By J.R. Miller
"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." Isaiah 30:15
"This should be your ambition: to live a quiet life." 1 Thessalonians 4:11
A quiet life has many points of beauty. It has poise, the lack of which is always a serious blemish. It has self-mastery, which is kingliness. Quietness is the condition of receptiveness. Some people make so much noise, that they hear none of the great and noble voices which are speaking continually in their ears words of wisdom. Quietness favors thought and meditation. Some of us never give ourselves time to think, and hence we never have any words worth while to speak.
It would seem that anybody could keep still and quiet. We would say that it requires no exertion. It is activity that is hard--it ought to be easy to rest. It takes energy to speak--it should be easy just to be silent.
But we all know that few things are harder for most people, than to be still. Our lives are like the ocean in their restlessness. They cannot be comprised and confined within narrow limits. This is one of the proofs of our greatness and our immortality. Life is vast and ever in motion. Dead things have no trouble in keeping still. A stone is never restless. The lower the quality of life, the easier it is for it to be quiet. The human soul was made for God, and its very greatness renders its repose and quiet--the most difficult of all its attainments.
Yet the lesson of quietness is set for us again and again in the Scriptures. We are told that the effect of righteousness, is quietness. We are specially exhorted to "study to be quiet," to make it the aim of our life to be still; to make a study of it--as something to be learned, as one would learn an art or train one's self in beauty of living. In the margin, the language is even stronger, "Be ambitious to be quiet." Think of human ambitions--to be rich, to be honored, to have power, to do great things! Quietness must, therefore, be one of the most desirable of all qualities in life. We are to be ambitious to be quiet.
Another saying of the New Testament is, referring to women, "The apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, is of great price in the sight of God." Quietness is extolled, too, as a privilege in a noisy world. "A dry morsel and quietness therewith, is better than a feast with strife and contention."
Quietness is evidently a mark of high spiritual attainment. On the mountain the prophet saw the wild convulsions of nature--the storm, the earthquake, and the fire--but in none of these, was God manifested. Then followed "the voice of gentle stillness" --and that was God" Yet there are many people who think that noise is strength, that quietness lacks robustness and vigor. They suppose that the more noise a speaker makes--the greater orator he is; that the louder one's voice in praying--the more power the man has in prayer. But noise is not eloquence. Mr. Beecher used to say that when he was speaking and had no thoughts, nothing to say, he thundered, and the people were greatly moved. The greatest preacher is the one who the most deeply impresses other lives, turning them from sin to holiness, from earthly to noble things.
The common impression probably is that people who make the most bluster and show in their callings, are the greatest workers, accomplish the most, produce the deepest, best impressions. But this is not true. The best Christian workers anywhere, are those who make the least noise. They live deeply, dwelling in the valley of silence. We never can do our best anywhere--if we have not learned to be quiet.
In all departments of life, it is the quiet forces that effect the most. How silently all day long the sunbeams fall upon the fields and gardens! They make no noise. Yet what cheer, what blessing, what renewal of life, what inspirations of beauty they diffuse! How silently the flowers bloom, and yet what sweetness they pour upon the air! How silently the stars move on in their majestic marches round God's throne! They utter no voice. Yet they are central suns with systems of worlds revolving round them! How silently God's angels work, stepping with noiseless tread through our homes, performing ever their quiet ministries for us and about us! Who ever hears the flutter of the angels' wings--or the whisper of their tongues? Yet they ever throng the air and are continually bearing to us their messages of cheer, joy, hope, and comfort, and are ceaselessly engaged in their ministries of protection, guidance, and help.
How silently God Himself works! He is never absent from our side. He never ceases blessing us for a moment. He brings us gifts while we sleep and is ever present when we are awake. He comes so quietly, that He never disturbs us. He comes into our sick rooms, stands beside our beds of pain, and sits down beside us in our time of sorrow and gives comfort--but we never hear Him. He makes no ado.
One of the most beautiful qualities in the life of Christ, was His quietness. The prophet said of Him before He came into the world, "He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets." When earthly kings move through the land, they make a great display. Heralds go before them and proclaim their coming. Attention is drawn to them and great public demonstrations mark their movements. The booming of cannon, the ringing of bells, and the shouts of the people tell of their coming and going. When heaven's King went on earth's streets--there was no noise. He sought not--but rather shunned, publicity and fame. Throngs did indeed follow Him--but they were drawn by the ministry of love He wrought wherever He went--healing, comforting, forgiving, saving. When the people in their enthusiasm tried to make Him their earthly king--He fled away to the mountains, seeking refuge there with God. He never advertised Himself. He did nothing for show. Yet think what blessings He left in the world as He passed through it! Wherever His feet touched the earth, flowers grew in the path! Into whatever home He entered, He carried a breath of heaven and left there the blessing of His peace. Every life He touched, had in it afterwards something of beauty or of blessing it never had had before. It is now nineteen centuries since Jesus walked on the earth in human form--and still the influence of His gentle, blessed, quiet life, fills all the world.
Which class of men have most deeply impressed the world--those who have made the greatest noise--or the quiet people? Of course, in the records of history, the names that are most prominent are those of kings and warriors and men of ambition. But there have always been in the world a host of quiet folk, who have attracted no attention to themselves, who have done no brilliant deeds, whose names have not got into the newspapers--but who have touched the world's life with the spirit of their own lives. They are the lowly ones who dwell near the heart of Christ, catch the tone of His life, and then go on living simply, and singing the songs of love and peace they have learned.
Yet we all experience the temptation--to want others to know us and praise us. Many people think that if they do not get into official positions, or grow rich, or rise to power, or gain newspaper notoriety, or make a show in some way among men--that they have failed in living. But some day it will be seen that usually those who have wrought quietly and without fame or human praise--have achieved the noblest and most permanent results!
Only the other day, one came and spoke with sadness of what appeared to be a useless life. It seemed to have been without result, without blessing to others or honor to Christ, because nothing great or conspicuous had been done. Yet all who know this friend are aware that with her quiet life, her victorious cheerfulness, her unfailing kindness, she carries blessings wherever she goes!
Much of the best work in this world, is done unconsciously. Indeed, there is danger always that the good deeds we do consciously and with intention, shall be marred by the very consciousness with which we do them.
There is a legend of a good man's shadow which, when it fell behind him where he could not see it, had healing power; but which, when it fell before his face, where he could see it, had no such power. The legend is true in life. There are many quiet people who never dream that they are useful at all, who even deplore their uselessness, but whose days are really full of gentleness and kindness, ever setting in motion gentle tides of beneficent and heavenly influences which make the whole world better, sweetening its air and enriching its life. Some day it will be seen that our very best work in God's sight--is done when we are not aware that we are doing any good at all; while much that we glory in as the finest achievements of our lives--will prove to have been of no value, because filled with self!
The lives of godly people are sometimes compared to the dew. "They will be like dew sent by the Lord." Micah 5:7. One point of likeness, is the quiet way in which the dew performs its ministry. It falls silently and imperceptibly. It makes no noise. No one hears it dropping. It chooses its time in the night when men are sleeping, when none can see its beautiful work. It covers the leaves with clusters of pearls. It steals into the bosoms of the flowers, and leaves new cupfuls of sweetness there. It pours itself down among the roots of the grasses and tender herbs and plants. It loses itself altogether, and yet it is not lost. For in the morning there is fresh life everywhere, and new beauty. The fields are greener, the gardens are more fragrant, and all nature is clothed in fresh luxuriance.
Is there not in this simile, a suggestion as to the way we should seek to do good in this world? Should we not wish to have our influence felt--while no one thinks of us; rather than that we should be seen and heard and praised? Should we not be willing to lose ourselves in the service of self-forgetful love, as the dew loses itself in the bosom of the rose, caring only that other lives shall be sweeter, happier, and holier, and not that honor shall come to us? We are too anxious, some of us, that our names shall be written in large letters on the things we do, even on what we do for our Master; and are not willing to sink ourselves out of sight--and let Him alone have the praise.
Our Lord's teaching on the subject is very plain. He says: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." That is, they have that which they seek--the applause of men.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." The meaning would seem to be, that we are not to wish people to know of our good deeds, our charities, our self-denials; that we should not seek publicity, newspaper announcements, for example, when we give money or do good works; indeed, that we are not even to tell ourselves what we have done; that we are not to think about our own good deeds so as to become conscious of them; not to put them down in our diaries and go about complimenting ourselves, throwing bouquets at ourselves, and whispering: "How good I am! What fine things I have done!"
This is an insightful test of our lives. Are we willing to be as the dew--to steal abroad in the darkness, carrying blessings to men's doors, blessings that shall enrich the lives of others and do them good--and then steal away again before those we have helped or blessed waken, to know what hand it was that brought the gift? Are we willing to work for others without gratitude, without recognition, without human praise, without requital? Are we content to have our lives poured out like the dew--to bless the world and make it more fruitful, and yet remain hidden away ourselves? Is it enough for us to see the fruits of our toil and sacrifice in others' brightened homes, greater spiritual growth, and deeper happiness; or in good institutions, in renewed society, in benefits prepared by us and enjoyed by others--yet never hear our names spoken in praise or honor--perhaps even hearing others praised for things we have done?
Our lesson teaches us that this is the way we are to live--if we are followers of Christ. John the Baptist, when they asked him who he was, said he was only a voice--a voice crying in the wilderness, foretelling the Messiah. That was humility--hiding away that only Christ should be seen and honored. Florence Nightingale, having gone as an angel of mercy among the hospitals of the Crimea until her name was enshrined in every soldier's heart, asked to be excused from having her picture taken, when thousands of the men begged for it--that she might drop out and be forgotten, and that Christ alone might be remembered as the author of the blessings her hands had ministered. That was the true Christian spirit!
We need not trouble ourselves about fame, trying to make sure of honor and praise when we have done anything for the Master. What is fame? At the best, it is likely to be transient. We all know how soon the world forgets even its brightest names. A man who has filled a large place among his fellows dies today. Tomorrow all the newspapers will give him a notice, longer or shorter. Two or three days later his funeral occurs and then his name disappears from the public prints--unless he has so disposed of his property that the announcement shall start another ripple of publicity. Recently an honored railroad president died, and the day he was buried every wheel on the great railway system he had directed stopped and stood still for ten minutes. Then the trains rolled on as before, and the great man will scarcely be missed or mentioned hereafter.
What an empty thing is fame! How unsatisfactory! How hard it is to maintain! How fickle it is! There is a picture of the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, with the empty cross, and the crowd gone, and over yonder an donkey nibbling at a piece of withered palm branch. That is the way of fame too often. Palm Sunday and Good Friday were only five days apart.
Says Emily Dickinson:
"Fame is a bee. It has a song!
It has a sting! Ah, too, it has a wing."
As one writes: "When death has dropped the curtain--we shall hear no more applause. And though we fondly dream that it will continue after we have left the stage, we do not realize how quickly it will die away in silence, while the audience turns to look at the new actor and the next scene! Our position in society will be filled--as soon as it is vacated, and our name remembered only for a moment--except by a few who have learned to love us, not because of fame--but because we have helped them and done them some good."
The closing words of this quotation tell us the secret of the only fame that is worth living for--the fame of love, won not by our great deeds--but by humble service in Christ's name. The only fame that will last, will be in the records of good done to others. Vain was the child's wish that he might help God paint the clouds and sunsets, for as we watch the glorious banks of clouds in the heavens, their form changes and their glory vanishes. But if you go about doing good in simple ways, in gentle kindnesses, not thinking of reward, not dreaming of praise, not hoping for any return--you are enshrining your name where it will have immortal honor.
God hides away the things of love we do in the silence, with no thought of reward--hides them away in the memories, in the hearts, and in the lives of those we help, or bless, or influence for good. Nothing done in love and in humility, will be lost! Fame is transient and ephemeral, like the flowers you wear today, which will fade by tomorrow; but the touches you put upon human lives are immortal.
Those who have learned to live "in quietness and in confidence" have found the true secret of beautiful living.
Confidence! God loves to be trusted. We all love to be trusted. Earth has no sweeter joy--than when one heart trusts another. God is like us in this--trusting Him gives Him joy. He has a plan for our lives, a plan that takes in all our days and their smallest events. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered" means not that God actually counts our hairs--there would be no use in that--but that the smallest things are included in God's plan for our lives.
One came to me in anxiety about the future. This friend has had a good position for several years--but the office would be closed on August thirty-first, in one month--and the work would cease. "Then what shall I do?" asked the person. The answer I gave was: "God has a plan for your life--far beyond August thirty-first! His plan takes in all the months after that--as long as you may live. He will have something ready for you when your present task is finished." God loves to have us trust Him implicitly. The simpler our faith is--the more joy it gives Him. And He will never disappoint our confidence.
We do not know how much we grieve God--by our noisy fretfulness, our peevish complainings, our miserable discontents, our sad unbeliefs. Oh, for quietness and confidence! The promise runs: "In quietness and in confidence, shall be your strength." Strength--that is just what we need, for we are pitiably weak. If only we would get quiet and still, God's strength would come into our lives! If only we had confidence--that would bring us into communion with Christ, and leaning on Him, His strength would become ours and His peace would hold us quiet and at rest!
When sailors are heaving the anchor, they start a song and keep time to the music. When soldiers are going into battle, they play martial music to inspire the men. Carlyle said, "Give us, oh, give us the man who sings at his work." There is tremendous power in a songful heart. Quietness and confidence will fill our hearts with music, and then we will be strong.