Let us be sure that it is a righteous wrath.
It is not difficult to be filled with wrath. But unless it is a righteous wrath, it is to be condemned in no uncertain terms. Jesus says in Matthew 5:22, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” Of course, one is never angry without a cause. The idea is that one is angry without a good cause, without a righteous cause.
Let us be sure, then, that we are right in our anger.
Let us first of all then do a little self examination and search our own hearts and souls. One who is quickly angry, one who can be moved to boil with rage at the drop of a hat had better be quick also to diagnose his anger and stifle it when it proves itself to be an anger of the flesh. Let us be sure that it is not a personal slight, insult or injury that moves us rather than a righteous cause. One can fight for one’s own pet interpretation or way of stating a fact and fly into a rage when others express it differently and then be guilty of an unrighteous wrath. Paul and Barnabas had a contention about the taking of John Mark along on the second missionary journey. It became so hot that they had to separate and each take his own man along. It could not have been righteous wrath for both. And we do well when we feel anger rising to ask ourselves whether our displeasure is one of the flesh or of the spirit.
There is, of course, also the opposite danger. There are those who naturally are slow to anger. You can walk all over them, and they will take it in meekness. These will likewise let you have your heresies and evil practices and never rebuke you or raise a voice in protest. And we do wrong when we call such charitable. For it is a weakness of character rather than the true meekness of the child of God. In many respects there is all too much of that in the church today. Even among people who are quick tempered and feel their blood boil at a moment’s notice. These are often spiritually very slow to anger. They know no spiritual displeasure or even danger. Why is it that parents, who would be frightened exceedingly to hear that their children were exposed to polio, are not at all disturbed to learn that their children have been exposed to false doctrines and godless practices? Their children they will scrub immediately with soap and water. They will take them to the doctor for shots and watch them oh, so carefully for days to see that nothing comes of it. Yet we often find parents smiling to hear that their children have absorbed some of the sins of the world. Why is it that parents will become greatly alarmed when the child’s temperature reaches 106 degrees; but his sinful speech and evil practices amuse them as cute little tricks? But, as we began to say, there are those who by nature are slow to anger who also in the spiritual sense of the word ark slow to wrath. They can live with sin. Oh, the grossest forms they will notice, and they will speak a few words against it; but for the greater part they can tolerate heresies and sins. Let us beware of this.
In the first place, therefore, we ought to examine ourselves when we are filled with wrath to determine whether it is wrath against sin, and whether it is wrath against false doctrines that are being practiced and taught. The disciples were displeased when women brought their children to Jesus to have Him bless them. They were wrong. They were oh, so wrong! And though they did not in so many words accuse these mothers of a sinful walk, they were displeased without a good cause. Jesus needed to show them that they, not the mothers, were mistaken.
We may remember first of all that sin does not consist in the thing. The sin was not in the golden calf that Aaron made but in the hearts of the Israelites who used it as a representation of Jehovah. Paul tells Timothy in I Timothy 4:4 that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” There are certain objects such as clothing—or the lack of it today—that may be used in sinful way. But the sin is not in that cloth, that material. It is in the heart of the man or woman who uses it for a sinful purpose. If we take the position that sin is in the things themselves, there is nothing left for us to use and to receive with thanksgiving. The beatnik has his beard and his mustache. Hence all those who—even for a day or two—sport either a beard or mustache are walking in sin!!! The gangster has his gun; hence the policeman who also wears one is a criminal and ought to be the object of our rebuke when we meet him!!!! Many of the Hollywood “stars” (but they do not shine except in filth) smoke their pipes with regularity. Hence the man who does likewise is to be called an immoral advocate of trial marriages, divorce and all the rest!!! No, let us be careful in our evaluation and not become angry because of THINGS. Sin is in the heart, and the natural man can use nothing aright. But a child of God may and can by God’s grace use all things to His glory. He may have to smash the object to pieces as Moses had to do with the golden calf. But there are also many objects used by the world to further themselves in their corruption that the child of God may use to God’s glory and receive from Him with thankfulness. How true of all the musical instruments used for carnal dances and yet capable of use in the church. Think of the organ and trumpet.
Let us be sure that our displeasure and criticism is due to a righteous wrath rather than a personal like or dislike and ask ourselves whether we are not also using objects used by evil men.
In the second place a righteous wrath will never show itself in a haughty, “I-know-it-better-than-you” attitude. What we have, we also have received. What we are, we owe to God. A righteous wrath will never ignore this fact. Perhaps we have received grace from God to see a matter more clearly. Perhaps He has graced us to see the truth more quickly than the other. Perhaps we are even by His grace more spiritual than the brother. Will a righteous displeasure with sin and the lie produce patience with the brother who does not yet see it, or to a sweeping denunciation of him as a faithless, unspiritual and worthless church member?
Remember that very often in Holy Writ men, who are mentioned in Hebrews 11 as “heroes” of faith, had to ask God for more than one sign because they were not ready to go forward in faith. Moses was showered with signs at the burning bush before he finally went to Pharaoh. At the Reel Sea—after ten tremendous plagues—he still called upon God, and God said to him, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.” Exodus 14:15. Even Moses did not pay attention to that pillar of fire that had begun to go across the Red Sea, which cloud they were to follow. Gideon, who is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 had to ask for more than one sign, and the sign of the fleece and the dew in reverse order before he was ready. Yet he is called a “hero” of faith; and a man of faith he most assuredly was.
No, righteous wrath does not move to impatience. It carries the weak and instructs him further till he arrives at the stage of spiritual growth we desire to see. God who always is filled with righteous wrath is very patient with His people. The Canons of Dordrecht in Chapter 1, the 16th article also declares this in connection with the doctrine of election and reprobation in these words, “Much less cause have they to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation, who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please Him only, and to be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire; since a merciful God has promised that He will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed. But this doctrine is justly terrible to those, who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of this world, and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted.”
Indeed, that does make a difference. The man who knew better and departs from his sound doctrine is in quite a different category from the man who gropes to see the light, who wrestles with a problem and is not sure of either the doctrine or the walk which should be his. We can be filled with righteous wrath when we see the world walk in its sin, speak its atheistic philosophies and evolutionistic theories. But how much more when that which calls itself the church departs to advocate these same evils? That does make a difference.
Even then we ought to determine how much is ignorance and how much is willful departure. If after repeated instruction and a series of admonitions one still holds fast to one’s sin and false doctrine, it can no longer be called ignorance. If one refuses to go ahead because of fleshly considerations, after it has been made plain to him that this is the only way to walk by faith, it may no longer be called the way of caution. God called Moses at the burning bush, gave him signs and answered all his objections. And when Moses still persisted that God ought to send someone else, we read, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses . . .” Exodus 4:14. Indeed! Moses refused to go the way of faith after a direct and personal call by God with God’s oral promise to give him the victory. It could no longer be called ignorance. It was a sinful refusal. And that same anger may be in the church when those, who profess to be God’s children, persist in their evil after repeated instruction and admonition. Especially is this true when they refuse to listen to such instruction and admonition. Then the anger grows into a righteous wrath.
And that church is far safer that is moved to righteous wrath at the appearance and practice of sin than that church that can harbor and tolerate these sinful actions. The former shows spiritual life. The latter shows either spiritual death, if the unconcern is total, or tremendous spiritual sickness and weakness. Such a church may find the need of an ecumenical movement to try to get a little “life” into its dying frame. It may seek a transfusion in the way of further corruption: letting go even more of the truth in order to make the merger. But it will prove to be a poisonous transfusion; and blood will be introduced that will ultimately kill the church.
The only proper union, the only beneficial one, the only Scriptural one is that which results from a common desire to maintain the fine points of the truth. Only those churches that have a healthy conscience can possibly realize the oneness of which Christ speaks inJohn 17:11. For Jesus speaks of the oneness between His Father and Himself. And they are one in their utter abhorrence of all sin and every form of the lie.