« AnteriorContinua »
SERMON XVIII, ,
DOMESTIC & SOCIAL CONCORD.
ECCLES. VII. 9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger
resteth in the bosom of fools.
HUMAN nature contains in its composition various principles, which have all their proper office assigned them in directing our conduct. Some of these belong to the animal part of our nature, and prompt us to action without thought or consideration, others are the offspring of our intellectual and moral powers, and intended to influence our instinctive propensities in a right and becoming manner.-—These propensities are well known under the name of passions and affections, which are excited by various objects and on different occasions. They have been distributed by pneumatologists into two kinds, the benevolent and malevolent; from the mode of their operation, inclining us to do either good or evil towards others around us. The former are in general so feeble in their nature, that they need to be strengthened by constant exercise; the latter so impetuous, as to require our utmost efforts to moderate and subdue them.
Of these, the passion of anger is one of the most ungovernable, and has been the cause of so much mischief in the world, that moralists and theologians have regarded it as particularly worthy of discipline, if we would be easy in ourselves and agreeable to others. As it is a constituent part of our mental constitution, it must be in itself beneficial to our happiness; since all the faculties of our nature were originally pronounced by our Creator to be very good. Accordingly, anger seems intended as a principle, by which we express our displeasure at the unworthy behaviour of those who do wrong; and thus serves to restrain the wickedness or folly of the base and inconsiderate. It is of essential use also, in checking the unprovoked aggressions of the violent and oppressive, since it prompts us to resist their attempts to injure us; or if they have committed a trespass against our rights, it induces us to remonstrate against their conduct, and endea. vour to reclaim them from the error of their way. But when just indignation cannot produce this advantageous effect, anger is farther necessary to instigate us to the punishment of impenitent transgressors, by executing wrath against those who do evil; that the lawless may be prevented from disturbing the peace of human society.Thus, our irrascible affections are bestowed to promote these important purposes; and if applied only on such occasions, they would be entirely justifiable in their operation. In this manner have they been exercised by the wisest and best of men; and even by our Saviour himself, when he acted his part in the world with the most consummate perfection. For we find, that he was sometimes displeased with his disciples for their ignorance; and that he was angry with the Pharisees, for their unreasonable prejudices,“ being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” And several precepts in scripture also seem to allow anger on certain occasions; for we find our Lord declaring it blameable only when it is conceived against our brother “ without a cause;" and the Apostles directing us“ to be angry and sin not, and not to let the sun go down upon our wrath.” These are limitations within which it may be indulged without blameworthiness; and therefore this passion ought not, as some ancient philosophers taught, to be completely suppressed.
But, as it is so apt to instigate our malevolent feelings, on receiving very trifling injuries; hence the most vigilant self-command is requisite to restrain it within the bounds of moderation. And in the intercourse of life, there is none of our animal principles so difficult to ma
nage in a becoming manner, so as to avoid giving offence to those with whom we are connected. For every day, we meet with provocations from the frowardness, imprudence, or caprice of our friends, which irritate our temper, and dispose us to entertain sentiments of displeasure, and utter expressions of resentment, by which social peace is often interrupted. If therefore we would not live in discord and animosity, but dwell together as brethren in unity; the regulation of our irrascible principles becomes a most necessary and important duty, and well deserving our most serious attention. For which purpose, it may be useful to consider, in the following discourse,
1. The nature of anger, and how far its indulgence is allowable.
II. The excesses to which this passion is liable, with their causes and consequences.
III. The reasons by which we should restrain our anger within the bounds of moderation.
IV. The application of the subject to practical purposes.
I. The nature of anger has often been described by ethical writers, as a perturbed state of the mind arising from the conception of an injury received, accompanied with a disposition to retaliate some degree of punishment upon the offender. There are various modifications of this passion, according to the nature of the feelings excited, and the character of the person who entertains it. Sometimes it is conceived in a hasty manner, from observing any act of indiscretion, or hearing unguarded expressions from those with whom we associate. On such occasions, it rises instinctively in the breast, and produces such agitation of the animal spirits, as for a while supersedes the exercise of reason, and prompts to the most unbecoming violence of temper. Such a degree of anger is generally found in persons of a sanguine temperament; and though impetuous for a short season, soon subsides, when the occasion which provoked it is removed.-In others, this principle exerts itself more uniformly, by a habitual disposition to peevishness, on the least occasion of offence; which render's the man who indulges it uneasy
in himself, and disagreeable to all around him. This species of anger is most apt to infect those of irritable feelings, and arises from a debilitated state of the nervous system.-A third sort of anger which is the most unwarrantable, is that which a person cherishes for a long time against those who have offended him; and which inclines him to forbear all friendly intercourse, till at last it settles into deep-rooted malignity. This unhappy temper is superinduced upon a gloomy and sullen cast of mind, and is one of the most diabolical to which human nature is subject, rendering the person who indulges it detestable in the sight of God and man.
This passion in all these modifications, is more or less of an unjustifiable nature; since it tends to create dissention and strife, among those who should entertain sentiments of mutual good will. For, as we must live together in society, we should render our intercourse as agrecable as possible; whereas anger separates even chief friends, by bad humour, reproachful indignities, and uncharitable treatment. Therefore, all passionate vehemence, querulous irritation, and sullen moroseness, should be constantly checked by every one who is addicted to this passion. It is not indeed possible, nor is it required of us, to suppress emotions of anger altogether; for, as it is an original principle in our nature, its indulgence must be allowable, when governed by the dictates of reason and religion. Let us therefore inquire, in what respects we may be angry, and sin not against the laws of God, or the interests of man. There are some occasions, when we do well to be angry, and to express our feelings in a determined manner. Thus, whenever any action of a wicked and atrocious nature is perpetrated by one with whom we are connected; it is our duty to manifest our displeasure at his unworthy conduct. When the impious dishonour God and religion, by their blasphemous attempts to revile those sacred truths which we revere ; and when the vicious trangress those righteous laws which should regulate their conduct, we should discover our disapprobation of such vile persons, by indignant detestation. When we observe instances of cruelty, in
justice, perfidy, ingratitude, or calumny, committed by others; we cannot help being displeased at those who are guilty of such outrageous acts of wickedness. When also parents witness the misbehaviour of their children; or masters the folly of their servants; they are justified in reproaching them for such improprieties, and warning them against a similar behaviour for the future. When any, over whom we have influence, fail in the performance of some special obligation; we may justly remonstrate with them on the baseness of their conduct, and endeavour to bring them to a better mind. And when the froward or impertinent provoke us by personal indignities; we are called on by the law of self-defence, to assert our honour, and repel with spirit such insolent aggressions. On these and similar occasions, we may be angry and sin not.
But while persons of such characters deserve our marked disapprobation; yet there are others against whom the indulgence of anger is not allowable. Thus, our superiors, from their station of life, claim exemption from those expressions of displeasure, which we may use with propriety towards our inferiors, over whom we have a right to exercise authority. However much they are to blame, yet we cannot with safety impeach their conduct; since we have not sufficient influence to reclaim them, and can only excite their vengeance against us, without producing any good effect. Therefore it is the part of wisdom to suppress our anger against our superi ors, and have recourse to other methods for obtaining redress of the grievances which we suffer from their oppression.-In like manner, our benefactors and friends are persons, against whom we should be slow to exhibit any symptoms of wrath and indignation. If we have received favours from certain individuals, we should always retain a sense of their kindness; and not suffer an act of indiscretion of which they may be guilty, to obliterate the remembrance of their former friendship. We should make allowance for accidental changes of humour on particular occasions; without being exasperated at some trifling offence, of which in their cooler moments they