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Meekness in opposition to Sinful Anger.
LPHESIANS iv. 16, sq.
ye angry and sin not ; let not the sun go down on your prathi
neither give place to the devil,
THE Apostle, having taught the necessity of being renewed in the Spirit of the mind, proceeds to inculcate the several virtues which form the character of the new man.
The first which he mentions is sincerity, or a strict regard to truth in our common conversation. The next is that contained in the words now read, which is meekness, or the government of our passions. “Ye have been taught that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteous, ness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away ly. ing, speak every man truth with his neighbor.' Be angry, and sin not." This precept is very properly subjoined to the former, Falsehood in speech often proceeds from excess of passion. If we would govern our tongues, we must rule our spirits. He who puts away lying, and speaks only truth with his neighbor, does not indulge immoderate anger, for this inflames the tongue, and thus sets on fire the course of nature; nor does he give place to the devil, for he was a liar from the beginning, and abode not in the truth.
We will, first, state the meaning of this precept, * Be angry, and sin not,” and shew, in what cases we may innocently be angry-next, mention some instances of sinful anger-finally, consider in connexion with this precept, the caution, not to give place to the devil."
I. We will state the meaning of this precept, “Be angry, and sin not ;” and shew how far anger may be innocent.
These words are not an injunction to be angry; but a caution not to sin, when we are angry. Angtr is one of the natural passions. There are occasions on which it will involuntarily arise. There seems to be no more necessity for commanding us, in general, to be, or not to be angry, than there is for enjoining, or forbidding hunger, thirst, desire, or fear. But as there is special danger of sin, when anger is awakened, so there was great propriety in the caution, "Sin not in your anger.” This evidently is the Apostle's meaning.
That we may form a more accurate judgment, how far anger is innocent, and when it becomes sinful, it will be necessary to consider, what anger is in itself, separate from the excesses and irregularities, which usually attend it.
Anger is a displeasure and uneasiness of mind, aris. ing from the apprehension of injury or wrong, and accompanied with a desire to prevent or remove it.
Mere evil or pain is not the proper object of anger; but it is evil designed, or supposed to be designed ; or what we call injury. To be angry at providential calamities is impiety. To be angry at the inanimate instruments of mischief, or at the natural actions of brutes is pcevishness. But the injuries done to us, or intended against us by rational creatures, justly cause displeas., ure, or resentment, Whether the injury immediately fall on us or on others, it may be an object of displeas. ure; but, in the former case, the resentment will be more sensible and active, because the principle of
selfpreservation operates more suddenly and powerfully, than the principle of compassion for others.
This displeasure at injury implies a desire to re. move, or prevent it. We cannot be willing to suffer an evil which we think to be maliciously intended, or unjustly inflicted. A principle of piety may compose and calm our spirits under injuries, and restrain us from violent methods of redress; but the injuries themselves will be painful while they are felt, and tolerable only until they can be innocently removed.
When violence approaches our persons, or our properties, the first rising of resentment is certainly innocent. It is only the call of nature to put ourselves in a posture of defence, and to ward off the impending evil.
As we naturally love life, so we have an innate desire of esteem. Any contempt or reproach offered to our characters, unavoidably excites displeasure, and prompts us to selfvindication. - And we have the same right to guard our reputations as our persons. Our feelings, in both eases, urge us to defend ourselves ; but reasoir and piety must prescribe the means, and prudence guide us in the use of them.
We feel not only for ourselves, but for others. Com. passion is a natural sentiment, as well as selflove. The sight of a danger threatening our fellow creatures, rouses us to interpose for their protection. We sympathize with others in their grief, even though we know not its cause. But we never sympathize with them in the violent paroxysms of their anger. We rather feel for those who are the objects of this passion, and exert ourselves to defend them against it.
Farther : As there is, in our nature, a principle of resentment against injury; so there is, in a virtuous temper, a holy displeasure against moral evil; and this is sometimes in scripture called anger. It is said, in commendation of the Ephesians, that “ they could not bear them who were evil.” When Moses, descending from the mount, beheld the Israelites worshipping a golden caff, his anger was exceeding hot, and, in the heat of his indignation, he cast down and brake the ta. bles of stone which were in his hands. It is to be re. marked, however, that he did not break the tables, be. fore he came within view of the idolaters ; so that by this action he strongly testified his holy resentment of their horrid impiety. When David heard Nathan's story concerning the rich man, who, sparing his own flocks, had taken a poor neighbor's only lamb to make an entertainment for his friend, " his anger was greatly kindled against the man who had done this. “The virtuous principle rose in honest indignation against such an inhuman action. When our divine Lord perceived the prodigious obstinacy of the Pharisees," he looked about upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” This example shews, that reproof, in cases of great and obstinate wicked. ness, ought to be administered in such a manner, as will express both a compassionate concern for the of fenders, and a virtuous indignation against their vices. Eli's reproof to his ungodly sons was much too soft and gentle, when he said, “ Why do ye such things? I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. It is no good report that I hear of you. Ye make the Lord's people to transgress.”—He was not only a father, but a priest and a magistrate ; and he ought, in this case, to have acted with greater authority. God therefore says, “ I will judge the house of Eli forever, for the iniquity which he knoweth, because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not."
We have shewn how far anger is innocent.
II. We proceed to shew, in some instances when it becomes sinful.
1. Anger is sinful, when it rises without cause. “ Whosoever,” says our Lord, “ shall be angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the. judgment.”
Considering the imperfection of human nature, and the various interests, habits and educations of mankind, you may expect often to meet with things not perfectly agreeable to your wishes and feelings. If you will suffer yourself to be vexed and disturbed with every trivial affront, every disrespectful word, every opposition to your opinion, every neglect of the little punctilios of ceremony, you may be in continual vex. ation of Spirit. It is a weak and vain mind, that can dispense' with no little errors in other people's sentiments, and bear with no faults in their behavior. Be. fore you expect perfection in your neighbors, attain to perfection yourself. Before you demand that all men shall please you, study to please all men in all things. The more careful you are to gratify the hu." mors of others, the more easily you will overlook or pardon their failings.
2. Rash anger is sinful. “ Be not hasty in thy Spirit to be angry.”—“Be slow to wrath.”
You suppose your neighbor has done you an injury; but possibly you mistake the case-examine it cool. ly-go and converse with the man-hear what he has to say—admit every reasonable excuse.
If you are angry before you know there is cause, you are angry without cause.
“ Charity suffers long and is kind ; it is not easily provoked ; it believeth all things, and hopeth all things.”
3. Anger is sinful, when it exceeds the demerit of its cause ; for so far as it overrates the offence, it is without cause.
Anger is a selfish, blind, heady passion : It is ex. tremely apt to aggravate injuries by adding fictitious circumstances. If you meet with a provocation, stand upon your guard : You are in greater dauger from
your passion within, than from the supposed enemy i ivithout. Hearken not to its inflammatory suggest.
ions : Listen rather to the soft and kind voice of Charity; she will tell you to mitigate the offence ; she will Vol. III.