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HOW A CHRISTIAN MAY KEEP HIS
HEART UNDER GREAT PROVOCATIONS
'The next season in which we are in danger of losing our hearts, is, when we meet with great crosses and provocations; then sinful passion is apt to transport the heart: it is the fault of many good men, to be of hasty and quick spirits when provoked: though they dare not concoct anger into malice, for that would be a note of wickedness: yet are they very incident to sudden anger, which is a sign of weakness. Beza, in the life of Calvin, observes, that he was of a keen and hasty spirit; and he that writes the life of great Cameron, saith, that his anger was soon stirred towards his near and familiar friends, but then he would soon depose it, and acknowledge his weakness. Alas! when provocations and trials of our 187patience come, we know not what spirit we are of. The eighth case therefore is this;'
Case 8. How the heart may be kept meek and patient under great crosses and provocations.
There are three sorts of anger, natural, holy, and sinful anger. 1. Natural, which is nothing else but the motion of the irascible appetite towards an offensive object; and this in itself is no sin, they are propassions rather than passions; the infelicities, rather than the sins of nature, as Jerom calls them. Reason, saith Plutarch, is the driver, the soul is the chariot, and the two horses that draw it on in all its motions, are the concupiscible and irascible appetites; whilst these are rightly managed by reason, they are not only lawful, but very useful to the soul. God would not have us to be stupid and insensate, though he would have us to be meek and patient. In Eph. iv. 26, he allows the natural motion, but forbids the sinful exorbitancy. 2. Holy anger, which is a pure flame, kindled by an heavenly spark of love to God, and in scripture is called zeal, 188which is (as one saith) the dagger which love draws in God's quarrel. Such was Lot's against the Sodomites, and that of Moses against the idolatrous Israelites. When Servetus condemned Zuinglius for his harshness, his answer was, In aliis mansuetus ero, in blasphemiis in Christum, non ita; In other cases I will be mild, but in the cause of Christ, not so. That which the world calls moderation and mildness here, is in God's account stupidity and cowardness; neither of these are that which I am now persuading you to keep your hearts against. But, 3. There is a sinful passion, that's the thing which endangers you. Now anger becomes sinful, when it is either causeless or excessive, Matth. v. 22; and that either in measure or time, exceeding the value of the impulsive cause, be it more transient or abiding, yet it is a sin, and is a matter of humiliation before God. Now the means to keep the heart from it under provocations, are these:
189Means 1. Get low and humble thoughts of yourselves, and then you will have meek spirits, and peaceable deportments towards others.
The humble is ever the patient man; pride is the root of passion; a lofty, will be a surly spirit: bladders blown up with wind will not lie close together; let out the wind, and you may pack a thousand in a little room: Only by pride cometh contention, Prov. xiii. 10. When we overrate ourselves, then we think we are unworthily treated by others, and that provokes; and here, by the way, take notice of one great benefit of acquaintance with your own hearts, even the meekening and calming of your spirits. Christian, methinks thou shouldst know so much of thyself, that it is impossible any should lay thee lower, or have baser thoughts of thee, than thou hast of thyself. Some render the original of that text, Hab. ii. 5, thus: the proud man is as he that transgresseth by wine; and drunkards, you know, are quarrelsome. O get 190more humility, and that will bring you more peace.
Means 2. Be often sweetening your spirits in communion with God, and they will not easily be imbittered with wrath towards men.
A quiet conscience never produced an unquiet conversation; the peace of God doth rule in the heart, as an umpire, in appeasing strifes. Wrath and strife are hugely opposite to the frame and temper of a spiritual heart, because inconsistent with the delight and contentment of that dove-like spirit, which loves a sedate and quiet breast. O! saith a soul that feeds upon the sweet communion of the spirit, shall the sparkles of provocations now catch in my passions, and raise such a smoke in my soul as will offend and drive away the comforter from me? This is so effectual a remedy against passion, that I durst almost venture, in a Christian of a hasty nature, to make long-suffering a sign of communion 191with God. Seest thou such a Christian quiet and calm under provocations? it is very like his soul feeds upon such sweetness in God as he is loth to leave; and, on the other side, seest thou a Christian turbulent and clamorous? doubtless all is not well within; his spirit is like a bone out of joint, which cannot move without pain and trouble.
Means 3. Get due apprehensions of the evil nature and effects of sinful anger: Ira furor brevis; Anger is a short madness, saith one: Ira animae febris, saith another; Anger is the fever of the soul; it is the interregnum and eclipse of reason, saith a third. The effects of it are also very sad.
1. It grieves the Spirit of God, Eph. iv. 30, banishes him from that breast in which it rages and tumultuates: God is the God of peace; the presence and comforts of God are only enjoyed in a calm. It is a golden note one gives upon the fore-cited text, God doth not usually bless with peace of conscience, such as make no conscience of peace. 2. It gives 192advantage to the devil, Eph. iv. 26, 27; Satan is an angry and discontented spirit, and finds no rest but in restless hearts; he lives, like the salamander, in fires of contention; he bestirs himself when the spirits are in commotion, sometimes he fills the heart with revengeful thoughts, sometimes he fills the lips, and inflames the tongue with indecent language; even a meek Moses sometimes speaks unadvisedly with his lips. 3. It dis-tunes the spirit for duty; upon this account the Apostle dissuades husbands and wives from jarring carriages and contentions, that their prayers be not hindered, 1 Pet. iii. 7. All acts of worship must be suitable to the object of worship; but God is the God of peace, the God of love. 4. To mention no more, it disparages the Christian religion. How would Plato and Pythagoras shame us, if they were now living? Christ was a lamb for meekness, and doth it become his followers to be like lions? O keep your hearts or you will at once lose not 193only your own peace, but the credit of religion.
Means 4. Consider how sweet a thing it is to a Christian to conquer his corruptions, and carry away the spoils of them.
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city, Prov. xvi. 32. Is there any content in venting a passion? How much more in mortifying it! When thou comest in a calm mood, or upon a deathbed, to review thy life, how comfortable then will it be, to reflect upon the conquests thou hast got by the fear of God, over the evil propensions of thine own heart! It was a memorable saying of Valentinian the emperor, when he came to die: "Amongst all my conquests, said he, there is but one that now comforts me; and being asked what that was, he answered, I have overcome my worst enemy, mine own naughty heart."
Means 5. Shame yourselves by setting before you those eminent patterns that have been most excellent for meekness.
194Above all, compare your spirits with the Spirit of Christ; Learn of me, saith he, for I am meek and lowly, Mat. xi. 29. Christ was meek and lowly, but I am proud and passionate; it was the high commendation of Moses, Now the man Moses was meek above all the men of the earth, Numb. xii. 3: and this was the man that God knew face to face! It is said of Calvin and Ursin, that they both were of choleric natures, but yet had so learned the meekness of Christ, as not to utter one word, under the greatest provocations, unbeseeming religion. When I read the pretty stories of the very heathens, that never had the advantages we have, how the Pythagoreans, whatever feuds had been among them in the day, would hush all, by sending to each other this message, The sun is almost set; and that of Plato to his scholar, I would beat thee, if I were not angry.
When I read what lenity and tenderness Lycurgus shewed to an insolent fellow that had struck out one of his eyes, I am 195ashamed to see how much Christians are out-shot by heathens; who by mere moral arguments and precepts, had thus meekened their spirits and conquered their passions; the dim light of nature could teach Senaca to say, That anger will hurt a man more than the offence; for there is a certain bound in the offence, but I know not how far mine anger will carry me. It is a shame that these men who came so far behind us in means and advantages, should so far outstrip us in meekness and patience.
Means 6. Lastly, Avoid all irritating occasions.
He that will not hear the clapper, must not pull the rope: Grievous words stir up anger, Prov. xv. 1, saith Solomon, Do not only pray and resolve against it, but get as far as you can out of the way of it: it is true spiritual valour, to run as fast and far as we can, out of sin's way: if you can but avoid anger in its first rise, there is no great fear of it afterwards; for it is not with this sin as it is 196with other sins; other sins grow to their full strength by degrees, their first motions are the weakest; but this sin is born in its full strength, it is strongest at first; withstand it then, and it falls before you. Thus learn to keep your hearts when provocations arise.
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