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Rejecting therefore the impracticable strains of stoicism in this matter, let us take our measures from our holy religion, which in this and all things is the most perfect reason; and what that will teach us, as to the due regulation of this passion, we shall consider in the following section.
Wherein the due government of this passion does consist.
Now from what we may learn from the holy writings, the right ordering of the passion of anger consists in two things : first, in not being too soon or too much moved by this passion inwardly; and secondly, in not being too hasty and violent in expressing it outwardly.
As for the first, it is what St. Paul calls a not being easily provoked, a hoping all things, and thinking no evili; and what David calls a refraining his soul, and keeping it underk; that is, either to take men's words and actions with whom we converse by the best handle, as we use to say, and through a kind and favourable construction of them prevent those angry resentments which would have been raised, had we taken them amiss; or if we do apprehend things as grating and disagreeable, and take them ill, then to check and curb our passion in the first stirrings of it, that we may preserve such a command over it, as either to suppress or indulge it, as upon second, cooler thoughts we may see convenient.
For as for making charitable interpretations, it is so necessary, that there is no living in tolerable
quiet without it; men's mistakes and imprudences and inadvertences are so mutual and so numerous, that were not this piece of kindness and benignity as mutual, quarrellings and feuds must needs be infinite. Few men can so nicely order their words and their behaviour, especially in the freedoms of conversation, as not often to make such trips, as, if men are resolved to catch at every thing, may
be construed in an ill sense; and the most circumspect and inoffensive persons may sometimes really stand in need of a favourable judgment; and to deny it, where things are not apparently ill meant, I am sure is not doing as we would be done by: and he that to-day will not grant this favour to another, may tomorrow very probably stand in need of it himself, and suffer for the want of the same charity which he unkindly denied to his neighbour.
But where there is this candour and benignity of temper, conversation is indeed a blessing; and, notwithstanding the common infirmities of human nature, may be carried on with lasting peace and friendship. There will then be very few discords in it, and those that are, will soon wear off again into a more perfect harmony. He that had so much charity and good nature as to hope the best of a suspicious action or expression of his friend, and finds upon further inquiry that he was in the right, and nothing ill was intended, how pleased is he that he made no rupture for that which did not deserve it, though at first it looked amiss ? and when his own turn comes to step awry, and he is in fears of being ill thought of for it, but afterwards perceives that his friend's goodness overlooked it, and passed the kindest censure upon it; he then has the reward of his own good temper, and mutual amity is thus preserved, which otherwise would have been quite lost, and perhaps turned into fury and rage.
But sometimes things will grate so hard upon us, that it will be impossible not to be moved; and the first risings of anger at the apprehension of an injury are so natural and unavoidable, that they cannot be said to be criminal; but then comes in the hand of government, and a strait rein must be held upon it, lest it fly out too furiously for the merit of the cause, till we have considered and consulted reason; and then way given to it so far only as that and religion shall direct.
II. After this care, as to the inward motions and first beginnings of anger, must follow, secondly, equal caution not to be over hasty to express it outwardly, lest, as the apostle expresses it, we behave ourselves unseemly, and render evil for evil. For however careful we may have been to proportion the passion duly in our breasts, yet without great circumspection it will be apt to break out too violently; and the words it is clothed with, and the actions that attend it, may be not only very indecent, but criminal, and insensibly increase the inward passion to vastly disproportionate degrees, and crimes of the blackest dye may at length be the result.
Wherefore we must be slow to express even a just anger, as well as to conceive it; we should stay till the first heat is over, and think beforehand what is fit to be done or spoken in the case, and resolve to speak but little, and by no means to exceed our cooler purposes. This is that deferring one's anger which Solomon calls the discretion of a man', and a
I Prov. xix. II.
very great piece of discretion indeed, as we shall see in the sequel; and thus to pass over a transgression is his glory: but a fool's wrath is presently knownm, and anger resteth in the bosom of fools". And what indeed can be a greater folly, than out of a fiery haughtiness, or ill-natured surliness of temper, to be inflamed by every thing that runs cross to what we would have, be it never so inconsiderable ? to make the worst of every thing that is done or said, and then let the passion have its full career without restraint, even to brawlings, unseemly speeches and actions, and sometimes very wicked ones, so that our behaviour shall differ in nothing from a bedlam phrensy and madness, but that it is highly criminal and wilful? for with some people the fits are as violent, and more frequent, and very often more mischievous, both to themselves and others, and full of more and greater extravagancies.
In short, anger is always excessive and exorbitant, either when it is without just cause, or is retained too long, or is extreme in degree. To be angry without just cause is to be angry for little, trifling, inconsiderable things, such as are accidental, and, make the worst of them, can do us little or no harm. To retain the passion too long, even where there is a just cause for it, St. Paul says, is to let the sun go down upon it, to let it rankle into malice and rèvenge, (like what Tacitus says of Domitian's devilish temper, præceps in iram, et quo obscurior, eo irrevocabilior, that he was not only soon provoked to this passion, but would nurse it up in secret till it became implacable, or to suffer it to disturb us in our duty and the service of God, which he calls m Prov, xii. 16.
in Eccles. vii. 9.
giving place to the Devil: and to be angry to an extreme degree, is either to rage and be abusive and mischievous, or to be much disturbed for a slight matter, or at any time more disturbed than the occasion does deserve, of which prudence must be the judge.
Of the great wisdom of thus governing this passion, and
the folly of the contrary. Having thus said something of the nature of the passion of anger, its usefulness if well regulated, and wherein that regulation does consist; because the wise king Solomon says so much in his Proverbs and Ecclesiastes of the great wisdom of restraining and governing this passion, and the great folly of letting it rule and domineer over us; it will not be amiss, and inay conduce to our more hearty setting about the subduing the exorbitances of it, to consider wherein the great wisdom of the one and the great folly of the other does appear.
As for the great wisdom of restraining this too generally headstrong and ungovernable passion, and keeping it within due bounds, it shews that a man rightly understands himself and his true interest, and is of a truly Christian temper and disposition of soul; all which are arguments of the greatest wisdom.
I. And first, he that can govern this passion of anger shews that he rightly understands himself, and has a due reverence for the dignity of his nature as a man, and the much greater dignity that is added to it by his being a Christian. Now the wisdom of this is so evident, that to know and to re