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Kindness, Compassion and Forgiveness, in Opposition te Bitterness, Wrath and Evil Speaking.
EPHESIANS iv. 31, 3.
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speak, ing, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
IN these, and the preceding verses, the Apostle describes the Christian life. To give us the more accurate and just conception of it, he shews both what it is, and what it is not what those passions and vices are, which we must renounce; and what those dispositions and virtues are, which we must cultivate.
We are taught, as the truth is in Jesus, to put the old man, and to put on the new man. The old man is corrupt according to deceitful lusts; the new man is holy after the image of God. The Christian thus renovated must depart from evil and do goodput away falsehood, and speak truth-abhor all dishonesty and fraud, and work with his hands the things which are profitable-allow no vain discourse to pro ceed from his mouth, but such only as may be usefu! to edification.
In the same manner the Apostle, in our text, expresses that benevolent and social temper, which Christians ought to exercise toward one another.
They are to put away anger, malice and evil speaking, and to be kind, compassionate and forgiving, in imitation of the mercy of God, who for Christ's sake hath forgiven them.
We will, first, consider what are the evil disposi tions and manners which Christians are here required to renounce. We will then state and explain the opposite virtues. And lastly, we will illustrate and ap ply the argument by which these virtues are urged.
I. We will consider the evil passions, manners and language, which the Apostle cautions us to avoid in our intercourse with one another. "Let all bitter. ness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice."
1. We are to put away all bitterness--all such pas. sions, behavior and language as are disgustful and offensive to others, wound their tender feelings and embitter their spirits. It is an easy and obvious metaphor. We all know how bitter objects affect our organs of taste. The bitterness, which the Apostle intends here, is that conduct in the social life, which af fects, in a similar manner, the feelings of others. It is a metaphor which the scripture often uses: A bitter affliction is a very painful, grievous, one, To be in bitterness of soul, is to be in great anguish. Bitter words are words which deeply distress the heart. A foolish son is a bitterness to her that bare him, i. e. he is a great affliction to her. We read of those whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness of severe and reviling language. Husbands are directed to love their wives, and not be bitter against them. Bitterness is here opposed to a smooth, kind and obliging car. riage toward intimate friends.
Christians are to put away all such bitterness. Under this metaphor may be comprehended a roughness of
manners, and severity of temper-a captious, cavilling humor-a spirit of opposition and contradiction, not only in great, but trivial matters-an assuming, imperious behavior toward friends and companions-a disposition to cross their will, and to criminate at a venture every thing they do, whether right or wrong— a proneness to upbraid them with past failings, and reproach them for innocent infirmities-a perpetual jealousy of their intentions, and passionate complaints against them for accidental errors, or even suspected offences. Such treatment is a bitterness to those who have common feelings, especially if they stand in the more tender and delicate relations of life; yea, in those relations, coldness and indifference are more painfully felt, than direct and positive injuries in ordinary cases. The happiness of domestic life depends on mutual affection and confidence. That neglect which betrays the want of regard, embitters the connexion.
But perhaps no temper is more inconsistent with the felicity of social life, than what is commonly call ed peevishness. There are some who are subject to sudden and violent gusts of passion, in which they say and do extravagant things; but when the gust has blown itself out, it is followed with a comfortable calm; and perhaps the clouds which had been lowering before, are now wholly dissipated. So, people, afflicted with epileptic fits, in the intervals of their disorder, enjoy tolerable health: But peevishness can never be easy. It is a restless spirit, irritable at trifles, and discharging its impotent spleen on every object in its way. Though its force may, in general, be but languid, yet it is extremely troublesome and vexatious, because it never can be quiet itself, nor suffer others to be so. Men of violent passion, like a musket, are silent after the explosion. But the peevish are like wild fire, which keeps up a silly noise, and emits an incessant smoke, with little other effect, than
to disturb the peace, and afflict the eyes of those who
2. The Apostle in the next place, mentions wrath and anger, as passions which Christians must put
These two words in our language, and in the original, are of much the same import. If there is a difference, the former signifies a heat of temper; the latter signifies this heat wrought into a flame. They both together express the passion usually called anger, in all its criminal stages and degrees.
Christians should acquire such an habitual command of themselves, as not to suspect evil without evidence, nor be easily provoked at real evil-not to fall into sudden passion at trivial offences; much less, on mere jealousy and surmise-not to be angry without cause, nor before they have examined the cause, and found it substantial-not to indulge resentment beyond the demerit of the provocation, nor express it in exasperat ing language--not to render evil for evil, nor take rash measures for the redress of their wrongs-not to brood over their passion, till it grows into rancor, obstructs the exercise of benevolence, and diverts the course of good offices which are due to mankind.
Though anger, considered simply as a sense of feeling of the wrongs done us, is innocent and natural, yet all the irregular and excessive operations of it are sinful and dangerous. They expose us to numerous transgressions, bring on us new temptations, provoke fresh injuries, involve us in unnecessary perplexities, rob us of our peace and selfenjoyment and disturb the security of all around us.
3. We are to put away all malice.
This is a degree of passion beyond simple anger. It is a fixed, settled hatred, accompanied with a disposition to revenge. It is anger resting in the bosom, and studying to do mischief. VOL. III.
The Apostle by a natural gradation, rises from the lower to the higher passions. Bitterness is a severity and acrimony of temper. Wrath is this severity put in motion. Anger is this motion accelerated into violence. Malice is this violence operating in mischievous effects.
Our Apostle, elsewhere, with malice joins envy and hatred, to signify its usual operations. "We were 'sometimes disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in envy and malice, hateful and hating one another." He speaks of the Heathens, as "filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, deceit and malignity.”
Malice sometimes originates from a supposed injury. In its first stage it is only resentment; but by indul gence it grows into hatred and aversion; and from thence it ripens into malignity and revenge.
Sometimes it takes its rise from covetousness or ambition. The man, whose heart is devoted to the pursuit of wealth or honor, is displeased with all who seem to interfere with him. He is jealous of their designs-envies their success-views them as his enemies-entertains the worst thoughts of them-gives vent to his feelings, first in obscure insinuations, then in bolder reproaches-and by degrees works up his mind into a malignity of temper, which not only rejoices in their misfortune, but plots their ruin.
Malice is a temper which every one condemns in oth ers, but few discern in themselves. It is a self justifying passion. They in whom it operates, are blinded by its influence. They call it by an innocent name. They excuse it on the foot of supposed injuries, or the supposed vileness of the object, and their own superior merit and importance. It is the language of this passion, "I do well to be angry."
To secure our hearts from so criminal a temper, we must guard against it in its lower stages, putting away all bitterness and wrath.