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How comforting this text is to some people! How soothing to those who have occasional spells of “righteous indignation”! How the devil helps them out in believing that their fit of anger was only righteous indignation, or nervousness, or weakness of the flesh, and so he whispers to them that they can be angry and sin not; that if they do have these spells, it is not sin, providing they always get over it before night, and never let the sun go down upon their wrath. O what a perversion of the Word of God! What a disappointment to the loving heart of Jesus when He wants to cleanse our heart. and save us from all our bad tempers, for us to bolster ourselves up under a delusion of the devil and perverted Scripture, and frequently give way to fits of temper, and then persuade ourselves that it is justifiable, righteous indignation!
We are well aware of the fact that we are flying in the face of the common opinion of Christian. when we say that the text means just the opposite of what is generally supposed. We remember hearing one ask a minister what the text meant, whereupon he answered: “It is not the kind that beats the horse.” We had often wondered what it really meant, and one day, when out alone in secret with the Lord, we came to this peculiar and generally misunderstood text, and, looking up to God1 asked Him to reveal the real meaning. Scarcely was the prayer made when there was flashed upon our mind, as a light from above, this thought: “It means, be not ye angry, lest ye commit sin.” This was just the opposite of what we had previously heard, so we concluded that at the first opportunity we would consult a commentary. On opening Clarke’s Commentary we found that he had the same thought, which reads: “Perhaps the sense is: Take heed that ye be not angry, lest ye sin; for it would be very difficult even for an apostle himself to be angry and not sin.”
One great trouble with professing Christians is, they look upon sin with too great a degree of allowance; they do not consider it an awful thing to do wrong. To sin just a little does not, to them, amount to very much. They seem to work on the principle that they may sin a little through the day, and when night comes they can pray and get forgiveness of all at once. Right here is where one begins to backslide. He may succeed in getting the day’s sin cleared one night, and the next, and possibly the next, but if he is not careful he will he too tired and sleepy some night, and will not pray through and get a clear sky. He may even, after this, get things cleared up, but the tendency will be to get careless, and perhaps let the praying go over till the next night; and the first thing he knows he will have a clouded sky right along, and will be losing his temper, murmuring, neglecting duty and other things, without any particular compunction of conscience. Thus, he has drifted into a backslidden state al most before he knows it, because he regarded it a light thing to do wrong.
It is true that Christ was angry with a righteous indignation, which is explained by the expression “being grieved.” But His anger was not the up rising of unholy emotions, or fretful passions, or carnal propensities, but because His great loving heart was grieved; and if we have the same feelings in our hearts we shall be justified in them. But that the text does not mean something in which we are justified, it adds a few lines below: “Let all anger be put away from you.” This looks very much like a contradiction, if the other means that we are to get angry. The strange part of it is, that many claim they have a right to get angry, but they must be sure and get over it before sundown, and not let the sun go down upon their wrath.
Now, if it is a good thing to get angry, and we are commanded to do thus, why would it be so awful to continue past sundown? No; the proper meaning evidently is, “Be not ye angry and commit sin;” or, in other words, “Be ye angry and sin, not;” putting the emphasis on the last word “not,” thus making it a prohibition against anger, instead of a license for the same, or a command. If, in the perplexities of one’s environment, he should find himself overtaken with anger, he should overcome it at once, and not let the sun go down upon his wrath, thus using the words “wrath” and “anger” interchangeably. Christ proposes not only to enable one to keep in subjection a bad temper, but to eliminate it from the heart. Christ enthroned within will keep the heart in blessed equipoise in the annoying things of life, so that anger will not only fail to come to the surface, but will actually not exist. Blessed emancipation! Wonderful victory! Glorious experience! Who would not have it? O for the gentle Spirit of Jesus, that will enable us to suffer long, and yet be kind!