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and with a life influenced by its responsibilities, then we may hope that "our sons will be as plants grown up in their youth, and that our daughters will be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace."
I have now completed the trains of thought most obviously suggested by the reading of this chapter. These thoughts, though apparently diverse in their bearings from each other, are yet in their combination in real life essential to completeness of character. We are never safe; nor can we reach and hold the highest earthly prosperity, till we rejoice most of all in the perfect and all-pervading government of God. This, Saul failing to do, soon lost his balance of mind, and fell to rise no more; but in the divine government, David, from his early youth to old age, ever took a supremely complacent interest; and under its influence, he not only went safely up to a throne, but formed a character of singular excellence; magnanimous in forgiving injuries; steadfast and self-sacrificing in his friendships; patriotic as a citizen, and a man after God's own heart.
Under the nurture of the same principles, may it be our purpose, my hearers, to live, and form our characters for the final judgment. Then shall we be considerate, humble, prayerful, and safe. Our pathway through life will be made luminous and attractive by many a deed of self-denial, adding to the amount of human bliss, and illustrating the excellence of the gospel of the grace of God: and our setting sun will shine out brightly at the last, prophetic of the glorious day that is to follow-the day of complete emancipation from the law of sin and death, and of endless life, and health, and beauty to the soul.
BY REV. T. S. CLARKE,
FRANKLIN, N. Y.
FRETTING: ITS NATURE, ITS CAUSES, ITS EVILS, AND ITS CURE. "Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil."-Ps. xxxvii. 8.
THE idea is, that we shall certainly do evil if we fret ;-evil to ourselves, as thus an originally bad temper is made worse-and evil to others, as the certain effect is to produce in them uneasiness and distrust. Fretting puts a man upon a very unquiet sea; or rather it is the wind, which disturbs the great ocean of
life, rendering its navigation difficult, and, by the hurry and confusion it creates, making the condition of our fellow-passengers exceedingly uncomfortable.
I think no apology is due for treating of a topic so unusual; for it relates to an evil of which but few, if any, are entirely free -which, in its ordinary exhibitions, greatly disturbs the happy intercourse of society, and is no doubt offensive to God. I think therefore you will all agree with me in saying, that it is a fit subject for the pulpit; and that if it be set forth in its true light and with a proper spirit, it can hardly fail to awaken such consideration in the premises as will lead us to greater self-improve
Besides, we are to remember, that religion has the promise of the life that now is; that it concerns itself with the various tempers of the mind, and all the exhibitions of conduct in every relation of life, and all for the purpose of exterminating what is wrong in the heart, and of fostering whatsoever things are just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report in the whole catalogue of the virtues.
Satisfied then that we are not travelling out of the record in the train of thought we propose to pursue, let us proceed to consider, as well as we can, THE NATURE, THE CAUSES, THE EVILS, and THE CURE of Fretting.
I. The Nature.
Fretting is a word which seems to convey a good deal of its sense by its sound. The very word grates harshly on the ear, giving the impression of a painful jar somewhere-of a rubbing and friction, which wear out and destroy the parts which come in contact, instead of polishing and fitting them to do better service.
But whether the sound of the word gives us any portion of its sense or not, it is certain that we all have gained a distinct conception of its meaning from that clearest of all interpreters-our own experience. We all probably know what it is to fret better than any one can tell us, and better than the best definition of it which we ourselves can frame. That perturbation of mind, caused by the conflict of anger, or jealousy, or envy, or ambition, with the calm voice of reason and conscience, and the general good, we have all doubtless not unfrequently felt. Out of this state of mind grows that crabbed and bitter fruit which bears the appropriate name of fretfulness. It is that ill-humor of the mind which, when it becomes a habit, constitutes the peevish man-one who is out of sorts with everything and everybody, to whose jaundiced eye the world appears to be hung all round with sackcloth, and to be in every part sadly and irretrievably out of joint.
The human mind, like a musical instrument, is exceedingly apt, in this disordered world, to get out of tune: then, however deli
cately it be touched, instead of discoursing sweet music, it gives out only discordant notes-painful to the ear, and prophetic of something yet worse to come. In this state of mind the man is out of harmony with God, and with the noble design of his creation. And he feels that dying in such a frame, he can anticipate, as the portion of his soul, only the blackness of darkness forever. The workings of this temper are the scream of an evil spirit, calling to its aid other spirits worse than itself to enter into the man's heart and dwell there, making his last state worse than the first.
But I am losing sight of the nature of fretfulness in the contemplation of its consequences. It is then enough to say of it, that it is a state of feeling marked either by the hurry and restlessness of discontent with the allotments of Providence, or by the sullenness of disappointed ambition, or the meanness of excited envy. But we are anticipating the next topic of which we are to speak, i. e.,
II. THE CAUSES of fretfulness.
From the command, "Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil," we gather that the efficient cause of fretting is in ourselves; and that if any one is possessed with this devil, he lets the evil spirit in, and gives him his bed and board. True, there are numerous causes from without, which, acting upon, or rather deranging the machinery of the inner man, work out, as the result, a peevish, ill-natured spirit: the state of the weather, the splenetic remark of a neighbor, the thwarting or embarrassment of some favorite plan acting in connection with a disordered stomach and a sensitive nervous system, often throw a man off from his balance, and beget the language and spirit of censoriousness.
Such causes, in so far as they are physical, men are apt to regard as uncontrollable, leaving them without sin, even though they should fret intolerably. But if a man cannot control his nerves, he is nevertheless bound to keep them from giving fresh activity to the plague of his heart. If he cannot avoid shivering when exposed to the cold sleet of November, or to the more unbearable sleet of a frosty friend, he has no right therefore to feel that he does well to be angry. If the gourd which had shielded him from the sun's heat during the day should perish, he is not permitted to fret, if the next morning he finds himself exposed to the full action of the sun. He may not in any circumstance, however trying, follow the suggestions of Job's wife, and curse God and yield to despondency.
But when a man frets because things do not go to his mind, he is responsible for the consequences; he sins because, whether the causes producing this result be physical or moral, they would not upset his self-control if he were accustomed to keep himself, as he is bound to do, in the fear of God all the day long, and was pervaded with the meekness and gentleness of
Christ. If in any circumstance a man might fret with impunity-if ever causes leading to this result might be supposed to carry with them no sin if yielded to-these were the circumstances and these the causes which brought out all their strength to induce Job to sin with his lips, to fret and rage to the utmost. And yet amidst them all, he sinned not, neither charged he God foolishly. In patience he possessed his soul, till this fearful storm had spent its fury, and his character stood vindicated in the sight of unreflecting men and malignant devils.
Pain, whether in the body or the mind, is no doubt a cause of fretfulness; and so also the neglect of others-the uncharitable remark-the sly inuendo-a crossing the track of selfish desire -and the prosperity of the wicked, are all causes, exciting to impatience, to ill-humor, or peevishness; but we do wrong in every instance of yielding to them; we sin if we let any influences, from within or without, stir up in any degree the bitterness of a selfish heart, because all these influences are designed to discipline our feelings, and to strengthen our power of selfcontrol. Wrong they may be who set these causes in motion, but this cannot justify us in doing wrong ourselves.
I have here purposely joined the causes producing ill-humor with our responsibility for their subjection to reason and conscience, because so many, in the habit of giving way to an evil temper, are inclined to excuse themselves on the ground, that these peevish humors proceed from a constitutional temperament. But as I nowhere find the Scriptures endorsing this idea, but on the contrary condemning it, making it the duty of all to fill their souls with the even serenity of faith and hope in God, so I feel bound to say, that God will hold the fretful man responsible for all the evils he inflicts by his petulance on himself, on his family, and on the community.
III. But what are these Evils? This brings us to our third point of observation.
These evils are two-fold--as they relate to the fretter himself, and as they affect his associates.
A peevish habit affects injuriously the man who indulges it. It keeps a constant shadow on his heart, while it evokes many a tempest in the soul, which drowns the still small voice of the Spirit. Who can appreciate the quiet joys of home, or receive gladness into his heart from the reflected light of his neighbor's countenance, or come into the sunlight of God's favor, while illhumor and fretfulness are nestling in his heart, brooding on, and destined soon to hatch from the nest-eggs worse imps of darkness than now torture his spirit?
Many a man, filled with deep sympathy for some one form of suffering humanity, has entered nobly on the work of its extermination. But lacking the virtue of long patience, and kind but untiring perseverance, he at length permitted the evil spirit, of
which we are speaking, to enter and sour his mind; then he soon lost his balance, and came out in opposition to the great remedy which infinite goodness has provided for all the evils of sin. And now he is shorn of his strength to do good by the baleful spirit which governs his conduct.
Few men, however, have ever tasted the evils of this spirit in all their fullness. Under the good government of God, much as men pervert the way of truth, streams of gladness will now and then, almost in spite of themselves, enter into the muddy, slimy waters of misanthropy. Yet if the fretful humor could thoroughly permeate the soul, it would keep it in a state of perpetual gloom, forbidding the entrance of any and every refreshing influence. Let us thank God that the beneficent arrangements of his providence are such that only a few of our race are able to shut themselves up in the dungeons of their own discontent.
Still it is to be regretted that any man will consent to wear a sour face even for an hour in this beautiful world, and amidst the countless mercies which are continued to us in spite of our apostasy from God. Sad he may, and ought to be, on account of his sins; let him weep alone; but then, after repentance has done its perfect work, and faith has applied to the soul the remedial agencies of the cross, he is authorized to be always joyful in the Lord, and joyful even in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart. He does himself a serious wrong therefore if he permit the formation of a fretful habit. He spoils his own happiness, and destroys in great measure his power to do good.
He does wrong also to his family. The bitter but hasty word uttered in the morning, may make his household sad and disheartened all the day long. Such a wife, too, as Job had, would add intensity to the weary hours of sickness which might be appointed to her husband. "A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike." And the constant dropping will at length wear away even the granite rock.
And then as a fretful man goes into society, he usually carries a dark cloud with him, as if to shut out every ray of sunlight. His disheartening remarks often kill the spirit of enterprise which had begun to show itself in others. His frosty word nips the opening bud, which, had there been sunshine instead, would in its maturity have yielded the richest fruit. In whatever light then we contemplate the fretful man in his relations to others, we see him often sending out an influence as blighting to hope as the consumption to the vitality of the body. These statements are sufficient to satisfy us that the evils attending the manifestations of a fretful temper are manifold and great.
IV. But it is time to notice, as we proposed, the Cure of this evil temper.