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 laws of our holy religion are so far from clashing and interfering, that one Christian duty very much furthers and promotes another. The fruits of the Spirit are like links in a chain—one draws on another; and it is so in this; many other graces contribute to the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.

You see how desirable the attainment is; will you therefore, through desire, separate yourselves to the pursuit of it, and "seek and intermeddle with all wisdom" and all little enough, that you may reach to the meekness of wisdom.

1. Withdraw your affections from this world, and every thing in it. The more the world is crucified to us, the more our corrupt passions will be crucified in us. If we would keep calm and quiet, we must by faith live above the stormy region. It is certain those that have anything to do in the world cannot but meet with that every day from those with whom they deal, which will cross and provoke them; and if the affections are set upon these things, and we are filled with a prevailing concern about them as the principal things, those crosses must pierce to the quick and inflame the soul, and that which touches us in these things, touches us in the apple of our eye. If the appetites are indulged inordinately in things that are pleasing to sense, the passions will to the very same degree be roused against those that are displeasing. And therefore, Christians, whatever you have of the world in your hands, be it more or less, as you value the peace as well as the purity of your souls, keep it out of your hearts; and always indulge your affections towards your possessions, enjoyments, and delights in the world, with a due consideration of the disappointment and provocation which they will probably occasion you.

It is the excellent advice of Epictetus, whatever we take a pleasure in, to consider its nature, and to proportion our complacency accordingly. Those that idolize anything in this world will be greatly discomposed if they are crossed in it. "The money which Michah's mother had," says Bishop Hall, "was her god before it had the shape either of an engraved or a molten image, else the loss of it would not have set her a cursing, as it seems it did." Those that are "greedy of gain" trouble their own hearts as well as their own houses. They are a burden to themselves, and a terror to all about them. "They who will be rich," who are resolved upon it, come what will, cannot but fall into these "foolish and hurtful lusts." And those also who serve their own bellies, who are pleased with nothing unless it is wound up to the height of pleasure, who are like the "tender and delicate woman, that would not set so much as the sole of her foot to the ground for tenderness and delicacy," lie very open to that which is disquieting, and cannot, without a great disturbance to themselves, bear a disappointment; and therefore Plutarch, a great moralist, prescribes it for the preservation of our meekness, "not to be curious in diet or clothes or attendance; for," says he, "they who need but few things are not liable to anger if they be disappointed of many."

Would we but learn in these things to cross ourselves, we should not be so apt to take it unkind if another crosses us. And therefore the method of the lessons in Christ's school is, first to "deny ourselves," and then to "take up our cross." We must also mortify the desire of the applause of men, as altogether inconsistent with our true happiness. If we have learned not to value ourselves by their good word, we shall not much disturb ourselves for their ill word. St. Paul bore reproaches with much meekness, because he did not build upon the opinion of man, reckoning it "a small thing to be judged of man's judgment."

2. Be often repenting of your sinful passion, and renewing your covenants against it. If our rash anger were more bitter to us in the reflection afterwards, we should not be so apt to relapse into it. Repentance in general, if it is sound and deep, and grounded in true contrition and humiliation, disposes the soul to bear injuries with abundance of patience. Those who live a life of repentance, as we each have reason to do, cannot but live a quiet life, for nobody can lightly say worse of the true penitent than he says of himself. Call him a fool—an affront which many think deserves a challenge—the humble soul can bear it patiently with this thought: "Yes, I am a fool," and I have called myself so many a time; "more brutish than any man; I do not have the understanding of a man." But repentance in a special manner disposes us to meekness, when it fastens upon any irregular inordinate passion with which we have been transported. Godly sorrow for our former transgressions in this matter, will work a carefulness in us not again to transgress. If others are causelessly or excessively angry with me, am not I justly repaid for the same or more indecent passions? Charge it home therefore with sorrow and shame upon your consciences, aggravating the sin, and laying a load upon yourselves for it, and you will find that "the burned child," especially while the burn is smarting, "will dread the fire." See Job 42:6.

With our repentance for our former unquietness, we must engage ourselves by a firm resolution, in the strength of the grace of Jesus Christ, to be more mild and gentle for the future. Say you will "take heed to your ways," that you offend not, as you have done, "with your tongue;" and like David, often remember that you said so. Resolution would do much towards the conquering of the most rugged nature, and the quiet bearing of the greatest provocation; it would be like the bit and bridle to the horse and mule, that have no understanding. It may be of good use every morning to renew a charge upon our affections to keep the peace, and having welcomed Christ in faith and meditation, let no unruly passion stir up or awake our love.

3. Keep out of the way of provocation, and stand upon your guard against it. While we are so very apt to offend in this matter, we have need to pray, and to practice accordingly, "Lord, lead us not into temptation." Those are enemies to themselves and to their own peace, as well as to human society, who seek occasion to quarrel, who fish for provocations and dig up mischief; but meek and quiet people will, on the contrary, studiously avoid even that which is justly provoking, and will see it as if they saw it not. Those that would not be angry must wink at that which would stir up anger, or put a favorable construction upon it. The advice of the wise man is very good to the purpose: "Don't take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you;" and it is better for you not to hear it, unless you can hear it patiently, and not be provoked to sin. It is a common story of Cotys, that being presented with a cupboard of curious glasses, he returned his thanks to his friend that had sent them, and gratified the messenger that brought them, and then deliberately broke them all, lest by the casual breaking of them severally, he should be provoked to passion. And Dion relates it, to the honor of Julius Caesar, that Pompey's cabinet of letters coming to his hand, he would not read them because he was his enemy, and he would be likely to find in those who which would increase the quarrel; "and therefore," as Dr. Reynolds expresses it, "he chose rather to make a fire on his hearth than in his heart."

But seeing "briars and thorns are with us," and we "dwell among scorpions," and "it must needs be that offenses come," let us be so much the more careful, as we are when we go with a candle among powder, and exercise ourselves to have consciences void of offense, nor apt to offend others, nor to resent the offenses of others. When we are at any time engaged in business or company where we foresee provocation, we must double our watch, and be more than ordinarily circumspect. "I will keep my mouth with a bridle," says David, that is, with a particular actual care and diligence, while the wicked is before me, and frequent acts will confirm the good disposition and bring it to a habit. Plutarch advises "to set some time to ourselves for special strictness; so many days or weeks, in which, whatever provocations do occur, we will not allow ourselves to be disturbed by them." And thus he supposes, by degrees, the habit of vicious anger may be conquered and subdued. But after all, the grace of faith has the surest influence upon the establishment and quietness of the spirit: faith establishes the mercy of God, the meekness of Christ, the love of the Spirit, the commands of the word, the promises of the covenant, and the peace and quietness of the upper world; this is the approved shield, with which we may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one, and all his wicked instruments.

4. Learn to pause. It is a good rule, as in our communion with God, so in our converse with men, "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter." When at any time we are provoked, delays may be as advantageous as in other cases they are dangerous. "The discretion of a man defers his anger." "I would beat you," said Socrates to his servant, "if I were not angry;" but "he that is hasty of spirit," that joins in with his anger upon the first rise of it, "exalts folly." The office of reason is to govern the passions; but then we must give time to act, and not suffer the tongue to overrun it. Some have advised, when we are provoked to anger, to take at least so much time to deliberate as while we repeat the alphabet; and others have thought it more proper to repeat the Lord's prayer, and perhaps by the time we are past the fifth petition, "forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," we may be reduced into temper. It is a good rule, to "think twice before we speak once;" for he that hurries with his feet sins. It was the noted saying of a great statesman in queen Elizabeth's court, "Take time, and we shall have done the sooner." Nor can there be anything lost by deferring our anger; for there is nothing said or done in our wrath but it might be better said and better done in meekness.

5. Pray to God by his Spirit to work in you this excellent grace of meekness and quietness of spirit. It is a part of that loveliness which He puts upon the soul, and He must be sought unto for it. If any man lack this meekness of wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives liberally, and does not upbraid us with our folly. When we begin at any time to be froward and unquiet, we must lift a prayer to Him who stills the noise of the sea, for that grace which establishes the heart. When David's heart was hot within him, the first word that broke out was a prayer. Psa. 39:3, 4. When we are surprised with a provocation, and begin to be in a ferment upon it, it will not only be a present diversion, but a sovereign cure, to utter a prayer to God for grace and strength to resist and overcome the temptation: "Lord, keep me quiet now." Let your requests in this matter be made known to God; and "the peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds." You are ready enough to complain of unquiet people about you, but you have more reason to complain of unquiet passions within you; the other are but thorns in the hedge, these are thorns in the flesh, against which, if you beseech the Lord, as Paul did, with faith and fervency and constancy, you shall receive sufficient grace.

6. Be often examining your growth and proficiency in this grace. Inquire what command you have gained over your passions, and what improvements you have made in meekness. Provocations recur every day, such as have been used perhaps to throw you into a passion; these give you an opportunity to make the trial. Do you find that you are less subject to anger, and when angry, that you are less transported by it, than formerly; that your apprehension of injuries is less quick, and that your resentments are less keen than usual? Is the little kingdom of your mind more quiet than it has been, and the discontented party weakened and kept under? It is well if it is so, and a good sign that the soul prospers and is in health. We should examine every night whether we have been quiet all day. We shall sleep the better if we find we have. Let conscience keep up a grand inquest in the soul, under a charge from the Judge of heaven and earth to inquire and due presentment make of all riots, routs, and breaches of the peace within us; and let nothing be left unpresented for favor, affection, or self-love; nor let anything presented be left unprosecuted according to law. Those whose natural temper, or their age, or diseases lead them to be hasty, have an opportunity, by their meekness and gentleness, to discover both the truth and strength of grace in general; for it is the surest mark of uprightness to "keep ourselves from our own iniquity." And yet, if the children of God bring forth these fruits of the Spirit in old age, when commonly men are most froward and peevish, it shows not only that they are upright, but rather that "the Lord is upright," in whose strength they stand; that "He is their rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him."

7. Delight in the company of meek and quiet people. Solomon prescribes it as a preservative against foolish passion, to "make no friendship with an angry man, lest you learn his ways." When your neighbor's house is on fire, it is time to look to your own. But man is a sociable creature, and made for conversation; let us therefore, since we must have some company, choose to have fellowship with those who are meek and quiet, that we may learn their way, for it is a good way. The wolf is no companion for the lamb, nor the leopard for the kid, until they have forgotten to "hurt and destroy." Company is assimilating, and we are apt insensibly to grow like those with whom we ordinarily converse, especially with whom we delight to converse; therefore let the quiet in the land be the men of our choice, especially into standing relations and bosom friendship. Observe in others how sweet and amiable meekness is, and what a heaven upon earth those enjoy who have the command of their own passions, and study to transcribe such copies. There are those who take a pleasure in riotous company, and are never well but when they are in the midst of noise and clamor. Surely heaven would not be heaven to such, for that is a calm and quiet region: no noise there but what is sweet and harmonious.

8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. If we knew more of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, we would experience more of the fellowship of His sufferings. Think often how and in what way He suffered: see Him led as a lamb to the slaughter, and arm yourselves with the same mind. Think also why and for what end He suffered, that you may not in anything contradict the design of your dying Savior, nor receive His grace in vain. Christ died as the great peacemaker, to take down all partition-walls, to quench all threatening flames, and to reconcile His followers, not only to God, but one to another, by the slaying of all enemies. Eph. 2:14, 16. The apostle often prescribes a believing regard to the sufferings of Christ as a powerful allay to all sinful and intemperate heats, as Eph. 5:2; Phil. 2:5, etc. Those who would demonstrate the meek and humble life of Christ in their mortal bodies, must bear about with them continually "the dying of the Lord Jesus." The ordinance of the Lord's supper, in which we show forth the Lord's death and the new testament in His blood, must therefore be improved by us for this blessed end, as a love-feast, at which all our sinful passions must be laid aside; and a marriage-feast, where the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is a considerable part of the wedding-garment. The forgiving of injuries, and a reconciliation to our brother, is both a necessary branch of our preparation for that ordinance, and a good evidence and instance of our profiting by it.

9. Converse much in your thoughts with the dark and silent grave. You meet with many things now that disturb and disquiet you, and much ado you have to bear them: think how quiet death will make you, and how incapable of resenting or resisting injuries, and what an easy prey this flesh, for which you are so jealous, will shortly be to the worm that shall feed sweetly on it. You will, before long, be out of the reach of provocation, "where the wicked cease from troubling," and where their envy and their hatred is forever perished. And is not a quiet spirit the best preparation for that quiet state? Think how all these things, which now disquiet us, will appear when we come to look death in the face: how small and inconsiderable they seem to one that is stepping into eternity. Think, "What need is there that I should so resent an affront of injury, that am but a worm today, and may be the food of worms tomorrow?"

A little sprinkling of the dusk of the grave, upon the brink of which we stand, would do much towards quieting our spirits and ending our quarrels. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. When David's heart was hot within him, he prayed, "Lord, make me to know my end."

To conclude, I know no errand that I can come upon of this kind to you, in which methinks I should be more likely to prevail than in this; so much does meekness conduce to the comfort and repose of our own souls, and the making of our lives sweet and pleasant. If you are wise here, you shall be wise for yourself. That which I have been so intent upon in this discourse, is only to persuade you not to be your own tormentors, but to govern your own passions so that they may not be furies to yourselves. The ornament I have been recommending to you is confessedly excellent and lovely; will you put it on and wear it, that by this all men may know you are Christ's disciples? and you may be found among the sheep on the right hand, at the great day, when Christ's angels shall gather out of His kingdom everything that offends. Everyone will give meekness a good word; but in this, as in other instances, honesty is applauded, yet neglected.

Love is commended by all, and yet the love of many waxes cold; but let all that would not be self-condemned, practice what they praise. And as there is nothing in which I should more expect to prevail, so there is nothing in which it will easier appear whether I have prevailed or not: this tree will soon be known by its fruits; so many are the circumstances of almost every day which call for the exercise of this grace, that our profiting therein will quickly appear to ourselves, and to all with whom we converse. Our meekness and quietness is more obvious, and falls more directly under a trial and observation, than our love to God and our faith in Christ, and other graces, the exercise whereof lies more immediately between God and our own souls. Shall we therefore set ourselves to manifest, in all our converse, that we have indeed received good by this plain discourse? that our relations and neighbors, and all that we have dealings with, may observe a change in us for the better, and may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. And let not the impressions of it ever wear off, but, living and dying, let us be found among the quiet in the land: we all wish to see quiet families, and quiet churches, and quiet neighborhoods, and quiet nations; and it will be so if there be quiet hearts, and not otherwise.