren's to us but pence. Think then, if God should were as angry with me for every provocation, as I am with those about me, what would become of me? They are careless in their observance, and perhaps willful in their offense, and am not I so to God? yes, am not I a thousand times worse? Job said, when his servants were provoking, and he was tempted to be harsh with them, "What then shall I do when God rises up? and when He visits, what shall I answer Him?"

And are we not also likely to offend our brethren? Either we have offended, or may offend; we need others to bear with us, and why should we not bear with them? Our rule is, What we would that men should do to us when we offend them, the same we should do to them when they offend us; for this is the law and the prophets. Matt. 7:12. Solomon appeals to our consciences: "For many times also your own heart has known that even you have cursed others." The penitent remembrance of former guilt would greatly help to curb the passionate resentment of present trouble. When the undutiful, rebellious son, in a story that I once read, dragged his father by the hair of the head to the house door, it appeased the anger of the old man to remember, that just so far he had dragged his father; and it seems to have silenced Adonibezek, that he was now treated no differently than he had treated others. Judges 1:7.

3. Men are God's hand; so it is said, Psa. 17:14: "From men which are Your hand, O Lord," or rather tools in Your hand; which are "Your sword." We must abide by this principle, that whatever it is that crosses us, or is displeasing to us at any time, God has an overruling hand in it. David was governed by this principle when he bore Shimei's spiteful reproaches with such invincible patience: "So let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, Curse David." Let him alone, for the Lord has bidden him. This consideration will not only silence our murmurings against God, the author, but all our quarrels with men, the instruments of trouble and vexation. Men's reproaches are God's rebukes; and whoever he is who affronts me, I must see, and say, that by this my Father corrects me. This quieted the spirit of Job, in reference to the injuries of the Chaldeans and Sabeans, though he dwelt as a king in the army; and his power and interest seem to have been sustained when those intruders first made that inroad upon him, and so he could not but see his help in the gate; yet we find him not meditating any revenge, but calming the disturbances of his own soul with the consideration of God's sovereign disposal, overlooking all the instruments of his trouble, thoughts of which would but have mingled anger, the more disquieting passion, with his sorrow; this therefore suffices to still the storm. "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." When his brethren stood aloof from him, his kindred and his friends looked scornfully upon him as an alien; and instead of oil, poured vinegar into his wounds, so that his eye continued in this provocation; yet even in that part of his trouble he owns the hand of God: "He has put my brethren far from me." It is a very quieting truth—the Lord help us to mix faith with it—that every creature is that to us, and no more, that God makes it to be; and that while many seek the ruler's favor, and more perhaps fear the ruler's displeasure, every man's judgement proceeds from the Lord. Would we but more closely observe, and readily own the hand of God in that which disquiets and provokes us, surely, though we regarded not man, yet, if we had any fear of God before our eyes, that would reconcile us better to it, and suppress all intemperate and undue resentments. In murmuring at the stone, we reflect upon the hand that throws it, and lay ourselves under the woe pronounced against him that strives with his Maker. We know it is interpreted as a taking up arms against the king, if we take up arms against any that are commissioned by him.

4. There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. If we have but that wisdom of the prudent which is to understand his way, and all the advantages and opportunities of it, doubtless we may, quite contrary to the intention of those who trespass against us, gain some spiritual, that is, some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to those who love God. This is a holy and a happy way of opposing our adversaries, and resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable, and for its purpose. Whatever lion roars against us, let us but go on in the strength and spirit of the Lord, as Samson did, and we may not only rend it as a kid, so that it shall do us no real harm, but we may besides get food out of the eater, and sweetness out of the strong. As it turns to the unspeakable prejudice of many, that they look upon reproofs as reproaches, and treat them accordingly with anger and displeasure; so it would turn to our unspeakable advantage if we could but learn to call reproaches reproofs, and make use of them as such for our conviction and humiliation: and thus the reproach of Christ may become true riches to us, greater than the treasures of Egypt.

We are told of an apostate that was cured with the thrust of an enemy's sword; and of one that was happily converted from drunkenness by being called, in reproach, "a tippler." It is very possible that we may be enlightened, or humbled, or reformed; may be brought nearer to God, or weaned from the world; may be furnished with matter for repentance or prayer or praise, by the injuries that are done to us, and may be much furthered in our way to heaven by that which was intended for an affront or provocation. This principle would put another aspect upon injuries and unkindness, and would quite change their character, and teach us to call them by another name: whatever the subordinate instrument intended, God designed it, as our other afflictions, to yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness; so that, instead of being angry at the man that meant us ill, we should rather be thankful to the God that intended us good, and study to answer his intention. This kept Joseph in good temper towards his brethren, though he had occasion enough to quarrel with them: "You thought evil against me, but God meant it for good." This satisfied Paul—in reference to the thorn in the flesh, that is, the calamities and oppositions of the false apostles, which touched him more sensibly than all the efforts of persecuting rage—that it was intended to hide pride from him, lest he should be "exalted above measure with the abundance of revelations;" and there seems to be an instance of the good effect it had upon him immediately upon the mention of it, for within a few lines after, he lets fall that humble word, "I am nothing." We should be apt to think too highly of ourselves, and too kindly of the world, if we did not meet with some injuries and contempt, by which we are taught to cease from man. If we would more carefully study the improvement of an injury, we should not be so apt to desire to revenge it.

5. What is said and done in haste, is likely to be matter for deliberate repentance. We find David often remembering with regret what he said in haste, particularly one angry word he had said in the day of his distress and trouble, which seemed to reflect upon Samuel, and indeed upon all that had given him any encouragement to hope for the kingdom: "I said in my haste, All men are liars;" and this hasty word was a grief to him long after. "He that hurries with his feet sins." When a man is transported by passion into any impropriety, we commonly qualify it with this, that "he is a little hasty," as if there were no harm in that; but we see there is harm in it: he that is in haste may contract much guilt in a little time. What we say or do unadvisedly when we are hot, we must unsay or undo again when we are cool, or do worse. Now who would willfully do that which, sooner or later, he must repent of? A heathen that was tempted to a chargeable sin, could resist the temptation with this consideration, that "he would not buy repentance so dear." Is repentance such a pleasant work that we should so industriously "treasure up unto ourselves wrath against the day of wrath," either the day of God's wrath against us, or our own against ourselves? You little think what a torrent of self-affliction you let in, when you let the reins loose to an immoderate ungoverned passion. You are angry at others and reproach them, and are ready to abhor them and to revenge yourselves upon them, and your corrupt nature takes a strange kind of pleasure in this. But do you know that all this will at last rebound upon yourselves, and return into your own bosom? Either here or in a worse place you must repent of all this; that is, you must turn all these passions upon yourselves; you must be angry at yourselves, and reproach yourselves, and call yourselves fools, and abhor yourselves, and smite upon your own breasts; yes, and if God gives you grace, take a holy revenge upon yourselves, which is reckoned among the products of godly sorrow, 2 Cor. 7:11; and what can be more uneasy than all this? You take great liberty in scolding those that you have under your power, and uttering perhaps abusive language, because you know they dare not chide you again; but dare not your own hearts smite you, and your consciences chide you? And is it not easier to bear the chidings of any man in the world, which may either be avoided, or answered, or slighted, than to bear the reproaches of our own consciences, which, as we cannot avoid hearing, so we cannot trifle with; for when conscience is awake, it will be heard, and will tell us home wherein "we are verily guilty concerning our brother." Let this thought therefore quiet our spirits when they begin to be tumultuous, that hereby we shall but make work for repentance; whereas, on the contrary, as Abigail suggested to David, the bearing and forgiving of an injury will be no trouble or grief of mind afterwards. Let wisdom and grace therefore do what time will do; that is, cool our heat, and take off the edge of our resentment.

6. That is truly best for us which is most pleasing and acceptable to God, and a meek and quiet spirit is so. No principle has such a commanding influence upon the soul as that which has a regard to God, and wherein we approve ourselves to Him. It was a good hint which the woman of Tekoah gave to David, when she was suing for a merciful sentence: "Please let the king remember the Lord your God;" nor could any thought be more appeasing than that. Remember how gracious and merciful and patient God is; how slow to anger, how ready forgive, and how well pleased He is to see His people resemble Him: remember the eye of your God upon you, the love of your God towards you, and the glory of your God set before you. Remember how much it is your concern to be accepted by God, and to walk worthy of your relation to Him, unto all well-pleasing; and how much meekness and quietness of spirit contributes to this, as it is consonant to that excellent religion which our Lord Jesus has established, and as it renders the heart a fit habitation for the blessed Spirit: "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior," to lead a "quiet and peaceable life." It is a good evidence of our reconciliation to God, if we be cordially reconciled to every trying providence, which necessarily includes a meek behavior towards those who are any way instrumental in it. Very excellently does St. Austin remark on Psalm 122: Those please God who are pleased with Him, and with all He does, whether immediately by His own hand, or mediately by the agency of provoking, injurious men. This is standing complete in all the will of God, not only His commanding, but His disposing will, saying without reluctance, The will of the Lord be done. He that acts from an honest principle of respect to God, and sincerely desires to be accepted of Him, cannot but be in some measure adorned with that meek and quiet spirit which he knows to be in the sight of God of great price.

Such as these are softening principles, and as many as walk according to these rules, peace shall be upon them, and mercy; and no doubt it shall be upon the Israel of God.