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The explanation of the characters in our text, is first to be attempted.
To be slow to anger, and to rule the spirit, I take to be parts of the same character; though not descriptive of precisely the same temper. The former may reser, partly at least, to the natural make and frame of the mind, as having less warmth and fire, less propensity to wrath and passion, than is frequently found in some. That there is such a difference observable in persons, before education or religion have had any influence upon them, I suppose will not be disputed. An inquiry into the reasons of this difference, is beside my present purpose. The latter, namely, to rule the spirit, may point out a mind, brought under the government of religion and the word of God, by the power of mighty reason and almighty grace, whatever the original constitution might be.
The man who deserves the character of one that rules his spirit, I take to be necessarily a man of religion ; who is “renewed in the spirit of his mind, after the image of Him that created him ; " who has the fear of God ruling in his heart; who acts from the noble principles of piety and goodness; who is governed, in all his conduct, by a sacred regard to the Deity. "The man that acts up to this character, has put on Christ, and possessed himself of the genius of his gospel. The inferior powers of the mind, so apt to rebel, are brought under the influence of reason and religion, which ought to bear rule. Reason, whose influence is so weak in the lives of many, in him reassumes her rightful authority, and gains obedience to her laws. And reason herein acts like herself, in not building too great dependence on her own native strength and vigor ; but thankfully receives the assistance of divine reve
"makes the word of God the man of her counsel at all times;" and freely submits to the government thereof.
Such principles, deeply wrought into the heart by sanctifying grace, will enable a man properly to rule his spirit; and nothing short hereof will be effectual to do it, to any considerable degree. Indeed the more extravagant actings of a turbulent spirit, and the more direful effects of pride and passion, cruelty and revenge, may be generally suppressed by lower motives ; such as a regard to decency, and reputation among men of sober minds; and a fear of penal laws. But though these external restraints may serve thus far, yet the restless spirit, prevented from its natural exertion upon others, will prey upon the man himself, and produce strange misery and confusion in bis breast : and if these feebler restraints were taken off, passion and anger would be, like the breaking forth of waters, fierce and impetuous, and deal destruction all around.
The man who duly rules his spirit, has a full belief and abiding
sense, of the moral government of God; and that himself is a subject of this government. His own will he knows ought to be ruled by the divine pleasure ; and his conduct by the divine laws. And what he knows to be right, he desires should take place upon him : accordingly he endeavors his spirit should be entirely " in subjection to the Father of spirits.” This view of things has a powerful influence to keep his mind calm and serene under all circumstances of life; and amidst the various aspects of providence. Like St. Paul, “ he knows both how to be abased, and how to abound; and learns, in whatsoever state he is, therewith to be content."
I mean not to intimate, that the spirit of such an one loses its activity and sprightliness; and becomes dull and unperforming. Far from this,—he has life and zeal to pursue every article of known duty : not a blind ill-guided zeal, which leads him headlong; but that which is according to knowledge. He has courage and resolution enough to enterprise great things; and a greatness of soul which gives him serenity in the event, whatever it be. He does not run mad with pride when his wishes succeed ; nor despond when his hopes are blasted. Joy and sorrow, hope and fear, do not put him out of possession of his own mind; but prove proper springs of action, as they were designed to be ; and he learns " in patience to possess his soul.”
When the God of providence smiles upon him, and causes his goodness to pass before him, he does not wax wanton, and riot in the kindnesses of his heavenly Father ; but uses them with sobriety and moderation; and feels the generous flame of gratitude kindle in his breast towards Him“ from whom comes down every good and every perfect gift.” When sorrows and afflictions, heavy and numerous, overtake him, and many of his dearest outward enjoyments are taken away, he calmly submits to the will of Heaven; and learns meekly to say, as an afflicted servant of God once did, “ The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord. None of these things greatly move him ; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.”
Much the same composure of mind accompanies him through the trials which he meets with more immediately from the hands of his fellow-men. Kindness and benevolence are the habitual temper of his mind towards those who affront and injure him. In one instance he silently pities them under the power of their ungoverned passions, and is grieved to see them indulging to malevolence and ill-will; and though in another he may manifest resentment, he does so only when resentment is agreeable to reason and the gospel ; and likely to advance the good of those that abuse him. The calm exercise of reason straitens or relaxes the reins of his passions; and he learns what is very difficult, “to be angry and not sin.” Such is the man who is slow to anger, and rules his spirit.
The other character in our text comes next under our consideration. The mighty-he that taketh a city.
These words point out a man of strength and vigor, able to bear the fatigues of war, and ready to face the dangers of battle ; one whose constitution is strong, and his fibres braced ; one who has succeeded in military attempts, has been victorious in warfare, and borne a part in the conquest of a defenced city. To raise the character still higher, let us suppose him to be commander-inchiel in some important expedition. Let us consider him as enduring the hardships, and bidding defiance to the dangers of the campaign, as vigorously pursuing the plan of operation, till he has led his forces into the strong city, and victory crowns his endeavors.
These things set a man in a distinguished point of light, and draw a train of admirers. The vanquished fear and tremble; the multitude shout applause. This character at least appears respectable; and really is so, when there is nothing to detract from the honor and uselulness of it; though indeed such things may be found in a man whose conduct is not agreeable to Heaven, and who is a stranger to true selicity. The principles of action must be taken into the account, in order to determine the character truly good, or not so. Who, that is inspired with a generous love to mankind, can think with pleasure and approbation on a Pompey, a Cæsar, or an Alexander, who were inighty men, subdued people and cities not a few, and marked their steps in blood while they traversed the world! A man mighty in war, who is a stranger to humanity and the gentle spirit of the gospel, may force trembling crowds to yield a feigned submission; 10 “bow down their necks that he may go over;" but will never be a public blessing, nor enjoy sincere love and esteem.
But each of these characters will be set in a clearer light by comparing them together, as we proposed in the second place. This will discover him that is “slow to anger and rules his spirit, to be better than the mighty and he that taketh a city."
The preserence must be given to the former, as the difficulty of gaining the rule of our spirits, is greater than that of obtaining a military conquest.
How hard is it to suppress the rebellion of corrupt lusts and affections, and to bring them into obedience to the laws of Christ! How hard to hush angry and tumultuous passions, when we meet the provoking language, or the more provoking actions of our fellow-mortals; and according to the spirit of the gospel, “to show all meekness to all men, and overcome evil with good !” How difficult to maintain a spirit calm and serene, under losses, and crosses, and grievous disappointments ! Do we not find, in this case, “a law in our members warring against the law of our minds ;” and an evil spirit counter-working the good? What hard struggles! What severe conflicts! What constant watchings! What earnest supplications are necessary, before we gain the rule of our own spirits, so as to pass unruffled through the shifting scenes of life! We, in this spiritual warfare, “wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places;" which abet the corrupt motions of the mind, in opposition to the nobler principles of substantial goodness. To succeed therefore in this spiritual conflict, more vigorous exertions, as well as more powerful assistances from above, are necessary, than to meet an enemy in the gate, to scale the walls of a city, or to subject the numerous inhabitants thereof.
Again, — Much greater is the happiness resulting from the former, than the latter conquest, even in this world.
The former prepares a man to pass smoothly through the rougher passages of life, and gives tranquillity of mind in the most pressing emergencies. View such an one in prosperity, and a soul healthful and prosperous, doubles every comfort; and renders the good things of common providence blessings indeed. View him in adversity, “ his mind is fixed, trusting in the Lord: He is like Mount Sion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.” He has that "
He has that "peace which passes all understanding, " and drinks deeply of the comforts of religion. These produce a noble firmness of mind, in the midst of the storms and tempests of this evil world.
“ Though the rain descends, and the foods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon him," he remains unshaken. Though in the partial judgment of some, his comforts may be small, yet it is to be remembered, that those joys, like those rivers, are often the deepest, and the most lasting, which run on in a silent stream, without noise and tumult.
The greatest conqueror, whose spirit is not formed to such a religious firmness, by the energy of divine grace, and the long and obstinate practice of virtue, must be a stranger to such exalted happiness. The submission of the vanquished,—the applause of the populace,—the glittering ornaments of military dress,-and the laurels of victory, may all accompany one, whose mind is full of anxiety, confusion and guilt.
Moreover,—The man that bas obtained a victory over his own spirit, is fitted for more extensive usefulness than he could be without it. This, far from disqualifying him for any station and employment in life, serves to make him more fit for every one.
View him in low life,-bis mind is not swelled with boundless ambition, nor does a restless spirit urge him on, at all adventures, and by any measures, lawful or unlawful, to seek a higher sphere of action : but his nind is happily accommodated to his circumstances; he is willing to abide in the calling, wherein he is called of God;" and desirous to 6ll with honor that station in which Providence has placed him, how low soever it be; sensible that in the civil, as well as in the natural body, some members are appointed to higher, and some to lower offices.
View him as a magistrate,-he, like the Author of our religion, whose spirit dwells within him, will rule the people in meekness, and judge in equity. His gentleness will melt those, whom rigor could not subdue.' The authority of the ruler, accompanied with the kindness of the Christian, will force a willing submission from all; and insensibly learn the rebellious the language of obedience; “What wilt thou have me to do?” In consequence of inward serenity, “a law of kindness will dwell upon his lips;" which will often have a more powerful influence upon the stubborn and refractory, than the greatest severities of language; and give occasion to say ; “How forcible are right words?” The magistrate will be feared ;-the man will be loved ;-order will be maintained ; and civil government made to answer the excellent ends for which it is designed. Such rulers will be likely “to rule for God, and be faithful; they will be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well."
It is in vain to expect these happy effects from the administrations of those, who are slaves to their passions, and attempt to rule the spirits of others, without ruling their own. The reins of government will be held with an unsteady hand; relaxed too much, or too much straitened. The petulance of the man, will counteract the influence of the magistrate ; by which means authority will sink, and law be trodden under foot. His observation must have been very much confined, and his knowledge of human nature very small, who is not convinced that this representation is just.
View the man also that rules his spirit by the laws of Christ, acting in a military character,-how great an addition will this be to his honor and usefulness ! Hereby the officer will learn to command with meekness of wisdom; and the private to obey, “not by constraint, but willingly.” Hereby an inviolable union of hearts will be promoted. The commander will not be basely deserted in time of danger; nor the troops wantonly sold to destruction; but each will be careful to keep his station, and every one resolved to do bis duty. What wonders may we not expect to see performed by such forces as these!
They greatly mistake, who imagine men necessarily enervated and rendered effeminate, by having their spirits ruled by the gentle laws of religion, so as to be less disposed to engage in the military