If You Can’t Say Something Nice

I’ve been sharing some of Matthew Henry’s thoughts on how to govern our own anger. Now I want to share how Matthew Henry advises one to be meek when others are angry at him. Meekness is needful not only when we ourselves are angry, but also when we need to bear patiently the anger of others–especially in reference to our superiors and equals.

Commonly, that which provokes anger is anger, as fire kindles fire; now meekness prevents that violent collision which forces out these sparks, and softens at least one side, and so puts a stop to a great deal of mischief; for it is the second blow that makes the quarrel.

First of all, we need to think carefully about how to prevent the anger of others by trying not to sin against or to offend others; instead we learn to “please our neighbor for good to edification.” (Romans 15:2) As much as we are able, we need to try to live peaceably with other people and to be accommodating to different personalities than ours. How often do we excuse a lack of unity with another Christian because she’s “just a different personality than mine”? (In fact, this exact issue was a major cause of missionary interpersonal problems that I know of.)

Henry reminds that every relation and interaction with others would be easier and more comfortable if we would only be more used to accommodate. Some people seem to take pleasure in being difficult or unkind, but the law of Christ forbids us to “provoke one another,” (Galatians 5:26) unless it be to “love and to good works.”

But because tensions will come at times, even when you were trying to be careful, our next concern should be how to handle ourselves when we find ourselves on the receiving end of anger so that we don’t make things worse. In these times, meekness will either make you to be silent or to give a soft answer.

Don’t Say Anything!

You know the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

This is the first reason we need meekness when others are angry, and when we likewise are angry back–so that we can hold our peace. Hans BrinkerDo you remember the story of the Dutch boy who held back the entire dike with his finger, saving his town? He kept his finger in a small hole in a dike for an entire night, knowing that if he did not, the entire dike would be breached, and all of the water would come through and flood the town. That’s how an argument can be–like a leak in a dam that is very hard to stop before the water breaks through the entire wall.

Those who find themselves wronged and aggrieved think they may have permission to speak, but it is better to be silent than to speak amiss and make work for repentance….if we soberly reflect we shall find we have been often the worse for our speaking, but seldom the worse for our silence.

When thou art the hammer, knock thy fill;
But when thou art the anvil, lie thou still.

But what about when they are angry with you for NO good REASON?! Even then, we need to wait before attempting to vindicate ourselves. “There is nothing said or done in passion but it may be better said and better done afterwards. [when we are calm]”

Remember those three rules of speech? Is it kind, necessary, and true? Sometimes it may be needful and true; but if it is spoken in a moment of anger, it will hurt rather than help. Sometimes you may even consider whether you could get someone else to say for you what needs to be said, rather than saying it yourself.

But if we in our meekness are run over unfairly, God “will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:6) It would be better to leave it in His hands than to try to clear ourselves, “lest that which we call clearing ourselves, God should call quarreling with our brethren.”

I as a deaf man heard not, I was a dumb man that openeth not his mouth.”

David said these words in Psalm 38:13 when others tried to hurt him with their speech. This doesn’t mean that he had nothing to say, or that he was unable to answer; but that he trusted in God. God heard, and God would do what was right, more than he. If you’re doing right, and you suffer for it through the anger of someone else, don’t spoil the rewards and just cause you can put before God on your account by mismanaging how you seek to vindicate yourself. Christ our great example was “as a lamb dumb before the shearers.”

It is indeed a great piece of self-denial to be silent when we have enough to say, and provocation to say it; but if we do thus control our tongues, out of a pure regard for peace and love, it will turn to a good account, and will be an evidence for us that we are Christ’s disciples, having learned to deny ourselves. It is better by silence to yield to our brother, who is, or has been, or may be, our friend, than by angry speaking to yield to the devil, who has been, and is, and ever will be, our sworn enemy.


This is my attempt to rephrase Matthew Henry’s book The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit.

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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3 Responses to If You Can’t Say Something Nice

  1. Such good posts! I don’t think I will ever have this down, but I am trying with God’s help to be kind.

  2. Pingback: Sticks and Stones (and a Soft Word!) May Break My Bones | Ita Vita

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