Stacks Image 905




Of the feeling of displeasure or resentment and its modifications. Displeased or angry feelings are sometimes allowable. Our anger, nevertheless, very liable to become intense or wrong. Of holy or just anger. Characterized by clearness of intellectual perception. Attended with the spirit of prayer. Attended also with the spirit of love and forgiveness. Holy anger implies a strong faith. Reasons for this view.

THE statements, which have been made in relation to the Benevolent Affections in the preceding chapter, will apply without much variation to some of those passions or affections which are of a different character. In making this remark we refer particularly to the feeling of Resentment and its various modifications, which are generally known as the Malevolent Affections.

2.—It is hardly necessary to say, that the feeling of displeasure, which is but another name for the feeling of resentment, when it exists in its milder or mitigated form, is a state of mind, which by the laws of our nature, is appropriate to wrong-doing. Of the nature of this feeling, it is not necessary to attempt to give any explanation, as it is too well understood in the consciousness of every one; although it may properly be said, that the natural law of its origin and action requires it to be more or less intense, in accordance with the nature and degree of the wrong-doing. Such are the facts and relations of things, and such is the obvious and precise adaptation of the human mind to such facts and relations, that displeased or angry feelings not only come into existence by their own natural laws of origin; but if they arise on their appropriate occasions, and in their appropriate degree, they seem to be justly regarded as right feelings. To look on wrong-doing, knowing it to be truly and deliberately such, without disapprobation and without feeling displeased, would itself be as really a crime, as the wrongdoing which is witnessed. And accordingly the Scriptures, if we rightly understand them, allow of displeased or angry feelings under some circumstances. God himself is represented as being displeased or angry, and as having abundant reason to be displeased or angry, on certain occasions. And there are statements in the Gospel, which either assert or imply the same thing in relation to the Savior.

3.—But it cannot be denied, that the anger of man, vitiated as it is by the influences of inordinate self-love, is a very different thing on many occasions, and perhaps we may say on almost all occasions, from the calm and just anger of God. So much of selfishness has found its way into the human heart, that it is difficult for men, especially for those, who have personally suffered from the erroneous and evil conduct of others, to place themselves in the situation of the culprit, and to estimate with a proper degree of candor and of christian spirit the various unpropitious influences, which may have operated upon him. Continually looking at the wrong done, and especially at the injury which they themselves have suffered, they are in a position of mind, which almost necessarily exaggerates the evil dispositions of the guilty person; and which, reacting upon their own feelings of displeasure and anger, extends them beyond due bounds. So that man’s displeasure, and man’s anger, (anger being merely an increased or more intense degree of the displeased feelings,) are for the most part wrong or unholy; wrong in fact, but not wrong by necessity; wrong, because man is not solicitous and faithful in making them right, but not wrong, because they cannot be otherwise.

4.—There are a number of things necessary to make man’s anger, like God’s anger; or like that holy displeasure, of which we see some instances in the life of Christ, who in his human nature reflected perfectly the divine image. The divine displeasure, on whatever occasion called forth or in whatever degree, never interrupts that beautiful and unchangeable tranquility, which is an unfailing characteristic of the Divine Mind, and of all minds that bear the divine image. And, as implied in this, it never interrupts and disturbs the perceptive act; the clear insight and knowledge of the object, which occupies its attention. When, therefore, our anger is like God’s anger, in other words when it is right anger, it will never be so violent, so uncontrollable, as to perplex the action and to confuse the clearness of the intellectual perception. And there is an obvious law of our nature, which authorizes and requires this view. Such is the structure of the human mind, that it is not possible for us properly to regulate it, without an unperplexed and clear action of our judging powers. Socrates said to his servant on a certain occasion;
“I would beat you, if I were not angry.” The reason is obvious. Finding himself agitated, and knowing that agitation is unfavorable to a clear perception of rectitude, and that he could not then inflict punishment without the hazard of injustice, he delayed it, until he could be sure of doing what is right by first disciplining and rectifying himself. “He, that ruleth his spirit,” says the Scripture, “is better than he, that taketh a city.”

5.—Perhaps we ought to add here, that in these remarks we have more especial reference to deliberate and voluntary displeasure or anger, than to that modification of anger, which, in order to distinguish it, is termed
instinctive. There is at times in man an instinctive resentment, arising very suddenly, but continuing only till the laws of the mind will permit the perceptive and reasoning powers to come to our aid, which during the brief time of its continuance is obviously beyond the control of reason and the will; and which, therefore, may cause a momentary agitation of the physical system and a momentary confusion of the intellect, without our being able to prevent it. To this form of resentment, so far as it is truly and absolutely instinctive, it will be naturally understood, that the remarks, which have just been made, will not fully apply. And the exception, which is interposed here in regard to the Malevolent affections, might very properly be made in respect to those of a different character, which have already been considered. When it was held that the benevolent affections should be subjected to the control of the will and to the law of right reason, it obviously could not be meant, that the obligation thus to control them extends to that very sudden and momentary action, which is purely instinctive; and which, in being such, is never reached by the reason and the will, and never has and never can have a moral character. And this can be said, we think, with safety to the suggestion, that if our instincts, as well as other parts of our nature, have become perverted and depraved in the Fall of Adam, so much so as properly to be described as fallen and depraved instincts, they have an indirect relation to the Atonement, and furnish grounds of humiliation and confession.

6.—One of the characteristics of that anger, which is like God’s anger and is holy, is, that it leaves the intellectual perception unagitated and clear. Another mark is this. If our anger is like God’s anger, we shall be in that state of mind, which will enable us to bring our displeasure, and all that relates to it, to God for his direction and assistance. In other words, if we are so displeased, so angry, that we cannot calmly bring the matter before God and ask his direction and blessing in relation to it, we may be certain, that there is something wrong in it. There is nothing, as it seems to us, in joy or in sorrow, nothing in friendship or in enmity, nothing in any state of mind or in any situation of life, which authorizes the omission of prayer. And if we need it at any one time more than another, it must be in a state of mind so full of uncertainty and hazard as that which we are now considering. If, therefore, we are so displeased, so angry that we cannot pray, we may be assured that our anger is not like God’s anger, and is wrong.

7.—Another characteristic of that state of mind, which is expressed by the Apostle, when he says, “BE YE ANGRY AND SIN NOT,” is, that it must always be attended with a loving and forgiving spirit. One of the directions, which our blessed Savior has left to us, is, that we should love one another, even as he has loved us. He loved those who were his enemies; and we should love those who are our enemies. No one ever had greater occasion to be displeased with sin, than he had. And yet when he had before him exhibitions of sin of the most atrocious kind, when he heard the reproaches and saw the spears of the murderers as he was suspended on the cross, and when as a holy being, whose very nature it is to hate wickedness, it was impossible that he should not be displeased, he still said, with the same loving and benevolent disposition he exhibited on every other occasion,
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So that if our displeasure is like that of God or like Christ’s, we shall always connect with those, who are the objects of it, the spirit of forbearance, of kindness, and of forgiveness.

8.—Another practical mark, which is involved in what has been said and flows from it, is, that we shall make no returns to the wrong-doing of others, either by advice or reproof, either by words or by action, until the time, in which they can be received with the most benefit by the other party. To be silent, when we are angry, is almost as sure a sign that our anger is right, as it is to pray; provided that we keep silence in order to maintain a suitable control over our own feelings, or for awaiting a more favorable opportunity for the good of the adverse party. Give no harsh reply under any circumstances. “Fire,” says St. Chrysostom, “cannot be extinguished by fire.” Be patient, and God’s providence will at last discover the favorable moment, when the injurious party will be likely to receive your instructions and advice, and also your expostulations and rebukes, if it is necessary to bestow them, with submission and with profit.

9.—But taking the ground as we do, that no feeling of displeasure or anger is allowed to exist in a holy bosom but such as God approves and such as is analogous to his own holy anger, the question now presents itself, How is it possible for us to be angry in this manner? How is it possible for us, knowing the nature of the feeling as we do in our own consciousness, to be angry without being agitated; to feel deeply and at the same time to perceive calmly and clearly? And still more, how is it possible to have feelings of displeasure and anger, and at the same time to be in the spirit of prayer, and also to have kind feelings towards the subject of our anger? We are aware, that this is a difficult problem for unsanctified nature to solve; but it is not beyond the reach and power of a vital Christianity. The answer is, as every one, who knows what it is to live to God and to God alone, will anticipate, WE MUST HAVE FAITH. Human discipline, standing by itself, may perhaps do something; but faith will do more. Faith, aided by human discipline not as a principle but as a humble and dependent auxiliary, will do all.

10.—In the first place, God teaches us, or rather it is one of the received principles or doctrines of Christian faith, that it is a part of God’s plan, in the operations of his mysterious providence, to let wicked men manifest their wickedness. On the supposition that sin exists in the universe, of which we have such clear and melancholy evidence, God is willing, for purposes which are best known to his own infinite wisdom, that those, who have sin in their hearts, should manifest it in their conduct, in order that their condemnation, which follows in its own appointed hour, may be seen and known to be just. He is willing also, that those, who do not sin or whom he desires should be kept from sin, should see, in the lives of unholy men, the odiousness of sin. The Savior has himself said in language which has a significant and awful import,
“It is impossible but that offenses will come.” [Luke 17:1.] The man of faith, therefore, knowing that sin develops itself in these relations and with these results, does not lose his confidence in God. He remains unshaken.

11.—In the second place, it is one of the received principles of Christian faith, that God sometimes uses the wicked as instruments in the discipline of his own people. Perhaps the wrong doing of others manifests itself in injuries, of which we ourselves are the subjects. Seeing the agency of God, not in the sin but in the direction, which the sin is permitted to take in its relation to ourselves, the doctrine of faith in its inward operation would require us to be humble, to be patient, as those whom God, for wise reasons, sees fit to afflict. It is God’s will, that we should be afflicted in this manner. The principle of faith, existing practically in our hearts, will enable us to receive this affliction humbly and patiently, as we do other afflictions.

12.—Again, God has promised in many passages of his holy Word, his aid and protection to those, who endeavor to fulfill his purposes by obeying his will. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” The man, who truly believes in God’s veracity, and of course who believes in his promises of assistance, will find his purposes and efforts much strengthened by such belief. This, as is well known, is the result of a law of our nature, which is universal in its operation, namely, that we shall find our purposes strengthened and shall put forth the stronger effort, where we have some hope and expectation of succeeding. The man, therefore, who has this faith in God, will be much more likely to succeed in his attempts at keeping the angry passions under control, than one who is without faith.

13.—And then there is the promise of ultimate victory, (the promise not merely of assistance, but of triumph,) which can never fail to be fulfilled in the behalf of those, who look and who act for its fulfillment in a proper manner. We are told that all things shall work together for the good of those, who love God. Numerous are the passages of Scripture, which assure us in very explicit terms, that the wrath of the wicked shall avail nothing against the people of God. And the wrath of Satan, operating in the form of an inward temptation, will be found equally unavailing. Beautiful is the language of the Psalmist. “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” It was said to the Apostle Paul, on a certain occasion of great trial,
“my grace is sufficient for thee.” Under such circumstances we may admit that we sometimes have reason to be displeased and angry; we cannot love sin; we cannot be indifferent to it. On the contrary, as those who love God, we must be displeased with it; we must hate it. But it is still true, whatever may be the fact or the ground of our displeasure, that we have no reason and no right, on scriptural principles, to be impatient. We have no reason and no right to be intellectually agitated and confused in our anger; we have no reason and no right to be unkind and unforgiving. God’s will and God’s glory, which are only other expressions for the highest reason and the highest rectitude, require the opposite. And what is reasonable and right, what is God’s will and God’s glory, faith in God will always render possible. And if faith can sustain us in temptations and trials of this nature, we need not fear, that it will fail us any where else. So true it is, in the language of the Apostle John, that, “whatsoever is born of God, OVERCOMETH THE WORLD. And this is the victory, that overcometh the world, EVEN OUR FAITH.”