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I am resolved, by the grace of God, so to be angry, as not to sin, and, therefore, to be angry at nothing
THE former part of the resolution is founded in the express command of St. Paul, be ye angry, and sin not, Eph. iv. 26. and the latter is an explication of, as well as an inference drawn from it. For, if anger be not only lawful, but a duty, as is here supposed, when it does not involve us in sin; the only difficulty is, to know how that passion ought to be qualified, to justify the exercise of it, without being guilty of sin and the circumstances or qualifications required for this are, first, that it be placed upon a due object; and, secondly, that it do not exceed its proper bounds.
Now, as nothing can deserve my anger, but what is disagreeable to my nature, and offensive to the author of it, so nothing but sin can properly be called its object. The chief thing that I am to aim at in my actions is the honouring, serving, and pleasing of God; and how can I serve and please God, in being angry at any thing but what I know is displeasing to him? I may be scorned, reproached, and vilified among my equals, or accused, condemned, and punished by my superiors; and these are treatments that are but too apt to raise and transport men into anger and revenge: but then, before I suffer this passion to boil up in me, I ought to consider, whether I have not behaved myself so, as to deserve this sort of treatment; if I have, then there is no injury or injustice done me thereby, and, therefore, I ought not to be angry at it: if I have not, I must not be angry at the persons who act thus falsely and unjustly against me, but only at their sin; for, to speak properly, it is not the person that offends me, but the sin. And this, not because it is injurious to me, but because it is offensive and displeasing to God himself;
for, to be angry at any thing but what displeases God, is to displease God in being angry. Whenever, therefore, I receive any affronts or provocations of this nature, I am resolved, by God's grace assisting my endeavours, never to be moved, or troubled at them, farther than they are in their own nature sinful, and at the same time abstracting the sin from the persons, to pray for the pardon of those that are guilty of it; and not only so, but according to the command and example of my Saviour, even to love them too.
But, how shall I be sure to be angry at nothing but sin, and so not to sin in my anger, when every petty trifle or cross accident is so apt to raise this passion in me? Why, the best method I can take is that which the wise man directs me to, not to be hasty in my spirit, Eccles. vii. 9. but, to defer my anger according to discretion, Prov. xix. 11. So that, whensoever any thing happens that may incense and inflame my passion, I must immediately stop its career, and suspend the acts of it, till I have duly considered the motives and occasions that raised it. And, as this will be a very good means to regulate the object of my anger, so likewise the measure of it: for, he that is slow to wrath, takes time to consider, and, by consequence, puts his passion under the conduct of his reason; and, whoever does so, it will never suffer it to be transported beyond its proper bounds: whereas he, whose anger is like tinder, that catches as soon as the spark is upon it, and who uses no means to stop its spreading, is presently blown up into a furious flame, which, before it is extinguished, may do more mischief than he is ever able to repair; for, no man knows whither his anger may hurry him, when once it has got the mastery of him. In order, therefore, to prevent the fatal consequences of this of this passion, I now resolve never to speak or do any thing, while I am under the influence of it, but take time to consider with myself, and reflect upon the several circumstances of the action or object it arises from, as
well as the occasion and tendency of it; and, as oft as I find any thing in it displeasing to God, to be regularly angry at that, to correct, rebuke, and reprove it, with a zeal and fervour of spirit, suitable to the occasion; but still to keep within the bounds of the truly Christian temper, which is always distinguished by love and charity, and exercises itself in meekness and moderation. And, oh! what a sedate and contented spirit will this resolution breed in me? How easy and quiet shall I be under all circumstances? Whilst others are peevish and fretful, and torment themselves with every petty trifle that does but cross their inclinations, or seem to be injurious to them; or fall into the other extreme, of a stoical apathy or insensibility; I shall, by this resolution, maintain a medium betwixt both, and possess my soul in peace and patience.
CONCERNING MY WORDS.
HAVING thus far cleansed the fountain of my heart, with regard to my thoughts and affections, which are the immediate issues of my active soul, the next thing incumbent upon me is to regulate my outward conversation, both with respect to my words and actions. As to the first, the holy Scripture assures me, that the tongue is a world of iniquity, James iii. 6. And again, that it is an unruly evil which no man can tame, ver. 8. But is it, indeed, so unruly? Then there is the more occasion to have it governed and subdued; and, since that is not to be done by man alone, it is still more necessary, that I should call in the assistance of that divine Spirit that gives this character of it, first to fix my resolutions, and then to strengthen me in the performance of them. I stedfastly purpose to imitate the royal Psalmist in this particular, and to take heed
to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue, Psalm xxxix. 1. Yea, I am resolved, with holy Job, that all the while my breath, and the Spirit of God, is in my nostrils, my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit, Job xxvii. 3, 4. But, since it is such an unruly instrument, so very difficult to be bridled or restrained, do thou, O God, who first madest it, enable me to get the mastery of it! Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips, that, with St. Paul, I may speak forth the words of truth and soberness, and make this unruly evil a happy instrument of much good! Which that I may do,
I am resolved, by the grace of God, never to speak much, lest I often speak too much; and not speak at all, rather than to no purpose.
IT is the voice of fools that is known by the multitude of words, Eccl. v. 3. in which there are divers vanities, ver. 6. and sin too, Prov. x. 19. whereas, he that refraineth his lips, is wise. This is that piece of Christian wisdom, which I am now resolving to look after; and therefore, never to deliver my words out to the world by number, but by weight; not by quantity, but quality; not hiding my meaning under ambiguous terms and expressions, but fitting words exactly to express my meaning: not amusing those I converse with, with circles of impertinence and circumlocution, but coming directly to the matter, by the straight line of apt expressions; so as never to speak more than the matter requireth, nor to speak at all, when no matter requireth. For, why should I spend my breath for nothing? Alas! that is not all; if I spend it ill, it will be far worse than spending it for nothing; for our blessed Saviour has told me, that I must answer for every idle and unprofitable, as well as profane, word, Matt. xii. 36. But now,
if all the vain words I ever spoke should be written, as I have cause to believe they are, in the book of God's remembrance, how many vast volumes must they make! and if an index should be made, where to find profitable, and where idle words, how few references would there be to the former? what multitudes to the latter? and (what is yet more terrifying) if all these words should be brought in judgment against me at the last day, how would those very words then make me speechless? and what shame and confusion of face would they then strike me with? But I trust, through the blood of my Redeemer, and the tears of my repentance, they will all be washed and blotted out, before I come to appear before him. In order to this, as I heartily bewail and detest my former follies in this respect; so I firmly purpose and resolve to use my utmost endeavours, for the time to come, not to give way to any more such idle words and expressions, as are likely to be thus prejudicial to my eternal interest; but always to consider well beforehand what, and how, and why I speak, and suffer no corrupt communication to proceed out of my mouth, but that which is good, to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers, Eph. iv. 29.
I know, there are some words, that are purely jocose, spoken with no other intent, but only to promote mirth, and divert melancholy; and these words, so long as they are harmless and innocent, so long as they do not reflect dishonour upon God, nor injure the character and reputation of my neighbour, are very lawful and allowable; inasmuch as they conduce to the refreshing and reviving of my spirits, and the preservation of my health. But then, I must always take care so to wind and turn my discourse, that what recreates me in speaking, may profit others when spoke; that my words may not only be such as have no malignity in them, but such as may be useful and beneficial; not only such as do no hurt, but likewise such as may do much good to others, as well as to myself. To this end, I firmly resolve, by