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PART II. THE POWER OR EFFECTS OF FAITH IN THE REGULATION OF MAN’S INWARD NATURE.



CHAPTER THIRTEENTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO MEEKNESS OR QUIETNESS OF SPIRIT.


Meekness or quietness of spirit illustrated in scripture history. Reference to the Savior. The state of spiritual quietness characterized by inward harmony. Practical results. This state very different from that of natural inactivity or sluggishness. Founded in faith. Inconsistent with fanaticism. Favorable to prayer. A good test of character.

IN attempting to give some account of the influences of faith on man’s inward nature, we cannot well forget, that one of its most marked and pleasant results is the grace of a meek and quiet spirit. That state of mind, which the Apostle Peter describes as an ornament, which is “not corruptible,” and which in the sight of God is “of great price.”

2.—Of the grace of inward quietness, as of other Christian graces, we find some striking illustrations in the scriptures, particularly in the characters and lives of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Daniel, the Apostle John; and more than all, and above all, in the character and the life, in the labors and the trials of Jesus Christ. It is this trait of the Savior’s character, which seems to be particularly indicated in the prophetic passage in Isaiah, where it is said of him, “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.” And still more strikingly, where it is said; “he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.”

3.—The opposite of true meekness of spirit, which is only another name for true quietness of spirit, is
impatience; sometimes showing itself in undeliberate and unprayerful haste; sometimes in uneasiness and fretfulness in connection with many events which occur; and sometimes in a disposition severely and unjustly to judge and denounce others. We find no evidence in the life of the Savior, of any thing of this kind. He saw the very evils, both physical and moral, which we now behold; and he saw them, those at least which were of a moral nature, under still more aggravated circumstances; the oppressions of the rich, the degradation and the crimes of the poor; the violence of human passion resulting in personal contests and in national devastations, suspicion, hatred, envy, licentiousness, injustice and irreligion in its various forms of selfishness, unbelief, and open blasphemy. But he was not impatient; he was not fretful. He could not behold these things with indifference, it is true; he saw more clearly, than any mere man possibly could see, the extent of the evil which they involved; but the strong disapprobation which he both felt and expressed and the deep sorrow which he could not but experience, were never at variance with the grace of a meek and quiet spirit. We leave to the recollection of the reader the many facts and statements which support what has been said, with the exception of a single incident. On a certain occasion, as he was going through the country of the Samaritans in his way to the city of Jerusalem, he was unkindly and inhospitably treated by the people of one of the Samaritan villages. Some of his disciples, under the excitement and impetuosity of feeling, which such an event was naturally calculated to produce, proposed to him, that he should “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did.” But he did no such thing. He could be patient, and could exercise a Christian sympathy and pity, even when he thought it necessary to disapprove and condemn. And that his people in all ages of the world might know, that a wrong done is sometimes not more criminal than the spirit in which it is met by those who have witnessed it, he seems to have thought it more necessary to rebuke his disciples, than to make the Samaritans themselves the subject of his reproof. He turned to his disciples, and in words of great moral and religious significancy, “rebuked them and said, ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”

4.—It would be interesting perhaps to enter into a particular analysis of the mental state, to which our attention is directed in these remarks. But without attempting to do this, we may properly add here, that the state of mind, which is described as meekness or quietness of spirit, is characterized, in a very high degree, by inward harmony. When the judgment is rendered clear by religious influences, when the appetites are subdued, when the various propensities and affections, once rebellious and conflicting, are each and all in their place, operating where they ought to operate and not operating where they ought not to operate, the mind not only presents the aspect of rest or quietness but is obviously in harmony with itself; without which, indeed, the state of rest could not exist. The love of God is restored to its position, as the supreme, the controlling principle; and every natural desire and affection is exercised in subordination to it. There is not that inward jarring, which had formerly existed, thought in conflict with thought, passion contending with passion, and conscience asserting rights which it could not maintain. “Disorderly passions,” says Mr. Henry in his interesting Discourse on Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, “are like stormy winds in the soul; they toss and hurry it, and often strand or overset it. They move it, ‘
as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind;’ it is the Prophet’s comparison, and is an apt emblem of a man in passion. Now MEEKNESS restrains these winds, says to them, PEACE, BE STILL, and so preserves a calm in the soul and makes it conformable to Him, who has the winds in his hand, and is herein to be praised, that even the stormy winds fulfil his word.” [A Discourse on Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, by Rev. Matthew Henry, New York Ed. p. 34.]

5.—It is hardly necessary to speak of the results of quietness of spirit, in relation to the various outward trials, to which all persons are subject in the present life. The very term itself implies, that these trials shall be met, not only without a murmur, but with entire acquiescence and even cheerfulness. “Fret not thyself,” says the Scripture, “because of evil doers.” If moral evils exist in the world to a very great extent, as they obviously do, if sin abounds in various forms, oftentimes undisguised and shameless in its affrontery, if Christians are less decided and less watchful against it than they ought to be, it will still remain true, both now and in all time to come, that this state of things, trying as it is to a truly devout heart, will be more likely to be corrected by the efforts of a meek and resigned, than by those of a fretful and rebellious state of soul. The person of a meek spirit understands this; and he cannot allow the sins, which he witnesses, to produce in his own mind a state of feeling, which would be prejudicial to himself without being beneficial to others. And we ought to add, that he does not limit himself, and that he ought not to limit himself, in the exercise of this Christian grace, to the occasions which others furnish. It is true, that we are required, and are required too for good and urgent reasons, to guard against a fretful temper in relation to the vices and faults of others; but it is also important, perhaps we may say equally important, to guard against a fretful and impatient temper, originating in the painful experience of our own defects of character. We should always remember, that fretfulness is not penitence; and has in fact but very little relation to it. That impatient and murmuring sorrow, which fretfulness always implies, sad and melancholy although it may be, is obviously a very different thing from that resigned and humbled sorrow, which constitutes the efficacy and the beauty of a truly penitential state of mind. Fretfulness, therefore, under all circumstances, only tends to increase and aggravate the amount of evil. It is in accordance with these views, that we find a practical religious direction in the writings of Mr. Fletcher of Madely, a man of great religious experience. “When your mind hath been drawn aside,” he says, “DO NOT FRET, or let yourself go down the stream of nature, as if it were in vain to attempt to swim against it; but confess your fault, and calmly resume your former endeavor, but with more humility and watchfulness.” [Benson’s Life of Fletcher, p. 100.]

6.—We should hardly do justice to our thoughts on this subject, if we did not add the remark, that quietness of spirit is sometimes disturbed by our desires and efforts to do good. The danger from this source is undoubtedly less imminent than that from some other sources. It is true, however, that it really exists. Truly pious persons sometimes defeat their own object and do considerable injury by permitting the suggestions of grace to be controlled by the unbelieving zeal of nature, instead of being chastened and regulated by the oversight of
grace added to grace.

7.—We admit that from time to time we meet with something, which looks like quietness of spirit, with something which is a semblance of it; which, nevertheless, has no foundation in the true and sanctified adjustment of the inward state. The inactivity of nature, to which we have reference in making this remark, is a very different thing, both in its origin and its manifestations, from the calm rest of grace. Natural quietude is the result of darkness; spiritual quietude is the child of light. The one does nothing, because it is too indolent and too selfish to do any thing, and its rest, therefore, bears the fatal mark of being a rest in its own will. The other, which does nothing in its own choice, does all things in God’s will, so that its rest is in God and not in itself. The one is the rest of a man, who, unconscious of his danger, is walking blindfolded on the brink of a precipice. The other is the conscious rest of a glorified spirit, who walks in peace, and with open vision, on the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem.

8.—The basis of this remarkable and interesting state of mind is FAITH. In the first place, it is faith,
operating by love. That is to say, a faith in the character of God, which results in the restoration of love to God. Those, who believe God, love God; those, who believe him much, love him much; those, who believe perfectly, love perfectly. The sequence of love to faith, both in fact and degree, is not a mere matter of arbitrary choice or volition; but may rather be regarded as the result of a permanent and unchangeable law, a law which is true now and true always, which exists on earth and exists every where else. And we may add, that those, who love God as they ought to love him, cannot love other things otherwise than they ought to. The love of God in the heart, existing in accordance with the commandment, viz., thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, cannot fail to bring every desire, every affection, which has relation either to ourselves or to others, into subjection. Every desire, every affection, every tendency of our nature which is susceptible of a moral character, resumes, from that memorable moment, its true position. And when order is thus restored to the mind, by the reduction of every thing to its proper place, quietness of spirit exists and prevails as a necessary result. It is true it is no common love, which can effect this; and consequently it is no common degree of faith which gives rise to such love. But a grace so eminent as that of true quietness of spirit cannot be expected to exist where faith is weak.

9.—In the second place, the grace of quietness of spirit is sustained by faith in God’s providences; or perhaps we should say more specifically, by faith in God’s presence in his providences. We have already had occasion to refer to this great practical doctrine, that, in the succession of God’s providences, God himself is hidden in the bosom of every event. He is there, although he is not always seen. He is there to watch and control, if he is not there to originate. So that we can truly say, that no event in his providence happens, without bringing God with it, and without laying his hand upon us. The man of faith, therefore, knows, (and he cannot know it without bringing it home to his own case,) that he, who is impatient with events, is impatient with God; he who frets at events frets at God; he, who is not acquiescent in events, is at war with God. In such a position he cannot, he dare not place himself.

10.—Again, the grace of quietness of spirit is sustained by faith in God’s promises. The man of true faith is very far from considering the afflictions of God’s people the same thing with their being cast off and rejected. On the contrary, relying on God’s promises, he has not a doubt, that their trial will in due season be changed into redemption, and their mourning into victory. Abraham had his long day of trial; but his hopes deferred were ultimately satisfied and made rich in the gift of Isaac, “the son of promise.” The patriarch Joseph endured the severe trial of his faith in exile and imprisonments and in false accusations; but at length, in the language of the author of the Mute Christian, “he changed his iron fetters into chains of gold, his rags into royal robes, his stocks into a chariot, his prison into a palace.” David also was afflicted in his youth; but was victorious in age. He, who dwelt in caverns and made his pillow upon a rock, was at last seated upon the throne of Israel. Once the humble keeper of his father’s sheep, and known only in the solitudes of his native vallies, he became, in God’s time, the shepherd and ruler of a mighty people; great in his renown, great in his achievements, and greater still in being able to bear testimony to the favor and faithfulness of God. The man of faith understands this. He knows it all. It is written in letters uneffaceable on the centre of his heart. And is it strange, therefore, marking as he does the bow of promise in the dark cloud that overhangs him, that he should be resigned and quiet in spirit? “The steps of a good man,” says the Psalmist, “are ordered by the Lord; and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.”

11.—We remark further, that this grace is sustained by faith in God’s commands; that is to say, by a belief, that they are true, that they are reasonable, that they ought to be obeyed, and that they cannot be disobeyed without danger. The man of true faith and strong faith feels, that the command, FRET NOT THYSELF, and others like them are as binding upon us, as any other commands which are admitted to be of the most solemn and imperative nature. Immense is the error and the evil, which has arisen from man’s attempting to make distinctions, where they ought not to be made. The sin of an unquiet or fretful spirit is not the same, it is true, with other sins; but the obligation, which attends the command not to indulge in such a sin, is the same. No man can knowingly violate such an obligation, although it relates to a matter which the world is very apt to designate as of small consequence, without showing that his heart is not right with God. Wherever God’s command is, no matter how small the thing is to which the command relates, obedience must follow. Otherwise sin lies at the door. The man of faith, deeply realizing this, feels himself bound by that sacred and paramount obligation which God’s command always carries with it, to guard against the least impatience, the least unquietness of spirit. Bound by the command, supported by the promise, with his heart filled with love, and added to all this, meeting God as it were face to face in his providences, he understands the import of those delightful expressions; “They, that trust in the Lord, shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth, even forever.” Psalm 125:1, 2.

12.—In connection with this subject, and as naturally flowing from it, we have one or two remarks further to make. And one is, that the life of faith in the soul is very distinct and very remote, although it is not always thought to be so, from any wrongly excited and fanatical tendencies of mind. Fanaticism is characterized, among other things which help to define it, by being out of repose, by being restless, excitable, visionary, and denunciatory. The fanatic, while he may have some true elements of religion at the bottom, is one, who in many respects is wanting in harmony both with man, with God, and with the universe. Granting that he has a disposition to do good, it is still true, that he aims, although perhaps he is not distinctly conscious of it, to do God’s work in man’s hasty and selfish temper. He cannot bear patiently with a fallen brother; he devises means for the renovation of the world, which are inconsistent with the laws of nature and the ordinances of providence; he is in too much of a hurry for God himself; and rushing thoughtlessly, but still as he thinks with a very good heart, against the demonstrations of God’s wisdom and divine arrangements, he is perplexed, confounded, and dishonored. It must be very obvious, that the quietness of spirit, upon which we have been remarking, and which is the result of the highest exercises of faith, is a state of mind very different from this.

13.—We would observe again, in view of this subject, that quietness of spirit is especially favorable, and to some extent it is indispensable to a state of prayer. Prayer is not a demand, but a request, a petition; it is essential, therefore, to its very nature, that it should recognize the divine supremacy. He, who prays aright, always and necessarily says, THY WILL BE DONE. Who would presume to approach the throne of God, and to offer up his requests there, without feeling and without expressing the feeling, that God’s will should rule? And yet it is very obvious, that the man, who is discontented and rebellious in spirit, just so far as he is so, fails in this important and indispensable feeling. When people lament, as they often do and as they often have occasion to do, that their prayers are so inefficacious, would it not be well for them to inquire whether they have that resigned, peaceable, and acquiescent spirit in view of God’s character and dealings, which is so indispensable to the state of acceptable prayer? Some persons, who creditably sustain their claims to the character of Christians in many respects, fail here. They are willing to speak openly and freely for God on appropriate occasions; they sustain their professions and declarations by their contributions and alms; they would not hesitate a moment to undergo bonds and imprisonments in support of the truth; and at the same time, with an inconsistency almost unaccountable, they often, very often, exhibit a clouded brow and a restless, unquiet temper under those common dispensations, which characterize every day and every hour. The amount of this evil is incalculable. It is here, without looking further, that they may often find the worm in their bud of promise; the secret canker that consumes their flower of hope.

14.—Another remark, which we may properly make, is this. In the Christian grace which we have been considering, we find one of the most decisive and most satisfactory tests of religious character. True religion is a thing, not fragmentary but continuous, not coming and going at separated and distant intervals, but existing always, moment by moment. It is obvious, therefore, that we need a test of religious character which is perpetual; one which is a permanent, ever living, and ever present expression of what exists within. Quietness of spirit, which shows itself so distinctly in the countenance and the outward manner, and which adjusts itself in all its acts so beautifully to the relations and the reciprocal duties of man with man, furnishes this test. Gratitude arises on the occasion of gratitude; joy arises on the occasion of joy; sorrow arises on the occasion of sorrow; and those occasions may be more or less frequent. But there is no day, no hour, no moment, which may not be said to be the occasion for the proper exercise of a meek and quiet spirit. And this arises from the fact, which is so obvious as to be self-evident, that God’s dispensations, spreading themselves over every successive moment of time, are perpetual, never ceasing. These dispensations, which always involve and express a portion of the divine will, obviously require, considered merely as expressions of the divine will, a corresponding state of mind, equally perpetuated from moment to moment, equally unceasing. And this state of mind, existing on the part of God’s creatures, and corresponding to the momentary manifestations of his will, is, and from the nature of the case, it must be, that of a meek and peaceable acquiescence. And accordingly those, who possess this trait, and who in possessing it show the heaven-born nature of their Christianity, may be said in a special manner to obey the Savior’s commandment, “LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.” It is a trait, when it exists in the highest degree, which sits so tranquilly and beautifully upon the outward manner, that it invariably attracts the attention of the beholder, and is truly the “ornament of great price,” as the Apostle Peter denominates it; something which can be seen of all men, at all times, and in all situations; the perpetual light of the creature which corresponds to God’s perpetual light in his providences; “the star that never sets.”

15.—In bringing this subject to a close, we are willing to admit, that we have spoken in strong terms of this spiritual grace; but not stronger, as it seems to us, than the Scriptures will warrant; and not stronger, than are to be found in the writings of many devout and experienced persons. In the interesting little work, entitled the Mute Christian, to which we have already had occasion to refer, a work which from beginning to end may be regarded as an illustration and defence of the excellence of this Christian grace, we find the following remarks. “A quiet, silent spirit is of great esteem with God. God sets the greatest value upon persons of a quiet spirit. A quiet spirit is a spark of the divine nature. It is a heaven-born spirit. No man is born with a holy silence in his heart, as he is born with a tongue in his mouth. This is a flower of Paradise; it is a precious gem that God makes very great reckoning of. A quiet spirit speaks a man most like to God; it capacitates a man for communion with God; it renders a man most serviceable to God, and it obliges a man to most accurate walking with God. A meek and quiet spirit is an incorruptible ornament, much more valuable than Gold.” [The Mute Christian by Rev. Thomas Brooks. Boston Ed. p. 97.]