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1 Peter 3:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 but let it be the secret person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
But let it be the secret person of the heart. This expression is substantially the same as that of Paul in Rom. 7:22, ‘the inward man.’ See Notes on that place. The word ‘hidden’ here means that which is concealed, that which is not made apparent by the dress or by ornament. It lies within, pertaining to the affections of the soul.
With the imperishable quality. Properly, ‘in the incorruptible ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.’ This is said to be incorruptible in contradistinction to gold and apparel. They will decay, but the internal ornament is ever-enduring. The sense is that whatever pertains to outward decoration, however beautiful and costly, is fading, but that which pertains to the soul is enduring. As the soul is immortal, so all that tends to adorn that will be immortal too; as the body is mortal, so all with which it can be invested is decaying and will soon be destroyed.
Imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. Of a calm temper; a contented mind; a heart free from passion, pride, envy, and irritability; a soul not subject to the agitations and vexations of those who live for fashion and who seek to be distinguished for external adorning. The connection here shows that the apostle refers to this not only as that which would be of great price in the sight of God but as that which would tend to secure the affection of their husbands and win them to embrace the true religion (see verses 1-2;) and, in order to this, he recommends them, instead of seeking external ornaments, to seek those of the mind and of the heart, as more agreeable to their husbands; as better adapted to win their hearts to religion as that which would be most permanently proved. In regard to this point, we may observe (1.) that there are, undoubtedly, some husbands who are pleased with excessive ornaments in their wives and who take a pleasure in seeing them decorated with gold, and pearls, and costly array. (2.) That all are pleased and gratified with a suitable attention to personal appearance on the part of their wives. It is as much the duty of a wife to be cleanly in her person, and neat in her habits, in the presence of her husband, as in the presence of strangers, and no wife can hope to secure the permanent affection of her husband who is not attentive to her personal appearance in her own family; especially if, while careless of her personal appearance in the presence of her husband, she makes it a point to appear gaily dressed before others. Yet (3.) the decoration of the body is not all, nor is it the principal thing that a husband desires. He desires primarily in his wife the more permanent adorning which pertains to the heart. Let it be remembered (a) that a large part of the ornaments on which females value themselves are lost to a great extent on the other sex. Many a man cannot tell the difference between diamonds and cut glass, or paste in the form of diamonds; and few are such connoisseurs in the matter of female ornaments as to appreciate at all the difference in the quality or color of silks and shawls, and laces, which might appear so important to a female eye. The fact is, that those personal ornaments which to females appear of so much value are much less regarded and prized by men than they often suppose. It is a rare thing that a man is so thoroughly skilled in the knowledge of the distinctions that pertain to fashions as to appreciate that on which the heart of a female often so much prides itself, and it is no great credit to him if he can do this. His time usually, unless he is a draper or a jeweler, might have been much better employed than in making those acquisitions which are needful to qualify him to appreciate and admire the peculiarities of gay female apparel. (b) But a man has a real interest in what constitutes the ornaments of the heart. His happiness, in his intercourse with his wife, depends on these. He knows what is denoted by a kind temper; by gentle words; by a placid brow; by a modest and patient spirit; by a heart that is calm in trouble and that is affectionate and pure; by freedom from irritability, fretfulness, and impatience; and he can fully appreciate the value of these things. No professional skill is necessary to qualify him to see their worth, and no acquired tact in discrimination is requisite to enable him to estimate them according to their full value. A wife, therefore, if she would permanently please her husband, should seek the adorning of the soul rather than the body, the ornament of the heart rather than gold and jewels. The one can never be a substitute for the other. Whatever outward decorations she may have, unless she has a gentleness of spirit, a calmness of temper, a benevolence and purity of soul, and a cultivation of mind that her husband can love, she cannot calculate on his permanent affection.
Which is precious in the sight of God. Of great value, that being of great value for which a large price is paid. He has shown his sense of its value (a) by commending it so often in his word; (b) by making religion to consist so much in it, rather than in high intellectual endowments, learning, skill in the arts, and valor; and (c) by the character of his Son, the Lord Jesus, in whom this was so prominent a characteristic. Sentiments not unlike what is here stated by the apostle, occur not infrequently in heathen classic writers. There are some remarkable passages in Plutarch, strongly resembling it:—‘An ornament, as Crates said, is that which adorns. The proper ornament of a woman is that which becomes her best. This is neither gold, nor pearls, nor scarlet, but those things which are an evident proof of gravity, regularity, and modesty.’—Conjugalio Præcept., c. xxvi. The wife of Phocion, a celebrated Athenian general, receiving a visit from a lady who was elegantly adorned with gold and jewels, and her hair with pearls, took occasion to call the attention of her guest to the elegance and costliness of her dress. ‘My ornament,’ said the wife of Phocion, ‘is my husband, now for the twentieth year general of the Athenians.’—Plutarch’s Life of Phocion. ‘The Sicilian tyrant sent to the daughters of Lysander garments and tissues of great value, but Lysander refused them, saying, “These ornaments will rather put my daughters out of countenance than adorn them.” ’—Plutarch. So in the fragments of Naumachius, as quoted by Benson, there is a precept much like this of Peter: ‘Be not too fond of gold, neither wear purple hyacinth about your neck, or the green jasper, of which foolish persons are proud. Do not covet such vain ornaments, neither view yourself too often in the glass nor twist your hair into a multitude of curls,’ &c.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews