I just came across again these paragraphs written by Matthew Henry of his father Philip and was struck once again by the godliness and biblical wisdom of this counsel. This is the counsel of a man who lived for many years under a persecuting government.
And here it may be very pertinent to observe, how industrious Mr. Henry was at this time, when he and his friends suffered such hard things from the government, to preserve and promote a good affection to the government notwithstanding. It was commonly charged at that time upon the nonconformists in general, especially from the pulpits, that they were all a factious and turbulent people, as was said of old,—Ezra, iv. 15,—hurtful to kings and provinces; that their meetings were for the sowing of sedition and discontents, and the like; and there is some reason to think, that one thing intended by the hardships put upon them, was to drive them to this; there is a way of making a wise man mad. But how peaceably they carried themselves, is manifest to God, and in the consciences of many. For an instance of it, it will not be amiss to give some account of a sermon, which Mr. Henry preached in some very private meetings, such as were called seditious conventicles, in the year 1669, when it was a day of treading down, and of perplexity; it was on that text, Psalm, xxxv. 20. Against them that are quiet in the land. Whence (not to curry favour with rulers, for whatever the sermon was, the very preaching of it had been known, must have been severely punished, but out of conscience towards God) he taught his friends this doctrine,—That it is the character of the people of God, that they are a quiet people in the land. ‘This quietness he described to be an orderly, peaceable subjection to governors and government in the Lord. We must maintain a reverent esteem of them, and of their authority, in opposition to despising dominion, 2 Peter, ii. 10; we must be meek, under severe commands, and burdensome impositions, not murmuring and complaining, as the Israelites against Moses and Aaron; but take them up as our cross in our way, and bear them as we do foul weather. We must not speak evil of dignities, Jude, viii. nor revile the gods, Exodus, xxii. 28. Paul checked himself for this, Acts xxiii. 5. ἐκ ἤθειν; I did not consider it, if I had, I would not have said so. We must not traduce the government, as Absalom did David’s, 2 Samuel, xv. 3. Great care is to be taken how we speak of the faults of any, especially of rulers, Ecclesiastes, x. 20.—The people of God do make the word of God their rule, and by that they are taught. (1,) That the magistracy is God’s ordinance, and magistrates God’s ministers; that by him kings reign, and the powers that be are ordained of him. (2,) That they, as well as others, are to have their dues, honour, and fear, and tribute. (3,) That their lawful commands are to be obeyed, and that readily and cheerfully, Titus, iii. 1. (4,) That the penalties inflicted for not obeying unlawful commands, are patiently to be undergone. This is the rule, and as many as walk according to this rule, Peace shall be upon them, and there can be no danger of their unpeaceableness. They are taught to pray for kings and all in authority, 1 Timothy, ii. 1, 2, and God forbid we should do otherwise: yea, though they persecute, Jeremiah, xxix. 7. Peaceable prayers bespeak a peaceable people, Psalm, cix. 4. If some professing religion have been unquiet, their unquietness hath given the lie to their profession, Jude, viii. 11, 12. Quietness is our badge, Colossians, iii. 12. It will be our strength, Isaiah, xxx. 7, 15. Our rejoicing in the day of evil, Jeremiah, xviii. 18: it is pleasing to God, 1 Timothy, ii. 2, 3: it may work upon others, 1 Peter, ii. 12, 13. the means he prescribed for the keeping of us quiet, were to get our hearts filled with // the knowledge and belief of these two things. 1. That the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, Job, xviii. 36; many have thought otherwise, and it made them unquiet. 2. That the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God, James, i. 20; he needs not our sin to bring to pass his own counsel. We must mortify unquietness in the causes of it, James, iv. 1: we must always remember the oath of God, Ecclesiastes, viii. 2: the oath of allegiance is an oath of quietness. And we must beware of the company and converse of those that are unquiet. Proverbs, xxii. 24, 25. Though deceitful matters be devised, yet we must be quiet still; nay, be so much the more quiet.’
I have been thus large in gathering these hints out of that sermon, (which he took all occasions in other sermons to inculcate, as all his brethren likewise did,) that if possible it may be a conviction to the present generation; or, however, may be a witness in time to come, that the nonconformist ministers were not enemies to Caesar, nor troublers of the land; nor their meetings any way tending to the disturbance of the publick peace, but purely designed to help to repair the decays of christian piety.
Matthew Henry and J. B. Williams, The Life of the Rev. Philip Henry, rev. ed. (1828; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974), 112-14.