A. T. Schofield
Plain Papers for Young Believers
Unlike the three subjects we have already considered — selfishness, pride, and envy—this is spoken of in two ways in Scripture. The one points out when it is right to be angry, and the other, when it is a grievous sin. Perhaps the most interesting as well as the most profitable way of looking at the subject will be to consider first a few examples of each.
We will begin with anger as a sin, and observe from the instances selected what are its results when indulged in.
The First Instance of Anger
is in the case of Cain. He was “very wroth, and his countenance fell,” the result being the MURDER of Abel.
In Genesis 27:41, in the case of Esau, we find another instance of how anger is akin to murder, as the Lord pointed out in Matthew 5:21,22. When anger is sinful it is always the result of some previous sin. When it is righteous, it is the result of a righteous and holy feeling. Bearing this in mind in going through these examples, it will be interesting to observe not only the results, but the causes of anger. In Cain's case the cause was ENVY, in Esau's, JEALOUSY. In Numbers 20:10,11, we find the meekest man in all the earth betrayed into anger by his IMPATIENCE, the result of his anger being DISOBEDIENCE, the punishment he received being exclusion from the promised land. Many might justify Moses on this occasion, but God does not. It is true that he was provoked, but followers of Christ here see that
Provocation is No Excuse for Anger
It must be remembered that God's anger is always righteous anger—ours surely is not. Hence we frequently have the expression “provoked Him to anger,” applied to God, rightly; but man who is dependent, should not give way to anger, but leave the matter with God as supreme. Jesus when on earth took the place of man; hence He bore all with perfect patience and meekness, committing His cause to Him who judges righteously. The punishment in Moses' case may seem severe, but we must remember that Moses was a great saint, “Moses, the man of God”; and that a little sin in a great saint is worse than a great sin in a sinner. God cannot lightly overlook outbreaks of natural passion in His people, even when provoked; for He has given them power to restrain it.
In 1 Samuel 20:30 we find Saul angry with Jonathan and seeking to kill him, his anger being caused by HATRED of David. In Ahab's cruelty to Naboth (1 Kings 21) we find that
Anger Leads to Murder
being caused by COVETOUSNESS. In 2 Kings 5:11 we find the anger of Naaman stirred up by his PRIDE, and leading him to despise God's message to him.
We might easily multiply these examples, for the seeds of them are in every human heart (of the actions of which the Old Testament is such a wonderful mirror), but we will only select one or two more. In 2 Chronicles 16:10 we find Asa very angry with Hanani, because the latter had rebuked him for his DISOBEDIENCE. This leads Asa to put Hanani in prison, an act of gross INJUSTICE. In the case of Uzziah (2 Chron.26:19), his wrath was caused by his being rebuked for committing SACRILEGE, for which sin he was immediately punished by God with leprosy. These last two instances show us how often anger is a result in our hearts of being rebuked or faithfully reproved for some sin that we have committed. Let us be on our guard against this. It is enough to have committed the sin; but it is far worse, when reproved of it by some servant of God, to add to it by a second, and possibly a third, as Asa did. We feel sure that if our readers will but carefully weigh these instances of anger, and compare them in cause and effect with their own history, they will find what a wonderfully accurate mirror of the human heart the Word of God is. In Esther 3:5 we find
Anger Caused by Pride
in the person of the wicked Haman, and leading to the attempted destruction of an entire people. The same cause, PRIDE, in Nebuchadnezzar's case, filled him with rage and fury, so that the form of his visage was changed (like Cain's), and led to INTENSE CRUELTY on his part against his victims, which, however, God miraculously overruled. In Jonah's case we find great anger caused by IMPATIENCE, which led him to speak against God. He appears to have so completely given way to it, that in chapter 4:9 he actually justifies his unrighteous anger to God. In the New Testament we find the anger of Herod leading him to murder the children of Bethlehem. We further see, in Luke 4:28, that the Jews stung with JEALOUSY of God's favors to the Gentiles (v.24-27) sought to MURDER Christ on the very spot; and in Acts 7:54 we find the Jews again filled with HATRED AGAINST CHRIST, actually gnashing on Stephen with rage and stoning him to death.
Causes and Results of Anger
From these illustrations we find that anger is caused by envy, jealousy, impatience, hatred, pride, covetousness, and by the just rebukes of God's people; that, if unchecked, it tends to cruelty and murder, also to disobedience, injustice, and despising God's Word.
Turning for a moment to what is said about it in Scripture, we find that it is expressly forbidden (Matt.5:22; Rom.12:19); it is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20); it is characteristic of fools (Prov.12:16; 14:29; 27:3; etc.); it brings its own punishment (Job 5:2; Prov.19:19); it is often stirred up by bad words (2 Sam.19:43, etc.), but pacified by meekness (Prov.15:1); that we should not provoke others to it (Eph.6:4; Col.3:21).
We will now briefly consider some instances of
In Mark 3:5 we find the Lord angry, “being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” How instinctively we feel in this case, the unselfishness of the anger. It is all for their sakes and for God's glory. Righteous anger never has self in any shape or form for its cause. Moses was angry in Exodus 11:8, but it was for the indignities offered by Phar aoh to the Lord and His people, unlike his anger in Numbers 20, for which he was punished. We also find Moses angry in a similar way in Exodus 32:19 and Leviticus 10:16. In Nehemiah 5:6 we find Nehemiah very angry against gross injustice done by others, and to others, not against himself; hence, he did “well” to be angry. In Ephesians 4:26 we get the exhortation to “be... angry, and sin not”; that is, not to treasure up anger and malice in our hearts.
We have now before us the two sorts of anger, the one generally the fruit of some other sin, always having self for its ultimate cause; the other springing from zeal or indignation for the Lord, and having Him or His people for its cause. We thus find that the first anger, like other sins we have considered, is a selfish sin; and the surest way of being saved from it is to be free from oneself. This should be at conversion, but does not practically take place till Christ reveals Himself in sufficient power to the heart to replace the wretched idol of self (2 Cor.4:10). A Christian can only be happy in proportion as this is the case, for a selfish Christian is a most miserable object, and is indeed a contradiction in terms. The surest way, therefore, to overcome the sin of anger is not by cultivating a placid disposition, which is only dealing with externals, but by striking at the root, which is self, and replacing it with Christ. The true Christian is zealous for his Master's interests, not his own, and may be righteously angry when His glory is concerned, but not for his own sake. May the Lord make us all more zealous for Him, and deliver us from serving and pleasing ourselves.
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