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C H A P. VI. .
OF THE REGULATION OF ANGER.
SECT. I. Of the nature and usefulness of this passion when duly
regulated. THE passion of anger seems to be designed by nature to excite us to guard and defend ourselves against any near approaching evil, and to beat it off in its assault; and therefore must needs be of excellent use to us in our present condition here, where we are beset round with evils, and daily attacked by some or other of them, so that it becomes us to be upon our constant guard and defence.
Now anger is as a good sentinel, quick and apprehensive, and ready to give the alarm at the first appearance of the enemy, and rouse us up to a vigorous reception of him, and stout resistance.
But then, lest its heat and forwardness should give us false alarms, and disturb our quiet to no purpose, and engage us in needless scuffles, or carry us on too far in our sallies, and expose us to too much loss and danger, and the hazard of not being able to make a safe retreat; we must have recourse to the superior authority of reason and religion, to temper and guide this fierce passion, and give such directions as that it may proceed with justice, prudence, and honour.
For as useful as this passion is, if duly regulated, it so seldom is so, that there is abundant reason for St. Paul's caution, Be ye angry, and sin not a ; which, as it shews that the passion itself is allowed, so it intimates how apt it is to be inordinate; and our constant experience will tell us how mischievous it then is; which should redouble our care and circumspection to keep it within due bounds.
And, indeed, if we consider how intemperate anger prevails over all sorts of people; that the wise and the aged, the governors and guides of others, the masters of morality, those that fill pulpits and seats of judgment, as well as hot, unthinking youth, and those of meaner education and sense, are guilty of it; and how few there are that think it worth their while seriously to endeavour to get the mastery of this headstrong passion, though Solomon styles it the exaltation of folly b, and assures us that it will expose us to as many dangers as a city lies open to that is broken down and without walls c; whereas, he that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, and better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city d: if we consider this, as we cannot but wonder that people should be so universally enslaved as they are to the excesses of this passion, so it is strange, that instead of resolving and vigorously endeavouring to subdue it, and bring it under government, they rather seek to excuse its exorbitances; and if it be a fault to be hasty in spirit to be angry, as Solomon expresses it, it is a very venial one, a pitiable infirrnity, a thing natural and unavoidable, a folly that all the a Ephes. iv. 26. b Prov. xiv. 29.
28. d Prov. xvi. 32.
e Eccles. vii.
world is guilty of; and when they see the wise and the learned, the pious and devout, foiled in their strivings against it, it is utterly to no purpose for them to grapple with it.
But as for the plea of infirmity, though some allowances may, and we hope will, be made by our gracious Lord for the excesses of a passion so surprising as this is, and that so suddenly sets our blood and spirits on a flame; yet we must not expect that favour, unless we do our utmost to prevent or to suppress all disorders of this nature; and an habitual carelessness and neglect will admit of no excuse : and even those allowances too will fall far short, I doubt, of what we are apt to promise to ourselves.
And to say it is natural to be thus passionate, and therefore unavoidable, and consequently to be excused, is to say we do not know what : it is impiously to reflect upon God for punishing it, especially in so severe a manner as our Lord hath threatened †; and it is to reproach the divine wisdom and goodness in our creation, as if by making our composition of such hot, inflammable matter, so ready to minister to so dangerous a passion, he had fatally determined us to ruin. Whereas, on the contrary, its being so sharply reproved and threatened by God in the scriptures, shews plainly that what is criminal in it may be avoided if we please ; for no man certainly will dare to say that a just and good God will oblige his creatures under the severest penalty to an impossible performance.
As for the ill example of those in this matter who are reputed to be wise and prudent and virtuous, I am sure this is no argument of their being so; it is a shame and reproach to themselves, but can be no excuse for other men: and as for the numbers that are enslaved to this passion, instead of making us the more easy in the like condition, it should be a warning and admonition to us, not to go with the multitude to do evil; remembering, that the way is broad that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that walk in it.
f Matt. v. 22.
And finally, as for the difficulty of taming this fierce, furious passion, and making it useful and serviceable to us, as by nature it was designed to be; methinks this should be a spur to our endeavours, as in other cases it is, and nothing will more amply reward our utmost diligence, than a victory gained over it, as nothing will make us more miserable than its getting the better of us.
Now by gaining the victory over this passion I do not mean the utter extermination of it, but only the subjecting it to reason and religion, according to the apostle's advice before mentioned, Be ye angry, and sin not; which supposes that upon just occasion, and in due degree, we may be angry without sin. .
And indeed to have enjoined an entire freedom from this passion would not have been agreeable to the wisdom of our great apostle, nor for the honour of our holy religion; and those philosophers that did so have been sufficiently censured for it by the best and most understanding part of mankind.
For this is to enjoin a direct impossibility; it is to command a man to unmake himself, to be without blood and spirits, as inapprehensive and insensible as a mere vegetative, nay, a lifeless stone; and which, could it be done, would serve to no manner of purposes, either of prudence or religion. It would rather be highly injurious, and of ill consequence, as disabling a man not only from avoiding an evil, but from being so much as apprehensive of it, till it is too late: and what is this but to bring him into the most deplorable condition in the world! A man could never be affected as he ought with the greatest of evils, sin; nor dread the punishment of it, nor resist the temptations to it, nor mortify and destroy it in himself, nor exercise the rod of discipline in correcting it in others, if the irascible faculty were wanting to him: and even the concupiscible, whereby our soul reaches after good, and endeavours to be happy, would be, in our present state, utterly to no purpose, if we could neither apprehend nor encounter, nor feel ourselves strongly excited to beat off and avoid what would hinder us in the pursuit of what we desire and love.
Man had this passion in the state of innocence; and his not making use of it upon that great occasion which the serpent and Eve gave him, when they tempted him to break the command of his Creator; his not being inflamed with the highest indignation at that vile motion, and rejecting it with the greatest abhorrence, and resisting it with a constant resolution ; this it was that brought himself and his posterity to ruin.
And our blessed Master, Jesus, that Lamb of God, who was in perfection meek and lowly in heart, and. the great example of a sedate and quiet spirits, even he was not without this passion, and made it appear that he was not divers times, as we may read in the story of his life, and yet was angry without sinh.
g See chap. XI. of this treatise. h Mark jii. 5; Matt. xxiii.