Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. 

Ephesians 4:26

It is not sin to be angry, but when we are angry it is hard not to sin. Anger is a tender virtue, and through our ineptitude it is easily corrupted and made dangerous. He who would be angry without sin must not be angry at anything except sin.*

There is such a thing as holy anger. That this is true is clear from the fact, first of all, that the Scriptures often speak of the anger and wrath of God.

The modernist suggests that any idea of wrath in God must be excluded. Such ideas of God belong to primitive concepts of God. We must create in our mind rather a God who is never angry but who is a God only of benevolence and kindness, mildness and gentleness.

Such thinking about God, however, is idolatry and not based on God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible. The unchangeable God revealed in the Bible is a God of dreadful wrath and perfectly holy anger. He is angry with the wicked every day. He reveals His wrath from heaven continually against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Our God is a consuming fire to all workers of iniquity. The wrath or anger of God is the reaction of His perfect holiness against all sin and wickedness. A God who is not a God of infinite and perfect wrath against all evil is no God at all. The true and living God is a God of jealous anger. In His jealousy He defends the honor and glory of His own name and maintains the truth and righteousness of His cause.

We as God’s people must reflect the same love for God. Any blasphemy against God by wicked men, any dishonoring of His name, any transgression of His holy Word, any denial of His glorious truth ought to arouse in the child of God a holy anger, a zeal for the honor and glory of the name of God. A lack of such holy zeal reflects a sinful carelessness and complacency regarding God and His Word. Would to God that more of such holy anger and zeal were evident in God’s people today. Moses was filled with this holy anger when he saw Israel worshiping the golden calf. This zeal was found in Phinehas when he destroyed the brazen fornicator in Israel. This holy anger was seen in Elijah when he killed the 450 prophets of Baal.

Perfect and holy anger was revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ on several occasions in His ministry. It is a mistake to imagine that Jesus while He was on earth never became angry. We read that Jesus was grieved by the hardness of heart of the wicked leaders of the Jews. “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts he said…” (Mark 3:5). The supreme manifestation of the holy anger of the Lord was seen at the time of the cleansing of the temple. In love for the house of the Lord which the wicked rulers of the Jews had made a “den of thieves and robbers” Jesus braided a whip together and ran through the temple, throwing over the tables of the money changers and driving out the buyers and sellers. The psalmist many years before had prophesied of this when he wrote, “the zeal of thine house has eaten me up” (Ps. 69:9).

Almost all of man’s anger however is evil. It comes from man’s depraved lust. It is directed against God. It is devilish. Wicked man has the audacity to be angry with God. Wicked man is angry with God because of the circumstances of his life. He refuses to realize that the circumstances of his life are often the direct judgment of God upon his wicked life. The sovereign God rules all the circumstances of the life of man. It is the calling of man to realize and acknowledge this. But even though the wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon his evil way, man does not turn from it. All the days of his life he lives in enmity against God.

More and more, as the end of the world approaches, we witness the dreadful depravity of the anger of modem man. Our society often glorifies it through the mass media. Wicked men are encouraged to vent their anger. They claim to be justified in their anger because of the bad rap that society has given them. They may therefore lash out against society in anger, by destroying the property of their fellow man, and by committing the most atrocious crimes, such as assault, mutilation, murder, and rape. The songs (gangster rap music) of this world reveal the wicked anger of modem-day youth. Millions of recordings are sold of this most devilish music, and it is more and more being accepted as a legitimate form of free expression.

How much of modern-day psychology encourages the venting of pent-up rage in almost any form one wants. This is supposed to have therapeutic value. By doing this you gain inner peace and feel good about yourself. If you are angry with someone because of what he has done to you in the past, maybe even many years ago, you are encouraged to get it out of your system. “Let it all hang out,” the common expression was a few years ago. Vent your anger. Say what you want. Express your venomous and devilish anger. Never mind what radical and unholy, wicked things you say. Never mind the hatred, strife, and division you cause by your deeds and words of hate and anger. You are perfectly justified! Your neighbor has done you evil and you have the right to lash out against him. By doing this you will resolve your anger and get a handle on your life.

We must see how terribly wicked all this reasoning is in the sight of God.

The ugliness of the depraved nature of man is revealed when he becomes angry.

First, what an ugly thing is anger, detaching a person from self-control, and disfiguring his appearance with glaring eyes, furious expression, and distorted features—even to the flaring of the nostrils! The Hebrews call anger aph (the nostrils—the breath—the face), because the nostrils flare, then the colour changes, the tongue stammers, the teeth gnash, the hands clap, the feet stamp, the pulse beats, the heart pants, and the whole person swells like a toad and flushes in the face.

Our chief purpose, however, is not in an abstract way to speak about the wicked anger of the world. Our purpose is to help us examine our own anger in the light of God’s Word and to deal with it by His grace and Holy Spirit according to the principles of the Word of God. Scripture has very much to say about the sin of anger. It gives us many admonitions as to how we are to deal with it.

In the first place we must understand that most of our anger is deeply sinful. It comes forth from the darkest depths of our depraved nature. It is driven by a devilish spirit in us. Certainly all anger against God is terribly sinful. We need to realize how much of our anger is really against God. When we are angry with the circumstances of our life, especially with the trials and hardships of our life, we are really angry with God, who sovereignly directs the circumstances of our life. We need to examine our hearts in this regard and repent from this great sin before God.

The solution to all such anger is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life and believing by faith that all things which God sends us in our life are according to His perfect wisdom and for our good. We need to bring our sinful anger against God in repentance to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only this that will give us peace with God. We must pray for grace to bear joyfully the cross which the Lord sends us: For the present time the Lord calls us to endure patiently the trials of our life, believing that God directs them for the greatest good of our final salvation. Never must we, even for one moment, allow in our hearts any inclination of anger against God to continue, but we must speedily confess it as great sin and turn from it with utmost urgency.

Nor ought we ever to be angry with our ungodly neighbor because of envy. Of this the psalmist warns in Psalm 37. “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity…. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil” (Ps. 37:1, 8). We fall into this sin sometimes. We are envious of their prosperity and are tempted to go along with their evil life-style. But the Lord says in this Psalm that the wicked shall soon be cut off. They shall be utterly destroyed out of the earth. On the other hand, the Lord has blessed His people with true and enduring riches. “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). There is no reason for us to be angry with the wicked. Rather, we ought to be thankful to God for what He has given us in Christ Jesus and understand that the riches of salvation cannot be compared with all the riches of this world.

. . . to be continued

* The quotations in this paper are taken from an article by the Puritan preacher John Trapp, which was reprinted in the Sword and Trowel magazine, volume 4, 1993, published by the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England.