by J. R. Miller
Quietness is urged, too, on Christ's followers. "This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life." 1 Thessalonians 4:11. "Busy-bodies" the same apostle exhorts that "with quietness they work." Prayers are to be made for rulers "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." Another apostle, writing to Christian women, speaks of their true adornment as being "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." Solomon rates quietness in a home far above the best of luxuries: "Better is a dry morsel and quietness—than an house full of feasting with strife!" A prophet declares the secret of power in these words: "In quietness and confidence, shall be your strength"; and likewise says, "The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever." It is set down also as one of the blessings of God's people—that they shall dwell in "quiet resting-places." These are but a few of very many scriptural words concerning quietness—but they are enough to indicate several lessons that we may profitably consider.
We should be quiet towards God. The expression, "Rest in the Lord." Psalm 37:7; could also be translated, "Be silent before the Lord." We are not to speak back to God, when he speaks to us. We are not to reason with him or dispute with him—but are to bow in silent and loving acquiescence before him: "Be still, and know that I am God." It is in those providences which cut sorely into our lives and require sacrifice and loss on our part—that we are specially called to this duty.
There is a moving illustration of silence to God, in the case of Aaron when his sons had offered strange fire, and had died before the Lord for their disobedience and sacrilege. The record says, "And Aaron held his peace." He even made no natural human outcry of grief. He accepted the terrible penalty as unquestionably just, and bowed in the acquiescence of faith. This silence to God should be our attitude in all times of trial, when God's ways with us are bitter and painful. Why should we complain at anything that our Father may do? We have no right to utter a word of murmuring, for he is our sovereign Lord, and our simple duty is instant, unquestioning submission. We have no reason to complain—for we know that all God's dealings with us are in loving wisdom. His will is always best for us, whatever sacrifice or suffering it may cost.
We should train ourselves to be quiet also toward men. There are times when we should speak and when words are mighty and full of blessing. Universal silence would not be a blessing to the world. Among the most beneficent of God's gifts to us—is the power of speech. And we are to use our tongues. There are some people who are altogether too quiet in certain directions and toward certain people. There is no place where good words are more fitting than between husband and wife, yet there are husbands and wives who pass weeks and months together in almost unbroken silence. They will travel long journeys side by side in the railway-car, and utter scarcely a word in the whole distance. They will walk to and from church, and neither will speak. In the home life, they will pass whole days with nothing more in the form of speech between them, than an indifferent remark about the weather, a formal inquiry and a monosyllabic answer.
Husbands certainly ought to have something to say, when they come into their homes from the busy world outside. They are usually congenial enough in the circles of business or politics or literature, and are able to talk so as to interest others. Ought they not to seek to be as congenial in their own homes, especially toward their own wives! Most women, too, are able to talk in general society. Why, then, should a wife fall into such a mood of silence the moment she and her husband are alone? It was Franklin who wisely said, "As we must account for every idle word—so must we for every idle silence." We must not forget that silence may be sadly overdone, especially in homes.
There are other silences that are also to be deplored. People keep in their hearts unspoken, the kindly words they might utter—and ought to utter—in the ears of the weary, the soul-hungry, and the sorrowing about them. The ministry of good words is one of wondrous power, yet many of us are wretched misers with our gold and silver coin of speech. Is any miserliness so base? Ofttimes we allow hearts to starve close beside us, though in our very hands we have abundance to feed them. One who attends the funeral of any ordinary man and listens to what his neighbors have to say about him as they stand by his coffin, will hear enough kind words spoken to have brightened whole years of his life. But how was it when the man was living, toiling and struggling among these very people? Ah! they were not so faithful then with their grateful, appreciative words. They were too quiet toward him then. Silence was overdone. Quietness is carried too far, when it makes us disloyal to the hearts which crave our words of love and sympathy.
But there is a quietness toward others which all should cultivate. There are many words spoken which ought never to pass the door of the lips! There are people who seem to exercise no restraint whatever on their speech. They allow every passing thought or feeling to take form in words. They never think what the effect of their words will be—how they will fly like arrows shot by some careless marksman and will pierce hearts they were never meant to hurt! Thus friendships are broken, and injuries are inflicted—which can never be repaired. Careless words are forever making grief and sorrow in tender spirits. We pity the dumb whom sometimes we meet. Dumbness is more blessed by far than speech—if all we can do with our marvelous gift is to utter bitter, angry, abusive or sharp, cutting words.
Another kind of common talk that had better be repressed into complete silence, is the miserable gossip which forms so large a part—let us confess it and deplore it—of ordinary parlor conversation. Few appreciative and kindly things, are spoken of absent ones—but there is no end to criticism, snarling and backbiting. The most unsavory bits of scandal are served with relish, and no blameless character is armor against the virulence and maliciousness of the tongues, which chatter on as innocently and glibly as if they were telling sweet stories of good! It certainly would be infinitely better if all this kind of speech, were reduced to utter silence! It is better that complete silence is used, in place of any conversation whatever if there is nothing to be talked about but the faults and foibles and the characters and doings of absent people! Will not some brave person preach a crusade against backbiting? Shall we not have a new annual "week of prayer" to cry to God for the gift of silence—when we have nothing good or true or beautiful to say? No victories should be more heroically battled for, or more thankfully recorded than victories of silence—when we are tempted to speak unhallowed words of others!
Silence is better, also, than any words of bickering and strife. There is no surer, better way of preventing quarrels, than by the firm restraining of speech. "A soft answer turns away wrath," but if we cannot command the "soft answer" when another person is angry, the second-best thing is not to speak at all. "Grievous words stir up anger." Many a long, fierce strife, which has produced untold pain and heartburning would never have been anything more than a momentary flash of anger—if one of the parties had practiced the holy art of silence!
Someone tells of the following arrangement which worked successfully in preventing family quarrels: "You see, sir," said an old man, speaking of a couple in his neighborhood who lived in perfect harmony, "they had agreed between themselves that whenever he came home a little contrary and out of temper, he would wear his hat on the back of his head—and then she never said a word; and if she came in a little cross and crooked, she would throw her shawl over her left shoulder—and he never said a word." So they never quarreled. He who has learned to be silent spares himself ofttimes from shame. Many men have owed their reputation for great wisdom, quite as much to their silence as to their speech. They have not spoken the many foolish things of the glib talker, and have uttered only few and well-considered words.
An English writer gives the story of a groom wedded to a lady of wealth. He was in constant fear of being ridiculed by his wife's guests. A clergyman said to him, "Wear a black coat and hold your tongue." The new husband followed the advice, and soon was considered one of the finest gentlemen in the country. The power of keeping quiet would be worth a great deal to many people whose tongues are forever betraying their ignorance, and revealing their true character. All true culture is toward the control and the restraining of speech. Christian faith gives a quietness which in itself is one of life's holiest blessings. It gives the quietness of peace—a quietness which the wildest storms cannot disturb, which is a richer possession than all the world's wealth or power.
"This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life." The lesson may be hard to many of us—but it is well worth all the cost of learning. It brings strength and peace to the heart. Speech is good—but ofttimes silence is better. He who has learned to hold his tongue—is a greater conqueror than the warrior who subdues an empire! The power to be silent under provocations and wrongs and in the midst of danger and alarms—is the power of the noblest, royalest victoriousness!